There’s a good version of the modal problem of evil in Ted Guleserian’s (TG), ‘God and Possible Worlds: The Modal Problem of Evil’ (GPW) in Nous (1983). GPW is directly largely to Plantinga’s modal realism+theism and similar views. But I think the problem is more difficult than he suggests. TG tries to show that there is a possible world in which there is pointless and preventable evil. And so he invites a response of modal skepticism about such a world. He would have been better advised to provide a series of worlds, a G series and a B series, and then ask how the evil in the B series could be necessary to a greater good: i.e., how the evil in the B series could be justified evil.
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.
A fairly common position in philosophy of religion is that religious experience can provide justification for religious belief of a sort that cannot be transmitted by testimony. (We here use the term ‘religious experience’ non-factively; that is, we leave open the possibility that these experiences might provide misleading evidence.) This is not necessarily to deny that testimony of religious experience can provide evidence in favor of religious belief; it is just to say that, no matter how credible the testimony, this won’t provide the same sort of justification as actually having the experience oneself. Often it is thought that at least some mystics gain justification which is not only different in kind than the justification that can be got by testimony, but greater in degree. (I use the term ‘mystic’ to refer to anyone who has religious experience; I take it that this group is far larger than just the famous mystical writers and those directly influenced by them.) On this view, no matter how much testimony of religious experience from sincere, apparently sane, people one collected, this could never add up to as strong a reason for belief as that possessed by (say) Julian of Norwich on account of her experiences.
A defense (in Plantinga’s sense) against the logical problem of evil requires two components: a metaphysical component, which claims that a certain scenario is logically possible, and a value component, which claims that if the scenario in question were actual then it would be consistent with God’s goodness to weakly actualize a world containing evil. In Plantinga’s Free Will Defense (FWD), the scenario in question is one in which every creaturely essence suffers from transworld depravity (TWD). Now, in both The Nature of Necessity and God, Freedom, and Evil Plantinga’s focus is squarely on the metaphysical component, defending the coherence of Molinism and the possibility of every creaturely essence suffering from TWD. The value component is almost completely ignored. Plantinga supposes that, if every creaturely essence suffered from TWD, then God would create a world with evil, and this would not in any way impugn his goodness. But why does Plantinga think this? I suppose he probably endorses:
(1) God’s perfect goodness consists in his actualizing the best world he can
(2) If every creaturely essence suffered TWD, then the best world God could actualize would contain some evil.
Thomas Nagel writes a review of Alvin Plantinga’s recent book, Where the Conflict Really Lies, which James Beebe has also nicely reviewed here at Prosblogion.
Nagel’s review is well-written and charitable. He covers much territory by summarizing large swathes of Plantinga-philosophy in succinct paragraphs, all without sacrificing accuracy. (He even appears to have carefully read footnotes from Plantinga’s other works.) His only objection seemed to be that Plantinga does not consider naturalist theories of mental content. Plantinga doesn’t cover them in this book, but he deals with a number of them in a recent PPR paper.
So, as one very familiar with Plantinga’s work, I was impressed with Nagel’s review.
In Where the Conflict Really Lies, which James Beebe has nicely reviewed, Alvin Plantinga discusses nomological necessity, the necessity had by physical laws. As he (and everybody else) points out, propositions like
2) Every sphere made of gold is less than 1/2 mile in diameter
are true and universal. However, there is a clear sense in which (2) is not necessary in the sense required for lawhood (the sort of necessity we call ‘nomological necessity’). On the other hand, the proposition that no object can increase from a velocity less than the speed of light to a velocity more than the speed of light is nomologically necessary. Also, it does not seem that this proposition is necessary in the broadly logical or metaphysical sense; the law seems contingent.
