Sunday, December 04, 2005

Plantinga's Free Will Defense Spelled Out

The ongoing saga of a meager menagerie of modest-minded, make-believe mavins pondering problematic propositions. We are wrestling with Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga's "Free Will Defense" (FWD), which is a possible solution to the logical problem of evil.

Well, Charlie. I hope you're proud of yourself. You've made a mess. Why can't you just repent and believe like the rest of us?

Seriously, I think we might be making progress here. I can see the solution -- all we need is a set of 30-weight ball bearings and some gauze pads. It's all ball bearings nowadays. Come on guys! It's so simple. Maybe you need a refresher course.

No, seriously, let's lay down a few parameters that I think will be helpful.

(1) If we debate the coherence of Plantinga's FWD, let's stick to picking on him, and not our own versions. So, distinctions not found in Plantinga (P), such as PFW and GWF, or the pass/flunk test, need to be set aside. These are false dichotomies that are not helpful. If they are truly representative of P, then this needs to be shown. Here is a nice summary of P.'s FWD.

(2) Similarly, I think it's important to recognize that Plantinga's FWD is not a defense of theism in general, but rather of Christian Theism. It assumes the Christian version of God, man, sin, etc. So, when we say "sin," we can all agree what we mean. There are other definitions of "sin," to be sure, but we are not refering to those. The charge is with the coherence of Christian Theism in particular. I'm open to broadening the debate if you would like, however.

That being said, let's return to the argument. The captain has now turned on the fasten seat-belts sign. All seatbacks and tray tables should be in their upright and locked position. Prepare for take-off.

Here is the basic line of the FWD:
(I'm changing the numbers for simplicity.)
In the logical problem of evil, atheologians claim that the following two propositions are logically inconsistent:
(1) God is omniscient, omnipotent, and wholly good.
(2) Evil exists.

Plantinga says that in order to show that (1) and (2) are consistent, all we need to do is find a third proposition that is consistent with (1), and together with (1) will entail (2). Here's a candidate:

(3) God creates a world containing evil and has a good reason for doing so.

P. distinguishes between a theodicy and a defense. A theodicy (justification of God) wants to show that (3) is true. A defense only wants to show that (3) is possibly true. That is the goal of the Free Will Defense. It only needs to show possibility in order to show that (1) and (2) are logically consistent.

P states, "the heart of the FWD is the claim that it is possible that God could not have created a universe containing moral good (or as much moral good as this world contains) without creating one that also containted moral evil." (Alvin Plantinga, "The Free Will Defense," Philosophy of Religion, An Anthology, Louis Pojman, ed. Wadsworth, 1994). So P. is claiming that the following is possible:

(4) God is omnipotent, and it was not within His power to create a world containing moral good but no moral evil.

All this amounts to is that there could be many people who would sin at least once, no matter how God stacks the deck, since He cannot control their free choices. Thus, there might be no possible world in which people are significantly free, and there is no evil. The fact that this might be true, or is possibly true, is enough to defeat the logical problem of evil. Now, the probabalistic/evidential problem of evil is another story. You can see a version of it here.

OK -- now we are clear on what is being debated. That should help. You can now move freely about the cabin.

6 Comments:

Blogger Josh said...

Bravo. Excellent, summary of the argument. I mean...why didn't we think of ball bearings in the first place?

10:15 PM  
Blogger wiploc said...

Chris wrote: (2) Similarly, I think it's important to recognize that Plantinga's FWD is not a defense of theism in general, but rather of Christian Theism.

The problem of evil (PoE) disproves all perfect (omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent) gods. This includes the gods of most Christians, most Muslims, and a whole lotta Jews. The free will defense (FWD) is an attempt to refute the PoE, and is therefore relevent all perfect gods.



It assumes the Christian version of God, man, sin, etc. So, when we say "sin," we can all agree what we mean.

So what do we mean by "sin"? I don't know that there are coherent definitions of god, man, etc., but I don't think we need to bog down in attempting to define them at this point, beyond defining god as an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent creator of the (rest of?) the universe. But you do mention sin a lot, and base arguments on it, and sin is a puzzlement. Did my offered definition of sin as "doubt or disobedience of god" sit right with you?



There are other definitions of "sin," to be sure, but we are not refering to those. The charge is with the coherence of Christian Theism in particular. I'm open to broadening the debate if you would like, however.


