On Hasker’s Defense of his Parity Claim

by David Ray Griffin

David Ray Griffin teaches philosophy of religion at the School of Theology at Claremont and is executive director of the Center for Process Studies.

The following article appeared in Process Studies, pp.233-236, Vol.29, Number 2, Fall- Spring, 2000. Process Studies is published quarterly by the Center for Process Studies, 1325 N. College Ave., Claremont, CA 91711. Used by permission. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.


This is one in a series of four articles written in exchange between William Hasker and David Griffin. (See the Problem of Evil in Process Theism and Classical Free-Will Theism by William Hasker; Traditional Free Will Theodicy and Process Theodicy: Hasker’s Claim for Parity; "Bitten to Death by Ducks": A Reply to Griffin; On Hasker’s Defense of his Parity Claim by David Ray Griffin (see www.religion-online.org.) Dr. Griffin thinks Hasker’s reaction illustrates that more people need to realize they are not limited to the choice between traditional theism and atheism.

In my response, I raised many questions about Hasker’s claim to have shown that traditional free will theism is on par with process theism in relation to the problem of evil. Hasker quite rightly points out that I made more criticisms than he could answer in the space allotted. Having recently faced the same problem,1 I am sympathetic to the selectivity of response it requires. One approach is to focus on the criticisms that truly seem most formidable. Another approach is to try to poke holes in the criticisms that seem most easily answerable, thereby hoping to suggest that the remainder are similarly flawed. Hasker seems to have taken the latter approach. I will briefly point out why, from my admittedly biased perspective, his attempted refutations ("swats") do not succeed.

Hasker’s first complaint is that I should have realized that his "first version of the process argument against free will theism" was not attributed to me. But I am a process theologian and believe that my position on theodicy is consistent with that of process theologians more generally. So it is natural for me to assume that something presented as, in his present words, a "version of the process argument" would apply to me. I am still puzzled why he thinks some process theologians would make that argument.

Hasker next says that I was mistaken to say that his modified argument simply is my position because he adds the idea that humans would be aware of possessing only compatibilist free will. But there is nothing about this in the argument itself. That argument, which comes after his statement that "the argument would go as follows," is exactly my argument, namely, that the God of traditional theism could have created human-like beings without libertarian freedom, thereby avoiding all the evil due to human sin.

Hasker’s third argument challenges my statement that Descartes is "not so clearly on Hasker’s side" with regard to deception. Descartes does clearly affirm, in many places, that we are conscious of having libertarian freedom. But he also says that "nothing can possibly happen other than as providence has determined from all eternity" and that the idea that there is contingency in the world "is based solely on our not knowing all the causes which contribute to each effect."2 Hasker is right to say that Descartes would not have (explicitly) "allowed that we are deceived by God about our free will." But my claim was only that this belief is implicit in Descartes’ position.

Hasker’s fourth argument involves my statement that, within a Hick-Hasker type of theism, it would be difficult to say whether its deity would be more blameworthy for deceiving us about the kind of freedom we have or for gratuitously giving us genuine, dangerous freedom. Hasker believes that my doubt about this means that I do not hold the ethical premise in m argument against free will theism to be clearly true. But my argument raises no question about the ethical premise that a perfectly good creator would want to avoid as much genuine evil as possible consistent with bringing about the greatest amount of positive value. It merely points out that within the framework of traditional theism it is difficult to say which of the two options would do less violence to that premise.

