A simplified free will defense
April 21, 2011 — 9:14

Author: Alexander Pruss  Category: Uncategorized  Tags: , , ,   Comments: 42
  1. (Premise) If it is not possible that a creature does evil, then it is not possible that a creature is significantly free.
  2. (Premise) It is possible that God creates a significantly free creature.
  3. Therefore, it is possible that a creature does evil.
  4. (Premise) Necessarily, if a creature exists, God exists.
  5. Therefore, it is possible that God exists and a creature does evil.
We can also modify the argument as follows: We might say that if God’s goodness makes it impossible for him to create a creature that does evil, then God’s goodness makes it impossible for him to create a creature that is significantly free, and the conclusion is absurd.

Comments:
  • This formulation of the free will defense (specifically, your first premise) reminded me of a number of questions I’ve had for some time now about the relationship between divine and creaturely freedom (creaturely freedom seems to entail the ability to do evil, but divine freedom does not) and the implications of this relationship for free will defenses to the problem of evil. Can you recommend any papers, blog posts, or articles related to these issues? Thanks.

    April 21, 2011 — 9:40
  • Wes (not Morriston)

    I think Wes Morriston makes the following point somewhere (much more eloquently):
    (a) It is not possible that God does evil.
    (b) God is significantly free.
    So, premise 1 seems false (unless God is not considered a “creature,” but then I think you’d need to explain why “creature” is importantly different than “being”).

    April 21, 2011 — 10:53
  • God isn’t a creature–a creature is a being created by God.
    My response to Morriston’s argument is probably going to be complex. First, I find his arguments against divine simplicity unconvincing, and I think divine simplicity is a relevant difference. Second, I think there is a relevant difference between God and caused beings. I know Morriston brings in the idea of (perhaps per impossibile) uncaused beings that are like the caused ones except in respect of being caused. But I think this misses something–there is something internally different about the kind of life that a caused being has and the kind of life that God has–the caused beings have a certain lack of self-sufficiency in respect of their nature. Morriston’s uncaused beings that are like the caused ones except in respect of being caused still have that feature–that lack of self-sufficiency.

    April 21, 2011 — 12:11
  • Wes (not Morriston)

    Right; I get the distinction between creature and creator, but I don’t get why it’s a significant difference in terms of freedom. So, is it that you believe the lack of self-sufficiency means that to be free it must be possible for them to do evil? In other words, God’s freedom comes in his self-sufficiency, not his ability to do evil, but since caused beings are not self-sufficient, they only get their freedom from the possibility to do evil. Is that what you have in mind?
    But, even then, one’s theology might prevent this move. I take it that for most who hold the traditional Christian views of an afterlife, it is impossible for someone in heaven to do evil, but I think most of those people believe that the citizens of heaven are still free (and importantly *not* self-sufficient).
    I guess I still don’t get why God can be free, but it is not possible for God to do evil. And why, if one believes those in heaven cannot do evil, those in heaven are free. I don’t know why I should believe your first premise is true.

    April 21, 2011 — 12:42
  • Gene Witmer

    Alex –
    I won’t pretend to have a decent understanding of divine simplicity in the sense needed here. But here’s a question: can a creature be simple in the same way as God? I am pretty confident you’ll say it can’t be. But it’s interesting to note that if that negative answer cannot be defended, your argument faces an apparent problem.
    The apparent problem is simple (pun intended). If God’s inability to do evil is consistent with his significant freedom because of the simplicity of his nature, then a creature who was likewise simple could enjoy the same status: being unable to do evil while significantly free. So the first premise would not be a necessary truth.
    I’m not sure the doctrine of divine simplicity is even intelligible, so I have a very hard time assessing whether or not creatures could be likewise baffling in their nature. (My first thought: someone might think that creation requires creating out of parts, so that the created is not simple — but of course that won’t work with a God who creates ex nihilo.) But it’s interesting to note that the position you indicate here depends not only on the intelligibility of simplicity, but, further, confidence that creatures can’t enjoy it as well.
    – Gene

    April 21, 2011 — 13:21
  • Mike Almeida

    Alex, this is not entirely unlike an argument I have forthcoming (in _Freedom, God and Worlds_ OUP). It all comes down to premise (2) in your formulation, since the rest follows via necessary truths. But (2) can be replaced with the premise that, certainly, God can actualize a morally perfect world: one that includes significantly free beings that always go right. Surely that’s right. But then of course, all of those creatures can go wrong (I’d urge that they can all go wrong together!). In such a world, God co-exists with lots of evil. But it is impossible that God might actualize the morally perfect worlds unless morally evil (terribly evil) worlds are at least possible. But then of course God can co-exist with terrible evil. And that’s the sort of conclusion we’re after. (I think I might also have posted on this a while back). Notice that this argument can concede Mackie’s main objection: that necessarily God can actualize a morally perfect world. This can be conceded. But then it follows that, necessarily, God can do so only if, possibly, those agents go radically wrong.

