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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Comprehensive, academic - but heavy reading!
This is absolutely the most comprehensive summary of arguments for and against the existence of God I have ever come across. Mackie is dry and extremely thorough throughout - he leaves no stone unturned in routing the arguments for the existence of a Deity.
His summary of the different facets of the problem of evil is full of insight - although in my opinion his...
Published on 22 July 2002

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9 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Comprehensive but difficult
Mackie's book explains everything the reader could ever want to know about the arguments for and against the existence of God. Understanding what he is saying is a however a challenge. Many many works are made reference to in detail and the miracle of theism is probably the most comprehensive book on the subject I have found. However, it is highly recommended to read...
Published on 17 Jan 2007 by Mr. A. D. Coe


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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Comprehensive, academic - but heavy reading!, 22 July 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: The Miracle of Theism: Arguments for and against the Existence of God (Paperback)
This is absolutely the most comprehensive summary of arguments for and against the existence of God I have ever come across. Mackie is dry and extremely thorough throughout - he leaves no stone unturned in routing the arguments for the existence of a Deity.
His summary of the different facets of the problem of evil is full of insight - although in my opinion his conclusions are nowhere near strong enough.
This is an absolute must read for any philosopher or apologist, although the uninitiated will find it hard going. But then, this is a serious academic text - and it doesn't pretend to be anything else. It isn't popular philosophy - but then noone will be kidded into thinking it is!
As an aside, I would strongly recommend that for a wittier and more accessible read, Amazon customers should seriously consider ordering Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion along with Mackie's work. Mackie references it many times, and it is still, over 200 years on, one of the classics of philosophy. Indeed, it is one of the most important works of philosophy in the English language, along with his Enquiries.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A philosopher presents the evidence for God, 27 Nov 2010
By 
Dr. H. A. Jones "Howard Jones" (Wales, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Miracle of Theism: Arguments for and against the Existence of God (Paperback)
The Miracle of Theism: Arguments for and against the existence of God by J.L. Mackie, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1982, 278 ff.

A philosopher presents the evidence for God
By Howard Jones

John Mackie, who died in 1981, was born in Sydney, Australia, and served as professor of philosophy at the universities of York and Oxford. A genial man, he made his philosophical arguments incisively without rancour. This is one of his greatest books along with another on Ethics. In the way of the philosopher, he examines all the arguments he can find supporting the existence of God and finds them ultimately wanting.

This book is an attempt to counterbalance the arguments in favour of God that are presented by Richard Swinburne (University of Oxford) in his book The Coherence of Theism. The two books examine several traditional theological arguments, Swinburne concluding by induction that they support God, Mackie concluding that the evidence is not sufficient because there are alternative interpretations. Both books in their way are brilliantly argued but rationally, Mackie's has to be regarded as the more convincing. Mackie follows John Locke in insisting that revelation needs `the support of reason'. Even the Catholic Descartes accepted that `faith' alone is not enough. The title of Mackie's book is woven from David Hume's remark that `the Christian religion cannot be believed without a miracle.'

Hume doubted whether miracles could really be believed in at all, since the evidence for them was thin, and people were gullible and had a tendency to believe what was `strange and marvellous'. Hume advanced what constitutes a crushing blow to religion to this day that different so-called `revelations' contradict one another as to the supposed `truth' of God's word.

Mackie then works his way, chapter by chapter, through the standard ontological, cosmological, moral and design arguments for God. Interestingly, in the light of modern scientific evidence suggesting the primacy of an eternal mind or consciousness, Mackie devotes a whole chapter to a discussion of a similar suggestion from Locke. In the `design' chapter, Mackie again discusses a similar suggestion in David Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, particularly in relation to Swinburne. Mackie ends with his own short take on The Varieties of Religious Experience, going back again to Hume and taking in Pascal's Wager.

This really is an excellent book if you want to get to grips with arguments for and against the existence of God. As with any philosophy book worth its salt, it requires some effort, but this is a first-class presentation of the arguments. Ideally, it needs to be read alongside the books by Swinburne and Hume, and dipping into Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding and Berkeley's Principles of Human Knowledge wouldn't hurt - but these latter two aren't essential.

Dr Howard A. Jones is the author of The Thoughtful Guide to God (2006) and The Tao of Holism (2008), both published by O Books of Winchester, UK.

The Coherence of Theism (Clarendon Library of Logic and Philosophy)
Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, and The Natural History of Religion (Oxford World's Classics)
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent philosophical critique of theism, 11 May 2009
By 
M. A. Krul (London, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Miracle of Theism: Arguments for and against the Existence of God (Paperback)
The Australian philosopher John Mackie, sadly now deceased, has always been one of my favorite philosophers, and when I heard from several religious people that this was in their view the best critique of religion, I decided to buy it at once. The book is indeed highly rewarding of its praise, for it is the most thorough philosophical (here as opposed to scientific) critique of all (mono)theist apologetics written so far.

