Mackie & The Paradox of Omnipotence

Focus“[C]an an omnipotent being make things which he cannot subsequently control?” inquired J. L. Mackie(1955:210), as he set forth what he called the Paradox of Omnipotence. Mackie’s paradox unfolds as follow:

If we answer “Yes”, it follows that if God actually makes things which he cannot control, or makes rules which bind himself, he is not omnipotent once he has made them: there are then things which he cannot do. But if we answer ” No “, we are immediately asserting that there are things which he cannot do, that is to say that he is already not omnipotent.(ibid)

Mackie anticipated a common reply that his “paradox is not a proper questions” and responded that it is a proper question equal to the notion of humans’ possibility of making machines they cannot control.

We could add beliefs about God that Christians cannot deny, viz., God cannot lie (Tit. 1:2) and God cannot be tempted with evil (Jam. 1:13) to Mackie’s list of fundamental difficulty in the notion of an omnipotent God creating beings God cannot control and God making rules that binds God Himself.

The possible solution to Mackie’s paradox could be the notion that a being that is God could actually make things which He cannot control, or make rules which bind himself, yet remain omnipotent once he has made them since cannot does not necessarily reflect that being’s ability, the possible power it could have to accomplish that state of affair, but moral character such a being is strongly disposed.

Addressing a similar problem of omnipotence and God’s ability to sin, Nelson Pike (1969: 215-216) provided an illustration to show how that could be the case, which I borrowed and exaggerated it a little. Think of deeply devoted Buddhist Jones whom we are told cannot be cruel animals. Surely Jones does have physical ability to kick a kitten, for example. So it is not because Jones lacked certain power to act cruel to the animals that Jones cannot be cruel to animals but because of Jones’ strongly disposed moral character that insures that he is incapable of acting cruel to them. The cannot does not reflect Jones physical ability, but moral incapability.

If this is true, then a being that is God, thus necessarily omnipotent, could be said to have ability to make things which He cannot control, or make rules which bind himself but yet remain omnipotent once he has made them because it is not because of lack of certain amount of possible power that being could possess that it cannot control beings it has made(or is bind by its own rules) but it is because of its moral perfection that insures that it is incapable of doing so.

Thus contrary to Mackie (1955: 209-10), there is no fundamental difficulty in the notion of an omnipotent God creating humans with real free will that even God cannot control them since it is not God’s lack of possible power a being that is God could have that being cannot control them, but because of that being’s moral perfection.[1]

The conclusion that Mackie drew, viz., if there is a thing God cannot control or rules that binds God Himself then God is no longer omnipotent, is thus not necessarily true.

[1] This also answer the question on how God cannot sin/ cannot be tempted yet is omnipotent.


Mackie, J. L. (1955) “Evil and Omnipotence,” Mind, New Series, Vol. 64, No. 254: 200-212.

Pike, Nelson (1969) “Omnipotence and God’s Ability to Sin,” American Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 6, No. 3: 208-216

Cover Paint: William Blake “Great Architect of the Universe”

Sensus Divinitatis


“Is there any human being who has not entered on the first day of his life with an idea of that Great Head?” rhetorically inquired Arnobius of Sicca. Arnobius further inquired: “In whom has it not been implanted by nature, on whom has it not been impressed, aye, stamped almost in his mother’s womb even, in whom is there not a native instinct, that He is King and Lord, the ruler of all things that be?”(Aga. Hea. 33)

Arnobius echoed the idea that could be traced back to Cicero(Cic. Leg. I. 8) and beyond that human have an implanted knowledge of God(s) which when left to its natural function tends to direct them to acknowledge the existence of God(s).  This innate knowledge, which is also called the sense of divinity, is for Tertullian of Carthage, “the crowning guilt of men, that they will not recognize One, of whom they cannot possibly be ignorant”(1 Apo 17)

Even though God is ineffable and incomprehensible, John of Damascus resounded a similar understanding that “God, however, did not leave us in absolute ignorance. For the knowledge of God’s existence has been implanted by Him in all by nature.”(De Fide Orth. 1.1) The denial of the existence of God emerges from human’s fallen nature (1.3)

Noting John of Damascus’ work, Thomas Aquinas also argued that “[t]o know that God exists in a general and confused way is implanted in us by nature, inasmuch as God is man’s beatitude.”(Sum. The. A richer development of this view is found in the works of  John Calvin. Calvin contended,

