Weblog of a Christian philosophy student

Weblog of a Christian philosophy student. Please feel free to comment. All of my posts are public domain. Subscribe to posts [Atom]. Email me at countaltair [at] yahoo.com.au. I also run a Chinese to English translation business at www.willfanyi.com.

Location: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Mackie's Objection to the Free Will Defense

Mackie's Objection to the Free Will Defense
Will G

In this essay I am going to discuss one of the more important objections to the free will theodicy, that one that alleges God could create perfect people, and suggest a little known, unorthodox but probably acceptable defense to the problem.

The free will defense is possibly the most well-known theistic defense against evil in the world. It is so well-known that even those not particularly interested in the philosophy of religion are often aware of it. I expect most visitors to this website will know about it. It is important because it is one of the few (or perhaps only) defenses against evil that has received some support from atheistic philosophers, and general acclaim from Christian ones. The free will defense essentially offers the following idea: Morally significant free will is a good thing. However if people are free, then it would seem to follow that some people will use their freedom to perform morally significant evil choices, in order that, when they perform good choices, that good choice is of much greater value as it is freely (not automatically) done. And if this is so, then it is justified morally for God to allow moral evil.

In a much earlier article I discussed some objections to the free will theodicy. A distinction I did not make in my essay was that the principle of free will can be used in a defense, or it can be used more broadly in a theodicy. Free will used in a theodicy would involve an attempt to explain how all moral evil can be justified. Thus it would not only try to explain perhaps one person killing another in war, but for example, an event of many millions dying in a horrendous genocide. A free will defense on the other hand would much more limited (and thus secure). A defense would only attempt to given an explanation of how a very limited amount of moral evil could exist if there is an all-good God. So a defense need not, thus, give an account of how the Holocaust could be allowed by God. It need only to show that the concept of free will, used to justify God's non-involvement in a small amount of evil, can be coherent, and perhaps leave greater justification to other defenses or theodicies.

One of the most intriguing objections to the free will defense/theodicy known throughout the philosophical world is one offered by J.L. Mackie, and formed one of his principle reasons for his rejecting Plantinga's free will defense (the other being the question of the coherence of free will.) Mackie essentially asks why, if God can do anything, then why would he not create perfect people. If we have already accepted that God can in fact, do everything logically possible, then there needs to be some explanation as to why God cannot skip the messy process of creating 'value neutral' people who then shape their characters for good or ill, and simply create people who genuinely and freely choose good consistently.

Here is how J.L. Mackie relates his idea from 'The Miracle of Theism', p. 164.

'If God has made men such that in their free choices they sometimes prefer what is good and sometimes what is evil, why could he not have made men such that they always freely choose the good?'

Most responses to Mackie misconstrue completely what he is saying. It does not succeed to say that if God made people always choose good, then they would not be free. What is involved in Mackie's statement is a more complex issue of character. Under the traditional religious view, our free choices, for good or ill have always flown from our character, or essence. In this view, if I have a good character, I can choose good most of the time because that is what my character is: it is good. The choice comes from the character. In terms of other people, when we talk of controlling choices, every single time we are always referring to a choice made out of line with someone's character. But when it comes to controlling, not someone's choice, but someone's character, it is not so clear that wrongdoing is involved. Indeed, it seems to be the case that creating a person who would always freely choose the good, with a perfect character, would be a great good, especially set up against the amount of evil in the world. Mackie may well point out that God has a perfect character and always chooses good. Why cannot he create other beings just like him?

This has been a perplexing problem with the free will defense, but I maintain, it does have an answer. The answer I believe, lies in an attempt to respond to Mackie in terms of logical impossibility. The ideas in the following, I might add, are not mine, but are those of a teacher (and friend) I had in High School, Nicholas Coleman.

