We have been following a simple overview of Alvin Plantinga’s project: To articulate a model which demonstrates that Christian (or simply theistic, if you like) belief can be warranted. He starts with the objection that Christian belief, whether or not it is true, is certainly irrational.
This he shows to be untenable, but then he asks, How could we show that Christian belief is not warranted? What would be a “defeater” for this belief? The answer is that Christianity itself (or, again, the existence of God) must be shown to be false. If it cannot or is not, then the Christian can have warrant for her beliefs.
We’ve already seen that the challenge which seems to be posed by historical biblical criticism is something like an arbitrary handicap in sports. Let’s say you are telling me about some heroics from your adult softball league. You hit a home run to win the game last night.
“Impossible,” I say.
You say, “Why do you say that?”
Me: You don’t own a bat.
You: I don’t need to own a bat. I borrowed one.
Me: You don’t own a bat, and everyone knows it. Moreover, I’ve never seen you swing a bat. There’s no way you hit a home run.
You: Unless I did have a bat, and did take a swing, and did hit a home run…
Enough of this one. Sometimes one wants a fun analogy, but the parallels are not as dynamic as one would like. Anyway, I promised evil.
Now, the first iteration of the problem of evil is that it is impossible that an all-powerful and all-good God could possibly allow evil. This is known as the “logical” problem of evil – somehow, there is a logical contradiction when one says that both God (being all-good and all-powerful) and evil can exist simultaneously.
This one does not require the analogy to make it clear. In fact, Plantinga has modestly alluded to it, but I understand he is actually to credit for demonstrating that the logical problem of evil is untenable. Less modestly, perhaps, I have to wonder why it took someone as smart as Plantinga to make this point:
In order for free will to be real – that is, in order for our choices to be genuine choices – evil must be a possibility. We must be free to choose evil.*
And, in fact, the author analogy could find some resonance here. Consider:
In the context of her story, who establishes what is good? Is it anyone other than the author? Sure, you might read a book and find it terribly objectionable – but in the context of the story, does your objection mean anything? Isn’t the author the god of that world, all-powerful and all-good? If not all-good, how would you argue that she isn’t?
In truth, there’s no arguing, except to persuade the author to write differently. In that case, you have not changed her relationship to her story – she is still the god of that world. But you have caused her to exercise her power, and to define “good”, in a new way.
But there’s a more down-to-earth point to be made, and that point is made by the modified version of the problem of evil – the probabilistic problem of evil.
*In fact, for a time in college, I believed that Hell could not exist given an all-loving God. (Strangely, I did not see the parallel to the problem of evil). It wasn’t until I realized that one must take free will seriously that I realized Hell must seriously be real.