As opposed to a theodicy (a justification for God’s actions), Plantinga puts forth a defense, offering a new proposition that is intended to demonstrate that it is logically possible for an omnibenevolent, omnipotent and omniscient God to create a world that contains moral evil. Significantly, Plantinga does not need to assert that his new proposition is true, merely that it is logically valid. In this way Plantinga’s approach differs from that of a traditional theodicy, which would strive to show not just that the new propositions are sound, but that they are also either true, prima facie plausible, or that there are good grounds for making them.[19] Thus the burden of proof on Plantinga is lessened, and yet his approach may still serve as a defense against the claim by Mackie that the simultaneous existence of evil and an omnipotent and omnibenevolent God is “positively irrational”.[15]

As Plantinga summarised his defense:[20][21]

A world containing creatures who are 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 can’t cause ordetermine them to do only what is right. For if He does so, then they aren’t 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; and He can’t give these creatures the freedom to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so. As it turned out, sadly enough, some of the free creatures God created went wrong in the exercise of their freedom; this is the source ofmoral evil. The fact that free creatures sometimes go wrong, however, counts neither against God’s omnipotence nor against His goodness; for He could have forestalled the occurrence of moral evil only by removing the possibility of moral good.

Plantinga’s argument is that even though God is omnipotent, it is possible that it was not in his power to create a world containing moral good but no moral evil; therefore, there is no logical inconsistency involved when God, although wholly good, creates a world of free creatures who chose to do evil.[13] The argument relies on the following propositions:

  1. There are possible worlds that even an omnipotent being can not actualize.
  2. A world with morally free creatures producing only moral good is such a world.

Plantinga refers to the first statement as “Leibniz’s lapse” as the opposite was assumed by Leibniz.[22]The second proposition is more contentious. Plantinga rejects the compatibilist notion of freedom whereby God could directly cause agents to only do good without sacrificing their freedom. Although it would contradict a creature’s freedom if God were to cause, or in Plantinga’s terms strongly actualize, a world where creatures only do good, an omniscient God would still know the circumstances under which creatures would go wrong. Thus, God could avoid creating such circumstances, thereby weakly actualizing a world with only moral good. Plantinga’s crucial argument is that this possibility may not be available to God because all possible morally free creatures suffer from “transworld depravity”.

Transworld depravityEdit

Plantinga’s idea of weakly actualizing a world can be viewed as having God actualizing a subset of the world, letting the free choices of creatures complete the world. Therefore, it is certainly possible that a person completes the world by only making morally good choices; that is, there exist possible worlds where a person freely chooses to do no moral evil. However, it may be the case that for each such world, there is some morally significant choice that this person would do differently if these circumstances were to occur in the actual world. In other words, each such possible world contains a world segment, meaning everything about that world up to the point where the person must make that critical choice, such that if that segment was part of the actual world, the person would instead go wrong in completing that world. Formally, transworld depravityis defined as follows:[23]

A person P suffers from transworld depravity if and only if the following holds: for every world W such that Pis significantly free in W and P does only what is right in W, there is an action A and a maximal world segment  such that

  1.  includes A ‘s being morally significant for P
  2.  includes P ‘s being free with respect to A
  3.  is included in W and includes neither P ‘s performing A nor P ‘s refraining from performing A
  4. If  were actual, P would go wrong with respect to A.

Less formally: Consider all possible (not actual) worlds in which you always choose the right. In all those, there will be a subpart of the world that says you were free to choose a certain right or wrong action, but does not say whether you chose it. If that subpart were actual (in the real world), then you’d chose the wrong.

Plantinga says that “What is important about the idea of transworld depravity is that if a person suffers from it, then it wasn’t within God’s power to actualize any world in which that person is significantly free but does no wrong—that is, a world in which he produces moral good but no moral evil”[23] and that it is logically possible that every person suffers from transworld depravity.[24]


2 thoughts on “Defense

  1. This explanation rules out God’s Omnipotence as it asserts that there are things God cannot do, such as create a world where free will and only doing good would co-exist.

    What of God’s Omniscience? If God knew all things even before they happen, then God should have known that his creatures and his creation would be full of evil and suffering. He still went ahead and created them? Or should we assume that our free will puts limits on God’s Omniscience? It is very hard to think that God is watching our suffering and thinking, oh well, they have free will. There are people who are committing suicide because they cannot deal with their suffering on this earth.

    An apple tree can only produce apples, not oranges or peanuts. A wholly good God would only produce wholly good creatures. Why is free will even an issue?

    For the sin of 2 people listening to the serpent in the Garden of Eden, the entire lot of humanity and animals have been cursed and, death, suffering and evil have become a certainty for all. All this due to the sin of 2 people? It’s mind boggling. We are told that after Adam and Eve’s fall, we are all born sinful. Is it ethical? We didn’t choose to be born. Couldn’t God have said, oh well, I think it’s too high a price for them to pay, let me shuck this whole experiment???

    It is a value judgment to assume that free will is preferable to non free will. From where I am sitting, I would have preferred to be created wholly good, with no desire to do evil, free will be damn…

    We are assured that after the Final Judgement and we are finally in Heaven, this state will be eternal, as in forever. Does that mean God will take away our free will in Heaven to make sure we always do good? If Satan and one third of Angels fell from heaven, what is to say that after the final judgement, some of us would not be falling and the cycle would repeat itself?

    Those are the metaphysical and spiritual issues I am grappling with. I so want to remain Christian, but I am not seeing where these concerns are addressed. So I keep scouring the net for someone to explain those things to me.


  2. @Desperate4Truth…while I don’t have the perfect answer to your question about Heaven, I believe we will have free will, but there won’t be temptations like before the Fall. There will be no Tempter, and there will be no Tree of Good and Evil. Also, we will no longer have a sin nature. In the garden, there was the Tempter and there was the Tree. The only Tree mentioned in our future in Heaven is Tree of Life.


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