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Behind Mackie's Argument for Atheism

Essay by   •  November 25, 2010  •  Essay  •  1,968 Words (8 Pages)  •  2,646 Views

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Mackie in his paper Evil and Omnipotence, constructs an argument against the idea of the possibility of a God existing that has the characteristics laid out by the main religions: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. These characteristics include that God is omnipotent, or He is capable of stopping evil, and omni benevolent, or He wants to eliminate evil and He is entirely good. Mackie systematically goes through his logical thought process as well as his response to any type of criticism or alternative solution that might arise. The main point of his argument is to establish that God, as constructed by Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, could not possibly exist. It is one of the most highly regarded arguments towards atheism.

Mackie wishes to disprove the existence of God, or at least the view of God being both omnipotent and wholly good, through an argument which uses the problem of the existence of evil. Here is how he lays the argument out: 1. Suppose there is a God, whom is composed of the above characteristics. 2. If this God is omnipotent, then there is no limit to His ability or what He can do. 3. If this God is wholly good then it would be assumed that He would want to eliminate evil completely. 4. If there was a God who knew evil existed, could eliminate evil, and wanted to eliminate evil then it would make logical sense that there would be no evil. 5. However, evil does exist. 6. Therefore an omnipotent and wholly good God cannot exist. This argument is analogous, say, to a master chef, in that this chef is capable of cooking only the best tasting food in the world, he is able to cook this way all the time, and he knows that people only like good tasting food. However, in this chef's restaurant there always seems to be some food that is vile tasting. But, if the Chef was able to cook the best tasting food all the time and he knew that people only wanted good tasting food, then we would have to surmise that this type of chef could not possibly exist. Again, Mackie's argument is not against the existence of God, but against the existence of a God that is composed of the characteristics of being omnipotent and wholly good.

In his paper Mackie not only lays out his own case for atheism but he also rebuts any argument that might be contrary to his own. He breaks this down further in to two subsections; adequate solutions and fallacious solutions. Adequate solutions are those which remove the problem of evil through limiting or removing key characteristics in the theological doctrine. The person would have to be able to limit or remove something that makes up God. This would be saying that God could perhaps not be quite as good or that he is not fully omnipotent, or that there could be a limit to His power. The fallacious solutions are those which maintain the characteristics of their image of God, but in their argument somehow limit or reject these characteristics when trying to counter Mackie's argument.

When looking at the adequate solutions Mackie infers that people are able to maintain their view of God being omnipotent by somehow changing the very definition of the word. However, if you state that God is not omnipotent, whether it is implicitly stated or directly, you would have solved the problem. But, in your own argument you have proved only that God would like evil to go away, but He is not powerful enough to do it. If you were to argue that God is not totally good, then the existence of evil can be comprehended in that God could perhaps be sadistic. He also goes on to examine the possibility of evil being just an illusion and that it does not truly exist at all. However, there is the possibility “that this illusion is itself an evil”. Mackie is saying that it is not logical to assert that evil is not evil, when the idea in and of itself is evil. So even those that are able to somehow contain or limit their view of God's power necessarily includes the view that God cannot be absolutely omnipotent and wholly good. So, although Mackie agrees that by limiting or changing the characteristics that make up God, the existence of God may be able to be maintained, it is not a God that follows common theological views. This reinforces his argument towards atheism and against the existence of God. These “believers”, according to Mackie, are simply modifying their premise in order to support their argument, while at the same time, maintaining their belief in their unmodified version of God. This is illogical and is not supportable as a valid argument. Although the solution may work, it fails to establish the existence of an omnipotent, wholly good God.

Mackie next discusses fallacious solutions, or ones which maintain the characteristics of God in their view, but through their argument somehow reject one of these characteristics. These are the usual arguments that occur when one is defending the very existence of God. In his paper Mackie explains how he is able to find the fallacy in these arguments. Often he states “the supposed solution moves to and fro, between, say, two of the constituent propositions, at one point asserting the first of these but covertly abandoning the second, at another point asserting the second but covertly abandoning the first.” Mackie’s basic premise is that none of these arguments are able to uphold both propositions of God being omnipotent and wholly good. The four fallacies Mackie discuses are that “Good cannot exist without evil” or “Evil is necessary as a counterpart to good”, “Evil is necessary as a means to good”, the universe is better with some evil in it than it could be if there were no evil”, and “Evil is due to human freewill”.

In the fist argument that “Good cannot exist without evil” or that “Evil is necessary as a counterpart to good” Mackie suggests that in looking at this you have to say that good and evil are the exact opposites of each other in the same way as “red” and “non-red” are the exact opposites. Mackie states that if something is red, and there is something else that exists, then what the other must be is either red or non-red. But, he also believes that the idea of everything having its own logical opposite is only a construction in our mind and that there is no reason that God would have had to create an opposite for good. Using the red/non-red analogy and saying that something is red does not imply that non-red things would have to exist. In this way you could

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