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Wednesday, November 20th 2013

21:42

Questions on the Free Will Defense

  • STATE OF EXISTENCE: still hurting

By way of clarification, I've put "hurting" into the last two State of Existence boxes. For some reason I have had excruciating "flank pain." It's not like the pain for which I had surgery a few years ago or kidney stones. I know that my appendix is in good shape. I'm afraid it's a reaction to the new med Dr. B put me on, which would be a real shame. Prayers and thoughts appreciated.

Thank you to those who have liked and forwarded last night’s post as well as those who made comments in various locations.

JGH encouraged me to weave into the next installment: a) whether I accept transworld depravity; b) whether I think Scripture bears out the view 'that God couldn't strongly actualize logically possible worlds in which states of affairs are brought about by human free decisions' (her sense is that it doesn't); and c) why build in 'authentic relationships' into the traditional argument?

My point in the first installment was that positing human free will seems not to be sufficient for a Christian response to the problem of evil. Purely theoretically, of course, it seems that all one needs to say is: God made free creatures and they used their freedom to rebel against him. But, given the fact that the God of Christian theism (the only one that we’re really interested in) is supposed to be omnipotent, omniscient, and all-good, (“omnibenevolent” from here on out), it seems to violate his nature if he simply created these creatures of whom he foreknew that they would create havoc. Remember the old dilemma:

    1. The God of theism must be all-good and omnipotent.
    2. If God is all-good, he will want to abolish evil. Thus, if there is evil, he must not be able to do so.
    3. If God is omnipotent, he is able to abolish evil. Thus, if there is evil, he must not want to do so.
    4. There is evil.
    5. Therefore, the God of theism does not exist.

We can also add Leibniz’s contribution to the issue, namely that God is omniscient and, consequently, he would know how to abolish evil. (Though in fairness we must remember that Leibniz did not think that a world without evil was the “best-of-all-possible worlds.")

Let me throw in here an important point, a part of which was magnificently highlighted by Marilyn Adams in her celebrated article, “God and Horrendous Evil.” For a Christian the problem of evil is generated by the apparent inconsistency between the God whom the Christian worships and the reality of the world. Thus, whatever the Christian believes about this God is permissible for her to use in establishing a solution. The Christian is not obligated to defend a concept of God that has been invented by an atheist, but is not part of what Christians believe. One thinks of the statement attributed to William James, “Gentlemen, as long as one lonely cockroach feels the pangs of unrequited love, this world is not a moral world.” (Robert D. Richardson, William James: In the Maelstrom of American Modernism: a Biography (New York: Houghton-Mifflin, 2006), p. 310). With all due respect to William James, this is a contrived standard for the goodness of the world. As I have argued on the subject of miracles multiple times, the atheist does not get to set the standard of what Christians should believe, and the same thing applies to the problem of evil. To quote Marilyn McCord Adams:

    It does the atheologian no good to argue for the falsity of Christianity on the ground that the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, pleasure-maximizer is incompossible with a world such as ours, because Christians never believed God was a pleasure- maximizer anyway. (Marilyn McCord Adams, “Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God,” in The Problem of Evil, ed. Marilyn McCord Adams and Robert Merrihew Adams (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), p. 210.)

The point is that Christians who are concerned about the philosophical problem of evil may limit themselves to what they believe about God, including those properties and actions of his that they have learned from scripture. Anything else is may be interesting, but carries no urgency with it. Furthermore, the Christian is free to use whatever information about God is included in her world view in order to solve the problem.

Yes, of course the atheist does not believe in God, let alone the inspiration of the Bible. That’s what makes him an atheist and unbeliever, and so the Christians solution to the problem of evil is highly unlikely going to satisfy him. Still, that fact is not relevant to the argument per se. The problem of evil is created by the tension between the existence of the biblical God and the reality of evil. The Christian derives her understanding of God from the Bible. It would be insanity for her to set aside what she has learned from the Bible and try to respond to the atheist without taking all that she believes about God into account.

