The problem of evil has been defined by different scholars. Polkinghorne (14) defines it as the process of reconciliation between evil and good. The problem of evil, therefore, tries to show that there is no logical way in which good and evil can exist in the way they are presented in religion.
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This paper will discuss the problem of evil, state the main claims that have been argued by John Mackie and Alvin Plantinga, and show some of the arguments that other scholars have raised with regard to the problem of evil.
As mentioned in the introduction, the problem of evil questions the likelihood of a co-existence between evil and good that is normally present in religion. According to Oppy (27), religion argues that good involves what God wants and asks of humans.
Evil, on the other hand, involves what God does not want. However, Oppy presents an interesting argument that what religion terms as good or evil can be viewed as one element. Oppy (27) argues that the good aspect of religion involves the omnipotent and omniscient God. However, these adjectives can also be used to describe something evil.
Rowe (65) has, however, rejected the problem of evil by stating that there is a thin line between good and evil as expressed in religion. For example, many proposers of the problem of evil argue that the act of God placing judgment on humans can be viewed as both good and evil, thus there is no solid way of knowing what the specific act is.
However, Rowe (67) observes that the act is good because it is a judgment that will ‘supposedly’ be fair and just. This qualifies the act of God reigning judgment on humans as a good act. Rowe (67) further explains that evil can be seen in the free will that is actually bestowed on humans.
He argues that the act of God giving humans free will, as explained in the Christian Bible, is a good act. However, the choices that the humans make for themselves based on the free will that they have can be evil.
The problem of evil has been divided into two main components. Different scholars have argued their cases using these two components. The first component is the logical problem of evil. The scholars who identify with this component argue that if an all powerful and ever present God exists, then evil does not exist.
The scholars, however, also agree that there is evil in the world, thus such a powerful and ever present God does not exist. One scholar who has tried to derail this component is Alvin Plantinga. Plantinga argues that the ever present and all powerful God exists, and so does evil. He argues that the presence of free will is what causes evil and not the existence of God.
This, however, has been criticized by several scholars who have argued that if the God involved is all knowing and powerful, then he knows when evil will occur and how to stop it. If he does not stop it, then it means that he does not want to stop it. Based on this argument, it is very difficult to explain the difference between good and evil (Beebe 57).
The second component is the evidential problem of evil. This is a component that is supported by scholars who aim at showing the existence of evil. There is only slight difference between the logical problem of evil and the evidential problem of evil. Trakakis (82), who supports the latter theory, argues that there is no possible way of the co-existence of a bad spirit that causes evil together with a good spirit that does good deeds.
According to the proponents of this argument, if there was an omnipresent and omniscient God, then he would have been able to remove evil and any agents that cause it. The fact that evil exists, therefore, shows that the presence of such a god is questionable (Trakakis 94).
Many other scholars have tried to base their arguments on the problem of evil using religion and everyday happenings (Inwagen 67). Two of the most common scholars who have also tried to explain the problem of evil include John Mackie and Alvin Plantinga. The works of these two scholars are further discussed in this paper.
John Mackie’s argument on the problem of evil
John Mackie was best known for his arguments about right and wrong as presented in both Philosophy and Religion. Mackie tried to describe the different possibilities that would have occurred if good and evil existed in the same realm. Being an atheist, therefore, Mackie’s argument revolves around reducing the relevance of God and religion.
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He argues that there is no God and this can be proven by the fact that there is a lot of evil in the world. According to (Inwagen 67), evil in this sense means the suffering that many human beings go through and not necessarily the bad actions one human being does to another.
Mackie also argues that many people have believed in the existence of the omnipresent God because it is not only catchy, but people also want to believe in something with more power than normal human beings. Mackie argues that the objective values that are supported by religion are not only false, but they are also not realistic.
Inwagen (69) supports Mackie’s statement and argues that it is extremely difficult to note where the consequences of doing evil come from. He also states that some of the consequences can make the involved individual become worse than they were.
For example, in the case of a man who is convicted of theft, there are many loopholes on the relevant punishment with regard to the problem of evil. Many people would commit this man to prison. If he were stealing to feed his children, then his children would go hungry and neither the court that sent the man to prison, nor the person whose property was stolen would be concerned about the welfare of the man’s children.