The PoE proves that perfect gods do not exist. The FWD is an attempt to crack that bulletproof argument. You can define sin in any way that you think will help you with that impossible task.



Here is the basic line of the FWD:
(I'm changing the numbers for simplicity.)
In the logical problem of evil, atheologians claim that the following two propositions are logically inconsistent:
(1) God is omniscient, omnipotent, and wholly good.
(2) Evil exists.


Bingo!

We may as well define good and evil here, which I get to do since you are attacking my PoE. Evil is unhappiness or suffering, and/or the causes of same. Good is the opposite of evil: happiness, or the causes of happiness.



Plantinga says that in order to show that (1) and (2) are consistent, all we need to do is find a third proposition that is consistent with (1), and together with (1) will entail (2). Here's a candidate:

(3) God creates a world containing evil and has a good reason for doing so.


I've presented Plantinga's Free Will Two-Step over and over, phrased and rephrased and paraphrased. You don't seem eager to close with it. Now you present an other purpose defense (OPD). It seems to me that what you want is for me to move away from the Free Will Two-Step and address how the PoE defeats OPDs. I really should have made you declare at the beginning which argument you wanted to tackle. :)

On to the problem of evil and the other purpose defenses:

Omnibenevolence:

If god is omnibenevolent, he wants people to be happy. If he was pretty benevolent, he could want people to be happy insofar as it didn't conflict with another purpose, but if he is omnibenevolent, it means he has no other purpose that significantly conflicts with his desire that people be happy.

Illustration: A omnibenevolent god can strongly want people to be happy, and also want a bagel---so long as the desire for the bagel is not so strong that it interferes with his desire to make people happy. If a god can't have his bagel plus our happiness, and if he chooses his bagel over our happiness, then he isn't omnibenevolent.

Omnipotence:

If a god is omnipotent, he can do anything except logical contradiction. So, if he wants both a bagel and our happiness, then he can have both. The only thing he can't have in addition to our happiness---because it's the only thing that conflicts with our happiness---is our unhappiness. But an omnibenevolent god doesn't want us to be unhappy. Therefore, there are no other purposes that conflict with an omnipotent god's desire for our happiness.

Omniscience:

This just means god knows what he's about. He isn't guessing about how to make us happy. He knows the future, and all the alternative futures, and he knows exactly what causes will have which effects when he creates the world.

The Problem of Evil

A perfect god knows how to make us happy, wants to make us happy, and is able to make us happy. If such a god existed, we would be happy. We are not always happy, therefore, a perfect god does not exist.

Possible Responses to the PoE

There are five possible moves (aside from agreement) in response to the PoE.

1. God isn't really omnipotent. He's not strong enough to make us happy.
2. God isn't really omniscient. He's not smart or knowing enough to make us happy.
3. God isn't really omnibenevolent. There are things more important to him than our happiness.
4. We are happy, all of us, all the time.
5. Logic sucks, so we should play in some other arena.

The first three moves acknowledge that the perfect god does not exist.
The forth move is a non-starter (though I do see it used).
The fifth move is a confession that belief in a perfect god is illogical.

Since that's all of the possible moves, and since none of them amounts to an actual defense against the PoE, the PoE remains logically impeccable. Unasailable. Bulletproof. The perfect god does not exist. Period.

The Other Purpose Defense Briefly Restated

Question: But what if the perfect god did exist, and the reason that he doesn't make us happy is that he has something else going on, he has some other purpose in addition to his purpose of making us happy?

Answer: If he wants us to be unhappy, then he isn't omnibenevolent. If he wants anything else (other than our unhappiness) he can have it without making us unhappy unless he isn't really omnipotent. Therefore, the OPD fails every time and in every form.

The Burden of the Defender

P. distinguishes between a theodicy and a defense. A theodicy (justification of God) wants to show that (3) is true. A defense only wants to show that (3) is possibly true. That is the goal of the Free Will Defense. It only needs to show possibility in order to show that (1) and (2) are logically consistent.


The PoE is absolute proof that a perfect god does not exist. You are correct that a defense against the PoE need not show that a perfect god does exist, but need only show that a perfect god could possibly exist.

