The next paper continues the discussion. Here are some highlights. Mackie suggests that “children can develop into responsible self-governing adults only by being allowed to make mistakes and to learn from them.” Pain can be usefully endured if part of a medical treatment. Moreover, pain “performs a useful warning function: it directs the animal away from what would cause greater injury or death.” Mackie’s problem with such observations is that they presuppose definite causal relationships. But for God, “if omnipotence means anything at all, it means power over causal laws.” (75) I am sure that God chose the causal laws carefully, but some causality is essential to our very existence; and the good of man’s ability to act, of the ends-means connections, outweighs the evils that might occur because of the general character of these rules. In other words, the universal goodness of the presence of causality itself in the world precisely absorbs, to use Mackie’s terminology, those evils that come from the particular and unfortunate working out of those rules. Thus, the general good of having abundant water for drinking, swimming in, etc. may lead to a particular evil of drowning. But that evil would nevertheless be absorbed. The question then comes down to, “Why aren’t we already in paradise where, for example, our bodies would be immortal and impassible?” Well, because God is not done with us, and we aren’t done with ourselves, either.

Mackie then considers the “paradox of omnipotence”: “Are men supposed to be free in the sense merely that God does not control their choosing, or in the sense that he cannot do so? … can an omnipotent being make things which he cannot control?” (81) Now this concerns the ad extra power of God as goodness to create a world; not God ad intra power to “achieve” eternal, perfect, and infinite happiness. The paradox is easy to solve. Having created Socrates, for example, God cannot at the same time keep him and take away his rationality. This follows from the truth of the proposition, “Socrates is necessarily rational,” not from any genuine limitation on divine omnipotence.

This is relevant to solving the next puzzle, whether God could have “made men such that they always freely choose the good.” (85) If “always choosing the good” is an aspect of human nature, then man is necessarily holy, cannot choose evil, and is by that very fact unfree.

But perhaps choosing the good could be not an essential property of a human being but a common one, i.e., a proper accident, like being risible or being less than 20 feet tall. All men would remain free but would in fact always and without fail choose the good. Well, if “choosing the good” were an exceedingly trivial affair, it might have been possible for God to create a serviceable world in which humans always chose it. But it is obvious that the enormous complexity of the world including of man’s moral life is not a bug but the world’s explicit and essential feature. Hence, in practice, God could not create humans this way. Increasing human powers to deal with this complexity would not work; as St. Thomas writes, “God’s power is His goodness: hence He cannot use His power otherwise than well. But it is not so with men. Consequently it is not enough for man’s happiness, that he become like God in power, unless he become like Him in goodness also.” (ST, II-I, 2, 4, reply 1) In other words, with greater power, man would be able to do both greater goods and greater evils. Perhaps it is just as well that we are spared this possibility.

Regarding Mackie’s rejection of Plantinga’s free will defense based on everyone’s transworld depravity, again, it may be logically possible for every person not to sin, but it is not practically possible, given God’s aim of having a world populated by creatures who, little by little, by trial and error, with fear and trembling, make and build up themselves.


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