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The Freewill Defence

May 16, 2007

John Mackie makes the following charge against theism:

“…it can be shown, not that religious beliefs lack rational support, but that they are positively irrational, that several parts of the essential theological doctrine are inconsistent with one another, so that the theologian can maintain his position as a whole only by a much more extreme rejection of reason than in the former case [i.e. that there is no rational proof of God’s existence]. He must now be prepared to believe, not merely what cannot be proved, but what can be disproved from other beliefs that he also holds.” (The Problem of Evil, 25)

This charge, he thinks, is the logical problem of evil. As Plantinga puts it, Mackie is arguing that

(1)   God is omniscient, omnipotent, and wholly good

is inconsistent with

(2)   There is evil.

There is a possible world in which no evil exists. If (1) is true, necessarily, God would and is able to create such a world. The actual world is not such a world. Therefore, necessarily, God does not exist.

 

Plantinga formulates the freewill defence. He claims that the following is possible:

(31) Every essence suffers from transworld depravity.

If so, there are possible worlds that God cannot actualize. W is one such world: Let W be the world in which person P is significantly free in W and P does only what is right in W. Let T be the largest state of affairs that God strongly actualizes in W (i.e. the ‘antecedent conditions’) and A be an action which is morally significant for P in W (e.g. P can accept or reject a bribe).

 

P suffers from transworld depravity if the following is the case: If God strongly actualizes T, P would have gone wrong with respect to A (accepted the bribe). If so, even if W is a possible world, God could not actualize W. Thus, even if there are possible worlds in which significantly free creatures do no wrong, it is possible that God could not actualize them.

 

Putting the above in terms of counterfactuals of freedom, we could say that

(A)   There is a possible world, W, in which P is significantly free and does not sin in circumstance C.

(B)   There is a possible world, W*, in which P is significantly free and sins in circumstance C.

(C)   It is a contingent truth that if P is significantly free in circumstance C, he would sin.

(D)   It is logically impossible for God to strongly actualize W.

(E)    T is the largest state of affairs in W which God strongly actualizes.

(F)    If God actualizes T, W* would be actual.

(G)   Given (F), God cannot actualize W. 

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11 comments

  1. Notes on “implicit contradiction:”

    >>This charge, he thinks, is the logical problem of evil. As Plantinga puts it, Mackie is arguing that (1) God is omniscient, omnipotent, and wholly good is inconsistent with (2) There is evil.

    Plantinga argues that the contradiction between (1) and (2) is not explicit or formally contradictory, but rather implicitly contradictory, mainly because it is built on the assumption that an ominiscient, omniopotent and wholly good God will necessarily eradicate evil completely, which might not be the case.

    If (3) It was not within God’s power to actualised a world containing moral good but no moral evil, therefore the fact that (4) God actualised a world containing moral good, entails (5) There is evil.

    Thus an implicit contradiction does not seem sufficient enough to constitute a logical problem. Interesting. 🙂


  2. Plantinga also explained the difference between “freewil defence” and “freewill theodicy:” the former being a conceivable state of affairs “such that, if it obtained, an omnipotent, omniscient, and wholly good God would have a good reason for permitting evil;” whereas the latter involves trying to “specify what God’s reason is for permitting evil and try to show, if it is not obvious, that it is a good reason.” (Plantinga, “The Freewill Defense,” The Analytic Theist- an Alvin Plantinga Reader, 24)


  3. The “Freewill defense” explored two related questions: (1) “Was it within God’s power to create any possible world he pleased?” and (2) “Could God have created a world containing moral good but no moral evil?” The answers to both are negative. Probably will argue in this sequence when arguing with laymen…


  4. hi red herring, how’s the sea today?

    with regard to comment 3, i think the answer to

    (2) “Could God have created a world containing moral good but no moral evil?”

    is *possibly* not, at least if we’re talking about the free will defence. What say you?


