PHILOSOPHY – Religion: Classical Theism 7 (Atheistic Arguments from Evil)


Hello, my name is Elmar Kremer. I am a Professor Emeritus of Philosophy
at the University of Toronto. This is the 7th in a series of talks
on classical theism. Since the 1950’s, philosophers
of religion have spent a lot of time on an old question,
whether the evil in the world is consistent with the existence
of a good and omnipotent God. In 1955, JL Mackie, a follower of David
Hume sparked new interest in the question when he developed the following
argument: 1: Good is opposed to evil in such a way
that a good thing always eliminates evil as far as it can. 2: There are no limits to what an
omnipotent thing can do. 3: Therefore, the proposition that a good
omnipotent thing exists, and that evil exists, are incompatible. Mackie did not assert in the article
that evil exist, but if you are prepared to make that assertion, you can
continue the argument. 4: evil exists. 5: Therefore, there is no good
omnipotent thing. Classical theists and theistic
personalists alike reject the first premise of Mackie’s argument. But they do so for different
reasons. Reasons which reflect disagreements
about the nature of God, which I have explained earlier
in this series of talks. First, is their disagreement
about whether God is a person in the same sense in which
you and I are a persons. Second, their disagreement
about whether God’s goodness is moral goodness. As a result of these underlying
disagreements, they respond to Mackie’s first premise
in quite different ways. Theistic personalists say that
the first premise is false. Because God might have a
good reason for permitting evil. They do concede something
like one, namely that a good thing always eliminates evil as far as it can,
unless it has a good reason for permitting the evil. But that concession does not
save Mackie’s argument because they argue it is possible that God
has a good reason for permitting the evils that are present in the world. Indeed, it is possible that
lowering the amount of evil in the world would only
make the world worse. That would happen if
lowering the amount of evil required eliminating
goods, like the good of human free will, which are so great
that any world which lacked them would be overall worse than
the actual world we live in. But the argument does not end there. Atheists objected that there
are certain evils which no morally good person would permit
if he or she were able to prevent them. Take the intense of innocent
children. God could prevent that
suffering without any difficulty. So his failure to prevent it
would be contrary to our basic moral principles
and therefore would be unjust and morally bad. Faced with that sort of objections,
theistic personalists could only say that as far as we know, God is
justified in permitting such suffering even though in many
cases we cannot see exactly how he is justified. Turning to classical theists,
they reject Mackie’s first premise in a more radical way. In their view, god is not a person in
the same sense as you and I are persons and so we cannot reason from our
experience of how good persons act to conclusions about how God would act. The goodness of God does imply
that the world is a good world, but that is consistent with its
containing evil. Classical theists also reject
the idea that God is justified only if he lives up to our moral
standards. On the contrary, God’s actions
are good and just because they are in agreement with
God’s knowledge of his own goodness. Therefore, theistic personalists are
mistaken when they say that if God exists, his permission of intense
suffering must be justified by its agreement with out moral principles. The same mistake appears in a famous
tombstone epitaph. Here lies Martin Ingleblod. Have mercy on my soul o God
as I would do if I were God and ye were Martin Ingleblod. Classical theist never tire of repeating
that God is not just another person. Not even the nicest and most
intelligent one around. Subtitles by the Amara.org community

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