Traditional Free Will Theodicy and Process Theodicy: Hasker’s Claim for Parity

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. 209-236, Vol. 29, Number 2, Fall-Winter, 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.


Dr. Griffin challenges Hasker’s parity claim between classical and process theism. (See The Problem of Evil in Process Theism and Classical Free Will Theism by William Hasker,

In the foregoing essay, which represents a continuation of a conversation that Professor Hasker and I began in Searching for An Adequate God,1 he reconsiders the idea, conceded by many traditional theists, that process theism enjoys an advantage with regard to the problem of evil. Hasker was one of those.2 Having now given the matter more thought, however, he has come to hold that there is one version of traditional theism that "is very much on a par with process theism in its treatment of the problem of evil."

The version of traditional theism of which Hasker speaks is what he calls "classical free will theism" but I will call "traditional free will theism." Hasker rightly points out that I have used the former name for the position in question, as in Searching for An Adequate God. More recently,3 however, I have advocated reserving the term "classical theism" for the version of traditional theism affirmed by classical theologians such as Augustine, Anselm, and Thomas, according to which God is timeless, immutable, and impassible in all respects -- a doctrine that implies that creaturely freedom must be denied or affirmed at most in a Pickwickian, compatibilist sense. "Traditional theism" would then be the inclusive term for all views affirming the traditional doctrine of divine omnipotence, with the classical and free will versions being the two main types. In any case, having made this terminological clarification, I will now challenge Hasker’s parity claim, dealing with his various arguments in roughly the order in which he makes them.

I. The Distinction between Process and Traditional Free Will Theism4

In his summary of the main differences between the two positions, Hasker appropriately emphasizes the issue of creation out of (absolutely) nothing. Consistently with its rejection of this doctrine, process theism holds that God necessarily and hence always exists in relation to "others" with their own power, whereas traditional theism’s acceptance of the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo means that God faced "no prior constraints apart from those of logical consistency." My only quibble with Hasker’s account would involve his statement that for process theists "the traditional doctrine of creation ex nihilo must be abandoned." Besides suggesting that we give up this doctrine reluctantly (whereas we do it with enthusiasm), Hasker’s reference to the doctrine as "traditional," with no qualification, could be taken to mean that the doctrine is biblical. However, as I have pointed out elsewhere,5 the scholarly consensus is now that this doctrine is postbiblical, having been developed near the end of the second century of the Christian era. That quibble aside, however, there are no significant problems in Hasker’s account of the basic differences between the two positions.6 But there are problems in his argument that the apparent advantage possessed by process theology is "largely an illusion."

II. Moral Evil

Hasker begins by pointing out an important commonality between the two positions -- namely, that they both believe in "libertarian freedom," which is the view that when a free agent has a decision to make, it has genuine power to choose among alternatives. Freedom in this libertarian sense stands in contrast with "compatibilism," which says that our freedom is compatible with our decisions and actions being fully determined by some other cause, whether this cause he God (theological compatibilism) or molecules (cosmological compatibilism). Both views reject both types of compatibilism.

The problems in Hasker’s account begin with his claim that, because of this rejection, "[b]oth views agree" that "the primary responsibility for [the morally wrong actions of human beings] lies with their human perpetrators and not with God." Within the traditional free will framework, process theists contend, the primary responsibility is arguably God’s, given the twofold fact that God’s gift of freedom to human beings is arbitrary and that, with regard to any instance of moral evil, God could have prevented it. That conclusion, however, presupposes my rebuttal to Hasker’s arguments against the idea that process theodicy has an advantage in relation to moral evil. I will, accordingly, move directly to those arguments.

Hasker’s first argument begins with the supposition that process theists argue thus: Because the God of traditional theism "has deliberately chosen to endow his creatures with [libertarian] freedom," this God "bears a heavy responsibility for turning loose upon the world a freedom that has had such devastating consequences," but that this is not a problem for process theism because for it "freedom is not the result of a divine choice." Hasker then points out that this argument is unsound. Although "[f]reedom in some form or other maybe necessary according to process theism," he says, the "sophisticated variety of freedom involved in human agency . . . is indeed the result of a divine decision." That, however, is what I have always argued. It is, in fact, on the basis of a quotation from me that Hasker rebuts his imaginary process theist. The apparent strangeness of this fact may be explained by the assumption that I did not understand the import of my own statement. A quick check of my writings, however, would show this assumption to be untrue. In God, Power, and Evil in response to the traditional question as to why God created free beings, I said: "Of course, in process thought all actualities have some freedom, so that question has to be modified to ask, Why did God bring forth creatures with high degrees of freedom?" (292). Although this is a book that Hasker did not cite, he does cite Process Theology, in which I say that "God’s stimulation of a more and ‘more complex world, which has the capacity for more and more Intrinsic value, means the development of creatures with more and more freedom . . . in relation to God" (73). Although Hasker concludes this argument by pointing out that for it too "it is God who is responsible for the existence of creatures who have the freedom and power to bring about great evils," I had explicitly said that "God is responsible for [the distinctively human forms of evil on our planet] in the sense of having encouraged the world in the direction that made these evils possible" (Process 75; cf. God 308-09).

