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Atheism 15: Free Will Defense


Martin is addressing the most commonly used defense against the problem of evil- the free will defense!

My own thought is that contra-causal free will is incoherent, so this defense cannot work. Martin seems to be familiar with the distinction as well. He notes that on compatibilism, “X is free to do action A = if X had chosen to do action A, then X would have succeeded” (366). Can it really be that simple? I’ll have to read up on objections to this, but if it is that simple, then maybe I’ll be able to communicate my views more easily.

Martin’s beginning argument is that it is in no way obvious that a world with contra-causal free will is preferable to one with compatibilist free will. In fact, he argues, most people would prefer the later, if it reduced pain and suffering and other evils.

“. . . there is the analytic problem of what exactly contracausal freedom is. Plantinga strongly denies that if someone is contracausally free, that person’s decision to do this or that is a random event. However, he has supplied no alternative analysis, and I am not aware of anyone else who has clearly said what it is. . . Plantinga points out that if God exists, His decisions are not caused, and yet are not random events. This hardly dispels the mystery” (370).

This is exactly where I’m at with regards to contracausal free will. It is a total non-answer. Saying that one has this type of free will, and thus is responsible for his actions is like saying someone is “magically responsible,” or acts by virtue of “supreme quantum thought-energy.” It is a term without content, and so cannot explain moral responsibility, or be used as a response to the problem of evil until it is given content.

Is there anyone out there who has analyzed closely whether something can be neither determined nor random, nor a mix of the two? Is there a third option? I don’t see how there could be, but the door is open.

Martin’s concluding summary is a great, concise overview of the problems:

The FWD fails. In the first place, in order to be successful the defense must presume contracausal freedom. But the price of this sort of freedom is too great. Not only has contracausal freedom resulted in great evil, but the value of having it is discounted by other considerations. For one thing, it is unclear what it means to be contracausally free and how, if one is, one can be held responsible for one’s actions, for another thing, the hypothesis that all significant moral actions are contracausally free is in conflict with the findings of science. For yet another thing, the traditional concept of God is incompatible with contracausal freedom (391).

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