Tackling The Problem Of Evil - Part 2: The Free Will Defense


In the last blog post, we addressed the logical version of the problem of evil and suffering. We saw that the atheist bore an enormous burden of proof in claiming that God and evil/suffering were logically incompatible, as he would have to show that it is impossible for God to have good reasons to permit suffering and that a possible world of free creatures who never go wrong was feasible for him to actualize. However, the atheist has another version of the argument from evil that doesn't put as heavy of a burden of proof on him: The probabilistic version. The atheist using this argument will say that it is highly improbable that an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent God would allow all of the suffering and evil that afflicts our world. While it is possible that He has good reasons, it is highly improbable. Atheism is far more probable in light of the existence of suffering than theism is. For if God existed, then He would most likely do something about the evil in the world. He would reach down to stop it all! Being omnipotent, He could do so. Being omnibenevolent, He would do so.

God Gave Human Beings Free Will 

The fact of the matter is that God gave human beings free will, and given the presence of free will, God cannot guarantee that His creatures will always do what He wants them to do. Now, unlike in the previous response, I will need to do more than simply posit these are possibilities, I will have evidentially establish these proposals to be the case.

When I say free, I mean free in a libertarian sense. Libertarian Free Will is defined as follows

1: The agent is the origin or source of his own actions.

2: In the most circumstances, the agent has the power to choose between two or more alternatives. If Bob is faced with A and B, he might choose A, but he didn't have to choose A. He could have chosen B instead.

3: The agent's choices are indeterminate.

How do we know that God gave human beings free will of this kind? There are 5 arguments that I think give us good reasons to believe human beings are free. I've already written an article defending these arguments elsewhere, so for brevity's sake, and to avoid rehashing a lot of material, I'll simply defend 2. Two arguments are all that are needed anyway.

Argument 1: The Argument From Moral Accountability 

This argument has two premises and a conclusion.

1: If man is not free in a libertarian sense, he cannot be held accountable for his actions.
2: God will hold man accountable for his actions.
3: Therefore, man is free in a libertarian sense.

This argument is logically valid sense it follows the rule modus tollens. If both premises can be demonstrated to be true, then the conclusion would follow logically. Are both premises true?

I think the first premise is certainly true. If man does not have free will, then he cannot be responsible for his own actions. If man's actions are determined by some thing outside of himself, regardless of what that thing might be, then that thing is responsible for the man's choices and not the man himself. If God causes people to do the things they do, then God is to blame for their actions, not the people themselves. If the sinful nature causes people to do the things that they do, then the sinful nature is to blame for what people do, not the people themselves. If brain chemistry and environmental conditional causally determine people to do what they do, then don't blame the people, blame the brain chemicals and the environment! You see, causes are always responsible for their effects. If X causes Y, then X is responsible for Y occurring. If I knock a ball off of a table, you wouldn't hold the ball accountable for falling, you would hold me accountable. In order for human beings to be properly held accountable for their actions, the first cause of the action must be human beings. An agent must be the origin and cause of his actions if he is to be culpable for them.

Moreover, we intuitively realize that if a person had no ability to refrain from his actions, we shouldn't penalize him for committing those actions. If I knock you down, you would only get mad at me if I showed you, but you wouldn't get mad if I tripped on my shoe lace and fell on you. Why would you get mad the former scenario, but not the latter? Because you realize that in the former situation, I had the ability to choose not to shove you, yet I did it anyway. In the latter case, I had no ability to prevent knocking you over. I had no idea my shoe was untied nor could I reverse the effects of gravity to avoid colliding with you. This thought experiment shows the intuition that we all have that the power of alternative choice is needed for genuine culpability.

It seems then, that premise 1 is true. What about premise 2? Premise 2 is definitely true. It is impossible to read The Bible and not conclude that God will hold men accountable for their actions.

 "Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done." - Revelation 20:11-13

"So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God." - Romans 14:12

"For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad." - 2 Corinthians 5:10

These 3 passages are only a small sampling of passages stating that God will hold man accountable for his actions. Clearly, the second premise is true. It seems then that both premises are true, in which the conclusion follows: 3: Therefore, men have Free Will in a libertarian sense.