My conclusion was that, although God is in this sense responsible for the world’s humanly caused evil, God is not indictable, because the risk of all these evils was inseparable from all the positive values that the creation of human life made possible. Because the capacity for realizing positive values and the capacity for freedom or self-determination are correlative, rising in proportion with each other, creatures capable of the kinds of values we can enjoy are necessarily creatures with a very dangerous level of freedom. Process theism’s advantage on this point, I argue, lies in the fact that this correlation does not necessarily hold for traditional free will theism. In a statement quoted by Hasker in his discussion of what he calls a "more subtle form" of the above argument (although it simply is my argument), I said that according to traditional free will theism it would have been possible for God to create "creatures who could enjoy all the same values which we human beings enjoy, except that they would not really be free" (Process 74).

Hasker takes issue with this argument, saying that it "abounds in problems." The first alleged problem involves my further point that although these creatures could have been created so that they would always do the best thing, they could think that they were doing so freely. Hasker, pointing out that this would involve deception on God’s part, expresses shock at my apparent failure to recognize, with him and Descartes, that it would be "impossible for God to engage in a policy of massive deception."7 But there are several problems with Hasker’s claim here.

First, in saying that it would be impossible for God to deceive us, Descartes was arguing against the idea that solipsism might be true, that our sensory impressions might not correspond to actual objects. Believing that his ontological argument had proved the existence of a divine being perfect in goodness as well as in power, Descartes argued that we could trust the testimony of our senses. With regard to whether we can trust our feeling of freedom, however, Descartes is not so clearly on Hasker’s side. As Hasker emphasizes, his free will version of traditional theism differs from the classical version, held by Augustine, Thomas, Luther, and Calvin, precisely on this point -- that this classical version held that all of our feelings, thoughts, and actions are in reality wholly determined by God, so that we have freedom only in a compatibilist sense -- or, otherwise stated, that our feeling of freedom is an illusion. Descartes, far from disassociating himself from that view of divine omnipotence, held an especially strong version of it. Insofar as he agreed that we seem to have libertarian freedom, therefore, he evidently believed, implicitly, that God had deceived us.

A second problem with Hasker’s argument, which is more serious, is that his criticism of me for suggesting that God could engage in massive deception involves stepping outside the framework at issue. I was not suggesting that it would be acceptable for (the real) God to do this, because, given the understanding of God held by process theists, the question does not arise. I was only asking: Given the God of traditional theism, who could have created a world in which the kinds of values distinctive of human life would be enjoyed but none of the evils resulting from human sin would be suffered, should this God not have done so, even though this would have involved the deception about freedom?

Hasker, in fact, then formulates my argument correctly (although he calls it a "modification" of my argument). That is, he points out that although the God of process theism "could not create beings possessing the positive capacities of human beings but lacking in libertarian freedom," the God of traditional theism, not being limited by any metaphysical necessities, could have. But then Hasker again misinterprets, suggesting that my claim is that traditional theism’s God "morally ought to have done so," thereby suggesting that I would not consider such deception morally problematic. However, in more extensive treatments of the problem of evil (the one in Process Theology, which he cites, is only seven pages), I make clear that the issue is that traditional free will theists face a dilemma that process theists do not. In Evil Revisited (which Hasker also cites), I said:

even if we agree that the traditional God’s deception of otherwise humanlike beings would be morally questionable, the traditional God’s failure to engage in this deception is also morally questionable. In other words, . . . the God of traditional theists is "damned if He does, damned if He doesn’t." (The male pronoun is fully appropriate for this God.) Process theism ... avoids this dilemma. By denying that God could have created otherwise humanlike beings with no freedom, process theists need not answer the difficult question as to whether that choice would have been preferable. (86)

The issue, in sum, is not whether an omnipotent deity’s deception of its self-conscious creatures would be morally problematic but only whether such deception, if necessary in order to have a world with all the positive values of the present one but without its horrendous evils, would be justified as the lesser of evils.

Hasker’s next argument takes issue with the idea that "all of the higher values enjoyed by human beings could be available to creatures lacking libertarian freedom." He holds, for example, that "libertarian freedom is essential for moral responsibility" I agree. But the claim that I had made, which Hasker quoted, was that the God of traditional free will theism could have created "creatures who could enjoy all the same values which we human beings enjoy, except that they would not really be free" (Process 74). My claim, in other words, was not about "values" in the abstract but about the values enjoyed by the creatures. Although genuine moral responsibility would not exist, these otherwise humanlike creatures would believe they were freely doing good. As I said elsewhere: "Since they would think they were free, they could even enjoy the smug satisfaction derived from complimenting themselves on their moral virtue" (God 293; qtd. in Evil 85). Only God would know otherwise, so no loss of value would be experienced by the creatures.

