Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Terminology Tuesday: Free Will Defense

Free Will Defense: Response to the problem of evil arguing that God may be justified in allowing evil because the possibility of evil is logically inherent in free will. If free will is a great good that makes possible other great goods, then these goods might provide sufficient reason for God allowing evil. Since not even omnipotence can do what is logically impossible, God must accept the possibility of evil if he wishes to give some of his creatures free will.1

1. C.Stephen Evans, Pocket Dictionary of Apologetics & Philosophy of Religion (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), p. 47.


Anonymous said...

That is not a correct account of a FWD, they are very specific arguments, the most well-known are from Plantinga and Adams. Plantinga has developed several ones, some depending on molinism and some not.

Plantinga's most well-known argument is that there is a possible world where every creature God can create is "transworld depraved", which means that no matter in which situation God places that creature it will perform atleast one morally wrong action - so God can't create free creatures without bringing about evil and that God would, if he had the choice between "evil and free will" and "no evil and no free will" choose the first option.

Brian said...


Thanks for pointing out that there is much more to these arguments than the concise "definition" offered in the Pocket Dictionary. I know our readers will find your contribution helpful.

mmcelhaney said...

I've heard the FWD presented the way Brain has written it many times. @Matthew, I don't really understand your comment about this statement being incorrect. How do you see it different?

Brian said...

Keep in mind that the definitions provided here are not my own. (Just to be sure that is clear!)

I have heard various forms of the free will defense; both the one presented here and other forms (such as Plantinga's) that Matthew has commented on here.

Anonymous said...

I had a rather long explanation ready, but my PC crashed (and I can't copy and paste in this comment box for some reason) - but I think I will explain the whole thing in a future comment.

Brian said...

What browser are you using? (I'm trying to figure out why pasting isn't working for you)

Franck Barfety said...

Many people having trouble with the problem of natural evil (earthquakes and tornadoes devastating to human lives) might find this type of defense incomplete. Do you have a resource you trust that addresses this issue? I'd be interested in reading it. I just read Dembski's theodicy in his The end of Christianity and look forward to reading others'.

Brian said...

I would want to know Matthew's opinion on this one, but as far as recommending books that cover natural evil, it seems that John S. Feinberg's The Many Faces of Evil: Theological Systems and the Problems of Evil seems to cover the whole gamut and is a respected book on the subject. Warning: I have not read it myself though, but was recommended by someone else. Check out the reviews and see what you think.

Anonymous said...

Hi Brian,
I'm using firefox, but apparently it was only a temporary problem - right now I am able to copy & paste again.

Regarding books on natural evil, I would first like to note that the argument that is called "the logical problem of evil" was that it's not possible for God to coexist with _any_ evil. If the FWD is succesful in showing that there is a way how God could coexist with evil, then the logical problem of evil fails.
While it is true that the FWD does not account for natural evil, it is not attempting to give a full theodicy. An argument from natural evil will be less succesful than an argument from evil since, while theists are committed to accept that there is evil, they aren't committed to accept that there is natural evil. Also, (logical) arguments from natural evil seem suspicious when we admit that God can allow some sort of evil.

As for books that treat this subject, I haven't (yet) read many that focus on natural evil (I will have to look through a number of papers on the POE to see what papers I would recommend that have been published in the philosophical literature).
On to the books: "The Many Faces Of Evil" is one I would also recommend, as well "Christian Faith And The Problem Of Evil" (edited by Peter van Inwagen) and "Nature Red in Tooth and Claw: Theism and the Problem of Animal Suffering".

Anonymous said...

anyone who doubts free will should read again the thief on the cross and his recognition of Jesus as his Saviour

Anonymous said...

Very interesting thread. Has anyone noticed that the FWD from Plantinga (for example) is not really the same as a theodicy? It's not a justification of God's actions, but a defense, starting from a new and perfectly, logically possible(!) proposition, using logic.
This being said, I love Plantinga's FWD. Critics can say it's based on his incompatibilist view, but what view do they have? And do they consider it to be above Plantinga's? ;-)

Anonymous said...

Plantinga suggests that natural evils can be accounted for by demonic activity. So, demons control nature... to the extent that natural events result in evil.

...Or that's at least *possible* and so there is no logical problem. Of course, Franck, many people--including Christians--will find that answer unsatisfactory. (But I don't think the FWD will be satisfactory on any account.)

I think this is a small picture of problem when Christian philosophers and apologists are first concerned with answering objections rather than first understanding or developing a Christian view exegetically and *then* setting out to show how the Christian faith/worldview is rationally defensible.

Bob Seidensticker said...

God cares about our free will? I don't think so.

If God cared about free will, he'd do something when the free will of the rape or murder victim is violated. But God is more concerned about not violating the free will of the rapist or murderer? Wow--who is this dude that you worship?

This is the argument you'd make if there was no god and you were just trying to shore up his hiddenness.

Unknown said...

