This post is a sequel to my previous post:
In Describing Gods: An Investigation of Divine Attributes, Graham Oppy expands on the question of whether God is a free agent. The motivation is to attack theism by posing a dilemma for the theist, viz. positing tensions between two or more divine attributes. In addition, there's the question of whether God is still praiseworthy if he cannot do otherwise.
To his credit, Oppy realizes that the question is ambiguous. The answer depends in part on whether we define freedom in compatibilist or incompatibilist terms. So he says:
Suppose, first, that motives are causes. In this case, we suppose – at least roughly – that an agent acts freely just in case she acts on appropriate motives in the absence of relevant defeating conditions; and that an agent chooses freely just in case she chooses on appropriate motives in the absence of relevant defeating conditions. On this conception of freedom it seems unproblematic that God’s actions and choices will be free: after all, there are no external constraints on God’s initial actions and choices, and only irrelevant constraints on God’s subsequent actions and choices; and there are no defeating conditions that could apply to God’s acquisition of motives; and there can be nothing deviant about the connection between God’s actions or choices and God’s motives (258).
Clearly, Rowe’s argument depends upon the assumption that an agent acts freely just in case she causes her actions, and hence upon denial of the competing assumption that an agent acts freely just in case her motives cause her actions. If we suppose that an agent acts freely just in case she acts on appropriate motives in the absence of relevant defeating conditions (concerning acquisition of motives and external constraint), then we shall have no difficulty with the idea that God acts freely in creating the best possible universe that God can make, or one among the best possible universes that God can make, even if it is true that God could not have had motives other than the ones that God actually possesses. It is only if we suppose that an agent acts freely just in case she is, but her motives are not, the non-deviant cause of her action in the absence of relevant internal and external defeating conditions – and, in particular, if we suppose that it follows from this view that an agent acts freely just in case that agent could have acted differently in the very circumstances in which she acted – that we shall suppose that God cannot act freely in creating the best possible universe that God can make if it is necessary that God should perform this action (261).
However, even if compatibilism is a satisfactory model for creaturely freedom, it is not a good satisfactory for divine freedom. Although Calvinism is deterministic, it is typically defined in terms of conditional necessity rather than absolute necessity. Given predestination, the outcome cannot be otherwise; however, predestination might be otherwise, had God chosen to predestine a different outcome. Typically, Calvinism does grant that God chooses between alternate possibilities. So Calvinism doesn't have that out.
If, for any possible universe that God can make, there is a better possible universe that God can make, then, necessarily, there is a ‘cut- off’ on the goodness of universes that God can make below which God cannot stray, and necessarily, God creates one of the universes above this ‘cut-off’ (262).
I think there's some truth to that, although I'd put it differently:
Possible worlds range along a continuum from very good to very bad. For reasons I gave in the previous post, I don't think there's a best possible world. Rather, there are better worlds and worse worlds. A "collection" of better possible words from which to choose. A good God will not create a world with no redeeming values. That's the cut off. A wise and benevolent God isn't free to act contrary to his wisdom and benevolence. It would be defect if God were free in that respect. A God who was free in that sense would be imperfect.
[Premise #5] is perhaps not quite so compelling, but there is quite a bit to be said in defence of it. If there is an infinite collection of actions, any one of which God can perform if God arbitrarily selects it from the collection, and the best meta-action that God can perform is to arbitrarily select an action from the collection in question, and God is essentially omnipotent, essentially omniscient and essentially perfectly good, then how could God fail to arbitrarily select one of the actions from the collection, and then perform it? (264).
A problem with that premise is Oppy's failure to explain why God's selection must be arbitrary. Since different possible worlds are different, having alternate histories–like stories with different plots and characters–there's no reason to assume God's selection must be indiscriminate.
Either there is a best possible universe that God can make, or there is a collection of best possible universes that God can make, or for any possible universe that God can make, there is a better possible universe that God can make. If there is a best possible universe that God can make, then God must create it, and hence is not free with respect to creating it. If there is a collection of best possible universes that God can make, then God must create one of them, and hence is not significantly free with respect to the creation of universes. If, for any universe that God can make, there is a better possible universe that God can make, then, whatever God does, God is not perfectly good. So either God is not perfectly good, or God is not significantly free to create a universe other than ours (260-61).
First, can theists reject one or more of the principles that are assumed in the reasoning?…[Premise #1] seems compelling. If there is a unique best possible action that God can perform, and God is essentially omnipotent, essentially omniscient and essentially perfectly good, then how could God fail to perform that action? (263).
That's the key assumption. Unfortunately for his argument, Oppy fails to defend his key assumption. He gives the reader no reason to believe that God must select a better world rather than a lesser world. He says that seems "compelling". By contrast, I don't find that assumption even plausible. I don't find it theologically or intuitively plausible. Indeed, I find it highly implausible.
i) I think the assumption is persuasive to people like Leibniz, Rowe, and Oppy based on a specious but appealing parallel between divine perfection and his handiwork as a counterpart to divine perfection. If God is perfect, then whatever God does is perfect. I suspect that's the unspoken intuition, but it's vitiated by equivocation. Given the categorical disparity between the Creator and the creature, the world can't be perfect in the same sense, or even similar sense, that God is perfect. Anything God makes will be incomparably inferior to God himself. That doesn't make it morally bad or defective. It's not a flaw for a creature to be creaturely. But there's no parity between the Creator and the creature.
ii) There's another equivocation. Suppose you have two good possible worlds, but one is better overall. Nevertheless, it isn't absolutely better. Indeed, in some respects, the better world is worse than the lesser world. Suppose the lesser world has heavenbound people who don't exist in the better world. So the better world isn't better for them. If God creates the better world, he does so at the expense of people who were left out. So we have to ask, better in relation to whom? And there is no single answer, since that's relative to the winners and losers, depending on the world in question. There's no uniform standard of comparison that's applicable to both scenarios, because different possible worlds have different people with different destinies.
iii) In addition, the whole notion that God must create "the best" is actually inimical to Christian theology. In Christian theology, God deliberately creates messed up people, then redeems them. The notion that a good God must create "the best" reminds me of those utopian science fiction stories about a world populated by "perfect" men and women. In that world, parents don't make children the old fashioned way. For that would run the risk of making ordinary or defective kids. Rather, you have reproductive technologies to ensure the production of kids without congenital disease. Indeed, genetically enhanced offspring. In this utopian world, no one has birth defects. In fact, no one is "ordinary". Everyone is a specimen of physical perfection. Smart. Pretty. Handsome. Athletic. Good at chess. Artistically talented. Everyone has perfect hygiene. Perfect teeth. Moreover, people are euthanized when they pass their prime, because imperfection is intolerable in utopia.
The notion that God must create "the best" implicitly operates with a eugenic criterion of excellence that's antithetical to Christian theology. Moreover, in utopian stories of this genre, perfection comes at the cost of moral development. You only have to put these "perfect" people in a survival situation to expose their lack of character. Because everything comes so easily to them, because they lead an ouchless, painless existence, they have no altruism. They are selfish spoiled people who can't be inconvenienced by others. They will leave an injured friend behind because he slows them down. The notion of personal sacrifice for the benefit of others is alien to their psychological makeup. It's a perfect world so long as their nonexistent virtue isn't put to the test.
And this isn't just hypothetical. Abortion, "after-birth abortion," euthanasia, and transhumanism reflect this eugenic notion of "the best". Frankly, you have to wonder how people like Oppy would perform in a lifeboat situation.