The Felix Culpa Argument by Dr. Alvin Plantinga


(Carson Weitnauer) #1

Hi friends,

This is an interesting, clear, animated video on the Felix Culpa argument from Dr. Alvin Plantinga of Notre Dame:

In brief, the argument states - yes, the fall, sin, suffering, and evil are very bad.

But, the incarnation and the atonement are very, very great goods. In fact, they are so good, that any world that lacked the incarnation and atonement would be inferior to a world that had them.

Yet, the fall is a necessary precondition for the incarnation and the atonement.

So the Christian may conclude that though the fall is bad, it is still a fortunate occurrence, because it makes it possible for us to be in a world where the incarnation and atonement happen.

Two very positive benefits to this argument:

  1. It is a very confident, thoroughly Christian response to evil. Other religions and worldviews will have to find their own approach to evil - deny it, etc. But Christians can gladly speak of the great goodness of the incarnation and atonement!
  2. It takes someone, on a personal level, straight from considering the awfulness of evil to the wonderful goodness of the Incarnation and Atonement. There is wonder and delight in considering these great goods together.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!


(SeanO) #2

I like the fact that the argument points quickly to Jesus, but at first glance it appears to be a bit at odds with the Scriptural approach to suffering.

Both Paul and Christ are looking to the glory that is before them in their present suffering:

Romans 8:18 - I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

Hebrews 12:2 - who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God

In addition, God’s marriage to His bride the Church - a future event - is often depicted as the climactic moment in God’s story.

So it seems to me that if God allowed suffering and evil - it was for the sake of His bride - a people who have believed that He exists and is a rewarder of those who seek Him. It was an opportunity for people to become glorious children of God.

The Bible - correct me if I am wrong - never points to the incarnation or the atonement as a reason for allowing evil. Rather, they are the means of mending the evil that was done by unbelief and creating a glorious new People - the Church - who will feast with Christ at the marriage supper of the Lamb.

I would also be curious to hear the response of skeptics to this argument because it’s audience seems to be people who already accept the incarnation and atonement as significant.

Also, the argument seems to assume predestination, which is itself debatable.


(Melvin Greene) #3

I have great respect for Alvin Plantinga. I’ve read one of his books that I found fascinating. I believe it was called “A Brevity of Sin”. But, after quite a bit of thinking on his Felix Culpa Argument, I have to agree with @SeanO.

My thinking is that while I definitely agree that the Incarnation and Atonement are very, very great goods, I don’t think it follows that a world without them would be inferior, if the fall never occurred. Before the fall we believe that Adam and Eve enjoyed a perfect communion with God. Genesis talks about God, (I believe God the Son) walking in the garden, which I think was a common occurrence. After the fall, man’s relationship with God was greatly damaged. That has to be inferior to what God had originally created. I realize that God was not taken by surprise that the fall happened. He knew from the beginning that all of this was going to happen. I like the scripture references that Sean provided. I would add to that Matt. 26:36-46. This is the account of Jesus praying in the garden of Gethsemane. As we know, Jesus was in great distress about what he had to do to atone for our sins. He asked 3 times that the cup might pass from him. He had also told his disciples that his “soul was crushed with grief to the point of death.” NLT It just sounds to me that the superior world would have been the one where sin had never entered.

Now, as far as the two positive benefits to the argument are concerned: (1) I believe we can still have a very confident, thoroughly Christian response to evil. We can, and do, reference the Incarnation and Atonement in that God, in demonstrating his love and mercy, as well as his perfect justice, was incarnated as a man and provided the way of salvation through his death and resurrection. (2) I believe we still keep the wonder and delight in considering the Incarnation and Atonement. I don’t see how these benefits are reduced if we reject the Felix Culpa Argument.


(SeanO) #4

@Melvin_Greene Agreed


(Jimmy Sellers) #5

This sounds a lot like Vince Vitale’s non ID theodicy, change anything and you change everything. God wants everyone to have the opportunity to respond to the Gospel message and consequently our lives are ordered so that we have the ability to choose. That’s what I remember. I hope I haven’t mixed things up.

God can be understood as loving and good in the face of evil and suffering so long as:

  1. Those who come to exist could not have come to exist in a world without evil and suffering.
  2. God offers everyone a great life overall (this can include the afterlife).
  3. God is motivated in creating and sustaining the universe by a desire to love those who come to exist.
    God’s concern is not just for abstract or general goods, but for particular persons.

I know that this is a little off the incarnation and atonement point of Plantinga’s argument but change anything in his argument and you change everything.


(SeanO) #6

@Jimmy_Sellers Good point - I had not thought along those lines at all.

I am really curious how skeptics interact with these arguments - not professional skeptics, but college kids struggling with the question. Because for me this approach would never work - trying to rationalize suffering. When I gaze upon the suffering Christ and recognize the enormity of God’s love, I am led to worship and in worship I find peace. I’m not sure I would find anything else convincing.


(SeanO) #7

@CarsonWeitnauer Do you know if this argument (Felix Culpa) has been well received by non-Christian philosophers?

I recognize his audience was probably not lay people, so I would be curious to know that as well.


(Carson Weitnauer) #8

That’s a great question! I’m really not sure. Actually, though I’ve studied Plantinga a fair amount (you can ask @Larry_Lacy for his honest take, since he oversaw those studies!), I don’t recall coming across this argument. So, I was taken by the novelty of it.

To everyone who has commented so far, you’ve provoked me to go deeper. I’ll need to reflect on the argument and your responses a bit before feeling qualified to answer again. But I am grateful for your insights!