• ModernPAS
    In this post I would like to examine Plantinga’s response to Hume’s argument regarding the problem of evil and offer an objection to Plantinga’s response. I would like to get feedback on what I’ve been thinking about these issues.

    Here are some relevant links:




    Here is what I take to be Hume’s argument regarding the problem of evil:

    1. Necessarily, if God exists, then a) he has the power to eliminate all evil (because he is omnipotent, b) he has the knowledge of how to eliminate all evil (because he is omniscient), and c) he has the desire to eliminate all evil (because he is omnibenevolent).
    2. Necessarily, if there is a being that has the power, knowledge, and desire to eliminate evil, then evil cannot exist.
    3. Thus, if God exists, then evil does not exist. (1, 2 HS).
    4. Evil exists.
    5. Thus, God does not exist. (3, 4 MT)

    I take Plantinga’s response to Hume’s argument to focus primarily on an objection to premises 1 and 2:

    i. Suppose God exists.
    ii. Possibly, free will exists only if it can be used for evil.
    iii. Possibly, creating creatures with free will is so good that it outweighs any evil they do.
    iv. Thus, either God does not desire to eliminate evil, and so we have a counter-example to 1, or God desires creatures with free will more than he desires to eliminate all evil, so we have a counter-example to premise 2.

    Most of the objections to Plantinga’s argument that I have seen focus on denying ii. I want to focus on an objection to iii instead. My objection is that it would seem that if God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent, then no story in which there is a “balancing” of good and evil is possible, since, theoretically speaking, good and evil are categorical and mutually exclusive concepts with respect to the concept of a perfect being. It is true that, practically speaking, we observe good and evil and that we must “balance” good and evil intentions and consequences when we act. It is also true that, in the actual world, greater good can result from temporary evil, both from the evil actions of people and from “natural” evils such as earthquakes. However, Hume’s objection is to claim that this “balancing” is not possible if God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent. If God is conceived as a perfect being, good and evil must be mutually exclusive, since a perfect being can allow no imperfection of any kind to follow from its existence. Accordingly, Hume argues that, if God exists, there can be no evil necessarily. Thus, it would seem that the concept of a perfect God is incompatible with the reality of good and evil in the world. It would thus seem to follow that Plantinga’s response in iii is inadequate, as it does not seem possible that there can be a perfect being that allows any evil whatsoever, even if a greater good results from it. No matter what story we come up with to explain how good can outweigh evil, the presence of any evil whatsoever is contradicted by the concept of a perfect being.

    I would like to hear responses to my thinking on these issues. Thank you.
  • OmniscientNihilist

    problem of evil is an emotional problem, created by believing in a personal god

    when bad things happen our emotions dont like the idea that he doesn't intervene
  • HereToDisscuss
    I believe that you should talk more about your assumption that god would not allow any imperfections. What is to be understood by this sentence and why would God not allow for "imperfections" in order to create "perfections"? Or, staying closer to Alvin Platinga, why are you assuming that perfection is even possible? In any case, it is either free will or evil that will not be achieved and, assuming that a perfect world needs humans, since the humans will be imperfect by the virtue of them not having one of these two things, the world won't be perfect and so there can't be such a thing. So, only a "watered-down" version of this perfect world may exist and this would include the best kind of humans-which is, as you concede to Platinga, humans who have no free will but commit evil anyways. Only these can be perfect, assuming that these are the best possible kind of humans.

    This response fails in my opinion.
  • Pfhorrest
    Plantinga's ii and iii sum up to "possibly, it is not possible for there to be a world where evil is not possible, and the world we have now is the least evil possible because lacking free will would be way more evil than any evils free will permits".

    So Plantinga's really just saying, when it comes down to it, "maybe a world with no evil isn't possible", and so letting God off the hook for that in the same way we'd let him off the hook for not making square circles. But Planty, why might that be the case? Why would free will require allowing other evils, for one thing, but also, why would a world without free will be so much worse? "Maybe they are", you say, but I answer "could they really be, though?"

    Plantinga asserts the possibility of there being some excuse for God to allow evil, but I can just as easily assert the impossibility of such an excuse -- as the OP seems to do. Hume's argument is basically "there's no excuse", and Plantinga says "maybe there is", and acts like that "maybe" he baldly asserts is enough to stave off any further "no, there's really not". But no, it's really not.
  • Bartricks
    I do not follow your objection. Let's assume that it is not possible to create free will without thereby creating the possibility that it may be used to do evil. Let's also assume that free will is a great good.
    Both of those assumptions - though questionable - are highly plausible. And given those assumptions, it seems plausible that a good being might create free will despite the fact that in doing so he would be creating the possibility of it being used to do evil.