That there exists in the human minds and indeed by natural instinct, some sense of Deity, we hold to be beyond dispute, since God himself, to prevent any man from pretending ignorance, has endued all men with some idea of his Godhead, the memory of which he constantly renews and occasionally enlarges, that all to a man being aware that there is a God, and that he is their Maker, may be condemned by their own conscience when they neither worship him nor consecrate their lives to his service. (Inst. 1.3.1)

Calvin went further,

All men of sound judgment will therefore hold, that a sense of Deity is indelibly engraven on the human heart. And that this belief is naturally engendered in all, and thoroughly fixed as it were in our very bones, is strikingly attested by the contumacy of the wicked, who, though they struggle furiously, are unable to extricate themselves from the fear of God. (1.3.3)

The reason that there never has been any society on earth that did not hold to kinds of beliefs in deities[and I will add life after physical death], according to Calvin, is due to the fact that sensus divinitatis is naturally inscribed on every human’s heart.

Cognitive science of religion is bringing in more reasons and evidence, for the first time as far as I understand, showing that it is true that humans are endowed with cognitive faculties that naturally stimulate sensus divinitatis. (Atran 2002, Bering 2002, Bloom 2007, Kelemen 2007 )

Further Readings

Atran, Scott (2002) In Gods We Trust. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Bering, Jesse (2002) “Intuitive Conceptions of Dead Agents’ Minds: The Natural Foundations of Afterlife Beliefs as Phenomological Boundary.” Journal of Cognition and Culture 2:263–308.

Bloom, Paul (2007) “Religion Is Natural.” Developmental Science 10: 147–151.

Kelemen, Deborah (2007) “Are Children ‘Intuitive Theists?’ Reasoning about Purpose and Design in Nature.” Psychological Science 15:295–301.

Paintings: Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino(Header) + Victor Mottez(Cover)

Assessing Thomson’s Defense of Abortion

FoetusDoes the personhood of foetuses give them right to life? Does that right to life overrides women’s rights to control what happens in and to their bodies?

In A Defense of Abortion Judith Jarvis Thomson argued that even if we grant that foetuses are persons and thus have right to life, it does not follow that they have the right to use the pregnant women’s bodies. Thomson’s case from the famous unconscious violinist analogy unfolds as follows:

Imagine you wake up in the morning kidnapped by the Society of Music Lovers, and are plugged into a famous unconscious violinist who has a fatal kidney ailment. “To unplug you would be to kill him. But never mind, it’s only for nine months. By then he will have recovered from his ailment, and can safely be unplugged from you”(Thomson 1971, 49)

Thomson argued that even if the violinist is a person and has right to life, it does not follow that he has right to use your body, if we grant that a person can decide what happen in and to her body. It would be very nice of you to allow it, but it is morally acceptable to unplug yourself (1971, 48-49).

In both cases, killing the violinist and aborting a foetus, according to Thomson, are relevantly analogous actions because your body is being violated. If it is morally permissible to kill the violinist because your body is being violated, then it is morally permissible to abort a foetus because your body is being violated.

Exploring The Extent of Thomson’s Violinist Analogy

Mary Anne Warren pointed out that Thomson’s argument from the violinist analogy is plausible as a defense for permissibility of morally unaccountable unwanted pregnancy only, e.g. rape (Warren 1973). She argued that “[t]he crucial difference between a pregnancy due to rape and the normal case of an unwanted pregnancy is that in the normal case we cannot claim that the woman is in no way responsible for her predicament; she could have remained chaste, or taken her pills more faithfully, or abstained on dangerous days, and so on.”(1973, 49)

In morally accountable cases, the foetus, congruently argued Bonnie Steinbock, “does have a right to use the pregnant woman’s body because she is (partly) responsible for its existence.”(Steinbock 1992, 78)1

David Boonin-Vail (1997) and Peter Singer (2011) disagreed with Warren and Steinbock. If Thomson’s argument from the violinist analogy is sound, then it could be, they argued, extended beyond morally unaccountable cases.

