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Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology 8: The Argument from Evil


Goetz is offering both a defense and a theodicy. He claims that God allows suffering in order to make it possible for people to make free will choices that will result in ultimate happiness. This is not possible unless there is a possibility of evil. People must get what they deserve, and without libertarian free will, there is no desert.

Here are my objections.

  1. There is no such thing as libertarian free will. In fact, it is incoherent, so appealing to it cannot act as either a defense or a theodicy.
  2. God, being perfectly good, has no need to bring more conscious beings into the universe, even if it for their own personal happiness. If this contributes to the good, then God isn’t ultimately good. If it does not contribute to the good, then the suffering that occurs is not justified.
  3. Even if the argument is coherent, what reason do we have to think that Goetz’ view of God’s intentions are correct? Isn’t it just looking for any possible answer, then clinging to it? This appears to be an argument from possibility, not probability.
  4. Even if libertarian free will exists, it cannot successfully explain desert in the way that Goetz needs to for the argument to succeed.

Kindle Notes:

Based on those reasons which I think erode Goetz’ crucial points, I do not think that his answer to the problem of evil works.Just as there cannot be a problem of evil if no one is conscious and experiences pain, so also there cannot be a satisfactory solution to the problem of evil if souls do not exist and survive death. And not only must souls exist, but I will also maintain they must be free in the libertarian sense (have libertarian free will) to make undetermined choices for purposes (reasons) (12062).

modern philosophical orthodoxy views the belief in libertarian free will as just another misguided idea bequeathed to us by our unscientific ancestors. The doctrinal position on free will at present is the view known as compatibilism, which is the idea that freedom and determinism are compatible and that one and the same event can be both free and determined (12065).

my purpose in raising these four issues at the outset of this chapter is simply to alert the reader to the fact that if you think that there is a problem of evil, then you must, if you are consistent, break ranks with contemporary philosophical orthodoxy (12106).

Note: You could reasonably call it a problem of internal coherence.

In essence, I argue in the section “Life’s Purpose and Perfect Happiness” that the purpose of an individual’s life is that he experience the great good of perfect or complete happiness, and it is the possibility of his experiencing this great good that justifies God’s allowing him to experience evil (12166).

Because the just experience of complete happiness is conditional in nature – a person will justly experience complete happiness, if he chooses rightly – I will sometimes say that a justification for God’s permission of moral evil is the possibility of a person’s experiencing perfect happiness (12546).

Note: If the odds are more in favor of hell, I can’t say I’d like to play that lottery.

there is Strategic Bomber. He intends to bomb the munitions plant of Enemy in order to bring about the defeat of Enemy. Strategic Bomber is also aware, however, that next to the munitions plant is a building filled with innocent children. He also believes that when he bombs the plant he will kill the children. While for Terror Bomber killing the children is an intended means to the defeat of Enemy, for Strategic Bomber their deaths are not intended as a means but are foreseen as a side effect of the bombing. God is like Strategic Bomber when it comes to permitting moral evils (12739).

because complete happiness is such a great good, the experience of it must be deserved, and while being self-conscious is a necessary condition of its being deserved, it is not sufficient. What are needed for desert are the existence of libertarian freedom and the making of a choice about a life plan in the form of either a just- or an unjust-good-seeking SFC (12786).

Note: Seems that libertarian freedom is necessary for this argument. Not only that, but the connection between that freedom and desert. That is a serious weak link if my beliefs about that are correct.

Ultimately, then, giving created persons libertarian free will is itself a necessary condition of the possibility of experiencing the intrinsic goodness of perfect happiness. As Rowe has rightly pointed out, “the free-will theodicy needs to be included within . . . a theodicy that stresses some intrinsic goods for which free will is a necessary condition” (12851).

given that God’s purpose is to grant the just experience of complete happiness to persons and that the girl presumably did not live long enough to be justly granted or denied complete happiness, it is reasonable to hypothesize that she will somehow be granted this opportunity, perhaps in another life (12877).

Note: Christian epicycles.

Marilyn Adams is a theodicist who has recently maintained that the free will defense is inadequate because it defends God’s goodness as a producer of libertarian free will, which in her terms is a “global” or “generic” good, to the neglect of the good of individual persons (Adams 1999, chap. 2). She believes that if God were to create for this purpose alone, He would at best be indifferent to individual persons and at worst cruel (12919).

Thus, I agree with the following comment by the atheist William Rowe: “The first question we need to ask is whether the possession of free will is something that is in itself of such great value as to merit God’s permission of the horrendous moral evils in the world. I think the answer must be no (19307).

Note: Good to quote as a theist against other theists.

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