The Free Will Defence: A Critique

The Free Will Defence: A Critique November 26, 2020

Here is a short critique of the Free Will Defence as utilised by many theists to explain the existence of evil (the Problem of Evil). It is from Benjamin Watkins from Real Atheology – thanks for allowing me to post it here:

The logical problem of evil argues that the existence of evil in the world is logically incompatible with an omnipotent and morally perfect being. This argument insists that it is metaphysically possible for an omnipotent being to create a world devoid of evil such that there is neither moral nor natural evil. In other words, what follows from the supposition that

(A) there is an omnipotent and morally perfect being
is that
(B) a God-created world would resemble that of Heaven ie devoid of any general and particular evils.
(C) Our world does not resemble that of Heaven because of moral and natural evils.
(D) There is no omnipotent and morally perfect being.
It is oft said in philosophy of religion circles that Alvin Plantinga has successfully rebutted this argument with his famous Free Will Defense. According to this defense, it MIGHT be the case that an omnipotent and morally perfect being cannot create a world like Heaven because He created every finite creature with significant freedom. Significant freedom is such a great good, that it justifies the existence of any moral evils. Additionally, it might also be the case that all finite creatures suffer from “transworld depravity” such that any possible world God creates, some finite creatures will inevitable choose an evil action. Finally, this free will defense insists that natural evils might actually be the moral evils of fallen angels. Because these are logical possibilities, and a coherent story can be told, we are supposed to infer that there is no LOGICAL tension between evil and God. I want to argue that this is not so.


First, the idea that God could not create a Heaven-like world with no evil and where everyone chooses rightly should be a logical possibility for any Christian theist since they actually believe Heaven is a real place.

Significant Freedom

The conception of free will or significant freedom that is on offer in the free will defense is libertarian freedom which is the idea that we can be the sufficient causes of our own actions such that they are independent of any antecedent causes. The most obvious objection to this conception of free will is that it is incoherent because it entails that any agent causes that same agent to determine itself or is “causa sui.” But nothing can be “causa sui” for the same reason no agent can bite their own teeth nor look themselves directly in the eyes.
Significant freedom is meant to rule out the possibility that God had available to him the option to create significantly free creatures who always chose rightly ie compatibilist freedom. I insist such a possibility is within an omnipotent beings power, and the fact that a morally perfect being did not avail themselves of this possibility counts against the existence of such a being.

Transworld Depravity

The idea of transworld depravity presupposes that there are logically contingent states of affair that an omnipotent being would simply have to put up with. This is incoherent on its face because an omnipotent being, by definition, can bring about any logically possible state of affairs, and a world that doesn’t suffer from transworld depravity is surely such a possible world.

Natural Evil

The idea that all apparent natural evils might be caused by the malevolent actions of significantly free angels smacks of being ad hoc. Why even believe that there were any significantly free creatures prior to human evolution?

Particular Evils: Horrendous evils

  • The free will defense, at best, only helps us with a general problem of evil, but it does not help us with particular problems of evil like horrendous evils. Horrendous evils are ones where the victim or perpetrators become to believe their lives are no longer worth living. The free will defense assumes that significant freedom is generally worth having even at the cost of moral evils. But this evaluative assumption loses all plausibility when we realize that significant freedom gives rise to horrendous evils. Is our having generally significant freedom, in a libertarian sense, really worth the price of horrendous evils? It seems to me that it would be obviously better for an omnipotent and morally perfect being to intervene in the Holocaust even if such an intervention determined someone’s actions.



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