Unlike such recent anti-theist writers as Dawkins and Dennett, Mackie is extraordinarily charitable to the theists' claims, making sure to mention every possible argument in their favor and using only counter-arguments that could not possibly be considered controversial or contingent on a given scientific theory, etc. In fact, he is much more charitable in some places than is really necessary; I would not have the same patience with the meaningless phrasings of Swinburne or Küng that Mackie has. In any case, Mackie diligently and cordially addresses each of the main issues surrounding theist apologetics: miracles, the ontological argument, the cosmological arguments (including Kalam), moral arguments, the issue of consciousness, free will, the argument from design, the argument from faith alone (Kierkegaard), the argument from popularity (William James), the problem of evil, the possibility of atheist morality, and so on.

Mackie shows himself at his best here - an impressive array of arguments and decisive counterarguments, even against such modern superstars of apologetics like William Lane Craig and Alvin Plantinga, are dealt with in sequence with seemingly no effort at all. Not a single theist argument remains standing, and Mackie is sure to remind us at all times that not only is the burden of proof on the theists, but they also have to show their view more likely than not as well as more likely than naturalist explanations, if their view is to succeed. As Mackie makes abundantly clear, this is a bar far too high for any theology whatever to achieve.

This book is strongly recommended for everyone interested in religion and philosophy, although the work is written at a high level and is not easy or 'popular' reading. To further dig into the issue of ethics and atheism, I would also recommend reading Mackie's defense of ethical anti-realism: Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong.
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22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Classic, 13 Dec 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: The Miracle of Theism: Arguments for and against the Existence of God (Paperback)
J. L. Mackie's greatest work, The Miracle of Theism sets out to examine some of the major defenses of godbelief and then shows how they are lacking. He criticizes classical as well as modern forms of the traditional arguments for god's existence. In particular, he deals a major blow to Richard Swineburne 's argument from design and Alvin Plantinga's free will defence. He also formulates the logical argument from evil and show why it is a compelling reason to discard theism. A must have for all interested atheists and theists.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning, 19 April 2011
By 
T. Blackburn (Oxford, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Miracle of Theism: Arguments for and against the Existence of God (Paperback)
This is first and foremost an academic work, but clear enough as to be valuable to a more general, casual reader. Mackie's thought is exemplary in its clarity and exposition. His elegant and fair assessment for all the classic arguments for God's existence is well-argued, and his criticisms for the most part extremely persuasive. For example, nobody accepts the modern versions of the Ontological argument on commonsense grounds, but here is the first rebuttal of it I've read that robustly puts the philosophical case against this persistent and fascinating philosophical curiosity firmly on the table.

An excellent investment, and a book that should grace the bookshelves of anybody interested in philosophy of religion, or even philosophy on a more general level.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Subjective Materialism Re-Stated, 22 Jun 2013
By 
Neutral "Phil" (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Miracle of Theism: Arguments for and against the Existence of God (Paperback)
Arguments about the existence or otherwise of God are usually the dialogue of the deaf. Mackie states his atheist position at the outset but claims to 'have tried to gave a full and fair hearing to the opposing case'. In particular, he responds to Richard Swinburne's 'The Existence of God' and the arguments of Hans Kung in 'Does God Exist?'. In so doing he undermines his own case by assuming an integrity and unity to 'traditional theism' which disregards historical development and the fundamental texts rather than the philosophical arguments used in defence of institutionalised dogma and the practical deviations from those texts imposed for political reasons.

This is exemplified by Mackie's chapter on the alleged problem of evil. This problem was addressed by the Greek skeptic, Epicurus, who suggested that if God was willing to prevent evil but could not, he was not omnipotent. If he was able but unwilling to prevent evil he was malevolent. If he was able and willing why did evil exist and if he was neither able nor willing why call him God? For Epicurus evil was the material existence of pain and suffering. The contemplative life provided the avenue to happiness and death was a transition to non-existence. The weakness of Epicurus's argument (and that of Mackie) lies in the assumptions on which their argument is based. The proposition that God cannot exist with evil assumes unproven characteristics about God. It also assumes the theist argument that God could exist with evil and use it to achieve a greater good is a valid proposition.

Mackie argues a wholly good omnipotent Being would, by its very nature, eliminate rather than tolerate evil. He suggests it is a logical problem which 'sets the theist the task of clarifying and if possible reconciling the several beliefs which he holds'. He acknowledges that theists who do not adhere to the propositions he states about God or evil are not faced with this problem but those who do have a serious challenge. Mackie appears not to grasp the point that the attributes of God and the nature of evil are essentially subjective. This is not to support Feuerbach's argument that man creates God in his own image but accepts that interpretations of God and evil are, in essence, based on mankind's perceptions of God and evil. Judaism, for example, interpreted evil as arising from humans' disobedience of God's wishes and the existence of a primary God amongst many. That interpretation provides definitions of God and evil which are subjective rather than objective. Mackie's own interpretation is equally subjective rather than objective. The problem of evil is not one for the theist but one for the atheist to solve.

