Comments on Transworld Depravity

Comments on Transworld Depravity December 1, 2020
This is a post or two from a commenter “Ficino” here, this time taking aim at William Lane Craig and Alvin Plantinga’s reliance on the concept of transworld depravity. Over to him, with anything I say in square brackets:

Since Wm. Lane Craig follows a version of Plantinga’s “transworld depravity” thesis, I post the following here in hopes of comment.

Alvin Plantinga defends the thesis that predestination is in consequence of God’s foreseeing who will freely choose Him, and in consequence of God’s free decision to actualize, among all possible worlds, one world in which n [i.e. some number of] individuals freely choose him. This is Molinism – a position that seeks to reconcile God’s sovereignty and ultimate causal power with free will. One of the goals is to defuse the tri-omni God Problem of Evil by keeping God’s omnipotence AND human free will, so God’s not to blame for those who reject Him.

As part of this argument, Plantinga floated “transworld depravity.” That’s the sub-thesis that there can be individual rational creatures who in every possible world will be depraved and reject God. Craig has refined this to “transworld damnation.” The purpose of this sub-thesis is to explain that if there are creatures who go to Hell, it’s their own choice, and they would have made that choice in any possible world. God did not cause them to disbelieve and go to Hell. Moreover, God is not to blame for choosing to actualize a world in which some creatures reject him and go to Hell, because it could be that some creatures would choose to reject Him in EVERY/ANY possible world.

I propose that transworld depravity or transworld damnation cannot stand. Here’s why. Tell me where I’m making a mistake. I posted a shorter version of this on Feser’s blog, where I wrote: “From what I understand of Quine, only analytic propositions are necessary truths, and to be true in every possible world is to be a necessary truth. So it may be a malformed premise to posit that X is depraved, or rejects God, in every possible world, since we wouldn’t think “X is depraved” is an analytic proposition when X stands for some individual person known in the real world.”

To elaborate. Transworld depravity (or damnation) holds that some creature X may choose freely to reject God in all possible worlds. So the proposition, “X freely chooses to reject God,” is on this thesis true in all possible worlds.

But a proposition that is true in all possible worlds just is a necessary truth, a proposition that is necessarily true. And going back before Quine, it is axiomatic that only analytic propositions are necessarily true. (Analytic propositions contain the predicate in the meaning of the subject, like “a circle is a geometric plane figure, all of whose constituent points are equidistant from a central point.”) Analytic propositions are known to be true a priori, not from empirical facts “in the world” about singular entities.

No analytic proposition can have a “real world” singular thing as its subject. No individual can be the subject of an analytic proposition, of a necessary truth.

Therefore, no person X can be the subject of a proposition that is true in all possible worlds. No proposition about an individual person can be true in all possible worlds – because if it were, it would be a necessary truth and an analytic proposition, not a proposition about an individual that exists.

So the number of individuals of whom it is true in all worlds that they will be depraved is zero. The class of transworld depraved individuals has zero members. Therefore, transworld depravity (or damnation) is predicated of no individual. There can be, then, no such thing in reality as transworld depravity. The locution, “transworld depravity,” has a defective object and is therefore empty, on the lines of the Epimenides paradox (the Cretan who says that all Cretans are liars).

If transworld depravity is off the table, then also shot down is Plantinga’s attempt to argue that it may be true that there is no possible world in which everyone is saved. We must conclude that there CAN be a possible world in which everyone is saved/no one is depraved/damned.

But if there CAN be a world in which all freely choose God and no one is depraved/damned, AND God chooses to actualize some other possible world and not the “no depraved” world, what becomes of God’s omnibenevolence? God can actualize a world in which all freely choose good but instead He chooses NOT to actualize that world?

I can’t see a comeback for the apologist except to say that an even greater good is achieved if some people wind up in Hell than if no one winds up in Hell. Perhaps, to display God’s justice requires that some creatures actually reject Him and undergo punishment forever. But it’s not clear why the saints can understand God’s justice only if they see Him punishing other people with damnation. In the world where no one rejects God, surely the saints (=everyone) choose God in part BECAUSE they simply recognize that God’s justice is inherent and is maximal.

