EVIL AND OMNIPOTENCE MACKIE PDF

For theologians, evil poses several problems, most notably when it comes to the existence of God. To most theologists, God has a set definition. The existence of suffering is not compatible with an omniscient, omnipotent, omni benevolent superior being. An all-knowing being would be aware that suffering is and always will be in existence; an all-powerful being would be able to prevent suffering; and a perfectly good being would desire to end suffering.

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Mackie University of Sydney The traditional arguments for the existence of God have been fairly thoroughly criticised by philosophers. But the theologian can, if he wishes, accept this criticism. I think, however, that a more telling criticism can be made by way of the traditional problem of evil.

Here it can be shown, not that religious beliefs lack rational support, but that they are positively irrational, that the several parts of the essential theological doctrine are inconsistent with one another, so that the theologian can maintain his position as a whole only by a much more extreme rejection of reason than in the former case. He must now be prepared to believe, not merely what cannot be proved, but what can be disproved from other beliefs that he also holds.

The problem of evil, in the sense in which I shall be using the phrase, is a problem only for someone who believes that there is a God who is both omnipotent and wholly good. And it is a logical problem, the problem of clarifying and reconciling a number of beliefs: it is not a scientific problem that might be solved by further observations, or a practical problem that might be solved by a decision or an action.

These points are obvious; I mention them only because they are sometimes ignored by theologians, who sometimes parry a statement of the problem with such remarks as "Well, can you solve the problem yourself?

In its simplest form the problem is this: God is omnipotent; God is wholly good; and yet evil exists. There seems to be some contradiction between these three propositions, so that if any two of them were true the third would be false.

But at the same time all three are essential parts of most theological positions: the theologian, it seems, at once must adhere and cannot consistently adhere to all three. The problem does not arise only for theists, but I shall discuss it in the form in which it presents itself for ordinary theism. These additional principles are that good is opposed to evil, in such a way that a good thing always eliminates evil as far as it can, and that there are no limits to what an omnipotent thing can do.

From these it follows that a good omnipotent thing eliminates evil completely, and then the propositions that a good omnipotent thing exists, and that evil exists, are incompatible. Adequate Solutions Now once the problem is fully stated it is clear that it can be solved, in the sense that the problem will not arise if one gives up at least one of the propositions that constitute it.

If you are prepared to say that God is not wholly good, or not quite omnipotent, or that evil does not exist, or that good is not opposed to the kind of evil that exists, or that there are limits to what an omnipotent thing can do, then the problem of evil will not arise for you.

There are, then, quite a number of adequate solutions of the problem of evil, and some of these have been adopted, or almost adopted, by various thinkers. Some have said that evil is an illusion, perhaps because they held that the whole world of temporal, changing things is an illusion, and that what we call evil belongs only to this world, or perhaps because they held that although temporal things are much as we see them, those that we call evil are not really evil.

Some have said that what we call evil is merely the privation of good, that evil in a positive sense, evil that would really be opposed to good, does not exist. Many have agreed with Pope that disorder is harmony not understood, and that partial evil is universal good. Whether any of these views is true is, of course, another question.

But each of them gives an adequate solution of the problem of evil in the sense that if you accept it this problem does not arise for you, though you may, of course, have other problems to face. But often enough these adequate solutions are only almost adopted. Those [] who say that evil is an illusion may also be thinking, inconsistently, that this illusion is itself an evil. Those who say that "evil" is merely privation of good may also be thinking, inconsistently, that privation of good is an evil.

The fallacy here is akin to some forms of the " naturalistic fallacy " in ethics, where some think, for example, that " good" is just what contributes to evolutionary progress, and that evolutionary progress is itself good. If Pope meant what he said in the first line of his couplet, that "disorder" is only harmony not understood, the "partial evil" of the second line must, for consistency, mean "that which, taken in isolation, falsely appears to be evil", but it would more naturally mean "that which, in isolation, really is evil".

In addition, therefore, to adequate solutions, we must recognise unsatisfactory inconsistent solutions, in which there is only a half-hearted or temporary rejection of one of the propositions which together constitute the problem. In these, one of the constituent propositions is explicitly rejected, but it is covertly re-asserted or assumed elsewhere in the system.

Fallacious Solutions Besides these half-bearted solutions, which explicitly reject but implicitly assert one of the constituent propositions, there are definitely fallacious solutions which explicitly maintain all the constituent propositions, but implicitly reject at least one of them in the course of the argument that explains away the problem of evil. There are, in fact, many so-called solutions which purport to remove the contradiction without abandoning any of its constituent propositions.

These must be fallacious, as we can see from the very statement of the problem, but it is not so easy to see in each case precisely where the fallacy lies. I suggest that in all cases the fallacy has the general form suggested above: in order to solve the problem one or perhaps more of its constituent propositions is given up, but in such a way that it appears to have been retained, and can therefore be asserted without qualification in other contexts.

Sometimes there is a further complication: the supposed solution moves to and fro between, say, two of the constituent propositions, at one point asserting the first of these but covertly abandoning the second, [] at another point asserting the second but covertly abandoning the first. I propose to examine some of these so-called solutions, and to exhibit their fallacies in detail.

