God and Problem of Evil: Plantinga’s Profile

Introductionevil-mar-16

The problem of evil constituted a serious challenge to theism ever since the Abrahamic prophets have introduced the notion of an omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good God. The challenge is to explain how an all-powerful, all-good God could allow such a vast amount of evils in the world. We can provide a long list of paradigmatic evils that history has recorded and also surrounded our world (Evidential Problem of Evil). However, Alvin Plantinga, in his book, The Nature of Necessity, defends the logical consistency of theism and claims that believing in an omniscient, omnipotent, and all-good God is consistent with acknowledging the existence of evil. As he puts it, the two premises that

(1) God exists and is omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good.

and,

(2) Evil exists.

are not inconsistent. Plantinga maintains that conjunction of propositions (1) and (2) is not necessarily false and claims that he has proven that (1) and (2) are in fact consistent. “The resources of logic alone do not enable us to deduce an explicit contradiction from their conjunction. But then presumably the atheologian—he who offers arguments against the existence of God—never meant to hold that there was a formal contradiction here; he meant instead that the conjunction of these two propositions is necessarily false, false in all possible worlds” (The Nature of Necessity 165).[1] If an atheologian is to prove that the claim of inconsistency in the theist’s account, must therefore, needs to posit a proposition that is both necessary and in conjunction with (1) and (2) constitutes a contradiction. Plantinga has argued that finding such a premise is extremely difficult.

Plantinga’s Proof of consistency

Plantinga, to show that it is possible for (1) and (2) both to be true, therefore, consistent, appeals to the notion of free will. Plantinga believes that the free will defender needs to find a proposition that is consistent with (1) and at the same time entails (2). That proposition itself does not need to be true. All it needs is that to be consistent with the proposition (1) God exists, and is omnipotent, omniscient, all perfectly good and at the same time, it entails the existence of evil. That proposition with the above two conditions is, “… it is possible that God could not have created a universe containing moral good (or as much moral good as this one contains) without creating one containing moral evil” (167). To him, God created the world within the constraints of necessities. For, “God, though omnipotent, could not have created just any possible world he pleased” (168). In fact, this latter point is crucial for his defense of free will. God could not have given us free will and at the same time made us freely to do good things or refrained us from evil things. If he did, we would not have free will. It is a logical impossibility to think that free will is consistent with preventing all evil doing. In fact, the existing evil in the world is a byproduct or undesirable consequences of our free will.

Despite what Leibniz believes, to Plantinga, God in the moments of creation did not have a whole range of choices of possible worlds from which he could have chosen the best possible world. Rather, he merely created contingent things such as heavens, mountains, animals, and humans. God did not create necessary things, such as “himself, or numbers, propositions, properties, or state of affairs” (169). Those necessary things always have existed. To create something means to have a beginning, while the necessary things have no beginning in time. They are eternal entities. “God has created Socrates, but actualized the state of affairs consisting in the latter’s existence” (169). Therefore, it is misleading to believe that God has created everything. To say that x is created, it is to say that there was a time that x did not exist. Numbers as non-created things always existed so as God himself and his attributes. God did not even actualize non-creatable things. “So if we speak of God as actualizing a, we should not think of him as actualizing every state of affairs a includes. But perhaps we may say that he actualizes every contingent state of affairs included in a; and perhaps we may say that God can actualize a given possible world W only if he can actualize every contingent state of affairs W includes” (169). After these distinctions, he asks whether an omnipotent God could actualize any possible world that he pleases?

Obviously, his answer is no. Therefore, he concludes that God could not create a morally free agent without giving them ability to do evils. However, the value of having free will and being able to do evil is greater than if we were created as individuals with no freedom and no ability to do evils. The question is that, even if we grant Plantinga that evils in the world are, if fact, necessary evils that even God could not eliminate, then is the question of evil settled? I doubt it. I think the problem of evil, in Plantinga’s account, is not settled, but it is moved from the level of necessities to the level of contingencies. Therefore, one may ask, is there any unnecessary evil in the realm of actualization that God could have eliminated or can eliminate, but he did or does not? I will answer this question in the next section.

Plantinga Examined

            I believe we can modify Mackie’s thesis of logical inconsistency of the theist’s account of evil so that it shows the inadequacy of Plantinga’s solution. To Mackie, (P) a perfectly good God always would eliminate evils as much as he could and (Q) there is no limit to what an omnipotent God can do. Unlike Plantinga, Mackie believes that (P) and (Q) are both necessary. However, to Plantinga, a perfectly good God can sometimes permit evil if it is morally justifiable, like in the case of free will, and there is, in fact, a limit to what God could or could not do. Therefore, Plantinga maintains, there is no inconsistency between (1) and (2). However, in light of Plantinga’s critique of Mackie in The Nature of Necessity, one can reintroduce (P) and (Q), so it might constitute a logical inconsistency between (1) and (2).

