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Notes on Mackie's "Evil and Omnipotence"

0. Introduction
0.1 Mackie argues that the problem of evil proves that either no god exists, or at least that the god of Orthodox Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, does not exist. His argument is roughly the same version of the problem of evil that we’ve been considering.
0.2 Mackie thinks that one can avoid the conclusion that God does not exist only if one admits that either God is not omnipotent (i.e., not all-powerful), or that God is not perfectly good.
0.3 However, he thinks that hardly anyone will be willing to take this route. For doing so leaves one with a conception of a god that isn’t worthy of worship, and therefore not religiously significant.
0.4 After his brief discussion of his version of the problem of evil, he considers most of the main responses to the problem of evil, and concludes that none of them work.

1. First Response and Mackie's Reply
1.1 Response: Good can’t exist without evil; evil is a necessary counterpart to good.
1.2 Mackie’s reply:
1.2.1 this seems ridiculous: clearly, goodness can exist without evil.
1.2.2 but even if it can’t, this response only works if there is just enough evil, and not one bit more, for goodness to exist. But there only needs to be a tiny amount of evil for this to be so. But there is a lot more evil than is required for goodness to exist.

2. Second Response and Mackie's Reply:
2.1 Response: The existence of evil is the only possible way to get certain important goods.
2.2 Mackie’s reply:
2.2.1unless it’s logically impossible for god to get these goods without evil, it follows that god isn’t omnipotent.
2.2.2 But it certainly seems possible to get any important good without the existence of evil.

3. Third Response and Mackie's Reply
3.1 Response: On balance, the universe is better with some evil in it than it would’ve been without it.
3.1.1 two interpretations of this response: the “aesthetic analogy” interpretation: notice that some bits of a painting or song are sometimes ugly by themselves. however, they contribute to the beauty of the painting or song when placed within them.
Now the history of the world is like a painting or song, in the sense that certain things in it appear – or maybe even are – evil in themselves. however, these things contribute to the beauty and goodness of the history of the universe when placed within them.
3.1.2 the “progress” interpretation: a world in which evil exists, but is steadily overcome and defeated through moral progress, is superior to any world in which evil never exists, and only goodness exists. examples of goods that can only be gotten if evil exists: “sympathy, benevolence, heroism, and the gradually successful struggle of doctors and reformers to overcome these evils.” (p. 268)
3.2 Mackie’s reply:
3.2.1 this response only works for evils like pain and disease – not for other sorts of evil.
3.2.2 true, pain and disease may well be necessary for goods such as, e.g., patience, sympathy, courage, etc.
3.2.3 ut there are many evils that aren’t required in order to get these important goods (e.g., cowardice, wickedness, etc.).
3.2.4 But if so, then this reply is useless as an answer to these sorts of evils.

4: Fourth Response and Mackie's Reply
4.1 Response: Evil is due to a misuse of human freedom.
4.1.1 free will is a great good: it is better for god to create a world with free creatures than a world full of creatures that aren’t free, but obey god and do what is right out of necessity
this is so even if these free creatures frequently misuse their free will and do much evil
4.1.2 and when free creatures do evil, it isn’t god’s fault; rather, only the free creatures who commit the evil are to blame
4.2 Mackie’s response:
4.2.1 if it’s possible for people to freely choose to do what is right on one occasion, then it’s possible for them to freely choose to do what is right on every occasion.
4.2.2 so why didn’t god make this possibility a reality – i.e., why didn’t god create a world with just people who freely do only what is good?
4.2.3 to say that he can’t is to say that there is a possible state of affairs that god can’t bring about.
4.2.4 but of course this is equivalent to saying that god is not omnipotent!
4.2.5 so, this answer to the problem of evil only works if you admit that god isn’t omnipotent, and thus reject all Orthodox conceptions of god.


Scott Ferguson said…
Mackie's last response, about God creating a world populated by people who always freely choose good, is one of my favorites. If God was free to create any world he wanted, then he could have choosen that one (he has free will, no?)
Sam C said…
Mackie's attempted arguments have been completely defeated, I believe. Have you read Plantinga? Howard-Snyder is his recent volume The Evidential Argument from Evil summarises things well.
exapologist said…
Hi Sam C,

Yes, I have read those. However, I'm not quite so confident that they've been defeated. My main worry, though, doesn't have to do with whether Plantinga's claim about trans-world depravity is at least epistemically possible, but rather with whether one can consistently think that significant freedom is worth allowing for evil. Wes Morriston has raised a very powerful version of this problem for both Plantinga's FWD and Swinburne's Free Will Theodicy in his paper, "What Is So Good About Moral Freedom?", The Philosophical Quarterly 50 (July 2000), pp. 344-358.
Sam C said…
Hey exapologist: I didn't have the FWD in mind, actually. In response to the 'logical' argument from evil, the proposition summarised by Howard-Snyder (I don't actually know who first formulated it):

J. There is a morally justifying reason for God to permit evil He could prevent, a reason we could not know of (or, do not know of), and He permits evil for that reason, and evil resultsSeems to resolve the apparent conflict. That doesn't necessarily close the argument as a whole, illustrated by the new 'evidential' arguments from evil.

But, the traditional 'logical' argument at least, appears to be fall down.

I'd be interested in anything recent still arguing for the logical argument which addresses this though?
exapologist said…
Ah, I see what you're getting at: the solution to the logical problem of evil that has the more modest aim of showing that the statements "God exists" and "There is evil" are logically compatible in Plantinga's sense of "narrow logical possibility", i.e., possibility in the sense that their conjuntion doesn't entail a contradiction in first-order logic. Plantinga briefly stated a solution of this sort in God, Freedom, and Evil, prior to his exposition of the FWD. But for my part, that sort of solution is relatively uninteresting, as logical possibility is an unreliable guide to (what Plantinga calls) "broad logical possibility", i.e., metaphysical possibility. So yeah, if one is not concerned about whether God and evil are *really* compossible, then I agree -- that sort of reply is sufficient. For my own part, though, worries about the metaphysical compossibility are my primary concern here.
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