Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Against the actual truth of transworld depravity

Here is an interesting result. If the Biblical account of creation is true, then Plantinga’s Trans-World Depravity (TWD) thesis is false. All this doesn’t affect Plantinga’s Free Will Defense which only needs the logical possibility of TWD, but it limits its usefulness a little by making clear that the defense is based on an actually-false assumption. (Quick review: Plantinga uses the logical possibility of TWD to argue for the logical possibility of evil. That argument would survive my critique. But he also suggests that TWD is epistemically possible, and hence could be the heart of a theodicy. That move does not survive, I think.)

I’ll take TWD to be:

  1. Every significantly free creature in every feasible world does wrong.

A feasible world is one that would eventuate from God’s strongly actualizing the strongly strongly actualized portion of it.

But now consider this thesis which is very plausible on the Biblical account of creation:

  1. At least one human made a significantly free right choice before any human made a free wrong choice.

For the first sin in the Biblical account is presented as Eve’s taking of the forbidden fruit in Genesis 3. But prior to that, indeed prior to Eve’s creation, Adam was commanded to take care of the garden (Gen. 2:15). It would have been a sin for Adam to fail to do that, and since this was before the first sin, it follows that Adam must have done it. Moreover, Adam being a full human being presumably had freedom of will, and hence was capable of refusing to work the garden. Hence Adam’s decision to obey God’s command to work the garden was a significantly free choice before any human made a free wrong choice.

Now, I don’t take the story of Genesis 2-3 to be literally true, but it tells us basic truths about the entry of evil into the world, and hence it is very likely that the structural claim (2) carries over into reality from the story.

I now argue that:

  1. If (2) is true, then TWD is false.

Right after the first human made a significantly free right choice, God had the power to prevent any further significantly free choices from ever being made. Had God exercised that power, the world would have contained a creature—namely, the human who made the significantly free right choice—that is a counterexample to TWD. Moreover, the world where God exercises that power is plainly feasible. Hence, (1) is false, since in (1) there is a significantly free creature that does the right thing.

That said, Plantinga’s TWD is stronger than it needs to be for his defense. All he really needs to work with is:

  1. Every feasible world that contains a significantly free creaturely right choice contains a free creaturely wrong choice.

And the world where God intervenes and prevents significantly free choices after the first human significantly free right choice is not a counterexample to (4), since prior to the creation of humans there was already sin by angels.

Note, though, that someone who wants to defend (4) by invoking the prior sin of angels needs to hold that the first humans would have sinned in their first significantly free choice had God not created angels or not given angels significant free will, no matter what circumstances the first humans were placed in. In other words, the defender of (4) has to hold that the actual righteousness of the first human significantly free choice has a strong counterfactual dependence on angelic freedom. The only plausible way I know of defending something like this is to say that angelic free choices are a part of human causal history and that essentiality of origins is true. So, interestingly, to hold that the weakened TWD thesis (4) is true seems to require both invoking the sin of angels and essentiality of origins.

Moreover, the defender of the actual truth of (4) would need to hold that the first angelic wrong choice preceded the first angelic significantly free right choice. For suppose an angelic significantly free choice came before any angelic sin. Then, again, God could have suspended free will right after that choice, and not created humans at all, and we would have a feasible world that is a counterexample to (4). Next, suppose that the first angelic significantly free choice was simultaneous with the first angelic sin. Presumably, the two were committed by different angels. But God could have suspended the freedom of those angels who in the actual world sin (this does not even require Molinism: God doesn’t need to know that they would sin to suspend their freedom), and plausible the simultaneous significantly free right choices of the other angels would still have eventuated. And then God could have suspended freedom altogether, thereby furnishing us with another feasible world that is a counterexample to (4).

One can modify (4) in various ways to get around this. For instance, one could say this:

  1. Every feasible world that contains a significantly free creaturely right choice and that contains many generations of significantly free creatures contains a free creaturely wrong choice.

But note that if (5) is true, then one needs to invoke more than the value of freedom in saying that God is justified in creating a world with evil. One needs the value of multi-generational freedom.


scott said...

A couple points:

1: The Bible doesn't explicitly say that pre-fruit eating decisions were free. Furthermore, the Bible presents the decision whether to eat fruit as importantly different from all other prior decisions. Given these two points, the defender of TWD could say that one of the ways in which the decision to eat fruit was importantly different was that it was the first free decision. And in this way the biblical story can fit with TWD.

2: I don't think there is much of a cost of opting for your multigenerational freedom fix. I think one could explain the value of multigenerational freedom simply in terms of freedom. God doesn't just want a tiny amount of freedom. He wants a lot of it. And God wants individuals to exercise a lot of it. To me all of that is naturally suggested by the thought that freedom is valuable. It would be weird to me to have a view according to which all God cares about is getting a world with exactly one free decision or a world with a bunch of creatures that make just one free decision. If freedom is valuable, it seems much more natural to think He'd want a world with the kind of multigenerational freedom you appeal to in your suggested fix.

Alexander R Pruss said...

No, the Bible doesn't say the earlier decisions were free, but normally such decisions in humans are significantly free. I suppose one could argue that the reason such decisions are significantly free for us is that we are attracted to evil, and the first humans initially weren't.

Alexander R Pruss said...

By the way, it is also worth noting that on the standard Christian picture, the original TWD is actually false in virtue of the fact that some angels had significant freedom and did not sin. Again, this doesn't affect the Free Will Defense.

scott said...

Yeah. The angel case is harder to match with TWD. That seems right.