The free-will defense is an argument commonly attributed to Alvin Plantinga, who developed it as a response to the logical problem of evil. However, in developing this argument Plantinga unwittingly ended up reinventing/rediscovering the Molinist doctrine of middle knowledge, so the key ideas of the argument are not entirely novel, and people have certainly come up with similar defenses independently more than once.
The Wikipedia article includes a summary of the argument:
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. Now God can create free creatures, but He can't cause or determine them to do only what is right. For if He does so, then they aren't significantly free after all; they do not do what is right freely. To create creatures capable of moral good, therefore, He must create creatures capable of moral evil; and He can't give these creatures the freedom to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so. As it turned out, sadly enough, some of the free creatures God created went wrong in the exercise of their freedom; this is the source of moral evil. The fact that free creatures sometimes go wrong, however, counts neither against God's omnipotence nor against His goodness; for He could have forestalled the occurrence of moral evil only by removing the possibility of moral good.
I have the following objection to this argument:
- If human beings were created in the image of God and have free will, then it follows that God also has free will.
- Likewise, if human beings, in virtue of having free will, are capable of moral evil, then God, in virtue of having free will, must also be capable of moral evil.
- However, if God is omnibenevolent, He is not capable of moral evil.
- So it looks like we have a contradiction between the last two points.
Said in another way, if God can have free will and be incapable of moral evil at the same time, then why would God create human beings that have free will and yet are not incapable of moral evil at the same time?
In other words, God is a counterexample to the claim that free will necessarily entails being vulnerable to moral evil, since God has free will and yet is not vulnerable to it, and so one wonders why God would create free creatures that are not immune to moral evil, just like He is.
How do proponents of the free will defense against the problem of evil resolve this conundrum?
Based on some of the comments received, I will try to write a more formal and rigorous version of the objection:
- P1: God is omnibenevolent
- P2: God is omnibenevolent => God is not capable of moral evil
- P3: God has free will
- P4: God has free will => God is capable of moral evil
- D1: God is not capable of moral evil (from P1 & P2)
- D2: God is capable of moral evil (from P3 & P4)
- Contradiction between D1 & D2 (=><=)
Defense of the premises
- P1 (God is omnibenevolent) is probably uncontested. Pretty much everyone concedes this as an axiom in the definition of God.
- P2 (God is omnibenevolent => God is not capable of moral evil) should be uncontroversial as well. God cannot do evil. It's impossible/unfeasible for Him. It just won't happen.
- P3 (God has free will) is based on the intuition that if humans (and angels) have free will, it would be very strange for God not to have free will as well. One could reject this premise and claim that, perhaps, God is a deterministic being who created free creatures. Sure, one could hold such a view, but it would be a very novel (and strange) one, wouldn't it?
- P4 (God has free will => God is capable of moral evil) is based on the same intuition used by the free-will defense against the problem of evil. If evil is explained as an undesired price of having creatures with free will (which God was willing to pay because of how valuable free will is), then what the defense is basically saying is that free will => capable of moral evil. So P4 is just a particular application of that rule to God, if we concede that God has free will.
If anyone is interested in further objections to the free-will defense against the problem of evil, feel free (no pun intended) to pay a visit to this question on Philosophy Stack Exchange.