    April 21, 2011 — 14:11
  • Gene:
    There might be a route from the kind of simplicity that God has to necessary existence. Aquinas thinks that contingent beings need to have distinct being and essence. Or one might say: if x is a truly simple being, then x must be identical with some property (say, x’s haecceity), and properties exist necessarily.
    I should add that I am not completely convinced that it’s so bad to deny that God is significantly free in the relevant stipulative sense of being free to choose good over evil. Indeed, I don’t think God chooses good over evil. God chooses good 1 over good 2. This doesn’t fully solve the Morriston problem, because now the question is: What value is there is in significant freedom? If there is no value in significant freedom, then one might dispute my premise 2. Still, premise 2 seems intuitively right.
    Mike:
    I am not sure why you think (1) is uncontroversial. It seems to depend on incompatibilism.

    April 21, 2011 — 16:57
  • Matthew

    Supposing God isn’t significantly free, one suggestion as to the value of significant freedom for human beings is given by van Inwagen in footnote 10 here:
    http://www.giffordlectures.org/Browse.asp?PubID=TPTPOE&Volume=0&Issue=0&ArticleID=7
    I think it’s an interesting suggestion.

    April 21, 2011 — 17:29
  • Mike:
    “that, certainly, God can actualize a morally perfect world: one that includes significantly free beings that always go right. Surely that’s right”
    That’s not obvious to me.

    April 21, 2011 — 20:31
  • Wes (not Morriston)

    Mike:
    “that, certainly, God can actualize a morally perfect world: one that includes significantly free beings that always go right. Surely that’s right”
    Alex:
    “That’s not obvious to me.”
    Heaven?

    April 22, 2011 — 5:18
  • Wes:
    Heaven isn’t a world–it is only a part of a world. I think the saints in heaven are derivatively significantly free–their significant freedom derives from the significant freedom they earlier exercised. They no longer choose good over evil, but only good over good.
    Matthew:
    I really like the van Inwagen footnote, and advise anybody with Morriston-type worries to read it. Thanks!

    April 22, 2011 — 9:59
  • Wes (not Morriston)

    Alex,
    If heaven is a possible state of a world, can’t it be a possible world? If it is logically possible for the world to be in state X at some point in time, wouldn’t it have been possible to simply exist in state X at all times?
    It is interesting to think of it as only derivatively free. But, I take it that you believe heaven is, at least, partially populated to beings who never experienced freedom (I’m thinking of young children and people with significant cognitive disabilities). Would those individuals have never experienced freedom?
    And, if heaven is a better state of the world than the one we now occupy, and it is not significantly free, doesn’t this pose a problem for the idea that freedom is valuable?
    I apologize if I’m missing something important. Philosophy of Religion isn’t my AOS.

    April 22, 2011 — 11:50
  • “If heaven is a possible state of a world, can’t it be a possible world?”
    Suppose Sam commits a crime and then is justly punished with jail time. If you imagine a world that includes only Sam’s punishment but not Sam’s crime, that punishment is no longer just. In other words, there are evaluative properties that depend on the past. Being justly treated is such. Similarly, being derivatively significantly free depends on the past.
    “I take it that you believe heaven is, at least, partially populated to beings who never experienced freedom (I’m thinking of young children and people with significant cognitive disabilities)”
    That’s a really interesting objection to the derivative freedom view, which objection I’ve never thought of.
    I wouldn’t say with any confidence that these beings never experienced non-derivative freedom. Even in those of us who lack significant cognitive disabilities, the choice whether to live the life of Christ (under some relevant description, which may not include expressly theological terms) involves a miracle of God’s grace that goes beyond the power of nature. So there is nothing absurd about supposing that young children and people with significant cognitive disabilities receive, say at the moment of death, a grace that makes it possible for them to make such a choice.
    But if they never experienced non-derivative freedom, then I will say that their state is not as good as the state of those who have experienced non-derivative freedom, though they are of course perfectly happy.
    “if heaven is a better state of the world than the one we now occupy, and it is not significantly free, doesn’t this pose a problem for the idea that freedom is valuable?”
    That depends on what you think about diversity. Suppose heaven lacks significant freedom (say, because it turns out that the only kind of freedom there is is non-derivative freedom). It could still be the case that the goods of heaven PLUS the distinctive goods of earthly life are more valuable than the goods of heaven alone (I think about this in an eternalist way–the past events of earthly life are always real).