Hasker also says that libertarian freedom is essential for "a genuinely personal relationship between God and human beings." Again, I agree, but my argument was only that fully determined creatures could believe they were enjoying a personal relationship with their creator. This argument was originally worked out in relation to the theodicy of John Hick, who suggested an analogy with the relationship between a hypnotist and a patient. A hypnotist could give a patient a posthypnotic suggestion that the patient would be a loving and trusting person, acting with love towards other people and having attitudes of love and trust toward the hypnotist. From everyone else’s point of view, the patient’s attitudes would be enjoyable and praiseworthy.8 But to the hypnotist these attitudes would be inauthentic, because the hypnotist would know that they had not arisen freely. By analogy, God (as understood by Hick) could have created us so that we would necessarily respond to God with worship and trust. But God, says Hick, would not find this satisfying:

Just as the patient’s trust in, and devotion to, the hypnotist would lack for the latter the value of a freely given trust and devotion, so our human worship and obedience to God would lack for Him the value of a freely offered worship and obedience. We should, in relation to God, be mere puppets, precluded from entering into any truly personal relationship with Him. (Evil 310, qtd. in Griffin, God 183)

As Hick’s analogy illustrates, the only one who would suffer any loss of value would be God. In order not to suffer this personal loss of value, Hick’s deity gives human beings genuine freedom -- freedom vis-à-vis God, which I have called theological freedom (Evil 17) -- so that their love and trust for their creator, when it develops, will be authentic. This gift of theological freedom comes at a high price, because human beings can use it to violate the social, political, and economic freedom of other human beings, inflict great suffering on other animals, and destroy the planet in general. Because of this trade-off I questioned the success of Hick’s theodicy in justifying the divine decision, saying:

It is certainly not self-evident that the additional value that would accrue to God by God’s knowing that the creatures’ fiduciary attitudes were authentic, rather than spurious, is sufficient to justify all that evils that would have been avoided had God been willing to forgo this additional value. (God 188)

Hasker seems to hold about the same position as Hick. My question to him, accordingly, is whether my argument does not tell against the adequacy of his position as well.

My critique of Hick’s theodicy would also seem germane to Hasker’s with regard to the question of divine deception. I-lick has argued that if the existence of an omnipotent creator were clear to human beings, it would be so obvious that we should obey God’s will that we would not really be free in relation to God. Hick’s deity, accordingly, has deliberately created "epistemic distance" between itself and us, thereby making the world thoroughly ambiguous with regard to whether there is a divine being or not. In response to my statement that it would have arguably been preferable for Hick’s deity to have prevented all the suffering and destruction resulting from human sin forgoing the satisfaction of having us develop authentic love and trust, Hick gave the same response as Hasker -- that such deception would be improper. In reply, however, I asked Hick: "Why is [the deception involved in the deliberate creation of epistemic distance], which has resulted in most of the evils of human history, acceptable, whereas the deception about freedom, through which all those evils could have been avoided, would be unacceptable?"9 It would seem that this question would apply to Hasker as well.

One final charge by Hasker is that the kind of argument I have made reveals me to be a "disappointed Calvinist." Process theists like me are said to believe, in other words, that "it would be better, all things considered, if God had been able to exercise complete, unilateral control over the world, exactly as postulated by Calvin." Because our God cannot do this, however, we "are obliged to settle for second best," a universe "containing the peril and potential destructiveness of libertarian freedom." But Hasker has again stepped out of the framework of the argument. My argument against traditional theism is an internal argument within its framework, according to which divine determination of all events is possible. Within that framework, I have said, it is not obvious that the Hick-Hasker deity; who disguised its existence from us while freely giving us theological freedom with all its dangers, is preferable to a God who would be Calvinistic in power but Whiteheadian in goodness (so that the world would truly be the paradise that traditional theists long for in Heaven but so dread on Earth). I have simply suggested that, given those alternatives, the latter might be preferable. No conclusions about my own position can be drawn from this internal argument within an alien framework. Within my own framework, as I pointed out before, the question of whether it "would be better" to have a universe in which the creator exercises complete control does not come up, because it is a metaphysical impossibility. This universe is not considered "second best," because that other imagined universe is not considered a metaphysical possibility. It makes no sense whatsoever, furthermore, for Hasker to say that if some process theists would prefer a fully determined universe "they would most likely have been Calvinists all along," as if our theological positions should be based entirely on our wishes rather than what we think really to be the case. (One can hope that Hasker has not here inadvertently revealed the basis for his own philosophical-theological positions.)

III. Natural Evil

Having pointed out the failure of Hasker’s various attempts to show the apparent advantage of process theism with regard to moral evil to be illusory, I turn to his attempt to show the same with regard to natural evil, understood as evil not caused by human agents. Hasker begins with the issue of animal suffering not due to human agency. This has been an especially difficult problem for the traditional free will defense, because that defense is oriented around the idea that human suffering can be justified in terms of God’s "soul-making" purpose of producing moral and spiritual virtues. Because nonhuman animals are not, by hypothesis, capable of developing such virtues, it is hard to see why a creator who is both omnipotent and benevolent would make them so susceptible to pain (insofar as warning devices are needed, omnipotence could have fashioned nonpainful ones, as pointed out in the book Catch 22). It is sometimes suggested that animal suffering is for the sake of calling forth human compassion. But even if one overlooks the extreme anthropocentrism of this argument (which implies that the sufferings of millions of other species are justified because they contribute to human soul-building), there would be the problem that most of the animal suffering on the planet has occurred beyond the ken of human beings. It is especially puzzling why the deity of traditional free will theism, who created the universe for the sake of soul-building, would have taken over 10 billion years simply to set the stage, employing an evolutionary process involving hundreds of millions of years of animal suffering prior to the rise of human beings. The facts seem inconsistent with the hypothesis of an omnipotent creator of unbounded goodness and wisdom.

