Felix Culpa?
January 23, 2009 — 19:07

Author: Luke Gelinas  Category: Uncategorized  Comments: 30

Plantinga’s felix culpa theodicy turns on the following assumption–what he calls the “weak value assumption”–about the value of worlds:
WVA: Among the worlds of great value, some include incarnation and atonement.
Moreover, what explains the “great value” of the worlds mentioned in WVA is (in large part) that they contain the “towering” goods of incarnation and atonement. Plantinga says he’s inclined to accept a stronger assumption, viz., that any world that includes incarnation and atonement is better than any world that doesn’t; he thinks, however, that his argument can get by with WVA. The basic thought seems to be that, for any world that contains incarnation and atonement, God would be justified to create that world (it is, after all, by virtue of containing incarnation and atonement, a greatly valuable world). But of course, necessarily, a world contains incarnation and atonement only if it contains sin. So if God is justified to create a really valuable world that contains incarnation and atonement, God is justified to create a world that contains sin.
I’m not sure Plantinga can get by with WVA. Since WVA is consistent with there being worlds of great value that don’t contain incarnation and atonement, it seems to me that we would need to hear more about what other worlds of great value there are before we can conclude that God would be justified to create a world that contains atonement. If some other world of great value contains neither incarnation and atonement nor sin, God might act better by actualizing that world. Moreover, I think even Judeo-Christian theists should be suspicious. Here is a distinctively Christian way to push the objection.


Many within the tradition–in particular, the “great medieval theologians” (as Marilyn Adams points out in a recent F&P piece)–have held that incarnation and atonement are logically independent: God could have become incarnate even if humans had never sinned (and thus had no need for atonement). Moreover, it’s plausible to think that, in worlds where humans don’t sin but God nonetheless becomes incarnate, God’s becoming incarnate in those worlds is a good-making feature–an extremely good or towering good-making feature–of those worlds.
Suppose there are worlds where humans don’t sin but at which God nonetheless becomes incarnate, and that God’s becoming incarnate at these worlds is a towering good-making feature of those worlds; call them I-worlds. If there are I-worlds, the plausibility of Plantinga’s theodicy rests on the plausibility of the following claim:
C: No I-world is more valuable than the actual world (assuming that the actual world contains both incarnation and atonement).
I have doubts about the plausibility of C, especially if we assume that I-worlds roughly resemble the actual world (i.e., they contain, not one or two, but very many free creatures, etc.). Perhaps the most natural move for Plantinga is to deny the feasibility of I-worlds. In fact, Plantinga’s own free-will defense entails that I-worlds aren’t feasible, since I-worlds contain no sin, and this (at least on the face of it) conflicts with the FWD’s claims about trans-world depravity. Despite the fact that Plantinga nowhere says he intends his felix culpa view to presuppose or depend on the FWD, I suppose Plantinga could say this. There would, however, be lingering questions about whether the resultant felix culpa view could still work as Plantinga intends it: as a theodicy, rather than a defense.

Comments:
  • Mike Almeida

    Hi Luke,
    You claim that Plantinga’s theodicy depends on (C), but I’m not sure that’s right. I know he’s inclined to believe that, for any world W, there is a better world W’. You seem to be assuming that God could not actualize a world W if there is a better one, W’ (I’m sure he’d agree if there were a best possible or feasible world). Those together, as the short story goes, entail that God actualizes no world. Leaving best possible and best feasible worlds out of the question, my guess is that he’d urge that God can (and did) actualize one of those great worlds.

    January 24, 2009 — 8:01
  • Luke Gelinas

    Hi Mike,
    I don’t want to rely on anything like that; I’m not sure I do. Maybe (C) isn’t the best way to put it. Plantinga rightly points out that you can’t have a world with incarnation and atonement without sin. My point is just that, while this is true, it doesn’t follow that you can’t have a world that contains incarnation and no sin, since incarnation and atonement are logically distinct, and incarnation doesn’t require sin.
    So the question seems to be whether worlds with incarnation but not atonement (and so no sin) are plausibly thought to be more valuable than worlds with incarnation and atonement and sin. If God can choose either a very valuable sinless world at which he become incarnate, or a very valuable sinful but atoned world, it seems to me that God should choose the former. But I’m happy to admit that God can create a sinless world W at which God becomes incarnate even if there’s some better sinless world W* at which God becomes incarnate.
    But maybe it could be shown that I’m on the verge of being committed to something like Principle B here; and maybe I would need the stronger claim that the most valuable atonement worlds are less valuable than the most valuable I-worlds (or something like that).

