How does Plantinga's defense of free will align with omniscience

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I've been reading about Plantinga's defense of free will and I can see how omnipotence is aligned with the existence of evil. What evades me, is how he resolves the conflict between foreknowledge and free will. The article speaks about "weak actualization" and "letting the free choices of creatures complete the world" which to me sounds like a fancy way of saying that this part of the future is hidden from God's knowledge.

Can someone help me understand his reasoning?

Edit. At least I can accept the definition of omnipotence that says "absurd things ('free people that are incapable of doing evil') are still impossible". But his definition of omniscience doesn't feel right at all.

Dmitry Ornatsky

Posted 2013-09-05T21:53:32.847

Reputation: 173

Plantinga rejects the compatibilist definition of freedom of will, so free will and foreknowledge are incompatible for him. There is no resolution to be found. – David H – 2013-09-06T00:43:06.823

5Plantinga's defence isn't of free will. It uses free will as a premise in defense of all-powerfull all-good God's compatibility with the existence of evil in the world. – artm – 2013-09-08T09:50:30.757

Answers

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The basic thrust of Plantinga's argument is that God is not all-powerful (omnipotent); He cannot create a world where free will exists and not allow them to choose between evil or good. He doesn't specifically address the conflict between foreknowledge and free will, but it is implied that God lacks such foreknowledge (he is not omnipotent) because otherwise it could be argued that free will couldn't exist (in a universe in which there is only one possible future).

Plantinga's summary:

A world containing creatures who are 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. Now God can create free creatures, but He can't cause or determine them to do only what is right. For if He does so, then they aren't 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 can't give these creatures the freedom to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so. As it turned out, sadly enough, some of the free creatures God created went wrong in the exercise of their freedom; this is the source of moral evil.

He concludes with:

The fact that 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 removing the possibility of moral good.

This is patently wrong, however. Of course it counts against his omnipotence. Either God can do anything, or he can't. Omnipotence is not up for debate.

So he doesn't actually resolve the conflict. The Problem of Evil, I'm afraid, is still a problem.

stoicfury

Posted 2013-09-05T21:53:32.847

Reputation: 11 008

Plantinga's view that God cannot create a creature capable of performing evil but who nonetheless doesn't commit evil is termed transworld depravity. It's one of my favorite views if only for the name. Also, some additions that aren't really on point, but worth stating anyway. The existence of natural evil is explained by Plantinga as the Devil exercising his free will. – Dennis – 2013-09-06T04:30:56.197

But, Plantinga takes transworld depravity to be a necessary truth which would be impossible to falsify. The solution he has is similar to Aquinas's defense of the "rock so heavy..." objection to omnipotence. God need only be able to do what is possible (for what it's worth, I think that's a fair defense; I don't think transworld depravity is a necessary truth, though). If you address these rejoinders from Plantinga, I think this would be a fantastic answer. It still gets my +1, but I think you go a bit quick at the end (no need to make a strawman of a view already so ridiculous). – Dennis – 2013-09-06T04:37:48.507

No worries, I collapsed your comments for you. :) Regarding TD, I understand your concern but I feel it's outside the scope of the question. TD to me is nothing more than an overly convoluted foundation for his "God can be omnipotent and still not do anything" argument. I ignored it because I care only about his end result — his conclusion that God is all-powerful and yet not all powerful, a statement which is inconsistent in and of itself. How he arrived it at (TD or otherwise) seems largely irrelevant to me and the OP's question because even if TD is valid, ultimately his defense is not. – stoicfury – 2013-09-06T05:02:38.987

Thanks for the comment clean-up. If you grant Plantinga the necessity of TD (I think he's wrong about it, but let's be generous), though, doesn't that help? It seems to me the exact defense Aquinas gives against the old "Couldn't God create a rock so heavy even he couldn't lift it?". The point being that it is wrong to think that God needs to be able to do anything whatsoever in order to be omnipotent, rather God just needs to do all that is possible (and violating TD isn't possible). I agree, however, that it is largely outside the scope of the question--- so maybe best left alone. – Dennis – 2013-09-06T05:47:20.007

1Is the basic Aquinas defense something you're denying helps? Or do you not think Plantinga's TD defense is relevantly similar? If you buy the defense, then God is omnipotent but we were mistaken to think that "omnipotent" means "can do anything whatsoever" (I'm sympathetic to the Aquinas move, frankly). – Dennis – 2013-09-06T05:49:20.203

1Sure, I can cede redefining omnipotence to fit that new understanding, then it's fine that God had to create a world with free will and where evil could occur. However, this God would not be able to possess the ability to see the future (foreknowledge) as the argument does not reconcile the inherent contradiction between an having perfect foreknowledge and free will. And that's my issue with the argument: 95% of Abrahamic God believers would not be willing to cede such drawbacks in his power. Valid argument maybe, but likely an unacceptable exchange for much of the religious community. :\ – stoicfury – 2013-09-06T07:50:17.297