As a student of the Australian realist, John Anderson, Mackie is unable to separate his argument from the materialism which Anderson expounded. This broadened traditional empiricism by postulating that nothing existed which could not be expanded into fact by naturalism and science. It also led to the conclusion that ethics was concerned with establishing what was good and that this was a scientific project not a normative one. Mackie himself argued there were no objective values and that ethics had to be invented rather than discovered. However, if ethics has to be invented so too must evil and if both are invented then they arise from materialism not theism. By denying the existence of God based on his own pre-suppositions about the origins of evil Mackie demonstrates a level of bias which prevents him from providing a balanced argument. His second error is to take the theistic arguments for the compatibility of the existence of God and evil at face value and to confuse them with the argument for free will.

Underlying this confusion is Mackie's adherence, despite all the evidence to the contrary, to the idea of the inevitability of progress and human perfectibility. While acknowledging the boundary between natural and moral evils is neither simple nor clear-cut, he attributes evil actions to 'circumstances of injustice: situations in which people are led to the extremes of inhumanity by steps which seems reasonable or even unavoidable'. Yet his argument excuses the Nazi holocaust and other evils on the grounds that they are motivated by misplaced idealism. Hence while he accepts people must accept responsibility for their actions and acknowledges that contemporary moral evils are repetitions of the behavioural patterns of humans throughout the ages, he fails to acknowledge that such patterns may be manifestations of the moral nature of humanity itself. He does this because addressing the subject would require non-materialist considerations even if he did not accept the theology of the Fall.

Mackie does not attempt to absolve humanity of all responsibility for evil but errs in attempting to prove it is incompatible with a theistic tradition which is, in reality, separated from the unknowable character of God. The existence of God and evil is not the irrational proposition Mackie suggests but a statement of two subjective propositions. He denies the reality of the former by claiming an objective reality for the latter. Whether either are objective is moot. That both represent circular arguments is evident and that, ultimately, both rely on faith of some kind is clear to theists if not to atheists. Mackie covers the main contributors to the philosophy of religion, Hume, Descartes, Anselm, Kant, Berkeley, Pascal, James and Kierkegaard in addition to arguments from cosmology, morality, consciousness, experience and natural histories of religion.

Mackie's conclusion that the balance of probabilities supports the case against the existence of God is an example of confirmation bias rather than philosophical speculation. For him the existence of evil trumps all arguments whereas objectively it does not. Mackie's separation of material existence from the possibility of transcendent existence represents an opinion not the fact he postulates. A useful if flawed contribution to the continuing debate and useful for dipping into rather than reading cover to cover. Four stars.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating for believers and atheists alike, 14 Dec 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: The Miracle of Theism: Arguments for and against the Existence of God (Paperback)
This masterpiece of philosophical writing will neither convert the atheist nor dissuade the devout believer. It does however give a fascinating insight into the stuff religion is made of and presents arguments from both perspectives equally and objectively. Also includes most of the major theories of religious belief by notable philosophers throughout the ages.
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9 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Comprehensive but difficult, 17 Jan 2007
By 
Mr. A. D. Coe (UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Miracle of Theism: Arguments for and against the Existence of God (Paperback)
Mackie's book explains everything the reader could ever want to know about the arguments for and against the existence of God. Understanding what he is saying is a however a challenge. Many many works are made reference to in detail and the miracle of theism is probably the most comprehensive book on the subject I have found. However, it is highly recommended to read supplementary works that Mackie makes reference to, as I found that explanation of certain critiques and arguments were presumed and not explained. Unfortunately, heavy vocabulary and detail is applied to sentences that are in no need of such, and yet I was left confused at the lack of detail in other places that was very much needed. Often I had to refer to other sources to make sense of the points that Mackie was trying to make rather badly. It is difficult in that he mentions things that do not need to be said in poor attempts to clarify that leave the reader more confused. The language is often pretentious and coupled to a 'jumpy' narration that I found very difficult to read and follow despite being a university student in the subject. It is certainly useful to read, but read it in the library where backup literature is available.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and clear, 15 Mar 2013
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This review is from: The Miracle of Theism: Arguments for and against the Existence of God (Paperback)
This was recommended to me as a student for a philosophy degree. I was really impressed it's clearly written and contains most of the useful information you need for these topics as well as being a good read
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4 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The perfect introduction, 24 Oct 2001
This review is from: The Miracle of Theism: Arguments for and against the Existence of God (Paperback)
It's a very good introduction and reference to Philosophy of Religion.
I have read some of the chapters several times and always find something interesting.
It's a dense book, not to easy to read, but its very good for a first reading in the subject.
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