Sunday, March 04, 2012

Is Plantinga's Free Will Defense A Successful Reply to the Logical Problem of Evil?

I've lost my grip on why Plantinga's free will defense (FWD) is supposed to be a successful reply to the logical problem of evil. Perhaps someone can straighten me out.

The core of Plantinga's FWD is the claim that there is a metaphysically possible world at which every possible free creature God could've created would freely do wrong at least once in their life.  Call this thesis 'Possible Unrestricted Transworld Depravity' (PUTWD). Now it seems to me that a minimal requirement for the success of Plantinga's FWD is for PUTWD to be a live epistemic possibility. But I'm not seeing why I should think it's successful in even this weak sense. For it seems not implausible to me that at every possible world at which God exists, there are at least some free creatures God could've created that aren't transworld depraved (or more weakly: such a thesis seems to be at least slightly more plausible than Plantinga's PUTWD). So, for example, it's not implausible that at any possible world W God could've created, God can create  tokens of a type of creature that has libertarian free will, but also has a nature that makes it "grossed out" by the thought of doing wrong (on a par with, say, eating a shit sandwich), and that makes them delight in what is right and good. Such creatures have the power to do wrong; it's just that their inclinations are strongly against it. As such, the possible worlds at which they freely do wrong aren't "close" (in the Lewis-Stalnaker sense) to W, in which case God can't actualize them -- i.e., they aren't "feasible" worlds.  

I take it that this is plausible to religious theists of an orthodox stripe (Isn't God supposed to be free in this sense? Aren't the redeemed in Christian heaven supposed to be free in this sense?). Furthermore, it's not implausible to me that at every possible world in which God exists, there are creaturely essences of the sort mentioned above that God could've actualized. But if that's right, then PUTWD isn't a live epistemic possibility. But if it isn't a live epistemic possibility, then Plantinga's FWD isn't a successful reply to the logical problem of evil in any interesting sense. Or so it seems to me.

The main point I'm putting on the table is that while it may be true that at every metaphysically possible world, a subset of the infinite number of possible free creatures God can create at that world is transworld depraved, it's not implausible to think that at every metaphysically possible world, another subset of the infinite number of possible free creatures God can create is not, in which case PUTWD seems undercut.

UPDATE: Joshua Rasmussen has already made the point I'm trying to make here. See his paper, "On creating worlds without evil – given divine counterfactual knowledge", Religious Studies 40 (2004), pp. 457-470. Thanks to P.M. for the pointer.

10 comments:

TaiChi said...

I've lost my grip on why Plantinga's free will defense (FWD) is supposed to be a successful reply to the logical problem of evil.. Now it seems to me that a minimal requirement for the success of Plantinga's FWD is for PUTWD to be a live epistemic possibility.

I'm not sure what work 'live' does here. But I think that Plantinga accepts that he needs to show PUTWD epistemically possible only in the sense that it is creditable qua possibility - for if it were a possibility, then the logical argument from evil would not be sound. He does not, IMO, accept the burden of showing PUTWD is an epistemically possible description of the actual world. If you think that would mean that Plantinga's defense proves too little to be taken seriously, I'd agree.

For it seems not implausible to me that at every possible world at which God exists, there are at least some free creatures God could've created that aren't transworld depraved

Perhaps, but Plantinga could agree, and say: "It is not implausible that PUTWD is false, as you say, but neither is it implausible that PUTWD is true. Since you do not speak to the latter, the free-will defense is untouched by your criticism".

Joshua Blanchard said...

The argument has been refined over the years and, in its full presentation, is fairly technical I think, but the general idea is just this: if p and q are logically incompatible, then p and q and any r are also logically incompatible (for example, "p and not p" can't become logically compatible simply by adding r.

So Mackie and friends say, we found a theistic p that's incompatible with q, that there is evil. But then Plantinga announces, "I found an r," and writes some highly implausible stuff about transworldly depraved persons. The philosophical community then grants Plantinga the logical point, and shifts to the evidential/probable versions of the argument.

In fact, I think your version in this post has an evidential argument lurking below the surface. You shift from possible to "plausible," and I think that language is relevant to the evidential and not the logical problem.

Mike Gage said...

I would say it can still be the logical version of the problem, just with probability assigned to premises. For example, it might actually be impossible that a perfectly moral, etc. being would accept Plantinga's r as justification for allowing evil. So, one might conclude that we have plausible reasons to conclude sucha being is incompatible with the world and not fully jump into the evidential problem, I think. I've always understood the evidential problem to be more about the amount or level of suffering. In the end, though, how many arguments can really escape dealing with plausibility given our imperfect epistemic positions? So, I don't think it matters too much.

As for the plausibility of this r, we might turn to something like Schellenberg's "Accommodationist Strategy" from The Argument from Hiddenness Revisited (II). In the context of divine hiddenness, he says attempts to resolve seeming incompatibilities, "comes up against the unsurpassable immensity of divine resourcefulness." I think this basically puts it back on the Plantinga's of the to show more than possibility. They are saying this great, resourceful, all-knowing, all-powerful being can't overcome some roadblock that doesn't at first blush seem all that difficult. If they want it to appear plausible to skeptics, then they definitely have a burden of proof. I suspect, however, that Plantinga would just say something like "I have a properly basic belief about God, evil exists but so does god, so God must have a reason even if I don't know it.' And he just won't care whether we find it plausible.

AIGBusted said...

"I've lost my grip on why Plantinga's free will defense (FWD) is supposed to be a successful reply to the logical problem of evil."

