The final theodicy I will address is that provided in Plantinga’s (1978) Molinist response to the logical problem of evil. Plantinga only aims to provide a weak sort of theodicy, an account of how it could be that God was unable to bring about a greater balance of moral goods than moral evils without permitting some moral evils. This weak sort of theodicy is often called a defense. Plantinga presents his defense as explicitly committed to libertarianism. He writes, ‘If a person S is free with respect to a given action, then he is free to perform that action and free to refrain; no causal laws and antecedent conditions determine either that he will perform the action, or that he will not (Plantinga 1978: 167).’ However, I aim to show here two ways in which a theological determinist might adapt Plantinga’s strategy to provide free will theodicies of her own.
Plantinga’s basic strategy is to propose that it is possible that there is a group of facts with two features. First, the truth value of the facts is independent of divine volition. God cannot do anything about these facts; God simply confronts the facts, we might say, at the logical moment of his creative decision. Second, the facts are such that they ensure that if God is to create a world containing certain kinds of freedom goods, God must permit there to be moral evils. In particular, Plantinga proposes that the facts are such that they ensure that if God is to create a world containing a greater balance of moral goods (and, moral goods are by definition freedom goods) than moral evils, God must permit some moral evils.
In Plantinga’s account, the facts that he proposes might have these two features are counterfactuals of creaturely freedom. These facts specify how created agents would freely behave under a complete set of circumstances. As an illustration, one such fact would report how you would freely behave in exactly the circumstances in which you currently find yourself. On Plantinga’s view, there is a complete set of such facts in any possible world. For any possible created agent S, any action A, and any complete set of circumstances C, it is either true that were S in C, S would freely do A, or it is true that were S in C, S would not freely do A. On Plantinga’s view, the truth values of these counterfactuals of creaturely freedom are not only independent of divine volition but they can vary from one possible world to another. As we might put it, when God decides to create, the counterfactuals of creaturely freedom happen to be one way, though they could have been another, and the way they are is not up to God. Plantinga proposes that it could have been that the complete set of counterfactuals of creaturely freedom happened to have a combination of truth values such that if God is to create a world containing more moral good than moral evil, God will have to permit moral evils. Since it is not unreasonable to think God might prefer to create such a world rather than to refrain from creating, it is not unreasonable to think that it might have been that God created a world containing moral evils, because it was only by doing so that he could create a world containing the freedom good of a greater amount of moral goods.
My proposal here is that there are two ways in which a theological determinist can adapt the basic strategy of Plantinga’s free will theodicy. The two ways differ with respect to which facts the theological determinist proposes play the role played by the counterfactuals of creaturely freedom in Plantinga’s own theodicy.
Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, the first proposal is that the facts that play the role played by the counterfactuals of creaturely freedom in Plantinga’s theodicy are these very counterfactuals of creaturely freedom. In other words, the proposal is that theological determinists adopt all of the details of Plantinga’s proposal, except for his commitment to libertarianism. We might call such a theological determinist a compatibilist Molinist (since she thinks that free actions are compatible with causal determinism), where we would call Plantinga an incompatibilist Molinist (since he thinks free actions are incompatible with causal determinism).
As it turns out, compatibilist Molinism is not without motivation. Indeed, some of the most challenging criticisms of Plantinga’s (and others’) Molinism have argued that this Molinist view is inconsistent with an incompatibilist theory of free action, and so inconsistent with the libertarian view that Plantinga affirms. In particular, I have in mind arguments that conclude that if there were true counterfactuals of creaturely freedom, their truth would imply that any free actions of creatures were compatible with causal determinism.Footnote 21 These arguments proceed by noting that if there were true counterfactuals of creaturely freedom, they would be past facts. But, the truth of these past facts, together with the truth of past facts concerning God’s creative decisions to actualize the circumstances specified in the antecedents of these counterfactuals of creaturely freedom, entails that the free acts reported in the consequents of these conditionals occur as they are reported. Thus, each so-called ‘free’ act is the logical consequence of past facts. Yet, this is sufficient for the thesis of causal determinism to be true, at least as it concerns ‘free’ acts. For, the thesis of causal determinism simply states that each future fact is the consequence of past facts and the laws of nature. Yet, any fact that is the consequence of past facts alone is also the consequence of those past facts together with the laws of nature, since logical consequence is monotonic (i.e., if p is a logical consequence of q, then for any r, p is a logical consequence of q and r). Accordingly, if the acts specified in the consequents of counterfactuals of creaturely freedom really are free acts, then compatibilism is true. For, the occurrence of these free acts is compatible with these acts being causally determined.
