Monday, April 25, 2016

Two kinds of free will theodicies

I want to make a distinction that I've long thought is quite important, but which I think is not made enough. Suppose the theist responds to the problem of moral evil by saying that God's allowing moral evils is justified by the value of free will. There are two different ways that "the value of free will" could be invoked here.

First, the theodicy could depend on the intrinsic value of freedom itself. God allows me to freely choose the wrong thing, because my freely choosing something is intrinsically good qua free choice even when the thing I choose is bad.

Second, the theodicy could depend not on any value of the freedom in freely choosing the wrong thing, but only on the value that there would be in freely choosing the right thing were one to choose that. On this story, the only logically possible way God can have a chance of my freely choosing right over wrong in a given situation is by allowing me to have the possibility of choosing wrong over right in that situation. Notice that on this second story, if I end up freely choosing wrong over right, the evil of my choice might well be gratuitous in the sense that there is no compensating good for it. But even if the evil is gratuitous, God could be justified in permitting the evil to happen, since the only way he had to prevent it would have removed all possibility of my freely choosing right over wrong. This second story doesn't require there to be any intrinsic value in freedom as such. It only requires there to be value in freely choosing right over wrong.

I think the second story is superior to the first. But, interestingly, the second story is not available to a Molinist. For the second story only works when God cannot rely on knowing how you would choose in a situation when setting up the situation. (The story is available to a simple foreknowledge theorist if God cannot rely on knowledge of the future in ways that set up explanatory circularity.)

15 comments:

Michael Gonzalez said...

This is a very interesting distinction. So you'd say that the good of freely choosing right over wrong is substantially better than the good of simply doing right because you are preprogrammed to do it. Is there any value in doing good because God has preprogrammed you to? If not, then the theodicy is rather good. But if there is some value in preprogrammed good (just less than freely chosen good) then there would need to be some sort of ethical mathematics to compare a world in which some freely choose right while others freely choose wrong vs. a world in which everyone does right because they are predetermined to do it. You might end up needing a statistically large proportion of people choosing good, otherwise the world of preprogrammed good is morally superior, and God shouldn't have created this world.

Also, while I think Molinism is totally broken, I don't think the Molinist would see any problem with the second theodicy. The Molinist thinks the freedom to choose right over wrong is not infringed upon at all by God's selection of worlds to instantiate. The conditional statements don't affect the freedom of the choice (otherwise Molinism would be false prima facie, and your second theodicy would just be one more example out of myriads which illustrate the flaw).

Heath White said...

I think as soon as you deprive God of knowledge ahead of creation, so that he will be taking risks in creating, you open the door to gratuitous evil. It might nevertheless be justified. On the other hand, it might not--a gamble is something one might lose.

Michael Gonzalez said...

{continuing}... If anything, the Molinist seems to be the only one who can answer my "proportion" problem in the first paragraph of my first post.

Michael Gonzalez said...

Heath: Is it really gratuitous if the freedom itself is a justifying good, and if God has a plan laid out to end the badness (and even undo its effects)?

entirelyuseless said...

I agree that the second story is not available to a Molinist. It is also not available to a Thomist, since it was in God's power to decide in advance that the person was going to freely choose good in every case, without taking away the person's freedom, as is the usual account of the Virgin Mary.

Regarding the last point, the Molinists can say that God just chose someone who would choose good to be the Mother of God, and if she wouldn't have done that, God would have chosen someone else. But the Thomists have to say that God simply decided that she was going to always choose good. And if he could do that for Mary without taking away her freedom, he could do it for everyone else (and St. Thomas would surely assert that this was in fact in God's power.)

Alexander R Pruss said...

Michael:

"But if there is some value in preprogrammed good (just less than freely chosen good) then there would need to be some sort of ethical mathematics to compare a world in which some freely choose right while others freely choose wrong vs. a world in which everyone does right because they are predetermined to do it."

Right. It's non-trivial. Here, however, might be a good place to invoke a bit of sceptical theism: We don't really know how the "ethical mathematics" works out.

Heath:

There is a risk of gratuitous evil but no risk of unjustified evils. For an unjustified evil is one that God has no justification for permitting. But if my second story works, then God has a justification for taking the risk. Taking the risk is constitutive of permitting the evil if that's how it comes out, and God also has a justification for permitting the evil, even if the evil is gratuitous.

I'd add that something that's particularly appealing to me in the second story is precisely that the evil can be justified while being gratuitous, in the sense that it doesn't serve any further end. For that makes it clear that God isn't willing the evil, either as an end or as a means, but merely tolerating it.

entirelyuseless:

The first story isn't very helpful to the Thomist or Molinist, either, since the good of freedom can be exhibited in right action as well as wrong action, and surely it's better to have the good of freedom plus the good of rightness than the good of freedom plus the bad of wrongness.

Michael Gonzalez said...

Pruss: "We don't really know how the "ethical mathematics" works out."

Still, if God can't ensure that the one side of the equation (freely chosen good) at least outweighs the other side (an entire universe of only good-doing robots), then we are stuck with both an unjustified and gratuitously evil situation. So, while the skeptical theist is right that we can't KNOW either way which sort of world we're in; it is still true that God would have to know and would have to ensure that the freely chosen good exceeds that threshold. And, since you can't ensure that people freely do things, there seems to be a problem....