In response to this argument, Hasker says that animal suffering, being an "inescapable part" of the natural world, "does not negate the world’s goodness overall." Saying that "Griffin evidently disagrees with this," Hasker suggests that my disagreement might reflect the belief that "the world of nature as we know it is a had thing, so that its existence is worse than its non-existence." Again, however, Hasker is speaking as if my arguments within his framework could be taken to reflect my own position. Seeing, however, that the view that nature is a bad thing could not reflect my own position, he then correctly stares my contention, which is that "the world of nature, though not bad overall, is nevertheless distinctly inferior to alternative worlds we can envisage which a God endowed with classical omnipotence would have brought into existence."

His first attempted rebuttal is to claim that, given my own views, according to which God bad quasi-coercive effects at the outset of this cosmic epoch and later brought about evolutionary saltations, "it is quite unlikely that the world of nature is radically different than God intended it to be." It is hard to see what this argument even if it were sound (which it is not),10 would prove. In order to rebut my claim that there is a big gap between the world as it is and the kind of world that a benevolent creator with traditional omnipotence would be expected to create, Hasker argues that there should be no gap between the kind of world the process deity wanted to create and the world it actually created. How could the implications of my view of the creator and the creative process, even if they were as Hasker’s portrays them, be relevant to my argument about the implications of Hasker’s view of the creator and the creative process? Here again Hasker has confused the frameworks, arguing as if hypothetical points relevant within one were relevant within the other. This confusion is reflected in the sentence at the end of this argument, in which he says: "I conclude that, on process assumptions, it is unlikely that the world of nature is radically different than God intended it to be." In speaking of God there, he means not just "God as conceived by process theism" but simply God, the real God -- which for him means the God of traditional free will theism.

Besides this confused argument, however, Hasker has another rebuttal to my contention, which he summarizes as the view that the world of nature "is less good than other worlds that we can see to be possible." That, however, is emphatically not my contention. Given my rejection of creatio ex nihilo and therefore my acceptance of metaphysical principles that would necessarily be involved in any world, I do not believe that a world that is significantly different from ours in terms of issues germane to the problem of evil would be possible. (That is the point of my "variables of power and value," according to which increases in the capacity for intrinsic value are not possible apart from correlative increases in the capacity for experiencing and causing suffering.) My contention must be put as Hasker had phrased it earlier, namely, that our world is less good than a world that, we can imagine, could be created by a God endowed with traditional omnipotence.

This correct phrasing is important in evaluating Hasker’s response, which is that

we just do not know anything like enough about possible alternative systems of nature to have any reliable views about what is and is not possible and/or desirable. Science-fictional fantasies and idyllic paintings of the "peaceable kingdom" just aren’t enough to go on here.

This response fits with Hasker’s earlier-cited claim that animal suffering is an inescapable part of the world of nature. What happened, however, to the God of traditional theism, whose power is constrained by no principles other than purely logical ones? Hasker is here instead presupposing a God like that of process theism, who is constrained by metaphysical principles. In a later recursion to this issue (in the second point in the section on Divine Intervention), Hasker says:

There could he nothing like the ecosystem as we know it without extensive predation. Monsoons and hurricanes cause destruction, but also deposit much-needed rainfall in what would otherwise be regions of perpetual drought. Natural selection, an essential part of the process by which organisms evolve into richer and more complex forms, inevitably involves a great deal of suffering, death, and general failure of organisms to flourish.

All this is true. And it is all germane to process theodicy. But all these facts about the world "as we know it" are not germane to traditional theism, according to which "God created the world ex nihilo, with no prior constraints apart from those of logical consistency," It is not a logical truth that beings capable of medium- and high-level intrinsic values can exist only by predation on other such beings. There is nothing logically self-contradictory in the idea that we and other animals could have existed without requiring food (as angels presumably do) or by getting our nourishment directly from the atmosphere or the ocean (as do some plants). It is not a logical truth that a world supporting sentient beings would need water or that hurricanes would be necessary to get the water properly distributed. And the idea that a world of high-level sentient creatures could be created only through an evolutionary process is surely not a logical truth -- as illustrated by all the creationists who deny that our world was so created.11 Hasker has defended his view of God only by implicitly giving it up.12

With regard to this last issue, Hasker points out that the process theist might "maintain that, while an evolutionary process was the only option available for the process God, a God endowed with classical omnipotence would rather have chosen to short-circuit the process by instantaneously bringing about the universe in its present state." To reply to this criticism, Hasker again steps outside the framework at issue. This time, in fact, he does this explicitly, saving that this challenge -- that God should have created the world instantaneously rather than using an evolutionary process involving natural selection – "cannot sensibly be made by a process theist," because process theists believe that God has in fact used an evolutionary process. And to insist that at least the God of traditional theism should have created the world instantaneously would be, Hasker again says, to imply "that the world of nature is a bad thing, one whose existence at present must perhaps be tolerated as instrumental to the existence of moral agents," and to hold this, Hasker continues, would be at odds with the process theism’s advocacy of reverence for nature.