    April 22, 2011 — 12:20
  • Gene Witmer

    The suggested route from simplicity to necessity is pretty intriguing. I guess I don’t know how to assess it yet, though, because I don’t know what inferences are supposed to be reliable once one starts allowing as suppositions claims of such dubious coherence as “x is identical with x’s nature.” So, one of the quick arguments you gave had this as a key move: if x is simple, then x is identical with a property, and properties exist necessarily; hence, if x is simple, x exists necessarily. Well, maybe. The claim that properties exist necessarily seems plausible when one thinks of them without keeping in mind the strange idea that some of those properties might be identical with things that are prima facie very different from properties. But once I saw that some particular individual is actually identical with some property it bears, should I suppose that the individual exists necessarily? Or should I conclude that some properties — these weird ones — don’t exist necessarily?
    In any case, if this can be made to work, it nicely dovetails with something you said in your 2004 paper on the free will defense. There, you suggested that if God’s nature is identical with God himself, then the fact that his nature is responsible for his good actions implies that he himself is responsible for his good action. And the identity of something with its nature is precisely what you’re appealing to in the argument for necessity. So the feature of simplicity that allows for significant freedom without the possibility of evildoing is the same feature that render simple things necessary existents, and hence not creatures. That is a nice result.

    April 22, 2011 — 12:37
  • Gene:
    The point on the “weird” properties is well taken.
    Aquinas also says things in the first part of the Summa that provide a lot of connections between the concepts perfect, simple and pure actuality. There may thus be a route from simplicity to pure actuality, and from pure actuality either to necessity or to uncausedness or both.
    I forgot that remark in my paper. Thanks for reminding me of it! Here’s a link in case anybody wants it. The argument I give in this post is related to the argument of Section 3 of that paper.

    April 22, 2011 — 13:00
  • christian

    hey alex. hope all is well.
    i didn’t read through the comments, but here was my initial impression. first, i like the argument’s simplicity. second, here are some worries. . .
    for premise (1)
    1. compatibilism
    2. significant freedom may require that one be able to better and worse things, but i don’t see why it would require the ability to do “evil”.
    3. there is a scope issue. i suppose you mean: “if it is not possible that a particular creature, C, does evil, then it is not possible that C is significantly free.
    for premise (2)
    1. i think i would reject this if i thought the presence of gratuitous evil and god were jointly incompatible. either the act open to the agent results in gratuitous evil or not. if so, god doesn’t allow it. thus, they agent doesn’t perform it. or else it doesn’t, in which case, i guess, the agent doesn’t do something evil.
    for (4)
    1. i can see why a believer would (or would likely) accept this premise. i can’t figure out why a non-believer should accept this premise. i think i may be missing something though.
    anyway, that was my initial impression.

    April 22, 2011 — 21:55
  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    Alex,
    I have a problem with premise (2). Whether it is possible for God to do X hinges on whether God wants to do X. If free creatures will possibly or probably do evil then it is prima facie questionable whether God would want to create them.
    Incidentally, freedom does not entail that a free being will do evil. I don’t see any impossibility in the creation of a free creature which, as a matter of fact, will never choose evil. I understand Plantinga’s argument is so complicated precisely because it tries to establish that, possibly, such a creature is impossible.
    Let us call the state of a creature which is free but never chooses evil the “perfect” state. Now assume that the eschaton is such that all creatures will be perfect, i.e. assume universalism. Further assume that the value of a creature that reaches perfection by passing through the valley of tears is greater than the value of a creature which is created perfect. Or, in other words, assume that any rational creature will freely choose to pass through the valley of tears to reach perfection. These two premises together constitute I think a free will theodicy.
    And, as a bonus, this free will theodicy comports with a particular but admittedly idiosyncratic interpretation of the Genesis story of the Fall, namely that Adam and Eve (who symbolize each one of us) were not deceived but freely chose the Fall. When I read the beginning of Genesis 3 I don’t see the serpent say anything that is actually false. Rather God gave Adam and Eve the option of an easy but lower kind of perfection, but through the serpent gave them also the option of a hard but higher kind of perfection, which Adam and Eve freely took.
    One may ask: If the kind of personal perfection which is reached by overcoming evil is greater than the kind of perfection that doesn’t, then what about God’s perfection? There are two possible answers here: The easy answer is that the metaphysical distance between God and creatures is so great that the analogy is invalid. The harder but more interesting answer though is to point out that by the atoning sacrifice of Christ God does overcome evil in the most complete manner possible, and that God’s perfection is thus of the greater kind after all.

    April 23, 2011 — 1:21
  • Mark

    Isn’t premise 1 false? I thought the angels in heaven could not (it’s not possible for them to) do evil?
    Best,
    Mark

    April 23, 2011 — 2:03
  • Kevin Timpe’s paper on free will in heaven might be relevant here.

    April 23, 2011 — 8:02
  • David P

    Mark,
    Your comment raises the question of whether being (more) aware of God’s presence (presumably this is a feature of heaven) motivates free agents to do only good.
    Perhaps the angels in heaven could do evil if they weren’t always immediately in God’s presence. This view would have the curious result that only the most powerful angels (who could withstand God’s moral proximity and still choose wrong) rebelled against God. I bet there are bad results from this view I haven’t thought of though.