Incompatibilist Molinists of course have their responses to such arguments. Nonetheless, such arguments are taken by many contemporary philosophers to present a serious challenge to incompatibilist Molinism. My own impression is that, typically, philosophers who find these arguments against incompatibilist Molinism persuasive take this to be a reason to give up on pursuing the sort of free will theodicy defended by Plantinga. Yet, a different option—the option that interests me here—is the option of taking such arguments to instead motivate compatibilist Molinism. Grant that these arguments succeed in showing that the truth of counterfactuals of creaturely freedom would entail that any free acts are compatible with causal determinism. But keep Plantinga’s Molinist free will theodicy. Simply affirm, as the theological determinist does, that all the free acts that exist are causally determined.
On the compatibilist Molinist view I am proposing, God, in the moment of creative decision, is confronted with the truth of a complete set of counterfactuals of creaturely freedom. The truth values of these counterfactuals are not up to God. Indeed, as on some incompatibilist Molinist views (e.g., Flint 1998), the counterfactuals of creaturely freedom are simply brute facts.Footnote 22 As with Plantinga’s Molinism, it could have been that the combination of truth values of these counterfactuals of creaturely freedom was such that God was only able to create a world containing the freedom good of a greater balance of moral goods than moral evils if God permitted moral evils. And, as on Plantinga’s Molinism, it is not unreasonable to think that God might have preferred, given that this was how things were, to create a world containing more moral good than moral evil than to not create at all. In this way, the theological determinist simply employs Plantinga’s own story, minus its libertarianism, to explain how it could have been that there were freedom goods God could only achieve by permitting moral evils.
How plausible is the compatibilist Molinist story in comparison to Plantinga’s original incompatibilist Molinist story? The answer to this question will turn on whether it is any less plausible for the theological determinist to affirm the existence of counterfactuals of creaturely freedom with truth values independent of the divine will than for the incompatibilist to do so. Exploring this topic in detail is, I think, a topic ripe for further future exploration. It is not something I can attend to with sufficient care here. Nonetheless, I will engage briefly with one attempt to show that incompatibilist Molinism is on better footing in affirming these counterfactuals than is compatibilist Molinism.Footnote 23 By doing so, I hope to illustrate that arguing for the superiority of incompatibilist Molinism over compatibilist Molinism may not be as simple as some readers may initially suspect.
One might think that the incompatibilist Molinist has the following significant advantage over the compatibilist Molinist. She, but not her compatibilist cousin, can offer a straightforward and attractive explanation of why the counterfactuals of creaturely freedom cannot be subject to the divine will. The explanation is just that these counterfactuals are facts about the free acts of creatures. But, since the incompatibilist Molinist is an incompatibilist, she will affirm that facts about the free acts of creatures cannot be subject to the will of anyone other than those creatures they are about. And so, these facts cannot be subject to the divine will. However, a compatibilist Molinist, by contrast, cannot say that counterfactuals of creaturely freedom cannot be subject to the divine will simply because they are facts about the free actions of creatures, and facts about the free actions of creatures cannot be subject to the will of anyone other than those creatures.
While tempting, this way of arguing that incompatibilist Molinism is more plausible than compatibilist Molinism is misleading. There are lots of ways for facts to be about the free actions of creatures. But, only some of these ways for facts to be facts about the free actions of creatures are ways where it is more plausible given incompatibilism than compatibilism that these facts cannot be up to the will of anyone other than those whom the facts are about. In particular, what is plausible is that it is more plausible given incompatibilism than compatibilism that facts that simply report that some creature performed some free act cannot be up to the divine will, since they cannot be up to the will of anyone other than the actor whom they are about. But, the counterfactuals of creaturely freedom are not about free acts in this way. They do not simply report that some creature performs some free act. Rather, they report what a creature would freely do in a set of circumstances. And it is not at all clear why it would be more plausible given incompatibilism than compatibilism that facts that are about the free actions of creatures in this way cannot be subject to the divine will.