But this whole response is confused. What we process theists believe about the relation between God and nature is irrelevant to the cogency of our critique of the self-consistency of traditional theism. It is traditional theists who hold that God could have created the world instantaneously. And it is traditional free will theists who have implied, and sometimes explicitly said, that the whole universe was created for evoking moral and spiritual virtue in free human (and perhaps, on other planets, humanlike) souls, so that it is only this divine-human drama that contains intrinsic value. It is the combination of these theological hypotheses that leads to the rhetorical question as to why this creator would have taken over 10 billion years simply setting the stage for the only part of the process in which something truly important is occurring. The rhetorical question does not apply to process theists because we accept neither of the hypotheses in question. The fact that we endorse theistic evolution and reverence for nature is, accordingly, irrelevant to the question of the plausibility of traditional free will theism. Indeed, the same questions about the self-consistency and plausibility of traditional free will theism could be, and have been, raised by philosophers with other perspectives. Hasker is misguided, therefore, in thinking that he should direct his answer "in the first instance, to the process theist." What he needs to do is show that his position can meet the challenges to its self-consistency and plausibility, regardless of the origin of these challenges.

One of Hasker’s attempts to improve the defensibility of traditional free will theism involves making its view of nature more like that of process theism. Being impressed by "Hartshorne’s suggestion about generalizing the free will defense to include natural evil," Hasker suggests that the benefits from this generalization "need not be limited to process theism." Citing the evidence from physics that "natural processes are inherently indeterministic" and from experience that living creatures "exercise a genuine spontaneity," Hasker says that he need not hold "that God directly decreed the existence of the AIDS virus."

Hasker is right, I believe, about physical particles and living beings, but he has confused two meanings of spontaneity. The evidence in question is evidence against the doctrine of cosmological determinism, according to which physical processes are wholly determined by antecedent causes within the world. But the question relevant to theodicy concerns theological determinism, which is whether God fully determines the behavior of physical processes, including the behavior of animals. The affirmation of cosmological spontaneity is fully compatible with the affirmation of theological determinism -- as illustrated by the beliefs of countless traditional theists from Augustine to the present.13 I am glad that Hasker denies "that God directly decreed the existence of the AIDS virus."14 But the generalization of cosmological freedom or spontaneity to all levels of nature does not suffice -- within his theological framework -- to ground this denial.

Within this framework, furthermore, one can wonder if God’s free gift of theological spontaneity to individuals at every level of nature would be wise. In process theology, this question does not arise, because the presence of theological spontaneity throughout the world is metaphysically necessitated: To be an actual entity is to embody creativity and this creativity as embodied by creatures cannot be wholly controlled by God. Within the framework of traditional theism, by contrast, there would be no need for theological spontaneity to be given to nonhuman individuals. Even if the divine gift of theological freedom to human beings can be justified (which, as we have seen, is at least questionable), it is hard to see any justification for giving it to nonhuman individuals, at least those below the level at which any virtues could be developed. Hasker’s God, accordingly, seems guilty of having made the world far more dangerous than it, in terms of his theological framework, needs to be.

My conclusion is that Hasker has not shown process and traditional free will theism to be "on all fours with each other" with regard to natural evil.

IV. Divine Intervention

I turn now to Hasker’s attempt to show that process theism, despite initial appearances, has no real advantage over traditional free will theism with regard to the question of divine intervention. Process theism’s initial advantage is that, according to its principles, God cannot occasionally interrupt the normal causal pattern of the world, whereas the God of traditional free will theism can. The resulting question, which Hasker calls "the problem of divine non-intervention," is "why does God not intervene, or do so more frequently, to prevent great evils?" Hasker’s answer to this problem takes the form of four propositions.

The first proposition is that this problem "is a serious difficulty for [traditional] free will theism only if it is clear that there are situations in which God ought to intervene but fails to do so." One problem with this proposition involves the word "clear." Just how clear does Hasker mean it would have to be? Clear beyond any reasonable doubt, or clear beyond any possible doubt? Defenders of classical theism often implicitly use the latter criterion, claiming they have defended their God’s failure to prevent horrendous evils by simply pointing out that there might be some reason, knowable only by God, as to why it was good not to intervene.15 I would say, in any case, that it need not be "clear" in a strong sense of the term. Traditional free will theism has a problem insofar as it seems likely to people that God should have intervened to prevent the tragedy in question.

