Shandon L. Guthrie
I appreciate the expositional notes by Drange and I believe it has enhanced my own understanding of his presentation. I'm not terribly interested in some of the alleged errors of exposition he accuses me of, but the readers can toil over that assessment. Neither am I interested in correcting his mistakes about my essay of which many abound.1 We are both just going to have to be more charitable with our mutual understandings. For example, I noted that Drange has situation L as one of God's "highest desires" which he disputes. My intent in the original essay was to eradicate a bad assumption thrust by the argument as a whole, namely that God's desire for situation L is a goal that should not be overridden by other desires. Although it would have been more accurate to attribute to him that this is simply one of God's highest desires, the category is correct nonetheless. In Drange's presentation of (A3), he writes that God is "not wanting anything else that conflicts with his desire to bring about situation L as strongly as it." So, in some sense Drange means to suggest that there is no overriding desire in God that would usurp bringing about situation L. Generally speaking, examples exist where God's desires conflict with each other (just look at the Levitical laws and the expectations imposed on them!). Why should this one be exempt? More importantly, I noted that God has such an overriding desire: that He wants a maximal balance of people who attain salvation over those who are lost. And if Drange embraces the possibility that non-contradictory desires can conflict with one another (e.g. when he writes in his reply, "God cannot have conflicting desires . . . is an argument which I reject") without impugning God in any way, then so much for (A3)!
More to the matter, Drange accuses me of entirely missing his support for the feasibility of situation L on the basis of natural evil. But the careful reader will note that this was precisely what I was addressing on points (5) and (6) in my original essay. After accusing me of not addressing it, he then proceeds to address it by suggesting that "feasible" simply is "possible" and that, per Scripture, God can do all things that are possible. Speaking about any individual event, I do not deny this. The problem arises when two or more possible events are conjoined -- which raises issues about their compossibility. If God creates Ivan who, no matter what the circumstances are, has a stubborn predisposition to avoid taking Philosophy 101, then it is no longer possible that "Ivan will freely enroll in Philosophy 101." Unfortunately, this main staple in my essay was largely ignored by Drange.
He is then said to be "mystified" by my analysis about the unintended consequences that could result from upsetting the present aggregate of evil in the world. This is just shifting the burden of proof because my point was to demand of Drange how he knows that the surgical removal of evil would be successful with no ill effects (e.g. that situation L would remain fully intact in the wake of such a maneuver). If he has an answer, I'm itching to find out how he can prove it. Many science fiction films and television shows are predicated on "innocent" maneuvers with incredible, unforeseen results. What makes the network of creation in the actual world any different?2
I'll cite Drange's next response here:
"In one place, Guthrie suggests what such a conflicting, overriding desire might be. He claims that it might be the desire to bring all human beings to salvation. But nowhere does he explain how that desire might conflict with the divine desire to reduce human suffering. That is, nowhere does Guthrie explain why God could not simply fulfill both desires, i.e., reduce human earthly suffering and also bring all humans to salvation. On the face of it, that would seem easy for God to do. So that objection goes nowhere."
I'll just remind him that the bulk of the essay addresses this very question. I am going beyond mere possibility here. I admit that in God's natural knowledge (His knowledge of all possible worlds) there is a scenario where God fulfills His desires to maximize the number of believers while having reduced or eliminated evil. This has never been in dispute contra Drange. But such a world might not be actualizable given that every time God goes to create such a world, His free human creatures rebel and run rampant with sin thereby ending up with a world potentially worse than the actual one. Philosopher Alvin Plantinga, from whom I learned a great deal about the ineffectiveness of the arguments from evil, illustrates how something might be possible while it might not be actualizable (feasible).3 He asks us to consider the statement:
The Prime Minister is a prime number.
Surely it's broadly logically possible that this could come about. However, it is not actualizable (or feasible) since no one would ever elect such an abstract entity as their Prime Minister.
Finally, Drange was apparently ready with a "cut-and-paste" response about what he calls the Unknown Purpose Defense. I've proposed this elsewhere and did not in the Examined Life essay; nonetheless, I find Drange's responses to it from his book to be weak. But this idea that God has a supreme desire -- to bring as many human beings freely to salvation -- seems to elude Drange. Now that he knows what God really wants to do, is he ready to concede that apparent gratuitous suffering may not be gratuitous with respect to salvation? Professor John Hick, a philosopher of religion who benefits from Irenaeus's thoughts on the matter, explains that God did not create a world designed to be hospitable and completely comfortable to his alleged human pets (as the skeptical Ivan Karamazov from Dostoevsky's famous novel The Brothers Karamazov insinuates). Instead, the purpose of life in Christianity is for each person to freely inherit eternal life and to become a child of God. With this as appropriate background information to God's modus operandi, I find it incredible that proponents of the evidential/inductive problem of evil (or suffering) still have not shown how a world with as many free creatures in it who have become "children of God" would not have been perturbed by the hypothetical reduction of pain and suffering. As one of my students once asked, "How do we know God has not already reduced it to only what He needs to accomplish maximizing the number of believers to unbelievers?"
In conclusion, Drange doesn't like my exposition. Fine. I don't like his exposition of my essay either. It's replete with errors. But his responses are insufficient because (i) he fails to differentiate between possible worlds and feasible worlds and (ii) he merely assumes that no ill effects would result from disturbing or removing any amount of the present aggregate of evil in the world. Unless and until these two conditions are satisfactorily met, no theist is in any position to worry about Drange's argument from evil being intractable.
1. As a brief note, I'm not impressed with the hair-splitting on omnibenevolence. Although there is a nonmoral connotation to the term "benevolence" without the prefix "omni-," the compound word "omnibenevolence" is a theological term entailing God's universal love. It would be like objecting to the term "omnipotent" because the term "potent" is not typically used to describe an agent's power.
Copyright © 2004 Shandon L. Guthrie