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A simpler free will defence


Otte (Philos Phenomenol 78(1):165–177, 2009) and Pruss (Faith Philos 29(4):400–415, 2012) have produced counterexamples to Plantinga’s (The nature of necessity, 1974) famous free will defence against the logical version of the problem of evil. The target of this criticism is the possibility of universal transworld depravity, which is crucial to Plantinga’s defence. In this paper, we argue that there is a simpler and more plausible free will defence that does not require the possibility of universal transworld depravity or the truth of counterfactuals of creaturely freedom. We assume only (a) that libertarianism is possibly true and (b) that God’s existence is consistent with the existence of free agents who never go wrong. We conclude the paper by explaining how our defence may be able to succeed without assuming (a), in a way that is consistent with compatibilism.

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  1. 1.

    For example, Adams (1985) writes, ‘I think it is fair to say that Plantinga has solved this problem.’ Rowe (1979) writes of Plantinga’s defence, ‘granted incompatibilism, there is a fairly compelling argument for the view that the existence of evil is logically consistent with the existence of the theistic God.’ Before arguing against Plantinga’s FWD, DeRose (1991) writes, ‘I think it is not an exaggeration to say that in some circles, Plantinga is thought to have scored a victory over the “atheologians” with respect to this form of the problem of evil that is about as decisive as philosophical victories get.’

  2. 2.

    See Otte (2009) and Pruss (2012).

  3. 3.

    For defences of the possibility of the existence of God, see Swinburne (1993), Maydole (2003), or Bernstein (2014).

  4. 4.

    Something’s essence is the set of its essential properties.

  5. 5.

    A property P entails a property Q if the following is true: \(\Box (\forall \hbox {x})(\hbox {Px} \rightarrow \hbox {Qx})\).

  6. 6.

    We are restricting this to cases of non-derivative freedom.

  7. 7.

    We understand the notion of sharing initial world segments in terms of hard facts. A hard fact is a fact that does not stand in a temporal relation to the future. Prior to the agent’s making some decision at a time t, there are at least two distinct worlds that are identical with respect to their hard facts prior to t. According to Fischer (2011), ‘For any action Y, agent S, and time t, S can perform Y (freely) at t only if there is a possible world with the same “hard” past up to t as the actual world in which S does Y at t.’

  8. 8.

    One reply comes from classical theism, according to which God, if he exists, exists necessarily. Since it is clearly conceivable that God does not exist, it is either possible that God does not exist, or there is evidence that it is possible that he does not exist, both of which undermine the classical theist conception of God. Perhaps this argument is not open to theists who think God is necessary. However, God’s being contingent is consistent with our FWD, and so the theist who thinks God is contingent (e.g. Swinburne 2012) has access to this argument from conceivability.


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Correspondence to C’Zar Bernstein.

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Bernstein, C., Helms, N. A simpler free will defence. Int J Philos Relig 77, 197–203 (2015).

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  • Free will defence
  • God
  • Problem of evil
  • Free Will
  • Libertarianism