How much trouble is Plantinga’s Free Will Defense in?

I’ve spent a fair amount of time arguing that the claim that Plantinga conclusively showed popular versions of the argument from evil do not work is problematic because (1) Plantinga assumes libertarian free will and (2) even if Plantinga showed that the existence of God is compatible with some bad choices, that doesn’t at all mean a loving God could have allowed the Holocaust to happen.

I’ve written up a lengthy version of my take on the argument from evil in chapter 5 of my current book project. For an even more detailed explanation of the philosophical issues, see here. But I’ve recently learned that Plantinga’s Free Will Defense may be in even more trouble than I had realized.

This was brought to my attention a couple weeks ago in a post by Ex-Apologist. The really attention grabbing thing about Ex-Apologist’s post is that a paper by Richard Otte argued that the version of the Free Will Defense given in Nature of Necessity does not work, and surprisingly, Plantinga agreed with him! Both Otte and Plantinga, however, appear to believe that the Free Will Defense can be patched up no problem.

But wait, there’s more! Alexander Pruss argues that Molinism (Plantinga’s view of the relationship between divine foreknowledge and human freedom) creates problems for Plantinga’s Free Will Defense, though Pruss seems to want to solve this problem by dropping Molinism. Daniel Howard-Synder has a paper arguing the Free Will Defense depends on an assumption whose validity is very hard to assess. And Ex-Apologist mentions several other papers from several other philosophers that raise other problems for Plantinga.

To be honest, it’s a little hard to know what to make of all this. At minimum, though, I think these papers show that deriving “God might allow at least some small bit of evil” from the assumption of libertarian free will is not so straightforward as some have supposed.

  • MNb

    You have read all this stuff and thought it through. Now let’s assume you’re a pastor. Elisabeth Fritzl walks in and asks you what the meaning of her 24 years of suffering was, where the Abrahamistic god was and what he did. You are a honest man/woman and believe that your special brand of Abrahamism is capable of offering meaning and comfort indeed.
    You – more relevant: any apologist menti0ned in this article – are going to offer her thís? You are going to talk about plenitude, molinism and transworld depravity? With a straight face?

    “a little hard to know what to make of all this”
    What about: nice intellectual exercises with hardly any relevance to what happens in our world?

  • MNb

    Btw, almost forgot, note how Free Will apologists always talk about how valuable the free will of the offenders is. They ignore the free will of the victims. Perhaps you should add a bit about the free will of the five year old girl you write about in chapter 5.

  • Justin Schieber

    I like Morriston’s point. If God is essentially morally perfect, then he has none of what Plantinga calls ‘Morally Significant Free Will’. If God has no morally significant free will then what on earth is supposed to ground the goodness of morally significant free will?

    If God is that which no greater can be conceived, then this kind of Divine Compatibilism must be better than Libertarian free will. If that is true, then it is logically possible for him to create a world with free creatures who never choose the good.

  • Justin Schieber

    Correction: It is logically possible for him to create a world with free creatures who ALWAYS choose the good.

  • Steven Carr

    ‘Correction: It is logically possible for him to create a world with free creatures who ALWAYS choose the good.’

    It is Christian dogma that their god has created angels with free will that always choose good and so get to stay in Heaven.

  • Steven Carr

    The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.

    Do theists ever get the argument from evil? It just goes straight over their heads.

    Evil seems to be just like nuclear decay. It happens randomly, can’t be predicted, and there is no pattern to it.

    If theists claim there is a design, a purpose, and not blind pitliless indifference ,then they should do the stats and tell us what pattern there is in evil and suffering.

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