Why I don’t find keiths’s critique of Plantinga’s Free Will Defense convincing

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.)

Keiths responds:

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.

Postscript

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?

131 thoughts on “Why I don’t find keiths’s critique of Plantinga’s Free Will Defense convincing

  1. Woodbine: Pack it up folks…there’s only one person here who properly understands basic logic and the God of the philosophers.

    I would venture to guess that we all understand these things but some of us just suppress that knowledge because we don’t like the obvious implications.

    i.e. Romans chapter one

    peace

  2. Alan Fox,

    I agree Alan. I don’t like the philosophical argument for the God of Abraham. I think it makes just as much sense to believe in a whole host of Gods than it does in just one.

    I think belief in a God is a separate thing from a sense of a God. The first requires logic, the second does not.

  3. fifthmonarchyman: The mistake of the philosophers is to begin with themselves and try and construct a God based on their own autonomous reason.

    I guess they presuppose God gave them autonomous reason for a reason, that it would lead to Him.

  4. fifthmonarchyman:
    I would venture to guess that we all understand these things but some of us just suppress that knowledge because we don’t like the obvious implications.

    i.e. Romans chapter one

    A guess is not knowledge , I think I remember you revealing in the past.

  5. phoodoo: I think belief in a God is a separate thing from a sense of a God. The first requires logic, the second does not.

      (Quote in reply)  (Reply)

    The first takes faith that one’s logic is correct.

  6. walto: Well I was talking about this mess, which I believe YOU wrote:

    It seems like you think god…

    I was analyzing the mess keiths’ wrote. That’s what I think about what he wrote. I guess his argument looks perfectly workable to you, right?

    You can’t get him off the hook by saying “counterfactual”. Counterfactuals are logically possible. His mess isn’t. Counterfactuals are contrary to fact, not to logic.

  7. Hi Vincent,

    I hope the move went well and that you’re settling into your new place.

    There’s a lot to respond to in your OP, so I’ll have to tackle it piecemeal as time permits.

    You write:

    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?

    Unless you believe that every possible human is eventually created in some world or other, then God is leaving potential humans uncreated. Lots of them. Given that, what’s so important about creating those particular humans whose existence depends on evil acts?

  8. Alan Fox: The justification for the attributes of God is the hard problem of religiousness!

    There’s no problem justifying the attributes (except in atheists’ mind, but that’s exactly why they are atheists). Rather, there are problems about God’s anatomy, so to speak, when it comes to reconciling the philosophically simple attributes with the anthropomorphic attributes in scriptures. The hard problem of religiousness is reconciling those things. A philosopher and an average church-goer may be both devout theists, but they are different species of theists.

  9. Erik: Rather, there are problems about God’s anatomy, so to speak, when it comes to reconciling the philosophically simple attributes with the anthropomorphic attributes in scriptures.

    Those “problems” are all resolved in the incarnation by the way. For folks who are interested I strongly recommend

    https://www.amazon.com/God-Impassible-Impassioned-Theology-Emotion-ebook/dp/B00A3L0G7I

    and especially this

    https://www.amazon.com/God-Us-Divine-Condescension-Attributes/dp/1433509024

    from the forward

    quote:

    The desire to harmonize God’s attributes with his actions has challenged laymen and scholars throughout the ages. For the Christian mind seeking to understand the nature of God, a fundamental paradox poses a philosophical stumbling block: how can God be both a wholly independent, infinite being yet also be an interactive force in the finite plane of creation? In God With Us, K. Scott Oliphint finds an answer in the person of Jesus Christ incarnate—the manifestation of God and the cornerstone of creation.
    end quote:

    peace

  10. newton: I guess they presuppose God gave them autonomous reason for a reason, that it would lead to Him.

    God did not give anyone autonomous reason. Reason requires communion.

    Autonomous reason is just another word for foolishness

    peace

  11. phoodoo: I think belief in a God is a separate thing from a sense of a God. The first requires logic, the second does not.

    The second requires trust in what you know to be true.

    peace

  12. vjtorley,

    Very very nice to see you visit here VJ. I really don’t have much to say regarding the OP since it is not my field, but I just wanted to extend my greeting. I hope you are well. 🙂

  13. 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.

    Kind of makes theistic random evolution tough to defend.

    But Kenneth Miller has always been pretty screwy.

  14. fifthmonarchyman: Those “problems” are all resolved in the incarnation by the way.

    Yes, basically by the fact that incarnation happened. This convinces only the people who already got the revelation. Doesn’t work well when talking to strangers, particularly with the internet in between.

  15. fifthmonarchyman: God did not give anyone autonomous reason. Reason requires communion.

    Autonomous reason is just another word for foolishness

    peace

    We have always been at war with Eurasia

  16. Hi keiths,

    Thank you for your kind response. The move went well, and I’m gradually settling in.

    You wrote:

    Unless you believe that every possible human is eventually created in some world or other, then God is leaving potential humans uncreated. Lots of them. Given that, what’s so important about creating those particular humans whose existence depends on evil acts?

    My response would be: those humans are no more important than any other humans whom God could create, but equally, they are no less important. Additionally, I would maintain that the (infinite) value of 10 human beings is no greater than the (infinite) value of one human being. What this means is that God could never have a duty not to create a world containing humans who are capable of sin, and who would not exist in a world where the possibility of sin was excluded by God from the beginning. I’m not trying to justify God’s choice here. I’m just saying it’s a legitimate one.