    April 23, 2011 — 8:17
  • Christian:
    A. The scope of 1 is exactly as I’ve stated it:
    If ~Possible(Ex(x is a creature and x does evil)), then ~Possible(Ex(x is a creature and x is significantly free)).
    B. The notion of significant freedom is the Plantinga notion. It may be partly stipulative (which shifts some of the burden to 2).
    C. While 1 is more plausible on incompatibilism, there are routes to 1 that are compatible with compatibilism. 🙂 For instance, assume the essentiality of creaturehood (a special case of essentiality of origins). Even some compatibilists will say that freedom requires the logical possibility of doing otherwise. That thesis plus the essentiality of creaturehood yields 1.
    Moreover, until Frankfurt came along, compatibilists generally agreed that freedom requires an ability to do otherwise, but they analyzed this ability in ways compatible with determinism. There have recently been new compatibilist attempts to do this using dispositions in ways that avoid Frankfurt difficulties. For instance, Michael Smith has a piece here. (I think the idea that freedom requires an ability to act otherwise is central to our notion of freedom, and hence the Frankfurt cases are something that both incompatibilists and compatibilists need to have something to say about.) But it is pretty plausible that a creature isn’t going to have an ability to do something that God couldn’t allow the creature to do.
    D. Why should the evil done by the creature always have to be gratuitous?
    E. As for premise 4, that’s just what “creature” means in this context–it means a being created by God. Take it as stipulative and interpret 1 and 2 in light of this.
    Mark:
    See point A above. I am not claiming that for every creature, having significant freedom at t requires the possibility at t of acting evilly. Aquinas’ fairly standard view of angels has been that they initially had a choice of good over evil. Some chose good and some chose evil, but because of the clarity of the angelic intellect, once they so chose, they chose with their whole being, once and for all. So the good angels after choosing good can no longer become evil, and the bad angels after choosing evil can no longer become good. So, to answer your question: the angels in heaven no longer have the possibility of choosing evil, but they had that possibility, and that’s enough to make 1 true.
    A counterexample to 1 would have to be an argument that (a) it’s possible for a creature to be significantly free, but (b) no creature ever could choose evil.

    April 23, 2011 — 8:32
  • christian

    alex.
    i don’t quite see how the essentiality of creaturehood together with the logical possibility of doing otherwise, as a necessary condition on significant freedom, support 1.
    let’s suppose that a creature must have the ability to do otherwise in order to have significant freedom. you said:
    “But it is pretty plausible that a creature isn’t going to have an ability to do something that God couldn’t allow the creature to do.”
    this is a worry, no? suppose god couldn’t allow a creature to perform an act that results in gratuitous evil. then a creature would not be able to perform such an act. the question is then whether the ability to do gratuitous evil is required for significant freedom, rather than the ability to do evil. contrast with this the question of whether the ability to do evil is required rather than the mere ability to choose to perform a suboptimal act. i guess i want to know why significant freedom requires that we be able to perform actions that are precisely within this range of badness, as opposed to a different range.
    “As for premise 4, that’s just what “creature” means in this context–it means a being created by God. Take it as stipulative and interpret 1 and 2 in light of this.”
    i see. but then doesn’t 3 and 4 give you a guick modal ontological argument? perhaps this isn’t bad, but it seems fishy.

    April 23, 2011 — 12:14
  • Kevin Timpe

    A number of people have brought up the redeemed in heaven as having free will but not being able to sin. Tim Pawl and I address this in a paper, as well as why having a world with heaven as a proper part doesn’t entail there being a world with heaven as an improper part, here:
    http://people.nnu.edu/ktimpe/research/heavenly_freedom.pdf
    Given that I’m working on a book which also addresses this issue, comments welcome (via email, so as not to hijack this thread).

    April 23, 2011 — 13:51
  • CliveStaples

    Doesn’t there exist a possible world (i.e., one entailing no contradiction) that is precisely like our world except that God does not exist?

    April 23, 2011 — 23:35
  • Christian:
    “i don’t quite see how the essentiality of creaturehood together with the logical possibility of doing otherwise, as a necessary condition on significant freedom, support 1”
    Significant freedom is the freedom to choose good over evil. The relevant kind of possibility of doing otherwise is the possibility of doing evil. So, if x is a creature and x has significant freedom, then it is logically possible that x does evil. Let w1 be a world where x does evil. Because creaturehood is essential, x is a creature in w1. Hence, in w1, a creature does evil. So, if there can be a creature that has significant freedom, there can be a creature that does evil.
    “but then doesn’t 3 and 4 give you a guick modal ontological argument?”
    Only if we take for granted that God exists necessarily. I do think that is true, but it is not an assumption in the argument. There is a tricky thing in any defense. A defense is supposed to show that God and evil are compossible. But if God exists necessarily, then every defense taken literally is a proof of the existence of God. I think the way to handle this is to take the defense conditionally. If there were a God, would it be possible for him to coexist with evil?

