Must G-d Create Only Good People?

 

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 sinAnd 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.

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  1. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Manny (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Manny (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Ok, I have a rough understanding of the idea that she has no original sin. (I mentioned it first, didn’t I?)

    Turns out the video talks about that a lot.

    Not much about her not having any sin at all. A few references with undefined terms. No original sin, no personal sin, but venial faults can be attributed to her. Then they go on to talk about original sin for a while.

    Maybe it was a different video he went into detail on the sinlessness. Here’s a quick understanding:

    (1) Typology. Christ is the new Adam, Mary is the New Eve. Christ is sinless. Why? Because Adam sinned and Christ reverses Adam’s sin through His sinlessness. Eve sinned. Mary as new Eve has to be sinless to reverse the Eve’s sin.

    (2) Mary is the New Ark of the Covenant. The Ark is Holy, without sin. It was always Holy, not just for a temporal period. Mary is continually holy, continually sinless.

    (3) Mary is immaculately conceived. What does that fully mean? It means she does not carry the burden of Adam and Eve as handed down through normal conception.

    (4) Mary is full of Grace. We are holy and good through grace. We sin without grace. Think of full of grace as a glass full. I on the other hand am only a glass with a finger full of grace. I am full of non grace. Mary is full, no room for sin.

    If you want me to understand the parts Catholic theology I don’t understand, I recommend you define the terms. What is a “venial fault,” and how is it different from “sin”? And does Mary have any of those?

    Ask yourself this: Why is Christ without sin? You do believe that, don’t you? The same typology carries over to the New Eve.

    Of course he is without sin. Because he’s G-d. And because the substitutionary atonement requires a spotless lamb. Those aren’t reasons that apply to Mary.

    I have never heard of a “venial fault.” On that I don’t know what he was exactly referring to in the video. I guess he was trying to articulate that she made human mistakes. Mistakes are not sins. If I accidently bump into you, that is not a sin. To you his terminology I would say that’s a fault. If I intentionally bumped you or pushed you, that would be a sin.

    Yeah, this language is terribly confusing. If I yell at you in anger, it’s probably a sin, but it’s probably just a venial sin if I was provoked enough.

    Anyway:

    Are you definitely telling me that according to Catholic theology Mary never did even one venial sin?

    Yes, absolutely.  I’ll find it in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  Let me look.

    • #151
  2. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Manny (View Comment):

    Yes, absolutely.  I’ll find it in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  Let me look.

    Well, that will definitely be worth me remembering!

    • #152
  3. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Manny (View Comment):

    Yes, absolutely.  I’ll find it in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  Let me look.

    I’m not finding it here. Just the stuff about original sin.

    • #153
  4. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

     

    Are you definitely telling me that according to Catholic theology Mary never did even one venial sin?

    The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

    “Mary benefited first of all and uniquely from Christ’s victory over sin: she was preserved from all stain of original sin and by a special grace of God committed no sin of any kind during her whole earthly life” (CCC 411). Mary had free will but, by that special grace, never rejected God.

    “The fathers of the Eastern tradition call the mother of God ‘the All-Holy’ (Panagia) and celebrate her as ‘free from any stain of sin, as though fashioned by the Holy Spirit and formed as a new creature.’ By the grace of God Mary remained free of every personal sin her whole life long” (CCC 493).

    “Mary goes before us all in the holiness that is the church’s mystery as the ‘bride without spot or wrinkle’ ” (CCC773). “Spot or wrinkle” refers to sin.

    • #154
  5. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Manny (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):
    Of course he is without sin. Because he’s G-d. And because the substitutionary atonement requires a spotless lamb. Those aren’t reasons that apply to Mary.

    I think it’s more than just he’s God. It’s in the second part of your answer. But you’ve only pushed the question. Why does it require a spotless lamb. It requires a spotless lamb because Adam had the stain of sin.

    I don’t read minds. I don’t know what you’re implying.

    “Spotless” is an analogy, a symbol of without sin.  Sin is crucial to the whole process.  It started the process of the fall and redemption requires the reversal of the process.  If Adam and Eve didn’t sin, none of Christ’s atonement would have been necessary.  God in His infinite wisdom chose a process that we limited human beings could understand through analogy and typology.  Salvation history is God shaped so man can understand it.  It was not by random events but clearly events God shaped for revelations.  Why is Mary a virgin in the first place?  God could have done anything.  He did it for clarity in His revelation.