1Thanks a lot! These were my thought exactly, I just thought I was missing something from the 'transworld depravity' part. – Dmitry Ornatsky – 2013-09-06T08:34:21.647

1Ah good, we have an agreement then. I agree that most abrahamic god believers would not be comfortable with Plantinga's argument. – Dennis – 2013-09-06T13:13:54.007

Does the problem of the rock so heavy he can't lift it... also count against God's omnipotence? I am not sure I understand your "patently false"; if we find out that something we thought was possible is actually illogical, then it never was [logically] possible and thus cannot count against omnipotence, right? It seems like it would be easy to argue that whether or not God could violate the laws of logic, there are excellent reasons for this to be undesirable. – labreuer – 2014-10-02T06:53:10.843

@labreuer - Well that's the thing, it seems like many apologists hold that God is capable of anything, even things that don't seem logical or straightforward to us. So I was suggesting above, if indeed they are willing to redefine "all-powerful" to be "within the realm of (human) logic" then sure the argument Plantinga makes (outside of the problem of determinism itself) is sound and the point you bring is is valid. But most religious people I talk to do not want to cede that God is restricted by human logic, and therein lies the issue. – stoicfury – 2014-10-14T23:51:17.970

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What apologists argue doesn't matter, what is true and/or likely is what matters. You seem to have fixed the entire discussion by this refusal: "Omnipotence is not up for debate." You have refused to consider (a) that omnipotence might have to mean something other than what you think—like this; and (b) that a being who can violate the laws of logic might have extremely good reasons to not ever violate the laws of logic—for example it might terribly harm the ability of contingent beings to understand reality.

– labreuer – 2014-10-15T03:30:42.977

I'm sorry, I think you misunderstand. I think it can be debated, but few religious people would accept any philosophical shaving of it, which is why in practice it is not up for debate. Most people of the Abrahamic religions that I've talked to think God can quite literally do anything, even break logic. So it's not about changing omnipotence for them, it's about defining what is and what is logically consistent for them, and/or whether that matters. See: http://philosophy.stackexchange.com/a/301/514

– stoicfury – 2014-10-15T08:20:20.127

1This answer misunderstands the issue - omnipotence either allows one to do logically impossible things, in which case we cannot even discuss them with logic, or it is defined as "all power to do things that are actually possible", which is a logically consistent definition. This is what Plantinga's argument addresses. Indeed, this is all that ANY logical argument on ANY topic does. If your base axioms/propositions are not logically consistent, it is impossible to determine the validity of the argument at all (for or against). That is what labreuer attempts to point out in his comments. – LightCC – 2015-12-30T20:17:57.813

@LightCC - I understand. :) I focused on the practical use of the argument in religious circles rather than it's validity because I think that's just as important to consider. I could hold Plantinga's argument as valid, but it's irrelevant if no one in practice would accept it. Thus I don't think it's a fair "resolution" to the free will and omniscience problem, even if it's technically correct. – stoicfury – 2016-01-10T23:02:34.420

1@stoicfury I get your point, but practically, if God goes outside the bounds of logic to do something, how would we either know or be able to detect it, or even be able to discuss it? We cannot come to the conclusion of your answer, that God is not all-powerful, we can only conclude that God chooses to work within the bounds of logic. We have no way of concluding ANYTHING if he doesn't. – LightCC – 2016-01-11T15:29:09.777

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It may help to think about this topic by eliminating the concept of time. What we want to ask is something like the following:

  1. Can an omniscient, omnipotent being 'turn the knobs' on a universe simulator containing free-willed creatures, such that none ever commits moral evil?
  2. If so, could he then just actualize such a universe?

It seems easy to think of a case where the answer to the first question is 'yes'. There is a term in probability called indefinite postponement, whereby a probabilistic process may never give a certain answer. While unlikely, you could flip a perfectly fair coin and never get heads. Couldn't it just be the case that the creatures never end up choosing wrongly? If the many-worlds interpretation is correct, there does indeed exist at least one world "without sin", to quote the Operative in Firefly.

But can we answer 'yes' to the second question? Here, we have to assume that the simulated universes are not real—that any evil in them is fictional and thus not bad—and that somehow, there is a way to reify such a universe. This smacks of "Last Thursdaysim", or the Omphalos hypothesis. Furthermore, there seems to be no guarantee that the now-reified universe will be immune to evil.

Wait a second, what about heaven? Couldn't we just "skip to the end", as one of my friends asks? Why not reify a simulated universe where no evil happened up and to the 'end', where 'end' can be described as a steady-state "everyone's singing praises to God"-type situation? There's a catch: it would be a moral evil for the creatures in heaven to think that they had a life before heaven, for that would be a lie: the reified thing was the end-state.

Plantinga answers 'no' to #1. More precisely, universes picked in #1 aren't guaranteed to be 'better' than universes where at least one evil action is committed. Perhaps in every world picked by #1, there are so many coincidences that normal science cannot be carried out.