    I don't endorse Plantinga's view, but I am not seeing how you're challenging it - that's all. You seem to be assuming that a morally perfect being would do nothing to create any evil, yet that's precisely what Plantinga is attempting to show is false. He's showing it is false by showing that there are some goods -such as free will - that cannot be created without also creating the possibility of evil.

    There are others, too. Take forgiveness. It is good to be forgiving and sometimes to forgive wrongs that have been done to you. But the good of forgiveness cannot exist if no-one does any wrong.

    It is at least plausible that instantiating the good of forgiveness may sometimes be a good so great it sufficiently outweighs the badness of the wrongs being forgiven as to justify creating circumstances in which such wrongs would occur so as to create the possibility of the good of forgiveness.
  • username
    @Pfhorrest Plantinga's response involves no maybe's. He very directly states what the solution to the problem would be. He asserts that there are things that an omnipotent God cannot do, such as force people to freely do something. That would mean that people have the option to choose evil. The probability of every single person ever picking the right thing to do in every circumstance is so low that it makes sense that in our free will, we as humans would have chosen to do things that are evil. He also addresses the objections that you raised about why free will would require evils and why a world without free will would be worse so instead of sarcastically posing the questions, I recommend you actually read what he has to say instead of assuming he hadn't answered those questions. He is a far better philosopher than either you or I, so calling him dumb (which is essentially what you've tried to do here) not only does nothing productive for people reading this forum but also makes you look rather silly. Instead of asking why he asserts what he does about evil and free will (which, as I stated, he has already answered), why don't you assert some substantial objections to his claims instead of just saying "no, it's really not" as that is about as unphilosophical a comment I've read on this forum. Also your summary of his points ii and iii is incorrect it's not that "possibly, it is not possible for there to be a world where evil is not possible" but rather he asserts that it is not possible for there to be a world where evil is not possible and humans have free will which is a distinctly different claim. He also doesn't assert that the world would have more evil in it if we didn't have free will but rather that the ability to choose to do right is of greater value than being forced to do it. I think we can agree that if someone did what was good or virtuous because they were forced to, it would be less good then someone who did it on there own accord. For instance taxes are money that the government forcibly takes from us in order to pay for things that the citizens need, for instance paying for some healthcare. Paying those taxes is noticeably less good then giving to a charity that does the same thing.
  • Pfhorrest
    I recommend you actually read what he has to say instead of assuming he hadn't answered those questions.username

    I have read him, extensively. But it was over a decade ago and I'm just posting here for fun, not work, so don't ask me to cite pages or anything.

    Plantinga's response involves no maybe's.username
    "Maybes" are essential to his argument, but I can see how that's as easy to overlook as the fact that Plato's Republic is not actually about political philosophy but about justice as a personal virtue: it's the problem that frames the rest of the work, but most of the work is not talking directly about it. In the case of the Republic, all the talk about how to organize society is just a big analogy for how the human soul should be organized.

    Meanwhile what Plantinga is setting out to do is to prove that the existence of evil does not logically contradict the existence of an all-good, all-knowing, all-powerful God, by making the case that it is plausible that such a God would have a reason to permit evil to exist. All the subsequent talk about free will is just building an example of a plausible case: Plantinga's main point isn't supposed to hinge on his particular free will theodicy being absolutely correct, just on it demonstrating that it's at least arguable, and so conceivable, and possible, that God could have some reason to allow evil to exist. Plantinga allows that maybe his free will theodicy is not absolutely correct, but argues that the possibility of it being correct proves that there's not a strict logical contradiction between the existence of God and the existence of evil.

    The soundness of his free will theodicy aside, I think that that main argument is weak in and of itself, and that's what I was attacking in my original post. Plantinga is saying "here is a plausible argument; it might not be perfect, but the fact that it's arguable means that God and Evil aren't straight up logically contradictory". But I think that if he wants to show that they are not logically contradictory, he has to show a conclusively sound reason for why God and Evil can co-exist. Just showing that it's arguable that there might such a reason only demonstrates that the logical relationship between God and Evil can be made less obvious than it might be on the surface, that it's not necessarily completely clear whether or not God and Evil are logically contradictory. But that's like saying that because a math problem is hard to solve, it doesn't have an answer, when all the hardness of the problem shows is that the answer is unclear.

    So if Plantinga wants to show that God and Evil are logically compatible, then he's got to actually conclusively show a sound reason why God would allow evil to exist. And I think he fails at that too, but that's secondary to the problem that he doesn't even think he needs to conclusively succeed at it, only to make a plausible case for it.