Boonin argued that there is a difference between “a person’s (a) voluntarily bring about a state of affairs S and (b) voluntarily doing an action A foreseeing that this may lead to a state of affairs S.”(1997, 291) Moral accountability for one’s action is plausible in only (a) but not (b). Non-rape unwanted pregnancy cases falls in (b). He explained that being morally responsible does not necessarily mean a person also agrees to a foreseeable consequence.

Boonin offered an analogy; Bill and Ted voluntarily placing some money on the restaurant’s table. Demonstrating (a) is Bill who after finishing eating voluntarily took the money out of his wallet and placed it on the table and walked out the door. On the other hand, (b) is Ted who voluntarily took the money out of his wallet while eating because it was uncomfortable sitting with it in his pocket. He not only consciously knew that he may forget his money on the table but was also warned by a friend. He unwisely refused to listen to the advice. Ted after finishing eating carelessly left the money on the table, walked out the door, and about ten minutes after returned to collect his money (293). Though Ted is morally responsible for leaving his money on the table, it does not follow that he agreed with the foreseeable consequence of the waiter taking his money.  Following Boonin, women’s voluntary intercourse with men is more like Ted’s case.

Singer offered a different analogy:

Suppose that you found yourself connected to the violinist, not because you were kidnapped by music lovers, but because you had intended to enter the hospital to visit a sick friend; and when you got into the elevator, you carelessly pressed the wrong button and ended up in a section of the hospital normally visited only by those who have volunteered to be connected to patients who would not otherwise survive. A team of doctors, waiting for the next volunteer, assumed you were it, jabbed you with an anesthetic and connected you. If Thomson’s argument was sound in the kidnap case, it is probably sound here too, because nine months unwillingly supporting another is a high price to pay for ignorance or carelessness. (2011, 133)

Boonin’s analogy fails because moral accountability in view here is not of voluntarily placing of some money on the restaurant’s table but voluntarily leaving of the money on the table. Ted, unlike Bill, did not leave the money voluntarily. Similarly Singer’s analogy fails because it is not a voluntary carelessly pressed wrong-button action, of say Gill, which is parallel with Ted placing his money on the table, that is in view. Gill, as in the case of rape, found himself involuntarily plugged to the violinist.

Questioning the Thomson’s Violinist Analogy

Thomson’s analogy fails because in a typical case of abortion we are not merely failing to save another person’s life, by unplugging ourselves, but we are actively taking away another person’s life.

If Jeff McMahan is correct that “[t]he standard methods for performing abortions clearly involve killing the fetus: the fetus dies by being mangled or poisoned in the process of being removed from the uterus” (2002, 378) then abortion is not simply unplugging oneself from another person and letting her die but actively and intentionally killing her. The kidney donor is not only unplugging herself and passively letting a dying violinist die but unplugging herself by actively killing him2.

Questioning Thomson’s Body Rights Assumption

Thomson assumed that our rights to decide what happens in and to our bodies extend to another person. This is not necessarily true. Imagine the following counterexample:

Jane decided to chop off the legs of her foetus, at week 7. Grant that she has the right to choose what happens in and to her body, Dr. John, with help of modern technology, performed the operation and chopped Jane’s foetus legs off. In week 10, Jane decided to chop the hands of her foetus off and John performed what is reasoned to be Jane’s personal choice and right. Taking it to an extreme Jane decided to pluck her foetus’ eyes out, et cetera. Two alternative endings could be that of (i) Jane in her final trimester decided to perform prostaglandin or (ii) Jane decided to give birth to an eyeless-amputated child.

If our moral sentiments, assuming we are not morally blind, toward Jane are that of not only disapproval but also of condemning Jane for her “ruthlessness” then it does not follow that Jane’s right to choose what happen in and to her body is extended to her foetus.

Questioning Thomson’s Use of “Use

Raising a worthy exploring inquiry, Philip W. Bennett asked; “Does the foetus use the body of the woman who has it in the same way that the violinist is using the body of the unwilling kidney donor?”(Bennett 1982,142) Bennett questioned the assumption that he believed Thomson took for granted, namely the relationship between a violinist’s use of the kidney donor with that of a foetus use of the mother.