In my view, God only runs into trouble if one of these is true:

  1. God can violate the laws of logic. (e.g. create a square circle)
  2. God can choose a different definition of 'good'.

If the answer to both of these questions is 'no', then it could be the case that all logically possible worlds with sinless [morally] free-willed creatures are less 'good', overall, than worlds with moral evil. Incidentally, I think this holds despite Plantinga's argument, but it is perhaps a reformulation: one can count 'good' on a per-creature basis, or on a per-possible-world basis.

labreuer

Posted 2013-09-05T21:53:32.847

Reputation: 2 904

I'm curious why you say God would run into trouble if he can violate logic. Doesn't that just mean we would be unable to address that aspect of him? – LightCC – 2015-12-31T00:13:44.807

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The question is how does Plantinga resolve “the conflict between foreknowledge and free will” with his free will defense?

The OP accepts that omnipotence means being able to do anything that can be done. It does not include doing absurd things that are impossible such as creating free people that are incapable of doing evil. This agrees with how Plantinga describes omnipotence in God, Freedom and Evil (GFE, 18).

Regarding omniscience, “God knows about every evil state of affair" (GFE, 18). However this does not imply he knows, or should be expected to know by his omniscience, what a free agent will do or not do given that state of affairs. Plantinga also does not accept compatibilism of free will and determinism at least for the model he is creating. (GFE, 31-2) That means the state of affairs does not by itself determine what the free agent will do,

It is possible to define omniscience as knowing everything that can be known along the lines of open theism. Then omniscience would not include knowing what is not knowable just like omnipotence does not include doing what cannot be done.

It is important that these terms, omniscience and omnipotence, themselves not be contradictory otherwise by explosion one can derive all results not just the results that the proponents of the logical problem of evil want to derive.

This need not be Plantinga's personal view of God and evil. His goal is to create a consistent model to counter the logical problem of evil which claims that God's omnipotence, omniscience and benevolence and the existence of evil are contradictory. The goal of his model is to use free agents to show that these statements need not be contradictory.

Frank Hubeny

Posted 2013-09-05T21:53:32.847

Reputation: 18 742

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It is actually quite simple if one explains it in the context of someone watching a re-run of a movie: you know that the character is going to go into the basement, because you've seen it before. This doesn't mean that you caused him to go into the basement, it simply means that you know what he's going to decide to do. This would be Omniscience.

A second view is the idea that God is omnidirigent, meaning He can find out whatever He wants to know, like a Computer programmer with access to a debug terminal.

A third view to consider is the theory that God knows the human character sufficiently well to know exactly how you will act in a given situation, making it possible for Him to predict your actions, rather than having seen them ahead of time.

Captain Kenpachi

Posted 2013-09-05T21:53:32.847

Reputation: 576

2Note that the character in the movie rerun has absolutely no free will in this situation. I think you kinda missed the point about how omniscience conflicts with free will. If an omniscient entity knows what choices I'm going to make before I make them, then something has already decided my decisions for me ahead of time, and I have no freedom of will. It doesn't matter at all if the God isn't causally responsible for determining my decisions for me. The problem is I'm not responsible either. – David H – 2013-09-06T11:02:49.803

1I fail to see how being observed to do something is the same as being forced to do said thing. Know what you are going to CHOOSE to do is absolutely not the same thing as causing you to do it. My pet bird constantly fouls our sofa. Does me knowing he's going to do it again tonight mean that I am the one causing his sphincter to contract? If you watch a movie for the first time, is it somehow different from watching it again? What about a sports replay? Does the player have free will during the live screening, but not during the re-run? What if there is no re-run? – Captain Kenpachi – 2013-09-06T11:29:38.870

2Of course you're not causing your bird to poop simply by knowing that he will. But SOMETHING is! That's how you are able to know that it's gonna happen. – David H – 2013-09-06T12:40:13.780

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It's called peristalsis, not "lack of free will". See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peristalsis

– Captain Kenpachi – 2013-09-06T12:57:20.597

2@DavidH is correct. It needn't be God who is determining the choices; the mere fact that he can see that choices are determined is enough to cause conflict. My issue with this answer however is all the different "views" you present are exactly the same. 2nd view - having the ability to find out whatever he wants is functionally the same as being able to see the future. He wouldn't even have to look into the future; the mere fact that he can is enough to say it is fixed. 3rd view is the same; if he has perfect prediction then he can actually see the future. – stoicfury – 2013-09-06T16:20:54.067

3Finally, I don't feel this is the correct answer to the question. The question is about how *Plantinga* resolves the conflict between foreknowledge and free will, which he doesn't appear to directly do in any of the arguments of his I've read. Rather, his "defense" merely attempts (through his concept of transworld depravity / reducing God's omnipotence) to explain how evil can exist in a world governed by an omnipotent, omnibenevolent god. – stoicfury – 2013-09-06T16:25:43.600