Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Friendly Atheist on Edwardsian Freedom:
Part 4

In our final analysis of Rowe's arguments against Edwards' understanding of freedom, Rowe deals directly with the subject of divine freedom. Rowe first states that the libertarian conception of freedom can't apply to God because it is never possible for God to do less than the best thing at all times.
"God cannot do otherwise than what he sees to be best. Yet we praise him and thank him for so doing. Moreover, the Arminian holds that it is right and proper to thank God and praise him for doing the best, even though he cannot fail to do so. Well then, why insist that a human being must have been able not to do the good act if he is to be praiseworthy for doing that good act?"

The inability, according to Rowe, of Arminian theologians to provide for libertarian freedom with respect to God's always doing what is best is a "serious defect." Rowe goes on to demonstrate what he believes to be the biggest problem with Edwardsian divine freedom; a criticism which he seems to know that the Edwardsian thinker would not find troublesome:
"But given that God sees that bringing about some state of affairs is the best thing (all things considered) for him to do, God necessarily causes that state of affairs to be actual. Indeed, if it were in his power not to cause that state of affairs to be actual, it would be in his power to do less good than he can. But it cannot be in God’s power to do less good than he can. For if it were, it would be in his power to cease to be perfectly good. And, being necessarily perfect, it cannot be in God’s power to cease to be perfectly good" (Pg. 73).

He then makes this interesting and revealing anaysis:
"Of course, none of the considerations just described would deter Edwards from ascribing freedom to God. For Edwards does not require a power to do otherwise as essential to freedom. If a being is free to do as he wills, then, according to Edwards that being is free in doing what he wills. It doesn’t matter that the being in question is unable to will and do otherwise" (Pg. 73).

Could God do evil? According to Rowe, (without citation of Edwards) Edwards claims that God could do evil. Surely what Edwards meant by this was that God has the power to do evil if he wills it. However, given that God's nature is such that he always does what is best, it would be a contradiction for God to do less than what is best at any given moment. Therefore it is possible, according to God's power, for him to do evil, but not according to his moral ability. Rowe finds this to be completely unsatisfactory. His final sentence on Edwards reveals his frustration.
"Never mind that it is impossible for God to will to do evil. It is only in some such Pickwickian sense that Edwards can say that God has power to do other than what he sees to be best."

So Rowe clearly finds compatiblistic freedom to be compelling, and effective for dealing with libertarian freedom. But like a man who has just used his tommy gun to dispatch a roomful of enemies, Rowe throws the gun at his feet and grumbles that it's too lightweight.

He seems, himself, unable to account for libertarian freedom in God (he doesn't have to since he doesn't believe in him), and yet in the end he won't be satisfied with the compatiblistic account of God's freedom unless God is able to act in contradiction to his nature. By calling this idea of freedom Pickwickian, he is saying that it is simple. This is less an argument than a preference; again, Rowe seems to arbitrarily relegate simplicity to the realm of forbidden attributes, but without much real justification.

My take on Rowe's conclusion is that there is frustration that he cannot seal the deal in his criticism of Edwards. Rowe knows that any reader who believes compatiblistic freedom is coherent with respect both to God as well as man will see no issue with his concluding analysis. Those who want God to be able to do evil will go with Rowe, but the man has hardly placed a scratch, in my opinion, on Edwards' position, and I believe that Rowe is aware of it.

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