(a) Critics of theism
As we have seen, Hume (via Philo) appears to be suggesting that it seems hard to believe in God (on one understanding of 'God') given the existence of the evils that we encounter. But this is a very general point to make (and, arguably, not an especially damning one for the theist - after all, one can find it hard to believe in many things one knows to be real).10 So one might wonder whether Hume wants a con-
elusion having more bite so as seriously to undermine theism. Scholars differ when it comes to interpreting the Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (they differ as to which bits of the text represent Hume's own views), but it seems to me that Hume, in the end, wants to suggest that evil shows that there positively is no God (as Cleanthes conceives of him).
Once Philo has made his case (as reported above) Cleanthes responds by asserting that things in the world are nothing like as bad as Philo makes them out to be. He says:
The only method of supporting divine benevolence (and it is what I willingly embrace) is to deny absolutely the misery and wickedness of man. Your representations are exaggerated: Your melancholy views mostly fictitious. Your inferences contrary to fact and experience. Health is more common than sickness: Pleasure than pain: Happiness than misery. And for one vexation, which we meet with, we attain, upon computation, a hundred ei\joyments.H
Yet Hume does not give Cleanthes the last word at this point in his text. For, with Cleanthes having tied his version of theism to the belief that things are better than Philo depicts, Philo promptly insists that Cleanthes' claim is 'doubtful' and that pain is 'infinitely more violent and durable' than pleasure.12 And Hume goes on to represent Philo as confidently resting his case against Cleanthes on this basis. Discussion of God and evil continues in the Dialogues beyond part 10, but nothing emerges to suggest that Hume is not himself happy with the conclusion that, if God is as Cleanthes takes him to be, then there is no God. He has Philo conceding that there might be a God even as Cleanthes conceives of him and even though the world is as Philo takes it to be. As the Dialogues as a whole makes pretty clear, however, Hume doubts that there is reason to believe in such a God. So Hume's position on God and evil seems to be this:
(1) Evil in the world is evidence against the existence of God (on one understanding of 'God').
(2) On one understanding of God it might be possible for the evils in the world to be real and for God to be so as well.
(3) There is no reason to think that, in the sense of 'God' taken for granted in (1) and (2), there is a God.
Of course, the less than illuminating phrase in that summary of Hume is 'on one understanding of "God"'. Yet Hume is clearly thinking of God as portrayed by Cleanthes, according to whom God is only different from people when it comes to degree and allowing for the fact that he (unlike people) is ungenerated, incorporeal and everlasting. Philo's worries about God and evil focus on the notions of power, will and goodness. As is clear from many parts of the Dialogues, Cleanthes believes God to be powerful, able to act voluntarily, and good. As is also clear, however, he takes God to possess these attributes in much the way that people do - only more so. For him, God and I are both powerful, able to act voluntarily, and good, though God is all of these things to a much greater extent than I am. In particular, so he seems to think, God is much better than I am from the moral point of view, and it is this picture of God that Philo, thinking about evil, seeks to undermine.
Let us say that you and I are fairly powerful if we can lift a chair (something that a flea, for example, cannot do). Let us also say that we have the capacity to will if we can just choose to make a pie (something that a stove cannot do). Let us also say that we might be considered to be morally good if we befriend people in need and act, in general, as someone like Mother Teresa of Calcutta did.13 According to Cleanthes, God is like us in these respects, but he is more powerful, has more options for willing and is much better behaved. Now, so Philo (and Hume) appear to be saying, that view of God is at odds with the facts of evil. There might, Hume seems to think, be both evil and the God in which Cleanthes believes. But it seems prima facie unlikely, and it cannot be proved that there is such a God as the one in which Cleanthes believes. Or as Philo says: 'There is no view of human life or of the conditions of mankind, from which, without the greatest violence, we can infer the moral attributes [of God], or learn that infinite benevolence, conjoined with infinite power and infinite wisdom.'14 In short, Hume seems to be suggesting that, lacking a proof to the effect that there is a morally good and all-powerful God, the reality of evil should lead us to conclude that there is no such God.1"
Present-day attacks on belief in God based on evil derive much of their impetus from what Hume writes in the Dialogues. So it is not, perhaps, surprising that one of the most influential of recent critics of theism who focuses on evil should be a well-known commentator on Hume. Here I am referring to J. L. Mackie (1917-1981), whose famous paper 'Evil and Omnipotence' has had a considerable impact on philosophical discussion, though its position can be distinguished from that adopted by Hume.16
Mackie crisply asserts that evil shows that there cannot be a God. He writes:
In its simplest form the problem is this: God is omnipotent; God is wholly good; and yet evil exists. There seems to be some contradiction between these three propositions, so that if any two of them were true the third would be false. But at the same time all three are essential parts of most theological positions: the theologian, it seems, at once must adhere and cannot consistently adhere to all three.17
But is it true that theists who acknowledge the reality of evil are somehow contradicting themselves? In the work from which I have quoted, Mackie supports the charge of contradiction in three ways.
