Plantinga’s Freewill explanation of evil

One of the main goals of any world view is addressing the question of suffering and evil. Alvin Plantinga takes an approach that stresses the free will of the individual as an explanation. Starting with the position that our world is inhabited with a “significantly free” individual, and that world is more “valuable” than a determined world.[1] The created free creatures could not be predetermined to make right or wrong actions. Creating a morally good creature – one which only chooses right actions – would render that creature’s as unfree – determined. Because God allowed this freedom, creatures – humans implanted with the image of God – chose evil actions. The critical point in this argument is God’s omnipotence, and omnibenevolence is not violated by His creature’s poor choices because “He could have forestalled the occurrence of moral evil only by removing the possibility of moral good.”[2] Thus the arguments against the existence of God by folks like Mackie and Leibniz are rendered false.

I believe that Plantinga’s Freewill arguments have much merit in addressing intentional evil (acts committed by creatures that are morally wrong). However, there is a missing part of the discussion is addressing natural evil (tornadoes, floods, earthquakes, etc.). One can, from a theological (Biblically centered) view, extrapolate that the evil choices made by creatures had a significant impact on the natural world, causing natural evil. However, the non-theist would philosophically reject that argument. I think Plantinga’s Freewill argument, coupled with Craig’s case of indeterminacy, provides a more comprehensive approach to the subject.[3]

[1] Alvin Plantinga, Christian Apologetics: An Anthology of Primary Sources, ed Khaldoun A Sweis and Chad V. Meister (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Press, 2012), Kindle Edition, 422.

[2] Ibid, 423.

[3] William Lane Craig. “God’s Permitting Natural Evil”. December 30,2013. Accessed June 11, 2020.

2 Replies to “Plantinga’s Freewill explanation of evil”

  1. Hi there,

    Thanks for your comment. two points on your comment:

    1. I don’t know if this a Protestant / Catholic difference, but our free will (from a non-Reformed Protestant perspective) comes from having the image of God implanted in us. Original sin damages that image (restored by Jesus), but our free will is sovereignly given to us by God as a part of having His image. Adam was born with free will and was without original sin. Not looking to debate the point but wanted to make that differentiation.

    2. True, an atheist would not be convinced by this single argument (or any single argument for that matter). Single arguments are meant for getting the car out of the driveway on the long journey towards Theism. It is the cumulative stack of reasons along with the influence of the Holy Spirit that will convince the skeptic to embrace the Truth.


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