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Mack says to the Christian:
You say that free will is the origin of evil. But it is possible for a person to freely choose to do no evil. Your G-d, if he exists, would be able to create such people. He would know how to create such people. And he would definitely do so because he is good. But no such thing happened, and therefore your G-d does not exist.
Does anyone else see the problem I see with Mack’s way of thinking? I’d been wanting to properly deal with this problem since 2005, but I finally found a little mental space to put some real work into it last year. Now it’s a published article: “Must G-d Create the Best Available Creatures?” in the journal Philosophia Christi, the journal of the Evangelical Philosophical Society.
Mack’s remarks above (written by me) are drawn from J. L. Mackie, who distinguished himself in 1900s philosophy by presenting an important objection to the traditional free will explanation for why G-d could allow evil: If evil is due to the free choice of creatures, why wouldn’t an omnipotent G-d simply create free creatures who would choose better?
Alvin Plantinga, in turn, distinguished himself with his critique of Mackie. Plantinga’s main point is that Mackie made a mistake in assuming that it is within the power of omnipotence fully to create just any possible world.
So far, so good.
But I think Mackie made another mistake. He had another highly questionable assumption that Plantinga does not critique.
Mackie assumes that a G-d, as construed by classical theistic belief, who could create either of two people—one of whom would freely choose right and the other of whom would freely choose wrong—must create the one who would freely choose right.
But if that’s true, then, just as long as there is any possible person whom G-d could have created and placed in the Garden of Eden and who would not have sinned, G-d won’t allow anyone else the chance to sin!
So, in Mackie’s view, no one else sinning is even possible! And even that one possible, not-sinning person doesn’t have any possibility of sinning as long as there’s someone else who wouldn’t have sinned given the chance.
In short, for nearly every conceivable arrangement of the facts about what possible people would do, . . . every possible person, or all but one of them, is completely unable to ever sin! And where does that leave free will?????
Now you might be thinking it’s just not reasonable to even talk about the so-called facts about what not-real-but-possible people might do. You might be right. I think that’s a very respectable position.
And there are some other options. But I think the best option is to . . . Just. Drop. Mackie’s. Assumption.
This also means we don’t need Alvin Plantinga’s idea, which is this: Maybe all possible created people have what he calls trans-world depravity, meaning that maybe all of them would have sinned given the chance.
I love Plantinga’s Christian philosophy, but I don’t think that particular position is likely. Still, if I’m criticizing Plantinga, it’s a friendly, and a pretty mild, criticism. It’s less that Plantinga is wrong and more that . . . we can agree with Plantinga’s criticism of J. L. Mackie, and go just one step further.
Two more notes. First, the title of my article is inspired by Robert Adams’ famous article, “Must G-d Create the Best?”
Second, this is the best I’ve been able to do so far. Maybe I’ll do more later. All this time I’m working with the idea of free will as the ability to do otherwise, which is a prominent theory on what free will is, and is Plantinga’s theory. But there are other views on what free will is.
If we’re going to stick with this definition, we may have to consider the possibility that free will is not good only as a means to the end of freely chosen moral good, but also for other reasons, or even just good in itself. This is an idea I might explore in the future.
And I think I’ve stumbled on a promising insight: If human beings are made in the image of G-d and if part of that involves the responsibility to creatively develop creation in G-d’s name, then maybe that creativity requires some ability to do otherwise. This might be at least part of the explanation for why FW—as the ability to do otherwise—is important.
In any case, frankly, I’m happy enough if we just question Mackie’s assumption. It should never have been allowed to pass unquestioned.Published in