Return to Reason: A Critique of Enlightenment Evidentialism and a Defense of Reason and Belief in God


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An encyclopedia of philosophy articles written by professional philosophers.

Consider W 4. Is it possible? Most people are tempted to answer "No" when first exposed to this description, but think carefully about it. Although there is no evil and suffering in this world, it is not because God causally determines people in every situation to choose what is right and to avoid what is wrong. In this world God has given creatures morally significant free will without any strings attached. If there is nothing bad in this world, it can only be because the free creatures that inhabit this world have— by their own free will —always chosen to do the right thing.

Is this kind of situation really possible? Something is logically possible just when it can be conceived without contradiction. There is nothing contradictory about supposing that there is a possible world where free creatures always make the right choices and never go wrong. Of course, it's highly improbable, given what we know about human nature. But improbability and impossibility, as we said above, are two different things. In fact, according to the Judeo-Christian story of Adam and Eve, it was God's will that significantly free human beings would live in the Garden of Eden and always obey God's commands.

It is important to note certain similarities between W 1 and W 4. Both worlds are populated by creatures with free will and in neither world does God causally determine people to always choose what is right and to avoid what is wrong. The only difference is that, in W 1 , the free creatures choose to do wrong at least some of the time, and in W 4 , the free creatures always make morally good decisions.

In other words, whether there is immorality in either one of these worlds depends upon the persons living in these worlds—not upon God. According to Plantinga's Free Will Defense, there is evil and suffering in this world because people do immoral things.

Kelly James Clark

People deserve the blame for the bad things that happen—not God. Plantinga , p. The essential point of the Free Will Defense is that the creation of a world containing moral good is a cooperative venture; it requires the uncoerced concurrence of significantly free creatures. But then the actualization of a world W containing moral good is not up to God alone; it also depends upon what the significantly free creatures of W would do.

Kelly James Clark - Google Scholar Citations

Atheist philosophers such as Anthony Flew and J. Mackie have argued that an omnipotent God should be able to create a world containing moral good but no moral evil. As Flew , p. If God has made men such that in their free choices they sometimes prefer what is good and sometimes what is evil, why could he not have made men such that they always freely choose the good?

If there is no logical impossibility in a man's choosing the good on one, or on several occasions, there cannot be a logical impossibility in his freely choosing the good on every occasion. God was not, then, faced with a choice between making innocent automata and making beings who, in acting freely, would sometimes go wrong: there was open to him the obviously better possibility of making beings who would act freely but always go right.

Clearly, his failure to avail himself of this possibility is inconsistent with his being both omnipotent and perfectly good. According to Plantinga, Mackie is correct in thinking that there is nothing impossible about a world in which people always freely choose to do right. That's W 4. But Plantinga thinks he is mistaken in thinking that W 3 is possible and in not recognizing important differences between W 3 and W 4. People can freely choose to do what is right only when their actions are not causally determined.

We might wonder why God would choose to risk populating his new creation with free creatures if he knew there was a chance that human immorality could foul the whole thing up. Lewis , p. Why, then, did God give them free will?


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Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata—of creatures that worked like machines—would hardly be worth creating. The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other And for that they must be free.

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Of course, God knew what would happen if they used their freedom the wrong way: apparently He thought it worth the risk. A world containing creatures who are sometimes 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 cannot cause or determine them to do only what is right. For if he does so, then they are not 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 cannot leave these creatures free to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so The fact that these 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 excising the possibility of moral good.

Plantinga , pp. According to his Free Will Defense, God could not eliminate the possibility of moral evil without at the same time eliminating some greater good.


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  • Some scholars maintain that Plantinga has rejected the idea of an omnipotent God because he claims there are some things God cannot do—namely, logically impossible things. He reasons as follows. Can God create a round square? Can he create a stick that is not as long as itself? Can he make contradictory statements true?

    Can he make a rock so big he can't lift it? In response to each of these questions, Plantinga's answer is "No. Omnipotence, according to Plantinga, is the power to do anything that is logically possible. The fact that God cannot do the logically impossible is not, Plantinga claims, a genuine limitation of God's power.

    He would urge those uncomfortable with the idea of limitations on God's power to think carefully about the absurd implications of a God who can do the logically impossible. If you think God really can make a round square, Plantinga would like to know what such a shape would look like. If God can make a rock so big that he can't lift it, exactly how big would that rock be? What Plantinga would really like to see is a stick that is not as long as itself. Each of these things seems to be absolutely, positively impossible.

    Many theists maintain that it is a mistake to think that God's omnipotence requires that the blank in the following sentence must never be filled in:. According to orthodox theism, all of the following statements and many more like them are true. According to classical theism, the fact that God cannot do any of these things is not a sign of weakness.

    On the contrary, theists claim, it is an indication of his supremacy and uniqueness. These facts reveal that God is, in St. Anselm's A.

    How Real People Believe: Reason and Belief in God

    These inabilities follow not from God's omnipotence alone but from his omnipotence in combination with his omniscience, moral perfection and the other divine perfections God possesses. Plantinga can't put all the blame for pain and suffering on human beings.


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    • Although much of the evil in this world results from the free choices people make, some of it does not. Cancer, AIDS, famines, earthquakes, tornadoes, and many other kinds of diseases and natural disasters are things that happen without anybody choosing to bring them about. Plantinga's Free Will Defense, then, cannot serve as a morally sufficient reason for God's allowing disease and natural disasters. This objection leads us to draw a distinction between the following two kinds of evil and suffering:.

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      It seems that, although Plantinga's Free Will Defense may be able to explain why God allows moral evil to occur, it cannot explain why he allows natural evil. If God is going to allow people to be free, it seems plausible to claim that they need to have the capacity to commit crimes and to be immoral. However, it is not clear that human freedom requires the existence of natural evils like deadly viruses and natural disasters.

      Return to Reason: A Critique of Enlightenment Evidentialism and a Defense of Reason and Belief in God Return to Reason: A Critique of Enlightenment Evidentialism and a Defense of Reason and Belief in God
      Return to Reason: A Critique of Enlightenment Evidentialism and a Defense of Reason and Belief in God Return to Reason: A Critique of Enlightenment Evidentialism and a Defense of Reason and Belief in God
      Return to Reason: A Critique of Enlightenment Evidentialism and a Defense of Reason and Belief in God Return to Reason: A Critique of Enlightenment Evidentialism and a Defense of Reason and Belief in God
      Return to Reason: A Critique of Enlightenment Evidentialism and a Defense of Reason and Belief in God Return to Reason: A Critique of Enlightenment Evidentialism and a Defense of Reason and Belief in God
      Return to Reason: A Critique of Enlightenment Evidentialism and a Defense of Reason and Belief in God Return to Reason: A Critique of Enlightenment Evidentialism and a Defense of Reason and Belief in God
      Return to Reason: A Critique of Enlightenment Evidentialism and a Defense of Reason and Belief in God Return to Reason: A Critique of Enlightenment Evidentialism and a Defense of Reason and Belief in God

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