Philosophy / Analysis Of J.L. Mackie'S, Evil And Omnipotence

Analysis Of J.L. Mackie'S, Evil And Omnipotence

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Autor:  anton  28 October 2010
Tags:  Analysis,  Mackies,  Omnipotence
Words: 2029   |   Pages: 9
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Analysis of J.L. Mackie's, Evil and Omnipotence

The question of the existence of God has been brought up endlessly time and time again throughout the history of the world. Countless discussions take place daily by people of all religious beliefs in regards to the existence of a God and if a God did exist, then why is there so much evil in the world we live in. J.L. Mackie in his argument from "Evil and Omnipotence", brings forth the discussion problem that 1) God is omnipotent; 2) God is wholly good; 3) Yet evil exists (Mackie). The word omnipotence is defined as a God/deity that is all-powerful, and/or has infinite power ( Mackie states that an omnipotent god would not allow evil to exist because an omnipotent god would ensure that evil was eliminated, and since an omnipotent god has no limits on their powers evil could not exist, PERIOD. His view is that these three propositions cannot exist together without one of them having to be false.

Mackie claims that the problem of evil is only a problem for those who believe in the existence of God and that God is omnipotent and wholly good. He states that theologian beliefs and doctrines are inconsistent with each other and that all they do is lead to further unanswerable questions that have no logical solutions regarding the existence of God and why evil is so prevalent in our world. This paper attempts to breakdown Mackie's argument in regards to his view of the three propositions, then comes to this writer's conclusion that God is not infinitely powerful and that evil can exist in our world and that God does not have control over it.

Mackie has laid some ground rules to establish his assumptions from. These are "good is opposed to evil", "good always eliminates evil", and "an omnipotent thing has no limits to what it can do. He attempts to analyze the problem by using two approaches. He has classified these approaches as "Adequate Solutions" and "Fallacious Solutions".

Adequate Solutions

Mackie's approach to Adequate Solutions is based upon giving up on or modifying one of the propositions. If you limit or modify the meaning of one of the propositions, then the question of evil can be addressed. If you look at omnipotent as not having "all power", but having limited power then you could reason that the limitation of power allows evil to exist. That being said, what other limitations might exist. Those that have this view will imply that even though God's omnipotence may have certain limitations, in other cases it may not. This creates an inconsistent solution. It allows one to overcome the initial objection only to imply or ascertain these beliefs back into the system at a later point. By the fact that the proposition is only modified on a temporary basis creates the problem to this approach.

Fallacious Solutions

Fallacious Solutions maintain all of the propositions but imply the rejection of one or more of them during the explanation of the problem of evil (Mackie). Fallacious Solutions have a tendency to play with what is meant by "good" and "evil" or how good and evil are opposed (or interact). Mackie lists several examples where fallacious solutions are used to solve the problem of evil, each having its own set of issues.

"Good cannot exist without evil"

This is based upon a line of thinking that states if there were no evil, there would be no good, and that is why evil exists. Several issues exist within this thinking. Mackie points out that by saying that God can't create good without having evil, then this would mean he has a limitation in his power and therefore no longer be able to be viewed as omnipotent or limited in some fashion. The counter response to this has been that it is not logical to have the existence of good without the existence of evil. Therefore the definition of the power associated with omnipotent doesn't impact the logical impossibility. This creates a problem, as most theists believe that God can create miracles thus defying logic.

Another issue that arises out of this line of thinking deals with Mackie's assumptions regarding good opposing evil. If good cannot exist without evil, then good can never completely conquer evil or it would eliminate good from existing as well. He tries to draw a correlation that good and evil may then be related like great and small. Great cannot exist without small. You have to have one to reference the other. This would then say if there was no evil everything would be good, but we would not know it. An argument could be made that only enough evil is here to allow good to exist, but most theists do not accept that the "evil" seen in the world is a necessary amount.

"Evil s necessary as a means to good"

In this solution, evil is necessary for good as a means not as a counterpart (Mackie). This solution would have you believe that it is better to have some evil in the world then if there was none. This implies that God is limited to "casual laws" (Mackie). You cannot have a certain end without a certain means. God would have to allow evil to allow good. This would be a severe limitation on the powers of God and would truly be redefining what omnipotent is. There also are conflicts with the view that God creates casual laws. If he is limited to them, how can he create them?

