An English philosopher Michael Palmer boldly contended that there could be no amount of theological ingenuity to resolve “an irreducible incompatibility between scientific evidence [viz., “the theory of naturally selection that Darwin presents is one of unparalleled barbarity, impersonal and haphazard in form and subject only to the vagaries of environment”] and religious belief [viz., “any notion of an omnipotent, benevolent and purposive deity, of a loving God who cares for his creature but is yet quite prepared to subject them to a life of unremitting brutality and hardship”](Palmer 2012: 10)
According to Palmer, “cruelty cannot accommodate benevolence, at least not on this scale, on the scale of omnipotence, when presumably other options were available to God and the creation of a happier and less barbaric world a real possibility”. (ibid) With scientific evidence in place, he concludes, it is reasonable to ditch theistic case altogether.
Late Australian philosopher John Leslie Mackie explained that the problem of evil “is not a scientific problem that might be solved by further discoveries, nor a practical problem that might be solved by decision or an action”(Mackie 1982 150). The problem of evil arises to those who hold to the traditional theism.
For Mackie, unlike Palmer, there is a possible amount of theological ingenuity to resolve the problem of evil. One of them could be what Mackie called a “[m]uch more interesting” suggestion, namely “things that are evil in themselves may contribute to the goodness of an ‘organic whole’ in which they are found, so that the world as a whole is better as it is, with some evils in it, than it could be if there were no evil.”(153).
Mackie explained that this suggestion could be developed in several ways. He wrote,
It may be supported by an aesthetic analogy, by the fact that contrasts heighten beauty, and that in a musical work, for example, there may occur discords which somehow add to the beauty of the work as a whole. Alternatively, the notion of progress may be used: it may be argued that the best possible organization of the world will be not static but progressive, perhaps with what Kant called an endless progress towards perfection: the gradual overcoming of evil by good is really a finer thing than would be the eternal unchallenged sovereignty of good.(ibid)
This theological ingenuity may not have offered a real solution of the problem (154) but as Mackie concluded,
Since this defence is formally possible, and its principle involves no real abandonment of our ordinary view of the opposition between good and evil, we can concede that the problem of evil does not, after all, show that the central doctrines of theist are logically inconsistent with one another”(154)
Free will defence is also another “amount of theological ingenuity” that may solve the problem of evil. Even though Mackie believed that all forms of the free will defence fail, he noted that “[i]t is plain that [free will defence] is the only solution of the problem of evil that has any chance of succeeding.”(155).
Contrary to Palmer, Mackie concluded that “[w]e cannot, indeed, take the problem of evil as a conclusive disproof of traditional theism”(176)
A Possible Solution: Reducible Compatibility
I think theist could resolve the compatibility between the scientific evidence and the religious belief that Palmer presented by offering a premise that does not even have to be true nor believed by a theist or an atheist, but simply possibly true, to show that the problem of evil is compatible with religious belief of “an omnipotent, benevolent and purposive deity, of a loving God who cares for his creature”.
Theist could argue that it is possible that “an omnipotent, benevolent and purposive deity, of a loving God who cares for his creature” has good moral reason(s) “to subject them to a life of unremitting brutality and hardship”.
If it is possibly true that God, if exists, has just reason(s) to subject the creatures He cares, then contrary to Palmer, there could be amount of theological ingenuity to resolve the problem of evil. So it is not reasonable to ditch theistic case altogether since the problem of evil is not as convincing as Palmer believe it to be, unless he succeed to show that, God, if exists, can not have any good reason(s) to permit evil.
Mackie, J. L (1982) The Miracle of Theism: Arguments For and Against the Existence of God. Oxford University Press Inc., New York. U. S.
Palmer, Michael (2012) The Atheist’s Primer. The Lutterworth Press. (Uncorrected Proof Copy Review Purposes Only)
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