(i) First, he explains why we should think that God and evil cannot both exist.
(ii) Then he explains how they might both be thought to exist, though only in a way which rejects traditional views about God.
(iii) Finally, he considers a range of solutions to 'the problem of evil', solutions which, so he argues, are misguided.
To begin with, Mackie concedes that 'God exists', 'God is omnipotent', 'God is wholly good', and 'Evil exists' do not, when affirmed together, obviously amount to the manifest self-contradiction of statements like 'One and the same assertion can be simultaneously both true and false' or 'There is something which is both entirely red and entirely green'. The contradiction, says Mackie, 'does not arise immediately; to show it we need some additional premises, or perhaps some quasi-logical rules connecting the terms "good", "evil", and "omnipotent"'.18 Yet, so Mackie thinks, we can supply such premises or rules. As he puts it:
These additional principles are that good is opposed to evil, in such a way that a good thing always eliminates evil as far as it can, and that there are no limits to what an omnipotent thing can do.
From these principles, says Mackie, 'it follows that a good omnipotent thing eliminates evil completely, and then the propositions that a good omnipotent thing exists, and that evil exists, are incompatible'.19 Mackie's second move is to acknowledge that worries about the possible co-existence of God and evil can be set aside, but only at a cost. 'The problem [of evil]', he says, 'will not arise if one gives up at least one of the propositions that constitute it.'20 So the problem does not arise if, for example, one denies the assertion that God is omnipotent. Nor does it arise if one denies that evil is real. As Mackie implies, however, most theists would not want to deny the assertions now in question. So, as Mackie also implies, giving up 'at least one of the propositions that constitute' the problem of evil is not a serious option for theists.
Some theists, however, without wishing to deny either divine omnipotence or the reality of evil, have tried to explain how the existence of evil can be reconciled with the omnipotence and goodness of God. In seeking to clinch his case against theism, Mackie mentions four such explanations - to each of which he offers counter-arguments:
(a) According to the first, good cannot exist without evil.
(b) According to the second, evil is necessary as a means to good.
(c) According to the third, the universe is better with some evil in it than it would be with no evil.
(d) According to the fourth, evil is due to human free will.
Mackie objects to the first claim by arguing that it effectively denies that God is omnipotent. For, Mackie suggests, good can exist without evil. An omnipotent God, he says, 'might have made everything good'.21 In response to the second claim, Mackie sees no reason why an omnipotent God has to put up with evil as a means to good. It may, he says, be true that causal laws in the universe necessitate certain evils if certain goods are to arise. But, he adds, omnipotence can hardly be constrained by causal laws which obtain in the universe.
With respect to the third claim Mackie's main objection is that we are still left with a God who is prepared to allow for preventable evil. It has been argued that, even if good can, in principle, exist without evil, there are lots of particular goods which could never have arisen without certain evils. Take, for example, the goodness displayed in the lives of people who consistently care for people in trouble. Such goodness, it would seem, depends for its very being on the fact that people get into trouble. But, says Mackie, in willing a world in which goodness such as this exists, God is willing evil - evil which need never have been.
In turning to the fourth claim Mackie is addressing what is, perhaps, the most popular move made by theists in the face of evil. Commonly referred to as the 'Free Will Defence', this maintains:
(1) Much evil is the result of what people freely choose to do.
(2) It is good that there should be a world with agents able to act freely, and a world containing such agents would be better than a world of puppets controlled by God.
(3) Even an omnipotent God cannot ensure that free people act well (for, if they are free and not puppets controlled by God, what they do is up to them).
(4) Therefore, much evil is explicable in terms of God allowing for the possible consequences of him willing a great good.