    April 24, 2011 — 12:44
  • CliveStaples:
    No, I don’t think there is such a world. How do you think it would affect the argument if there were?

    April 24, 2011 — 13:22
  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    Alex,
    You write: “ I think the idea that freedom requires an ability to act otherwise is central to our notion of freedom, and hence the Frankfurt cases are something that *both* incompatibilists and compatibilists need to have something to say about.”
    I always thought that freedom is about the freedom to choose, not the freedom to act. Thus I wonder if there is isn’t a misunderstanding behind Frankfurt cases. It seems to me that in those cases the subject is always free to choose (and is therefore rightly deemed responsible), but will be prevented from acting if she chooses in a particular way.
    “Significant freedom is the freedom to choose good over evil. The relevant kind of possibility of doing otherwise is the possibility of doing evil. So, if x is a creature and x has significant freedom, then it is logically possible that x does evil.”
    For me to right now choose to pluck out my left eye would be evil. I am free to choose to do so, but, given how I am, it’s not possible that I will choose to do so. My freedom of will is not at all affected by the fact that how I am makes it impossible for me to choose to pluck out my left eye. This is, I think, exactly the point that Kevin Timpe and Tim Pawl make in the paper linked above.
    Similarly I don’t see why it can’t be the case that people in heaven never choose evil while being free to do so. It’s not like one tosses a coin to decide how to choose; how one chooses depends on one’s free and sovereign will. People in heaven are such that their free and sovereign will is never to wish to sin. To ask whether people in heaven are “capable” of sinning is, I think, a false question. The concept of “capability” only applies to contexts where one wishes to do something, but is perhaps not capable of doing it. So, for example, a child may make an error when adding two one digit numbers in her head. On the other hand it’s impossible for me to make such an error, but it would be nonsensical to say that I am therefore “incapable” or “not free” to be wrong. In the same way I’d suggest that there are states of affairs where people never sin without this implying that they are “incapable” or “not free” to sin.
    In light of this I think there is an ambiguity in your first premise “If it is not possible that a creature does evil, then it is not possible that a creature is significantly free”. Does “not possible” refer to the creature not being attracted to do evil in the first place, or to the creature being attracted to evil but being incapable of actually choosing evil? On the former meaning premise (1) becomes indefensible, but on the latter meaning it becomes stronger, and your argument now looks like this:
    1. (Premise) If it is not possible that a creature who feels attracted to evil will choose evil then that creature is not significantly free.
    2. (Premise) It is possible that God creates a significantly free creature.
    3. Therefore, it is possible that a creature who feels attracted to evil will choose evil.
    4. (Premise) Necessarily, if a creature exists, God exists.
    5. Therefore, it is possible that God exists and a creature who feels attracted to evil will choose evil.
    Premise (2) remains questionable though. If God does not want to create beings who are attracted to evil, then it is not possible for God to create such beings.

    April 26, 2011 — 1:19
  • Alexander Pruss

    “I always thought that freedom is about the freedom to choose, not the freedom to act.”
    I am fine with that. Then just replace “does” with “chooses”.
    However, what I said stands, because anybody who chooses evil does evil if only by so choosing. Actions need not go beyond choice, and when they go no further than the choice, they are still actions.
    ‘Does “not possible” refer to the creature not being attracted to do evil in the first place, or to the creature being attracted to evil but being incapable of actually choosing evil?’
    I am holding if it is metaphysically possible that there is a creature (of whatever sort, with whatever attractions it may have) that is significantly free, then it is metaphysically possible that there is a creature that does evil.

    April 26, 2011 — 16:40
  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    Alex,
    I think there is a huge metaphysical distance between choosing and acting. Significantly, all our actions (including our thoughts) supervene on the physical, or at the very least there is strong scientific evidence that this is the case. Choosing, in contrast, does not supervene on the physical, and that’s why naturalists have so much trouble making sense of free choices within their worldview (I use “freedom” in its original sense of “libertarian freedom”). To be able to choose (which capacity we call “freedom”) is a transcendental and non-mechanical property. It is the power that humans have to creatively affect physical reality, to bring into physical reality something genuinely new that wasn’t there before. Leibniz writes that God, by giving us free will, makes us into “little gods” – and I think that’s exactly right, because through our free will we have a little power to be unmoved movers.) Thus, it seems to me, that to conflate acting and choosing can be very misleading.
    You write: “ I am holding if it is metaphysically possible that there is a creature (of whatever sort, with whatever attractions it may have) that is significantly free, then it is metaphysically possible that there is a creature that does evil.”
    For your argument to work, you must mean the same creature, correct? But then consider a creature that is significantly free (i.e. free to choose good over evil) and is disgusted with all evils and attracted to all goods. I think such a creature is metaphysically possible, and also that it is not metaphysically possible that such a creature ever chooses some evil. I take it I only have to defend the latter claim: A significantly free creature is a rational being, and no rational being will ever choose something disgusting over something attractive.
    Incidentally, this may explain why people in heaven are significantly free but will never fall into sin (i.e. into choosing some evil). Define “heavenly state” the state where a person feels disgusted with all evils and feels attracted to all goods. Now assume 1) that to enter heaven one must be in the heavenly state, and 2) that the only way one may loose one’s heavenly state in heaven is by sinning. I submit that both assumptions are eminently plausible. Now, as I argue above, while being in the heavenly state it is metaphysically impossible for a person to sin, and therefore it is metaphysically impossible to lose that state. The heavenly state is intrinsically stable; once you get it you never lose it. (Which does not imply that this state is intrinsically static; for while in the heavenly state there is still much good to choose between.)