Again, I think the Molinist will feel very comfortable at this point, since she will say that God cannot force any number of creatures to freely choose good, but He can select from among the possible worlds in which the freely-chosen-good exceeds that threshold. Indeed, I think this sort of argument might become part of the Molinist arsenal. I think Molinism has fatal flaws, but in this particular case it has a superior (or at least, perspicuous) answer to an otherwise difficult problem.

Heath White said...

There is a risk of gratuitous evil but no risk of unjustified evils. For an unjustified evil is one that God has no justification for permitting. But if my second story works, then God has a justification for taking the risk. Taking the risk is constitutive of permitting the evil if that's how it comes out, and God also has a justification for permitting the evil, even if the evil is gratuitous.

Well, the justification depends on how big a risk it is, right? If somebody somehow has a free choice between being kind to a caterpillar, and annihilating the world, I would say it is unjustified for God to allow that free choice to go forward. And in general, if the downside of a free choice is too great, the possible value of the free right choice won't outweigh it.

One of my bigger worries about open theism is that, on that story, God might have wound up creating a world, or a life for some people, that turns out way worse than is justifiable.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Heath:

Right, it does depend on how great a risk it is. But God can always intervene in ways that curtail freedom if things are heading the wrong way.

Michael:

It seems very likely that given Molinism and an infinite number of possible people to choose from, God could choose to create a large group that all choose rightly. There is no guarantee that God could do so, but it is extremely unlikely that the conditionals of free will would not allow it.

Michael Gonzalez said...

The problem is, Pruss, that neither of us want to endorse Molinism, do we? So, the question is how do we resolve it on a simple foreknowledge view or an open theism view? If there is moral math to be done, then God (even if He KNOWS the math) cannot "stack the deck" so to speak. I think it comes down to intervention (of course, I'm an open theist, so this is not too surprising to me). But then the proponent of the problem of evil will ask "why doesn't He intervene more often?"

You could then resort to a skeptical theist deflection (which is fine), but I prefer to give what I take to be the Bible's own theodicy: For the time being, there is an issue of Universal Sovereignty (and also a peripheral issue of integrity on the part of God's servants) which needs to be resolved, to the everlasting benefit of all creation and to the glory of God Himself. Once that is resolved, He will no longer have to countenance any bad or potentially bad situations. He will simply remove them if/as they spring up. But, for the time being, if He were to intervene a lot and make life easier, it would be supporting the wrong side of this issue which was raised in the garden of Eden and which needs resolution.

But I digress.

Heath White said...

Alex,

I think you will be forced back on some version of the first kind of free will theodicy. Imagine that God is herding seven billion libertarian-free cats, who go their various ways in unpredictable fashion, but if any of them (or the herd as a whole) get too far off course, God intervenes to herd them back to something acceptable.

Now imagine a Thomist predestinarian God who just ordains paths for the cats that look just like whatever paths they take in the first scenario.

I think you want to say that the first scenario is better than the second. But that judgment had better not depend on the right free choices of the cats in the first scenario; maybe there are no right choices. (Furthermore, the Thomist predestinarian God could have ordained much more orderly and beautiful paths for the cats.) Rather, I think you're going to need to say that a significant part of the value of the second scenario depends purely on the exercise of the freedom itself.

Here is a second issue. Plantinga anyway has the intuition that the value of a free choice depends largely on how much is at stake--it is important that choices be SIGNIFICANTLY free. But this is ordinarily a matter of how much downside there is to the choice. So there is some tension, at least, between saying that (a) that a free choice is valuable to the extent that it is significant, and (b) in granting significant freedom, God does not put himself in a position with unjustifiable downsides.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I was primarily thinking of a theodicy for moral evil.

But I agree with you that freedom is intrinsically good even in morally insignificant choices. I think that indeterministic non-agential causation -- quantum stuff -- is good, too. So, yes, the first kind of theodicy will be a part of the whole story.

Heath White said...

" I think that indeterministic non-agential causation -- quantum stuff -- is good, too."

I'm very curious what drives this intuition. I lack it completely.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I think such indeterminism makes nature be a better image of God's own freedom and less an automaton.

Tom DePietro said...

I'd add that indeterminism is good for those who want a strong view of providence as well.

Suppose one takes an open theist or simple foreknowledge view. In that case, God's knowledge of what happens is dependent on what actually happens. So if the laws of physics are deterministic, in order for God to providentially guide the world, He would either have to (i) work miracles or (ii) influence free choices albeit not cause them.

Of course, a Thomist need not have this limitation. For a Thomist, God's causality is like that of an author and a story. So God has complete providential control. But if God's knowledge of our choices is dependent on those choices, as the simple foreknowledge view holds, then God has to cause the laws of physics (and therefore, determine certain events in the course of the universe) without such knowledge of our choices, limiting His providence. However, if the laws are indeterministic (and we add the assumption that God can cause, or at least influence the outcomes of these processes), then God can intervene in the world in a third way.

Tom