One may agree with Plantinga that (P) is not necessary. Unlike what (P) states, God may permit evils either if there is a moral justification for it, therefore, not-(P) or God could not create whatever state of affairs that he pleased, therefore, not-(Q). A perfectly good God could prevent contingent evils as much as he can (Pa), and there are no limits in God’s power to actualize contingent things (Qa). If so, the problem for Plantinga is that there are some contingent evils that God could have prevented, but he did not. Therefore, I think in light of (Pa) and (Qa), (1) and (2) constitute a contradiction.

Is there any evil in the realm of contingencies that God could have avoided, but He has not? We can grant Plantinga that God could not have actualized every logically possible world; even doing so, the question of evil has not been settled. Plantinga’s notion of creation as actualization limits God’s creative power to the realm of contingencies, which is the realm that could had been different than it has been actualized. For example, God could had created a world in which Donald Trump did not run for presidency, or if created him, instead of having locker room talks, he would had read more useful books. However, since the world has been actualized in the existing way, where Donald Trump has run for presidency, even God cannot change it. Changing the past is a logical impossibility and God, to Plantinga, cannot make impossibilities possible. An omnipotent God cannot actualize every possible world, let alone the best possible world.

So the question is that, “is there any evil that does not emerge from necessities but from contingencies?”[2] Creating certain individuals is within the power of God and by refraining from creating certain people, he would not violate any necessity. God could refrain from creating Hitler, for instance, or people like him who made people suffer unnecessarily, but he did not.[3] In the time of creating him, God, due to his foreknowledge, knew about what crimes he would commit. So the question is that why did God create Hitler? God not only created Hitler, but put him in a situation that he committed horrendous evil. God could have created millions of people that he has not. There was no necessity to create certain people whom God knew would use their free will to commit gratuitous or horrendous evils. So the existence of evil is not necessarily the existence of those evils that spring from necessities, if we accept Plantinga’s account of free will, but the problem is the existence of horrendous evils that emerged in the realm of contingencies, evils that could be avoided by an omnipotent God that Plantinga believes has a foreknowledge. If so, then (1) and (2), unlike what Plantinga states, are not consistent.

My position is not same as Paul Helm’s when he states, “Any agent who freely and knowingly sets up a deterministic process with a certain outcome must be responsible for that outcome, but on the level of contingencies.” Plantinga would agree with Helm that God set up a deterministic process. Plantinga would reply to Helm that what he calls “a deterministic process” might be only “state of affairs” that God did and could not create but merely actualized it, and since God has not created this state of affairs, he is not responsible for the outcome of this state of affairs either. However, I think this problem exist for Plantinga, who does not argue for determinism, but on the different level. Even if we agree with Plantinga about free will, still it does not explain the existence of evil that is not caused  from necessities, but from contingencies. It is compatible with human free will if God refrains from creating some evil agents who committed horrendous evils. Plantinga does not rule out that refraining creating certain human beings was not within God’s actualizing power. God could have given human beings free will, and at the same time refrained to create individuals who committed horrendous evils, such as raping children, Hitler, Stalin, professional dehumanizers, and so on. The rest of evils, of course, would be impossible for God to avoid since they are an outcome of free will.

Conclusion

Even we grant Plantinga that it is a logical impossibility for God to give people freedom of will without granting them the capacity to do evil, the problem for a theist is the avoidable evils.[4] It is within God’s power to prevent these contingencies. God’s foreknowledge coupled with his creating power can prevent contingent evils.

Footnotes

[1]                 Plantinga has Mackie in mind here who believed that it is impossible for (1) and (2) both to be true. Mackie’s thesis is known as the logical problem of evil. To Mackie, (P) a perfectly good God always would eliminate evils as much as he could and (Q) there is no limit to what an omnipotent God can do. Unlike Plantinga, Mackie believes that (P) and (Q) are both necessary. To Plantinga, a perfectly good God can sometimes permit evil if it is morally justifiable, like in the case of free will, and there is, in fact, a limit to what God could or could not do. Therefore, Plantinga maintains, there is no inconsistency between (1) and (2).

