Transworld Depravity and the New Logical Problem of Evil

I am teaching philosophy of religion in our short six week winter session and I was re-reading Plantinga’s Free Will Defense. I think I understand it better now than I did back when I was first thinking about these issues.

As I understand it now it might show that there is no contradiction between some evil existing and God’s being omniscient, omnipotent, and morally perfect but it cannot show that the actual world is among the set of possible worlds that God chose to actualize. The basic idea behind all of Plantinga’s modal logic is just that the counter-factuals of freedom for all of the creaturely essences that God could actualize just shake out in such a way that there is no way to make it the case that everyone always does what is morally right (i.e. the Mackie world where everyone always chooses to do what is right is possible but not actualizable by God).

To be quite honest I find the whole thing pretty confusing. I am sure I must (still) be misunderstanding something about Plantinga’s system. How are we supposed to understand what is actually happening in a case of trans-world depravity? There is a possible world where there is a creaturely essence that, in that world, always chooses to do what is morally right. But then, since the creaturely essence is trans-world depraved, when God tries to actualize that creaturely essence it turns out that they will go wrong with respect to at least one moral choice. This seems like a really strange thing we are being asked to conceive of and now that think it through I am not so sure that it is obvious that we can conceive of what Plantinga says we can.

But even if you set that issue aside I don’t still don’t think that Plantinga’s free will defense does succeed it disarming the logical problem of evil. I am willing to grant that maybe it shows that an omnipotent, omniscient, morally perfect being can possibly allow some evil and so there is no logical contradiction between the claim that God is perfect and some evil exists. But it seems like we can generate a strengthened, revenge-style, logical problem of evil in the following way.

We can start by granting Plantinga the possibility of trans-world depravity. But if God has knowledge of the so-called counterfactuals of freedom (which could be denied but as I read Plantinga he accepts) then God will know, in advance, the outcomes of all of the free choices of every creaturely essence. We can then impose an ordering on the creaturely essences in terms of the kind and degree of evil their choices will bring into the world. Morality is a fraught issue and all of us have moral shortcomings but not all of us end up being genocidal mass murders, serial rapists, etc. Thus we can envision God assigning a number between 0 and 1 where 0 is ultimately evil and 1 is ultimately good (one assumes God would merit a 1 on the scale but probably nothing else would). Naturally there will be many many possible worlds for God to average over but that should be no problem for an omniscient being. Thus every creaturely essence will have some final value representing their net ‘evil impact factor’ on the modal landscape

E0 –supremely evil creaturely essence (every morally significant choice chooses immoral option)


E1 -supremely good creaturely essence (every morally significant choice chooses good)

Let us assume that a modal evil impact factor of less than .5 means that generally the possible worlds this creaturely essence is actualized in are ones they choose to act immorally in an egregious way whereas an impact factor above .5 means that you act immorally but in a less than egregious way (maybe one is dishonest and breaks promises and steals but never physically harms anyone or some such).

So even if we are able to make sense of the claim that God cannot actualize the possible world where everyone always freely chooses to do what is morally right (and yet still say that God is omnipotent) we still need an explanation for the kind of evil we find. There is a logical incompatibility between God’s perfection and the kinds of evil which actually exist. A morally perfect God would select the world with the lowest possible total evil impact factor (the combined impact factors of all of the possibly instantiated creaturely essences at that world). You mean to tell me that God could not have actualized the possible world where there is plenty of lying, cheating, stealing, truth telling, loyalty, etc but no murder? He couldn’t have actualized a world in the .75 evil impact factor rage?

What am I missing?

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