Aug 21, 2007

LaFollette on Plantinga on free will and evil

I always graze through the offerings at Online Papers in Philosophy, which links to some wonderfully obscure work that professional philosophers post on their personal websites. It surprised and delighted me, then, to see that back in 1980, philosopher Hugh LaFollette subjected Alvin Plantinga's God, Freedom and Evil to the same scrutiny [pdf] I would give it a mere 14 years later--only in a less rigorous, less philosopherish way.

In fact, I'll show where LaFollette's thinking parallels mine, despite our utter intellectual independence.

Thus, it would appear that Plantinga is guilty of an inconsistency here unless he can produce some general and relevant reason why God would have the ability to act morally without ever acting immorally, while humans can only produce moral good if they also produce moral evil. Now Plantinga might want to try to identify such a difference by appealing to the human 'essence'. But even if that response would allay this criticism, it would produce additional questions, namely, Plantinga would need to explain why it isn't possible that there are other, non-human possible creatures who are both rational and significantly free and always choose to do what is morally right. To avoid this criticism he would, it seems, be committed to arguing that:
16) It is necessarily true that: no significantly free possible creatures except God can produce moral good without also producing moral evil.
And such a claim seems clearly undemonstrable (if not preposterous).
Yours truly:
Even if we grant that truly free will exists, though, we must ask: if free will is inviolable, yet humans, thanks to transworld depravity, are continually prone to abuse it, how is heaven, a place free of pain, suffering and sin, logically possible?

Furthermore, if God is both morally good and sinless, and (presumably) the most "valuable" being in all possible worlds (since He is the object of reverence and worship), did He create beings greater than himself with respect to moral freedom? Remember, Plantinga claims that transworld depravity precludes an actual world where free beings always choose the good. There is but one way to exclude God from this without declaring His nonexistence: by removing God's moral freedom. To recap: if God freely always does the right thing, Plantinga's argument implodes. If God has freely chosen the wrong thing, He is not wholly good. If God cannot help but always do the right thing, then humans are more "valuable" than God.


Mark said...


One difficulty with yours and LaFollett's arguments is to note that choice is not necessarily (or even commonly) binary. Of the multitude of choices we have some may be labeled "morally good" some morally bad, why cannot God choose from "among the many" good choices, instead of being as you insist constrained to have no free will and forced to the (singular) good.

Eastern theology doesn't view theodicy, the fall, and its resolution in the same way. The fall, and thereby moral evil, are a result of a taking of the choice of not being in full communion with God (theosis). That we are not in full communion is self-evident. Our frequent choice of doing moral evil is signatory of our separation as opposed any sort of our (and God's) valuation.

Miroslav Volf in his book on Memory and Forgiveness when writing how memory of painful events and reconciling that with notions of an eschatological paradise. He rejects the idea that such memories will be stripped from us, for memory of pain is part of who we are. However, he suggests at such a time, we will no longer fell any need or compulsion to recall such times. I think the notion of free will in an eschatological time (or by God) might similarly be seen, that is there is no compulsion to chose evil, yet there is no reason or necessity to do so either.

And isn't LaFollete's argument just an argument for the divinity of Christ as part of Trinity, that is:

Jesus was a (human) possible creture who was rational, significantly free, and always chose right -> therefore He is of the same substance as God.

Clearly preposterous, or as it has been said, folly and scandal for Jew and Greek alike.

Jim Anderson said...

1. Don't fault LaFollette and me for addressing Plantinga's arguments on their merits, rather than yours.

2. If, as you suggest, Jesus could be human and yet avoid transworld depravity, in what sense can Plantinga's argument be rescued? Plantinga, after all, is the one arguing that all humans in all possible worlds are incapable, ultimately, of making completely moral decisions. If you want to argue that logical inconsistency is no trouble for theodicy, take it up with Plantinga.

Mark said...

I'm not "faulting you", on the contrary, I find your ability to see nuance and issue where I struggle admirable.

On the second point, I wasn't rescuing Plantinga's argument, just pointing out that LaFollet's objections:

It is necessarily true that: no significantly free possible creatures except God can produce moral good without also producing moral evil.

this argument is essentially one of the arguments for Jesus divinity.

1. That given a significantly free creature producing moral good but not moral evil cannot exist as a thing separate from God.
2. Jesus was a significantly free creature (he was human) and did not do evil.
3. Therefore Jesus was/is God, i.e., he isn't separate.

As for your argument, I thought it in part had to do with the notion that God lacks freedom, in only being able to choose good. However, this is not necessarily "unfree" if there is a multiplicity of good choices.