Moral Good and Evil

P states, "the heart of the FWD is the claim that it is possible that God could not have created a universe containing moral good (or as much moral good as this world contains) without creating one that also containted moral evil." (Alvin Plantinga, "The Free Will Defense," Philosophy of Religion, An Anthology, Louis Pojman, ed. Wadsworth, 1994). So P. is claiming that the following is possible:

(4) God is omnipotent, and it was not within His power to create a world containing moral good but no moral evil.


Good is that which makes us happy. Evil is that which makes us unhappy. Moral good and evil are the good and evil we do, as opposed to natural good and evil. Kisses and assinations are moral (done by people), and earthquakes and rainbows are natural.

If I smacked someone with a stick and it made him unhappy, that smack would be evil. If it made him happy, it would be good. That's because evil is defined as the the sources of unhappiness, and good is defined as the sources of happiness. If I smacked someone and it made one person happy and another person unhappy, the smack would be both good and evil.

So, Chris and Alvin propose an Other Purpose: God wants us to be happy, but he also wants us to be nice to each other (or something like that). There is no logical conflict between us being happy and us being nice to each other. Therefore, an omnipotent god could have both. If there was a logical conflict, then an omnibenevolent god would choose our happiness over our niceness. Therefore, the OPD fails to refute the PoE.



All this amounts to is that there could be many people who would sin at least once, no matter how God stacks the deck, since He cannot control their free choices.

Now we're back to the Free Will Two-Step. In what sense can it be said that god doesn't control the free choices of sinners but does control the free choices of the sinless? There is no single sense in which that is true. Only by two-stepping between two different meanings of "control" or "free" can it be made to seem to be true.



Thus, there might be no possible world in which people are significantly free, and there is no evil. The fact that this might be true, or is possibly true, is enough to defeat the logical problem of evil.

I have shown the PoE to be unassailable. You can't refute that by saying there might be something wrong with it. You have to step up to the plate and show an actual problem.

crc

11:15 PM  
Blogger chris said...

Charlie,

I'm not attempting to change the argument -- I'm trying to get back to it. Do we want to start with Plantinga's FWD? (You said in your 11/21 post, "I offer to discuss a Plantingoid free will defense (FWD).") If not, we need to come up with another one that is clearly laid out.

I understand that it is frustrating when someone doesn't appear to address your arguments. By summarizing Plantinga, I was trying to re-establish our playing field. If we're starting with P., then attacking ideas not found in P. is irrelevant.

Also, if you like, we can even go back to your blog. I didn't intend to hijack the exchange. Some replies are just too long and should be posts.

Let me say a word about your apparent disdain for P. and other Christians who are attempting to argue logically. Think of it this way -- what is the main beef that scientists have with intelligent design? It's not good science, evidenced by the fact that they haven't published much at all in the academic journals. The journals are the proper place for legitimate scientific discourse. Well, Plantinga and other Christian philosophers have done just that. Not only are they amazingly prolific, but Plantinga is considered to be one of the greatest living philosophers, and that's not just according to Christians. His work in metaphysics and philosophy of religion is standard reading for any philosophy student. I suppose you could dismiss the entire field of philosophy as mumbo-jumbo, but I don't think you want to do that. Let's just give respect where respect is due. I have tremendous respect for atheist philosophers like Hume, Mackie, Rowe, et al. I disagree with them, but I don't think they're stupid, and I certainly don't think I have even a fraction of their brillance.

10:21 AM  
Anonymous Curtis said...

I’m glad to see this discussion come back to an exchange rather than each individual arguing for his side and not addressing the others’ questions.


It seems that everyone agrees with Chris’ definition of our discussion from his last post, but it appears that we all have differing opinions of the specifics in Plantinga's FWD. So, I’d like to see this discussion progress this way (as I believe it has since Chris’ last post):

We all accept:
(1) The Christian God is omniscient, omnipotent, and wholly good.
(2) Evil exists.

Christians argue that there is a third proposition (3), that together with (1), produces (2).


wiploc has taken upon himself to logically prove that there is no such (3), thus there can logically be no Christian God. Since the Christian God has not yet posted on this blog to conclusively state His attributes, we are left with using our perceptions of the attributes of the Christian God (See Note 1). wiploc nicely and logically proved that there can be no God in which one of His attributes is omni-benevolence, which he defined as putting everyone’s happiness above all other things. I’m sure this perception of God is one many Christians hold, but that does not make it necessary that God actually has the attribute of omni-benevolence as defined by wiploc. Since this perception of God was disproved does not mean that the Christian God does not exist. I am free to bring a second perception of the Christian God to the table. If this perception is proved to not exist through logic, I am free to bring a third perception to the table. However, if the second perception (or the third, fifth, eighteenth, etc.) proves the possibility of a logical proposition (3), that along with (1), produces (2) we will have found that (1) and (2) can logically coexist.


