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The Free Will Defense (FWD) makes two substantial claims: First, that God, being omni-benevolent, must grant humans freedom of the will.  [This can be argued for by, e.g., showing that a world in which humans have free will is better, all things considered, than one in which they don’t since it allows for the possibility of genuine moral goodness (this is, roughly, Plantinga’s take).]  Second, having granted us free will, God has necessarily allowed the possibility of moral evil (that is, evil that results from the choices of free agents).  The possibility of moral evil is thus a necessary consequence of the granting of free will (which, if we follow Plantinga, is necessary for the possibility or moral goodness).  All that is required is the assumption that some people will sometimes choose to bring about bad consequences and we have made God’s existence (and omni-benevolence) consistent with the actual presence of moral evil.

Mackie famously took issue with this last additional assumption, claiming that an omnipotent God could create free beings who are so-constituted that they always choose the good.  This, in turn, leads to the wonderful realm of trans-world depravity (in other words, right into Plantinga’s wheelhouse).  But there is an objection to the FWD that is more to the point and much easier to articulate and defend.

In 1978 Stepehn Boer published an article entitled “The Irrelevance of the Free Will Defense” in which he argued that (in case you couldn’t have guessed), the Free Will Defense is irrelevant to the problem of evil.  His point was that God need not interfere with anyone’s free choices in order to prevent any evil that may result from such choices.  Thus, suppose that Jones wants to kill his business rival Smith.  Jones drives to Smith’s house late one evening, breaks in, and finds Jones asleep in his bedroom.  Jones pulls out his Walther PPK and fires.  God need not interfere with any of Jones’ freely made choices in order to prevent Smith’s death.  He need only intervene, at the last moment, to deflect the bullet so that it does not kill Smith. We can extrapolate this pattern of intervention to cover most, if not all, cases in which a person chooses to bring about harm; it seems likely that in most cases God can find some way to prevent the harm without violating anyone’s free will.

In my next post I will discuss Frank Dilley’s response to Boer’s argument.


Jason Thibodeau

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