    • #155
  6. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Manny (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

     

    Are you definitely telling me that according to Catholic theology Mary never did even one venial sin?

    The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

    “Mary benefited first of all and uniquely from Christ’s victory over sin: she was preserved from all stain of original sin and by a special grace of God committed no sin of any kind during her whole earthly life” (CCC 411). Mary had free will but, by that special grace, never rejected God.

    Does it say that?  In context:

    Furthermore many Fathers and Doctors of the Church have seen the woman announced in the “Proto-evangelium” as Mary, the mother of Christ, the “new Eve”. Mary benefited first of all and uniquely from Christ’s victory over sin: she was preserved from all stain of original sin and by a special grace of God committed no sin of any kind during her whole earthly life.306

    Yeah, it probably does say that.  That next sentence reads like its own statement on the importance of the former statement, not just a paraphrase.

    “The fathers of the Eastern tradition call the mother of God ‘the All-Holy’ (Panagia) and celebrate her as ‘free from any stain of sin, as though fashioned by the Holy Spirit and formed as a new creature.’ By the grace of God Mary remained free of every personal sin her whole life long” (CCC 493).

    Looks like the same situation.

    Golly.  I need to remember this.

    And thank you.

    • #156
  7. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Manny (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Manny (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):
    Of course he is without sin. Because he’s G-d. And because the substitutionary atonement requires a spotless lamb. Those aren’t reasons that apply to Mary.

    I think it’s more than just he’s God. It’s in the second part of your answer. But you’ve only pushed the question. Why does it require a spotless lamb. It requires a spotless lamb because Adam had the stain of sin.

    I don’t read minds. I don’t know what you’re implying.

    “Spotless” is an analogy, a symbol of without sin. Sin is crucial to the whole process. It started the process of the fall and redemption requires the reversal of the process. If Adam and Eve didn’t sin, none of Christ’s atonement would have been necessary. God in His infinite wisdom chose a process that we limited human beings could understand through analogy and typology. Salvation history is God shaped so man can understand it. It was not by random events but clearly events God shaped for revelations. Why is Mary a virgin in the first place? God could have done anything. He did it for clarity in His revelation.

    Yes, and you can also tell me any number of other things I also already know.  But I still can’t read your mind.

    • #157
  8. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    Manny (View Comment):

    (1) Typology. Christ is the new Adam, Mary is the New Eve.  Christ is sinless.  Why?  Because Adam sinned and Christ reverses Adam’s sin through His sinlessness.  Eve sinned.  Mary as new Eve has to be sinless to reverse the Eve’s sin.

    (2) Mary is the New Ark of the Covenant.  The Ark is Holy, without blemish, which is analogous to being without sin.  It was always Holy, not just for a temporal period.  Mary is continually holy, continually sinless.

    (3) Mary is immaculately conceived.  What does that fully mean?  It means she does not carry the burden of Adam and Eve as handed down through normal conception.  That’s where human sin originated.  She has not been exposed to that.

    (4) Mary is full of Grace.  We are holy and good through grace.  We sin without grace.  Think of full of grace as a glass full.  I on the other hand am only a glass with a finger full of grace.  I am full of non grace.  Mary is full, no room for sin.

    One thing that should be kept in mind in all this is that Mary’s “Yes” is in a direct opposition to Eve’s “no.”  There is a clear parallel.  Same reason why in Gospel of John Christ refers to her twice as “woman.”  In Chapter 2 (wedding feast of Cana) and at the foot of the cross.  “Woman behold your son.”  

    • #158
  9. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Manny (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

     

    Are you definitely telling me that according to Catholic theology Mary never did even one venial sin?

    The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

    “Mary benefited first of all and uniquely from Christ’s victory over sin: she was preserved from all stain of original sin and by a special grace of God committed no sin of any kind during her whole earthly life” (CCC 411). Mary had free will but, by that special grace, never rejected God.

    Does it say that? In context:

    Furthermore many Fathers and Doctors of the Church have seen the woman announced in the “Proto-evangelium” as Mary, the mother of Christ, the “new Eve”. Mary benefited first of all and uniquely from Christ’s victory over sin: she was preserved from all stain of original sin and by a special grace of God committed no sin of any kind during her whole earthly life.306

    Yeah, it probably does say that. That next sentence reads like its own statement on the importance of the former statement, not just a paraphrase.

