apologetics, Theodicy

Does good always eliminate evil?

michael-binds-satan-william-blakeOne of the key components of the composition of the problem of evil (at least its logical variety)* is the notion that good will eliminate evil. The late J.L. Mackie put it this way:

A wholly good omnipotent being would eliminate evil completely; if there really are evils, then there cannot be any such being. (Mackie, 150, cited below)

Simply put, this statement and any like it seem fairly obviously false if made without any rather major qualifications. After all, it seems clear that the total elimination of evil is not actually a logically necessary end for a good being, even an all-good, all-powerful being.

C. Stephen Evans presented a case to show that Mackie’s statement (and those like it) are simply mistaken. He noted that the principle that good must eliminate evil seems to be blatantly false without a number of qualifications. He argued that there are some evils which good beings will allow in order to bring about a greater good. The analogy he used was that of parents not allowing their children to ride in automobiles. After all, this would ensure that they would never be involved in the evil of a car crash, but surely it would also prevent greater goods of interaction with friends, learning to drive and the responsibility that comes with, and more (127). However, Evans was quick to note that a deity is by no means directly analogous to a human parent. The resources God would have to prevent evil are infinitely greater than that of a human parent.

In the case of God, however, God cannot bring about the logically impossible. Rather than going for a full-on theodicy (an account of why evils exist), Evans argued that certain goods are impossible to achieve without some evil. Thus, courage necessitates some kind of suffering (128). He did not argue that this notion alone provides a comprehensive theodicy; but for our purposes it is enough. It seems clear that the notion that good must eliminate evil is not only unsupported by argument (it is an a priori assumption), but also patently false. That is, we have evidence that at least some evil must be allowed in order for some good to be brought about.

I want to be clear about my thesis in this post: I am not claiming to have a comprehensive explanation for all evil everywhere. My claim is rather that good does not, by necessity, eliminate evil. That’s all. I believe that I have established this thesis. If so, then Mackie’s argument (and those like it) fail.

*The logical problem of evil is basically an argument that there is a contradiction in theistic belief related to God’s power and goodness and the existence of evil.


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C. Stephen Evans, Faith Beyond Reason: A Kierkegaardian Account (Reason & Religion) (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1998).

J.L. Mackie, The Miracle of Theism (New York: Oxford, 1982).



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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick is a Lutheran, feminist, Christ-follower. A Science Fiction snob, Bonhoeffer fan, Paleontology fanboy and RPG nerd.


2 thoughts on “Does good always eliminate evil?

  1. Great post. How do you think the existence of heaven, where there will be no evil, impacts this argument? The fact that there will be no sin or evil in heaven does seem to indicate that it was at least logically possible for God to create a world without evil, although obviously that would’ve made it impossible for God to demonstrate his forgiveness which was done through Christ’s sacrifice. Thanks.

    Posted by Cary | March 6, 2014, 4:19 PM
  2. Love your post.

    Mackie’s paper is fairly easy to undermine however, because it makes a claim of logical impossibility between good and evil. If you can show even the possibility of the two coexisting then you can undermine it. (Even a ridiculously implausible but still possible theodicy would work.)

    My favorite way of doing this is simply to (for the sake of argument) not clarify what Mackie means by omnipotent. If we say that God can do anything with no non-logical limitations, then the entire argument falls through the floor.

    Because then God can simultaneously hold contradictions, due to his omnipotence. There is no reason why he could not. The argument(and really all arguments) only seem to work if we grant that God’s omnipotence has limitations, or else logic has no place. If God can create married bachelors, then he can create evil that coexists with the Good, but is not annihilated by it.

    Also, Mackie doesn’t take seriously the thought that evil could simply be an absence of a twisting of Goodness. A potentiality that is nested in good things. I believe, if I remember correctly, he says that this is a way that would be acceptable to defend with.

    Even still, I thought your post was really well written and explained the topic very well. Thank you.

    Posted by zguinn | March 6, 2014, 10:14 PM

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