The Miracle of Theism: Arguments for and against the Existence of God

By J. L. Mackie | Go to book overview

9
The Problem of Evil

(a) Survey of the Problem

We have examined various arguments for theism. We have found none that is conclusive, nor, indeed, any that has much weight, though we have still to consider whether the cumulative effect of a number of arguments, each quite weak in itself, is to constitute some presumption in favour of theism. Those who are sceptical about traditional religious doctrines can resist all the assaults of the believers; but they need not limit themselves to resistance: they can go over to counter-attack. Such a counter-attack will naturally start with the posing of the problem of evil. This problem seems to show not merely that traditional theism lacks rational support, but rather that it is positively irrational, in that some of its central doctrines are, as a set, inconsistent with one another.

According to traditional theism, there is a god who is both omnipotent (and omniscient) and wholly good, and yet there is evil in the world. How can this be? It is true that there is no explicit contradiction between the statements that there is an omnipotent and wholly good god and that there is evil. But if we add the at least initially plausible premisses that good is opposed to evil in such a way that a being who is wholly good eliminates evil as far as he can, and that there are no limits to what an omnipotent being can do, then we do have a contradiction. A wholly good omnipotent being would eliminate evil completely; if there really are evils, then there cannot be any such being.

The problem of evil, in the sense in which I am using this phrase, is essentially a logical problem: it sets the theist the task of clarifying and if possible reconciling the several beliefs which he holds. It is not a scientific problem that might be solved by further discoveries, nor

-150-

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The Miracle of Theism: Arguments for and against the Existence of God
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Contents ix
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Miracles and Testimony 13
  • 2 - Descartes and the Idea of God 30
  • 3 - Ontological Arguments 41
  • 4 - Berkeley's God and Immaterial Realism 64
  • 5 - Cosmological Arguments 81
  • 6 - Moral Arguments for the Existence of a God 102
  • 7 - The Argument from Consciousness 119
  • 8 - Arguments for Design 133
  • 9 - The Problem of Evil 150
  • 10 - Religious Experience and Natural Histories of Religion 177
  • 11 - Belief Without Reason 199
  • 12 - Religion Without Belief? 217
  • 13 - Replacements for God 230
  • 14 - Conclusions and Implications 240
  • Index 263
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