The orthodox theists strongly believe that there is an all-powerful, all-knowing, perfect and universal God and that the things He created are evidence of His existence.
This strong religious belief presents a contradiction in the face of horrendous human sufferings and pain in the world. If the good perfect God were all-knowing, He would know about the evils before they happen, and if the good God were all-powerful, He would prevent the sufferings (Howard-Snyder 19). It is this argument that philosophers have come to term as “The Logical Problem of Evil.”
Philosophical arguments on the problem of evil are constantly being advanced. One of them include an argument that there are enough and convincing reasons as to why God allowed evil and suffering to pervade the human race. Ardent critics of religious canons, however, have issues with coexistence of good and evil. In their views, if God is powerful enough to eliminate evil, evil should not exist, and if it does it is because God is either ignorant or He simply doesn’t exist or have power to eliminate evil (Howard-Snyder 20-24).
Ever since the dawn of civilization, philosophers and theologians have been trying to decipher the existence of God and evil at the same time, the point being that a good perfect God cannot allow his faithful followers, more so innocent souls, to suffer excruciating pain. While scholars like John Mackie have defended “The Local problem of Evil,” others like Alvin Plantinga vehemently rebutted it. As to who is right or wrong, convincing or otherwise remains as arguable as the subject itself.
A closer look at the arguments from both sides, however, provides individuals with an equivalent opportunity to take an autonomous position on the subject. Additionally, looking at the scholarly arguments on the subject can help individuals understand where the bone of contention really is, which then leads them to taking an informed resolution on what to belief in and which way to proceed.
Marckie’s Position on The Logical Problem of Evil
John Mackie’s argument was that religious beliefs lacked rational support and that they were positively irrational, and that this could be demonstrated. He asserted that there were several facets of the theologian doctrine that were inconsistent with one another, therefore making the doctrine disprovable (Howard-Snyder 19-20). He then linked the disproof to the problem of evil.
Mackie perceived the problem of evil to be a logical problem. In his explanation, this was a problem of trying to clarify and reconcile three set of beliefs that formed the basis of most theological arguments.
The three beliefs he was referring to were: God is omnipotent, meaning all-powerful, God is perfectly or wholly good, and yet evil exists. In summary, the essential parts are: good, evil and omnipotent (Howard-Snyder 20). But Mackie also knew there was no apparent inconsistency between these three parts. So he elaborated “The Logical Problem of Evil.”
He argued that the good was opposed to the evil and that the good God could always get rid of evil completely, and that there was no limit to what an omnipotent good God could do (Howard-Snyder 20). What this argument means is that there is some sort of ambiguity in the theological doctrine, which holds that an omnipotent God exists and yet there is evil.
According to Mackie, there was irrefutable inconsistency between two statements: God is omnipotent and wholly good, and evil exists. He argued that if evil existed, there was no way God could exist at the same time. What he meant by this was that good and evil could not cohabit. And the reverse is true: If God existed, evil could not exist (Howard-Snyder 20-21).
From a general perspective the statement “God is omnipotent and wholly good” is irreconcilable with the one that says “evil exists in the world.” In other words, Mackie was suggesting that God could not exist in a world where evil, pain and suffering existed. But since the religious community believes in existence of an omnipotent and wholly good God, then there should be no evil in the world, at least according to Mackie (Howard-Snyder 21).
Mackie’s argument, however, seems to begin to backfire at the point where a justification is made available for the coexistence of omnipotent, wholly good God and evil. Critics of Marckie’s philosophy on The Logical Problem of Evil, as he called it, hold that there are indeed consistencies and justifications for the existence of an omnipotent good God and evil. This is where Alvin Plantinga comes in complete with his “Free Will Defence.”
Plantinga’s Position on The Existence of Evil
Alvin Plantinga was extensively successful in demonstrating that there were justifications as to why God permitted evil and human sufferings to infiltrate the world. All over the world, people are suffering and evil is real.
Millions of innocent souls have been lost in the wake of civil strifes in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and South Sudan. Outbreak of diseases such as HIV/AIDS, which has no cure yet have been witnessed, and so are tragic accidents like plain crushes e.g. the missing Malaysian plane that had 239 people on board. Hunger and poverty have also dominated the better part of the world, among other misfortunes.
In light of the many evils and sufferings, Mackie doubted if God really existed and whether He had the power to prevent the sufferings. On the contrary, Plantinga believed there was a reason and justification for every bad thing that was happening in the world. If there were so much evil it was because God permitted it (Howard-Snyder 21).
Plantinga attempted to establish that there was no inconsistency in the existence of omnipotent, wholly perfect God and evil as alleged by Mackie. His position was that there was a defense in the compatibility between God and evil, meaning there was reason that justified God allowing evil to take place (Howard-Snyder 21-22). The most probable question one would then be asking is what God’s reason for permitting evil was.
Plantinga asserted that a world containing creatures that were significantly free was more valuable than a world containing no free creatures at all (Howard-Snyder 22). He said God could create free creatures, but God could not cause or condition His creatures to do what was only right, for if He did there would have been no freedom in God’s Kingdom (Howard-Snyder 22).
Therefore for freedom to be there, Howard-Snyder notes that God made creatures that could do moral good and those that were capable of doing moral evil(Howard-Snyder 22). God could, however, not give the creatures freedom to do evil while at the same time preventing them from doing evil (Howard-Snyder 22).
Unfortunately, some of God’s creatures abused the freedom given to them and that was the source of moral evil according to Plantinga. This story of God allowing evil for the sake of freedom is what has been termed as “The Free Will Defense” (Howard-Snyder 22).