Using people as means to our own ends, following Kant, is often wrong. Thomson’s violinist, or the Society of Music Lovers, according to Bennett, is, in a moral chastisement sense, using the kidney donor as a means to his or their end. In this way he or they are morally accountable. But the foetus does not uses the body of the woman in a similar way to them because foetus use its mother in a moral neutral sense. (1982, 144)

If Bennett’s distinction is correct, viz., the foetus does not indeed use the body of the pregnant woman as the violinist uses the body of the kidney donor then “the moral sentiments evoked by the violinist case, as codified in the principle that ‘ having a right to life does not guarantee having either a right to be given the use of or a right to be allowed continued use of another person’s body …,’ have little or nothing to say about the issue of abortion and the implications of the foetus’ right to life if fetuses have such a right.”(142)

By granting, for argument sake, that foetuses are persons, Thomson did not succeed to show that it is morally permissible to actively kill them. Elsewhere3 I argued that what makes killing people generally morally wrong applies also to the killing of foetuses. That case does not assume that foetuses are persons.


Bennett, Philip W. (1982) A Defence of Abortion; A Question for Judith Jarvis Thomson. Philosophical Investigations. Vol 5, Issue 2:142-145

Booni-Vail, David (1997) A Defense of “A Defense of Abortion”: On the Responsibility Objection to Thomson’s Argument. Ethics, Vol. 107, No. 2:286-313

McMahan, Jeff (2002). The Ethics of Killing: Problems at the Margins of Life. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Singer, Peter (2011) Practical Ethics. 3rd edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Steinbock, Bonnie (1992) Life before Birth: The Moral and Legal Status of Embryos and Fetuses. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Thomson, Judith Jarvis (1971) A Defense of Abortion. Philosophy and Public Affairs, Vol. 1, No. 1:47-66

Warren, Mary Anne (1973) On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion. The Monist Vol 57, No. 1: 42-61

[1] Alan Donagan (1977), Paul D. Feinberg (1978), Robert N. Wennberg (1985), and Judith A. Boss (1993) offered similar Warren-Steinbock-types of critique.

[2] Hysterotomy and hysterectomy methods are more like unplugging in Thomson’s analogy

Q&A: Is the Problem of Evil a barrier to belief?


How can an individual believe in an omnicompetent God in a world with so much evil? Is not the problem of evil, namely belief in existence of an all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving God at odd with existence of such evil?

The problem of evil is undoubtedly a serious emotional barrier to a belief in an omnicompetent God, but it is rather weak, as far as I know,  as an intellectual barrier. Whether in deductive form (DE), namely existence of evil is inconsistent with existence of an omnicompetent God, or inductive form (IE), existence of evil makes it improbable that an omnicompetent God exists, problems from evil are a failure as cases against existence of omnicompetent God because they assume notions that are not necessarily true.

DE, for example, assumes that if a being G is able (and knows how) to bring about not-E, willing to bring about not-E and desiring not-E, then not-E would be the case (viz., G would act accordingly to its ability, will and desire). This notion is not necessarily true, because it is possible, not necessarily true, that G has sufficiently moral justifying reason to permit E to be the case (forever or for a given period of time).

If it possibly true that a being that is able, desires and wills to bring about not-E to have morally justifying reason to permit E, then IE also assuming that some evil are seemly [as far as we know] pointless is false because as far as we know G could have sufficiently moral justifying reason to permit E.

Another often assumed notion, in DE, is that if omnipotent God cannot prevent (or eliminate) evil, then God is impotent, which is not necessarily true. A difference between God’s ability, viz., God being able to prevent evil, and God’s capability, God being capable of preventing evil, is often overlooked.

Overlooked difference between ability and capability in B can(not) do X (Morris 1991):

B can be able to but not capable of doing X. Example: I am able to cheat my wife but not capable because I dearly love my wife and also strongly believe it is immoral etc.

B can be capable of but not able to do X. Example: Adam, a mean father, is capable to physically torture her daughter, but not able because Adam is badly handicapped.

With that distinction in place, God could be able, having maximal possible power a being could have, to prevent evil but not capable. Thus God not preventing evil does not necessarily show that God lacked certain power a being could have to prevent evil.

Atheism: In Search Of Definitions

At a dinner party, hosted by Baron d’Holback for a group of freethinking French philosophes, in Paris, so the story is told, David Hume gave his remark that “He did not believe in atheists, that he had never seen any,” to which d’Holback responded that minus the three who have yet to make up their minds, the other fifteen guests invited were atheists. (Mossner 1980, 483)

What is atheism? In this article I explored some definitions of atheism offered in atheistic literature.