    April 28, 2011 — 18:35
  • “For your argument to work, you must mean the same creature, correct?”
    The argument is valid even if it is not the same creature. But my best arguments for premise 1 yield the stronger claim (not needed for the argument) that it’s the same creature.
    “But then consider a creature that is significantly free (i.e. free to choose good over evil) and is disgusted with all evils and attracted to all goods. I think such a creature is metaphysically possible, and also that it is not metaphysically possible that such a creature ever chooses some evil.”
    This creature would have to have the essential property of such disgust. In which case I would be inclined deny that it is significantly free.

    April 28, 2011 — 23:02
  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    “This creature would have to have the essential property of such disgust.”
    The “heavenly state” (as defined) is not an essential property of the human condition, as our own current state evidences. Still, as argued, a human that reaches the heavenly state and is placed in heaven will never lose that state. (Given God’s justice one’s place must concord with one’s state.)
    “In which case I would be inclined deny that it is significantly free.”
    Why? Each one of us is already disgusted with many grave evils and is already attracted to many great goods, while remaining significantly free. Why should it be impossible to reach the heavenly state of feeling disgusted with all evils and feeling attracted to all goods, while remaining significantly free, i.e. free to choose good over evil?
    Freedom is the capacity of choosing A instead of B. The concept of freedom does not entail that sometimes one will in fact choose B, as I demonstrated in my example of choosing the right answer to simple questions of arithmetic. I could have used the example of choosing to eat fresh strawberries over rotten ones.
    Finally, one should not think that the heavenly state is the most perfect moral state a human can achieve, for in a heavenly state one can still fail to choose some greater good over some lesser good. The significance of the heavenly state is that a fall into sinning is no longer metaphysically possible, and thus the only path one will in fact choose to take is forward. That’s why it is fair to say that those in heaven are “saved”. (Similarly our current “fallen” state should not be understood as a state of sinning but as a state where sinning is metaphysically possible.) Still, there is a big difference between being in heaven and being as perfect as God in heaven is. Therefore, Christ’s final injunction in the Sermon on the Mount applies to those in heaven too. Surely, heaven is not a state of moral stagnation or of moral irrelevance. Rather, there is much work to be done in heaven too. For one, there is the work of personal atoning with those one has wronged in one’s Earthly life. There is a big difference between being forgiven and atonement. To forgive is just to commit to atonement, the one who forgives opens the path to atonement.

    April 29, 2011 — 22:49
  • In regards to choices made in Heaven doesn’t the biblical data imply heavenly beings falling, or disobeying God?
    That seems like a significant choice made in Heaven.

    April 30, 2011 — 0:01
  • “Freedom is the capacity of choosing A instead of B”
    Freedom is the capacity of choosing A over B. This requires B to be an option one can at least take into consideration. But in order for B to be an option one can at least consider, one needs to have some reason to consider B. In heaven, one has no reason to consider evil. So, one does not choose A over evil.
    Take an ordinary morally insignificant choice. I am sitting at table, and on my plate there are beans and rice. I choose to make my next spoonful be beans rather than to make my next spoonful be rice. Notice, however, that I do not choose to take a spoonful of beans rather than to mash the rice into my hair. If I were a toddler, the latter might be a real alternative, but it isn’t for me. I don’t even take it into consideration. Consequently, while I freely ate a spoonful of beans, I did not choose to eat a spoonful of beans over mashing the rice into my hair. Mashing the rice into my hair was not an option.
    In heaven, we do not take evil to be an option.
    That is compatible with our engaging in morally significant activity and our being morally responsible for our activity and choices, but it is not compatible with our choosing between good and evil, between an option that is permissible and an option that is wrong–and it is freely choosing between good and evil that, stipulatively and following Plantinga, I call “significant freedom”.
    To generate a counterexample to (1), you’d have to make plausible the existence of a creature that essentially has the property of being unattracted to evil and yet is significantly free.

