The “Problem of Evil”: Human Choice and Free Will

In his article entitled Evil and Omnipotence, J.L Mackie utilizes philosophical analysis to address the “problem of evil”. In this article, Mackie comes to the logical conclusion to the existence of God. His analysis was presented by the following facts for a syllogism or formula: God is omnipotent; God is wholly good; Evil exist, (Mackie 1955). Therefore, the “problem of evil” presents a significant issue. Mackie theorizes there is no possibility all three facts can be true and coexist together. He first indicates that God is “omnipotent”, meaning that God is perfect and all powerful. If God is all powerful and he is also good, there is no indication that evil can exist in this climate. It is a debatable problem currently up for discussion. For those who are monotheist, this is problematic. Despite religious doctrine and faith, a rational analysis on the “problem of evil” concludes that God does not exist. For those who are atheist, the problem provides an answer to the age old question. However, monotheists are not dismayed by this contradiction. Mackie, in his article, argued against the existence of God analyzing the formula presented. Specifically he provided evidence against one argument often cited which states that “evil is due to human free will”, (Mackie, 1995). Although he provided evidence and suggestions against the existence of God, an analysis will prove the latter. In disagreement with Mackie’s “problem of evil”, it is through an omnipotent and wholly good God, evil exists through the liberty and free will of human beings and their right to choose.  

Saint Augustine is a renowned priest who studied the “problem of evil” throughout the later part of the 4th century A.D. St. Augustine recognized the contradictions of God’s coexistence with evil. To tackle this problem, St. Augustine addressed the issue from a different perspective. While scholars like Mackie faced the problem on the grounds of God’s existence, St Augustine faced the problem on the grounds of “what is evil?”, (Koukl, 2005). From this stand point, St. Augustine formulated the following syllogism: “God created everything; God did not create evil; evil is not a thing”, (Koukl, 2005). By taking away the notion that God did not create evil, then evil is not associated with the contradiction. Evil can be defined as many things but never described or defined as a “thing”. In his argument, Mackie asserts that good and evil cannot be associated with opposites such as big and small. Small has no infinite definition of what is small and must be compared to another to determine if the object is actually “small”. Without a comparison of what is big and what is small, there would be no scale to differentiate the two. St. Augustine however, describes evil as something else. He does not recognize the proposition that good and evil are opposites.  Instead, St. Augustine insist that, “evil is then the act itself of choosing the lesser good”, (Koukl, 2005). The act of “choosing” brings up the point of this analysis- choice. From this perspective, evil is directly associated with human choice. People have the option to participate in evil and malevolent behaviors. If evil is not created by God then God cannot be evil. It is then considered a lesser standard of good. Consequently, “one can only turn away from good, that is from greater good to a lesser good”, (Kaoukl, 2005). 

The existence of God and the existence of Evil are present because human choice and free will. Today, people “are totally free and responsible for their actions and decisions”, (Beebe, 2003). People have the option to do wrong or to do right. This freedom of choice was granted to people by God. Choice allows individuals to make appropriate decisions. Through the option of choice, people can commit murder, rape, and robbery at their own discretion. These are associated with human morality and moral conduct. A person is immoral if he participates in acts that are evil. In many ways, man is associated with evil and described as evil. Consequently, “God cannot get rid of evil and suffering without also getting rid of morally significant free will”, (Beebe, 2003). Evil is an act committed by man. Although some acts are incidents of nature, they can be considered evil such as natural disasters and disease. Other acts of evil are committed by humans on humans. God did not create a world where everything is good and everyone in this world acts accordingly to this goodness. Evil is suffering and man can be termed evil and/or commit acts of suffering on others. Morality is then directly associated with suffering. Someone who is morally evil will cause others to suffer through choice, options, and free will.

Mackie, in his article, argues against the ideas of human choice and free will. His counterclaim to this is, “why could [God] not have made man such that they always freely choose to be good?” (Mackie, 1955). This line of reasoning questions the omnipotence of God. It suggests that, if God were perfect and powerful he would create a world that was good, peaceful, and harmonious. It also questions God’s goodness. A God who is good would not allow evil to circumvent the earth. From this perspective, the only conclusion left is that evil exist and God does not. Mackie concluded in his analysis on human free will and the “problem of evil” stating that, “there is no valid solution of the problem which does not modify at least one of the omnipotence proposition”, (Mackie, 1955). However, in this same article, Mackie makes a contradiction asking, “why should [God] have men free to will rightly”, (Mackie, 1955). Others such as Freidrich Schleiermacher state that, “if a being is perfect in its goodness… it would never sin even if it were free to”, (Koukl, 2005).  In this instance, the question here is what is free and what is man’s sense of freedom? There is an idea of being morally free and naturally free. Being naturally free is associated with being physically free. However, moral freedom entails people having the right to decide their moral character and conduct. God cannot grant man free will without giving him free will. Free will includes freedom to make mistakes, freedom to decide good or evil, freedom of religion, and so forth. Man can have free will, but his choice and options would be limited to choices that are good. If this is the case, then his will is limited and therefore is not free to fully decide.  

Monotheism is an important aspect of the major religions of the world including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. While many people have a religious affiliation others do not. Some may associate with spirituality than a religious denomination. Yet, despite the range and scope of religion including Hinduism, Buddhism, and Paganism many people continue to have their own ideas and perceptions regarding the “problem of evil” and the existence of God. No matter one’s religious believes, life on Earth is temporary. Individuals, while on this Earth, must make the appropriate decisions on how to live their life. Life can be led driven by goodness or can be driven by evil. Without the freedom of choice and free will, one would have to debate whether the world we live in is actually Earth or a small piece of heaven.  God is omnipotent, he is wholly good, and evil does exist. For monotheist all three are rational fact and may coexist together. The purpose of God is not Earth but the kingdom of heaven. “He not only wanted free creatures, he also wanted plentitude, that is, the greatest good possible… [this] requires more than general freedom; it requires moral freedom”, (Koukl, 2005).

  

References

Beebe, J. (2003). Logical problem of evil. In J. Fieser & B. Dowden (Eds.), Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from http://www.iep.utm.edu/evil-log/

Koukl, G. (2005, August 17). Augustine on evil. Retrieved from http://harju.org/frfenton/pub/Augustine on Evil (Koukl).pdf

Mackie, J. (1955). Evil and omnipotence. Mind News Series,64(254), 200-212. Retrieved from http://www.ditext.com/mackie/evil.html

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About Russia Robinson

I am an independent freelance writer and free thinker. I strive to use my writing talents to benefit the greater good of society, one word, one sentence, one page at a time. Originally from Richmond, California I attended San Francisco State University receiving a BA in English Creative Writing and American Literature in 2004. After this I attended post graduate studies in 2008 at Georgia’s Kennesaw State University in Technical Writing. With an academic background in English, I have spent more than 10 years’ helping young people succeed. This can be seen in my career background in education and mental health. I am a certifiable Language Arts teacher for the state of Georgia. I also worked in social services including juvenile mental health treatment services and counseling. As a result, I understand the diversity of problems people face in their everyday lives. With words put together like so, I promote equality and a healthy society for all people regardless of individual differences. Conducting research, writing articles, essays, and blogging, I push to educate others about various issues that affect people. I also do this creatively through short stories, poems, pictures, and a novel in progress. My hobbies and interest are reading and learning. I enjoy all things art and all things nature. From camping and astronomy to photography and cooking, I enjoy sighting seeing and socializing just as much as I enjoy curling in bed with a good book or binge watching TV.
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