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"Rational Scientific Theories from Theism"


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Previous: 29.1 The problem of evil Up: 29. Errors and Evils Next: 29.3 Divine versus Absolute omnipotence

29.2 Mackie’s logical problem of evil

Perhaps the clearest exposition of the problem of evil in recent years is that of Mackie (1955). He presents the ‘logical problem of evil’ as understanding how all the three propositions:
  1. God is wholly good (benevolent),
  2. God is omnipotent,
  3. Evil exists,

could be true simultaneously. If God is omnipotent, he should be able to remove all evil, and if he is benevolent, he should not hesitate to do so. Mackie argues that if any two of the propositions were true, the third would be false. Hume (1779) states the problem about God as follows: “Is he willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then is he impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then is he malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?"

We may agree with Mackie that certain proposed solutions are fallacious. Some argue that evil is necessary for creation, others that evil is necessary for good works to be done, and others that good cannot exist without evil. It is not orthodox theology that evil is needed for good to exist or that is is necessary to creation. Evil might be the occasion for good works to be done but we can still insist that it would be better if such good works countering evil were not necessary to start with. In all cases, therefore, we should be able to agree that it would be a better universe if evil did not exist in the first place or if particular evils could be removed.

We can consider the view that evil is due to human free will. Many philosophers and theologians follow this view and hold that human freedom is a ‘great good’ that God insists must be present in creation, even if the side effects are so many and so damaging in terms of the injuries that we inflict on each other every day. Mackie asks, therefore, why God “could not have made men such that they always freely choose what is good?” He confesses, though, that in the end he finds incoherence in the notion of freedom of the will.

I agree that it is difficult to understand how we have free will, especially in a world where God has complete foreknowledge of our future actions. Nevertheless, I claim that our actions are freely chosen. It would clearly help the theistic case if there were an understanding about the existence of evil that did not depend on the freedom of the will. I argue below that the reasons relating to evils can in fact be expressed in much simpler terms, and that free will can also be derived from these simpler reasons. We will see that a theodicy can be formulated that does not directly depend on the concept of free will.

Previous: 29.1 The problem of evil Up: 29. Errors and Evils Next: 29.3 Divine versus Absolute omnipotence

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