    April 30, 2011 — 8:05
  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    Basil,
    I am agnostic about the existence of angels. Angels in scripture may refer to particular kinds of manifestation of God in the life of people; it is not clear to me whether they are meant to be actual personal beings. I do happen to believe in the existence of the spirit of deception, the devil, but in a negative sense of existence. Perhaps I should say that I believe in the personal presence of the spirit of deception, but not in the personal existence of the devil.
    Now, for all we know, there may exist other kinds of personal beings apart from humans and God. What is relevant for us though is what kind of reasonable beliefs we may hold for our afterlife, and such beliefs can only be formed in language that refers to the human condition. Thus it is generally agreed that in heaven humans won’t ever fall to sin again. I am inclined to think of heaven as the place where personal beings (human or not) are such that they are committed to God and won’t ever fall into sin again.

    April 30, 2011 — 16:43
  • Basil:
    I think it is plausible that the angels didn’t have the beatific vision when they sinned. (This may have to be understood of the order of explanation rather than the order of causation.) If so, then the fall of Lucifer is not strictly speaking a fall from a truly heavenly state, but from a high state of innocence. There are tough questions here. Have a look at questions 50-64 of the Prima Pars.

    April 30, 2011 — 21:12
  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    I think we agree about the state of humans in heaven. I too think that for somebody in heaven to choose some evil would be akin to a normal adult in our current condition choosing to mash rise into her hair instead of eating it. But such is not really an open option. It is not a real alternative, as you put it.
    Now it is almost always the case that some options are not real alternatives. Given that in common parlance one would say that an adult is free to but will not choose to mash rise into her hair instead of eating it, I am inclined to use the concept of “freedom” to characterize the analogous state of affairs in heaven, where one is free to choose evil but won’t choose it.
    Plantinga’s definition of “significant freedom” is as follows: “A person is free with respect to action A at a time t only if no causal laws and antecedent conditions determine either that he performs A at t or that he refrains from not doing so” (Actually, I think a better wording would be: “A person is free with respect to choice A at a time t only if no causal laws and antecedent conditions determine either that he chooses A at t or that he refrains from not doing so”.)
    I understand your point is that if the antecedent conditions of how a normal adult is determine that the adult will refrain from choosing to mash rise into her hair then the adult is not significantly free with respect to choosing to mash rise into her hair. Now I think Plantinga’s definition is a good one, for it captures the point that through freedom something genuinely new comes into existence. On the other hand, the existential state we are in right now, a state in which self-harming options are real, implies that freedom can be put to bad use. My objection then with that definition is with naming the respective concept “significant freedom”. That choice of words strikes me as unwise, for it sounds like something that is good is lost when one goes to heaven. It sounds like humans in heaven (and also God) have only insignificant freedom. That’s all very misleading. So, why not call the concept defined above “fallen freedom” or “irrational freedom” or “short-sighted freedom” or even “junkie freedom”?
    In any case, in my judgment the second premise of your argument is the more difficult one to defend. Indeed a more appropriate naming of the freedom at hand brings out the problem, for now that premise becomes something like (2*) It is possible that God creates a creature with short-sighted freedom. Given that it is not possible that God does something that God wants not, to defend that premise one would need to defend the premise that God wants to create a creature with short-sighted freedom.

    May 2, 2011 — 1:56
  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    Rereading the above I realize that I misunderstood Plantinga’s definition. In it he defines “significant freedom” not as a property that a person just has, but as a property a person has *with respect to* some particular choice (or class of choices) which is logically open to that person. So, he says that humans are now significantly free with respect to evil choices, but in heaven humans will not be significantly free with respect to evil choices. Which is fine, given that in heaven humans will be such that all evil choices will be felt as disgusting and deemed absurd.
    Thus, I take it, the first two premises of Alex’s argument mean:
    (1) If it is not possible that a creature chooses evil, then it is not possible that a creature is significantly free with respect to choosing evil.
    (2) It is possible that God creates a significantly free creature with respect to choosing evil.

    May 2, 2011 — 4:19
  • Brian

    Thanks to all philosophers here who exhibit and extol the virtues of rational discourse!
    Can anyone explain to me how the free will defense is suppose work when much that is terrible in the world comes about through natural causes, like tsunamis and hurricanes? So, in other words, why would a benevolent loving God create a world that hurts his beloved creatures so deeply? I know this is a low level question, but whenever the free will defense comes up on this blog, I am always left wondering about it.

    May 3, 2011 — 10:45
  • The free will defense has a very narrow target. Its point is to refute the argument that the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient and perfectly good being is incompatible with there being evil.
    In particular, it is not the point of the free will defense to explain why there are natural evils of the sort you mention.
    That said, some people (e.g., Plantinga) have extended the free will defense to what we think of as natural evils, e.g., in the following two ways:
    1. What we think of as natural evils could be the outcome of free choices by evil supernatural beings (demons).
    2. What we think of as natural evils, at least as they impact humanity, could be the outcome of free choices by humans. Thus, if the first humans lived in a specially protected environment (e.g., the Garden of Eden) without these natural evils, and then left or destroyed that environment through their sinfulness, the impact of apparently natural evils on their descendants could be seen as an outcome of their free choices.

