Over the last couple of years, I have done a bit of reading on the topic of the problem of evil. I recently published two blog posts, Free Will and the Problem of Evil and An Evolutionary Argument Against Theism, in which I challenge one of the most popular theistic defenses against the problem of evil known as the free will defense, an argument which has been most thoroughly developed by the philosopher Alvin Plantinga. I have come to the realization that I could publish several blog posts outlining difficulties I find with Plantinga’s free will defense, and this blog post will be a continuation of that blog series.
There is a logical contradiction between Plantinga’s free will defense and the idea of heaven as a perfect place that is free of sin and evil. I am by no means the first person to point out this contradiction, however, it is such a powerful argument against the free will defense that I cannot help but include a brief summation of it in my critique of Plantinga’s defense.
The problem of evil is an old philosophical argument against theism which states that there is a basic logical incompatibility between the existence of God and the existence of evil. This argument is succinctly outlined by the philosopher David Hume:
“Epicurus’ old questions are yet unanswered.Hume, 43
Is he (i.e., God) willing to prevent evil, but not able? then is he impotent. Is he able, but not willing? then is he malevolent. Is he both able and willing? whence then is evil?”
To solve the problem of evil, and thereby vindicate theism, Plantinga proposes a free will defense that claims that the existence of free will makes it possible that evil might necessarily exist in the best possible world that God could actualize. This argument is summarized by William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland:
“…if libertarian free will is possible, it is not necessarily true that an omnipotent God can create just any possible world that he desires… God’s being omnipotent does not imply that he can do logical impossibilities, such as make a round square or make someone freely choose to do something. For if one causes a person to make a specific choice, then the choice is no longer free in the libertarian sense… Suppose, then, that in every feasible world where God creates free creatures some of those creatures freely choose to do evil… Thus it is possible that every world feasible for God which contains free creatures is a world with sin and evil.”Craig and Moreland, 539
If Plantinga’s defense is correct, and this is the best possible world that God was able to create, then it necessarily follows that there is no better possible world. The problem, of course, is that this rules out the possibility of the existence of heaven, which is supposed to be a much better world without any evil. We must therefore either accept that there is no heaven, or that heaven is no better than earth. If there is a heaven and it has free will (and therefore evil), I doubt that it is a place where many people would be interested in spending eternity. (Although perhaps a heaven with evil would still be better than the alternative destination [i.e., hell]. The annihilationist view that the unsaved are ultimately annihilated rather than suffering for eternity has gained popularity among Christians as of late, which would eliminate the ability to make a comparative argument that even if heaven isn’t perfect, it at least isn’t as bad as hell. But I must doubt that many Christians would be inclined to make such an argument in the first place). Plantinga’s free will defense can more easily be accepted by theists who do not believe in the idea of heaven, however, most theists I come across, especially Christian theists, tend to believe in some such paradisiacal afterlife.
Craig, William Lane, and Moreland, J. P. Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (IVP Academic, 2017).
Hume, David. “Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, Parts X and XI” in God and the Problem of Evil, edited by William L. Rowe (2001): 38-56.