It is painfully difficult to find a fixed definition of atheism in literature that are in favor of it. Beginning with a popular definition of an atheist, which in turn would help us understand what atheism is, an atheist is a person who is without a belief in God or Idea of God.

Charles Bradlaugh, for example, contended:

Atheism is without God. It does not assert no God. The atheist does not say that there is no God, but he says ‘I know not what you mean by God. I am without the idea of God. The word God to me is a sound conveying no clear or distinct affirmation. I do not deny God, because I cannot deny what of which I have no conception,(Bradlaugh 1876)

Since atheism in Bradlaugh’s view elucidates a psychological state of mind of a subject, infants (Steele 2008, 3) and temporal comatose theist patients, are per this definition atheists, since they lack belief in God or Idea of God at that given period of time.

Identifying the above view as negative atheism, Michael Martin provided a similar but richer explanation and distinguishes it from another view of atheism, viz., positive atheism.  He explained:

Negative atheism in the broad sense is then the absence of belief in any god or Gods, not just the absence of belief in a personal theistic God, and negative atheism in the narrow sense is the absence of belief in a theistic God. Positive atheism in the broad sense is, in turn, disbelief in all gods, with positive atheism in the narrow sense being the disbelief in a theistic God. For positive atheism in the narrow sense to be successfully defended, two tasks must be accomplished. First, the reasons for believing in a theistic God must be refuted; in other words, negative atheism in the narrow sense must be established. Second, reasons for disbelieving in the theistic God must be given. (Martin et 2007, 2)

Though Martin’s  definition of positive atheism is closer to understand what atheism in general is, William L. Rowe offered a superior definition. Rowe contended that, ”in a broader sense of term, an atheist is someone who rejects belief in every form of deity, not just the God of the traditional theologians”(Rowe 2007, 16) Following Rowe, atheism, in a broader sense of term, is a rejection of all form of theism.

Rowe’s definition is closer to understanding who an atheist is because it does not only exclude infants and temporary comatose Christian patients from being considered atheists, but also limited theists, such as Epicurus and his followers, Epicureans “who denied, not that the Gods exist, but that they intervene in human affairs”(Andre 1998,142) and Hume, who believed in an intelligent author of the universe (Hume 1964) and qua Philo held an “adorably mysterious and incomprehensible nature of the Supreme Being.” (Hume 1907,30)

Kai Nielsen, concurs with Rowe’s definition of  atheism, when he contended that “[t]o be atheists we need to deny the existence of God”(Nielsen 2005, 50)

I favor Martin’s and Nielsen’s understanding of atheism because if a belief T is not a proper basic belief, then an individual A who is without evidence for T and without evidence against T, is in no position to accept or reject T. A having absence of T, only demonstrate A’s subjective physiological state of mind to which infants and temporary comatose theists do absurdly also share.

Question To Atheists: How do you define atheism?

Cover paints: Allison Kunath: Thinkers Freud – Thoreau – Nietzsche – Jung – Plato – Sartre Pigment + Surface. I will also recommend you to check and buy some of her work here Etsy


Andre, Shane (1993) Was Hume An Atheist?Humes Studies. Vol. XIX, No.1: 141-166 April 1993

Bradlaugh, Charles(1876) The Freethinkers Text Book. London cit. The Encyclopedia of Unbelief(1985) NY: Prometheus Books.

Hume, David (1907). Dialogues concerning Natural Religion. Edinburgh; London: William Blackwood and Sons.

__________________ (1964) Natural History of Religion, in The Philosophical Works ,ed.   T. H. Green & T. H. Grose, 4 vols. Dannstadt, 4:309

Martin, Michael (2007) The Cambridge Companion to Atheism. Cambridge University Press.

Mossner, Ernest C.(1980) The Life of David Hume  2nd ed. Oxford

Nielsen, Kai (2005) Atheism & Philosophy. Prometheus Books

Rowe, William L.(2007) Philosophy of Religion: An Introduction. 4th ed. Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

Steele, David R.(2008) Atheism Explained: From Folly to Philosophy. Carus Publishing Company

What is Wrong With Abortion? A Philosophical Case


Is it possible to make a case for the prima facie wrongness of killing a human foetus that does not depend on theological premises? In 1989 atheist philosopher Donald Marquis introduced a philosophical case for immorality of abortion that neither depended on the personhood nor consciousness of the foetus.