Argument 2: The Argument From True Love 

One must wonder why God gave man free will if He knew ahead of time that we would abuse it. If God has foreknowledge as The Bible says (see Psalm 139:1-4, Matthew 6:8, 1 Peter 1:2), then He knew in advance that we would abuse our freedom. So why didn't He just refrain from giving us free will and control us all like puppets instead? Surely, being omnipotent, God could force everyone to do the right thing all the time. Sure, people couldn't be held accountable for their actions, but if God is making them do only good, there's nothing to be held accountable for? Having foreknowledge, why didn't God think to Himself "If I give free will to humans, they'll do terrible things! I'd better control their actions for them." Why not simply make a puppet world?

Well, my next argument that free will is real not only establishes that free will actually exist, but the first premise actually answers the question "If God knew we would abuse free will, why give it to us?"

1: If Humans don't have free will, their love for God and others cannot be genuine.
2: Humans' love for God and each other is genuine.
3: Therefore, humans have free will.

This is another modus tollens argument and therefore is logically valid. All that's needed to establish the conclusion is to establish the premises? Are these premises true or false? Well, let's look at them.

Let's look at premise 1. If our love for God and one another weren't given of our own free will, it would be impossible for our love to be genuine. Instead, we would have an artificial love, a programmed love, a forced love. Love, in order to be genuine, must be freely given. People who give true love must have the freedom to choose not to love. To see the point: imagine it's the year 3,000 where robotics have been perfected to the point where robots look, sound, and behave 100% identical to real human beings. You go down to "Robot Depot" to buy yourself a wife. You buy this android that looks as beautiful as a supermodel. Based on her looks, you already know she's got the attractiveness quality. But what of her character? The manual she comes with tells you that you can program her personality anyway you desire. So, you program her to always do whatever you want, to always put your needs above hers, and to always laugh at your jokes, etc. You program her to never leave you for another man. You program her to say "I love you" 20 times a day. You program her to never bother you while watching football. In fact, you program her to be just as into football as you are. You program her to be the perfect wife.

Question: would any of this be meaningful to you? Would you feel loved? No. You would clearly recognize that her love for you is artificial. Every act of kindness, every display of affection, and every "I love you", was your doing, not hers. You causally determined her to do these things for you. They did not originate within her. All of her acts of love and selflessness would be empty gestures because you caused her to do them, and she had no capability of doing differently.

Similarly, if God causally determined everyone to love Him, praise Him 24/7, to never disobey Him, and to always do good, our actions would be devoid of meaningfulness. The only reason we praise Him is that He programmed us to praise Him. The only reason we abstain from sin is that He programmed us to abstain from it. It would be the same for our "love" for one another. If God causally determines a man to love his wife, I don't see how that would be any more meaningful than when a little girl causes a Ken doll to show love to a Barbie doll. 

What about premise 2? Is Premise 2 true? God is omnipotent (Jeremiah 32:27, Job 42:2, Psalm 147:5, Matthew 19:6), and omniscient (Isaiah 40:28, Psalm 139:1-4, Proverbs 15:3, Colossians 2:3-4), and therefore, He both knows which worlds make love possible and has the power to create those worlds. If God is omniscient, then He knows that a world of free creatures is the only kind of world where love is possible, and being omnipotent, He can actualize that kind of possible world. We, therefore, have good grounds for affirming that this premise is true. If God can and knows how to make a world where love is possible, then why wouldn't He? Why would God prefer a loveless world? Why would God command that we love Him with all of our hearts, souls, strength, and minds, and to love our neighbors as ourselves (see Matthew 22:37-39, Mark 12:30-31, Luke 10:27) if loving Him and our neighbor was impossible? Would God really give us commands that we're unable to fulfill? Jesus called these two commandments "The Greatest Commandments"! It makes no sense to think that God actualized a world where "The Greatest Commandments" could not be obeyed. I think the affirmation of this premise is far more plausible than its negation. 

Given the truth of the two premises, the conclusion follows logically and necessarily. Human beings have libertarian free will. 

