In a recent post, keiths criticizes Alvin Plantinga’s Free Will theodicy, which (very briefly) goes as follows:
…[S]ome of the free creatures God created went wrong in the exercise of their freedom; this is the source of moral evil. The fact that free creatures sometimes go wrong, however, counts neither against God’s omnipotence nor against his goodness: for He could have forestalled the occurrence of moral evil only by removing the possibility of moral good.
(Plantinga, Alvin (1967). God and Other Minds. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press. Pages 166-167.)
Suppose God creates each person with free will, so that everything he or she does during life is freely chosen. If God is omniscient, he knows what all of those choices will be before the person is even created. If God simply chooses not to create the people who will go on to commit rape (or even experience the desire to commit rape), then he has prevented those things from happening without depriving anyone of their free will.
There are several things wrong with this reply.
What traditional Christians believe about human souls
First, according to traditional Christian theology, God doesn’t create each person. Rather, God creates each person’s soul, which is spiritual and immortal, and which animates that person’s body. The only human persons created by God were those whose bodies were formed by God – i.e. Adam and Eve, according to the Biblical account.
Second, there are no inherent differences between individual human souls, as such. To say otherwise is tantamount to saying that there are different types of souls – which is what racists and sexists implicitly assume when they declare that people come in different types, and that some types are superior to others. The soul that God infused into me at my conception was in no way distinct from the one He infused into keiths, at his conception. Had there been any inherent differences between our souls at conception, then we would no longer be the same kind of being – namely, a human being. Individuals sharing the same kind of form are only distinguishable because they are composed of different matter. Hence the differences between human individuals are only made possible by the fact that they have distinct bodies. That doesn’t mean that the only differences between us are physical differences; rather, what it means is that human souls, per se, are not distinct from one another.
Third, souls do not pre-exist the bodies they animate; for if they did, then they could not be the forms of those bodies: at best, their mode of union with the body would be merely an external one, as in Cartesian dualism, which envisages the human soul as moving the body, whenever someone performs a voluntary movement, in a manner similar to the way in which a pilot moves the controls of an airplane. In fact, given that the soul is the form of the human body, we cannot speak of it being even logically (let alone temporally) prior to the body it animates. Even to speak of a soul as being “infused” into a body is a little misleading, as it conjures up the image of God inserting a soul which He has already made into a body which is waiting for it. The human soul is created by God simultaneously with the generation of the human body.
Thus it makes no sense to imagine that soul X, which God is about to create and “infuse” into Tom’s body at his conception, would choose to commit evil acts (such as acts of rape) under certain circumstances, whereas soul Y, which God is about to create and “infuse” into Sam’s body, would never choose to harm anyone. At conception, there is nothing to distinguish soul X from soul Y, apart from the fact that they inform different bodies.
Real me and possible me
Additionally, Keiths’s thought experiment assumes that it is meaningful to speak of God knowing what choices an uncreated person would make. Certainly, there have indeed been some theologians (notably, the Molinists in the sixteenth century) who would have agreed with keiths on this point. On the Molinist account, God’s knowledge of my free choices is not only temporally, but logically prior to my existence as a human being, and hence, logically prior to God’s act of creating my soul. To which I reply: it makes no sense to speak of what I would do in a given situation (e.g. what I would do if I were presented with an opportunity to steal), unless I actually exist in the first place. There is no “possible me,” waiting to be created; there is just “real me.”
Perhaps keiths might respond as follows. On the traditional Christian view, God made the first human beings: not just their souls but their bodies, as well. (This could still be the case even if their bodies were formed via an evolutionary process, provided that this evolution was God-guided: this would suffice to make God responsible for the formation of their bodies.) Now, let’s consider the first two human beings, Adam and Eve. (It makes no difference, for the purposes of this illustration, whether there were only two human beings in the beginning, as traditionally supposed, or more than 1,000, as human geneticists currently maintain.) Then if God is omniscient, presumably He must know everything that Adam and Eve will do – including which future sperm cells of Adam’s will fertilize which future ova of Eve’s. Since each human’s individuality is grounded in his/her body’s having been generated from this sperm cell and that ovum, then God, in creating Adam and Eve, automatically knows who their descendants will be. Moreover, He must know what each of these descendants will choose to do. All of this knowledge is available to God, simply by virtue of His deciding to create Adam and Eve. Thus it seems that God’s knowledge of my choices is logically prior to His act of creating my soul, after all.
Keiths might also urge that if God’s knowledge of my free choices is logically prior to His act of creating my soul, then there is no good reason why His knowledge of Adam and Eve’s free choices could not be logically prior to His decision to create them. That being the case, God could then compare different possible scenarios: He knows that if He creates Adam and Eve, then some of their descendants would turn out to be rapists; whereas if He creates possible individuals Albert and Elizabeth instead, then none of their descendants will be rapists. Thus God is perfectly able to prevent rape (or any other kind of sin), without violating human freedom, simply by choosing to create the right people in the first place.
