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Proposition III - George Turnbull, The Principles of Moral and Christian Philosophy. Vol. 2: Christian Philosophy 
The Principles of Moral and Christian Philosophy. Vol. 2: Christian Philosophy, ed. and with an Introduction by Alexander Broadie (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2005).
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If the author and governor of all things be infinitely perfect, then, whatever is, is right; of all possible systems he hath chosen the best, and consequently there is no absolute evil in the universe.
This proposition is obviously so necessary a consequence from what hath been proved concerning the moral perfection of the supreme cause, that it does not stand in need of any arguments to prove its truth.
“The creation of an all-perfect mind must be the image of its creator; and therefore it must be perfect, it must be chosen by his infinite wisdom and goodness as the most perfect system, that is, the system in which the greatest quantity of happiness and perfection obtain, that can in the nature of things take place; and this being the case, all the seeming imperfections or evils in it, are such only in a partial view; and with respect to the whole system, they are goods; that is, they are absolutely necessary to its greater good, the end of its creation by an infinitely good being, who could have been disposed to create it by no other motive but pure goodness, or in order to communicate as much happiness as he can to creatures, and to be himself infinitely happy in so doing.”
To suppose us, who are made capable of acting with intelligence and choice, made by a being who acts either blindly, or without choice, is to assert, that we are more perfect than our Maker, or that we are endowed with a perfection, which if he hath not, he could not possibly have any idea of; than which, as hath been already observed, nothing can be more absurd. Our Creator therefore, who must likewise be the Creator of all things which constitute the same system, and consequently<36> of all within our observation, acts with intelligence, from choice and uncompelled unnecessitated affection, towards the greater good of the whole. We are so made, as to be capable of deliberating and performing, of being directed by knowledge; of being guided, or more properly speaking, of guiding and conducting ourselves by reason. But in being determined by motives, or guided by our understanding and judgment, we experience no force, no necessity, nor any thing in any degree analogous or similar to it. The whole operation or influence of motives upon our understanding, or in exciting affections in us, we experience, may very properly be expressed by perswasion; which we feel by consciousness to be as distinct from necessity, violence, or compulsion of every sort, as any two things can possibly be.
Wherefore, if we keep to experience, and reason agreeably to it, we must conclude, that our Maker, who hath thus framed us, acts in like manner with intelligence and preference, through the perswasive influence of his just and adequate views of the results of all possible orders and connexions of things; for he cannot want a perfection he hath given to us, which constitutes all our dignity and excellence, because it renders us capable of merit, and consequently of praise, and thus far exalts us above animals, which do not reason and choose. The author of nature therefore hath produced his creation with intelligence and free choice, through the perswasive influence of his full knowledge of its being the best system that could possibly be produced; the richest with good, the fullest of perfection and happiness. As he can not possibly experience any restraint or compulsion from without, being absolutely independent; so he cannot experience any necessity or compulsion within, contrary to free choice and voluntary self-approving affection towards the greater good of his creatures.<37>
All this is as manifest, as it is that we are free agents (to doubt of which we must first doubt of our inward consciousness, from which scepticism there is no possible way of recovery): and that being such, is a perfection which could not have been conferred on us by a creator not free, since being supposed not free, he must necessarily be supposed to have no idea of freedom, and consequently to be incapable of giving it. “We may therefore rest assured that the greater good of the system of which we are a part, is intended and pursued by its author with perfect free choice, and from purely benevolent liking of the universal good.”
