This blog post is a discussion and response to Alvin Plantinga’s Evil Forces, in which Plantinga discusses the presence of evil in the world and its compatibility with the existence of an omnibenevolent being. Plantinga’s main thesis is that the existence of evil can be explained by the existence of evil forces, or Satan to be exact, that act in contrast with God, who is indeed omnibenevolent. Plantinga asserts that natural evil and moral evil are not truly distinct, but rather that natural evils are actually moral evils on the part of Satan and his cohorts. The reasoning behind Satan’s evil actions, and therefore the existence of evil in general, being permitted by an omnibenevolent God can be attributed to freedom. God allows Satan to act in the way that he does because it is worse to curtail a being’s freedom than it is to allow his freedom and permit some evil actions. In Plantinga’s mind, freedom with the existence of evil is better than a complete lack of evil, but rational beings that are not entirely free.
I believe the main argument can be broken down as follows:
1. God is an omnibenevolent being who created the universe and all the rational beings that inhabit it, including Satan.
2. God created rational beings to the most perfect degree that he could.
3. Beings that are rational and totally free are more perfect than beings that lack some or all freedom.
4. Therefore, God created us with the most freedom possible in order to make us as perfect as possible.
5. If Satan is free to act as he desires, he will do evil deeds to contrast God’s goodness.
6. Satan is free because he is one of the rational beings that God created.
7. Therefore Satan will do evil deeds to contrast God’s goodness and evil will exist.
This argument seems valid to me but I see a number of problems with it. The first problem that I have with this argument lies in premise 2. I take it that Plantinga would argue that God made us as perfect as he could, otherwise why would he give us unlimited freedom in the first place? If he was not seeking to maximize our perfection he would have made us less free and eliminated evil. However, it seems to me that the rational beings that inhabit God’s universe are far from perfect. If God really intends for us to be as perfect as possible, how is it that we can make so many blatant errors in judgment, action, and moral responsibility? I take it that Plantinga would respond by saying that, as stated in his argument, our freedom entails the possibility for error and evil. But why then would God not give rational beings total free will, but also the necessary knowledge required to avoid evil? Evil actions on the part of beings seems to arise from a notion on their part that what they need or desire can only be attained by the injury of another being. However, if given the knowledge of how to achieve one’s desires without injuring another, would rational beings not seek their desires in such a way as to avoid evil? I suggest that they would.
Now, this idea of people with perfect knowledge of how to act in accordance with their desires, but still avoid evil does not explain a few things. Firstly, what do we say about the being who desires to be evil. It seems that Satan is such a being and in Plantinga’s eyes the source of all evil. It seems that even if a being such as Satan was given perfect knowledge of how to act to avoid evil, he would still seek out as part of his free will as it is in fact what he desires. My response to this is multifaceted. A being such as this is inherently evil. He is not good but simply misdirected, otherwise perfect knowledge would lead him to avoid evil. And the earlier counter argument to Plantinga would apply here as well. If this is in fact the case, then it follows that God made the being as such, for Satan could not have existed if he was not created by God. However, it seems that if God did in fact make an inherently bad being, than he made a being that is clearly less perfect than he could have otherwise been. Either Satan is misguided, and therefore God could have given him and the rest of the rational beings in the universe free will and perfect knowledge to go with it, or God created Satan as inherently bad. How could an omnibenevolent being create a being that is inherently evil? God’s omnipotence dictates that he could have done otherwise in making Satan inherently evil. He could have made Satan free and just a normally rational being as perfect as possible like the rest of the rational beings, but he did not, and herein lies the problem.
If we break down Plantinga’s assertions, it becomes clear that in order for this notion of Satan explaining evil to be valid, it entails two ideas that are totally incompatible with the Anselmian notion of God. These ideas are:
1. God did not make all beings as perfectly as he could have.
2. God is in fact the source of evil in the universe as he created Satan and made him inherently evil.
Clearly Plantinga does not want to make either of these two claims. But they are unfortunately a part of his argument that cannot, and should not, be avoided. For this argument to be complete it needs to be fleshed out and freedom and perfect knowledge need to be discussed further, but this is my blog post, and that is what the paper is for!