In 1982 Frank Dilley published a response to Boer’s argument in a paper called “Is the Free Will Defense Irrelevant?” The suggestion that God might intervene with coincidence miracles to prevent evil intentions from producing negative effects, Dilley called the “Boer Reform.” If God adopted the Boer Reform, then whenever God sees that someone will attempt to cause harm, He would intervene so as to prevent that someone’s intention from culminating in the harmful consequence(s). And, as Boer had suggested, this need not entail any infringement of free will. Using the example from Part I, when God diverts the path of the bullet, He is in no way interfering with any of Jones’ choices.
Nonetheless, Dilley argued that the Boer Reform, if adopted, would seriously undermine the value of freedom. He listed several consequences of the Reform, but the most important of which is that the Reform would rob attempting to bring about either good or evil of its very sense. The Boer Reform would entail that no person would be capable of deliberately bringing about evil (since God will always prevent any negative consequences of our choices). As Dilley says, “Even the fool would learn after his hundredth attempt that is silly to intend harm, that the deck is stacked against him. To be unable to succeed, then, deprives trying of its point and makes it nonsensical.” (358) Dilley claims that this is also true of attempts to bring about good; since we would soon learn that nothing but good can come of our intention, it would be pointless to try to bring about good. In addition, the Reform would entail a drastic revision of the notion of a law of nature (since God would be constantly intervening) and it would so sever consequences from intentions that we could no longer think of ourselves as interacting agents.
I think that Dilley is correct (with a few small caveats that I will leave for another time) that the Boer Reform, assuming that it required constant intervention on God’s part, would result in a drastic devaluation of freedom. However, this is true only given that the Reform requires God to intervene in every case in which someone tries to bring about bad consequences. If instead, He only intervened to prevent the most awful kinds of evil, while He would be intervening often, the level of intervention would not, I think, severely undermine the value of freedom. If, for example, He intervened to prevent the severe suffering of children, this would not rob trying to bring about harm of its very sense because, even though we would not be able to cause tremendous harm to children, there would remain ample opportunity to try (and succeed) to bring about other harms.
Whether we expect an omni-benevolent God should intervene to prevent all evil or just the more horrendous evils depends a great deal on how we understand the problem of evil. This will be the focus of my next post.