Moreover, in defense of premise 1, I effectively answered the question "Well, if God knew we would go wrong if he gave us free will, why didn't He just not give us free will?" The answer is that if He refrained from giving us free will, we would have no capacity to love Him or each other, at least not with a true, genuine, meaningful love. 

C.S Lewis said it well: "God created things which had free will. That means creatures which can go wrong or right. Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong, but I can't. If a thing is free to be good it's also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata -of creatures that worked like machines- would hardly be worth creating. The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they've got to be free. Of course God knew what would happen if they used their freedom the wrong way: apparently, He thought it worth the risk. (...) If God thinks this state of war in the universe a price worth paying for free will -that is, for making a real world in which creatures can do real good or harm and something of real importance can happen, instead of a toy world which only moves when He pulls the strings- then we may take it it is worth paying.”1

God apparently considers love so valuable, that He would rather there be some evil and suffering than to have the world where it doesn't exist. 

There are other biblical and philosophical arguments for the existence of free will, but you can just go to my article "5 Arguments For The Existence Of Free Will" to read about them. 

God Probably Cannot Actualize A World With Free Creatures Without Them Going Wrong 

At this point, one may object "Alright, you've shown that human beings have free will, and that God has reasons for wanting a free will world instead of a world where He determines everything. However, if God knows what free creatures would freely do in any given circumstance, couldn't He providentially order the world where no person would freely abuse their freedom?" 

This objection argues that given that God has middle knowledge and can use that knowledge to get genuinely free creatures to do what He wants them to do (a theological view called Molinism), then couldn't God just create a free-will world and place creatures in the just-right circumstances in which He knows that they would not freely abuse their freedom? 

One way to resolve the objection would be to deny the doctrine of Molinism in favor of Simple Foreknowledge or Open Theism. Simple Foreknowledge is the view that God does not know all counterfactuals. He only knows was will happen in the future, but not what would happen in the future were circumstances in the present different. Open Theism asserts that God doesn't have foreknowledge at all, either because He cannot have it, or He chooses not to have it (Open Theists differ on their theories as to as to why God lacks foreknowledge). Both positions are problematic, however. Open Theism is untenable because The Bible clearly states that God has foreknowledge, (see Psalm 139:1-4, Matthew 6:8, 1 Peter 1:2), and moreover, I think counterfactuals of creaturely freedom (i.e what a creature would freely do in any given circumstance) have truth values, and if God is omniscient, He would know them simply by virtue of being omniscient. If counterfactuals of creaturely freedom can be either true or false, and God knows whether all statements that can be true or false, are true or false, then it follows that God knows whether all counterfactuals of creaturely freedom are true or false. To deny that He does is to deny the omniscience of God, and to deny the omniscience of God is to deny the Maximal Greatness of God. Moreover, I'm inclined to think that Molinism is true for other reasons, such as that it exhaustively explains the Bible's data unlike all of the non-Molinist options I've examined thus far (see here and here for a deeper explanation). 

So while the appeal to Open Theism or Simple Foreknowledge would extinguish the skeptic's objection, I think that a denial of Molinism brings its own set of problems, which space does not permit me to get into in depth here. 

If Molinism is true, how do we respond to the objection? Well, I find it very plausible to think that any world with free creatures like would have some evil and some suffering in it. In Any free-will world available for God to create, someone, somewhere, at some point in time, would freely choose to do something evil. Therefore, it's infeasible for God to actualize a world that has both (A) Free Will, and (B) No Evil and Suffering. 

What if a person (we'll call him Sam) would not under any circumstance choose a particular thing (we'll call it A). In that case, a world where Sam chooses A freely is infeasible for God to actualize because God knows Sam would never freely choose A in any circumstance. Or, what if Sam would choose A in a certain circumstance, but he would not choose A in circumstance S. In that case, a world where Sam chooses A freely in circumstance S is infeasible for God to create. Although a world where Sam chooses A in circumstance T is quite feasible.

Even though it’s logically possible for there to be a world where Sam chooses A freely, it may be infeasible because that is not the direction Sam exercises his will.

