Plantinga and the Failure of the Free Will Defense

todangst's picture
Plantinga wrote:
A world containing creatures who are sometimes significantly free (and freely perform more good than evil actions) is more valuable, all else being equal, than a world containing no free creatures at all.

Why exactly? People think this is so, but why precisely? What's wrong with being a blissful robot? What's the difference between feeling you have some choice and really having a choice? People simply assume this premise is true... But wouldn't it be better that there be a universe with every 'soul' that automatically goes to bliss? This seems far more sound than the simple unsubstantiated assumption that 'free will is better than being a blissful, but determined entity".

The choice is: some choose, in error, and are tortured eternally in hell, in return for some.... supposed benefit that cannot be demonstrated


everyone going to bliss, eternally... without there being anything identifiable that is 'lost'

Plantinga's argument dies here.

But seeing as it's a theist argument, it must have more flaws:

Now God can create free creatures, but he cannot cause or determine them to do only what is right. For if he does so, then they are not significantly free after all; they do not do what is right freely. To create creatures capable of moral good, therefore, he must create creatures capable of moral evil; and he cannot leave these creatures free to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so.... The fact that these 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 excising the possibility of moral good.

But the error here is the presumption that this god can be an omnipotent creator and yet not perfectly responsible. This is a contradiction: this 'god' must be responsible for creating free will in the first place, fully knowing the outcomes. Ergo, this 'god' is responsible. Furthermore, this 'god' shapes the nature of the free will, again making this 'god' perfectly responsible... finally, this 'god' shapes every parameter involved that influences choice, from the nature of man, to the nature of each character/personality, and the environment within which this 'actor' acts... again, making this 'god' ultimately responsible for shaping every outcome... including the very existence of all the concepts involved themselves: choice, outcome, 'good' and 'bad' and etc.....

This argument fails on every front. Other than that, it's killer.


"Hitler burned people like Anne Frank, for that we call him evil.
"God" burns Anne Frank eternally. For that, theists call him 'good.'

BobSpence's picture

for he could have

for he could have forestalled the occurrence of moral evil only by excising the possibility of moral good.


Surely this is sort of a false dichotomy - in practice, restricting the continuum of the 'moral status' of actions to the range from the morally neutral or, at worst, mildly undesirable, up to morally 'good' still leaves plenty of room for exercising free will. Even within the 'morally good' class of actions, surely there will a whole range of roughly morally equivalent actions we can take in most life situations.

Not 'allowing' us to do evil would no more be a restriction of our free will than is our inability to choose to fly or run at 100mph without external help - our physical and mental make-up inevitably constrains us to a tiny sub of all theoretically conceivable actions.

Not that I think 'free will' is a coherent concept, of course.


Favorite oxymorons: Gospel Truth, Rational Supernaturalist, Business Ethics, Christian Morality

"Theology is now little more than a branch of human ignorance. Indeed, it is ignorance with wings." - Sam Harris

The path to Truth lies via careful study of reality, not the dreams of our fallible minds - me

From the sublime to the ridiculous: Science -> Philosophy -> Theology

ronin-dog's picture

I also think "free will"

I also think "free will" contradicts "God's plan". If everything is happening according to God's plan, how do we have free will?

Christians also put forward this argument as if free will is special. All animals have free will. Big deal.

Zen-atheist wielding Occam's katana.

Jesus said, "Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division." - Luke 12:51

HisWillness's picture

 Frankly, I can't even see

 Frankly, I can't even see it as an argument any longer. Invoking an embellished invisible creature leads to nothing sane, of course, but apart from that, there are always limitations to our desires. We wouldn't need a super-entity for that.

Saint Will: no gyration without funkstification.
fabulae! nil satis firmi video quam ob rem accipere hunc mi expediat metum. - Terence