    January 24, 2009 — 9:25
  • Mike Almeida

    If God can choose either a very valuable sinless world at which he become incarnate, or a very valuable sinful but atoned world, it seems to me that God should choose the former
    The principle supporting the intuition you express here does seem to be something like (Rowe’s) B. If not, I wonder what the principle could be? It would be good to know, if there’s something weaker than B at work here.

    January 24, 2009 — 10:52
  • Luke Gelinas

    Here is a stab at a principle distinct from Rowe’s B that might (quasi-consciously!) be guiding my thought.
    (P) Other things equal, if A has a choice between two outcomes of roughly equal value, A should choose the outcome that involves less pain and suffering for sentient beings.
    (P) might be supported by arguing that there is a moral asymmetry between pain and happiness (and maybe other goods as well), in the sense that, other things equal, we are often under a greater obligation to relieve pain than promote happiness, even if the net amount of pain and happiness at stake are equal. (Jaime Mayerfeld has a nice little piece on this somewhere–I forget now where.)
    Depending on how significant you think the asymmetry is, (P) might also be extended in such a way that God would act better by actualizing a sinless-incarnation world instead of an atonement world even if the latter is intrinsically more valuable (perhaps even significantly more valuable) than the former. This strategy would force me to revise (C) in the original post; maybe I could change it to make reference to the goodness of God’s actualizing acts, rather than the goodness of worlds, and this would do the trick.
    There is also the question, pushed forcefully by Adams in her recent piece, of whether, on Plantinga’s theodicy, God does not harm–or, more modestly, whether God expresses sufficient personal love toward–at least some sinful creatures. Suppose at W God mistreats certain sinful creatures by setting them up as means to the towering good of atonement. It seems to me that, even if W is intrinsically more valuable than a sinless world W*, God may and probably would act better by bringing about W*.
    If either of these moves turns out to be plausible, my basic objection can get going without appeal to Principle B.

    January 24, 2009 — 11:38
  • Mike Almeida

    (P) Other things equal, if A has a choice between two outcomes of roughly equal value, A should choose the outcome that involves less pain and suffering for sentient beings.
    I’m not sure that’s coherent. Or, I can’t see it. If W and W’ have roughly the same (overall) value, then there is no moral reason, based on their overall value, for preferring one to the other. If decrements (sufs) in suffering have greater absolute value than increments (hedons) in happiness (say), then it should be true that the overall value of a world W minus one suf should be greater than W plus one hedon. If sufs and hedons are equal in absolute value, then it makes no difference which world is actualized. Or, I can’t see how it could make a moral difference.

    January 24, 2009 — 12:41
  • Luke Gelinas

    Right, (P) doesn’t give one a reason, based on overall value, to prefer W to W*. (Though if there really is an asymmetry in pain and happiness, it might make it harder for sinful atoned worlds to be more valuable than sinless incarnate worlds.) But (P) might give one a reason not based on overall value, by acting as a side-constraint (perhaps a defeasible one) on value-optimization.
    There might be non-consequentialist reasons for God to prefer W to W*, and act better in so doing, even if W and W* instantiate roughly the same amount of intrinsic value. Whether there are reasons like this depends on what the worlds contain, and might at times even make it the case that God acts better by bringing about a less valuable world. It doesn’t seem at all crazy to me to think that God would act better by bringing about a sinless world rather than a sinful but atoned world, even if the latter world turned out to be intrinsically more valuable than the former.

    January 24, 2009 — 14:19
  • Mike Almeida

    It doesn’t seem at all crazy to me to think that God would act better by bringing about a sinless world rather than a sinful but atoned world, even if the latter world turned out to be intrinsically more valuable than the former.
    How could he be acting better? He could be acting more justly, I suppose, but I don’t think it he can be acting better. My worry in these cases is that the only difference is one in value tone: negative value or positive value. That’s it. From this alone we are suppose to derive a deontological conclusion. Maybe there is an underlying libertarian intuition which demands that you not worsen anyone’s situation, but does not demand that you improve anyone’s situation. Something like that.