Whence then comes evil, is the question that hath in all ages been reckoned the gordian knot in philosophy? And indeed if we own the existence of evil in the world in an absolute sense, we diametrically contradict what hath been just now proved of God. For if there be any evil in the system that is not good with respect to the whole, then is the whole not good, but evil, or at best very imperfect: and an author must be as his workmanship is. “As is the effect such is the cause.” But the solution to this difficulty is at hand, namely, “That there is no evil in the universe.” What! are there no pains, no imperfections? Is there no misery, no vice in the world! Or are not these evils? Evils indeed they are: that is, those of the one sort are hurtful, and those of the other sort are equally hurtful and a bominable. But they are not evil or mischievous with respect to the whole; for they are the result of powers, and general laws of powers, the uniform uninterrupted operation of which produces the greater good and perfection of the whole. But what is such, is not evil, but good, with regard to the universal system. Because if it be necessary to the greater good of a system that certain laws obtain universally; it is necessary to the greater good of that system, that all the effects of the constant uniform operation of such laws take place; which is in other words<38> to say, that all the operations, effects, or consequences of good general laws are, absolutely considered, goods, whatever they may be in certain particular limited respects.
God hath chosen the best of all possible systems, because it is the best: such therefore is the nature of things, that the re can be no system without partial evils, but the best general laws must, by their constant uniform operation, often produce evils. The evils in our system are not evils with respect to the whole; that is in consistent with the infinite perfection of the chooser and creator. Wherefore the evils in it are not chosen or permitted for their own sake. But they are chosen, or more properly speaking, permitted, because the laws, from the constant and uninterrupted operation of which they flow, are requisite to the greater good and perfection of the system. Leibnitz, in my opinion, makes a very proper distinction in the school-language, between the antecedent and the consequential will of God.11 The general laws of a system produced by a good creator are established for the sake of the greater good in the whole they produce; they are therefore established for their own sake, or on account of their own excellence and fitness, by the antecedent will of God. But the evils are only consequential effects of that will; because they are there only, as they are consequences of the general operation of the good laws which render the system perfect. The error of that great genius consists in his saying most unphilosophically, that God could not do otherwise than he hath done; for God always had and has immutably the physical power of making all possible systems: and he gave existence to the system produced by him with perfectly free choice. But this error proceeds from his ascribing to the motives which determine rational beings in their choices a necessary influence which we do not experience, and that cannot possibly belong to motives, which being judgments<39> or perceptions, must therefore, like all other perceptions, be inert and passive things, and consequently can have no productive energy. While we keep to experience, and use words in a determinate, clear sense, as philosophers ought to do; we must, and ever will distinguish between perswasive influence, or directing light and force, compulsion, necessity, and every thing analogous or like to them. But not to enter farther at this time into a controversy, which is become so palpable a logomachy, by deserting common language; or at least by confounding words of very different meanings, and by seeking other proofs, besides experience of what experience alone can ascertain; let us consider whether what must be inferred concerning the evils permitted to take place in a system created by an infinitely good being, in consequence of its being the production of such a being, may not be deduced from any other distinct considerations.
It may seem at first sight a very odd assertion to affirm, that there can be no orders or connexions of created beings in which evils will not be the product of certain methods of action. But we ought, as is universally allowed, to reason agreeably to experience and analogy. And it is plain that we can conceive no orders or connexions of things constituting a state proper for free agents to live and act in, in which different choices and actions are not connected with different fruits or consequences, i.e. in which as certain actions will produce pleasure and happiness, so other actions will produce pain, suffering and misery. If we allow ourselves to consider matters accurately, it will evidently appear, that the reverse of a method or fixed order, by which pleasure is produced, must necessarily be a method by which pain cannot but be produced. And it is impossible that a being, whether of a different bodily organization, or of a different mental structure from another being, can receive pleasure in the same way, or according to the same order with that other. But as it is fit that there should be<40> variety of beings, so it is fit that there should be methods by which all the different beings in the same system may have pleasure. For thus only can nature be a full manifestation of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness: thus only can there actually be in nature a great diversity of powers, perfections, and happiness. And to a state of agents, capable of improving themselves, and whose happiness is dependent on themselves, in order to its being their own acquisition, that they may have double satisfaction in it as such, it is absolutely requisite that there be connexions productive of pain, and connexions productive of pleasure. Such a constitution of things is included in the very notion of beings made and placed to improve themselves, and to make themselves happy by so doing. Such a state cannot subsist, unless different choices and pursuits have absolutely different effects and consequences: unless the right culture of the mind, and its rational powers, and the abuse or corruption of them have very opposite effects with regard to happiness or misery. All this is implied in the very idea of an active being.