Hasker’s second proposition -- "Frequent or routine invention would negate many of the purposes for which the world was created in the first place" – is also problematic. Hasker says that "it is of great inherent value for persons to exercise free moral choice" and that this value "would be negated if God were to interfere each time a wrong action is about to be performed." Most critics of (traditional) theism do not hold, however, that God should do this each time, but only that God should have done so in some of the most egregious instances. We need to remember, furthermore, that the "inherent value" realized by choices that are free vis-à-vis God is appreciated only by God, because for the person the inherent value would be enjoyed as long as the person thought that the choice was free. God’s intervention (within the framework of traditional free will theism) would undermine only the value God would enjoy by witnessing the occurrence of a good choice that was truly free. It would, at the same time, increase the intrinsic value of at least most of the creatures involved. Is it not rather selfish of Hasker’s God to refuse to intervene in such situations?

Another claim made by Hasker is that if God were "routinely to intervene to prevent evil from being done, there would be far less incentive to form effective human communities, a large part of whose function is to encourage good behavior and to restrain evil." Looking aside from all the other problems in this justification for God’s permission of evil, we can again simply note that most people led to atheism because of horrendous evils such as the Nazi holocaust do not say that God should routinely intervene but only that God should have prevented these extraordinary evils. The standard reply by defenders of traditional free will theism is that "worst" is a relative term so that, if God had prevented the worst evils, then the next worst evils would have been the worst, and the critic would claim that God should have prevented those, and so on, so that, in Hick’s words, "There would be nowhere to stop, short of a divinely arranged paradise," which would defeat the divine purpose of soul-making (363-64).

While admitting that Hick’s slippery-slope argument has an initial plausibility, I had argued that

it suggests a lack in divine wisdom. For we as human parents are able to decide rather well where the proper balance is between overprotecting our children so that they fail to develop, on the one hand, and exposing them to so much danger that they will probably perish before they have a chance to develop, on the other. Surely God, if perfectly wise, could find some place to strike a balance between the present world, which is somewhat too dangerous for most of God’s children, and a world in which moral qualities would nor develop at all. In fact, one might suspect that a world in which evil was somewhat less victorious than in our present one would evoke more moral qualities, since many people in the present world give up on the battle for goodness because it often seems so hopeless. (God 189)

I wish that Hasker, rather than simply repeating the type of argument that Hick and others have given, would have dealt with this response to it.

Hasker’s third proposition is that for the problem of divine non-intervention to be a real problem, "we must be able to identify specific kinds of cases in which God morally ought to intervene but does not" Many critics of (traditional) theism probably already have a more or less vague list of such cases, which might include genocidal events, such as the Nazi holocaust and the Rwandan massacre; wars; large-scale natural disasters; conditions of chronic poverty, in which millions of children die from starvation or are permanently stunted because of inadequate protein; the sexual molestation of children, which often leaves them psychologically scarred for the rest of their lives; death preceded by long, painful illnesses, such as cancer or AIDS, or by mind-destroying conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease; and the kinds of events described by Dostoyevski, such as the soldier using his pistol to get a mother’s baby to giggle with delight and then blowing its brains out.

Hasker claims that the amount of intervention possible for God compatible with the divine purposes would surely be "far less than would be needed to materially affect the overall balance of good and evil in the world." One can only wonder from what perspective he is speaking. If God had prevented that particular soldier’s barbaric act, so that that mother would have been able to raise her darling baby instead of living the rest of her life with the memory of its murder, the "overall balance of good and evil in [her] world" would have been greatly affected. If God had prevented World War I -- a senseless war, the only real accomplishment of which was to plant the seeds for World War II -- the overall balance of good and evil would have been greatly affected for the millions of people who lost sons, husbands, brothers, or friends in that war. It seems to many thoughtful people, in any case, that a God endowed with traditional omnipotence could have made this a far better world, even for the purpose of soul-making, by preventing a wide range of evils that have destroyed or stunted billions of lives throughout human history.

Hasker says, however, that "we must remember that we are (by hypothesis) dealing with a God of infinite wisdom," which means that "we must be prepared to defer to that wisdom concerning the suitable occasions for special intervention." Hasker’s insertion of this statement in his argument is puzzling. The whole question at issue is whether the hypothesis of traditional free will theism -- namely, that there exists a God who is perfect in goodness and wisdom and metaphysically unconstrained in power -- is believable, and yet Hasker seems to suggest that this hypothesis itself could be used to counter criticisms of it. The other puzzling thing about this insertion is that it should be a conversation-stopper, being reminiscent of Plantinga’s claim that he can defend his position by merely pointing out that the God in whom he believes may well have perfectly good reasons, unknowable by us, for allowing evil. Hasker, however, does not use his statement to stop the conversation but only to insist that, rather than simply listing evils that his God should have prevented, we must provide "a strongly supported criterion by which to discern the situations in which intervention would be mandatory."