    January 24, 2009 — 17:25
  • Luke Gelinas

    But isn’t the more just act sometimes better than the less just act that brings about the most value? The doctor who refuses to cut up her patient acts better than the doctor who does, even though the latter realizes more good. Of course, consequentialists will disagree, but I take it your point doesn’t presume the truth of consequentialism.
    I’m not sure I follow the stuff about “value tone.” Are you worried about the possibility that seemingly deontological theories can be consequentialized?

    January 24, 2009 — 19:30
  • Christian Lee

    Moreover, it’s plausible to think that, in worlds where humans don’t sin but God nonetheless becomes incarnate, God’s becoming incarnate in those worlds is a good-making feature–an extremely good or towering good-making feature–of those worlds.
    I actually don’t see why this would be so. In fact, I don’t see why an incarnation would make the owlr any better than a typical birth of non-divine human. Could you say a little more about why you think an incarnation is a “towering good”?

    January 24, 2009 — 19:34
  • Luke Gelinas

    Hi Christian,
    Just working on Plantinga’s premises, I’m not sure I have to give a reason. He’s clearly committed to incarnation being a “towering good,” and this is all I really need for the objection.
    But I guess in actuality I do tend to think that incarnation per se (minus atonement) would be a great good. First, b/c even if humans never fell into sin, God’s becoming human would, it seems plausible to say, make possible a more intimate and valuable sort of relationship between God and humans. It wouldn’t restore that relationship (since it’s not broken), but it could still make it better–much more intimate–than it previously was.
    Second, the amount of love exhibited by the second person of the Trinity in becoming human–in some sense emptying himself, etc.– would, I think, add a great deal of value to the world.

    January 24, 2009 — 19:57
  • Mike Almeida

    But isn’t the more just act sometimes better than the less just act that brings about the most value?
    Right. Fine with me, but I thought you were resisting the reduction of moral assessment of worlds to value assessment. Do you want to say that it all comes down to the value of a world, and questions of justice/injustice are understood (finally) in terms of their contribution to the overall value? This is what value terms like ‘better’ imply. Utilitarians would not disagree. On the contrary, this is more or less a utilitarian/consequentialist approach that seems incompatible with what you wanted to say. The talk of value tone makes just the point that value comes in positive and negative tones (use a different adjective if you want, it doesn’t matter to me), and that seems to be the only difference in the worlds we were discussing. There was no talk of variations in justice.
    In any case, the short story is that if you want to say that justice makes a world better, then just actions must be beneficial actions (Mill says something close to this). But this is just what the utilitarians/consequentialists want to say. I thought you were taking the standard line that just actions were are right independent of their contributions to the overall value of a world? If so, then just actions do not make a world better (i.e., they do not increase its value).

    January 24, 2009 — 20:10
  • Christian Lee

    Plantinga may think it’s good, but if he doesn’t have an argument, and if there is a strong counter-argument, what then? No more felix culpa, right? So, I don’t think incarnation is a great good. If it’s not, then Plantinga’s defense (or ‘theodicy’) is dead in the water. Let me respond to the two reasons you offered for thinking that it is.
    But I guess in actuality I do tend to think that incarnation per se (minus atonement) would be a great good.
    and then you say
    First, b/c even if humans never fell into sin, God’s becoming human would, it seems plausible to say, make possible a more intimate and valuable sort of relationship between God and humans
    The first quote suggests atonement is a an intrinsic good (note the ‘per se’), the second suggests it is an instrumental good (note the reference to relations to other things).
    If you mean it to be intrinsically good, then the reason offered won’t support the claim. If instrumentally, then we don’t need an atonement, we need only an atonement facade that plays the role a real atonement would play. This is possible.
    Second, the amount of love exhibited by the second person of the Trinity in becoming human–in some sense emptying himself, etc.– would, I think, add a great deal of value to the world.
    I don’t know what emptying oneself amounts to. I don’t think love need be exhibited in an incarnation, but if you want to stipulate it is, then I don’t think it adds much value at all to the world. Suppose that, having entered my room to find a new computer, I found myself really loving my computer. Do you think that fact would be a towering good?

    January 25, 2009 — 2:14
  • Luke Gelinas

    Mike,
    I had the standard line in mind; there could be morally relevant reasons for God to create or refrain from creating a world not reducible to considerations of how much value God stands to bring about. But I also think that reducing considerations of justice–and all other deontic features of a world–to value-terms doesn’t necessarily entail that God should then take a maximizing stance in the creative situation; some sorts of value/disvalue might demand a different response from God than optimization. So I’m not sure how much turns on this decision.
    On either approach, I see no problem with saying that God acts ‘better’ by bringing about a world W with less value than a world W* with more. Of course W isn’t better than W*; but God’s act of bringing about W might be better than the act of bringing about W*. To deny this is in effect to think that the goodness of acts is solely a function of the goodness of outcomes.