Since I’m the one writing this comment, I would suggest my perception of the Christian God to be this second perception we bring to the table. I believe that God has the power (omni-potent) to create man and then give man commands on what man should do. Sin would then be defined as man going against those commands. When asked, Jesus stated that the most important command was to love God with all our heart, mind, and strength. He said the second most important command was to love our neighbor as ourself. So, sin would be man not loving God with all his heart, mind, and strength, or not loving his neighbor as himself. (This is in contrast to the definition of sin that wiploc proposed.)

wiploc and I agree that evil is caused by sin. If sin is anything a man does that makes another unhappy (wiploc’s def), then evil is unhappiness (or any causes of unhappiness). If sin is not loving God with all you are, and not loving your neighbor as yourself (as I suggest), then evil is the result of any action or state of heart that goes against these commands. (See Note 2) I still agree that evil exists, but my definition of evil is completely different from wiploc’s.

So, here are some definitions and the attributes of the Christian God that I would submit:
(A) God has the power to define what He wants His creation to do. (love God with everything, love neighbor as self)
(B) Sin is any action or state of heart that goes against what God commanded of creation in (A).
(C) Evil is the result of sin.
(D) God being wholly good means that He has our best interests in heart. (See Note 3)

Also, take into account that God must have had a purpose in creating man. So, let’s consider
(E) God’s purpose in creating man was to have a creation that loved Him out of free-will. This, I argue, is not possible without testing. (See my comment introducing the Band of Meaningful Temptation to see my reasoning on this.)

So, the proposition (3) that I would submit is:
(3) In making the commandments (love God with everything, love neighbor as self) meaningful, it must be tested. Man does not have the ability to pass every test that tempts man to go against the commandments. This results in evil. (Again, my Band of Meaningful Temptation comment goes into this explanation further.)



Note 1: Consider this analogy: wiploc surely perceives a set of attributes that I have. Chris surely perceives a set of attributes that I have. My roommate and my dad each have a set of attributes that they perceive of me. However, these four sets of attributes may or may not line up with the set of attributes that I actually have. For example, wiploc, Chris, my roommate, and my dad may all think of me as a very ungenerous person. However, it would still be possible for me to be a generous person (I give when nobody is looking) and thus all four of their perceptions be inaccurate.

Note 2: I know that this “state of heart” thing gets really messy. But I never claimed that Christian theology came in nice concise packages. That would be limiting God to the constraints of my mind, which is, by the way, pretty limiting.

Note 3: Consider this analogy: A parent puts the best interest of his child above the happiness of his child. For instance, if a toddler found an open bottle of bleach, a good parent would take the bleach away from the toddler (at the expense of the child’s unhappiness) because it was in the best interest of the child (child would not be poisoned).

3:36 PM  
Blogger wiploc said...

Curtis wrote: "wiploc nicely and logically proved that there can be no God in which one of His attributes is omni-benevolence, which he defined as putting everyone’s happiness above all other things. I’m sure this perception of God is one many Christians hold, but that does not make it necessary that God actually has the attribute of omni-benevolence as defined by wiploc. Since this perception of God was disproved does not mean that the Christian God does not exist. I am free to bring a second perception of the Christian God to the table.

Right. My habit of referring to it as the Christian god aside, the god whom I've proven to be nonexistent isn't one anybody should believe in. You can still believe in other gods, and still call yourselves Christians, and I won't have standing to object.



Curtis wrote:
However, if the second perception (or the third, fifth, eighteenth, etc.) proves the possibility of a logical proposition (3), that along with (1), produces (2) we will have found that (1) and (2) can logically coexist.


Yes.



Curtis wrote: Since I’m the one writing this comment, I would suggest my perception of the Christian God to be this second perception we bring to the table. I believe that God has the power (omni-potent) to create man and then give man commands on what man should do.

