Saturday, March 15, 2008

"The Free-Will Defense"


Chapter Fifteen builds off of the argument from evil against the existence of God that Dr. Martin began in the previous chapter. Theists have made many attempts to counter the Argument from Evil, and Martin, aware of this, will devote his final section of his book to answering them. In this Chapter, he attempts to combat the most popular defense, that evil is the result of human free will.

Summary of Martin’s Claims

Martin starts this chapter by noting that the Free Will Defense is an explanation of moral evils, not natural evils. He correctly states the theist’s argument as "God gave humans free choice and a world with free choice is more desirable than a world without free choice." He then proceeds to give some background information to this debate. This information included distinctions between First, Second, and Third Order Goods as well as First and Second Order Evils. After this preliminary info, Martin began his explanation and critique of the theistic position.

Martin claims that there are three assumptions to the theistic position that are challengeable and that he believes he will show to be false. These are: (1) that free will is a very important good; (2) that free will is worth the price that it comes with; and (3) that the evils that result from free will cannot be blamed on God.

First, Martin claims that the assumption of the importance of freedom is false. He begins by assessing Alvin Plantinga’s claim that, all other things being equal, a world with ’significantly free creatures’ is more valuable than a world with no free creatures. Martin asserts that this argument is irrelevant since "all things are not equal." Thus, he offers a reformulation of the argument that he believes captures Plantinga’s desire. He then goes on to reject these because they seem to assume that the value of freedom is nearly infinite. He notes that it is true that freedom seems very valuable initially. But, we sometimes think that it can be sacrificed for other values and thus Plantinga’s assumption is unfounded. Next, Martin looks at Plantinga’s rejection of compatibilist and causal determination views and calls his (Plantinga’s) position Contracausal Freedom. Then Martin critiques this position claiming that: (1) there is no practical use for Contracausal Freedom; and (2) that a Contracausal world is not the best that God could have created.

After this, Martin considers what he believes to be defeaters for a Contracausal view of freedom. First, he offers the fact that social scientists predict behavior, presents a rebuttal by Plantinga, and critiques it. Second, he claims that the difference in the choices of apes, mentally retarded people, and otherwise healthy human beings is a difference in degree, not in kind. Third, he claims that a distinction, that free acts are caused, but not coerced, will help to support his position. Fourth, he claims that if Contracausal Freedom is correct, then there are uncaused causes. He notes that this led to many great theologians accepting a compatibilist position. Finally, he claims that Plantinga has offered no solution to the claim that uncaused events are random. In support of his position, that free acts are caused but not coerced, Martin offers a possibility. He says that it is logically possible that there could be a world where human choices are controlled by statistical laws and yet not causally necessitated. After presenting his argument, He critiques a potential defeater from Reichenbach.

In the next section, Martin presents reasons he thinks that we should doubt that freedom was "worth the risk." First, he claims that it is logically possible to create a free world where nothing wrong is done. In support of this, he critiques a counter offered by some who maintain that a world with no wrong done (though it is possible) may not be better than this one. Second, he claims that if God were omnipotent, he could have actualized a free world where no evil was done. In support of this he critiques an argument of Plantinga’s the argument of Trans-World Depravity. Then, Martin points out that some, such as Bruce Reichenbach have said that God does not know if counterfactuals would be true or false. This, according to Martin, would result in the impossibility that God could know any future free act, including any of His own acts. He points out that it would also undermine morality, unless one accepts an extreme deontological view.

In the final section, Martin attempts to show that God would ultimately be responsible for the evil acts of creatures under any possible view. In defense of this he offers Frederic Fitch’s theorem along with an amendment by J.L. Mackie. He then presents a legal case and a moral case against God. Finally, he argues that God is no Good Samaritan.

Agreements and What I Have Learned

As with the other chapters in this section, there was not a lot for me to agree with. However, I did appreciate a few things that Martin mentioned. First, I love the opening section and the explanation of the ordered goods and evils. I have never heard the theistic position broke down that way (I have not read much on the problem of evil, I am primarily interested in the proofs). I thought that the introduction to this chapter was his best yet. Second, I am glad that he noted that the great theologians were compatibilists, but he is equivocating on Compatibilism, which I will explain in my critique. Third, I totally agree with Martin that the idea that "a world with no wrong done (though where it is possible) may not be better than this one" is a highly unlikely idea. Fourth, I will grant Martin’s critique of Plantinga, though I admit that I am doing so because I do not know Plantinga’s full position. Sixth, I agree with Martin’s critique of Reichenbach’s answer to the critique of Plantinga, but I think that a middle ground exists between Plantinga and Reichenbach that sufficiently answers the criticism. I will discuss this briefly in the next section. Finally, I agree with Martin that God is responsible for the fact of evil, but I do not see this as a problem. Again, this will be elaborated in the next section.