    January 25, 2009 — 14:45
  • Luke Gelinas

    Christian,
    Right, no doubt whether incarnation is in fact a great good is highly relevant for the success of Plantinga’s theodicy. My point is just that I don’t need to worry too much about it so far as my objection to Plantinga, since it’s a premise Plantinga clearly accepts.
    That aside, I’m a bit confused: In your comment you’re talking about atonement, but my claims were about incarnation, not atonement. I was giving some reasons for thinking that icarnation on its own, with no atonement, is a good-making feature of a world. This is what the ‘per se’ is supposed to be doing (though I admit it’s not very clear).
    Anyways, I tend to think that incarnation is both instrumentally and intrinsically good. Instrumentally good, because incarnation can make a more intimate relationship with God possible. I have no idea what an antonement- or incarnation-facade would look like, or how it could accomplish the same thing.
    Intrinsically, yes, I do think that love–at least, the right sort of love–tends to make the world better. For Christians, not only does the incarnation involve love, it’s also in some sense a paradigm instance of love. Historically, Christianity has interpreted the Divine Word’s taking on human flesh as a tremendous–even towering–act of love. So while love or the exhibition of love may not analytically fall out of “incarnation”, it is, I think, firmly rooted in the Christian understanding of the concept. And of course that’s the understanding of the concept that Plantinga (and myself) has in mind.

    January 25, 2009 — 15:08
  • Christian Lee

    Hi Luke,
    That aside, I’m a bit confused: In your comment you’re talking about atonement, but my claims were about incarnation, not atonement.
    I don’t know why you think this. I used the word ‘incarnation’ and quoted your claim about incarnation. My claim is that incarnation is not a towering good.
    I then claim that it is neither intrinsically good nor instrumentally good. Incarnation need not involve a great act of love. But, if we stipulate it does, then I would claim it is not a towering good. The idea, then, is that if you think it is a towering good, I would like to hear why the love involved in becoming incarnate is much better than the love involved in loving a computer. I will just suppose that a state of affairs involving love is intrinsically good (though this is highly debatable).
    The point about incarnation not being instrumentally good needs to be filled out. The idea is that God need not actually become incarnate to achieve the effects (supposing there are good effects) that incarnation is alleged to make possible. He only need to appear to become incarnate, to make it reasonable for others to think he is incarnate, to achieve these effects. And so, incarnation may have good effects, but incarnation is not necessary for these good effects. Thus, there is a world w in which no incarnation has occurred, but in which everyone takes it to have occurred, that is as good as a world w’ in which it has in fact occurred and everyone takes it to have in fact occurred. I take it Plantinga needs this stronger claim, that incarnation is necessary, though correct me if I’m wrong.
    For what it’s worth, I find a similar problem in Plantinga’s “free will” defense. It simply does not work if free will is not a great good. It is assumed it is, but this value judgment goes largely undefended. But it needs to be defended if the defense is going to work. And, there are many reasons for thinking free will (like incarnation) is not really a great good at all. For example, if we really thought free will was so great we would not imprison people to keep them from harming others. But we do, for good reason. We think freedom is not so important relative to the badness of what exercising it often involves.

    January 25, 2009 — 15:48
  • Luke Gelinas

    Hi Christian,
    Take a look at your comment above; you start with claims about atonement and then move to incarnation; but no matter.
    I don’t find it at all controversial that certain kinds of love–in particular, loving what is good or right or beautiful, because that thing is good or right or beautiful–are intrinsically good. (Both Robert Adams and Tom Hurka defend views of virtue in terms of loving the good, where virtue is itself intrinsically good.) It seems to me that the incarnation could plausibly be thought to involve a great deal of love of this sort–loving and desiring the good of creatures for its own sake–and so itself be a great good. This is different from loving a computer, since (among other things) the object of love isn’t itself good in this case. No?
    As for the facade argument, you seem to be assuming that the benefits involved in an incarnation are merely benefits for creatures. But why couldn’t some of them be benefits for God? God might benefit from a real incarnation in a way God couldn’t from a facade incarnation.
    Moreover, I have doubts about whether even the human benefits could be achieved via a facade incarnation. The true benefits of an incarnation might involve or require something more than mere beliefs on the part of creatures about their relation to God. They might involve some ontological or metaphysical change in the world, which only a real incarnation can deliver. This sounds mysterious; and so it might be.
    As for the FWD, I’m not sure it requires that freedom itself is intrinsically good. It might be that freedom is a necessary condition on other intrinsic goods–such as freely given love, freely given worship, etc.–but is itself not at all (or only very minimally) intrinsically good. I don’t see why an FWDer couldn’t say something like this.

