There is widespread belief that compatibilism + theism cannot offer a credible solution to the logical problem of evil. Why does anyone believe that? I think they’re reasoning this way: if compatibilism is true, then, necessarily, God can actualize a morally perfect world. That’s of course true, and it entails that the free will defense fails. But then they reason, if, necessarily, God can actualize a morally perfect world, then, necessarily, God does actualize a morally perfect world. It is then observed that, obviously, there is evil. So, compatibilism + theism is incoherent; it cannot solve the logical problem.
Here is an interesting theistic argument that I call the ‘leveling argument’. The leveling argument takes as a premise the common assumption in (1). I agree that (1) is tendentious.
1. God cannot actualize a suboptimal world.
Now take any level of value v and suppose that every possible world has an intrinsic value no higher than v. If a possible world w has value v, then God could actualize w. God would have optimized in actualizing w. But if w had value v and w’ had value v+, then God could not actualize w. God would have failed to optimize in actualizing w. So, whether God can actualize a world w depends on what other worlds w’ he might actualize. It is the comparative value of worlds that determines whether God could actualize them, not their intrinsic value. Immediately, we can reach two broad conclusions.
Molinists urge that we can avoid necessitarian conclusion–the conclusion that there is just one possible world–if it is true in some worlds that God is not able to actualize the best world. This is false. The necessitarian conclusion follows from the plausible principle that God must actualize the best possible world, if there is a best possible world. I don’t think it’s difficult to show that there must be a best possible world, so I leave it as an exercise. Here’s the proof contra the Molinist.
1. Necessarily, God actualizes the best possible world. Basic Principle
2. God is essentially omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent & necessarily existing (all as a matter of absolute necessity). Assumption.
3. w is the best possible world. Assumption
4. God actualized w in w. From 2,3
5. It is true in w that necessarily, God actualized w. From 1, 4.
6. Necessarily, God actualized w. From 5, S5
7. w is the only possible world. From 6
8. Necessitarianism is true. From 7.
Many theists are libertarians about free will. I take it as a minimal implication of libertarianism that at any time t at which an agent S freely chooses A, S might have chosen ~A instead. The future branches into many genuinely possible alternatives. I want to make a few observations.
1. Note first that the free will defense (FWD), as Plantinga offers the argument, simply assumes that we have libertarian freedom. It is the assumption of libertarian freedom that makes it possible for (what I’ll call) bad CCF’s to be possibly true: recall we are invited to consider a world in which CCF’s of the sort, God creates S in T ☐⟶ S goes wrong, are true. Such counterfactuals could not be true unless we assumed that there are worlds in which God exists and agents produce evil. He could have ended the argument right there, after affirming that at least one of these is true somewhere in metaphysical space, since that is the conclusion we’re after.
2. That brings me to my second quick observation. For all of the fuss in the FWD, all we really need, for Plantinga’s purposes, is one counterfactual of the sort, God creates S in T ☐⟶ S goes wrong, to be true in some possible world. The rest of the argument is unnecessary for the main purpose. If there is such a true counterfactual, then God exists in some world where there is evil, contrary to the logical argument from evil. So ends the dispute.
My main point is that atheological opponents might reasonably balk at the idea that libertarian freedom is compatible with theism. Here’s why. Assume we have libertarian freedom. For any rational agent S, if S has libertarian freedom with respect to action A, then S can perform ~A. For actions A with moral significance, libertarian freedom entails that you can perform the morally wrong action ~A. But the modal claim that you can perform the wrong action ~A entails the further modal claim that God can actualize a world in which you go wrong. So far, I assume, so good. Now, unless it is true that you and everyone else is universally transworld depraved in every possible world in which you go wrong, which is simply not credible, this means that God can actualize a world in which you go wrong when he might have actualized a world in which you go right instead. Certainly, there is some world like that under the assumption of libertarianism. But why should an atheological opponent accept that? He shouldn’t. Why wouldn’t an atheological opponent urge instead that God cannot actualize a world in which you freely go wrong when he might have actualized one in which you freely go right. He would. But then it’s reasonable to believe that libertarianism is not compatible with theism.
In What can she know Lorraine Code argues for a feminist epistemology, in which our situation, community, position in society, matter to what we can know. Knowledge mainly available to men is implicitly regarded as gender-neutral; meanwhile knowledge traditionally associated with women is regarded as not knowledge at all. Consider the practices of some Catholic Latina women in the United States, who fend off the evil eye (especially of infants) with eggs, bury statues of saints like Mary and Joseph in their front yard when the saints refuse to grant requests, and dig them up again once the request is granted. As Michelle Gonzalez Maldonado details, this sounds rather irreverent, but the practice just illustrates how intimate the relationship is between the Latino community and the saints they revere. Home altars with pictures of Mary and the Saints are the territory of Latina Catholic women. Do these practices contribute to religious epistemology? If so, how?
The council of Trent wanted to eradicate these practices of saint reverence and fending off the evil eye, in which women prominently figured as practitioners and experts. However, it did not destroy these practices in Latina women. Neither did it destroy them entirely in European women, such as my grandmother. My grandmother was a devout Catholic woman who taught me the first things about religion such as the significance of the host, the meaning of infant baptism, how to pray. She had a wooden black statue of Mary (there is a tradition of revering Black Mary in Medieval Europe, and my grandmother’s home town had a tradition that still kept this alive), to whom she talked and prayed. When Mary refused to grant her requests, she would be unceremoniously turned facing the wall until Mary changed her mind.