Incidentally, I shall also be considering whether an adequate solution could be reached by a minor modification of one or more of the constituent propositions, which would, however, still satisfy all the essential requirements of ordinary theism. It is true that it points to an answer to the question "Why should there be evil?

First, it sets a limit to what God can do, saying that God cannot create good without simultaneously creating evil, and this means either that God is not omnipotent or that there are some limits to what an omnipotent thing can do. It may be replied that these limits are always presupposed, that omnipotence has never meant the power to do what is logically impossible, and on the present view the existence of good without evil would be a logical impossibility. This interpretation of omnipotence may, indeed, be accepted as a modification of our original account which does not reject anything that is essential to theism, and I shall in general assume it in the subsequent discussion.

It is, perhaps, the most common theistic view, but I think that some theists at least have maintained that God can do what is logically impossible. Many theists, at any rate, have held that logic itself is created or laid down by God, that logic is the way in which God arbitrarily chooses to think. This is, of course, parallel to the ethical view that morally right actions are those which God arbitrarily chooses to command, and the two views encounter similar difficulties.

And this account of logic is clearly inconsistent with the view that God is bound by logical necessities -- unless it is possible for an omnipotent being to bind himself, an issue which we shall consider later, when we come to the Paradox of Omnipotence. This solution of the problem [] of evil cannot, therefore, be consistently adopted along with the view that logic is itself created by God. But, secondly, this solution denies that evil is opposed to good in our original sense.

If good and evil are counterparts, a good thing will not "eliminate evil as far as it can". Indeed, this view suggests that good and evil are not strictly qualities of things at all. Perhaps the suggestion is that good and evil are related in much the same way as great and small. But in this sense greatness is not a quality, not an intrinsic feature of anything; and it would be absurd to think of a movement in favour of greatness and against smallness in this sense.

Such a movement would be self-defeating, since relative greatness can be promoted only by a simultaneous promotion of relative smallness. But in this sense great and small are not logically necessary counterparts: either quality could exist without the other. In neither case are greatness and smallness both necessary counterparts and mutually opposed forces or possible objects for support and attack.

It may be replied that good and evil are necessary counterparts in the same way as any quality and its logical opposite: redness can occur, it is suggested, only if non-redness also occurs.

But unless evil is merely the privation of good, they are not logical opposites, and some farther argument would be needed to show that they are counterparts in the same way as genuine [] logical opposites.

Let us assume that this could be given. If so, the principle that a term must have an opposite would belong only to our language or to our thought, and would not be an ontological principle, and, correspondingly, the rule that good cannot exist without evil would not state a logical necessity of a sort that God would just have to put up with. God might have made everything good, though we should not have noticed it if he had.

But, finally, even if we concede that this is an ontological principle, it will provide a solution for the problem of evil only if one is prepared to say, "Evil exists, but only just enough evil to serve as the counterpart of good". I doubt whether any theist will accept this. After all, the ontological requirement that non-redness should occur would be satisfied even if all the universe, except for a minute speck, were red, and, if there were a corresponding requirement for evil as a counterpart to good, a minute dose of evil would presumably do.

But theists are not usually willing to say, in all contexts, that all the evil that occurs is a minute and necessary dose. It would be a causal law that you cannot have a certain end without a certain means, so that if God has to introduce evil as a means to good, he must be subject to at least some causal laws.

This certainly conflicts with what a theist normally means by omnipotence. This view of God as limited by causal laws also conflicts with the view that causal laws are themselves made by God, which is more widely held than the corresponding view about the laws of logic. This conflict would, indeed be resolved if it were possible for an omnipotent being to bind himself, and this possibility has still to be considered.

This solution may be developed in either of two ways. It may be supported by an aesthetic analogy, by the fact that contrasts heighten beauty, that in a musical work, for example, there may occur discords which somehow add to the beauty of the work as a whole. Alternatively, it may be worked out in connexion with the notion of progress, that the best possible organisation of the universe will not be static, but progressive, that the gradual overcoming of evil by good is really a finer thing than would be the eternal unchallenged supremacy of good.

In either case, this solution usually starts from the assumption that the evil whose existence gives rise to the problem of evil is primarily what is called physical evil, that is to say, pain. In fact, theists often seize the opportunity to accuse those who stress the problem of evil of taking a low, materialistic view of good and evil, equating these with pleasure and pain, and of ignoring the more spiritual goods which can arise in the struggle against evils.

But let us see exactly what is being done here. Exactly how it emerges does not matter: in the crudest version of this solution good 2 is simply the heightening of happiness by the contrast with misery, in other versions it includes sympathy with suffering, heroism in facing danger, and the gradual decrease of first order evil afld increase of first order good.

It is also being assumed that [] second order good is more important than first order good or evil, in particular that it more than outweighs the first order evil it involves.

Now this is a particularly subtle attempt to solve the problem of evil. But does it still hold that good and evil are opposed? Not, clearly, in the sense that we set out originally: good does not tend to ehminate evil in general.