    January 25, 2009 — 17:13
  • Christian Lee

    Luke,
    You’re certainly right about my using ‘atonement’ in the above section. My mistake, oops!
    This is different from loving a computer, since (among other things) the object of love isn’t itself good in this case. No?
    It is different. But I think that when we ask: Is loving x a great good? We can take different stands on how to answer it. Perhaps the state of affairs involved in loving x is good because it involves loving. Perhaps it is good because it involves loving and its object is fitting to be loved since it is good. My point is that if we think it is the state of loving that generates value, then the object is irrelevant. If the object is relevant, then that is because it has intrinsic value in itself. If we go the first route, then the computer analogy is apt. If we go the second route, then the value of incarnation qua involving love, I think, adds little more value to the world than the fact that it involves a loving state, which is good. The rest, that there are good things the attitude is directed towards would exist even if there were no incarnation.
    I agree that, perhaps, becoming incarnate could benefit God. It could. But before I go on to accept that becoming incarnate is a towering good because of the way it effects God, I would need to hear a story. I would think that God could love his creatures, just as much, even if he were not incarnate, but spoke from the clouds. So long as they (us) can reasonably believe they (we) are talking to Him, I don’t see what being material adds.
    They might involve some ontological or metaphysical change in the world, which only a real incarnation can deliver. This sounds mysterious; and so it might be.
    It is possible I suppose. But it is possible the true benefits do not. So, in order for Plantinga’s case to work, he must make it reasonable to believe that actually do, or they probably do.
    A FWDer could say the things you do. And it’s a plausible thing to say. But even so, my claim is that when people are acting badly, their freedom, in just those cases, doesn’t justify God in allowing the bad consequences. So, it might be worse to zap people into loving one another, but it would not be worse to zap people when they are about to, say, rape a child. In fact, I would say it is obligatory to zap the would-be rapist.

    January 26, 2009 — 4:28
  • Mike Almeida

    Of course W isn’t better than W*; but God’s act of bringing about W might be better than the act of bringing about W*. To deny this is in effect to think that the goodness of acts is solely a function of the goodness of outcomes.
    Yes, that’s right. It would be curious if just actions made people better (or actions better) but did not make worlds better, wouldn’t it? Why wouldn’t it make both or neither better?

    January 26, 2009 — 7:59
  • Luke Gelinas

    Mike,
    I think you might be pointing up an equivocation in my use of ‘better than.’ (I appreciate being pushed here.)
    I think what I want to say is that, with respect to worlds, W is better than W* just in case W instantiates more intrinsic value than W*. But with respect to acts, I think I want to say that act A is better than A* just in case A is morally preferable to A*, where the ‘moral preferability’ of acts isn’t solely a function of how much intrinsic value they stand to realize.
    One might hold that justice contributes to the moral preferability of acts, or provides moral reasons in favor of acts, that aren’t reducible to intrinsic value. It depends on one’s axiology (and of course the right axiology!). I start to worry when things like just distributions, rights, etc. are recast in terms of intrinsic value, since often this move seems ad hoc– motivated solely by a desire to consequentialize theories.

    January 26, 2009 — 9:35
  • Luke Gelinas

    If we go the second route, then the value of incarnation qua involving love, I think, adds little more value to the world than the fact that it involves a loving state, which is good. The rest, that there are good things the attitude is directed towards would exist even if there were no incarnation.
    I disagree that “little more value” would be added. Suppose the incarnation involves God’s loving the good of each and every human being. Suppose further that the value of the love displayed in the incarnation is less than the value of the object of the love. Even if it’s 2:1–say each loved object instantiates two units of value, while the love itself is worth 1 unit–that’s still (in Robert Plant’s words) a whole lotta love, and so a whole lotta value added to the world. (Even more if, as seems plauisble, some objects of God’s love are non-anthropocentric.)
    I would think that God could love his creatures, just as much, even if he were not incarnate, but spoke from the clouds. So long as they (us) can reasonably believe they (we) are talking to Him, I don’t see what being material adds.
    Well, being material might make God better (much better!) able to identify with aspects of human existence that are highly relevant for valuable relationships. Becoming material might make God better able to take joy in our joy, sorrow in our sorrow, etc., by experiencing human joys and sorrows from the inside.
    Ultimately, the facade proposal seems to me to fail for the same reasons as the experience machine. (There are also worries, though perhaps not insurmountable, about whether God could permissibly bring about the false beliefs needed.)

