Once upon a time, many philosophers believed that there was a logical problem of evil. That is, it was held that the (obviously true) proposition that there is some evil in the world logically entails that there is no God. (Where God is conceived as omnipotent and perfectly good.) I imagine that a lot of philosophers still believe this, but today few are arguing for it in print. Instead, atheist philosophers now typically put forth an evidentiary problem of evil. That is, they propound an argument something like this:
All this by way of introduction. What I want to do in this post is to draw attention to a really odd feature of the highly technical version of FWD which appears in chapter 9 of Plantinga's 1974 The Nature of Necessity (henceforth NN). I'll try to make my exposition non-technical, but I won't succeed.
Plantinga characterizes the relevant notion of a 'defense' as follows:
one way to show that a proposition p is consistent with a proposition q, is to produce a third proposition r whose conjunction with p is consistent and entails q (NN 165).
Note that the proposition r I used is merely possible; it's a way things could have been, but aren't. What we want to do is come up with a way that things could be, such that if things were that way, God would exist and evil would exist. Plantinga suggests the following two propositions:
(31) Every essence suffers from transworld depravity
(32) God actualizes a world containing moral good (NN 189).
An essence E suffers from transworld depravity if and only if for every world W such that E entails the properties is significantly free in W and always does what is right in W, there is a state of affairs T and an action A such that
- T is the largest state of affairs God strongly actualizes in W,
- A is morally significant for E's instantiation in W,
- if God had strongly actualized T, E's instantiation would have gone wrong with respect to A (NN 188).
But here's the weird thing: transworld depravity is a contingent feature. It's obvious that it is so, because the beings in question could always choose rightly, and if they did, then they clearly wouldn't be transworld depraved. Plantinga explicitly points this out (NN 188). This gives rise to what is known as the grounding objection - the question of what makes claims about transworld depravity or, more generally, claims about what free beings would do in non-actual circumstances, true - in an especially acute form.
Plantinga says that on his view, "the power of an omnipotent God [is] limited by the freedom he confers upon his creatures" (190). This isn't so bad (though some find it objectionable), but consider the following case: It seems that on Plantinga's view there is a possible world in which God decides to make free beings only if he can create a world in which the choose rightly all the time. In fact, because of contingent facts about what the creatures would do in the situations God could bring about, it is not possible for God to do this. So he doesn't create any free beings.
Now, in this scenario, God's power is obviously limited somehow: there was a possible world he wanted to create and couldn't. But what's doing the limiting? And why was it limited in the way it was? What explains the difference between the world described and the one in which God can and does create free beings who choose rightly all the time?
Plantinga is at pains to say that it is only because God freely chose to create free beings that God's power is limited, but this isn't actually true on the view he describes. No matter what world God created, there would have been facts independent of God's will about which worlds involving free beings God could or couldn't have created. How do these facts spring into being?
The standard grounding objection has to do with counterfactuals about the free choices of actual free beings. That's bad enough. But at least there are bearers for the properties. Maybe, in the actual world, I (somehow) have the property being such that I wouldn't agree to commit murder for any price. But here we have counterfactuals of freedom about beings that don't even exist, and the contingent truth values of those counterfactuals limiting God's power. This is, to put it mildly, pretty bizarre.
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