In the case of morally good choices, and in the case where far more free agents are interacting with one another, I find it very likely that many of the circumstances God knows will be adequate to extract a free response on the part of the person are non-compossible. They can’t all be cobbled together in a single world. Trying to give adequate illustrations to show how the goodness-prompting-circumstances cancel each other out is practically impossible, and all illustrations I’ve attempted to give in past conversations were extremely limited in scope. It’s humanly impossible for me to give illustrations of possible worlds involving as many free agents as this one has (so far) and all the consequences their free choices would bring if a certain number of factors are in place. Any illustration as to why God cannot use His middle knowledge to actualize a world of universal moral goodness will be small in it’s scope. I cannot give an illustration of a 50,000 year human history with billions of free agents and how their actions affect the outcomes of other actions in a given possible world. 

Although a world where Sam chooses A in circumstance T is quite feasible. A world where Bob chooses A in the same world where Sam chooses action A in circumstance T is infeasible. For if circumstance T comes about, Sam will choose A, but Bob will refrain from choosing A. If God actualizes circumstance S, Bob will choose A, but Sam will choose B. But what if God wants Bob to choose A and for Sam to choose A. If Circumstance T negates Bob choosing A and brings about Sam choosing A, then a world where both Bob and Sam make the same choice in circumstance T is infeasible for God even though it’s logically possible. Of course, if you take out the free will factor and God steps in and makes either Bob or Sam choose what He wants, then the proposition “Bob and Sam both chose A in circumstance T” can come true. But, that’s not what God wants. God wants Bob and Sam to both choose A freely, uncoerced. That’s what infeasible for God to do. Even infinite power cannot make Sam and Bob choose A in circumstance T IF Bob and/or Sam would choose to exercise their wills differently if placed in T. Only if Bob and Sam would freely choose A in circumstance T would a possible world where Bob and Sam both freely choose A in circumstance T be feasible for God to create.Whether or not its feasible for God to create the world where both Bob and Sam both choose A in circumstance T depends on how Bob and Sam choose in circumstance T. Whether they choose A AT ALL in ANY circumstance is up to them. They are free agents after all. And if they simply refuse to do what God wants, God cannot make them do it without abolishing their free will. It's logically impossible to force someone to do something freely as I said in the previous blog post.

Objection: "This is possible, however, I want probabilities."

One may object that my contention that a possible world where free will creatures never go wrong is infeasible for God to actualize is mere conjecture, and therefore, it's only applicable to the logical version of the problem of evil, but not the probabilistic version. Are there reasons for thinking that it's not only possible for a morally perfect free will world to be infeasible, but that it actually is infeasible?

Yes. I could argue the following.
1: If God could create a free-will world with no evil ever occurring, He would.
2: God did not create a free-will world devoid of evil.
3: Therefore, He could not. 

If He could have, He would have, since He didn't, it makes sense to think that He couldn't. Premise 2 is self-evident. Obviously, the world we live in contains evil. Premise 1 is based on God's moral perfection and omnibenevolence. A Good God would not want His creatures to sin. So it seems both premises are true, in which the conclusion follows. Therefore, my proposal is more than mere conjecture. 

Objection: Why Didn't God Refrain From Creating Any World At All? 

 The previous answer will only raise an additional objection for some. Some atheists might say "Okay, you've proven that (A) humans have free will, (B) God had reasons for wanting a free will world, such making love possible, and (C) It was not feasible for God to actualize a world devoid of evil and suffering given the free will factor, but in that case, why didn't God just refrain from creating any world at all? If God couldn't create a world where humans are free, love is possible, and there's no suffering, then wouldn't it be a morally better choice to choose not to create at all?" 

Because on the Christian Worldview, we believe that history is going somewhere. God knew ahead of time that we would fall, and He also knew that He would have to penalize us for our moral crimes, in a place called Hell. God is just (see Psalm 9:7-8, Psalm 9:16, Psalm 10, Psalm 11:16, Psalm 103:6), and therefore cannot let sin go unpunished. However, God loves the world (John 3:16) because He is love (1 John 4:8, 1 John 4:16), and therefore does not desire to punish us for our sins. He desires to forgive us. So, God took on human flesh (John 1:14, Philippians 2:5-8) and took the punishment for sin on our behalf (Isaiah 53, 1 Peter 3:18, Romans 4:25), and therefore is drawing all people into a saving relationship with Him (John 12:32), if only they'll accept it (Deuteronomy 30:19-20). This plan of salvation, The Bible says, was in God's mind before He even created the world (1 Peter 1:20, Revelation 13:8).Not all will be saved (Matthew 7:14, Revelation 14), but that is their fault. There will come a time when God does away with this wicked world and replaces it with a new universe. 
"Then I saw 'a new heaven and a new earth', for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Look! God's dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 'He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death' or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.'" (Revelation 21:1-4). 