    January 26, 2009 — 9:52
  • What if we supplement WVA with three premises?
    A. If w1 has significantly greater value than w2, and God could be justified in creating w2, then God could be justified in creating w1.
    B. Any world of great value has significantly greater value than any world of moderate value.
    C. There is at least one world of moderate value that God would be justified in creating.
    The conclusion that there is a world with evil that God could be justified in creating then follows.
    To argue for C, just note the permissibility of God creating a world that contains no persons other than ten happy mathematicians who never engage in any significantly free choices, but who are happy proving theorems. This seems a world of moderate value. Or maybe just a world full of scampering, happy non-person vegetarian animals.

    January 26, 2009 — 13:24
  • Christian Lee

    Suppose the incarnation involves God’s loving the good of each and every human being…that’s still (in Robert Plant’s words) a whole lotta love, and so a whole lotta value added to the world.
    Well, I love the good of each and every human being. So, by your argument, my incarnation is a towering good too! Same goes for anyone who loves everyone. I don’t find this plausible. The value of my state of love doesn’t increase with its objects like that.
    Well, being material might make God better (much better!) able to identify with aspects of human existence that are highly relevant for valuable relationships.
    Was God not omniscient before the incarnation? If He was, then “being better able to identify with” can’t be some kind of knowledge. But then I don’t understand the phrase.
    Suppose, though, that he would gain such knowledge and it will allow him to better identify with people. I really don’t see why this would be a towering good either, no better, as far as I can see, than a child’s learning how to identify with others by attending kindergarden (moreover, I would argue that if God incarnated Himself to learn such things, He ought to try again because He didn’t). Remember, in any case, this towering good is supposed to be necessary for any world being good-enough to be actualizable by God, and better than any world that contains bliss, perfect love between creatures, no suffering (you name it), but that lacks an incarnation.
    I guess what I’m saying is that God’s getting some new abilities, getting to show some love, and him getting to empty himself, seem to me to be a far cry from ouweighing the sorts of evils we see. Not even in the same ballpark, state, universe.

    January 26, 2009 — 13:26
  • Luke Gelinas

    Hi Alex,
    I guess I’m holding out hope for the following principle:
    (P) Nec, a morally unsurpassable being wouldn’t knowingly perform an act with less moral worth than other acts in its power to perform.
    Which doesn’t on its own entail that God creates a world only if there’s no better world God could create instead; there might be a disconnect between the value of worlds and the moral worth of creative acts. If (P) is true, and assuming God only actualizes one world, I don’t think God would (or could) actualize a world full of scampering vegetarian animals when there was a sinless incarnate world to be had.

    January 26, 2009 — 14:12
  • Luke Gelinas

    The value of my state of love doesn’t increase with its objects like that.
    Why not? If virtue is loving the good for itself, and virtue is itself intrinsically good, the more goods you love, the more value the world contains. That doesn’t seem at all implausible to me. But maybe that’s b/c I’m already sympathetic to the theory of virtue doing the work.
    Was God not omniscient before the incarnation? If He was, then “being better able to identify with” can’t be some kind of knowledge. But then I don’t understand the phrase.
    I’m not sure omniscience necessarily gets a non-incarnate God knowledge from the inside of human experience. But I admit this is controversial.
    I guess what I’m saying is that God’s getting some new abilities, getting to show some love, and him getting to empty himself, seem to me to be a far cry from ouweighing the sorts of evils we see. Not even in the same ballpark, state, universe.
    OK, though I never claimed it was, and I’m actually closer to you than to Plantinga on this point. My claim in the post–and all I need for the objection–is that, plausibly, God acts better by bringing about a sinless incarnation world than a sinful incarnation + atonement world. Do I tend to think that incarnation is a good, even a great good? Yes. Do I think it’s capable on its own of outweighing all or much of the evil we find in our world? Probably not.