The flaw in the above argument is that it assumes that God’s knowledge of our choices (and of Adam and Eve’s choices) is logically prior to those choices. I see absolutely no reason why a believer in Divine omniscience should make this assumption. On the Boethian view of Divine foreknowledge, for instance, God is like a watcher on a high hill: He timelessly knows everything that we choose to do, but His knowledge is logically subsequent to the choices we make. In other words, God is timelessly informed by His human creatures, because He freely and timelessly chooses to rely on His creatures for His knowledge of what they do. On this account, God’s knowledge of my choices is not automatically available to Him, simply by virtue of His deciding to create Adam and Eve; rather, it is derived from my choices themselves – choices which God knows about only because I make them.
What’s wrong with Molinism
Keiths may respond that I have not discredited Molinism; all I have shown is that it may not hold, as there is a rival account of Divine foreknowledge (the Boethian account) which preserves libertarian free will (which predestinationism does not). However, I would argue that if Molinism is true, people are no freer than they would be under Universal Predestination. For if (as Molinism maintains) it is true that for any choice that I actually make in a given situation, that was the choice I would have made in that situation, then there is no meaningful sense in which I could have chosen otherwise in that situation. The Molinist may reply that God does not cause my choice; but I would argue that in fact, by knowingly choosing to create a world, whose built-in specifications include the fact that I will make that choice, then He does in fact cause my choice. And if God, in choosing which possible world He should actualize, selects one in which He knows certain individuals will be damned because of decisions that they would make (including acts of rape), then God has already ensured the damnation of those individuals, simply by deciding to create that world. Consequently, if these people are damned for their bad choices in this world, then it seems to me that they are no more responsible for their own damnation than they would be if Universal Predestination were true.
Back to Boethius
What I am suggesting, then, is that if all (or most) human beings have libertarian free will, then God’s foreknowledge of their past, present and future choices must be logically subsequent to their making those choices. That means we must embrace either a Boethian account, in which God is timelessly made aware of our choices, or an omnitemporal account, in which God is not outside time but present at all points in space and time, and is thereby able to keep tabs on everything that happens in the cosmos.
And that brings me to my final criticism of keiths’s thought experiment: I would argue that it ascribes an exaggerated (and I would say, logically absurd) form of omniscience to God. There is no good theological reason why we should ascribe to God a knowledge not only of all of the choices that every actual individual would make, but also all of the choices that every possible individual would make. And there is no good reason why God’s knowledge of our choices should be logically prior to those choices.
I wrote a little essay exploring the difficulties associated with the rival explanations of Divine foreknowledge and human free will, back in 2008. Readers may view it here. In my essay, I discuss (and answer) several objections to the Boethian view.
Before I conclude this post, I’d just like to make a few quick observations.
First, it turns out (oddly enough) that Plantinga himself is a Molinist. If I am right, then he is inconsistent in adopting this view of Divine foreknowledge: he should be a Boethian, instead. Had keiths chosen to attack him on this point, his criticism would have been a very telling one.
Second, many Christians believe that at least some human individuals are genuinely free to choose between various goods, but are infallibly prevented by God’s grace from choosing moral evil, or at least, from choosing to damn themselves. Thus Catholics believe that by God’s grace, the Virgin Mary was preserved from sin; and some Protestants believe that the individuals who are “born again” are infallibly elected by God. If they are right, then the question arises: why didn’t God make all of us like that? My reply is that this objection assumes that God’s act of predestining someone to eternal salvation does not in any way determine who that person is. If God’s act of specially electing a saint to glory also determines that individual’s personal identity, then I cannot wish myself to have been elected like that, without wishing myself to have been someone else, which is metaphysically incoherent. My personal identity as a human being is the result of my having had the parents I had; but for Jesus’ mother Mary, it is different. Being the daughter of Joachim and Anne is not what constitutes her personal identity; on a Catholic view, what makes her who she is is the fact of her being the Mother of God. That is who she is. God planned it that way. God did not plan me that way, but I have no right to complain. I am who I am, and I am glad to be alive.
Third, I would like to conclude by noting that on the Judeo-Christian view, each and every human person is a being of infinite and irreplaceable value. Thus it would be enough for a defender of Divine goodness, when asked why God tolerates evil acts (such as acts of rape) to point out that there are some human individuals who would never have come into existence, were it not for these evil acts having been performed. Of course, God is under no obligation to create these individuals (or rather, their souls); but equally, He is under no obligation to create some other individuals, instead of them. The mere fact that allowing evil acts to happen enables certain persons to come into existence who would not exist otherwise seems (to my mind) to be a sufficient justification for God’s allowing those acts. Or is it?
What do readers think?