The Free Will Defense was, however, met with sharp criticism from Mackie who argued that it was still within God’s power to prevent evil even if all His creatures could freely go wrong in the exercise of freedom. Mackie contended that God could have gone ahead to create those who would freely go right in exercising freedom and that it was within His ability to do so (Howard-Snyder 22).
In response to Mackie’s criticism, Plantinga introduced the “Transworld Depravity” (TWD) and used it to further cement his position on God’s correctness to permit evil.
Plantinga held that a creature could suffer from TWD only if for every world the creature possessed characteristics that allowed it to be significantly free and to do the right things, in which case there would have been an action and a maximal world segment such that three things could be realized:
Firstly, the maximal world segment would include creature being instantiated and the creature’s instantiation being free with respect to action, and the action being morally significant to the creature’s instantiation (Howard-Snyder 22).
Secondly, the maximal world segment would exist in the world but it would have neither creature’s instantiation’s performing action nor creature’s instantiation’s refraining from action. Lastly, if the maximal world segment were actual, the instantiation of creature would have gone wrong with respect to action (Howard-Snyder 22-23).
The bottom line of this argument was that God created a world that contained moral good, but it was not within His power to create a world containing moral evil since every creature suffered from transworld depravity (TWD) (Howard-Snyder 22-23).
Plantinga’s Response To The Logical Problem of Evil
As Howard-Snyder notes, scholars like Robert Adams, James Beese and William Alston are of the view that Plantinga extensively succeeded in rebutting “The Logical Problem of Evil,” (23). These philosophers are also in agreement with Plantinga that “there is no incompatibility in existence of wholly good and omnipotent God and evil,” (Howard-Snyder 23).
For instance, William Alston noted that Plantinga had demonstrated the probability that God could not have created a world with free creatures that could only do the right things. According to Alston, such a world could neither be perceived nor conceived, reason being that without the bad, the good would have made no sense (Howard-Snyder 23).
However, these philosophers also seem to allude that Plantinga did not have the final response to “The Logical Problem of Evil since even the very meaning and existence of omnipotent good God, one that supposedly created the world and all in it, remained an ongoing contentious dialogue amongst scholars.
Different groups of people believe in different things. Whereas Plantinga’s argument seems to favour the position taken by theists, those who believe in the existence of God or gods, and to great extent pantheists, those who believe that God and the universe is one and the same thing, it contradicts the position taken by atheists, those who do not believe in the existence of God, gods, or any supernatural being for that matter (Creel, 281).
Considering the position of theists, where the Christian fraternity and others fall, God allowed evil so that the human race could learn from their mistakes. This is a biblical approach that in a way compliments the philosophical Plantinga’s argument on the existence of evil, in which case he asserted that it was not within God’s power to create moral evil and that even though He could prevent it, He could not because in so doing He would have created a world where there was no freedom (Howard-Snyder 21-23).
Theists would thus be comfortable with the stand taken by Plantinga since it is in line with what they hold to be the only possible scenario. The argument, however, takes a different dimension when considering the position of pantheists, those who believe that God is the world and the world is God and that there is no way something could bring itself into existence (Creel 281).
If the pantheists belief is to be taken into account, it would imply that evil only exist because God allows evil to be part of Him, not forgetting that the world is God and God is the world in which evil exists. This would also mean that the world would not be complete without evil, or would it? Consequently, the inconsistency that Mackie talked about does not exist in a typical pantheists’ world. Pantheists may thus be just comfortable with Plantinga’s response to the problem of evil.
The third category of believers would be the atheists. These people do not believe in the existence of God or even gods and they have no apology to offer. They would most probably disagree with Plantinga’s argument since the whole point is built on the premise that there exists a God. The atheists would most likely accept Mackie’s “Logical Problem of Evil,” which to a significant level denies the existence of God.
Having looked at the various possible points of contentions in the coexistence of omnipotent God, good and evil, Plantinga’s response to “The Logical Problem Evil” doesn’t seem to satisfactorily convince every individual that there is indeed consistency and compatibility between God and evil.
It is generally expected or believed that the omnipotent good God would not allow bad things to happen to good people. Plantinga’s justification on why God permits evil may be more convincing if evil things only happen to bad people. But when evil things happen to innocent people as well, then there is a problem with that and Plantinga’s “Free Will Defense” alone may not be convincing enough to individual.
Still, there is no saying that Plantinga is misleading anyone. In fact, “the principle of sufficient reason” appears to support him fully. According to this principle, there exists a satisfactory explanation to everything that exists and happens in the world. In other words, everything happens and exists for a reason (Creel 287). That is to say that if evil exists in the world it is because there is a reason, of which Plantinga has provided. Whether Plantinga’s reasons are satisfactory or otherwise is another issue.
Similarly, “the principle of sufficient reason” suggests that if the supposedly omnipotent and wholly good God allowed human sufferings, then it must have been for a good reason (Creel 287). What Plantinga has done is to provide those reasons. Therefore what remains unsettled is whether the reasons provided by Plantinga are persuasive enough to live with.
Besides, it is imperative to note that individual reactions to the problem of evil will depend on who the scholars are in real sense addressing when talking about good and evil or anything to do with “The Logical Problem of Evil.” For instance atheists would have different reactions, and so are pantheists and theists.
In conclusion, it is would be safe to say that “The Logical Problem of Evil” is one that can either be proved or disproved, and as things stand, neither Mackie nor Plantinga has the final response or solution to problem.
Creel, Richard. Thinking Philosophically: An Introduction to Critical Reflection and Rational Dialogue. Wiley-Blackwell, 2001. Print.
Howard-Snyder, Daniel. The Logical Problem of Evil: Mackie and Plantinga. John Wiley and Sons, Inc. 2013. Print.