Thus then we see, that as it is a contradiction to suppose an infinitely perfect mind not to choose the best possible system, so the existence of evils in a system is far from being incompatible with a perfect system, and an all-perfect author, contriver and ruler. And indeed this important truth will be yet more plain, if, having distinctly classed in our minds the evils complained of in nature, into physical and moral, we reflect, “1. That there could be no moral evil, unless certain affections, and the actions excited to by them, had hurtful effects, either within or without the mind.” “2. And that as all physical evils, properly so called, in our system, are evidently the effects of the general operation of such universal laws as are necessary to the greater good of our system; so moral evils, which have such pernicious consequences within and without us, are deviations from the good order we are sufficiently<41> directed and enabled to pursue; misguidances of affections necessary to our dignity and happiness, against which we are sufficiently forwarned.” “3. That reason cannot, in the nature of things, improve, but in proportion to culture, and yet, while it is necessarily weak for want of culture, as it must be for some time, we are furnished with excellent instincts or determinations to point and prompt us right.” “4. And that our capacity of acting by free choice, and of guiding ourselves, is a priviledge which so ennobles and exalts us above all merely perceptive beings, that it must needs be an excellent constitution by which it is established as a rule, that this our rational power and freedom shall not be encroached upon, thwarted, opposed, or counteracted.” If, I say, we consider all these things which necessarily hang together, not separately, but in one united view, we shall quickly see that when we complain of the government of the world, on account of the evils prevailing in it, we foolishly demand absurdities, or ask we know not what.
But all this having been fully considered in the Principles of Moral Philosophy, let us proceed to enquire, what revelation teaches with regard to this article. Now the freedom and disinterested benevolence of the supreme author of the universe being so plainly asserted in the texts that have been already quoted, it is not necessary to repeat them, or mention any others. Freedom is necessarily involved in the very notion of benevolence. It is therefore sufficient to observe, 1. That according to the Mosaick account of the creation, God having created the world, and established the general laws,a constituting its order and course, and from which all effects in it proceed, pronounced the whole work good, that is, perfect. 2. And the scriptureb is full of delightful hymns in praise of the wisdom and goodness of the creation. “How<42> manifold, O Lord, are thy works, and they praise thee!” According to all the books of the old testament, all God’s works of creation and providence shew forth the marvels of his wisdom, and the boundless perfection of his goodness, as well as of his power. And the new testament runs in the same strain. “The visible things of the creation, all things that are made, shew forth and declare his invisible power and godhead. There is none good but God, and all his works praise him.” The inanimate creation, but yet more the constitutions of various orders of moral beings, angels, seraphims, and archangels, praise him. And man, though made lower than angels, is his image, being crowned with glory and honour by him, that is, with immortal rational powers fitted to attain to a very noble end, a very high degree of perfection and happiness. 3. But he is at the same time said to create evil, darkness, confusion, and yet to do no evil, but to be author of good only. He is called the father of light, the author of every perfect and good gift, with whom there is no variableness, nor shadow of turning, who tempteth no man, but giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not.a And yet by the prophet Isaiasb he is introduced saying of himself, “I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create evil, I the Lord do all these things.” What then is the meaning, the plain language of all this, but that the Lord delighteth in goodness, and as the Scripture speaks, evil is his strange work? He intends and pursues the universal good of his creation; and the evil which happens is not permitted for its own sake, or through any pleasure in evil, but because it is requisite to the greater good pursued. 4. Physical evils resulting from the general operation of those general laws, which constitute the course of nature, or the material world, are not evils, since, according to<43> the scripture, that order is perfectly wise and good; and everything obeys the laws, the commandments, the ordinances God hath appointed to them, all which are chosen and established with perfect wisdom and goodness. All things, in the scripture stile, obey his voice, his commandment, his law, and word. That hymn to the Creator in the book of Ecclesiasticus,c is full of beauties; but two or three expressions in it are exceeding remarkable. “A man need not say, What is this? Wherefore is that? For he hath made all things for their uses. All the works of the Lord are good, and he will give every needful thing in due season. So that a man cannot say this is worse than that; for in time they shall all be well approved.” 