That this particular attempt to argue that incompatibilist Molinism provides a more plausible free will theodicy than compatibilist Molinism fails does not entail that there is no way to show that incompatibilist Molinism is more plausible than compatibilism Molinism. Nonetheless, its failure does illustrate that arguing that incompatibilist Molinism is superior to compatibilism Molinism may be more difficult than some readers might initially assume. This should be enough to generate interest among readers in pursuing the project of comparatively evaluating incompatibilist and compatibilist versions of Molinism in the future. I offer, then, compatibilist Molinism as one way in which theological determinists can adapt Plantinga’s strategy to offer a free will theodicy.
Turn now to a second way in which theological determinists might adapt Plantinga’s free will theodicy. On this approach, the facts that play the role played by the counterfactuals of creaturely freedom in Plantinga’s Molinist theodicy are not counterfactuals of creaturely freedom. They are instead necessary truths constituted by or derivable from laws of nature about human persons. They state, for example, that, necessarily, if human persons develop in such a way as to form the kinds of complex social arrangements necessary for producing freedom goods of collective exercises of significant control, then these human persons will commit moral evils along the way.Footnote 24 Or, they may instead make similar, more specific statements about particular human persons in particular social arrangements necessary for particular exercises of collective responsibility committing particular moral wrongs. When I refer to such facts as either constituted by or derivable from laws of nature, I intend to be supposing a conception of laws of nature, recently given much attention,Footnote 25 according to which laws of nature are more than mere Humean generalizations, but are instead made true by the nature of those entities they are about. It is human nature, on this proposal, which accounts for the truth of the laws from which the facts I have in mind are either constituted or derived. On the view I am proposing, it is because human nature is the way that it is that human persons cannot develop the kinds of complex social relations necessary for achieving freedom goods of collective exercises of significant control without committing some moral evils.Footnote 26 It is moreover proposed that these facts that are constituted by or are derivable from facts about human nature have the two features of Plantinga’s counterfactuals. They are independent of divine volition, and they are such that they ensure that God is not able to bring about a world containing certain freedom goods without permitting moral evils. The particular freedom goods that are in focus here are freedom goods that require the collective exercise of significant responsibility. The proposal, more fully, is that, in light of the facts about human nature, God could not have achieved a world with a greater balance of moral goods than moral evils, where the total set of moral goods included goods requiring collective exercises of significant control, without permitting moral evils.Footnote 27
We might call the foregoing adaptation of Plantinga’s free will theodicy the bad human nature theodicy. One important way in which it differs from the compatibilist Molinist theodicy is that it allows the theological determinist to maintain that all contingent facts are subject to the divine will. This is because the facts that play the role of counterfactuals of creaturely freedom in this theodicy are not contingent facts. This difference is worth pointing out because many who have been attracted to theological determinism of the kind in view in this paper have also wished to maintain that all contingent facts are subject to the divine will. Indeed, the term ‘theological determinism’ is frequently reserved for just such a view.
If we wish to assess the comparative merits of this bad human nature theodicy versus Plantinga’s original Molinist theodicy, the central question will concern whether it is more plausible to affirm the existence of Plantinga’s counterfactuals of creaturely freedom than to affirm the existence of the facts featured in the bad human nature theodicy. We have already seen that there is a large literature devoted to assessing the plausibility of affirming the existence of Plantinga’s counterfactuals, including arguments aiming to show that their existence is implausible, or that it is implausible given incompatibilism. My focus here will be on assessing the plausibility of the facts featured in the bad human nature theodicy. And, while I cannot offer a completely thorough assessment of the plausibility of their existence here, I will offer some comments in favor of their plausibility and respond to some objections to their plausibility, inviting readers to join with me in more fully evaluating these considerations and others in the near future.