[2]                Plantinga’s view of God is a caring Being that cares about human sufferings. He even suffers when we suffer. In his autobiographical essay, “Self-Profile,” he states, “The chief difference between Christianity and the other theistic religions lies just here: the God of Christianity is willing to enter into and share the sufferings of his creatures, in order to redeem them and his world. Of course this doesn’t answer the question why does God permit evil? But it helps the Christian trust God as a loving father, no matter what ills befall him. Otherwise it would be easy to see God as remote and detached, permitting all these evils, himself untouched, in order to achieve ends that are no doubt exalted but have little to do with us, and little power to assuage our griefs. It would be easy to see him as cold and unfeeling – or if loving, then such that his love for us has little to do with our perception of our own welfare. But God, as Christians see him, is neither remote nor detached. His aims and goals may be beyond our ken and may require our suffering; but he is himself prepared to accept greater suffering in the pursuit of those ends” (36).

[3]                The example of Hitler is not an isolated case or an evidence of particular evil; it is in fact a paradigmatic evil.

[4]                It is also when we assume that free will is a desirable value under all circumstances. Due to the vast amount of evil that occurs in the world, it is doubtful that free will can justify this vastness of evil. As Rowe states, “Someone might hold, for example, that no good is great enough to justify permitting an innocent child to suffer terribly. Again, someone might hold that the mere fact that a given good outweights some suffering and would be lost if the suffering were prevented, is not a morally sufficient reason for permitting the suffering” (“The Problem of Evil and Some Varieties of Atheism 3”).

Works Cited

Hasker, William. “Providence and Evil: Three Theories.” Religious Studies, Vol. 28, No. 1 (Mar., 1992), pp. 91-105. Print.

Plantinga, Alvin. God, Freedom, and Evil. New York: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. 2002. Print.

Plantinga, Alvin. “Self-Profile.” In Profiles. Edited by James E. Tomberlin and Peter van Inwagen. Dordrecht: D. Reidel Publishing Company. 1985. Print.

Plantinga, Alvin. The Nature of Necessity. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1974. Print.

Rowe, William L. “The Problem of Evil and Some Varieties of Atheism.” In The Evidential Argument from Evil. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 1996. Print.

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Plato on the “Ancient Quarrel between Philosophy and Poetry” (1)

 

d81f3d37de2293830160ee6ce388a528Ούκούν διάνοια μεν και λόγος ταύτόν· πλην ό μενέντος τής ψυχής προς αύτήν διάλογος άνευ φωνής γιγνόμενος τούτ’ αύτο ήμίν έπωνομάσθη,”διάνοια; ”

(263e3-5).

Well, thought and speech are the same; only the former, which is a silent inner conversation of the soul with itself, has been given the special name of thought. It is not true?[1]                                                                                                                                Sophist

            An ancient aphorism says that death and love are the two main themes of poetry. These two inventible components of life, to some degree, have seduced all the great writers. In a sense, poetry and rhetoric share the same quality, which is the quality of capturing the audience. Poetry, and in a lesser degree rhetoric, itself, not only because of its theme, but also because of its source of inspiration and the style of expression has been known for its capacity for emotional manipulation. This charge against poetry has been leveled against rhetoric, too.[2] Since the ancient time, the educational merits of rhetoric have been the subject of close scrutiny. Plato believed the eloquence of rhetoric, for most, makes it more appropriate to the faculty of emotion, and from there it captures the audience’s rational faculty, which its cultivation has been one of the main purpose of education.[3] It is not an exaggeration to say that the compelling nature of rhetoric’s eloquence springs from the way that it delights the audience’s soul. Due to rhetoric’s potentiality for emotional manipulation, it can appear convincing to the audience and sometimes at the expense of suppressing logos.[4] In our modern world with the increasing effects of media and the impacts of their rhetoric on the audience, the question of rhetoric has reappeared to moderns more profoundly than to ancients. Assessing the educational merits of rhetoric is not to dismiss it, but it is to know its limitations in order to use it effectively for educational purposes. I show that how a Platonic understanding of rhetoric can revise our understanding of logos. A good rhetoric is less prone to become a mere tool of convincing only through pleasing the audience. Indeed, in a good rhetoric potentiality of ethos and pathos to seduce the audience is balanced by well-constructed logos, and the educational merits of rhetoric should be gauged in light of how it is able to cultivate logos and make pathos and ethos subordinate to logos.[5]