5. And as for moral evils, whence come they, according to St. James,d come they not hence, even of our lusts that war in our members? “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation, saith the same apostle,e for when he is tried he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him. Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God; for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man. But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin; and sin when it is finished, bringeth forth death. Do not err, my beloved brethren, every good gift, and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights.” The meaning of which discourse in other words, is plainly this: Circumstances tempting to sin occur in the world; but by these virtue is tried and improved, and by overcoming them it gains strength, and merits a great reward, it becomes thus fit for that glorious after state prepared for the good and virtuous. But it is a vile and dangerous deceit, to be carefully guarded against, to imagine that<44> when a man is invited or inticed to sin of any kind by the circumstances he is placed in, even those which he could not foresee, or foreseeing prevent, he is tempted of God: as God cannot be tempted to evil; as no evil affection can possibly enter into, or be excited in the divine mind; so for that very reason it is plain he can never be disposed to tempt man or sollicite them to sin; nor is indeed a man tempted by any suggestions or motions, but those which ungoverned lusts raise in his mind, reason being unconsulted, lulled asleep, or willfully resisted and contradicted. It is thus that evil motions spring up in the mind, and those are the sources of all our deviations from the laws of moral rectitude, which not only our reason clearly discovers to us, but which we cannot, till we be hardened and rendered callous by evil habits, counteract, without feeling a strong resistance, and a very violent struggling; without a war between our reason and our sensitive appetites, those members of which we are composed. Letus be ware of this error. For God is the author of every perfect gift; and the Father of lights hath placed a light with in us, sufficient to direct us into the right path, and hath given us all the powers and faculties requisite to our becoming like our Father, and to preserve us free from sin, which, when it is finished, bringeth forth death; to preserve us from sin, the wages of which is death; from sin, which must result in the total depravation of our rational nature, and proportioned unhappiness.
But why then is it so often said, especially in the books of the Old Testament, that he is surrounded with darkness, or that his ways are a dark intricate maze? For that must be the meaning of such phrases, as clouds of darkness encompass him, &c. Now to this the answer is evident, the scheme of providence will justify itself to us as it advances; it is not yet complete; and even of what is, we have but an imperfect view; and therefore it is no wonder, if we are not able to account<45> for every thing. This is the necessary effect of having but a narrow, partial view of a system: it cannot but be so. This is the scripture-answer to the difficulty. “Here we are as children: we know but little: we see but darkly as through a glass.”a And that it is a sufficient answer is plain: for since the further we are able to advance in the knowledge of God’s works, the more we see of wisdom and goodness in his administration, to what else is it reasonable to ascribe our doubts and perplexities about any effects, but to our ignorance, or narrow views? ’Tis not very long since the works of nature might very justly have been said to have been involved in utter darkness with regard to us. But by the late improvements made in natural philosophy, in consequence of pursuing it in the only way of coming at real knowledge, what innumerable instances are discovered to us of perfect contrivance, and the wisest and best order? Have we not then good reason to conclude, that in proportion as we improve in the knowledge of God’s works, natural or moral, by searching diligently into them, we shall still find better and better ground to say, with all the writers of the sacred books, “In wisdom hast thou, O Lord, made all things.” But if this be intelligible language, it is certainly intelligible to say, that in a future state, when the scheme of providence is further advanced; our faculties are more enlarged in consequence of due culture here; and we are placed in such a situation as will afford us a larger view of God’s works than we can have here; that then we shall be more fully satisfied about the wisdom and goodness of the divine administration than the largest knowledge attainable here can make us.