I wouldn't take quite so combative a stance as Mr. Seidensticker, but I share his concerns. Free will is commonly, openly violated, often in ways that cause great harm and thus (in certain moral frameworks like a Buddhist or secular Epicurean view), evil. If free will were a great good, such that its protection was more important than the absence of evil, then how do we make sense of situations in which a person's free will is violated, either by other people or by circumstance? If free will were so important that it justified the existence of evil, then it would surely exist continuously even when evil was also present. That's not the case. I genuinely just don't follow.

Anonymous said...

Free will operates as a sort of deus ex machina for most Christians of a certain theological stripe.

MaryLou said...

This may sound simplistic, but here's how I see it:

God created us to be in a loving relationship with him. God could have programmed us, like automatons, to love him, but true love involves choice, not coercion or pre-programming. If you give someone the choice to love you, then you obviously give someone the choice to NOT love you.

Enter Satan who placed doubts in the minds of Adam and Eve about God's love for them, insisting that, if God REALLY loved them, he would give them the same knowledge of evil and good that he had.

However, God did not want people to know what evil was. That's why he forbade them to partake of it. When God says, "Don't", he's saying, "Don't do that because it will hurt you and I don't want you to get hurt because I love you."

If Adam and Eve had trusted God (trust being part of loving someone), then they would have done as he said. But their doubts led to their disobedience and sin and evil were introduced into the world. And it all stems from the simple fact that God wanted to give people the freedom of choice re: loving him instead of creating mindless robots.

I think that any explanation of evil from a purely philosopical point of view that leaves out the Biblical view of it is lacking.

When it gets right down to it, would those of you who resent God's allowance of evil in the world prefer to be programmed robots?

I think that those who espouse a naturalistic worldview do not allow for free will in the first place. After all, if Dawkins was right and we're all just "dancing to our DNA", that precludes the existence of free will, does it not? Is determinism not inherent in the worldview of naturalism?

But if we DO have free will, where did it come from? I submit that it comes from our Creator who, making us in his image, gave us the same free will to make choices that he has. The fact that we make bad ones has to rest with us, not God.

Anonymous said...


I don't have too much time for a back-and-forth here, but briefly:

It's not clear that love requires the sort of libertarian choice you have in mind. Or that we are faced with the dilemma of either libertarian volitional love or being robots incapable of love.

For instance, a mother's love for her child doesn't seem to be chosen. The mother can't choose to not love the child. Is she a robot or automaton? I have a nephew that I've raised for most of his life. I don't recall ever making a choice to love him and it doesn't seem as if I could choose to stop loving him. Am I programmed robot?

Even most libertarian Christians apologists (e.g., WL Craig) would say that the beatific vision of God overwhelms us in a way that prevents our not loving God. Do we then *become* robots at the beatific vision? I know some libertarians (e.g., Kane) may think this isn't a problem so long as we had a libertarian will setting moment in the past, but I really don't think that works either. Though I don't have time to get into it more now.

In short, the libertarian appears to be posing a false dilemma. A dilemma that doesn't even match up with every day experieces (e.g., maternal love).

Unknown said...

I think you're missing the point of the criticism of the FWD. You could argue that there's no such thing as free will, which would negate the whole "Free Will Defense" full stop, sure, but we're not talking about that. The problem is not where free will comes from, either. We don't have to assume free will in all models, but the Free Will Defense model does, and we're evaluating the truth-value claims of that argument internally.

The FWD posits that God gave us free will, allowing for the presence of evil. Presumably, free will is more important than the evils it creates because it allows for some greater good to be achieved. So, if we have no free will, we have no evil but also no greater good. If we have free will, we have evil but also greater good. The problem is that there are situations when we have evil, but no free will. In the FWD, evil is compatible with an omnipotent, omnipresent, benevolent God because it is created by the presence of free will. We shouldn't have situations where there is no free will and there is evil, but in fact we do have those situations in the real world, and commonly at that. That's my problem with the Free Will Defense. It only seems logically consistent if we ignore the real-world predictions it makes that turn out to be false.

Ex N1hilo said...

Free will is a slave.

MaryLou said...

Thank you for all those responses. Just off the top of my head, these things hit me:

Maybe we need to define what love is. My definition includes free will, but others may not.

Secondly, not all mothers love their children so I don't think that can be used to argue against love being a choice.

Thirdly, maybe we should be distinguishing between moral and natural evils.

Fourthly, I disagree that the source of free will isn't important. It speaks to its existence and the reason behind it.

Fifthly, when it somes to sin, people have the illusion that they are free to choose when, in actuality, they are slaves to their sins. Yet, when we become slaves to Christ, we are given the ability to choose not to sin in the power of the Holy Spirit. Christianity is such a paradox!

Lastly, as far as I can see, the Christian worldview is the only one which adequately explains the existence and, even more importantly, is the only one in which evil has been dealt with. Christ did so at the cross and, at some point, he will return eradicate it totally.

I'm no philosopher -- as you can probably tell! LOL! Therefore, I appreciate the thoughts of those of you more deeply involved in the discipline than I. However, I must admit that sometimes I think philosophers "overthink" the issues and miss the forest for the trees.

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