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God, Freedom and Evil Paperback – 1 Dec 1974

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Product details

  • Paperback: 121 pages
  • Publisher: William B Eerdmans Publishing Co (1 Dec. 1974)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802817319
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802817310
  • Product Dimensions: 21 x 13.4 x 0.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 261,773 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Harry Gensler-- John Carroll University"A witty and logical introduction to the groundbreaking work of Alvin Plantinga, who has done more than anyone else to restore in analytic circles the respectability of belief in God."Kevin Timpe-- University of San Diego"A classic work in the philosophy of religion, Plantinga's God, Freedom, and Evil is the single most influential text on the problem of evil in the past fifty years."Stephen T. Davis-- Claremont McKenna College"Alvin Plantinga is one of the top Christian philosophers in the world today. He is well known in Christian and secular philosophical circles for his logical skills, his rigorous arguments, and his energetic defense of full-blooded Christianity. This book covers some of the same ground as his more technical The Nature of Necessity, but unlike most of Plantinga's works, it is aimed at the general reader. . . Students can understand this book; they must only be willing to think as hard as they read."

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Suppose we begin with what I have called natural atheology-the attempt to prove that God does not exist or that at any rate it is unreasonable or irrational to believe that He does. Read the first page
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A. Bolos on 13 April 2010
Format: Paperback
(As note, much of the material in this book can also be found in "The Nature of Necessity"by Plantinga. This is a very condensed and less technical version of that book)

In this book Plantinga is attempting to answer the *logical problem of evil* and nothing else. The logical problem, briefly stated and according to Mackie, is as follows:

(1) God is omnipotent
(2) God is wholly good


(3) Evil exists

The main idea is that this set, taken as a whole, involves a contradiction.

While this simple set of propositions might appear inconsequential, this was one the major problems in philosophy of religion for some time. And until Plantinga, this (often called "the logical problem of evil") was one of the main arguments used against the coherence of traditional theism. Plantinga's main argument details with rigor why this set is not a contradiction (e.g., free will, metaphysics of modality, etc).

Because of this book (or the longer, more academic version "The Nature of Necessity") philosophers have all but stopped discussing the logical problem of evil. This rarely rarely happens in philosophy which is a testament to Plantinga and his book. Buy it, read it and spread the word. It is not logically inconsistent to believe that a good and all-knowing God would allow evil.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Samuel J. Parkinson on 28 Mar. 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If you are looking for a thorough, logical, philosophical explanation of various reasons a good God can permit evil, this is it. It is well explained, and while full of complex logic, does explain it all for the philosophical beginner. This is an absolutely seminal work which has changed the way philosophy approaches this problem, and indeed has convinced many philosophers that it is entirely logical to believe in a good God who yet permits evil. It shows that belief in God is a credible, logical, sensible position.

It does takes a long time and a lot of attention to read - it is not fast-paced!

It does a good job of showing various ways in which belief in God is a credible, logical, sensible position.

That said, if you are looking for an emotionally satisfying explanation of why God permits evil - if you want more than a bare explantion - you will not be satisfied. This is a book based on logic, and doesn't ever engage with the sheer awfulness of evil, or give you the impression that these explanations are really meant to be lived. So it isn't pastoral, nor will the answers here help you bear evil and suffering. But it is wonderful to have such a powerful demonstration of Christian belief all the same.
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I really enjoyed this book, i felt beyond the topic it was a very good primer on how to think philosophically. The concept is very good using the free will defence but extending to counter other arguments. I did feel that this dealt with human evil very well, but i believe more could have been done on natural evil
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 42 reviews
124 of 133 people found the following review helpful
The Free WIll Defense Prevails 12 July 2002
By John DePoe - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Alvin Plantinga, O'Brien Philosophy Professor at Notre Dame, shook the philosophy of religion world with this book when it was first published in 1978. His debunking of the atheistic evidential argument from evil is strictly a DEFENSE, not a THEODICY. A defense is merely a logical way out. A theodicy would attempt to give the specific reasons God allows evil. Plantinga does not claim to know the thoughts of God, so by offering a defense, he modestly shows that it is logically compatible for God to coexist with evil. His argument is NOT one by analogy (contra another reviewer), rather it is a strict application of the rules of logic.
Even though the book is more accessible to the public than most of his others, I imagine that someone without any basic training in philosophy may struggle with the read (but a struggle is not a good excuse not to read a good book!). In addition to the defense against evil, his exposition of the Ontological argument is very interesting, and worthwhile for anyone who intends to properly understand that argument. Those in the field of philosophy have almost universally accepted it as the theistic solution to the problem of evil. If you are an atheist, I challenge you to study his arguments to understand the rational case he is making. This will definitely be an exciting and fun read for the philosopher, as well as to the thinking and outspoken theist and atheist.
(By the way, if you are looking for a good THEODICY - try MAKING SENSE OUT OF SUFFERING by Peter Kreeft, philosophy professor at Boston College.)
30 of 34 people found the following review helpful
A Small Classic 13 Sept. 2005
By Reader From Aurora - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
God, Freedom and Evil is a short work, originally published in the mid-1970s, wherein Plantinga addresses issues pertaining to the existence of God. The book draws upon the author's prior works, "The Nature of Necessity" and "God and Other Minds". For readers new to this area of thought Plantinga is one of the most widely respected and read contemporary philosophers.