    “The fathers of the Eastern tradition call the mother of God ‘the All-Holy’ (Panagia) and celebrate her as ‘free from any stain of sin, as though fashioned by the Holy Spirit and formed as a new creature.’ By the grace of God Mary remained free of every personal sin her whole life long” (CCC 493).

    Looks like the same situation.

    Golly. I need to remember this.

    And thank you.

    The parts in quotes are from the catechism.  Yes it says that.  Those are the paragraph numbers.

    • #159
  10. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Manny (View Comment):
    The parts in quotes are from the catechism.  Yes it says that.  Those are the paragraph numbers.

    I know what the quotes are. You missed the point of my query. But I already answered the query in your favor, so whatever.

    • #160
  11. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Manny (View Comment):
    One thing that should be kept in mind in all this is that Mary’s “Yes” is in a direct opposition to Eve’s “no.”  There is a clear parallel.  Same reason why in Gospel of John Christ refers to her twice as “woman.”  In Chapter 2 (wedding feast of Cana) and at the foot of the cross.  “Woman behold your son.”  

    All fine and dandy. Milton says good stuff in Paradise Lost about the seed of the woman and the virgin birth too.

    • #161
  12. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Manny (View Comment):
    One thing that should be kept in mind in all this is that Mary’s “Yes” is in a direct opposition to Eve’s “no.” There is a clear parallel. Same reason why in Gospel of John Christ refers to her twice as “woman.” In Chapter 2 (wedding feast of Cana) and at the foot of the cross. “Woman behold your son.”

    All fine and dandy. Milton says good stuff in Paradise Lost about the seed of the woman and the virgin birth too.

    Yes, Milton didn’t think it originally.  That’s right out of church fathers.  Irenaeus I think but probably several as well.

    • #162
  13. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Yes, I believe as the Church teaches that Mary was sinless. The Biblical example of a venial fault (a term I also had not heard) would be when she and Joseph left Jesus in the Temple at twelve years old. Obviously it wasn’t a rejection of God (Jesus). It was a mistake**. So Mary made mistakes, but her will was completely aligned (full of grace*, as the Angel says) with God’s will for her life. 

    *I’ve heard one of our apologists (could have been Tim Staples) expand on the meaning of the text there. I think our translations into English often don’t do scripture justice. To be “full of grace” suggests a completeness — Mary has already been redeemed by Christ from the moment of her conception. It is another of those seeming theological paradoxes that she had free will, but was preserved from sin from the get-go and throughout her (eternal) life. But, it’s just as true as Jesus being both God and man (Man). 

    **It was a revelatory mistake, wasn’t it? I mean that Jesus’ parents searched for him and found him on the third day. . . Maybe I’m slow, but I only recently came to realize this is foreshadowing of the Passion and Resurrection from Mary’s perspective.

    • #163
  14. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    Yes, I believe as the Church teaches that Mary was sinless. The Biblical example of a venial fault (a term I also had not heard) would be when she and Joseph left Jesus in the Temple at twelve years old. Obviously it wasn’t a rejection of God (Jesus). It was a mistake**. So Mary made mistakes, but her will was completely aligned (full of grace*, as the Angel says) with God’s will for her life.

    *I’ve heard one of our apologists (could have been Tim Staples) expand on the meaning of the text there. I think our translations into English often don’t do scripture justice. To be “full of grace” suggests a completeness — Mary has already been redeemed by Christ from the moment of her conception. It is another of those seeming theological paradoxes that she had free will, but was preserved from sin from the get-go and throughout her (eternal) life. But, it’s just as true as Jesus being both God and man (Man).

    **It was a revelatory mistake, wasn’t it? I mean that Jesus’ parents searched for him and found him on the third day. . . Maybe I’m slow, but I only recently came to realize this is foreshadowing of the Passion and Resurrection from Mary’s perspective.

    Thank you WC.  Yes, it took me some time to realize those three days too.  (I don’t mean at this moment, but from the time I first read that until it finally dawned on me.) As I states above, God coordinates those kind of “coincidences” for revelatory purposes.  It becomes a light bulb moment for humanity to see the symphony that is His creation and His existence.  The typology of salvation history is of the highest of such priorities when it comes to His revelation.

    • #164
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