Wow, I’ve been stacking again. Let me pop back to where I need to be. Why does what I referred to as the traditional free will defense bring in the idea of an authentic relationship between God and humans? In a nutshell the answer is that, if there were not a higher value connected to the freedom that human beings thoroughly misused, giving them a free will without a good reason would make God a monster. I mentioned the idea of the potential for an authentic relationship with God last night simply because that’s the one I hear used most often. It doesn’t seem to figure greatly in Plantinga’s approach. Another possibility that I did not mention, but will return to, is that evil is an essential aspect necessary to turn us into the kind of creatures we should be. Under the label of “soul-making theodicy” this theory has been advanced as far back as in the second century AD by Irenaeus and as recently as in the twentieth by John Hick.

Compatibilist freedom: What we perceive as our free choices is compatible with God’s direction of our choices.
Incompatibilist freedom: A choice by a human is free to such an extent that it is not influenced in a determinative manner by God.

The next question was whether I believed in transworld depravity. There’s a hitch connected to that question. Remember that Plantinga himself does not claim to present reality, but only a logically coherent framework in which the apparent inconsistency between God and evil vanishes. He brings that off by invoking incompatibilist human freedom and transworld depravity. In doing so he does not actually commit himself to believing in these concepts; he only needs to say that if those ideas represent reality, then there is no inconsistency.

Along with many other critics, e.g. Keith Yandell, I don’t think that Plantinga’s solution is ultimately sufficient. Truth and plausibility need to be factors. Let me illustrate my attitude with a silly example.

1. God exists as omnipotent, omnibenevolent, and omniscient being. Therefore, he will provide his creatures with the greatest amount of pleasure.

2. Evil exists.

So, we come up with the celebrated third proposition.

3. God loves his creatures so much that he gives them an unlimited amount of M&M’s.

Unfortunately, consuming an unlimited amount of chocolate candies will have deleterious effects on our bodies. That is an evil, but that’s not God’s problem. God fulfilled his role by being so nice as to give us all of that chocolate. The fact that we have abused his gift and thereby caused evil is not his fault.

Even if this argument were to work logically (and it would need a whole lot more refining), it certainly lacks plausibility. And, given the core of the problem of evil, even if the logic should hold water, the conceptual devices that we use must be plausible, or we have not done all that much good from an apologetic point of view.

I think that a defense based on transworld depravity, even though it is far more sophisticated than the M&M defense, still suffers from the same weakness. On the hand, it does hold more promise than the M&M defense, but, in the final analysis, it’s an artificial concept with plausibility issues. Plantinga says in Nature of Necessity that he was leaving as homework for his readers to compare transworld depravity with the Calvinistic doctrine of total depravity. Let me briefly do so:

    1. Total depravity is a doctrine believed to be true by those who hold it on the basis of biblical teaching. Transworld depravity is a concept constructed by means of modal logic specifically in order to solve the problem of evil. As long as it fulfills its purpose in the argument, there is no further need to believe it to be true. (One can also add that, since the Bible does not take recourse to contemporary modal logic, it does not teach transworld depravity, but we need to be careful not to think that we can come to the Bible and jettison all of our philosophical frameworks.)
    2. Still, whether stated in a modal manner or not, the Bible does not teach what I understand transworld depravity to mean. Specifically, it is the idea that in all logically possible worlds in which human beings exist, they are bound to go wrong. If I were to take transworld depravity as more than a convenient, but invented, tool of argumentation, I would be up against several apparent counter-examples. If we go along with Adam and Eve being created with incompatibilist freedom, then there’s no compelling reason to believe that they had to eat of the fruit. It would seem that there is a logically possible world in which Adam and Eve did not sin. Also, I would want to argue that heaven represents a logically possible world in which human beings will not go wrong

So, as helpful as transworld depravity may be to Plantinga’s argument, I don’t think it’s consistent with the Bible, and I do not accept it.