A large part of the book is dedicated the so-called problem of evil. That is, the question of whether or not the existence of evil is compatible with the existence of an all-knowing all-powerful and wholly good God. In addressing this issue Plantinga focuses on the question of whether evil and God can logically co-exist - it is not a theodicy which seeks to explain the existence of evil. With regard the former more modest question the author is quite successful in proving that evil and God are not incompatible as had been previously argued - written nearly 30 years ago it has yet to be challenged in any significant way. Plantinga can rightfully take credit in helping this question largely disappear amongst serious thinkers. Arguments in this area now tend to be focused on the level of evil rather than its mere existence (i.e. is there too much evil to be consistent with the existence of God). As an earlier reader commented, I too find the author's argument about transworld depravity awkward - it removal, however, does not serious impact Plantinga position.

In the remainder of the book Plantinga offers some brief thoughts on the classic arguments of natural theology - I found this part of the book less helpful. Plantinga indicates that he finds the ontological argument more compelling than either the argument from design or the cosmological argument. I tend to disagree with his views in this regard. Although with time I increasingly appreciate a certain force behind the ontological argument, it still strikes me somewhat as an artificial linguistic construct. On the other hand, I find the other two arguments more compelling than Plantinga does (I share his thought that, even if successful, the cosmological argument can offer little on the nature of God). To be fair to Plantinga, this work was composed prior to recent scientific developments that have strengthened the argument from design (particularly in the world of cosmology but, also to a limited degree in the biological sciences). A look at some of Plantinga's more recent work is also worthwhile.

Overall a good short book by an outstanding philosopher who effectively altered the argument surrounding the existence of evil. I highly recommend this book to all students of philosophy and religion. J.L. Mackie's "The Miracle of Theism is also worth a look for a dissenting view.
23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
Most influential theistic philosopher currently writing 2 Aug. 2003
By Adam G. Glover - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Some have called Alvin Plantinga this, and, whether you agree with him or not, the title is certainly warranted. In this book, 'God, Freedom, and Evil', Plantinga analyzes several mainline arguments of both natural theology and natural atheology. He finds all atheistic arguments wanting and most theistic arguments wanting. However, Plantinga eventually settles to the crux of the matter: the problem of evil. After showing that the problem of evil is obviously NOT a deductive problem--that is, from the existence of evil is does not necessarily follow that God doesn't exist--he utilizes the Free Will Defense to combat inductive arguments against theism. Plantinga ultimately concludes that the Free Will Defense, modified and elaborated to include considerations of possible worlds, successfully answers the problem of evil.
The arguments in this book, especially Plantinga's account of Transworld Depravity and other complex issues regarding possible worlds, are quite cumbersome. Still, if one is willing to take to work to a quiet corner and faithfully think through its contents, he will not be disappointed.
Adam Glover
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Powerful indeed, quite possibly STILL the best argument against the problem of Evil 11 Sept. 2011
By Cornell - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The argument that destroyed the Logical problem of Evil...

Leibniz's Lapse: Contrary to Leibniz, there are possible worlds that God cannot actualize

Here's an informal proof.

Imagine a situation S in which Curley is free to take, or to refuse, a bribe. Suppose God wants Curley freely to refrain from taking the bribe in S. The most he could do to bring this about would be to make Curley free in S. Can God get what he wants? That depends on which of the following propositions is true. (Note that one of them must be true, and the other false,)

(t) If Curley were free in S, then Curley would take the bribe.
(r) If Curley were free in S, then Curley would not take the bribe.

(Terminological note: (t) and (r) are among Curley's "counterfactuals of freedom.")

If (t) is true and God makes Curley free in S, then Curley will take the bribe and God won't get what he wants. Only if (r) is true will Curley do what God wants him to do.