Let me only add upon this head, that there can hardly be a more absurd doctrine than that advanced by some; teaching, “That things are right, merely because they are chosen, established or willed by God.” For according to such a doctrine, it was all one what God appointed to be; any one order of things, however<46> different from the present, had it been established, would have been equally good, equally perfect. The asserters of this most absurd doctrine, seem to be led to it thro’ an apprehension, that to say otherwise, is to suppose some limitation on God’s independent power. But must we then deny the moral perfections of God, in order to secure to him his natural ones? Or, is power limited, because it is directed not by another, but by wisdom and goodness, as essential to the being itself who works, as his power by which he works? “If absolute sovereignty or power, saith an excellent writer,a could suffice, as some sects of men have imagined, to make such a thing, for example, as absolute reprobation become good, it would follow, that the word goodness had no signification at all, and consequently, that it was neither in itself of any importance, nor of any consequence to us, whether the almighty God was good or no: than which nothing can be affirmed, more unworthy of the Creator of all things; or be more deservedly reckoned among those hard speeches, which if not unrighteous, yet, at least, rash inconsiderate men have spoken against him.”
“The consequence of such a doctrine is, that there is really no difference between good and evil in the nature of things, but that will and power makes all the distinction. From whence tyrannical men, who have power to do what they will, think that they have consequently a right to do what they please. But this is not only not true with regard to men, but even with regard to God himself also it is plainly a mistake: for not power or will, but the reason of things only is the foundation of right: and therefore tho’ ’tis indeed certainly true, that whatever God does, we are sure is right, because he does it; yet the meaning of this is not that God’s doing or willing a thing, makes it to be right; but that his wisdom and goodness is such, that we may depend upon it, even without<47> understanding it, that whatever he wills, was in itself right, antecedent to his willing it; and that he therefore willed it because it was right.”b
That power gives right is emphatically represented by the author of the book of wisdom, to be the fatal error of the wicked, and their corrupt language, “Let our strength be the law of justice, for that which is feeble is found to be nothing worth.” The constant language of the scripture is, that God delighteth in good, and hateth evil, and that he makes all things work together in his creation for good: words that have no meaning, if there be no natural immutable differences between things; if some connexions of things be not in themselves good, and others evil, independent of his will. A doctrine as absurd as to say, that a triangle may be a circle. For if power and right are not different, no two things are. And if God can alter moral relations, he can also alter natural ones, for moral ones are natural ones. Thus then it appears, that the joint doctrine of reason and revelation is, “That the system of which God is the author, is chosen by him, because it is the best of all possible systems, and there is no absolute evil in it.” In the text, the law of God’s moral government asserted is inferred from this supposition; it can stand on no other foundation.
[11. ]Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Monadology sect. 90, in his Monadology and Other Philosophical Writings, trans. Robert Latta (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1898). The scholastic locus classicus for the distinction is Aquinas, Summa Theologiae 1, 19, 6 ad 1.
[a. ]Gen. i. 31.
[b. ]Ps. xix. Ps. viii. 1 Chron. xxix. 11, 12. Nehem. ix. 5, 6.
[a. ]James i. 5.
[b. ]Isaiah xlv. 7. Amos iii. 6.
[c. ]Chap. xxxix.
[d. ]Chap. iv. 1.
[e. ]Chap. i. 12–17.
[a. ]Job xxvi. 14. 1 Cor. xiii. 11–12.
[a. ]Dr. Sam Clarke. [The quotation is a rough paraphrase of Clarke, Sermon 10, in Works, 1:63–64.
[b. ]The same author, (Dr. Clark) in another place. [Clarke, Sermon 9, in Works, 1:55.