However, my greatest disagreement with Plantinga comes at the point that he calls “Leibniz’s Lapse.” Leibniz, according to Plantinga, did not pay sufficient attention to human freedom. Consequently, Leibniz believed that God, given his omnipotence, omniscience, and omnibenevolence could create any possible world but would create only the best one, and, since he created this actual world, given his attributes, this world must be the best of all possible worlds. Plantinga alleges that Leibniz made a mistake in his thinking here because how a world turns out is not entirely in God’s hands. God created the actual world, and he could have created many other logically possible worlds. But there are also logically possible worlds that are beyond God’s ability to create, namely those whose features are actualized by human beings. Plantinga comes seriously close to Sartre’s view here (a thought that may give Alvin Plantinga the hives) because he seems to espouse the view that God, once having given freedom to human persons, cannot interfere with the actions that they actualize.

As a sidelight, I find it interesting that Plantinga’s philosophy is so frequently tied to the term “Reformed,” e.g., his “Reformed” epistemology, when he takes a view of divine sovereignty and human freedom that really does not strike me as fitting the Reformed paradigm. Regardless, I do not think that his understanding is compatible with biblical teaching. God created this world, and he never let go of the reins. He had a plan, and he is carrying it through. Actions by human beings have been included in his plan. On our level of human experience we may think that those actions are “free,” but, if so, then only in a compatibilist sense, which means that what we choose is in line with God’s agenda. Over and over again throughout the Bible, we see God directly intervening in the world and causing various people to do certain things. True predictive prophecy, such as the prediction of Cyrus by Isaiah, would hardly be possible if God did not lead people directly to undertake certain actions and thereby strongly actualize the world as it became.

And that thought takes us back to where we left off last time, and I’m not going to get as far now as I thought I would, but I deemed it highly worthwhile to respond to Dr. Jill’s questions.

You see, God’s intention just cannot be left out of the total picture. God created the world in such a way that it would be beset by evil. Let me try to make the next point as carefully as I can and hope it doesn’t get lost in the rest of this flood of words and so I will write what follows in short paragraphs for the sake of creating thinking pauses.

Let us agree (for the sake of the argument) that God gave human beings a free will. Let us also agree that he did so because a greater good would be attained by means of a human free will than would be possible without it. Is it possible that God could have brought about the same higher-order good without the lower-order good of a free will, which also engendered the lower-order reality of evil?

Let me phrase the question a slightly different way. A reflective biblically-oriented thinker will not think that God gave people freedom for no good reason, but that he had a particular goal in mind that is so wonderful that it would exceed the problems caused by free creatures. Can he bring about that goal without people having a free will in the incompatibilist sense?

It’s at this point that I’ve been misunderstood at times, possibly because I didn’t state the matter clearly enough in No Doubt About It. It is not my intention here to argue that humans do not have a free will. We can have a big free-for-all on that topic some time when we discuss theology.

Purely descriptively now, Calvinists, such as your bloggist, do not believe in an incompatibilist free will. They do believe in a will. They do not believe in free moral choices. They do believe in significant moral choices. How important is that distinction for the problem of evil?

My earlier contention is that Christian thinkers who take recourse to the notion of free will do so 1) because they believe that human beings possess it, and 2) because in this specific context they see it as essential for God to carry out his plans and attain his goals for the universe.

By contrast, Calvinists 1) attribute the same plans and goals for the universe to God, but 2) they do not believe that human beings have an incompatibilist free will, though 3) it is sufficient for people to make compatibilist morally significant choices to attain those goals.

So, to reiterate, my point is not to debunk the modified free will defense altogether. What I’m getting at is that, with or without free will, one still needs to realize that free will has never been an end in itself. For those who accept it, it is a tool that God uses to work out his purposes in the world. For those who do not, they believe that God can work out his purposes in the world without that tool. And thus, Calvinists and non-Calvinists should come together again. (I want to say “Arminians,” but for some reason, a number of Arminians of my acquaintance are unhappy with that label.) Both groups see (or should see) that when God created Adam and Eve in their state of innocence, he already knew of their future sin, but he also knew already that the end result would be a glorified state in the future that vastly exceeded anything that Adam and Eve experienced.

Well, I’ve about run dry, and if I add too many more words nobody will read any of this. I haven’t gotten around yet to the fact that this is the worst of all possible worlds. Maybe I’ll get there next time.

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