Mackie disregarded the argument of free will that many other scholars had used to explain the existence of both good and evil in the same realm. Apart from claiming that the idea of free will is of no value to the problem of evil, he also added the fact that it does not explain why a powerful god would let people suffer.
Mackie was of the idea that a perfect God would also create a perfect human being, thus there would be no evil. However, societal problems prove that there are some human beings who are purely evil. Therefore, if god is perfect, then why would he create such imperfect human beings? If God is perfect and creates perfect creatures, then who or what created these imperfect human beings (Inwagen 69)?
Like many other scholars, Mackie also argues that the choice of free will would have been applicable only if human beings would choose to do the right thing all the time (Inwagen 53). However, what is considered evil in one society might not be evil in another. In today’s world, the punishments of evil are also very different.
For example, stealing in Saudi Arabia is punishable through the chopping off one finger or hand. Stealing in other countries is mainly punishable through fines.
Phillips (52) also argues that if God would allow evil to reside on earth, then God himself has aspects of evil. He further explains that God would only let evil and other bad things happen to human beings if he himself was bad. This reduces the relevance of God as portrayed by religion.
In as much as John Mackie had many followers, he also had various critics. Alvin Plantinga was one of the scholars who criticized Mackie’s theory of the logical problem of evil.
Alvin Plantinga and the problem of evil
As mentioned, Plantinga was against the logical explanation of the problem of evil. He argued that free will should have an impact on the discussion of the problem of evil. He adamantly rejected the works of Mackie through his free will defence. According to this defence, Plantinga tries to explain the existence of an omnipresent and omniscient God, while also explaining why evil is necessary.
Plantinga’s main argument is that the fact that God gave human beings free will means that humans have the right to choose good or evil. If human beings did not have free will, then they would always have done good deeds (Plantinga 464).
Rowe (65) backs Plantinga’s argument by stating that the Christian Bible shows the difference between having free will and not having any will whatsoever. He argues that according to the Bible, the first human beings did not have free will, thus they always chose good deeds (Plantinga 466).
However, they had the chance to make their own decisions after getting the free will. It is these decisions that allowed evil into the world. From this explanation, one denotes that evil comes from decisions and choices and not necessarily from a bad spirit.
Plantinga also defended his argument by stating that it could be true that God allows evil things in order to test moral goodness. This means that God has the power to make the evil go away, but he does not do that so that he can test the righteous and the evil people.
Many critics of Plantinga have argued that his free will defence has only paid attention to moral evil, instead of talking about natural evil too. Moral evil can be defined as the evil that is done by someone because of their beliefs. The case of a doctor who decides to stop the treatment of a patient due to lack of money to pay the doctor’s fee is an example of moral evil. Natural evil, however, is that which has no cause or reason.
For example, diseases and death are considered natural evils. There are some people who are also considered naturally evil. According to region, many of these people are not righteous. Plantinga’s theory, therefore, does not give an explanation of the latter kind of evil (Trakakis 93).
Discussion on Plantinga’s response to the logical problem of evil
Even though the Plantinga’s response to the logical problem of evil has been accepted by many scholars, it also has several loopholes. One such loophole is the fact that Plantinga agrees with the possibility that God might allow evil to be present in the society as a way of knowing the righteous and the evil.
However, according to Hasker (91), this means that the choices that are provided to man always involve some evil. If this is the case, then God also has some aspects of evil, thereby ruling out the opinion that God is good.
In the same breath, the argument does not fully solve the problem of evil theory because it does not discuss the relevance of natural evil. Religion has, over the years, explained that there is one single nonhuman spirit that causes natural evil. This theory does not discuss this aspect of evil, yet it has solely based its argument on religion (Hasker 91).
Although there many scholars who have tried to solve the problem of evil, none of them has provided solid solutions. John Mackie and Alvin Plantinga are two scholars who differed in the best way of solving ‘the problem of evil’ concept.
Plantinga refuted all the work that Mackie had presented with regard to the problem of evil. He argued that free will was relevant in determining the solution to this problem. According to Mackie, however, free will was irrelevant.
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