  5. The sea? Hmm..that depends. If it is the Sea of Galilee, probably its still calm. But if its the sea of sorrows in the world, i think it is still sadly the same as yesterday… sigh 🙂
    Yup! I agree with you. Thank you for pointing it out. But let me see if i got the reason correct. So do you mean that in situation of GC +GT when every E chooses A, which is moral good, God can still actualise a world which contain moral good but no moral evil?
    Oh talking about sea, have a question for you. I knew you had an answer for this, but lets put them down in words and try work out a good apology, shall we? In the case of God hardening Pharaoh’s heart in the Exodus. Do you see GC+GT+A (of Pharaoh)? To what extent does Pharaoh enjoys freewill? Thanks! 🙂


  6. Oh and in “The Free will Defense” (p26), Plantinga wrote:

    “Neither a defense nor a theodicy, of course, gives any hint as to what God’s reason for some specific evil- the death and suffering of someone close to you… Confronted with evil in his own life or suddenly coming to realize more clearly than before the extent and magnitude of evil, a believer in God may undergo a crisis of faith… Neither a Free Will Defense nor a Free Will Theodicy is designed to be of much help or comfort to one suffering from such a storm in the soul… neither is to be thought of first of all as a means of pastoral counseling. Probably neither will enable someone to find peace with himself and with God in the face of the evil the world contains. But then, neither is intended for that purpose.”

    Do you agree? 🙂


  7. Ok i got 10 more mins before 620pm so perhaps let me elaborate on the GC + GT…

    GC= God strongly actualising a state of affairs
    GT= God strongly actualising many state of affairs which includes GC

    GT includes GC, the article uses “GT & GC” (p99), hmm maybe i shouldnt use GC+GT, but rather GC/ GT… hmm.. but that will be “GC or GT”… so well…

    Anyway its 620pm already… we shall talk about this again! 🙂


  8. “So do you mean that in situation of GC +GT when every E chooses A, which is moral good, God can still actualise a world which contain moral good but no moral evil?”

    — i’m not sure if i get the question here: why ‘still’? If i understand the question rightly, i think the answer is yes. (assuming every E always chooses A.) If i misunderstood you, could you rephrase the question pls? thanks 🙂

    Oh talking about sea, have a question for you. I knew you had an answer for this, but lets put them down in words and try work out a good apology, shall we? In the case of God hardening Pharaoh’s heart in the Exodus. Do you see GC+GT+A (of Pharaoh)? To what extent does Pharaoh enjoys freewill? Thanks!

    —I see what you mean by GC and GT now 🙂 as far as i can see, i don’t think this applies directly to the case of Pharaoh. All we can say in this regard, i think, would be that God knows what Pharaoh would freely do in that situation and he actualised that state of affairs for various reasons. Perhaps we could say that possibly God knows what Pharaoh would do if he did not suffer from weakness of the will and was thereby fair in hardening Pharaoh’s heart to reflect what Pharaoh true nature. Is this what you have in mind by that question? actually i didn’t see the potential application till you brought it up!


  9. Hmm .. actually my problem is how it was phrased. Let us turn to the plagues episode again:

    And the LORD said unto Moses, When thou goest to return into Egypt, see that thou do all those wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in thine hand: but I will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go. (Ex 4:21)

    From how the text goes, it seems that God is saying that He hardened Pharaoh’s heart- if not, it will go something like

    but i know his heart will be hardened, that he shall not let the people go.

    Why did our Lord chose to put the message in such a manner across to Moses? If He did not actively actualised the hardening of the heart, why did He say that? 🙂


  10. if i understood you right, i agree that the passage indicates that God sufficiently caused the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, not just that he would actualise a state of affairs in which Pharaoh would harden his own heart. Thus i wrote:

    “as far as i can see, i don’t think this applies directly to the case of Pharaoh. All we can say in this regard, i think, would be that God knows what Pharaoh would freely do in that situation and he actualised that state of affairs for various reasons. Perhaps we could say that possibly God knows what Pharaoh would do if he did not suffer from weakness of the will and was thereby fair in hardening Pharaoh’s heart to reflect what Pharaoh true nature.”

    upon hindsight, i wasn’t clear and shall now try again. Middle knowledge does not have direct application to the case of Pharaoh. But the application could be indirect in the following way:

    if God has middle knowledge, he would know what Pharaoh would do in every possible situation. It could be the case that Pharaoh refrains from letting God’s people go because of weakness of the will. But God knows what Pharaoh would do if he did not suffer from weakness of the will. As such, God hardened P’s heart to reflect P’s true nature. I’m assuming that what one does when one suffers from weakness of the will is not reflective of one’s true nature.

    does this help?


  11. Oh we did this episode in the last bible study class!:

    Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth. Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will? Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction. (Rom 9:18-22)

    I also agree that the passage indicates that God sufficiently caused the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart.



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