LECTURE #21: The Free Will Defense

In the last lecture, I discussed the tough-minded responses to the arguments from evil, and I argued that these tough-minded responses are wholly adequate, in and of themselves, to defeat the arguments from evil. In this lecture and the next one, I turn to the tender-hearted responses. I will argue that they too are fully adequate. We have, then, two independent and sufficient ways of rebutting the arguments from evil.

The tender-hearted responses depend on challenging premises 4 and 5 of the standard argument, namely,

4. A world with the greatest possible surplus of good over evil would be a world devoid of evil.
5. An omnipotent God could actualize any world.

By rejecting one or both of these premises, the tender-hearted theist is, in effect, arguing for some relevant limitation on what an omnipotent God could do. If we reject premise 4, we are suggesting that the range of possible worlds is narrower than we might have thought. Since whatever God can bring about must ipso facto be possible, any limitation on the range of possibility is also a limitation on the range of God's omnipotence. If we reject premise 5, we are very obviously placing limits on God's omnipotence, limits that are additional to the limits of the possible.

Therefore, the tender-hearted response to the problem of evil turns on the question of the definition of omnipotence. We must settle that issue before we turn to the relevance of the limitations of omnipotence to the problem of evil, that is, before we turn to the free will defense.


The Definition of Omnipotence
The Three Degrees of Free Will Defense
The Free Will Defense for Soft Determinists

Definition of Omnipotence

The cosmological argument gave us good reason to think that God is infinite in all His attributes. The argument from design gave us reason to think of God as powerful and intelligent. By combining these two arguments, we can reach the conclusion that God must possess infinite power.

What does it mean for a being to possess infinite power? We must proceed cautiously here. If we are not careful, we may introduce inconsistency into our theory of God through a faulty definition of omnipotence. Historically, the definition of omnipotence has proved to be one of the most perilous enterprises within natural theology.

One very common interpretation of omnipotence supposes that God can bring about any logically possible state of affairs. This interpretation depends on our having a firm grasp of what constitutes a "logically possible state of affairs", which has proved to be quite elusive in fact. A number of apparent paradoxes of omnipotence have beset this standard approach.

Paradoxes of Omnipotence

Can God create an indestructible object? There seem to be two equally good, but opposing, answers.

(A) God can destroy any possible created object.
(B) An indestructible object is logically impossible.
(C) God cannot create an indestructible object.

We could say: (B), because (A), and therefore, (C).
Or, we could say: not-(B), because not-(C), and therefore, not-(A).

I believe that the key to resolving these paradoxes is to distinguish between two kinds of situation-types: intrinsic and non-intrinsic. A situation-type is intrinsic if it concerns only the internal qualities and constitution of a situation-token. A situation-type is non-intrinsic if it concerns the causal or historical antecedents or effects of a situation-token.

Here are som examples of non-intrinsic types:

If we distinguish intrinsic from non-intrinsic types, we have a principled reason for preferring the first answer to the paradox of the indestructible object, that is, a reason for thinking that God cannot create an indestructible object. Being an indestructible object is a non-intrinsic type, and God's omnipotence should be defined exclusively in terms of intrinsic types.

Definition of Omnipotence

x is omnipotent iff, for all Z, if Z is a possibly-instantiated, intrinsic situation-type, then x can actualize a token of type Z.

Here again are som examples of non-intrinsic types: a rock too heavy for God to lift, a rock that God did not create, an action freely chosen by a human creature. It is no lack of omnipotence that God cannot actualize a token of any of these types.

To show that God can instantiate a non-intrinsic type T, we must do the following:

Find an intrinsic type T', and actual circumstances C, such that if God were actualize a token x of type T' in C, we can prove that x would also be of type T.

This is a non-trivial task. Merely invoking omnipotence is not enough.

The Three Degrees of Free Will Defense

Third-degree free-will defense: free-choice is a non-intrinsic type, one that involves how an action is caused/determined. Free will and causal determinism may be compatible.

Second-degree free-will defense: indeterministic freedom plus middle knowledge. All free choices are undetermined (by their very essence). However, God knows how all possible persons would in fact have exercised their free-will in all possible situations (Middle Knowledge).

First-degree free-will defense: indeterministic freedom plus no middle knowledge. God had no "prior" knowledge of how free agents would exercise their freedom in various possible circumstances: at best, He could only "foreknow" how free agents will actuallly exercise their freedom, given the already-settled fact that He will create them in those particular situations.

A Free Will Defense for Soft Determinists

A soft-determinist account of freedom:
Agent x's action A in circumstances C is free iff x was caused to do A in circumstances C by a process of type F.

What is involved in being a "process of type F"? We have little idea. All we have are particular cases of F and of non-F (such as duress, schizophrenia. drug-induced mania, etc.). Compare: pre-scientific understanding of what "water" is.

A "counterfactual of freedom":

(1) In circumstances C, if Charles were offered a bowl of chili and if he were to respond freely, he would accept it.

According to the compatibilist/soft-determinist, (1) is either necessarily true or necessarily false. Hence, God cannot affect its truth-value. According to the indeterministic libertarian, (1) is contingent, but beyond God's control.