That's the demons interfering with the proper function of your cognitive faculties. lol.

exapologist said...

Good thoughts, all. Thanks very much for your input.

By saying that something x is a live epistemic possibility, I mean, roughly, that x isn't implausible, given what else we know or justifiedly believe. And so what I want to say is that PUTWD is implausible, given what we know or justifiedly believe. In other words, it's implausible that it's metaphysically possible that every single creaturely essence suffers from transworld depravity.

Revisiting this issue is pushing to review some of the details of Plantinga's notion of transworld depravity. If anyone else is interested, I can heartily recommend as a companion piece Michael Bergmann's paper, "Transworld Depravity, Transworld Untrustworthiness, and Plantinga's Free Will Defense", Faith & Philosophy 16:3 (July 1999), 336-351. He gives a very rigorous, but very perspicous account of the precise nature of Plantinga's FWD, with special focus on his account of transworld depravity. And for a defense of Plantinga's PUTWD, I heartily recommend William Rowe's paper, "In Defense of 'the Free Will Defense'", Int'l. Journal for Philosophy of Religion 44 (1998), pp. 1-21. In fact, reviewing that paper is pushing me to see that I need to respond to his defense of PUTWD, which is very elegant.

Best,
EA

cadfan17 said...

I've had similar thoughts, but been unsure how to explain them.

It seems to me like the use of "free will" is unnecessary in Plantinga's argument. He's just saying that its logically possible that some moral good exists that can't exist without evil, and which justifies evil. I don't see why he couldn't replace "free will" with "toast" and get to the same place. Objections of the sort "its stupid to think that toast is a moral good that can't exist without evil and which justifies evil" seem to refer to the plausibility of the claim, not the logically possibility of the claim.

Marc Belcastro said...

EA:

Just a couple of brief comments, comments which (it should be noted) don’t really add anything to the discussion.

I’ve heard some characterize the logical problem of evil as an argument which attempts to demonstrate that the existence of God and the existence of evil are contradictory. But, from what I understand, P and Q are contradictory propositions if and only if P and Q can’t both be true, and P and Q can’t both be false. I assume that the atheologian, however, holds that there’s a possible world in which both God and evil fail to exist, in which case it’s possible for the propositions God exists and Evil exists to both be false. Consequently, the existence of God and the existence of evil aren’t contradictory, but rather inconsistent, where P and Q are inconsistent if they can’t both be true (but both can be false).

I understand Mackie as essentially contending that there’s no possible world in which God exists and evil obtains. Thus, if God exists in all possible worlds, then evil fails to obtain in all possible worlds. I understand Plantinga as essentially contending that as long as it’s possible (even if exceedingly implausible) that every creaturely essence suffers from TWD, then there are no feasible Mackie worlds. If so, then Plantinga can accept that there are indeed possible worlds in which God exists and evil fails to obtain, but he’d suggest that, possibly, such worlds can’t be actualized. So, Plantinga would deny that the existence of God and the existence of evil are contradictory, and he’d also deny that they’re inconsistent – that is, as long as it’s not metaphysically impossible for every creaturely essence to suffer from TWD.

As an aside, do you think the FWD can succeed with the following claim: for all we know, every creaturely essence suffers from TWD. Or do you think this claim is necessary: it’s possible in the broadly logical sense that every creaturely essence suffers from TWD.

exapologist said...

Hi Marc,

Right:

(i) Plantinga is arguing that there is a metaphysically possible world W at which every single one of the (non-denumerably?) infinitely many libertarianly-free creaturely essences he could create at W would do wrong at least once; the would-counterfactuals of freedom of each such creaturely essence are "messed up" at W, so that although there may be metaphysically possible worlds W*1-W*n where each such creature always freely does right, none of those worlds are "close" (in the Lewis-Stalnaker sense) to W; as such, those are metaphyically possible-yet-infeasible worlds. And this thesis is what I'm calling Possible Unrestricted Transworld Depravity (PUTWD).

(ii) To deflect the charge of irrationality, Plantinga need only defend the weaker claim that it's epistemically possible, in the sense that our evidence doesn't rule it out as implausible, that there is such a metaphysically possible world.

(iii) It strikes me as prima facie implausible that out of all the (non-denumerably?) infinitely many possible libertarianly-free creaturely essences an Anselmian God could actualize at any given possible world, there is some metaphysically possible world at which each and every such creature is transworld depraved.

exapologist said...

I recently learned that Joshua Rasmussen has already made the point I'm trying to make here. See his paper, "On creating worlds without evil – given divine counterfactual knowledge", Religious Studies 40 (2004), pp. 457-470. The paper can be found here. Thanks to P.M. for the pointer.

exapologist said...

A recurring theme in the comments concerns the aim of Plantinga's free will defense: is he merely arguing for the formal consistency of the conjunction of propositions, "An all-powerful, all-knowing, morally perfect God exists" and "Evil exists", or is he arguing for the stronger claim that there is a metaphysically possible world at which both are true? In The Nature of Necessity and in God, Freedom, and Evil, Plantinga sometimes sounds as if he's merely concerned with the former. However, at other times he seems to indicate that he's interested in the latter. The former is ridiculously easy to demonstrate, as some of you point out. Unfortunately, lots and lots of formally consistent sets of propositions describe what is metaphysically impossible, and so demonstrating the mere formal consistency of the two propositions isn't sufficient for demonstrating their metaphysical compossibility. I therefore focus on the latter in this post.

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