  17. Hi Sal,

    Glad to be here. Thanks very much for your greeting. The family is doing fine.

  18. Vincent,

    My response would be: those humans are no more important than any other humans whom God could create, but equally, they are no less important. Additionally, I would maintain that the (infinite) value of 10 human beings is no greater than the (infinite) value of one human being. What this means is that God could never have a duty not to create a world containing humans who are capable of sin, and who would not exist in a world where the possibility of sin was excluded by God from the beginning. I’m not trying to justify God’s choice here. I’m just saying it’s a legitimate one.

    It’s the other way around. If the infinite value of n human beings is no greater or less than that of m human beings, for any two positive integers n and m, then God can refrain from creating anyone he chooses without decreasing the value of the humans remaining in the world (as long as there’s at least one).

    If he refrains from creating those who will go on to commit evil, he has made the world a better place. The humans in the world have the same infinite value, but there is no evil.

    In other words, God would have a duty to refrain from creating the future evildoers.

  19. keiths:
    Vincent,

    It’s the other way around. If the infinite value of n human beings is no greater or less than that of m human beings, for any two positive integersn and m, then God can refrain from creating anyone he chooses without decreasing the value of the humans remaining in the world (as long as there’s at least one).

    If he refrains from creating those who will go on to commit evil, he has made the world a better place.The humans in the world have the same infinite value, but there is no evil.

    In other words, God would have a duty to refrain from creating the future evildoers.

    All humans are future evil doers

  20. Hi Dr. Swamidass,

    Thanks for welcoming me to TSZ. I also very much appreciate your clarification regarding Molinism.

  21. Hi keiths,

    Thank you for your comment. You write:

    If he refrains from creating those who will go on to commit evil, he has made the world a better place. The humans in the world have the same infinite value, but there is no evil.

    In other words, God would have a duty to refrain from creating the future evildoers.

    Two quick questions:

    (a) Does God have a duty to create as good a world as He can?
    (b) To whom is this duty owed?

  22. newton:

    All humans are future evil doers

    Says fifth, though he never manages to support that assertion.

  23. keiths: Says fifth, though he never manages to support that assertion.

    Actually fifth says no one is innocent which is not the same.

  24. Vincent,

    (a) Does God have a duty to create as good a world as He can?
    (b) To whom is this duty owed?

    In talking about God’s “duty”, I was just echoing your phrasing. To avoid a rehash of the Euthyphro, which is beside the point here, let me withdraw the bit about “duty” and just say that a perfectly good God will prefer a world that is better to one that is worse.

    With that in mind, reconsider my comment:

    It’s the other way around. If the infinite value of n human beings is no greater or less than that of m human beings, for any two positive integers n and m, then God can refrain from creating anyone he chooses without decreasing the value of the humans remaining in the world (as long as there’s at least one).

    If he refrains from creating those who will go on to commit evil, he has made the world a better place. The humans in the world have the same infinite value, but there is no evil.

  25. Erik: Yes? Heading somewhere with this idea?

    If God has a ‘duty’ not to create future evil doers, the easiest way is not create humans at all. For much of the history of the universe that seemed to work.

  26. newton,

    Actually fifth says no one is innocent which is not the same.

    No, his claim is stronger than that. He actually disputes my claim that God could create people who would freely abstain from evil.

  27. keiths:
    newton,

    No, his claim is stronger than that.He actually disputes my claim that God could create people who would freely abstain from evil.

    With two possible exceptions, He has not yet done it. Why do you think it is possible?

  28. newton: All humans are future evil doers

    All humans are evil doers.

    keiths likes to focus on individual acts, while the Biblical view is that the act is merely an outward manifestation of something else. keiths wants to make it about the infinity of uncreated persons, when the Biblical view is about two persons.

  29. keiths: No, his claim is stronger than that. He actually disputes my claim that God could create people who would freely abstain from evil.

    Where in the world did you get that idea? I have no idea whether God could create people like that but I see no reason why not.

    I would claim that if God can create people who would freely abstain from evil then he has good reasons for not doing so in this world

    peace

  30. keiths: In other words, God would have a duty to refrain from creating the future evildoers.

    So you see, God had a duty to never create man in the first place.

    ETA: keiths: let me withdraw the bit about “duty”

  31. keiths: No, his claim is stronger than that. He actually disputes my claim that God could create people who would freely abstain from evil.

    Could God create a person who is just like God? So why didn’t He?

  32. newton: All humans are future evil doers

    Think about it,

    If humans are not God and if they live forever then eventually if left to their own own devices at some point we would expect them to do something that God would not do.

    We call things that God would not do evil

  33. Mung: So you see, God had a duty to never create man in the first place.

    I for one am grateful that God chose to create a universe that would accommodate evil doers like me

    peace

  34. walto: All the rackets he can find are too small.

    You have some jacked up ideas about God.
    No wonder you have such trouble acknowledging him as God

    quote:

    Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
    (1Co 12:27)

    end quote:

    then there is this

    quote:

    “Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours.
    Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world.
    Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.
    Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world.
    Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body.
    Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”

    end quote

    Teresa of Ávila

    peace

  35. I’d never heard of this particular Teresa before. Had a look at her Wiki entry….

    I know by frequent experience that there is nothing which puts the devils to flight like holy water.

    Yeah, she’s clearly firing on all cylinders.

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