It took me a while to get to the point, I apologize, but here's where I'm going: Many people will get to experience God's love both in this life and the next. Many people will get to experience a fulfilling relationship with the Triune God who created them, both in this life and the next. And in the next life, they'll feel the full brunt of God's loving kindness in a level of ecstasy and bliss like the man has never known. Why should the evils of men prevent God from creating the world and prevent Him from bringing about this great blessing for His children? Why should the suffering in this world prompt God to prevent me from having a joyful eternity? 

As William Lane Craig put it: "Why should the blessedness and joy of those who would be saved be prevented by what evil and intransigent people would freely do? Why should they be allowed to prevent an incommensurable good?"2 

Summary and Conclusion

I think free will is a good defense against the problem of evil and suffering. God gave man free will. Ever since the first sin in the Garden of Eden (see Genesis 3), man has been abusing his free will, bringing immense suffering to other humans. God is not to blame for the evils that we see, we are. Humanity is to blame for why so much suffering pervades our world. If only we would obey God's commands, we could live in a utopia, but the depravity of man has turned the once beautiful garden into a garbage dump. We have ruined God's world, and we have no one to blame but ourselves. "God is responsible for the fact of freedom. Human beings are responsible for their acts of freedom".3 

God knew we would go wrong, but He gave us free will anyway because He knew that while free will would make evil possible, it's the only thing that would make true love possible. Without free will, love is impossible. God wanted us to love Him and to love each other, as those are the two greatest commandments (Matthew 22:37-39, Mark 12:30-31, Luke 10:27). Moreover, if God could have organized free will humans in the world in such a way that they would never freely abuse their freedom, He would have. The fact that He didn't is best explained by the fact that such a possible world was infeasible for God to actualize. God cannot force anyone to freely do something. If any world of free creatures feasible for God to actualize has some creatures going wrong, then God could either (A) Not create humans with free will, which would render love and moral accountability impossible, or (B) put up with the fact that not everyone would always do His will. As C.S Lewis said in the quote above, He thought love was worth it. 

However compelling all this is, skeptics may still raise the objection: "God may not be to blame for the suffering that occurs, but why does He allow it? God foreknows when a man is about to commit a crime. Why doesn't He just strike him with a bolt of lightning before he has the chance?" Why God allows bad things to happen is the subject of the next blog post in this series, however, as to why He doesn't intervene to stop people from sinning, I think a quick answer can be given. 

If I had two tubs of ice cream set before you, and said to you "You are free to eat either the Vanilla or the Chocolate" but every time you reached out your hand for the chocolate, I smacked your hand. You try to go for the Vanilla and realize that I don't smack you when you go for that flavor, so you choose Vanilla instead of chocolate. Now, since I kept preventing you from choosing chocolate ice cream, can it really be said that you were free to choose chocolate? No. Likewise, if God said "You're free to either obey me or commit sin" but paralyzed someone before they had the chance to sin, would anyone think the man truly had the freedom to go wrong? Of course not. If God is essentially going to put shock collars on his creatures, he may as control them like puppets. 

For the sake of free will, God lets people sin. However, I think there's more to it than this. Might intervening in some cases actually bring about harm? Would not intervening bring about a greater good? It is this subject that I will talk about in tomorrow's blog post. 

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Footnotes 

1: C.S Lewis, The Case For Christianity, B&H Publishing Group, 

2: William Lane Craig, "Q&A: Middle Knowledge and Hell", http://www.reasonablefaith.org/middle-knowledge-and-hell 

3: I heard this witty saying in a video on the problem of suffering once, but I can't remember who said it or who produced it. Sorry. 

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