“Since incorrigible ‘ignorance diminishes the voluntary’, it follows that we cannot be morally responsible for the horrors we perpetrate. I am not saying that white segregationists who set German Shepherd police dogs on African American or fire-bombed churches or lynched and shot activists did not know enough about what they were doing to be seriously wicked. My claim is that there is a vast surplus left over…
“Traditional free-will approaches – with their move to shift responsibility and/or blame for evil away from God and onto personal creatures – are stalemated by horrendous evil. Human radical vulnerability to horrors cannot have its origin in misused creational freedom… Even if Adam’s and Eve’s choices are supposed to be somehow self-determined, the fact that the consequences amplify far beyond their capacity to conceive and hence to intend – viz., to horrors of which ex hypothesi they had no prior experience and of which they could therefore have no adequate conception – is not something for which humans are responsible. Rather it is a function of the interaction between human agency and the wider framework within which it is set, and God is responsible for creating human beings in such a framework!”
I might quibble over whether and when the notion of “morally responsibility” is applied. Where she denies that agents cannot be morally responsible for unforeseen horrors they perpetuate because they could not have conceived and thus intended them, I think we are at least sometimes responsible for the unintended consequences of our actions. There is a responsibility to be borne by people like Pol Pot and Hitler for the millions who suffered because of them though they were not personally present to pull every trigger or close every oven door in spite of the fact that they could not have conceived (and so intended) all that followed from their choices.
But we’ll leave that aside, because Adams is right that morally innocent people do sometimes perpetrate unintended horrors on others. Adams suggests as an example women who took thalidomide drugs during pregnancy on then up-to-date medical advice and bore children without arms and legs. And there is natural evil (mudslides, tornadoes, tsunamis) to consider as well, for these precipitate crises in personal meaning-making and the loss and even ruination of personal meaning. Point is, “horrors” understood as “crises in personal meaning” may or may not be morally perpetrated, and to that extent free-will approaches are stalemated.
“…the fundamental reason why the human condition generally and Divine-human relations specifically are non-optimal is that God has created us radically vulnerable to horrors by creating us as embodied persons, personal animals, enmattered spirits in a material world of real or apparent scarcity such as this. Sin is a symptom and a consequence, but neither the fundamental explanas nor the principal explanandum. The real roots of our non-optimality are systemic and metaphysical.”
Those familiar with Boyd’s theory of natural evil will notice immediately that this contradicts Boyd’s view that natural evil isn’t ‘natural’ in the traditional sense (i.e., not an ‘agentless’ perpetuation of suffering) but is in fact ‘moral’ because it’s caused by malevolent demonic agents at work in the material creation. Adams doesn’t take this approach:
“There is a metaphysical mismatch within human nature: tying psyche to biology and personality to a developmental life cycle exposes human personhood to dangers…The fact that human psyche begins in groping immaturity and dependence, stumble-bumbles by trial and error towards higher functioning, only to peak and slide towards diminishment – makes our meaning-making capacities easy to twist, even ready to break when inept caregivers and hostile surroundings force us to cope with problems off the syllabus and out of pedagogical order…
“Human psyche is so connected to biology that biochemistry can skew our mental states (as in schizophrenia and clinical depression) and cause mind-degenerating and personality-distorting diseases (such as Alzheimer’s and some forms of Parkinson’s), which make a mockery of Aristotelian ideas of building character and dying in a virtuous old age…
“Metaphysical mismatches are metaphysically necessary, in the first instance, a function of what things are and not what anyone does. Yet, it is God Who decided to include such mismatches in the world as we have it. We may ask: whatever for?”
Where Boyd argues that these mismatches (and thus all suffering) are a function of the misuse of creaturely freedom (demonic if not human), Adams argues for a kind of suffering that isn’t reducible to such misused freedom but which is instead the inevitable consequence of the limitations built into our finite, created existence per se.