Alvin Plantinga is a leading thinker in the realm of Christian and theistic philosophy. As such, he offers some very cogent arguments for philosophical dilemma’s facing Christianity. The two I shall examine here are the problem of evil and proof for the existence of God.
To answer the problem of evil, Plantinga attempts to argue from a definition of intrinsic characteristics for morals and the world that must be true in all possible worlds. You can read the explanation and analysis below.
To answer the proofs for the existence of God, Plantinga reformulates the ontological argument as follows:
1. Define God: God is that than which no greater can be conceived.
2. It is greater to exist not only in the mind or in the imagination but also independently of the imagination (i.e. in reality) than to exist only in the imagination.
3. It is possible to conceive of that than which no greater can be conceived.
4. It is possible to conceive of God existing not only in the mind but also in reality.
5. If God exists only in the imagination but not in reality then (because of 2.) it is possible to conceive of a being greater than that than which no greater can be conceived.
6. 5. self-contradicts.
7. Therefore, the protasis of 5. must be false (i.e. God exist only in the imagination….)
8. Therefore, God exists not only in the mind but also in reality.
** The entire argument depends on the very nature of God himself and, thus, it hinges on the actual definition of the term God.
You can read the entire synopsis below, or click here.
THE PROBLEM OF EVIL
Many philosophers have held that the existence of evil is such a glaring blemish on the face of theism that it essentially renders belief in God, at least the Christian God, as incoherent. It is this claim that has caused Plantinga to take up the pen to defend the coherence of theism. Plantinga’s resolution for the problem of evil and the supposed contradiction of the existence of a good God is what he calls the Free Will Defense.
The propositions asserted by atheologians, one who “offers arguments against the existence of God,” do not themselves, via the strictures of logic, lead to a formal inconsistency. The two usual propositions are:
- God is omnipotent, omniscient, and wholly good.
- There is evil in the world.
These two propositions do not, by themselves, lead to a valid conclusion. Thus, a third proposition that is consistent with one of the propositions and necessarily entails the other must be found to either vindicate or destroy theism. Thus,
At this point Plantinga offers some “preliminary definitions and distinctions.” First, freedom entails the ability to freely choose or reject an action – “no casual laws and antecedent conditions determine either that” the individual will or will not perform the action. A morally significant action is one that is morally wrong to perform or right to abstain from, or vice versa. Thus, to be significantly free is to be “free with respect to an action that is morally significant.” Lastly, Plantinga differentiates between moral evil and natural evil. Moral evil is the result of a “human being’s going wrong with respect to an action that is morally significant for him.” On the other hand, natural evil are those misfortunes of nature like earthquakes and tsunamis.
Given the definition of terms, Plantinga delineates the Free Will Defense as follows:
A world containing creatures whom are sometimes significantly free (and freely perform more good than evil actions) is more valuable, all else being equal, than a world containing no free creatures at all. Now God can create free creatures, but he cannot cause or determine them to do only what is right. For if he does so, then they are not significantly free after all; they do not do what is right freely. To create creatures capable of moral good, therefore, he must create creatures capable of moral evil; he cannot leave these creatures free to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so. God did in fact create significantly free creatures; but some of them went wrong in the exercise of their freedom: this is the source of moral evil.
Plantinga believes that the vindicating third proposition is both found in the above statement and is the core of the Free Will Defense. It “is the claim that it is possible that God could not have created a universe containing moral good…without creating one containing moral evil.”
However, at this juncture Plantinga addresses a difficult objection. Since we are supposing that God is omnipotent, omniscient, and wholly good, then surely it is possible that God could have simply created a world “containing significantly free creatures who always do what is right.” After all, cannot an omnipotent God create “any logically possible world?” The Free Will Defender answers, no, claiming that, although God is omnipotent, He “could not have created just any possible world he pleased.” Because Plantinga directly limits the activity of God in order to preserve the creature’s freedom and culpability in relation to actions, it can be said that God only brings into existence objects and not properties, numbers, propositions, or states of affairs. Thus, all states of affairs potentially exist. They only become actualized when both God so orchestrates the variables necessary to bring about the said state of affairs, and as the actions of significantly free agents bring to pass, in the communing of particular events and variables, the state of affairs presented to them by God’s orchestrated variables. Thus, when you combine Plantinga’s demand that a morally good universe necessitates moral evil, which by default entails the property of trans-world depravity in man in all possible worlds, with the semi-autonomy of significantly free individuals, then the product is one that only allows for the state of affairs that have so far existed in this actual world.
It strikes me as unsettlingly odd when brilliant men present their arguments as robed in the finest of logic and rhetoric when in actuality they are as naked as the emperor with no clothes. The Free Will Defense was a fun philosophical and logical read. However, Plantinga’s argument suffers from two fatal and irresolvable flaws. First, and perhaps most significantly, if Plantinga mandates that the ability to do good necessarily entails the same capacity to do evil, then how does he account for God’s moral purity? Does not God always do what is righteous and good? Yet, God does not possess even the minutest ability to do evil. If God can be called morally culpable, albeit only to Himself, even though He cannot sin, then there must exist a more consistent and correct understanding of both moral responsibility and the exercise of free agency.
Second, although Plantinga’s argument at hand does not mention middle knowledge, the actual truths of middle knowledge are in almost every paragraph of his exposition of the Free Will Defense. Middle knowledge can be defined as that knowledge in God “by which God knows absolutely what men will freely do without having specifically decreed their actions, ‘since [He] knows what any free creature would do in any situation [and thus] can, by creating the appropriate situations, bring it about that creatures will achieve his ends and purposes and … will do so freely.’” However, the irresolvable flaw in this reasoning is that the arbitrary and undetermined actions of individuals are, by definition unknowable – even when God has so foreordained the circumstances surrounding the actions. Thus, if man is truly arbitrary in his choices, then God is no longer omniscient in his knowledge. As Dr. Reymond rightly states, “Created forces cannot be independent forces and independent forces cannot be created forces.”
 I.e. it is possible to have God in the imagination.
 Alvin Plantinga, The Nature of Necessity (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979), 165.
 Ibid, 165.
 Ibid, 165.
 Ibid, 166.
 Ibid, 166-167.
 Ibid, 167.
 Ibid, 168.
 While originally developed by the Jesuits and later assimilated by Arminians, in our day Plantinga is one of the leading proponents of middle knowledge.
 Ibid, 189.