By the time I was 12, I dismissed her practices as superstitious folk beliefs of an old woman who had not moved with the times, and as just plain silly. Her beliefs, I thought, were wrong also within her own epistemological framework of Christianity, given that statues aren’t actually the figures they represent (but in Latina culture, and my grandmother’s practice, they were), and Mary cannot autonomously grant requests but is assumed to intercede with God on our behalf (but for my grandmother, she clearly could do all sorts of things on her own). However, I am now wondering if it is true that my grandmothers religious beliefs (aka superstitions) were really inconsistent with the epistemology she held. After all, her epistemology was not the official teaching of the Catholic church, but something that was informed by her own practices.
Very few philosophers of religion discuss how specific religious practices can foster a religious knowledge that more cerebral thinking about God cannot. Sarah Coakley has some work liturgy as a form of doxastic practice (a tantalizing term she borrows from Alston, who did not do much with the concept, but fortunately, Sarah has and I hope to elaborate it in work further on in a talk I’ll be giving at Texas A&M). Coakley argues that the physical, multi-sensory experience of worship can mediate spiritual experience. Howard Wettstein argues along similar lines about Jewish practices like blessings. He argues these practices provide access to a religious way of life even if there is no doxastic commitment to metaphysical claims about God. Do religious practices provide us with religious knowledge? Even practices that seem contrary to claims generally accepted in philosophy of religion?
I would claim that if we assume that perfect being theology in western philosophy of religion is correct, and if the main theological claims are correct, my grandmother and the members of the Latino community Michelle Gonzalez Maldonado studied can have knowledge. It is hard to say if any theological claims are true, and of course, if naturalism is true, my grandmother’s views, and those of theologians are not knowledge; I am just here assuming the traditional theological views because practices like my grandmother’s are in this framework dismissed as superstitions without any epistemological value.
If my grandmother has knowledge of Mary, it is knowledge by acquaintance, afforded by intimate second-person interactions (manipulating the statue of Black Mary, speaking to her). This sort of knowledge isn’t available to people who do not engage in practices like this. In When God talks back, Tanya Luhrmann explains how this works for Evangelical Christians, but Gonzalez Maldonado offers another perspective (Yet another one is offered by Eleonore Stump on how reading scripture can give us second-person insight). I would like to think more about how embodied practices in religion, so often downplayed by mainstream churches as an embarrassment and relic of the past, can contribute to epistemological questions in philosophy of religion.
[this blogpost is inspired by a talk by Michelle Gonzalez Maldonado at the Annual Academy of Religion; in the talk Gonzales Maldonado discussed Latino religious practices in relationship to Luhrmann’s work on Evangelical spirituality]
What do philosophers think about religious disagreement? This is a brief survey (takes about 5-10 minutes) to find this out. The survey is aimed at academic philosophers, by which I mean people who hold a PhD in philosophy or are graduate students in philosophy. If you fit these criteria, please consider participating. Participation is fully anonymous.
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As I have argued elsewhere, it is very difficult to reconcile the idea that God intentionally designed human beings with the statistical explanations we would expect to see in a completed evolutionary theory. One might respond that our current evolutionary theory is not thus completed, but it would be nice to have a story that would fit even with a future completed theory. I now offer such a solution, albeit one I am not fond of.
Suppose first that God determines (either directly or mediately) every quantum event in the evolutionary history of human beings. Suppose further that physical reality is infinite, either spatially or temporally or in the multiverse way, in such wise that the quantum events in our evolutionary history can be arranged into a fairly natural infinite sequence and given frequentist probabilities
So far this is a simple and quite unoriginal solution. And it is insufficient. A standard problem with frequentist accounts is that they get the order of explanations wrong. It is central to a completed evolutionary story that the probabilistic facts explain the arising of human beings. But if the probabilistic facts are grounded in the sequence of events, as on frequentism they are, then they cannot explain what happens in that sequence of events. Some Humeans are happy to bite the bullet and accept circular explanations here, but I take the objection to be very serious.
However, theistic frequentism has a resource that bare frequentism does not. The theistic frequentist can make probability facts be grounded not in the frequencies of the infinite sequence of events as such, but in God’s intention to produce an infinite sequence of events with such-and-such frequencies and to do so under the description “an infinite sequence of events with such-and-such frequencies.” This requires God to have a reason to produce a sequence of events with such-and-such frequencies as such, but a reason is not hard to find–statistical order is a genuine kind of order and order is valuable.
The theistic frequentist now has much less of a circularity worry. It is not the infinite sequence of events that grounds the probabilities that are, in turn, supposed to explain the events within the evolutionary sequence. Rather, it is God’s intention to produce events with such-and-such frequencies that grounds the probabilities, and the events in the sequence can be non-circularly explained by their having frequencies that God had good reason (say, based on order) to produce.
Consider the following attempted reductio of Anselmian theism (based on Rowe, Can God be Free?):
- God exists and actualized the actual world and no being could possibly be greater than God actually is (assumption for reductio)
- There is a possible world, w, which is better than the actual world (premise)
- Possibly, God actualizes w (premise)
- Therefore, possibly, God does better than God in fact did (from 1-3)
- Therefore, possibly, God is greater than God in fact is (from 4)
The conclusion 5 of course contradicts the assumption 1. What I want to point out here is just that 5 does not follow validly from 4. That is, doing better does not logically entail being greater. This is easy to see in cases where the agents face different choices: a devil may make a better choice than a saint if the devil’s worst option is better than the saint’s best option!