Hasker’s fourth proposition states that this criterion cannot be the insistence that God should prevent all "gratuitous" evils, with those defined as evils "that God could prevent . . . without incurring any equal or greater evils and without losing any goods that would be sufficient to outweigh them." This definition seems to be identical to my definition for "genuine evil," namely, "anything, all things considered, without which the universe would have been better" (God 22). Given such an understanding of gratuitous evil, how could Hasker possibly deny that it provides the needed criterion? He admits that it does seem "reasonable to assume that a good [and omnipotent] God would of necessary prevent all such gratuitous evils." But that is surely an understatement, because the statement seems to be true by definition. We can understand that God could allow prima facie evils insofar as things that seem evil from a limited perspective may serve instrumentally to make the world better than it would have been without them. But what could we possibly mean by calling God perfectly good other than that God would, if possible, prevent all gratuitous evil -- all things that would make the universe worse than it would have otherwise been? For traditional theism, the qualifier "if possible" can be deleted, so that its God, to be considered perfectly good, would simply prevent all gratuitous evils.

In attempting to rebut this criterion, Hasker mixes it with another issue -- a paradox that would result if "God were known to prevent all gratuitous evils" (my emphasis). Having added the second issue, which deals not with the proposed criterion as such but with an imagined situation in which we could know that God is abiding by it, Hasker then argues that God should not prevent all gratuitous evils. For if we knew that God did so, then we would know that every prima facie evil was simply allowed by God to produce some more-than-compensatory good. We would be deterred from preventing evils for fear that by doing so we would make "the world overall to be worse than it otherwise would be!" We would, accordingly, not become the responsible moral individuals God wants us to be. God’s whole purpose in creating the universe would be undermined.

There are two problems with this argument. First, the claim that I and other critics of traditional theism make is simply that a perfectly good God would (by definition) avoid as much genuine evil as possible consistent with evoking as much genuine good as possible. We do not add any additional claim about our knowing that God in fact prevents all genuine evil. The paradox produced by Hasker’s addition of that claim is, therefore, not a problem for the criterion as such. Hasker cannot rebut the sensibleness of this criterion by changing the subject.

A second problem with Hasker’s argument is that, although he claims that he is arguing that God should allow gratuitous evils, he is in fact arguing that even the gratuitous evils are not really gratuitous, because they contribute to "God’s intention to make us responsible moral individuals," which from his perspective is a more important consideration than the relative balance of enjoyment and suffering in the world. Hasker’s real position, in other words, seems to be that although at one level the prima facie evils of this world are gratuitous evils, they at another level are not, because their very gratuitousness is intended by God to evoke our moral efforts to overcome them.

Rather than rebutting the criterion as such, accordingly, Hasker has simply proposed a more complex understanding of it. The fact that this is really his argument, however, brings us to an additional problem, which is whether it is plausible to believe that all the suffering experienced by human beings really serves the soul-making purpose. Are not many people simply crushed by evil rather than stimulated by it to rise to new heights?

My conclusion in this section is that Hasker has not undermined the advantage that process theism has with regard to the problem of divine non-intervention, just as he failed to undermine its advantage with regard to moral and natural evil. My overall conclusion, accordingly, is that his attempt to show that process and traditional free will theism are on a par with regard to the problem of evil fails in all respects.

V. Psychological Appeal

Recognizing that I will not agree with his parity claim, Hasker closes his argument by commenting on my discussion about the need for a theodicy to have psychological appeal, seeking to turn this discussion to his favor by pointing out that traditional theism has been accepted by more people than has process theism. I should not, he says, invoke psychological appeal as a criterion "and then disregard the actual track record of practical success." There are two problems with this argument. First, my statement was made in a discussion with the Basingers. I was not claiming that process theism has more psychological appeal to more people than their position but merely reacting against a comment by them that appeared to denigrate the importance of psychological appeal.

Even if we turn to the issue of the relative psychological appeal of the two positions, however, Hasker’s contention is problematic. This contention is that "a very large majority of Christians are unconvinced and unsatisfied by the process doctrine of God." The more accurate statement, however, would be that most people have thus far not even heard of process theism and fewer still have heard it presented by an advocate. The more relevant question, therefore, would be: Among those who really understand both traditional theism and process theism, what percentage has come to prefer the latter? Even this test would be somewhat unfair to process theism because of religious conditioning by traditional theism, which makes it difficult for many people to take seriously the idea of a God without omnipotence in the traditional sense (see Griffin, God 258-59; Griffin, Evil 209-13). A more realistic test, accordingly, would be to have two large groups of people, one of which had been raised in terms of traditional free will theism, the other in terms of process theism. One could then have each group exposed to a thorough presentation of the opposing doctrine of God by a persuasive advocate and compare the number of conversions. Actually conducting such an experiment would, of course, be virtually impossible, but my own experience suggests that, insofar as such an experiment could be approximated, process theism would win. That is, I have heard of very few people who, after having accepted process theism, have later found some form of traditional theism more adequate. But I know of many people who, after having long accepted traditional theism, even in its free will version, have subsequently been converted to process theism.



1. John B. Cobb, Jr.. and Clark H. Pinnock, eds. Searching for an Adequate God. Hasker and I, besides being asked to write essays extolling the merits of our respective theological positions, were each asked to write a response to the other’s essay.

