A legacy post originally published on FEBRUARY 8, 2015 at 11:33
🔗 Evil and Compatibilism by Mike Almeida
There is widespread belief that compatibilism + theism cannot offer a credible solution to the logical problem of evil. Why does anyone believe that? I think they’re reasoning this way: if compatibilism is true, then, necessarily, God can actualize a morally perfect world. That’s of course true, and it entails that the free will defense fails. But then they reason, if, necessarily, God can actualize a morally perfect world, then, necessarily, God does actualize a morally perfect world. It is then observed that, obviously, there is evil. So, compatibilism + theism is incoherent; it cannot solve the logical problem.
But the inference from, necessarily, God can actualize a morally perfect world to, necessarily, God does actualize a morally perfect world is invalid on the assumption of compatibilism (and, for that matter, libertarianism): that is, it is invalid on both Lewisian compatibilism and on any stronger compatibilism. In fact, theism + compatibilism, of either sort, is inconsistent with (M), which is the strong modal conclusion of the logical problem of evil. So, here are the choices: Either God cannot actualize a morally and naturally perfect world or the principle in (M) is false. But, surely, God can actualize a morally and naturally perfect world, I think is the right rejoinder.
- M: Necessarily, God does not coexist with a single instance of moral or natural evil
Here is the argument for the inconsistency between theism + compatibilism and (M). Let w be a world in which God arranges history H and the laws of nature L so that it is causally determined that S does A at t. Let A be a morally significant action, such as keeping a promise. It is, we are assuming, all-in right to keep the promise and all-in wrong not to do so. Here is Lewisian compatibilism.
- LC: S freely performed A at t only if (i) had S performed ~A at t, then it would have been the case that L is not the conjunction of laws of nature and (ii) S was able to perform ~A at t
We’ve assumed that God creates S in world w and determines S to do the morally right action A at t. But it follows from (LC) that S is free in w, in the Lewisian sense of being free, only if there is another world w’ in which S performs a moral evil ~A at t. In w’ S brings about the morally evil action of breaking a promise that S had an all-in obligation to keep. Here’s our conclusion.
- C: If God creates S in w and determines S to go right, then if S is Lewis-free in w, then there is some possible world w’ in which (a) God exists and (b) there is moral evil
(C) is of course inconsistent with (M). So, if God is permitted to create morally perfect worlds in which everyone is causally determined to go right, and everyone is LC-free, then there must be a world in which God and moral evil coexist. But then, so much for (M). If God can create a morally and naturally perfect world in which every agent is Lewis-free, then (M) is false.
But what if we assume that agents are not Lewis free. Suppose we assume stronger compatibilism, (SC).
- SC: S freely performed A at t only if (i) had S performed ~A at t, then it would have been the case that L is not the conjunction of laws of nature (ii’) S was unable to perform ~A at t.
Unlike (LC), (SC) does not assume that S was able to perform ~A at t. But (SC) holds that S is free anyway, despite being unable to act otherwise at t. But even on (SC) we can reach our conclusion in (C)! The conclusion in (C) follows from condition (i) alone of both (LC) and (SC). It does not matter whether we believe that, in w, S was able to perform ~A at t or not. All we need is that there is some possible world w’ in which S does perform ~A at t, and condition (i) ensures that there is such a world.
So, again, (C) is inconsistent with (M). If God is permitted to create morally perfect worlds in which everyone is causally determined to go right, and everyone is SC-free, then there must be a world in which God and moral evil coexist. So, we reach the conclusion that either God cannot actualize a morally and naturally perfect world—a world with free moral agents of some sort, compatibilist or otherwise—or the principle in (M) is false.
I’m aware this is a legacy post and the OP may not even be reading this, but if anyone on the internet can help me, it’s going to be someone from this community.
What does ‘actualize’ mean if it doesn’t just mean ’cause’?
