Atheism And The Problem Of Evil

Glenn E. Hawkins

One of atheism's strongest arguments against the existence of God is “the problem of evil.” According to this argument, the propositions that (1) God is omnipotent, (2) God is perfect in goodness, and (3) Evil exists contain a logical contradiction. The Australian philosopher, J. L. Mackie, adds the following propositions to make the contradiction more easily seen: (4) Good is opposed to evil in such a way that a good thing always eliminates evil as far as it can. (5) There are no limits to what an omnipotent thing can do. (6) A good omnipotent thing eliminates evil completely. (7) A good omnipotent thing exists. (8) Therefore, there is a logical contradiction between propositions (1) and (3). 

A Christian has no hesitancy in affirming propositions (1) and (2) but denies that there is a logical contradiction in affirming proposition (3). In other words, it is impossible for a good, omnipotent being (God) to exist and evil to exist.

One point of attack is to deny Mackie's proposition (5): There are no limits to what an omnipotent thing can do. God's omnipotence relates to what is possible to be done. God cannot do that which is in opposition to His perfection in goodness and justice. (For example, it is impossible for God to lie.) To say that God is omnipotent is to say that God can do what is subject to being done and that is in harmony with His nature. God cannot make a four-sided triangle or a three-sided square, or make an object white all over and black all over at the same time, or an object to exist and not exist at the same time.

Thomas B. Warren stated: “God is infinite in power but power meaningfully relates to what can be done, to what is possible of accomplishment – not to what is impossible! It is absurd to speak of any power (even infinite power) being able ( having the power) to do what simply cannot be done. God can do whatever is possible to be done, but will do only what is in harmony with His nature” (Warren, Have Atheists Proved There Is No God, p. 29, 1972). Mackie's proposition (5)- there are no limits to what an omnipotent thing can do- is false.

A question related to Mackie's argument is often asked. Why did not or could not God create man so that he would always freely choose to do good and not evil? There is no such thing as far as human beings are concerned as “always freely.” That is a contradiction in itself. God could create a robot-like creature who would always act in certain ways, but “it is logically impossible for God to guarantee that His creatures who are free, will always (i.e, without exception), freely choose to love and trust Him It is logically impossible for such beings to be created, and since that is the case, it is not a denial of the omnipotence of God to hold men are, at times, guilty of failing to love, trust and obey God” (Warren, p. 29, 1972).

Since man was created with free will (the ability to choose between two courses of action), he could not be free and not free at the same time. Since sin is the only real evil in the world, man, not God, is responsible for it. Mackie's argument fails. There is no logical contradiction in affirming propositions (1), (2), and (3) set out earlier in this article. -915 State Ave. N.E., Massilon, OH 44646-4519.

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