Public sphere was the core of Athenian democracy where the Athenian citizens could participate in public debates and express their opinions on variety of issues. Rhetoric played a crucial role in those public debates on moral and political issues. Hence, rhetoric, in Athens, from the beginning was part of the practice of citizenry. As a result, rhetoricians gained tremendous educational and political influences among young ambitious people who were seeking fame, glory, and power. On the other hand, there were Greek philosophers whose audiences were not average Greek citizens but more or less educated and prominent Greeks. Rhetoric was defined as the art of persuasion while philosophy was defended as the love of wisdom and seeking it, even if it could bring shame and pain to the seeker of wisdom, like in the case of Socrates’s trial and his following execution. Gradually, intellectual skirmishes arose between rhetoricians and philosophers. These skirmishes were shaped by methodological and epistemological disputes as well as social rivalry between the two groups. In this context, Socrates appeared as a critic of rhetoric. Distinguishes between rhetoric and philosophy goes back to Socrates’s discussions with rhetoricians and sophists in order to defend philosophy against them[6]. Pre-Socratic philosophers expressed their philosophies in a more or less poetic language, and poetry was a way of discovering logos (Heidegger, 1971 Language, Poetry, Thought).

On the other hand, sophists, who made a profession of rhetoric and charged their students for their teachings, claimed that their teachings of rhetoric made their students able to win their conversations over their opponents, a skill that was useful in Athenian democracy to climb sociopolitical ladder. Socrates was deeply dissatisfied by sophists who reduced language as a tool merely for becoming successful in the society or dominating others. Plato’s criticism of rhetoricians have appeared in some of his dialogues, such as the Republic, Gorgias, Phaedrus, Ion, and Sophist.[7]

Plato in the Republic takes on Homer and the impact of his poetry on the education of its audiences. Homer to Greeks was not only a great poet, but Homeric teachings were the foundation of the Greek education. Evaluating Homer’s poetry was, therefore, an attempt from Plato to correct the foundations of Greek education (Republic 379a-380e). Homer, to Plato, talks about so many subjects that it is doubtful that he had an expert knowledge of any. He discusses, to mention a few, causes of war and its strategies, history, mythology, wisdom, and human nature, not from knowledge but from a divine inspiration (Ion 534b7-d1). Furthermore, Homer has misrepresented gods in his fables; for instance, he has talked about gods’ sexual assaults or their jalousies toward each other, and Plato’s concern is that children who hear those fables from childhood will be mistaken about gods perhaps for their entire life. “A young thing can’t judge what is hidden sense and what is not; but what he takes into his opinions at that age has a tendency to become hard to eradicate and unchangeable. Perhaps it’s for this reason that we must do everything to insure that what they hear first, with respect to virtue, be the finest told tales for them to hear” (378d7-e4). In fact, to Plato, Homer was a talented writer who used his divinely inspired intuitions to write beautifully about matters of which he had not robust knowledge. He, hence, was a transmitter of divine inspiration or madness by the way of using eloquence. But to Plato this does not qualify him as a source of wisdom.

In the Gorgias, we see Plato’s full treatment of his concerns regarding rhetoric. In the Gorgias, he analyzes two main rhetoricians’ theses; one is there knowledge-claims about the subjects that they taught, and second is their claim about the connection between their teachings and justice. One of the main concerns of Socrates regarding rhetoricians was that they used the art of persuasion or eloquence to teach about subject-matters of which they were no experts. Socrates realized that misusing rhetoric could function as a veil to cover ignorance while the purpose of a rational inquiry, to him, was unveiling ignorance. Hence, he was the first person who discovered the un-educational use of rhetoric.

Why, one may ask, should we care about the rhetoricians’ knowledge-claims? To Plato, we need to care for two reasons: first those knowledge claims might not constitute knowledge, yet a rhetorician by using a crafty rhetoric can present them as if there were knowledge. The second reason is that because of the affect of a crafty rhetoric on its audience, the falsehood would appear persuasive to them, which is misusing the persuasive affect of rhetoric. In this case, rhetoric not only does not teach the audience how to think, but they will take falsehood for knowledge, and what follows from falsehood cannot be a model for good behaviors. Hence, Plato invites us to assess the pedagogical affects of rhetoric.[8]

“The old quarrel between philosophy and poetry” that Plato mentions in book X of the Republic comes in the form of a full-blown argumentation between philosophy and rhetoric in Gorgias, where Socrates’s interlocutor, by the same name of the dialogue, defines the rhetorician as a maker of speeches of blame and praise, and philosophy is defined as a dialogic series of questioning and answering between interlocutors (448d10)[9]. Gorgias maintains, “Rhetoric is a producer of persuasion. Its whole business comes to that, and that’s the long and short of it” (453a2–3). And persuasion is concerned with the matters of justice and injustice (454b7). In fact, what follows from Gorgias’s definition of rhetoric is that the act of persuasion encompasses almost all ethical and political issues. Soon it becomes clear that the goal of rhetoric, as Gorgias presents it, is at odd with the goal of a Socratic philosopher. Socrates’s goal is to pursue wisdom through dialoguing even if it entails being refuted, while the goal of Gorgias’s rhetoric is “to win” the argument (457b-458c). Refutation of a Socratic philosopher’s argument is not a defeat for the philosopher, but it is a philosophic gain, since by realizing falsehood in their arguments, they can get closer to the truth. On the contrary, Gorgias, by his own goal, is compelled to persist on his false beliefs since acknowledging his mistake is admitting his defeat, or flaw in his rhetoric.