I see theists and nontheists alike throwing this term around as though everyone noncontroversially agreed it’s meaningful; I’m only looking for a citation that presents a simple definition of this apparently absolutely core concept in modal arguments.
Surely someone, somewhere, can point me in the right direction. I’ve been looking for over a decade now.
I have a master’s degree in philosophy; I have read entire book’s by Plantinga on this subject, and used CTRL+F to search them to see if he ever defines it; I have emailed philosophy professors, hosts of popular philosophy of religion podcasts, inquired on forums hosted by Protestant and Catholic theologians and apologists who make these arguments, and even asked on (shudder) Reddit.
Can it really be the case that an entire discourse has sprung up around this core concept that no one actually understands?
If I make a sandwich, have I “actualized” the sandwich? If yes, then how is actualizing different from causing, if it is?
If “actualizing” is something that only happens to entire logically possible worlds, then 1) does using this concept require that I accept full-throated Realism about possible world semantics — in which case, all these arguments just turn to gibberish if I don’t — and 2) where does this actualizing take place where it is remotely coherent to nest it inside another modal term “can” such that “can actualize” makes any sense at all as something that is different from “cause”?
When we talk about God “actualizing” a world/state of affairs, we just mean that he brought about that world/state of affairs: he made it actual rather than merely possible. You don’t have to be a realist about possible worlds; you can just think of it as God choosing to bring about some or other state of affairs.
Apologies, perhaps I wasn’t making my question clear enough.
“Brought about” and “made” are even less well-defined terms than the one I am claiming is hopelessly poorly defined.
I ask again: Does actualize in these arguments just mean “cause”, yes or no?
You talk about “a (logically possible?) world slash state of affairs”, which only muddles things further; if I make a sandwich, have I “actualized” the sandwich, yes or no? Or is actualizing only something that happens to entire LPWs?
From where I sit, it seems to me that causation is an in-world relation between states of affairs in a LPW, and it would simply be a category mistake to think LPWs are the kind of things that can be caused; so if “actualize” means “cause” then it is a priori knowable that neither gods nor anything else “actualize” LPWs.
It further seems to me that LP-world-actuality is a just first-person indexical claim; the only thing that (scare-quotes) “makes” a world actual is the fact that the speaker locates herself in it. It’s a constitutive relation between concepts, not a causal one.
I had salad with dinner last night, but there is a LPW identical to this one in which I’m typing this same reply to you this morning, with the difference being I had soup instead of salad.
If salad-verse-Andrew types “I had salad last night”, I’m telling the truth, but Soup-Andrew typing that would be stating a falsehood.
But notice how if Salad-Andrew types “this is the actual world”, he is telling the truth, but when Soup-Andrew types “this is the actual world”, he’s telling the truth too! I highly doubt that the James Reilly in the Soup-verse will write a reply to that comment protesting that he is not actual!
(note I’ve allowed myself the indulgence of talking about LPWs in a realist fashion to facilitate communication, but if I wanted to be more precise I would carefully edit everything to talk only in terns of LPW-models.)
I think you’re overthinking this. The idea is simply that God can bring any number of different states of affairs, and whichever possible state of affairs he chooses to make (i.e. to make actual), we say that he “actualized” it.
Maybe you wouldn’t want to directly equate it with “cause”; after all, it seems like God could have chosen to create nothing, and thereby actualized a possible world in which nothing ever exists except Himself. But it would be strange to describe this as God “causing” it to be the case that nothing else exists, since all He did was refrain from creating. So I suppose you might want to think of actualizing a world as a distinct concept from causing particular things to exist (though of course, any non-empty world that God chooses to actualize will involve him causing a lot of stuff). Then again, I’m not sure if we’d want to describe the above scenario as God “actualizing” the empty world, since you might think the world implies some kind of action, not merely its absence (I’d have to think about that more).
In any case, nothing much is going to turn on these issues. So long as you’re willing to accept that the notion of God choosing between different possible created worlds is a coherent idea (and you should), the arguments will work just fine. Hope that helps!