However, and without denying the value of human freedom, Mackie finds fault with the Free Will Defence. For he does not see why God could not have made a world in which people always freely act well. He writes:
If God has made men such that in their free choices they sometimes prefer what is good and sometimes what is evil, why could he not have made men such that they always freely choose the good? If there is no logical impossibility in a man's freely choosing the good on one, or on several, occasions, there cannot be a logical impossibility in his freely choosing the good on every occasion. God was not, then, faced with a choice between making innocent automata and making beings who, in acting freely, would sometimes go wrong: there was open to him the obviously better possibility of making beings who would act freely but always go right.
Clearly, his failure to avail himself of this possibility is inconsistent with his being both omnipotent and wholly good.22
(Hi) William, Rowe
We shall be seeing more of the Free Will Defence later. For now, however, let me turn to another anti-theistic approach to God and evil - the view that, though theists might not embrace contradictory beliefs in the way that Mackie thinks they do, the existence of evil is none the less good evidence against the existence of God.23 Sometimes called the 'evidentialist argument from evil', this line of thinking (essentially a modern version of Hume's position) can be summarized by referring to William Rowe's much-discussed article 'The Problem of Evil and Some Varieties of Atheism'.24
In general, Rowe allows that evil (e.g. intense human and animal suffering) might be justifiable if it leads to some greater good, a good not obtainable without the evil in question. With this allowance made, Rowe's basic argument is that there is unjustifiable evil which is good evidence against God's existence. Or, in Rowe's own words:
1. There exist instances of intense suffering which an omnipotent being could have prevented without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.
2. An omniscient, wholly good being would prevent the occurrence of any intense suffering it could, unless it could not do so without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.
3. [Therefore] [tjhere does not exist an omnipotent, omniscient, wholly good being.25
Since Rowe holds this argument to be logically valid, his main concern is to argue for the truth of the first and second premises.
The second premise, says Rowe, 'seems to express a belief that accords with our basic moral principles, principles shared by both theists and non-theists'.2(' For Rowe, therefore, the really controversial premise is the first, and he admits that it might be false. Suppose we try to imagine an instance of pointless suffering. Though we may not be able to see that it serves a good which cannot be obtained without it, there might, Rowe agrees, be such a good. And yet, he continues, we have good reason to suppose that there are instances of pointless suffering even if we cannot definitively prove that there are such instances.
Take, for example, the case of a fawn dying in agony as the victim of a forest fire. 'Is it reasonable', asks Rowe, 'to believe that there is some greater good so intimately connected to that suffering that even an omnipotent, omniscient being could not have obtained that good without permitting that suffering or some evil at least as bad?' Rowe's answer is: 'It certainly does not appear reasonable to believe this. Nor does it seem reasonable to believe that there is some evil at least as bad as the fawn's suffering such that an omnipotent being simply could not have prevented it without permitting the fawn's suffering.'27 For the sake of argument, Rowe concedes that perhaps he is wrong with respect to the example of the fawn. But what of the multitude of instances of 'seemingly pointless human and animal suffering that occur daily in our world'? Turning to this question, Rowe maintains that the only reasonable conclusion is one unfavourable to the theist:
In the light of our experience and knowledge of the variety and scale of human and animal suffering in our world, the idea that none of this suffering could have been prevented by an omnipotent being without thereby losing a greater good or permitting an evil at least as bad seems an extraordinarily absurd idea, quite beyond our belief.28
With this point made, Rowe holds that his first premise is a reasonable one and that, given also the reasonableness of his second premise, 'it does seem that we have rational support for atheism, that it is reasonable to believe that the theistic God does not exist'.29
(b) Theistic responses
Mackie and Rowe are clearly arguing for non-theistic conclusions.30 What, however, have theists said in the face of evil? How have they responded to the charge that evil is proof of, or good evidence for, the non-existence of God? At the risk of simplifying somewhat, we may say that they have mostly done so by embracing one or more of the following lines of argument, some of which Mackie mentions.