Now let Wt be a possible world in which God makes Curley free in S and Curley freely takes the bribe. And let Wr be a world in which in which God makes Curley free in S and Curley freely refuses the bribe. If (t) is true, then God cannot actualize Wr. If, on the other hand, (r) is true, then God cannot actualize Wt. Since either (t) or (r) must be true, it follows that God can't actualize one or the other of these worlds--there is at least one possible world which he cannot actualize.

TWD ("transworld depravity")

For each possible person, and for each situation in which that person might exist and be free, there is a complete set of true conditional propositions (like (t) and (r)) about what that person would do if she were free in that situation. We will call these a person's "counterfactuals of freedom."

Now the sad truth about Curley may be this: His counterfactuals of freedom are such that in no matter what situation God places him, if God gives him morally significant freedom in that situation, he would freely do at least one wrong action. He doesn't have to. Curley is free, after all. But God knows that he would. Curley suffers from TWD.

Of course, there are possible worlds in which Curley is significantly free and never goes wrong. But God can't actualize those worlds without Curley's help, and Curley's counterfactuals of freedom are such that God knows that such help is not going to be forthcoming. Paradoxically, it might be that only Curley can do what's required to actualize one of those worlds.

How the FWD solves the logical problem of evil

Remember? The problem was to show that the following propositions are logically consistent.

(1) God exists--and is omnipotent, omniscient, and wholly good.

(2) There is evil in the world.

Plantinga supposes we can do this by finding a proposition implicit in the free will defense that is consistent with (1), and together with (1) entails (2). Now we can see what that proposition is. Here it is:

(3) God actualized a world in which there are free creatures who produce some moral goodness; AND all possible persons suffer from TWD, so that God could not have actualized a world in which there were free creatures who produced moral goodness and no moral evil.

It's possible that both (1) and (3) are true. Together they entail (2). it follows that (2) is consistent with (1). QED.

So why doesn't God just make different counterfactuals of freedom true?
Because then they wouldn't be counterfactuals of freedom. For God to fix your counteractuals of freedom for you would be tantamount to making do what he prefers.
God is stuck with the counterfactuals of freedom that happen (as a matter of contingent fact) to be true.

Does that mean that God isn't omnipotent?

Not at all. If the counterfactuals of freedom have a truth value at all, then for each possible person some complete set of counterfactuals must be true. Whichever set that is, no one, no matter how powerful, can make a completely different set of counterfacutals of freedom true.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
By Steven H Propp - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Alvin Carl Plantinga (born 1932) is a Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at the University of Notre Dame, who formerly taught philosophy at Calvin College. He has written many other books such as God and Other Minds: A Study of the Rational Justification of Belief in God (Cornell Paperbacks), Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism, Warranted Christian Belief, etc. He wrote in the Introduction to this 1974 book, "Here we examine the arguments of natural theology and natural atheology. We ask whether any of these arguments are successful and whether any provides either proof of or evidence for its conclusion." (Pg. 3)

He observes, "It is entirely possible that a good person fail to eliminate an evil state of affairs that he knows about and can eliminate. This would take place, if... he couldn't eliminate the evil without bringing about a GREATER evil." (Pg. 19) Later, he adds, "Certain kinds of values, certain familar kinds of good states of affairs, can't exist apart from evil of some sort. For example, there are people who display a sort of creative moral heroism in the face of suffering and adversity---a heroism that inspires others and creates a good situation out of a bad one. In a situation like this the evil, of course, remains evil; but the total state of affairs---someone's bearing pain magnificently, for example---may be good. If it is, then the good present must outweigh the evil..." (Pg. 23)

He initially summarizes: "A world containing creatures who are significantly free... is more valuable, all else being equal, than a world containing no free creatures at all... To create creatures capable of moral good, therefore, [God] 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... 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." (Pg. 30)

He argues, "[Our] atheological opponent... [insists that] God could have created any possible world He pleased... this contention ... is a mistake. The atheologian is right in holding that there are many possible worlds containing moral good but no moral evil; his mistake ... [is that] one of his premises---that God, if omnipotent, could have actualized just any world He pleased---is false." (Pg. 44)

He asserts, "If every essence suffers from transworld depravity, then no matter which essences God instantiates, the resulting persons... would always perform at least some wrong actions... [thus] it was beyond the power of God Himself to create a world containing moral good but no moral evil. He might have been able to create worlds in which moral evil is very considerably outweighed by moral good; but it was not within His power to create worlds containing moral good but no moral evil... God could have created a world containing no moral evil only be creating one without significantly free persons." (Pg. 53)

He admits, "Hume's criticism [of the argument from analogy] seems correct. The conclusion to be drawn, I think, is that the teleological argument, like the cosmological, is unsuccessful." (Pg. 84)

Plantinga's books---and this one in particular---are "essential reading" for anyone interested in the philosophy of religion.
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