Atheists have argued that if there is a God who is omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent, then God would have made a better world than the one in which we live. Many different possible worlds are better than this one. Some have less natural or moral evil than this world, and some even have no natural or moral evils at all. Consequently, there is no God who is omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent because such a God would have made one of those worlds that is better than this one.1
Philosophical theists typically reply to the problem of evil by focusing on one aspect of it, namely on the claim that there are better worlds without moral evil. There are possible worlds with no moral ...view middle of the document...
Alvin Plantinga has challenged this assumption, and this challenge is widely considered to be the definitive reply to Mackie’s critique of the Free Will Defense.2 Plantinga grants that there are possible worlds with freedom and no moral evil, but he argues that it is possible that although God is omnipotent, it is not within God’s power to actualize a world containing freedom and no moral evil. Plantinga believes that the atheologian assumes that it is necessary that it is within an omnipotent God’s power to actualize these better worlds, but in fact, Plantinga argues, this is demonstrably not the case.
Plantinga aims to demonstrate the following proposition:
(P) It is possible God is omnipotent and God does not have the power to actualize a possible world in which there is freedom but no evil.4
It will be immediately noticed that the locution “a possible world” in (P) is ambiguous. It can mean that it is possible God is omnipotent and there are possible worlds W in which there is freedom but no evil and God does not have the power to actualize W. To show this, all Plantinga needs to do is show that there is at least one such possible world. A stronger reading of (P) is that it is possible that God is omnipotent and for any possible world W in which there is freedom but no evil, God does not have the power to actualize W.
Plantinga needs to argue for the stronger reading.5 An argument that shows the weaker existential proposition that there are possible worlds that an omnipotent God does not have the power to actualize fails against the atheist. What about the other possible worlds? After all, the atheist claims against the Free Will Defense that there are possible worlds in which there is 4
freedom and no moral evil that God has the power to actualize. An argument, even if sound, whose conclusion is that there are possible worlds with freedom and no moral evil that an omnipotent God does not have the power to actualize is not a refutation of this claim. The two existential claims are compatible. So a successful refutation of Mackie's problem of evil must arrive at the stronger conclusion that it is possible that an omnipotent God does not have the power to actualize any of the worlds with freedom and no moral evil.
Robert Adams avers that "it is fair to say that Plantinga has solved this problem. That is,
he has argued convincingly for the consistency of [God and evil]."2 And William Alston
writes that "Plantinga...has established the possibility that God could not actualize a
world containing free creatures that always do the right thing."3
A defense is like a theodicy—it specifies reasons that would justify God's permitting evil--but, unlike a theodicy, it does not aspire to specify reasons which involve actual good states of affairs; rather, the reasons specified in a defense need only involve possible good states of affairs.7 More accurately, a Plantinga-style defense aims to show that