2. William Hasker, "A Philosophical Perspective," in Clark Pinnock et al., The Openness of God, 126-54, at 139.

3. See Reenchantment without Supernaturalism: A Process Philosophy of Religion.

4. Although Hasker prefers to call his position simply "free will theism," I resist this usage, as I explained in Searching for an Adequate God (7-8), not only because process theism is also a type of free will theism but also because its affirmation of creaturely freedom is much more thoroughgoing, so that Hasker’s type of position could well be called "hybrid free will theism."

5. See Griffin, "Creation out of Chaos, and the Problem of Evil."

6. One slight problem is present in his definition of divine omnipotence, as traditionally understood, as the "power is do anything that is neither logically incoherent nor inconsistent with God’s moral perfection." The final phrase does not belong. Traditional theologians have usually distinguished between the "metaphysical perfections" of God, which include the divine omnipotence, and God’s "moral perfections." Hasker’s confusion of the two issues, how-ever, seems to be without consequence for his argument here, with the possible exception mentioned in the next note.

7. It may be that Hasker’s definition of omnipotence, quoted in the prior note, leads him to think that it would be ontologically impossible for his God to engage in deception, not simply morally impossible.

8. In Hick’s discussion, the focus is solely on the relation between the hypnotist and the patient. I have slightly altered the analogy by also including the relation between the patient and other people.

9. See Griffin, "Response to Hick," in Davis, ed., Encountering Evil (57).

10. The main problem with Hasker’s argument is his attempt to downplay the extent to which, over time, even very small deviations from the divine aims would lead to enormous gaps between the actual and what would have been ideal in an abstract sense. It is now commonplace (as in the "butterfly effect") that tiny changes in the initial conditions can lead to enormous differences down the line. Over the almost four billion years during which life has been evolving on earth, there would have been countless opportunities for an ever-increasing gap to grow between the actual and the ideal. Between every major evolutionary transition, there would have been an enormous number of events with some degree of power to deviate from the divine aim for it. Even if the evolutionary saltations involved highly conformal responses to the divine presented forms, the forms that God could present at these moments would have increasingly represented compromises with what would have been ideal in an abstract sense. As Whitehead says, the divine aim is "the best for that impasse," but "the best [may] be bad" (Process 244). It is not implausible, accordingly, to account for the major sources of natural evil by appeal to creaturely freedom (along with, of course, other metaphysical principles).

11. It is widely affirmed by traditional theists who accept evolution that God could have created the world in another way. For example, Ernan McMullin, whose view of the relation between God and evolution is similar to Hasker’s (see Ch. 3 of my Religion and Scientific Naturalism), says that although God has chosen to work through natural or secondary causes, "God could also, if He so chose, relate to His creation in a different way" (76-77).

12. Hasker mentions (his note 3) that he is indebted to David Basinger’s writings. This indebtedness may extend to the present problem. In an article written with his brother (Randall), Basinger argues that traditional free will theism, if consistently thought through, ends up with the same implications for the relation between God and nature as does process theism. However, as I showed in Evil Revisited (90-94), this argument relies on principles drawn from the philosophical theology of F R. Tennant, whose position on the God-world relation is essentially the same as Whitehead’s. Like Hasker, the Basingers try to defend their supernaturalistic theism in terms of principles that make sense only within the framework of a naturalistic theism.

13. I developed the distinction between theological and cosmological freedom, with Augustine’s position in view, in Ch. 7 of my God and Religion in the Postmodern World.

14. I do worry, however, that Hasker’s insertion of the word directly signals his belief that God decreed it indirectly.

15. See, for example, Alvin Plantinga’s "Reply to the Basingers on Divine Omnipotence" (28).


Works Cited

Cobb, John B., Jr., and David Ray Griffin. Process Theology: An Introductory Exposition. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976.

Cobb, John B., Jr., and Clark H. Pinnock, eds. Searching for an Adequate God: A Dialogue between Process and Free Will Theists. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000.

Griffin, David Ray "Creation out of Chaos and the Problem of Evil." Ed. Stephen T. Davis. Encountering Evil, 2nd ed. Philadelphia: Westminster/ John Knox, 2001. 108-144.

____ Evil Revisited: Responses and Reconsiderations. Albany: State U of New York P, 1991.

____ God and Religion in the Postmodern World. Albany: State U of New York P, 1988.

God, Power, and Evil: A Process Theodicy. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976; reprinted with a new preface, Lanham: Md.: UP of America, 1991.

_____ Reenchantment without Supernaturalism: A Process Philosophy of Religion. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2001.

_____ Religion and Scientific Naturalism. Overcoming the Conflicts. Albany: State U of New York P, 2000.

Hick, John H. Evil and the God of Love. New York: Harper, 1966.

McMullin, Ernan. "Plantinga’s Defense of Special Creation." Christian Scholars Review 21.1 (1991): 55-79.

Pinnock, Clark, Richard Rice, John Sanders, William Hasker, and David Basinger. The Openness of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1994.

Plantinga, Alvin. "Reply to the Basingers on Divine Omnipotence." Process Studies 11.1 (1981): 25-29.

Whitehead, Alfred North. Process and Reality. 1929. Corrected Edition. Ed. David Ray Griffin and Donald W Sherburne. New York: Free Press, 1978.