Monday, March 07, 2016

Mackie's Logical Argument from Evil Against the Existence of God

(For my MCCC Philosophy of Religion students.)

1. J.L. Mackie, in his famous essay "Evil and Omnipotence," argues that the notion of "God" is logically incoherent. Two often-used examples of logical incoherence are "square circle" and "married bachelor." You do not need to waste any time searching for either of these, not because they are hard to find, but because they could not exist.

Consider these two statements, both of which cannot be true:

1) John is a bachelor.
2) John's wife is named Linda.

2. Mackie gives us three statements that, in his mind, cannot all be true:

1) God is all-loving.
2) God is all-powerful.
3) Evil exists.

By "evil" Mackie means "gratuitous suffering," or "pointless suffering"; that is, suffering that is not needed to prevent a greater evil from happening, or not needed to allow for a greater good to happen.

3) He then adds two quasi-logical principles to explain the logical incoherence involved in affirming 3, 4, and 5 simultaneously. They are:

- An all-loving being would want to eliminate evil as far as it could (unless the evil was needed to allow for a greater good or prevent a greater evil).
- An all-powerful being could (would have the ability to) eliminate evil (unless the evil was needed to allow for a greater good or prevent a greater evil).

Since evil exists, the God of Christian theism cannot exist because of logical incoherence.

4. Mackie says one possible solution would be to deny one of the premises. If, for example, God is not all-loving, then there is no "problem of evil" even if God is all-powerful, since a less-than-all-loving being would not want to prevent all evil. If one denies 4, then God could be all-loving but unable to prevent evil. Finally, if one denies 5, viz., that evil exists, then there's no problem of evil. Mackie of course does not believe there's even a finite, less-than-omni God. And he thinks evil exists. But some think evil is an "illusion." (E.g., Buddhism.)