Socrates’s response to Gorgias’s second claim, that the main focus of rhetorician is matters of just and injustice, is that if the main focus of rhetoricians is the matters of just and injustice, then they need to have a robust knowledge of the just and injustice, and this knowledge is obtainable through philosophical inquiry, since rhetoric per se cannot supply this knowledge. In another challenge, Socrates states that if the main concern of rhetoric is just and unjust matters, then the students of rhetoric must be just too. However, Gorgias admits that some students of rhetoric are unjust, which is a contrary to his former claim that rhetoric teaches students justice. After Socrates has refuted Gorgias, Callicles, who advocates a type of political realism based on a naturalistic justification, enters the dialogue.

Endnotes

[1] H.N. Fowler translation

[2] The Oxford English Dictionary (1992) defines rhetoric as “the art of using language so as to persuade or influence others’. For Potter (1996: 106), ‘rhetoric should be seen as a pervasive feature of the way people interact and arrive at understanding.”

[3] Plato has a broad definition of poetry, and it entails the act of making speech and also the product of making speech. The Greek word of poioe means to make, and also it is the variation of the same word that was used for poetry. Socrates in Symposium about poetry states, “Well, you know, for example, that ‘poetry’ has a very wide range. After all, everything that is responsible for creating something out of nothing is a kind of poetry; and so all the creations of every craft and profession are themselves a kind of poetry, and everyone who practices a craft is a poet” (Symposium 205b8-c2).

[4] It is noteworthy to mention that by this I do not mean that logos is a social construct. If it were, logos would be another tools of seduction or manipulation, which each group of society would use to establish their own ideology. If it were, logos would be reduced to a mere practical tool used to overcome rival ideologies. This reductionist view, turns the rationality of logos impossible. To see the rationality of logos, it is to acknowledge its capability for reflexivity, which is being able to sort out between truth from falsehood.

[5] Believing in educational merits of rhetoric entails that it should not be reduced to “empty rhetoric” or worse for demagoguery.

[6] In ancient Greece, rhetoricians were not necessarily sophists, but these two groups were closely related.

[7] The tension between philosophy as pursuit of wisdom and rhetoric as the art of persuasion is also is a recurring theme in Cicero’s works too. Cicero tries to bridge between the two. In His De Oratore, he states, “The followers of Socrates cut connection with the practicing lawyers and detached these from the common title philosophy, although the old masters had intended there to be a marvelously close alliance between oratory and philosophy” (III, xix, 73). Petrarch, the prolific writer of Renaissance also deals with this tension in his various works. In a letter written in 1350-51, he states, “The care of the soul requires the philosopher [and] the learning of the tongue is proper to the orator. Neither should be neglected” (qtd. in Rhetoric and Philosophy in Renaissance Humanism 47)

[8] It is not to say that Plato’s Socrates was against rhetoric or even poetry. Plato himself was a great writer and excellent poet. To Plato, a philosophical poetry that can bestow a better understanding of reality or a rhetoric that makes students to think more creatively was not only essential, but himself is a master of using proper use of rhetoric.

[9] I do not know whether the historical Gorgias hold the same definition of the rhetoric or Plato merely misrepresents him. However, for our purpose, it does not matter whether the historical Gorgias had the same view about rhetoric as Plato presents it. What matter is that we know what account of rhetoric Plato tries to refute.

Plato and Poetry

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Plato in the Republic takes on Homer and the impact of his poetry on the education of its audiences. Homer to Greeks was not only a great poet, but Homeric teachings were the foundation of the Greek education. Evaluating Homer’s poetry was, therefore, an attempt from Plato to correct the foundations of Greek education. Homer, to Plato, talks about so many subjects that it is doubtful he had an expert knowledge on any. Homer discusses, to mention a few, causes of war and its strategies, history, mythology, wisdom, and human nature, not from knowledge but from a divine inspiration (Ion 534b7-d1). In fact, to Plato, Homer was a talented writer who used his divinely inspired intuitions to write beautifully about matters of which he had not robust knowledge. Homer, hence, was a transmitter of divine inspiration or madness by the way of using eloquence. But to Plato this does not qualify him as a source of wisdom.