A Modified Free-Will Defense: A Structural and Theistic Free-Will Defense as a Response to James Sterba
2. Discussion and Argument
3. A Reappraisal of Plantinga’s Free-Will Defense
“What is relevant to the Free Will Defense is the idea of being free with respect to an action. If a person is free with respect to a given action, then he is free to perform that action and free to refrain from performing it… It is within his power, at the time in question, to take or perform the action and within his power to refrain from it.”5
“Neither a defense nor a theodicy, of course, gives any hint as to what God’s reason for some specific evil-the death or suffering of someone close to you, for example-might be. And there is still another function—a sort of pastoral function”… Probably neither will enable someone to find peace with himself and with God in the face of the evil the world contains. But then, of course, neither is intended for that purpose”.
“…suffering and misfortune may nonetheless constitute a problem for the theist; but the problem is not that his beliefs are logically or probabilistically incompatible. The theist may find a religious problem in evil; in the presence of his own suffering or that of someone near to him he may find it difficult to maintain what he takes to be the proper attitude towards God. Faced with great personal suffering or misfortune, he may be tempted to rebel against God, to shake his fist in God’s face, or even to give up belief in God altogether. But this is a problem of a different dimension. Such a problem calls, not for philosophical enlightenment, but for pastoral care.”.
“What happens is that the freedom of the assaulters, a freedom no one should have, is exercised at the expense of the freedom of their victims not to be assaulted, an important freedom that everyone should have.”.
4. Structural Understanding of Free-Will Defense
5. A Theistic Ground in the Structural Free-Will Defense
“A world containing creatures who are significantly free (and freely perform more good than evil actions) is more valuable, all else being equal, than a world containing no free creatures at all… He can’t give these creatures the freedom to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so.”.
“The heart of the Free-Will Defense is the claim that it is possible that God could not have created a universe containing moral good (or as much moral good as this world contains) without creating one that also contained moral evil. And if so, then it is possible that God has a good reason for creating a world containing evil.”.
5.1. A Free-Will Defense with a Divine Justice Perspective
5.1.1. A Justice-Centered Free-Will Defense
“Say, O Prophet, “O humanity! The truth has surely come to you from your Lord. So whoever chooses to be guided, it is only for their own good. And whoever chooses to stray, it is only to their own loss. And I am not a keeper over you.” (10:108)8.
“…the one who is compelled (mulja’) not to do a bad or evil act does not perform it actually, because he/she is compelled, and not because it is evil. Yet, it was proved that deserving praise and award follows restraining from doing evil because it is evil, not for anything else…”.Quoted by (Attar 2010, p. 93)
“if there is a justification for the moral evil in the world that renders it compatible with the existence of God, it has to be in terms of securing some other good, or goods… If we are successful in finding such a justification, we will have a defense of the degree and amount of moral evil in the world. But it will not be a Free-Will Defense”.
“Can we meaningfully imagine a chess piece, for example, one that plays the role of a rook, independently of a chess game? No, we cannot. This is because, in the absence of other pieces, a chessboard, and two players, we wouldn’t know how to think about its moves, its position, etc. In other words, we can only comprehend a chess piece like the rook in conjunction with all other constituents of the game, just like we can only understand the number three in relation to the rest of the natural-number-structure”.
5.1.2. Evil in Terms of God’s Power
“They said that if God could do ugly deeds, it would be obligatory for him to do it. We say: Not every person capable of evil has to do it. Do you not see that we sometimes sit even though we can stand and sometimes remain silent even though we can speak? How do you deduce that the omnipotent must do what is necessary in any case? For example, God can cause the apocalypse right now, but we cannot say that He is not able to do so just because He did not do it.”.
“Your Lord does not wrong anyone. If He cannot do this, it would not make sense for Him to boast of not doing oppression. Just as… it does not make sense for a disabled man to boast of not climbing walls and giving up raiding his neighbors’ houses because he is not mighty, so is the situation here.”.
5.1.3. Evil and the Theory of Aslah
“They said: Surely, the fact that God knows the evil and oppression in the life of this world, and that He has the power to prevent them, but does not prevent them, indicates that He has willed them. The thing that indicates this from the sensible world is this: Surely if the king does not prevent any evil that he knows from his people and army, although he has the power, this attitude indicates that he wants the evil to happen.”.
“Because even though they know that Jews and Christians under the leadership of both imams and Muslims do not prevent them from going to synagogues and churches, it does not mean that they want them to continue… We do not find it appropriate that omnipotent God should prevent unbelievers from disbelief as long as they continue their responsibilities. Because here is the abolition of responsibility and the annulment of deserving praise and blame. How can their saying “God can prevent them” be true in this situation? He does not do this so that the responsibility would not be lifted and the reward and punishment would not be canceled.”.
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Against the logical argument of evil, Rowe develops an evidental objection. For him, although the existence of evil is not logically incompatible with the existence of God, it is still a rational basis for atheists’ arguments. Rowe says: “…there are instances of intense suffering which an omnipotent, omniscient being could have prevented without thereby losing some greater good or permitted some evil equally bad or worse”. (Rowe 1979, p. 338).
Here, I am aware that Plantinga’s free-will defense was not designed for the logical harmony of God’s existence and the terrible evils Sterba mentiones. In this study, however, I suggest that an answer to Sterba’s critique can be integrated into Plantinga’s free-will defense. I would like to thank the anonymous reviewer for drawing my attention to this point.
For a useful introduction for Mu’tazila, see (Ormsby 1984, pp. 16–30).
From now on, I call him as Qādi.
(Plantinga  2001, p. 29). Italiscs are in the original text.
Hume says here: “Is he willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?” (Hume 1998, p. 63).
In this study, I am not advocating a deistic understanding of God when I argue that God does not interfere with free-will and that God is only in a structural relationship with the acts of human beings. In my understanding, God is structurally in contact with the world and human beings at all times. God is recreating this structural relationship moment by moment. So the God I’m trying to understand is still the God of the Abrahamic religions. I would like to thank the anonymous reviewer for drawing my attention to this point.
The translations used from the website (https://quran.com/) (accessed on 20 July 2022). Also see similar verses in the Quran for example; 18:29, 25:57, 39:15, 41:40, 73:19, 74:37, 76:29, 80:12, 81:28.
God’s justice can be understood in two ways. The first is that God gives a reward to the victims of free will He created. Second, it is human’s responsibility how to use free will, and therefore God rewards those who are aggrieved as a result of human action. Reward and punishment, which are God’s justice, are the result of free will, something God created. Let us imagine, human beings might not have used their free will for evil. In this case, God’s punishment ceases to be an inevitable result. So, punishment is only an option. As Keith Ward wisely points out that we can consistently think that God creates the possibilities of evils without wanting actual evils to happen. (Ward 2007, pp. 48–49; Søvik 2011, p. 43). I would like to thank the anonymous reviewer for drawing my attention to this point.
See also another examples in the Quran: 16:18, 28:73,30:23, 49:8, 3:152, 3:164.
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Balci, E.N. A Modified Free-Will Defense: A Structural and Theistic Free-Will Defense as a Response to James Sterba. Religions 2022, 13, 700. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13080700
Balci EN. A Modified Free-Will Defense: A Structural and Theistic Free-Will Defense as a Response to James Sterba. Religions. 2022; 13(8):700. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13080700Chicago/Turabian Style
Balci, Elif Nur. 2022. "A Modified Free-Will Defense: A Structural and Theistic Free-Will Defense as a Response to James Sterba" Religions 13, no. 8: 700. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13080700