Thursday, September 6, 2007

The Free-Will Defense

In the last post. I laid out the logical argument against the existence of God on the basis of the existence of evil and suffering. One form or another of this argument has survived throughout the centuries. Today, however, one would be hard-pressed to name a single philosopher who still uses the logical argument from evil to deny the existence of God. That is, in recent times, Christian thinkers have convincingly demonstrated--to the satisfaction of even atheist philosophers--that there is no logical contradiction in the existence of evil and suffering and the existence of the omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent God of Christianity. Most will point to the "free-will defense" of Alvin Plantinga (from his 1974 book God, Freedom, and Evil) as the definitive rebuttal to this argument.

(I will in coming posts share other worthwhile responses. While philosophers no longer employ the logical argument from evil, you will still hear it used by friends, neighbors, family, or teachers. Remember, too, that though the logical argument is no longer deemed valid, atheist philosophers now turn to the evidential argument from evil, mentioned briefly in a previous post, and which still requires our later attention.)

In essence, Plantinga argued that it was a good thing that God created creatures capable of moral good (humans). He further suggests that to create creatures capable of moral good means creating creatures capable of moral evil. (That God is not able to do the first without entailing the second does not represent a deficiency in God, any more than faulting Him for not being able to make a square circle. His inability in both regards is a function of logical necessity, not of power or lack thereof.)

In other words, free will, which is recognized by virtually all philosophers as a good thing, logically entails the possibility of evil choices and deeds. Plantinga affirms that God is omnibenevolent and omnipotent and that God created a world in which evil exists (and that He had good reasons--consistent with His omnibenevolence--for doing so). Therefore, evil exists in the world, but the existence of evil is perfectly consistent with the Christian view (the biblical portrayal) of God.

Not all philosophers accept that this is the true explanation (some, after all, remain atheists). But all who consider this recognize it as a legitimate, credible possible explanation. This alone is sufficient to defeat the argument that the existence of evil is logically incompatible with the existence of the God of Christianity. And that's why philosophers no longer use that argument against the Christian position.

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