Best feasible worlds: divine freedom and Leibniz’s Lapse

Abstract

William L. Rowe’s argument against divine freedom has drawn considerable attention from theist philosophers. One reply to Rowe’s argument that has emerged in the recent literature appeals to modified accounts of libertarian freedom which have the result that God may be free even if he necessarily actualizes the best possible world. Though in many ways attractive, this approach appears to lead to the damning consequence of modal collapse i.e., that the actual world is the only possible world. But appearances can be deceiving, and in this paper I argue that the threat of modal collapse dissolves when we consider Alvin Plantinga’s critique of the purportedly Leibnizian notion that God can actualize any possible world, and incorporate the implications of this critique into the divine freedom debate. Developing a suggestion by Edward R. Wierenga, I argue first that the modal collapse objection fails within a Molinist context, and then I extend the discussion beyond that context to show that the objection also fails on the assumption that Molinism is false.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Notes

  1. 1.

    See also Rowe’s critique of Adams in (Rowe (2004), pp. 74–87).

  2. 2.

    Rowe points out that this no-best-world thesis has a long history in philosophical theology, and he devotes a chapter to Aquinas’ defense of this claim. Among contemporary philosophers we see the no-best-world thesis as far back as Plantinga (1974a).

  3. 3.

    For example, consider Stump (1999) and Stump (2001).

  4. 4.

    The idea appears in Morriston (2006), Rowe (2007), Senor (2008) and Wierenga (2007).

  5. 5.

    Here we are bracketing considerations of God’s character that might incline him toward only best worlds.

  6. 6.

    Even if one were agnostic about whether the best possible world contains free creatures, the modal collapse objection turns out to be inconclusive, since the modal collapse objection must hold that the best possible world contains no free creatures. A brief defense of the value of a complex world including free agents appears in Hasker (2011). The value of a world of free creatures is also defended by Swinburne (2004), who holds that God’s creating some humanly free agents and his not creating humanly free agents (not knowing if creatures will abuse their freedom) are equal-best acts. (Even on that assumption, a world in which creatures use their freedom for good would seem to be a candidate for a best possible world.)

References

  1. Adams, R. M. (2001). Must God create the best? In W. L. Rowe (Ed.), God and the problem of evil. Malden, MS: Blackwell Publishers Inc.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Flint, T. P. (1998). Divine providence: The molinist account. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Hasker, W. (2011). An open theist theodicy of natural evil. In K. Perszyk (Ed.), Molinism: The contemporary debate (pp. 281–302). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Kvanvig, J. L. (2011). Destiny and deliberation. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  5. Morris, T. V. (1987). The necessity of God’s goodness. In A. Explorations (Ed.), Notre. Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Morriston, W. (2006). Is God free: Reply to Wierenga. Faith and Philosophy, 23, 93–98.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Plantinga, A. (1974a). God, freedom, and evil. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Plantinga, A. (1974b). The nature of necessity. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Pruss, A. (2007). Prophecy without middle knowledge. Faith and Philosophy, 24(4), 433–457.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Rowe, W. L. (2004). Can God be free?. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Rowe, W. L. (2007). Response to Wierenga’s critical discussion of can God be free? Philosophical Books, 48, 219–220.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Senor, T. (2008). Defending divine freedom. In J. Kvanvig (Ed.), Oxford studies in philosophy of religion (Vol. 1). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Stump, E. (1999). Alternative possibilities and moral responsibility: The Flicker of freedom. The Journal of Ethics, 3(4), 299–324.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Stump, E. (2001). Augustine on free will. In Stump & Kretzmann (Eds.), The Cambridge companion to Augustine. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Swinburne, R. (2004). The existence of God (2nd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  16. Timpe, K. (2013). Free will in philosophical theology. London: Bloomsbury Academic Press.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Wierenga, E. R. (2002). The freedom of God. Faith and Philosophy, 19(4), 425–436.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Wierenga, E. R. (2007). Perfect goodness and divine freedom. Philosophical Books, 48(3), 207–216.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

Thanks to Joel Chopp, Dan Dake, Harold Netland, and two anonymous referees for comments on earlier versions of this essay. Special thanks are owed to Dan Dake, whose unpublished work on divine freedom inspired this paper.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Justin Mooney.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Mooney, J. Best feasible worlds: divine freedom and Leibniz’s Lapse. Int J Philos Relig 77, 219–229 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11153-014-9497-7

Download citation

Keywords

  • Divine freedom
  • Best possible world
  • Libertarianism
  • Leibniz’s Lapse
  • Molinism