    But sure, let's get into why his case is not so plausible after all:

    there are things that an omnipotent God cannot do, such as force people to freely do somethingusername

    That would be logically impossible, sure, and so cannot be expected of God any more than square circles can be expected. But the problem here hinges on what we mean by "force" and "freely", and the subsequent moral values attached to either side of that dichotomy, depending on which dichotomy we mean by it. You can be free in lots of different ways. You can be free from chains and imprisonment. You can be free from political or social retribution. You can be free from your own psychological compulsions or phobias. You can be free from metaphysical determination. You can probably be free in other important ways I'm not thinking of right now. If by "forced" we just mean "not free", then what it means to "force" someone to do something depends on what sense of "free" we mean.

    Usually when we talk about "forcing" people to do things, and "freedom", in a morally evaluative sense, we're talking about something like those first two things. It's bad to be chained up and imprisoned so you physically cannot move your body in such a way as needed to do what you want, or threatened with punishment and suffering if you do something; and it's good, conversely, to be free of that kind of stuff. So it's plausible that an all-good God would place enormous value on people being free in those ways, and possibly even refrain from restraining or punishing people to prevent them from doing bad things. (Although it's still highly questionable whether that really would be the most good thing of God to do; we humans don't normally think it's morally better for us to stand by and let people do atrocious things to each other, so why would be it morally better for God to do so?)

    But when we're talking about free will, "forcing" people to do things, i.e. making them unfree, isn't that kind of violence that's so clearly wrong; and most to the point, it's not clear what kind of freedom we're even talking about when we normally say "free will". Plantinga takes freedom of will to be the freedom from metaphysical determination. This is a view called incompatibilism, and though it's bizarrely popular on and off across history, it's far from uncontroversial. People who disagree with it are called compatibilists, and contemporary compatibilists like Harry Frankfurt or Susan Wolff argue that freedom of will is instead more like freedom from compusions or phobias, or other psychological hindrances: it is the ability to think clearly and rationally about something and come to a reasoned conclusion about what the best course of action is, and for such a reasoned conclusion to then be effective on what actions you actually do, in contrast to, say, not thinking clearly at all and just acting thoughtlessly, or coming to a clear conclusion about what you ought to do and then finding yourself unable to follow through with that decision. Such an ability can be completely deterministic, and does not depend on causal indetermination at all; in fact indetermination can actually interfere with such a process, and make someone less free in that way.

    My biggest problem with Plantinga's free will theodicy is just that he takes incompatibilism for granted, and I think that's just the wrong picture of what free will even is. But even if that is what we want to mean by free will, it's not clear why it's morally better to be free in that sense than to be "forced" i.e. determined. God "forcing" people to be good in that sense would just mean building people in the first place to be more inclined to do good than bad, and that doesn't have to mean programming people like robots to always do specific things. It can mean giving people a better ability to figure out what is good and bad, and making that the part of the mind that controls people's actions. In other words, "forcing" people in this incompatibilist sense would be the same as giving them more free will in the compatibilist sense.

    Even ignoring the possibility of God making human minds work better than they do, he could have left us exactly the same and simple raised us better. Is a parent successfully instilling good morals in their child (just teaching them how and why to be a good person, how and why to make moral decisions) "forcing" the child in any morally relevant way, or depriving them of free will? It's certainly influencing their behavior, removing some freedom from their development, stopping them from becoming a bad person that they otherwise might have become had other influences prevailed over their development instead. But I don't think anyone would really consider that "force" of a bad kind, otherwise we'd just let all children run feral. God could have raised humanity in that way, sent an army of angels to live among humans and act as saints and heroes, teachers and protectors, guiding humanity's moral development, keeping us on course, hoping eventually to make the process self-sustaining so that such intervention is no longer necessary and each generation of humans raises the next generation with the same good morals across all time. But he didn't.

    Some nitpicks:

    He also doesn't assert that the world would have more evil in it if we didn't have free will but rather that the ability to choose to do right is of greater value than being forced to do it.username
    "More evil" and "less value" are the same thing in this context. Plantinga thinks (that it's plausible to argue that) a world with less murder etc but no free will is morally worse (not as good, less valuable, more "evil") than a world where people are free to murder etc, and so an all-good God would have to prefer the latter over the former.