I have many criticisms regarding Martin’s assessment that freedom is not important. First, he claims that Contracausal Freedom has no practical benefits. But this is just false. Ethical living is only possible with true freedom. Without true freedom, there becomes no justification for incarceration, condemnation, or any other related actions. Second, all the ’better’ talk used by Martin when comparing worlds assumes some standard of goodness. But this cannot be appealed to by the naturalist. At best, the naturalist can only describe reality; he cannot prescribe how it ’ought to be.’ Martin is borrowing from theism to make his critique.

In the next section Martin gives a few reasons to reject Contracausal Freedom. The first reason is that social scientists can predict behavior. However, this does not prove natural causation. It only demonstrates that certain conditions increase the likelihood of certain choices. It is still the case that many times the social scientists will predict wrongly. It seems that Martin’s critique assumes an identity between an increase in tendency and causality. However, it seems that causality is more appropriately equated with natural necessity for the naturalist. I don’t think tendency helps his argument. Second, Martin claimed that the difference between ape and human freedom is one of degree, not kind. But this is just false. There is no evidence that apes or any other animals are really free. They have to be trained to make choices that are contrary to their natural tendencies. Third, regarding his claim that ’free acts are caused, but not coerced,’ I don’t think that he has such an option. I would like to see a further explanation. Fourth, he criticizes Contracausal Freedom claiming that it results in the admission of uncaused causes, and explains that this is why the great theologians were compatibilists. But the free acts are caused - by created efficient causes. He is correct that the great theologians were compatibilists, but they are in a theological sense referring to God’s causality, not according to the order of the natural world. It seems to me that Compatibilism only makes sense when two minds are involved, not when nature is on one end of the equation. Finally, Martin claims that it is logically possible that there could be a world where human choice is controlled by statistical laws and yet not causally necessitated. But this does not even make sense. First of all, statistics are not laws; they are descriptive rather than prescriptive. Second, if any series of events were always seen in the same relation to one another, we would have reason to believe that the consequent event was causally determined.

In the next section, Martin discusses whether or not free will was "worth the risk." As with the previous section I have many criticisms here. First, Martin claims that it is possible to create a free world where nothing wrong is done. But how does he know this? If one makes the distinction between something being logically possible and something being actually possible, I think that the burden shifts to Martin to demonstrate this claim, which he doesn’t do. Second, Martin claims that if God was omnipotent, he could have actualized a free world where no evil was done. Omnipotence is being able to do whatever can be done. But to presume that God could have created a world where all the free creatures always acted rightly begs the whole question. Hence, we do not necessarily have any problem. Again, the atheist would have to demonstrate that such a world is actually, not merely logically, achievable in order for theists to defend their position against this claim. All that being said, Christianity does claim that the result of this world will be such a world where free creatures always do the good anyway. That world is heaven. It may just be the case that this kind of world is the only way to achieve that kind of world. Third, regarding the critique Martin has of Plantinga, I avoid this criticism by rejecting as meaningful such modal criticisms since they are based on pure speculation. I am interested in the world as it is, not as I suppose it could be. I am a finite mind and, thus, I do not have access to all the information necessary to have in order to know what could be and what couldn’t be. As far as I can tell, neither Plantinga nor Martin is omniscient either, thus disqualifying them from such considerations too. Fourth, regarding the criticism of Reichenbach, remember that I agreed with Martin’s conclusion. I think that Reichenbach went too far. However, I think that such an issue is solved by admitting the truth values for counterfactuals to those beings that have all knowledge. Doing so preserves God’s omniscience and the truth values of counterfactuals while at the same time pointing out that it is not profitable for finite minds to make arbitrary guesses about important issues via ’counterfactual knowledge.’

Finally, I have a few criticisms of Martin’s case that God is responsible for evil. First, regarding Fitch’s Theorem, I think it is unfounded to attribute that which is logically possible for creatures, i.e. to do evil, to God. It does not follow that God can do everything that creatures can do since they are efficient causes. Regarding Mackie’s addition, it is not clear why these distinctions disappear. More needs to be said. Second, in response to the legal case against God, I agreed that God is clearly responsible for the fact of evil. But so what? He doesn’t have an authority or a moral law over Him. Further, He is free to act in accordance with His nature. Since we know God to be the all-knowing, ultimate Good, then we can trust that the results of His actions will be ultimately good. However, the responsibility for the acts of evil need not be attributed to God since they are committed by created efficient causes. Third, in response to the moral case against God, this argument doesn’t consider the good that results from evil. Finally, in response to the charge that God is not a Good Samaritan, this assumes that we have all the information that God has and are in a position to judge Him. We are not.

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