One important observation on behalf of the existence of the facts featuring in the bad human nature theodicy is the empirical evidence. Every known historical instance of a human community that has developed the kinds of social arrangements necessary for collective exercises of significant responsibility has been one in which moral evils were committed along the way to this social formation. The facts that feature in the bad human nature theodicy provide a powerful explanation of this empirical evidence. The reason every known historical case in which a human community has developed the kinds of social arrangements necessary for collective exercises of significant responsibility has been one in which moral evils have been committed along the way is that this is simply part of human nature. This is how things have to be for human persons, given the way human persons are. (Indeed, more broadly, the advocate of the bad human nature theodicy will likely go even further to claim that this is how things must be for created beings capable of collective exercises of significant control more generally. For, the only empirical evidence we have concerning any beings of this kind indicates that none of those beings can achieve freedom goods of collective exercises of significant control without committing moral evils along the way. Yet, it is difficult to identify a reason for thinking that human beings are unique in this respect among other creatable beings—that there is special reason to think that humans would be bad. Indeed, Plantinga’s own original Molinist theodicy treats human beings on part with other creatable beings with respect to the kind of badness that features in his view—transworld depravity. Likewise, an advocate of the bad human nature theodicy will likely think that what she says for humans goes for other creatable beings as well—hers is a ‘bad creatable beings’ theodicy.)
To just what extent does the empirical evidence favor the bad human nature theodicy? One strategy for trying to show that it does not favor it substantially is to argue that the bad human nature account of the relevant empirical evidence is less attractive than accounts of this evidence only available to libertarians. And, indeed, there is one especially common such explanation in the philosophical literature of theists who are committed to libertarianism. It is the proposal that human nature as such is not such as to make the facts featuring in the bad human nature theodicy true, but rather that corrupted human nature is such as to make these facts true. And, this corrupted human nature resulted as a consequence for moral evils committed by uncorrupted human persons, where these moral evils involved the commission of free acts that were incompatible with causal determinism. I am referring, of course, to a libertarian understanding of the doctrine of the fall.Footnote 28
One important reason for favoring this fallen human nature account of the relevant empirical evidence is that it appears to cohere better with the fact that it is conceivable that there be a society of human persons which develops the relations necessary for collective exercises of significant control without there being moral evils committed along the way. If conceivability is evidence for possibility, then the conceivability of such a society provides evidence against the bad human nature explanation of the relevant empirical data. For, the bad human nature account of the empirical evidence entails that it is not possible that there would be a human society with the sorts of relations necessary for exercises of significant responsibility without the members of this society committing moral evils during its formation. The libertarian account of this evidence, by contrast, is arguably consistent with the possibility of there being human persons who achieve all manner of freedom goods without there being any moral evils. Indeed, this possibility was a shared commitment of both Plantinga and his interlocutors at the time of his writing. Plantinga’s view was that it was possible that the counterfactuals of creaturely freedom were such that God could not achieve a world with certain freedom goods without there being moral evils, but, because these counterfactuals are contingent, it was also possible that God could achieve a world with those same freedom goods without there being moral evils. The latter possibility, however, is denied by the bad human nature theodicy. At least, it is denied if the moral goods are to include moral goods that require the collective exercise of significant control. Accordingly, if conceivability is evidence of possibility, then there is evidence favoring the libertarian, fallen human nature account of the relevant empirical evidence over the bad human nature account.
There is of course a significant literature devoted to assessing whether and to what extent conceivability is evidence for possibility.Footnote 29 And within this literature, there are dissenting and cautionary voices, urging us to take care about how quickly we grant that something is possible because it is conceivable. There are also voices urging us to take care with respect to what is required for something to be genuinely coherently conceivable. And indeed, in the broader literature on theodicy, such cautionary voices are often cited, particularly by those who defend natural law theodicies according to which God’s creating a world with optimal laws of nature for enabling freedom goods was not possible without evils of the sort found in our world. Notably, those who defend such natural law theodicies are frequently explicitly committed to a libertarian account of free action.Footnote 30 Yet, I suggest here that these observations about the relationship between conceivability and possibility can be employed equally fruitfully by the advocate of the bad human nature theodicy to at least partially rebut the present argument for favoring the fallen human nature account to her own.