    May 3, 2011 — 10:55
  • Kevin Timpe

    To tag onto Alex’s response to Brian:
    (3) Swinburne argues that natural evils are needed for us to have the knowledge required to do morally good or bad actions.

    May 4, 2011 — 11:57
  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    Brian,
    The story goes like this: Atheist philosophers, and in particular J. L. Mackie, argued that there is a logical contradiction between God’s perfection (being all-good, all-powerful, etc) and the existence of evil in the world. Now whereas claims of logical possibility are implicitly justified unless there is some reason to suspect logical impossibility, claims of logical impossibility should be justified by showing where the contradiction lies. In relation to the argument from evil, atheist philosophers were unable to show where the claimed impossibility lied in any intellectually legitimate way, but successfully exploited the emotional force of the argument to give the impression that there must be some logical incompatibility at hand, which, given the existence of evil would logically disprove the existence of God.
    Enters Alvin Plantinga, a major Christian philosopher, who took upon himself to carry the burden of proof and demonstrate logical possibility in this case. Now when one wants to demonstrate that there is no logical contradiction between A and B it is sufficient to find a C such as there is demonstrably no logical contradiction between A and C and no logical contradiction between B and C. The important thing to note is that for this demonstration to be valid it is not relevant that C is true, but only that it is possibly true. Thus, even if C is in fact false, the demonstration that there is no logical contradiction between A and B works. For example, consider A=”It has not rained for three days” and B=”the street in front of my house is all wet”. To demonstrate that there is no logical contradiction between A and B, it is sufficient to suggest C=”the water pipe in front of my house has burst” and show that there is no contradiction between A and C, nor between B and C. The demonstration works even if in fact C is false and the water pipe in front of my house has not burst.
    In our case A=”a perfect God exists” and B=”evil exists”. The C that Plantinga chose is C=”even a God of perfection cannot create a world in which free creatures do not sometimes choose evil”. The details are intricate, but the consensus is that Plantinga’s argument successfully shows that there is not logical contradiction. Now, this far Plantinga has only demonstrated that there is no logical contradiction between “A=a perfect God exists” and B1=”moral evil exists”. As you point out, this leaves open the question of whether there might be a logical contradiction between A and B2=”natural evils exist”. So, Plantinga suggests a C2=”evil supernatural spirits such as Satan produce natural evils”. Again, it is *not* relevant whether C2 is true or not. As we now know that there is no logical contradiction between (A) the existence of God and (B1) the existence of moral evils, *any* idea which without logical contradiction reduces natural evil to moral evil is sufficient for demonstrating that there is no contradiction between (A) the existence of God and (B2) the existence of natural evils either.
    In conclusion the only truth that Plantinga’s defense establishes is that there is no logical contradiction between the existence of God and the existence of evil (both moral and natural). Plantinga’s defense does not hinge on the truth of its claim about God not being able to create a world of free creatures who will never choose evil, nor on the truth of whether demons cause hurricanes. Plantinga’s argument does not make any claims about how things really are. Plantinga is *not* proposing a theodicy, the goal of which is to establish a different truth altogether, namely why God has created a world in which evil (both moral and natural) may and often exists. Of course a theodicy is a much more ambitious project for it sets out to describe how things actually are. In my mind the best theodicy yet proposed is John Hick’s “soul-making” theodicy. It turns out that this theodicy has a fine pedigree, having first been proposed by one of the Fathers of the early church, Saint Irenaeus. Later it fell to oblivion primary because it entails universal salvation, which even though widely accepted in the first centuries of Christianity was later rejected when the dogma of Hell became entrenched. Which, in my judgment, was unfortunate.

    May 4, 2011 — 13:21
  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    Kevin,
    I tend to agree with Swinburne’s (3). Indeed it’s not easy to see how a world would be in which moral evils but not natural evils exist. If a moral evil such as throwing a stone on somebody could kill him, how would it be that a stone that naturally fell on somebody wouldn’t harm him at all? Such a world would be very weird indeed. Nevertheless, suppose we lived in such a world in which evil only could befall us originating from our fellow human beings. In such a world it would be rational to put as much distance between ourselves and other people as possible, but such a lonely state of affairs would amount to a natural evil by itself.
    I’d also like to propose a (4): Justice requires that one’s environment reflects one’s state of being. While we are in the fallen state we are now in, justice requires that our environment is at a comparable fallen state too. On theism our physical environment (including our physical body) is not incidental; both we hujmans and our environment are created by God in a coherent state which comports with God’s purpose in creation.

    May 4, 2011 — 13:35