Can God Be Free? By William L. Rowe
Article first published online: 16 FEB 2009
© The author 2009. Journal compilation © Trustees for Roman Catholic Purposes Registered 2009
The Heythrop Journal
Volume 50, Issue 2, pages 331–332, March 2009
How to Cite
Mccall, B. (2009), Can God Be Free? By William L. Rowe. The Heythrop Journal, 50: 331–332. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2265.2009.00460_17.x
- Issue published online: 16 FEB 2009
- Article first published online: 16 FEB 2009
Pp. vii, 173 , Oxford University Press , 2004 , $39.95.
Rowe received a Master of Divinity degree from Chicago Theological Seminary and holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Michigan; he is currently professor of philosophy at Purdue University, where he specializes in the philosophy of religion and metaphysics. Rowe became an evangelical Christian during his teenage years and planned to become a minister. During his time at CTS, Rowe reports that he began to take a more critical look at the Bible, and meet theologians who, unlike himself, did not have a fundamentalist perspective. The result was that his fundamentalism began to wane. Rowe has described his conversion from Christian fundamentalist to, ultimately, an atheist as a ‘gradual process’ (Terre Haute Tribune-Star, April 1, 2005). In this book, Rowe interacts with Gottfried Leibniz, Samuel Clarke, Thomas Aquinas, and Jonathan Edwards, and the contemporary philosophical literature devoted to the issue of whether God – as described by Christian theism – could be considered as having been free in creating the world as it is.
Within Christianity, God is seen to be a being whose omnibenevolence, omniscience, and omnipotence are such that it is impossible for any being to have a greater degree of omnibenevolence, omniscience, and omnipotence. This book focuses on God's freedom and praiseworthiness in relation to his perfections. Given his perfections, if there is a best world for God to create, then he would have had no other choice than to create it. But if God could not do otherwise than create the best world, he created the world of necessity, not freely. And, if that is so, it may be argued that we have no reason to be thankful to God – or even praise him – for creating the world, since, as parts of the best possible world, God was simply unable to do anything other than create it. Thus, it could be seen that God created this world out of necessity, and not freely. Moreover, we are confronted with the difficulty of having to believe that this world, with all of its various and nefarious evils, is the best that an omnibenevolent, omniscient and omnipotent God could do in creating a world. Neither of these conclusions, taken by itself, seems plausible. Yet, each conclusion appears to follow from the dominant conception of God within Christianity.
Rowe presents a detailed study of this problem within this text. Rowe argues that this problem is more serious than is commonly thought and requires significant revision to contemporary thinking about the nature of God. Rowe's own solution to the problem is to ascribe to God a different type of freedom, a freedom in which he is capable of doing good, but not a freedom of doing bad or less than the best possible. In the first chapter, Rowe analyzes Leibniz's reasoning that God cannot, essentially, be free to create a world that is less than the best of all possibilities. In the second chapter, Rowe discusses Leibniz's contemporary, Clarke, who indicates that God was free in creating a less-than-best world, and concludes that Clarke's reasoning cannot be reasonably defended. In chapter three, Rowe discusses Aquinas' view that there simply was/is no best world, as per se, and finds it to be mistaken or at least indefensible. In chapter four, Rowe discusses Edwards' contribution to this debate, and concludes that with Edwards' hypercalvinism, God could be seen to do anything, even that which is against reason.In chapters five through seven, Rowe discusses contemporary literature concerning divine freedom with respect to creation, and deduces that if God is omnibenevolent, omniscient, and omnipotent, he would have to create the best possible world.
Rowe's conclusion has far reaching implications, and should not be dismissed lightly. After all, if the world we are in is the best possible world, its creation, following Rowe's thought, was a necessity and not a contingency. This book will necessarily test some preconceptions that the readers of Heythrop Journal possess, to be sure, and challenge them to perhaps revisit their beliefs about God and the problem of evil. Although I do not agree with Rowe's extrapolations from his argumentation, it is hard for me to find a weak point within the argument itself, as it seems to flow logically and is supported by reason. All in all, this book is a worthy read, if not for any other reason than to stimulate thought – and possible rebuttal (?) – from other contemporary scholars in regards to this important issue.