(i) The 'We Know that God Exists' Argument
If I know that it often rains in England, I should rightly assume that something is wrong with any attempt to show either that frequent rain in England is impossible or that there is good evidence against its occurring. In a similar way, so it has been argued, we have grounds for supposing that God's existence is not impossible or subject to doubt even though evil exists. For, it has been said, we can know, not only that evil exists, but also that God exists, from which it follows (a) that something is wrong with any attempt to show that God cannot exist, and (b) that something is wrong with any attempt to show that there is good evidence against God's existence. Defenders of this line of thought sometimes offer arguments for God's existence. Taking p to be equivalent to 'There is a good, omnipotent, omniscient God', their suggestion is that there are positive grounds for accepting p, grounds which entitle us to hold that the existence of God is logically compatible with the existence of evil, grounds which also entitle us to hold that there is no evidence based on evil which shows that God does not exist.31
(ii) The Unreality of Evil Argument
This argument takes two forms. According to the first, evil is an illusion of some kind. Such is the view of the Christian Science movement, according to which, in the words of its founder, Mary Baker Eddy (1821-1910), 'Sin, disease, whatever seems real to material sense, is unreal... All inharmony of mortal mind or body is illusion, possessing neither reality nor identity though seeming to be real and identical'.'12 According to the second form of the argument, evil is unreal since it is no positive thing or quality. Rather, it is an absence or privation of goodness.
What is this second form driving at? It can be found in the work of writers like Augustine of Hippo and Thomas Aquinas, and the first thing to say about it (since this is often not appreciated) is that it is not siding with Mary Baker Eddy and is not claiming that there really is no pain, or that there are no wicked people or bad actions. Augustine and Aquinas would never have denied the reality of suffering or sin. They acknowledge that people and other animals suffer, and that people can be horribly vicious as well as slightly bad. Much of their thinking depends on this recognition. On the other hand, however, they hold that what makes suffering or wickedness bad is the fact that it always amounts to a lack of some kind. On their account, 'evil' or 'badness' is not the name of some independently existing individual (like a particular human being, e.g. Mary) or of some positive quality or attribute (like being feline). Rather, it is a word we use to signify a gap between what is actually there and what could be there (and should be there) but is not. There can be people, but there cannot, so Augustine and Aquinas think, be 'baddities' (things whose nature is captured simply by saying that they are bad). There can be wooden boxes, just as there can be wooden chairs. But, so Augustine and Aquinas would say, while 'wooden' signifies a positive property, shareable by different things (like boxes and chairs), 'evil' and 'bad' do not. 'Evil', says Aquinas, 'cannot signify a certain existing being, or a real shaping or positive kind of thing. Consequently, we are left to infer that it signifies a certain absence of a good.'38 Just as to say 'There is nothing here' is not to say of something that it is here, so, in Aquinas's view, to say that there is evil is not to say that there is any real individual or any positive quality.34 With respect to the topic of God and evil, Aquinas regards this conclusion as significant, since he thinks of it as implying that God cannot be thought of as causing evil, considered as some kind of thing or as some kind of positive quality. Aquinas holds that God, as Creator, causes the being of all that can properly be thought of as existing (i.e. actual individuals and all their actual, positive properties). On his account, therefore, evil cannot be thought of as something caused (creatively) by God. It is, he thinks, real enough (in the sense that it would be mad to say that nothing is bad or defective or sinful). But it is not, he concludes, something created. Its 'reality' is always a case of something missing.
(Hi) The Free Will Defence
As we have seen, Mackie refers to the Free Will Defence. As we have also seen, his verdict on it is negative. But according to many philosophers it is a good response to the charge that evil somehow shows that God cannot, or probably does not, exist. One such philosopher (famous for advocating the Free Will Defence) is Alvin Plantinga.
In 'Evil and Omnipotence' Mackie rejects the Free Will Defence on the ground that an omnipotent God could have made a world in which free people always behave well. According to Plantinga, however, we cannot know that this is so. He agrees that there is no contradiction involved in the notion of someone always behaving well. But, he adds, whether someone freely behaves well in some actual situation cannot be determined by God. Created people must freely decide to act well, and they cannot do that if the fact that they act as they do is determined by God. 'Of course', says Plantinga, 'it is up to God whether to create free creatures at all; but if he aims to produce moral good, then he must create significantly free creatures upon whose co-operation he must depend. Thus is the power of an omnipotent God limited by the freedom he confers upon his creatures.'35
It might appear from this last quotation that Plantinga wishes to deny God's omnipotence. Yet that is not the way he sees it. Theists have regularly denied that divine omnipotence means that God can do what is logically impossible, and Plantinga's basic point is that it is logically impossible for God to create a creature whose actions are both free and determined by him. Plantinga wants to say this since he thinks that a free action cannot be caused by anything other than the agent whose action it is. 'If a person S is free with respect to a given action,' he writes, 'then he is free to perform that action and free to refrain; no causal laws and antecedent conditions determine either that he will perform the action, or that he will not. It is within his power, at the time in question, to perform the action, and within his power to refrain.'36
(in) The Means and Ends Approach
You would probably think me bad if I cut off someone's leg just for the fun of it. But you would probably not think me bad if I were a doctor who amputated a leg as the only way known to me of saving someone with gangrene. Why not? You would probably say something like: 'Because it is not bad to aim for something regrettable, something we might truly deem to be bad, if we are working toward a good at which we should aim (or are justified to intend) which cannot be achieved in any other way.' And this thought constitutes the basic thrust of what I am now calling the 'Means and End Approach'. Here again we have a line of thought referred to and rejected by Mackie, though it is one which has found many theistic supporters. According to them, the evil we encounter is a necessary means to what is good. Considered as such, evil cannot, they think, be appealed to as part of a proof 0/God's non-existence. Nor is it evidence for God's non-existence.
