“A wholly good omnipotent being”, contended J. L. Mackie, “would eliminate evil completely; if there really are evils, then there cannot be any such being” (Mackie 1982: 150)
Is it necessarily true that a wholly good omnipotent being who is able eliminate evil, would eliminate evil? Is it necessarily true that a wholly good omnipotent being who cannot prevent pain and suffering, would be impotent?
Thomas V. Morris and Peter van Inwagen contended that the notions that if God exists, He would eliminate evil, and if He cannot eliminate evil, He is not omnipotent, are not necessarily true.
Following Morris, what we mean by a being B can do x, is either B’s ability, viz., B is “ able to do x” or B’s capability, viz., B is “capable of doing x”(Morris 1991). With this in mind, it become clear that God, a wholly good omnipotent, could be able to eliminate evil, but either God is morally incapable to eliminate evil without eliminating good, viz., God’s incapability to create a creature C who possesses true freedom of will and C only do good and never do evil, or God has sufficient moral reasons not to eliminate evil.
Inwagen expounded this idea:
Suppose, for example, that Alice’s mother is dying in great pain and that Alice yearns desperately for her mother to die—today and not next week or next month. And suppose it would be easy for Alice to arrange this—she is perhaps a doctor or a nurse and has easy access to pharmaceutical resources that would enable her to achieve this end. Does it follow that she will act on this ability that she has? It is obvious that it does not, for Alice might have reasons for not doing what she can do. Two obvious candidates for such reasons are: she thinks it would be morally wrong; she is afraid that her act would be discovered, and that she would be prosecuted for murder. And either of these reasons might be sufficient, in her mind, to outweigh her desire for an immediate end to her mother’s sufferings. So it may be that someone has a very strong desire for something and is able to obtain this thing, but does not act on this desire—because he has reasons for not doing so that seem to him to outweigh the desirability of the thing. The conclusion that evil does not exist does not, therefore, follow logically from the premises that the non-existence of evil is what God wants and that he is able to bring about the object of his desire — since, for all logic can tell us, God might have reasons for allowing evil to exist that, in his mind, outweigh the desirability of the non-existence of evil.(Inwagen 2006, 64-65)
Thus following Morris and Inwagen, even if God could eliminate evil, it does not follow that God would eliminate evil.
But what if a wholly good omnipotent being could not prevent evil, would it necessarily follow that He is impotent? No. It could be because of God’s moral incapability and not God’s inability to prevent evil that He could not prevent evil. God, following this view, cannot prevent evil not because God lacked possible power a being could have to prevent evil, but lack of moral reasons to prevent evil.
It is neither necessarily true, thus, that God being able to eliminate evil, He would eliminate evil, nor if God could not eliminate evil, would He be not omnipotent because it is possibly true that God could have good moral reasons not to prevent evil.
Inwagen, Peter van (2006) The Problem of Evil. Oxford Press Inc., New York.
Mackie, J. L (1982) The Miracle of Theism. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Morris, Thomas V. (1991) Our Idea of God: An Introduction to Philosophical Theology. InterVarsity Press.