"The universe is better with some evil in it"

This solution is based upon evil contributing to the goodness of the whole (Mackie). The example that Mackie used, related that the whole of the universe is better as it is, with some evil in it, then it would be if there were no evil. He looked at two ways to view this, "aesthetic analogy" and through the "idea of progress". The aesthetic analogy looks at something being heightened by being compared to something that is very contrasting. An example if this would be a picture of a beautiful woman surrounded by dark weather worn men. The beauty in the woman would be much more apparent by creating a contrasting effect. The idea of progress looks at the universe as always being in motion. Good is gradually but continually overcoming evil, which can be viewed as a better thing than having the ultimate good always.

When looking at this solution it doesn't matter which view is used as both typically start from the premise of physical evil, something like pain. With pain comes sympathy. If pain is related to evil, sympathy is related to good. Without pain would the sympathy occur?

Mackie also relates in this solution, orders of evil and good. He related pain and misery as the "first" order of evil. In contrast, the first order of good would be pleasure and happiness. From this comes the second order of good. This order of good requires some form of the first order of evil to allow it to happen. This could be something as simple as having sympathy for someone that is suffering. For this to work one has to assume that the second order of good is more important then the first order of evil. That places good at a higher level then evil.

Through this solution a series of issues arise. Mackie positions that this approach places God as not minimizing evil, but really promoting good. This should bring into question how God is representing "wholly good". Another issue that arises in this solution deals in acceptance of evil by God. As you look at the orders of good, you can imply that there is an offsetting order of evil. When looking at the second order of good and believing it to be an important good, the evil of the same order would also have to be considered important evil. That would leave to question why God as omnipotent and wholly good would allow important evil to exist verses eliminating it.

"Evil is due to human free will"

This solution deals with human beings given the right of free will. This relates to the previous solution; as it views free will as being treated as a third order good. As a third order good, it is more valuable then a second order good would be if they were deterministically produced (Mackie). This then also brings an assumption that second order evils are logical required components of free will.

Mackie raises to question why evil is a required companion of freewill. If man can choose good most of the time, logic would say that man can choose good all of the time. What then has to be asked is, Why God did not create man to have freewill but still have them choose good? Could man have been created this way? Logic would say yes, they could have. This erodes the notion of both omnipotent and wholly good.

Another key point that Mackie makes regarding evil and freewill deals with what both freewill and omnipotent mean. If man has truly been given freewill to choose between both good and evil, then God no longer has control over him. If that is the case, then God cannot be considered omnipotent. This also leads into what Mackie has termed the "Paradox of Omnipotence". Basically this states, if God is omnipotent, can he create things that he can't control? Can he create rules that bind him to those rules? Both of these questions would break the definition of omnipotent and create the paradox. How can one be all powerful and yet create something that limits ones own power?

The findings that Mackie drew at the end of his study were that there was no solution to the problem without changing at least one of the propositions. He felt that the changes necessary to resolve the problem of evil would impact core theistic beliefs.


While I have never truly thought through the topic covered in Mackie's paper prior to reading it, I was able to understand and agree with many of the points that he brought out. Where I differ in thinking with Mackie, deals with some of his ground rules, assumptions, and definition of words (or lack of). I look at the definition of, or use of omnipotent differently. Mackie has used or implied definitions based on thinking that we understand all that there is to understand, and therefore those definitions are written in stone. These implied or assumed definitions/understandings; create fences around how you have to think. If one of the definitions/understandings is wrong (even partially), all of the logic used will still create a wrong conclusion because it has started from a false premise.

I believe that there may be some limitations to Gods power, which may change how the word omnipotent gets used. I also believe that the word "evil" needs to have some definition applied to it. Throughout history, the word evil has been used to define a person or people that may have a very different level of thinking then another person or group of people. Religious groups and world leaders have a tendency to use this word to build support for a point of view, while tearing down another point of view, regardless of it really being "evil". To fully go into this topic could easily be a full paper in itself and cannot fully be covered here. That being said, I do believe that evil does exist in our world, and God does not have full control over it, yet neither does evil have full control over good.


Mackie, J.L. Evil and Omnipotence.

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