How are we to understand nomological necessity? Plantinga suggests:
But numbers and sets themselves make a great deal more sense from the point of view of theism than from that of naturalism. Now there are two quite different but widely shared intuitions about the nature of numbers and sets. First, we think of numbers and sets as abstract objects, the same sort of thing as propositions, properties, states of affairs and the like… On the other hand, there is another equally widely shared intuition about these things: most people who have thought about the question, think it incredible that these abstract objects should just exist, just be there, whether or not they are ever thought by anyone. Platonism with respect to these objects is the position that they do exist in that way, that is, in such a way as to be independent of mind… But there have been very few real Platonists, perhaps none besides Plato and Frege, if indeed Plato and Frege were real Platonists (and even Frege, that alleged arch-Platonist, referred to propositions as gedanken, thoughts). It is therefore extremely tempting to think of abstract objects as ontologically dependent upon mental or intellectual activity in such a way that either they just are thoughts, or else at any rate couldn’t exist if not thought of. (287-288)
I am inclined to think that there are numbers and that they are abstract objects, but I don’t have the second intuition that they must be thought. Is there something I’m missing? I do have the intuition that contingently existing objects must have a cause for their existence, but I don’t have the intuition that abstract objects must be thought, which, if they exist, necessarily exist.
Maybe somebody could help motivate this intuition for me? Or is this intuition not very widely shared (contra Plantinga’s remark)?
Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism, Oxford University Press, 2011, 376 pp., $27.95 (hbk), ISBN 9780199812097
Reviewed by James R. Beebe (University at Buffalo)
Alvin Plantinga, philosophy of religion’s most distinguished contemporary statesman, has once again produced a carefully crafted book that raises compelling challenges to widely held doubts about the cogency of belief in God. Where the Conflict Really Lies began as Plantinga’s 2005 Gifford Lectures, and pieces of it have appeared in Science and Religion: Are They Compatible (Oxford, 2011, co-authored with Daniel Dennett), and in a handful of articles. It is filled with the kind of careful analysis, philosophical rigor and understated humor that have become hallmarks of Plantinga’s notable career.
The central claims of Where the Conflict Really Lies are the following:
- There is no conflict between theistic religion and the scientific theory of evolution.
- There is no conflict between science and the common theistic belief that there have been miracles.
- There are superficial conflicts between Christian belief and evolutionary psychology, on the one hand, and scientific scripture scholarship, on the other, but these conflicts don’t provide defeaters for Christian belief.
- There is deep concord between science and theistic religion.
- There is deep conflict between science and naturalism.
Plantinga’s case for (v) is a restatement of his well-known evolutionary argument against naturalism, which first appeared almost twenty years ago in Warrant and Proper Function (Oxford, 1993). Because this argument will be familiar to many and because I found the 300 pages that preceded Plantinga’s most recent statement of it to be more thought-provoking, I will say nothing further about (v) in this review.
The latest (July 2011) Faith and Philosophy contains an excellent article by Jeff Speaks on some difficulties related to establishing the consistency of certain claims (he uses as examples the existence of human freedom and the existence of evil) with the existence of an Anselmian God. The basic idea is this: since an Anselmian God is, by definition, a necessary being, establishing the possibility of an Anselmian God is tantamount to establishing the necessary, and therefore actual, existence of an Anselmian God. But these compatibility arguments typically, in one way or another, assume the possibility, and so the actuality, of an Anselmian God. If we were allowed to assume this premise, our task would be extremely easy! We could argue as follows:
- God (actually) exists
- Evil (actually) exists
- The existence of God is consistent with the existence of evil.
Piece of cake! Now I, of course, take this argument to be sound. In fact, I even think that some people (depending on their background beliefs) might be rational in allowing this argument to increase their confidence in the truth of (3). But clearly this argument cannot be used to respond to atheist arguments from evil against the existence of God. It is dialectically inadmissible in that context.
In his paper, Speaks argues that Warfield’s argument for the compatibility of necessary omniscience with human freedom and Plantinga’s free will defense are both a lot like this. That is, they both assume that, possibly, an Anselmian God exists. But if that assumption is admissible, then we could just use this simpler argument. But obviously we can’t use this simpler argument, so the premise must be inadmissible. (This isn’t exactly the way Speaks puts his points together; it’s my interpretation of what his arguments actually show.)
Speaks states the “principal conclusion” of his paper as follows:
any argument for the compatibility of two propositions must also be an argument for the possibility of each of those propositions. Hence it is impossible to argue for the compatibility of two propositions, one of which is necessary if possible, without arguing for the truth of that proposition. (p. 291)
In this post, I’m going to push back.