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Intermission: A Quick Point about Plantinga's Free Will Defense

It's often said that Plantinga *refuted* the logical problem of evil -- i.e., that he demonstrated that' there's no logical inconsistency between the existence of an all-knowing, all-powerful, and perfectly good god, on the one hand, and evil on the other. This is extremely misleading. To see why, consider the following three claims, in descending order in terms of strength of claim:

1. The following is a fact: Possibly, every creature that God can create would freely perform at least one morally wrong action.
2. Here is a story that we have decent reason to believe is true: Possibly, every creature that God can create would freely perform at least one morally wrong action.
3. Here is a claim that we can't rule out for sure as false: Possibly, every creature that God can create would freely perform at least one morally wrong action.

Now many apologists talk as though Plantinga has shown that (1) or (2) is true. These are the sorts of claims that Plantinga would have to have vindicated for the apologists to be right. However, Plantinga has only shown that (3) is true.

As you can see, (3) is a bit less interesting than (1) and (2). According to the latter two claims, it would be true, or at least more reasonable to believe than not, that there are possible worlds in which it's possible that God and evil can co-exist, in which case the logical problem of evil would indeed be defeated in a way that would make the agument a failure. For on either of these two claims, it would be true, or more reasonable than not, to think that God and evil are compatible.

However, (3) doesn't show anything as strong as this. Consider the following two claims:

4. Theist to the non-theist: I've shown that *you are unreasonable* to think that God and evil can't coexist. I've shown that the deductive argument from evil is unsound.

5. Theist to the non-theist: I've shown you that *I'm not unreasonable* to think that God and evil can coexist, given that I also have strong enough evidence or warrant for thinking that theism is true. I've shown that we can't be absolutely sure that God and evil can coexist.

(1) and (2) give reason to accept (4); (3) only gives reason to accept (5). And the latter is all that Plantinga has done. But establishing (5) isn't sufficient to show that the deductive version of the problem of evil argument is unsound -- i.e., it may well be sound; it's just that we're not sure that it is.

Three relatively recent works have been published that underscore the point above:

-Michael Bergmann's "Might-Counterfactuals, Transworld Untrustworthiness, and Plantinga's Free Will Defense", Faith and Philosophy 16:3 (1999), 336-351.
-Daniel Howard-Snyder and John Hawthorne, "Transworld Sanctity and Plantinga's Free Will Defense", Int'l. Journal for Philosophy of Religion 44 (1998), 1-21.
-The chapter on Plantinga on the logical problem of evil in James F. Sennett's book on Plantinga's Philosophy, viz., Modality, Probability, and Rationality

Interestingly, all of these philosophers are fairly conservative christians.


Comments

John W. Loftus said…
Hey guy. Please cross-post this at Debunking Christianity. I agree totally.
AcidGawd said…
I fail to see how Plantinga's free will defense successfully addresses an ideal world hypothesis.

Stated simple, god could create a world in which free will exists and every choice is good.
exapologist said…
Hi AcidGawd,

I suppose the idea is that if it should turn out that every possible libertarianly free creaturely essence that God could create would freely perform at least one wrong action, then God's hands are tied wrt actualizing an ideal world. For which world is actualized is at least partly up to the free creatures, and not just God.
TaiChi said…
"5. Theist to the non-theist: I've shown you that *I'm not unreasonable* to think that God and evil can coexist, given that I also have strong enough evidence or warrant for thinking that theism is true. I've shown that we can't be absolutely sure that God and evil can't coexist."

Even granting that transworld depravity would prevent God from creating free beings who never sin, I doubt the free-will defense even does that, since I take the probability of transworld depravity virtually zero.
Notice that the probability of every person-essence being transworld depraved depends upon the number of (potential) person-essences there are - the more person-essences to choose from, the less likely it is that God will have to instantiate a flawed person-essence as the best of his available options. But is there any reason to think that the number of potential person-essences is less than infinite? Supposing that the identity of indiscernables is false, it seems that there is no limit to the number of person-essences which could be instantiated, as each person-essence could differ only from the others in that it would be a different particular. And so the probability that the transworld hypothesis is true approaches zero - an infinite variety of person-essences makes for a vanishingly small probability that each person-essence is transworld depraved. Or so I believe - it bothers me that I haven't heard mention of this criticism, since it seems rather obvious.

"Plantinga's claim is false: for example, I take it that conservative theologians think that angels are free, and yet some angels will never sin. If it's really true that angels exist, that they are free, and yet some never sin, then it's not true that every creature God can create freely goes wrong with respect to at least one action."

'Twould be interesting if a theist did argue against the identity of indiscernables, though, since it could raise the probability of transworld depravity dramatically. Supposing each person-essence to be individuated by their moral character, one could go on to argue that God alone can be perfectly good, and that all other possible person-essences would have the propensity to sin, else they would be God. There might even be scope in this line of argument for taking angels to be beings who never sin, but who do so as a matter of circumstance - they would sin, were they in circumstances which do not obtain in the actual world, and are therefore less perfect than God, but (by the grace of God, as the actualizer of their circumstances?) do not sin.

Well, if you have any thoughts on the above exapologist, I'd be interested to hear them.

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