Instead, we have a modified, a more complex pattern. First order good e. While this account is different from our original one, it might well be held to be an improvement on it, to give a more accurate description of the way in which good is opposed to evil, and to be consistent with the essential theist position.

There might, however, be several objections to this solution. First, some might argue that such qualities as benevolence -- and a fortiori the third order goodness which promotes benevolence -- have a merely derivative value, that they are not higher sorts of good, but merely means to good 1 , that is, to happiness, so that it would be absurd for God to keep misery in existence in order to make possible the virtues of benevolence, heroism, etc.

The theist who adopts the present solution must, of course, deny this, but he can do so with some plausibility, so I should not press this objection. Secondly, it follows from this solution that God is not in our sense benevolent or sympathetic: he is not concerned to minimise evil 1 , but only to promote good 2 ; and this might be a disturbing conclusion for some theists.

But, thirdly, the fatal objection is this. Our analysis shows clearly the possibility of the existence of a second order evil, an evil 2 contrasting with good 2 as evil 1 contrasts with good 1. This would include malevolence, cruelty, callousness, cowardice, and states in which good 1 is decreasing and evil 1 increasing.

And just as good 2 is held to be the important kind of good, the kind that God is concerned to promote, so evil 2 will, by analogy, be the important kind of evil, the kind [] which God, if he were wholly good and omnipotent, would eliminate. And yet evil 2 plainly exists, and indeed most theists in other contexts stress its existence more than that of evil 1.

We should, therefore, state the problem of evil in terms of second order evil, and against this form of the problem the present solution is useless. An attempt might be made to use this solution again, at a higher level, to explain the occurrence of evil 2 : indeed the next main solution that we shall examine does just this, with the help of some new notions. Without any fresh notions, such a solution would have little plausibility: for example, we could hardly say that the really important good was a good 3 , such as the increase of benevolence in proportion to cruelty, which logically required for its occurrence the occurrence of some second order evil.

This solution may be combined with the preceding one: first order evil e. This combination evades my third criticism of the preceding solution.

The freewill solution also involves the preceding solution at a higher level. To explain why a wholly good God gave men freewill although it would lead to some important evils, it must be argued that it is better on the whole that men should act freely, and sometimes err, than that they should be innocent automata, acting rightly in a wholly determined way.

Freedom, that is to say, is now treated as a third order good, and as being more valuable than second order goods such as sympathy and heroism would be if they were deterministically produced, and it is being assumed that second order evils, such as cruelty, are logically necessary accompaniments of freedom, just as pain is a logically necessary pre-condition of sympathy. First I should query the assumption that second order evils are logically necessary accompaniments of freedom. I should ask this: if God has made men such that in their free choices they sometimes prefer what is good and sometimes what is evil, why could he not have made men such that they always freely choose the good?

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Philosophical Analysis of Mackie’s “Evil and Omnipotence” Essay

Mackie adds two more principles which make the three propositions formally logically contradictory: If something is wholly good, it always eliminates as much evil as it can. If something is omnipotent, it can do anything. Mackie thinks that these two principles are plausible and that most theists would agree with them. Using these, we can deduce a contradiction from the three propositions we started with.

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Evil and Omnipotence

Here it can be shown, not only that religious beliefs lack rational support, but that they are positively irrational, that the several parts of the essential theological doctrine are inconsistent with one another There seems to be some contradiction between these three propositions, so that if any two of them were true the third would be false. But at the same time all three are essential parts of most theological positions: the theologian, it seems, at once must and cannot consistently adhere to all three. God is wholly good. Some evil exists.

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Evil And Omnipotence Summary

Learn More However, Mackie asserts these two views are inconsistent because an all-knowing, benevolent God cannot exist in a world where suffering and evil is common. He maintains that since people in different places in the world experience suffering, then this shows that there is enough evidence that evil exists. In the same vein, he argues that this puts into doubt the assertion that an omnipotent, benevolent God exists. Consequently, he concludes that evil exists, but God does not. The first possible solution he explores holds that; good and evil are complementary principles which exist side by side. He argues that this assumption lacks merit because it limits people from experiencing what they believe to be good deeds from an all-powerful God. On the other hand, the second solution argues that; evil is an important means which enables good deeds to happen.

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Arguing About Evil: Mackie’s Argument

Mackie University of Sydney The traditional arguments for the existence of God have been fairly thoroughly criticised by philosophers. But the theologian can, if he wishes, accept this criticism. I think, however, that a more telling criticism can be made by way of the traditional problem of evil. Here it can be shown, not that religious beliefs lack rational support, but that they are positively irrational, that the several parts of the essential theological doctrine are inconsistent with one another, so that the theologian can maintain his position as a whole only by a much more extreme rejection of reason than in the former case. He must now be prepared to believe, not merely what cannot be proved, but what can be disproved from other beliefs that he also holds. The problem of evil, in the sense in which I shall be using the phrase, is a problem only for someone who believes that there is a God who is both omnipotent and wholly good. And it is a logical problem, the problem of clarifying and reconciling a number of beliefs: it is not a scientific problem that might be solved by further observations, or a practical problem that might be solved by a decision or an action.

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