A notable and impressive contemporary defence of the Means and End Approach can be found in Richard Swinburne's book The
Existence of God,37 To begin with, Swinburne endorses a version of the Free Will Defence. It is good, he thinks, that people should be significantly free, but God can only allow them to be this by also allowing them to act badly should they choose to do so. For this reason Swinburne deems human wrongdoing to be explicable as a means to an end (the end being a world of free creatures, the means being God's standing back and allowing them freedom). What, however, of pain and suffering not brought about by people? To this question Swinburne replies by suggesting that this can also be seen as a necessary means to a good. For it is good, thinks Swinburne, that people have serious moral choice to harm or help each other, and, he argues, choice like this can only arise against the background of naturally occurring pain and suffering. He writes:
If men are to have knowledge of the evil which will result from their actions or negligence, laws of nature must operate regularly ... if humans are to have the opportunity to bring about serious evils for themselves or others by actions or negligence, or to prevent their occurrence, and if all knowledge of the future is obtained by normal induction, that is by rational response to evidence - then there must be serious natural evils occurring to man or animals.38
One might say that there is too much naturally occurring evil. Swinburne, however, thinks it reasonable to conclude that this is not so. The fewer natural evils God provides, he suggests, the less opportunity he offers for people to exercise responsibility. To say that there is 'too much' naturally occurring evil, says Swinburne, is effectively to suggest that God should make 'a toy-world; a world where things matter, but not very much; where we can choose and our choices can make a small difference, but the real choices remain God's'.39 Swinburne considers the possibility of God making himself evident to us so that we always choose well. He thinks, however, that God needs to be somehow hidden if people are to be genuine choosers. If God were really evident to us, says Swinburne, we would desire to be liked by him and our freedom of action would be undermined. 'We will be in the situation of the child in the nursery who knows that mother is looking in at the door, and for whom, in view of the child's desire for mother's approval, the temptation to wrongdoing is simply overborne.
We need "epistemic distance" from God in order to have a free choice between good and evil.'40
A line of thinking similar to Swinburne's can be found in John Hick's Evil and the God of Love (justly a modern classic on the topic of God and evil).41 Hick also employs the Free Will Defence: human freedom is a good which entails the risk of evil (the assumption being that a good God would be happy to take such a risk). Then he endorses a line of thought which he claims to derive from the writings of St Irenaeus of Lyon (c. 140-c. 202). According to Hick, God cannot create a world in which people can morally mature and eventually enjoy a proper relationship with him (this being thought of as a good) unless he also creates a world in which there are obstacles to overcome. Hick understands evil in the light of God's desire not to coerce people into accepting him. He suggests that people are sin-prone creatures, created as such by God, but able, in a world containing naturally occurring evil, to rise to great heights precisely because they are given the opportunity to become mature in the face of evil. He writes:
Let us suppose that the infinite personal God creates finite persons to share in the life which He imparts to them. If He creates them in his immediate presence, so that they cannot fail to be conscious from the first of the infinite divine being and glory, goodness and love, wisdom, power and knowledge in whose presence they are, they will have no creaturely independence in relation to their Maker. They will not be able to choose to worship God, or to turn to Him freely as valuing spirits responding to infinite Value. In order, then, to give them the freedom to come to Him, God . . . causes them to come into a situation in which He is not immediately and overwhelmingly evident to them. Accordingly they come to self-consciousness as parts of a universe which has its own autonomous structures and 'laws' ... A world without problems, difficulties, perils, and hardships would be morally static. For moral and spiritual growth comes through response to challenges; and in a paradise there would be no challenges.42
Athletes say 'No pain, no gain'. This is basically Hick's position when it comes to God and evil.