Hasker next suggests that my position on the nature of intrinsic value is counter-intuitive by concluding -- from my argument that within the Hick1-lasker type of theism our enjoyment of freedom could be the same whether we had real or only apparent freedom (as Hick himself had said) -- that I would hold that falsely thinking one is loved and knows the truth is "just as valuable" as really knowing the truth and really being loved, so that these latter relations are "not of any worth in themselves." But Hasker’s phrases are ambiguous: Although they can be regarded as equivalent to Whiteheadian "intrinsic value," which is the value of a moment of experience in and for itself, they can also be taken to point to the total value of something, which would include its "inherent value" in the sense of the tendency of something to produce intrinsic value, which is the kind of value involved in most of Hasker’s examples, and also its value for God. Really knowing the truth is good "in itself," therefore, although it does not increase the intrinsic value of an experience of believing something to be true. For example, Hasker’s belief that his theodicy is true contributes to the intrinsic value of his experience while he writes essays on the subject. But that value is the same whether his belief is true or false (although his later judgment that his belief had been false would change his estimation of the total value of that earlier enjoyment).

Hasker next complains that, having said that a position should be criticized in terms of its core doctrines, "not on the basis of views that may have been espoused by some adherents but are not essential to the position itself," I have criticized him in terms of ethical views that he has disclaimed. In the passage at issue, however, I simply said that "[m]y question to [Hasker] is whether my argument [against Hick] does not tell against the adequacy of his position as well." We would be better able to answer that question if Hasker had told us exactly which views often held by other traditional free will theists he has abjured.

Against my claim that the God of traditional theism could have created a world with a much greater balance of good over evil than ours has, Hasker suggests that the imagined values of such a world may not really be compossible. But even though Hasker denies it (note 5), he does thereby seem to be implicitly presupposing metaphysical principles that God cannot surmount -- something that Leibniz, whose position the word "compossibility" evokes, did not do, clearly stating that God could have created a world without any sin or suffering.3

With regard to cosmological and theological freedom, I overstated in saying that the former is, within the framework of traditional theism, completely irrelevant to the latter. But Hasker ignored my main point, which is whether his deity, not needing to give theological freedom to nonhuman animals, was wise to have done so.

With regard to when the traditional deity should intervene, Hasker alleges that I say there is no need for a criterion. In response to Hasker’s fourth proposition, however, I argued against his contention that the notion of gratuitous evil does not provide the needed criterion.

In relation to the discussion of "psychological appeal," Hasker argues that the issue of philosophical adequacy is more important but that, insofar as one does consider popular appeal, one needs to "deal with the actual situation," which is that "the vast majority of Christians" affirm traditional theism. That is true of people who are still Christian. But part of the "actual situation" is that many people in what was once Christendom, in which traditional theism had a virtual monopoly on the meaning of "God," have moved to atheism. This move has been especially striking among intellectuals, who are presumably best able to evaluate the philosophical adequacy of a position.

Hasker, finally, claims that it is not question-begging to say that "we should not suppose that it is up to us to determine which are the situations in which God ought to intervene." That would be true if we already knew that Hasker’s God existed. But it is question-begging to use that argument to defend the very existence of such a deity against the appearances (which is very different from Whiteheadians using their principles to illuminate the appearances). Hasker believes, of course, that his idea of God corresponds to the real God, so he is naturally upset by criticisms of his idea of God, because he regards these as criticisms of the very Creator to whom we owe our existence. From my Whiteheadian perspective, however, his reaction simply illustrates the importance of making known our new vision of our Creator, so that more people will realize that they are not limited to the choice between traditional theism and atheism.



1. I refer to an exchange I had with Robert Segal and Samuel Preus in the Journal of the American Academy of Religion (2000).

2. The Philosophical Writings of Descartes. For a discussion of Descartes’ failure to reconcile his theism with our experienced freedom, see Jean-Luc Marion, On Descartes’ Metaphysical Prism.

3. See my God, Power, and Evil, 133-34.


Works Cited

Griffin, David Ray, Robert Segal and Samuel Preus. Journal of the American Academy of Religion 68 (2000): 99-149.

Descartes, Rene. The Philosophical Writings of Descartes, Vol. I. Ed. John Cottingham, Robert Stoothof. and Dugald Murdoch. Cambridge UP, 1984. 379-80.

Marion, Jean-Luc. On Descartes’ Metaphysical Prism, trans. Jeffrey L. Kosby. Chicago: Chicago UP, 1999.