, Volume 23, Issue 3, pp 45–57 | Cite as

Is plantinga’s God omnipotent?

  • Wesley Morriston


Actual World Contingent Fact Logical Necessity Moral Evil Subjunctive Conditional 
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  1. 1.
    See, for example, J. L. Mackie’s widely anthologized article, “Evil and Omnipotence”, originally published inMind, 64, (1955). Others who have defended this claim are H. J. McCloskey, H. D. Aiken and W. Kaufmann.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    I shall be referring to just three of these.God and Other Minds, (Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York, 1967), ch. 6, hereafter referred to as GOM;The Nature of Necessity (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1974), ch. IX, hereafter referred to as NN; andGod, Freedom, and Evil (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Mich., 1977), Part I (a), hereafter referred to as GFE.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    For Plantinga, a world is a “maximal state of affairs”, and states of affairs are abstract, external objects. As such, God does notcreate them, though he may actualize them.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    This section is primarily based on the argument of GFE, pp. 34–44. A much more technical and thorough presentation of the argument may be found in NN, pp. 180–184.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    See NN, pp. 172–173. My formulation of the distinction is somewhat more careful than Plantinga’s.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    A state of affairs, S, includes a state of affairs, S’, if and only if it is logically impossible for S to obtain without S’ obtaining also.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Strictly speaking, this part of Plantinga’s argument would go through even if it were not assumed that the falsity of (3) entails the truth of (4). The reason is that, by our definition of “weakly actualize”, (3) must betrue in order for God to weakly actualize W. So even if both (3) and (4) were false, there would still be a world God could not even weakly actualize. I think this is the real reason why Plantinga regards the assumption that exactly one member of each such pair of subjunctive conditionals is “dispensible”. See NN, pp. 182–184. Nevertheless, Plantinga is committed to the truth of this assumption. (See NN, pp. 174–180 and GFE, 40–41 and p. 43). And it’s not hard to see why. For this assumption is required by another aspect of the free will defense; it’s needed to make sense of the idea that Good acted for the best when he decided to actualize this world. Just suppose that when God decided to actualize S neither (3) nor (4) was true. It follows that God couldn’t have known either that (3) was true or that (4) was true. But then he couldn’t have known what Adam would do if S were actualized, and he couldn’t have known whether it would be a good idea to actualize S in preference to some other state of affairs. Surely a perfectly good and wise creator wouldn’t “take a chance” on doing something which, for all he knows, might lead to the worst possible world!Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    For the most thorough airing of this controversy, see Robert Merrihew Adam’s excellent article, “Middle Knowledge and the Problem of Evil”,American Philosophical Quarterly, 14, 1977. Adams argues persuasively that propositions like (3) and (4) could not be true.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Hugh LaFolette, “Plantinga on the Free Will Defense”,International Journal for the Philosophy of Religion, 11, 1980. See especially pp. 126–127Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    See GFE, pp. 47–48.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    See note 9. Hugh LaFolette, “Plantinga on the Free Will Defense”,International Journal for the Philosophy of Religion, 11, 1980.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    I believe this is the essence of Nelson Pike’s main line of criticism in “Plantinga on Free Will and Evil”,Religious Studies, 15, 1979. See especially pp. 464–467 and p. 469.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    See GFE, pp. 17–18, NN, p. 167, and GOM, p. 118.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    GOM, p. 118.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    There is a long and distinguished tradition for saying that God can do whatever is logically possible. St Thomas Aquinas, for example, maintains that God can do whatever is “absolutely possible”. SeeSumma Theologiae, Question XXV, Article 3.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    A state of affairs, S, is properly included in a state of affairs, S’, if and only if S’ includes but is not included in S.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    See NN, pp. 174–180 and GFE, pp. 40–41 and p. 43.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    GFE, p. 91.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Of course we have not defined omnipotence in this way. If we were to do so, it would quickly follow that God is not omnipotent. For there are many acts that are logically possible for human beings but not for God. For example, assuming that God is essentially incorporeal, it is logically impossible for him to scratch his ear.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer SBM B.V. 1984

Authors and Affiliations

  • Wesley Morriston
    • 1
  1. 1.University of ColoradoBoulderU.S.A.

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