Even if the defender of the bad human nature theodicy grants that the conceivability of human societies in which there are freedom goods of collective exercises of significant responsibility without moral evils is evidence for the possibility of this and therefore evidence against her theodicy, she can still, in light of the foregoing reservations about the relationship between conceivability and possibility, maintain that this evidence is weak and defeasible. She might on this basis grant that while, given the evidence from conceivability alone, her theological determinist theodicy is not equally as plausible as Plantinga’s original, it is still worthy of further investigation. And, she might attempt to show that there is counterevidence against conjoining Plantinga’s original theodicy with the fallen human nature explanation of the empirical evidence of moral evil which can neutralize the force of the evidence from conceivability that favors his view over her adaptation.
Such counterevidence is not terribly difficult to locate. For instance, there are of course classical objections to the fallen human nature account itself. It has proven difficult, for example, for advocates of this view to provide an attractive account of how it could be that corrupt human nature could be a consequence of the moral wrongdoing of incorrupt human persons without requiring a view on which God unjustly punishes some for the wrongdoing of others. One prominent view about how it is that the wrongdoing of uncorrupt human persons leads to the corruption of human nature is that the corruption of subsequent human nature is a divine punishment for this original wrongdoing. But, if so, it seems this punishment is unjust, since persons who committed no wrong are made to have a corrupt nature on account of wrongs committed by others. If, however, divine punishment is not the mechanism whereby the wrongdoing of uncorrupt human persons leads to the corruption of subsequent human nature, one wonders what this mechanism could be.
Additionally, there is a concern about conjoining Plantinga’s original theodicy with the fallen human nature view. For, there is a tension between Plantinga’s original theory about the independence of counterfactuals of creaturely freedom with the way in which the fallen human nature account of the empirical evidence of wrongdoing appears to require that such facts be dependent on past human wrongdoing. Recall on Plantinga’s original Molinist theodicy, the counterfactuals of creaturely freedom that specify how an agent would behave in a complete set of circumstances are not subject to the divine will. Nor are they subject to the will of persons other than the human actor whom they are about. Yet, the libertarian account of the empirical evidence of pervasive human wrongdoing requires that this evidence is explained by the fact that all human persons have corrupt natures, and their having corrupt natures is a consequence of the wrongdoing of uncorrupt human persons. If, however, the fact that all human persons subsequent to the original wrongdoers have corrupt natures is to explain the empirical evidence for human wrongdoing, it will plausibly entail, and explain, counterfactuals of creaturely freedom regarding these corrupt human wrongdoers. The reason it is the case that were there to be a community of existing human persons which developed the kinds of sophisticated arrangements necessary for collectively exercising significant control, there would be wrongs committed along the way, is that all existing human persons have corrupt natures as a result of the original human wrongdoers. But, then, the truths of these counterfactuals of creaturely freedom are not, pace Plantinga’s original theodicy, independent of the will of persons other than the persons they are about. They are instead dependent on the original wrongdoers.
Given the strategies available to the advocate of the bad human nature theodicy for neutralizing the evidence from conceivability against her view, the bad human nature theodicy constitutes a theological determinist adaptation of Plantinga’s original Molinist theodicy which is not clearly on worse footing than Plantinga’s original, when the latter is conjoined with a leading libertarian explanation of the empirical evidence of pervasive human wrongdoing. Besides this one libertarian account of this empirical evidence discussed above, there may be others. Some of them may, when conjoined with Plantinga’s original Molinist theodicy, produce a view that is more plausible than the bad human nature adaptation of Plantinga’s theodicy. Footnote 31 This, however, is yet to be seen. Until it is seen, I propose that it is not clear that it is less plausible to affirm the existence of the facts that figure in the bad human nature theodicy than it is to affirm the existence of the facts that figure in Plantinga’s Molinist theodicy. And so, this second theological determinist adaptation of Plantinga’s greater moral goods free will theodicy remains worthy of future consideration.
There are two ways, then, that theological determinists might fruitfully adapt Plantinga’s Molinist theodicy: by adopting compatibilist Molinism and by adopting the bad human nature theodicy. In neither case, it is clear that the resulting adaptation of Plantinga’s theodiciy will be significantly less plausible than his original.