Two points. First, if this god (release 2.0) isn't omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent, then it isn't criticised by the PoE and can't be defended by the FWD. Second, I'm not convinced that even an omnipotent god can command what man should do. He can give orders, but I don't see where the shouldiness of the orders would come from.



Curtis wrote:
Sin would then be defined as man going against those commands. When asked, Jesus stated that the most important command was to love God with all our heart, mind, and strength. He said the second most important command was to love our neighbor as ourself. So, sin would be man not loving God with all his heart, mind, and strength, or not loving his neighbor as himself. (This is in contrast to the definition of sin that wiploc proposed.)


I understood sin to be doubt or disbedience. You are limiting it to disobedience. I don't know that there is a practical difference.



Curtis wrote:
wiploc and I agree that evil is caused by sin.


I must have been unclear. My understanding is that evil is the punishment for sin. God gave us weeds and toil and pain of childbirth because Eve doubted. There may be some tendency, perhaps a strong tendency, for sins to cause unhappiness, but so, often enough, do virtues. As they say, "Chastity is its own punishment."



Curtis wrote:
If sin is anything a man does that makes another unhappy (wiploc’s def),


I was trying to respond to Chris's use of the phrase "moral evil." Sin, as I use the word, is different, it is doubt or disobedience of god.



Curtis wrote:
I still agree that evil exists, but my definition of evil is completely different from wiploc’s.


Yes, and therefore not relevent to a discussion of wiploc's PoE. If your goal is to refute wiploc's PoE, then you must address it on its own terms. We can change the name from Problem of Evil to Problem of Unhappiness, if you'd like, but unhappiness is what must be addressed, not the "result of sin."

crc

5:16 PM  
Blogger wiploc said...

Chris said: Let me say a word about your apparent disdain for P.

I don't want to be distainful. I want to be confident and workmanlike. I want to put my candid belief straight over the plate so you'll have to take a swing at it. I am unsubtle about my opinions in the hopes that we'll be able to discover which of us is wrong.



and other Christians who are attempting to argue logically. Think of it this way -- what is the main beef that scientists have with intelligent design?

Just exactly that it doesn't make sense.



It's not good science, evidenced by the fact that they haven't published much at all in the academic journals. The journals are the proper place for legitimate scientific discourse.

We do legitimate scientific discourse right here in your blog. The journals thing is just evidence that ID doesn't make sense. As in, "If it made sense, the journals would be willing to publish them."



Well, Plantinga and other Christian philosophers have done just that. Not only are they amazingly prolific, but Plantinga is considered to be one of the greatest living philosophers, and that's not just according to Christians. His work in metaphysics and philosophy of religion is standard reading for any philosophy student. I suppose you could dismiss the entire field of philosophy as mumbo-jumbo, but I don't think you want to do that. Let's just give respect where respect is due.

He clearly does legitimate philosophy. I don't challenge his greatness. I do challenge specific details that I believe he got wrong.



I have tremendous respect for atheist philosophers like Hume, Mackie, Rowe, et al. I disagree with them, but I don't think they're stupid, and I certainly don't think I have even a fraction of their brillance.

I'll have to take your word for that since I'm not familiar with them. I've heard the names, but I'm not philosophically well read. I think well of your brilliance, by the way, even though I disagree with you on many things.



I'm not attempting to change the argument -- I'm trying to get back to it.

Believe me, I understand that. I'm trying to help. I'm trying to get you to take that swing. I could go to the Plantinga page you gave us the address for, and I could try to distill an argument out of that, and I could present the argument, and then you could say again that I have not, in your opinion, fairly represented Plantinga, so I don't want to do that. Any time I articulate the FWD, I state it so that it's clearly false; so of course you don't jump in and say, "That's my argument! That's what I believe!"

So I'd like you to state the argument in a form that you think is defensible.



Do we want to start with Plantinga's FWD? (You said in your 11/21 post, "I offer to discuss a Plantingoid free will defense (FWD).") If not, we need to come up with another one that is clearly laid out.


Anything you believe in will be fine.



Also, if you like, we can even go back to your blog. I didn't intend to hijack the exchange. Some replies are just too long and should be posts.


I don't mind. Here is as good as there as far as I'm concerned. Probably better, since you have other readers and I may have only you. :)

crc (wiploc)

5:23 PM  

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