There is always the Brian Davies “God owes us no duties” response, but I don’t think that’s a response to my attack on transworld depravity as a subthesis within Molinism.

Then there is the “because shut up, that’s why” defense.

What am I missing in my attack on transworld depravity?

[He adds in another comment:]

A further clarification: the proposition, “If person X is transworld depraved, then person X wills to reject God,” or some rewording of that, is analytic. There is no impediment to THAT proposition’s being true in all possible worlds except perhaps the impediment that would arise if there is no such thing as depravity or God … but we’re working ex hypothesi here. But it’s just contained in the meaning of “transworld depraved” that the subject so characterized wills to reject God. That’s what “depraved” means, and “transworld” just means “in every possible world.”

What is NOT an analytic proposition, necessary, true in all possible worlds, is “X is depraved.” No proposition about a singular existent is a necessary truth, an analytic proposition. You can’t say that Judas wills to reject God in every possible world because propositions about Judas as a singular existent are not analytic, not necessary truths. (biblical note: even what’s said about Judas in the NT entails that there is a possible world in which Judas does not betray Jesus.)

[WCB states:]

Plantinga in his essay “Reply To The Basingers” admits his FWD is a defense, not a theodicy. He admits God could have created a world where mankind chooses to only do moral good, that is to say, he admits trans-world depravity is nonsense. Why would a God who is omnipotent and good not create such a world where there is little moral evil and no trans-world depravity if he could? Plantinga offers no good reason. Rather trans-world sanctity. Plantinga’s FWD is bad theology with an agenda. It is dishonest. It ignores the fact that God’s creation of all and omniscience gives us the old problem of Theological Fatalism, which to work, he has to definitively solve. His FWD and trans-world depravity is the work not of a serious theologian, but of a crank.

His reply to the Basingers is must reading for Plantinga critics. It shows us the man behind the curtain.

“Still, I do have a couple of caveats. In the first place (contrary to what they say) I do not argue that “it is possible that all creatures (creaturely essences) are such that they would go wrong with respect to at least one action in any world in which they were free with respect to morally significant actions.” I have no doubt that you and I could have been significantly free but morally impeccable; there is a possible world in which we are free to do wrong but always do what is right. Indeed, for any significantly free creature there is a possible world in which that creature is significantly free but always does what is right. That this is so, furthermore, is a necessary truth; so I do not think it is possible that there be free creatures some of whom go wrong with respect to at least one action in every world in which they are significantly free. What I do think is this: there are many possible worlds God could not have actualized; and it is possible (I know of no reason to think it is true) that among these worlds are all the worlds in which there are free creatures who always do only what is right. There are plenty of possible worlds where free creatures do no wrong, but it could be that God might not have actual zed any of those possible worlds (NN 168-84).” – Alvin plantinga – Reply to the basingers

Down goes the Free will defense hard.

[Others chipped in but I will add this one from 3lemeope:]

One thing that bothers me about transworld entities is that it is not at all clear to me that a different world’s “me” is in any meaningful sense “me”; it seems to smuggle in a heady bit of essentialism, if not “souls” outright. Wouldn’t the collection of entities in the multiverse that carry a label not be guaranteed to share anything but that label, and so any proposition over the set would still be synthetic? “If Alvin Plantinga is transworld depraved, then in every universe that possibly contains an Alvin Plantinga there is a being called ‘Alvin Plantinga’ that also wills to reject God” just doesn’t have the same punch. If we define Alvin Plantinga non-recursively, nor with reference to any of the set not in a particular universe, then there are likely beings that share much of the world-path as the entities we collectively know as Alvin Plantingas that nonetheless would fail to successfully be Alvin Plantingas for the purposes of analysis.

I think I sprained my parietal lobe just there.



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