    I think we can agree that if someone did what was good or virtuous because they were forced to, it would be less good then someone who did it on there own accord.username
    That depends heavily on what sense of "good" you mean. It reflects less positively on the character of the people in question, they are less virtuous, sure. But the consequences are the same either way. And while I think virtue, justice, and goodness of consequences are all important in their own ways, the good of allowing for the virtue of someone choosing not to murder when they could have does not outweigh the bad of allowing someone to murder if they want to. If it did, then we oughtn't have punishments for murder, because that then leads to people having less-virtuous, selfish, self-preservation reasons for avoiding doing murders, and erases from the world the good that might have existed had they selflessly chosen not to murder, just to spare some people's lives.
  • Jesse

    I agree with most of your thoughts, but I would question why a perfect being/ God would not allow for imperfections. I would argue that a perfect being/ God would allow for imperfections, which is actually necessary if this God is omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent. If God has the ability to create good and perfect things then doesn't God have the ability to create things that are imperfect or evil? If God doesn't have the power to create evil, then he is not all powerful and there are things or actions that God cannot do which doesn't line up with the definition of God. However, if we are sticking to the same definition then an all powerful God can create things that are imperfect and evil which would mean that both evil and God are compatible. I think this claim, shows that both God and Evil are compatible but another way to look at this would be to see Evil as a testament to God's power. I would claim that the presence of evil is not contradicted by the concept of a perfect being. If something is conceivable of being created, then wouldn't God creating it be good, even if that thing is evil in itself. Creating evil is like a testament to God's power and strength to create anything at all. I think that the concept of evil leading to a greater good helps with this idea, because it allows for God to create Evil in order for a greater good to be achieved. Evil and God are not contradicting each other, the presence of Evil could be seen as leading to a greater good or as a testament to God's power.
  • tim wood
    if God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent,ModernPAS

    Plantinga.... asserts that there are things that an omnipotent God cannot do,username

    The first quote involves a piece of nonsense that is actually common, that g/God is/could be omnipotent, omniscient,and omnibenevolent. To see it you have to think about what the words mean - and whose or what criteria are used.

    The second quote makes the nonsense obvious. And it should be obvious at the instant of reading: how is it that the "being" that can do anything at all whatsoever, cannot do this or that particular thing?
  • GeorgeTheThird
    However, Hume’s objection is to claim that this “balancing” is not possible if God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent. If God is conceived as a perfect being, good and evil must be mutually exclusive, since a perfect being can allow no imperfection of any kind to follow from its existence. Accordingly, Hume argues that, if God exists, there can be no evil necessarily.
    The assertion in italics is an external restriction on God's activities. God has a perfect right to introduce imperfection into the world he has made if he so chooses. Who in that world knows enough to say that God cannot also have a perfect reason for the act?

    God can create something out of nothing. Why can he not also create good out of the evil done by his creatures?

    In Genesis, Joseph says to his brothers, "You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good." A theme in the Scripture is that God works good out of the evil works of men. A parallel theme is that evildoers will be punished; justice will ultimately prevail.

    This is not a complete answer to the problem of good and evil. (Another consistent theme in the Scripture is questioning why things are the way they are.) But it does counter Hume's incomplete and therefore faulty logic.
  • philrelstudent
    Hello, ModernPA S! Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this topic. The Problem of Evil is certainly a… problem, haha. About your objection to iii: I think your response is just another way of putting the Hume argument, so it is slightly question-begging. You seem to assume the truth of premise 2 in your response to the objection to premise 2.

    Plantinga’s iii states, “Possibly, creating creatures with free will is so good that it outweighs any evil they do.” This responds to Hume’s premise 2, “Necessarily, if there is a being that has the power, knowledge, and desire to eliminate evil, then evil cannot exist,” by arguing that an omnibenevolent being would create a world with the maximal good there can be, and this world includes free will. Creating creatures with free will is SO good, that any evil that results is worth it. God WANTS to eliminate all evil on iii, but God would be limiting the good in the world by creating creatures without free will. Your response is question-begging because you assume premise 2, that if a being with the qualities that Hume describes exists, then necessarily no evil can follow from that being. However, if the being is seeking to make a creation from which can come the greatest possible good for the creations that live in it and knows that the greatest possible good comes with an amount of evil the good greatly outweighs, the being would make that good world. You briefly mentioned some concept of balancing not being possible because of God’s good nature, but I am not entirely sure how this responds to Plantinga iii because you seem to just assert the negative with on the same grounds of Hume. It is not necessary that a perfect being only create perfect things or perfectly good things.. The omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent God can do as God pleases. It just so happens that God wants the greatest good for us, which is free will, and God knows that free will comes with a setback of evil for imperfect creatures.

    Now there are many other arguments that can be made about whether God could have made us perfectly good or made us with free will but in a world where we only make good choices, but those are outside the scope of what you presented here. It seems you just had a slightly different reading of the Hume argument that yielded much the same results to the Plantinga objection.

    In short, it appears that you use Hume’s argument to respond to an objection to Hume’s argument, which begs the question.
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