(v) The 'We Can't See All the Picture' Argument Another theistic response to arguments such as those of Mackie and Rowe takes the form of suggesting that we just cannot be sure that the evil we know about disproves, or is good evidence against, God's existence since our perspective is limited - since we lack a God's-eye view of things, so to speak. Shakespeare's Hamlet told Horatio that 'There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy'. The 'We Can't See All the Picture' Argument suggests that, though we might find it hard to see why there is evil in a world made by God, there might be a reason for it. More precisely, so defenders of the argument tend to hold, the evil we encounter might be something God allows or brings about while aiming at a good end which cannot be reached without it (an end which somehow justifies the evil) - though we might not be able to show this by argument (i.e. God has his reasons, even if we cannot understand them). Or as Demea says in Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion:
This world is but a point in comparison of the universe: This point but a moment in comparison of eternity. The present evil phenomena, therefore, are rectified in other regions, and in some future period of existence. And the eyes of men, being then opened to larger views of things, see the whole connection of general laws, and trace, with adoration, the benevolence and rectitude of the Deity, through all the mazes and intricacies of his providence.43
A prominent contemporary writer who defends the 'We Can't See All the Picture' Argument is William P. Alston.44 An opponent of theism (such as William Rowe) might suggest that there exist instances of intense suffering that God could have prevented without thereby losing some greater good (let us call this 'Thesis A'). According to Alston, however, 'the magnitude or complexity of the question is such that our powers, access to data, and so on are radically insufficient to provide sufficient warrant for accepting' A.46 Hamlet's words to Horatio, says Alston, hit the nail on the head: 'They point to the fact that our cognitions of the world, obtained by filtering raw data through such conceptual screens as we have available for the nonce, acquaint us with only some indeterminable fraction of what there is to be known.'46 Alston's thesis is that God knows what he is doing (or allowing, or whatever); and God might have reasons for doing what he does (or for allowing what he allows); but we might not be able to understand what God is about as he lives his life.4'
(vi) What kind of world can we expect from God?
Those who believe evil to be a problem for theists tend to rely on assumptions about the kind of world which God (if he exists) would make. We should therefore note that many theists have addressed the topic of evil and God by trying to call into question some of these assumptions.
Consider, for example, the notion that relief from (or absence of) pain and suffering is an intrinsically good thing, something which God would always lay on for things like human beings. Many anti-theistic writers seem to embrace this notion, but many theists do not. As we have seen, some hold that pain and suffering can perfect human beings. They argue (roughly) that austerity, sacrifice, poverty, and pain can lead to desirable results. And some suggest that what we may loosely call 'an absence of happiness' is not necessarily something which ought not to be brought about even though it could be prevented and even though we know nothing about desirable results. Some critics of theism have said that God (if he exists) would create 'the best possible world'. Others have said that God (if he exists) would maximize happiness for his creatures. But theists have challenged these assumptions as well. They have said, for example, that talk of a 'best possible world' is as incoherent as talk of a 'greatest prime number'. According to C. J. F. Williams, for example, 'It is a consequence of God's infinite power, wisdom and goodness that, for any world we can conceive him creating, it is possible to conceive him creating a better world. More than that - for this has nothing to do with what we can or cannot conceive - for any world which God can create, there is another, better world which he could also have created.'48 And, though one might be tempted to suppose that 'Maximize happiness' is an imperative which any decent-minded God could be expected to act on, some theists have challenged the idea that such an imperative is intelligible. Suppose we have a happy human being. This person could, presumably, be happier. Is there, then, a limit to happiness - some stage at which further increased happiness is impossible, some stage which God should have brought about for all from the start? Arguing somewhat along the lines of the passage from Williams just cited, George N. Schlesinger has suggested that there is no such specifiable limit. We can, he suggests, always think of ways in which a person's happiness can be in some way increased, and it is no good objection to God's existence to say that God has made a world in which people are less happy than they could be.49
With an eye on the question 'What kind of world can God be expected to make?', we should also note that some theists have urged that we can have no reasonable expectations one way or the other. An example here is Aquinas. Taking his lead from the Bible and his own philosophical reflections, Aquinas thinks of God as the source of the being (esse) of creatures. For Aquinas, God alone exists by essence or nature, and anything other than God exists because it is made to be by God. It is not, thinks Aquinas, characteristic of God that he should make things like this as opposed to things like that (though Aquinas is clear that God has made a world of varied things). In so far as anything can be deemed a 'characteristic effect' of God, says Aquinas, it is being (esse) - the fact that there is something rather than nothing, the fact that there is any world at all - and this thought leads Aquinas away from suppositions as to what we can expect in a world created by God. We can, he thinks, expect that poison will have certain effects when swallowed by human beings. In general, so he thinks, we can have lots of expectations about what will be produced by what (such expectations are part of what Aquinas would have called a scientific understanding of the world). For Aquinas, however, God is not an object of scientific enquiry, not a part of the world in which science can be developed. For him, God 'is to be thought of as existing outside the realm of existents, as a cause from which pours forth everything that exists in all its variant forms'.50 If it is logically possible for something to be, then, thinks Aquinas, God can make it to be. But, Aquinas also thinks, we have no means of determining what logically possible things God will make to be. For Aquinas, we have to start by noting what God has, in fact, made to be. Reflections on the topic of God and evil must, so he thinks, start from that, and not from assumptions we might have dreamed up (on what basis?) concerning what God is or is not likely to create.