    January 26, 2009 — 14:23
  • Luke:
    I think there is only one divine act, of infinite value, and it is identical with God himself. 🙂 So I don’t think one can compare the moral value of different possible divine acts. Even if God had created nothing, he would have “done” an act of infinite value, simply by being his triune self.

    January 26, 2009 — 20:10
  • Christian Lee

    Hi Luke,
    Do I think it’s capable on its own of outweighing all or much of the evil we find in our world? Probably not.
    Excellent, we agree. By the way, I wasn’t objecting to you. I was offering an independent objection to Plantinga’s argument by objecting to what, at least appears to me, to be an underdefended value judgment that occurs as an implicit premise in it.
    My claim in the post–and all I need for the objection–is that, plausibly, God acts better by bringing about a sinless incarnation world than a sinful incarnation + atonement world.
    Okay, so here’s an objection to you. Suppose God brings about a world in which nothing exists except for one brief moment He incarnates himself, then goes back to being immaterial. Call that world w. By the description of w, w counts as being a sinless incarnation world. Compare w with the actual world, on the supposition that God exists and Biblical narratives are roughly correct. I say the actual world is better than w and that God acts better by creating our world rather than w. So, the above claim can’t be quite right, it needs some sort of modification.

    January 26, 2009 — 22:51
  • Luke Gelinas

    Yes, you’re right. I’d need to stipulate that the sinless incarnation world roughly resembled our own (I think I mention this parenthetically at some point in the thread).

    January 27, 2009 — 11:27
  • christian Lee

    Luke,
    With the stipulation added, then, is the following an accurate rendering of what you want to say?
    Any I & ~S world that is as similiar to the actual world as possible is intrinsically better than any I & S & A world that is as similar to actual world as possible.
    Here ‘I’ refers to incarnation, ‘S’ to sin, and ‘A’ to atonement. Thus, if we are only considering intrinsic value, you would be saying that, intrinsically, a world without sin is, all else being kept as similar to the actual world as possible, intrinsically better than a world containing atonement.
    In order to evaluate this I would want to hear more about what is supposed to be intrinsically good about atonement. It doesn’t exactly fall neatly on the standard list of intrinsic goods, e.g., pleasure, knowledge and virtue. People typically say things like “atonement gets rid of sin” and “atonement involves justice being served”. Both claims strikes me as clearly false. So, then, what is the good-making feature of atonement supposed to be? It’s clear, on the other hand, that sin is bad in the sense that it often involves intentionally causing harm, and that’s bad.
    At any rate, whether or not the claim your making is true will depend upon a precise characterization of the intrinsic good that an atonement is supposed to entail. So what is it?

    January 27, 2009 — 11:56
  • Luke Gelinas

    Thus, if we are only considering intrinsic value, you would be saying that, intrinsically, a world without sin is, all else being kept as similar to the actual world as possible, intrinsically better than a world containing atonement.
    Almost: any I & ~S world relevantly similar to the actual world is better than any A world with as much sin and evil as the actual world contains. Something like that.
    At any rate, whether or not the claim your making is true will depend upon a precise characterization of the intrinsic good that an atonement is supposed to entail. So what is it?
    Well, I’m not sure. And that’s basically my point. It’s not tough to see how atonement could have great instrumental value in a sinful world. But it’s real implausible to think that atonement’s instrumental value (in setting sin right or canceling it out or whatever) is, all on its own, capable of outweighing the disvalue of the sin. Atonement, as you say, would need to be intrinsically valuable. Maybe it is; I don’t know. But even if it is, I don’t see how atonement could be so intrinsically valuable as to make an S & I & A world resembling our own–or just our own world, assuming Xianity is true–more choice-worthy for God than a ~S & I world. Plantinga presumably disagrees. Hence this post.

    January 28, 2009 — 11:41
  • Christian Lee

    Luke,
    I agree. I don’t see what it is about atonement that’s supposed to make world’s containing one more choiceworthy than worlds without sin, but that also contain an incarnation. My worry for what you had said, though, is that you seemed to have strong intuitions that incarnation involved a great good, but not that atonement does. And, I have neither of these intuitions. I think that, for Plantinga’s argument to get off the ground, we need to hear quite a bit more about the value of incarnation and atonement. Best,

    January 29, 2009 — 13:17