Consider these five cases, borrowed from Pedro Galvão (2007):

(A) The typical human foetus;

(A1) The typical preconscious fetus;
(A2)  The typical conscious fetus;

(B) The typical human infant;
(C) The temporarily depressed suicidal;
(D) The temporarily comatose adult;
(E) The typical human adult.

Could what make  killing of (B-E) prima facie so wrong be relevantly similar to  killing of (A)? This post offered a philosophical case for why abortion, killing of (A1) and (A2), is prima facie wrong, as it revisited Robert Young’s theses (1979) on what makes killing people, in some occasions, so wrong, and Marquis’ articulations of future of value arguments (1989, 2001).

Recently Barack Obama gave a lamenting speech  in Newtown, addressed to the victims of Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, correctly captured the prima facie wrongness of killing people. Obama understood the gravity of the killer’s unjust prevention  of  the little kids, and adults’  future of value. He said,

The majority of those who died today were children — beautiful, little kids between the ages of 5 and 10 years old. They had their entire lives ahead of them — birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own. Among the fallen were also teachers, men and women who devoted their lives to helping our children fulfill their dreams.(Obama 2012)

It is general prima facie wrong to kill human being, according to David Boonin’s modified future-like-ours, because it “ is in general prima facie wrong to act in ways that frustrate the desires of others, and in general more seriously prima facie wrong to act in ways that frustrate their stronger desires.”(Boonin 2003, 67)

Booni’s view would explain why it is wrong to kill (A2[1]), (B) and (E), but not (C) and (D) because (C) and (D) lack strong desire to enjoy their personal future. Assuming we agree that killing (C) and (D) is prima facie wrong, Boonin’s view is, thus, inadequate to explain why it is generally prima facie so wrong to kill people.

Unlike Boonin, Young provided a richer explanation. He argued,

[W]hat makes killing another human being wrong on occasions is its character as an irrevocable, maximally unjust prevention of the realization either of the victims’ life-purposes or of such life-purposes as the victim may reasonably have been expected to resume or to come have.(Young 1979, 516)

Persuaded by Young’s account, Marquis argued that  ‘‘for any killing where the victim did have a valuable future like ours, having that future by itself is sufficient to create the strong presumption that the killing is seriously wrong’’. (Marquis 1989, 195)

Young’s account is richer because it includes (C) and (D). In both cases, viz., a depressed suicidal teenager and a comatose patient are reasonably expected to resume such life-purpose. In this account, if correct, it would be equally wrong to kill (A1) and (A2) because they also are reasonably expected to come to have such life-purposes. (A1) and (A2) have, borrowing Obama’s words, “their entire lives ahead of them — birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own”. Thus,

P1: What makes killing another human being prima facie wrong is “an irrevocable, maximally unjust prevention of the realization either of the victims’ life-purposes or of such life-purposes as the victim may reasonably have been expected to resume or to come have”

P2: Abortion is an irrevocable, maximally unjust prevention of the realization either of foetus’ life-purposes or of such life-purposes as the foetus may reasonably have been expected to come have.

C: Abortion is prima facie wrong.

Next: Weakness and Objection To Future of Value Arguments Against Abortion


Boonin, David (2003). A Defense of Abortion. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press

Galvão, Pedro (2007):“Boonin On The Future-Like-Ours Argument Against Abortion “ Bioethics Vol. 21 No. 6: 324-328

Marquis Donald(1989). “Why abortion is immoral.” Journal of Philosophy Vol. 86:183–202.

_________________ (2001) “Deprivations, futures and the wrongness of killing.” Journal of Medical Ethics 2001;27:363–9.

Obama, Barak (2012). Obama’s speech on December 14th 2012. Transcript: President Obama’s Remarks On Conn. School Shootings. White House

Young, Robert (1979) “What Is So Wrong with Killing People?” Philosophy, Vol. 54, No. 210: 515-528

[1] (A2) and (B) have relatively similar actual desires.

God’s Omnipotence and Problem of Evil


“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.