While defending Aquinas's account of what we can and cannot know of God by rational reflection, Herbert McCabe writes: 'We do not appeal specifically to God to explain why the universe is this way rather than that, for this we need only appeal to explanations within the universe. For this reason there can, it seems to me, be no feature of the universe which indicates that it is God-made.'51 Like Aquinas, McCabe is suggesting that, since God accounts for there being something rather than nothing, we have no basis as philosophers (i.e. apart from recourse to divine revelation) for expectations concerning the kind of world which God (if he chooses to create) will make.
(vii) God suffers also
A survey of recent theistic responses to those who deny or call into question the existence of God because of the reality of evil would not be complete without a mention of a very contemporary angle on the topic of God and evil. According to this, evil is no more a ground for denying God's existence than it is for denying mine or yours. That is because, so it has been argued, God (like all human beings) is also a victim of evil and also suffers. Authors who might be cited as defending this line of thought include the German theologian Jiirgen Moltmann and the Latin American liberation theologian Jon Sobrino.
Classical Christian theists take it for granted that God is utterly changeless (immutable).52 From this belief it follows that God cannot be acted on (i.e. modified) by anything. It also follows that God cannot undergo suffering (since to suffer is to be passive to the action of something which acts on one to bring about a change of a certain kind). Moltmann and Sobrino, however, deny that God is utterly changeless. According to them, if God is to be really acceptable to human beings he must be capable of suffering and, in this sense, must be affected by evil. In Moltmann's view, the great thing about Christianity is that it offers us a suffering God revealed as such in the person of Christ. Traditional Christian teaching holds that Christ is God, but it also denies that this implies that we can say, without qualification, 'God suffers'. A distinction is made between what is true of Christ as man, and what is true of him as God. The conclusion then proposed is that, though Christ could suffer as man, he could not suffer as God. Moltmann rejects this traditional way of speaking, however. For him, the divinity of Christ means that divinity as such is capable of suffering, and, he says, in the light of this point we can offer comfort to suffering human beings (considered as victims of evil). People in distress can be driven to say that because of their suffering they cannot believe in God. According to Moltmann, however, God and suffering are not to be thought of as irreconcilable with each other. For God suffers too. And that is what Sobrino also wants to say. As he puts it:
For Saint John, God is love ... Is that statement real? ... We must insist that love has to be credible to human beings in an unredeemed world. That forces us to ask ourselves whether God can really describe himself as love if historical suffering does not affect him... We must say what Moltmann says: 'We find suffering that is not wished, suffering that is accepted, and the suffering of love. If God were incapable of suffering in all those ways, and hence in an absolute sense, then God would be incapable of loving'.53
As we have seen, in his discussion of the problem of evil J. L. Mackie accepts that (what he identifies as) the problem disappears if one gives up on the claim that God is omnipotent. Since Moltmann and Sobrino want to conceive of God as passive to the action of creatures and as himself suffering (a notion which seems at odds with traditional theistic accounts of omnipotence), they can fairly be taken as rejecting belief in God's omnipotence and as representing a response to the problem of evil which writers like Mackie would presumably deem to dissolve the problem as conceived by them.
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