The solution could be this. Let us say due to 'X', which is a very powerful reason, there is a logical limit on God's power to create perfection (or more broadly, for there to be perfection) in beings apart from God. This entails that essentially apart from himself, God cannot create other beings that are perfect. He may be able to create beings that are 99% perfect, or 99.999% perfect, but not completely perfect, for because of reason X, this cannot be done (it is simply a logical impossibility.) And the theist has already agreed some limitations are acceptable via the free will defense (logical limitations.) The theist can therefore simply shrug his/her shoulders and say 'God cannot do that.' It is not a matter of greater good, or anything like that. Creating beings that are perfect and apart from God is impossible for God to do.

Plantinga in dealing with Mackie suggested that all beings suffer from something called 'transworld depravity', which means they will sin at least once in every possible world. But a problem with Plantinga's idea and mine, as they currently stand, is that they are both 'ad hoc'. That is, there is no real plausible reason under a general Christian view that our ideas entail. There is really no reason besides Plantinga saying so, why there should be transworld depravity. There is no idea in my view, besides my saying it would be a really nice idea, for there to be a logical limit on God so that he can't create perfect beings outside of himself. The fact that something seems to be a pleasant idea does not make an argument however. I need to sketch in other words, the plausibility of what I am saying under a Christian scenario.

However, let us say that the reason why God cannot create perfect beings outside of himself is this: as a general metaphysical, logical rule, everything that is completely perfect is God, and only God. Everything that lacks perfection is not God. Anything that achieves the perfect height of perfection, by definition (and hence logicality) must be of God. Anything that is limited, or otherwise fails to achieve a Godlike perfection, by definition, fails to be God. But also, anything that achieves Godlike moral perfection, is also of God, as morality is the highest perfection of all, and anything that fails to achieve Godlike moral perfection is not of God.

What I am saying here, is that it has been an orthodox view that the highest perfection out of all perfections must belong to God. Therefore, God cannot create other beings like himself that are as good, or as powerful as God. God is bound by logical necessity to be the only God and the only totally perfect being. God cannot make another perfect being. The boundaries between God's creation and God himself, mean that God would create something that was extremely good, but not perfect. A completely perfect being, cannot, thus, even by God's decree, exist outside of himself, and especially not regarding humans.

Therefore the reasoning of my argument is an extension of that, and this sketches the plausibility of my reasoning under a Christian scenario. Not only is God so limited in creating apart from himself the highest divine perfection, but also God is incapable of creating apart from himself the highest divine moral perfection. In other words, on a rather interesting view of moral perfection, the highest moral perfection is God's, and only of God's and a being who approaches that perfection must by definition, become more and more like God until eventually that being is indistinguishable from God; has become part of God.

Therefore this argument gives a good account of how it is logically impossible for God to have created Adam and Eve, the first humans, with perfect characters so that they would never do evil. This was impossible, because a truly, and completely, perfect moral character could only be God's. Adam and Eve were still good. They were as good as it was possible for them to be. They were 99.9999% good. But they were still not perfect. And because they lacked that bit of perfection, that one thing that separated them from God so they were independent beings, they fell. And due to their Fall, as part of humanity's general separation from God, they caused us to have even less perfect characters.

(This of course engenders the issue of why God cannot simply reverse the Fall and start over. However in my theology what the Fall actually showed is that from God's point of view, this method of perfection is flawed and the real solution is to make people part of God through the Holy Spirit, so going back to pre-Fall times would accomplish nothing. As to why God even started off with this process knowing that people would Fall, no wrongdoing essentially occurred by God's plan of events, on His part, so the question if really one of pointlessness, which is not very serious and which I will not attempt to answer.)

This of course has interesting implications. It also presents certain problems from a Christian perspective, while solving others. First of all there is a general unease associated with it. I myself strongly favour this viewpoint but I am still not completely happy with it. There is something odd, something neo-Platonic about the concept of good. But, for all I know, it may still be the truth, and my discomfort may be illusionary. It does seem to constitute an effective rebuttal of Mackie, which is strongly in its favour.

It is possible that Mackie's objection, originally thought so devastating and not particularly well answered, can be answered. It can be answered with an unusual theological concept. In that sense, perhaps the only feasible objection to the free will defense is the notion of free will being coherent. And that may also be answerable.