Free Will is a Crappy Excuse For Evil

Christians have been struggling with the problem of evil for a very long time, and none of them have been able to answer it satisfactorily in my opinion. The problem of evil goes something like this:

“Is [God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then is he malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”

-Epicurus

The biggest flaw in Christian theology (in my opinion) is the idea that any being that is all-good could conceive of, create and use a place like hell.

Fortunately, many churches have begun to creep away from the doctrine of hell, and instead say that the offender of god will instead be separated from god for eternity. They say this as if it’s a bad thing, and usually as if it’s also a form of torture, just not one that means eternal burning. I guess it’s a more sanitized way of torturing someone for eternity.

God, can't you use some of those powers to extend your hand just another inch or so?

God, can’t you use some of those powers to extend your hand just another inch or so?

But I’d like to attack this from a different angle altogether.

The usual defense against the problem of evil is that the evil of the world is our fault, since we have free will. God had to create free will because He didn’t want robots. He wanted people who are freely able to make decisions between what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong’. Without evil, the decision isn’t possible.

I’m not sure why evil is needed in order to have free will. And if it is, why it’s necessary or even desirable.

Imagine a world where the choices were between:

  • Good
  • Awesome
  • Very good
  • Better than good
  • Best possible outcome

There’s a world I’d rather live in. What’s the point of the option to kill, maim and rape thrown in there for the ‘free will’ options? The missing ‘evil’ versions of the choices doesn’t mean we’re robots, since we would still be faced with a number of problems that have multiple solutions. The only difference is we wouldn’t be considering the ‘evil’ versions of possible solutions.

Of course, many Christians will also say that the evil of this world is temporary, because god is eventually going to come back.

How does god judge the time is right? Does he have an evil rating system and once we humans have filled the quota, does it justify his return? Is there a big flashing red light up there in heaven that signals his return.

I bet god has a fireman’s pole leading down to earth – Ghostbuster style. That’s how god rolls…or slides.

God: "I ain't afraid of no evil!"

God: “I ain’t afraid of no evil!”

You get the point.

Finally, we’re never confronted by our full possible range of choices to begin with. We are restrained by our environment etc. I might want to go downhill skiing right now, but it’s impossible due to the lack of snow around me and my lack of funds to reach a place that has the available snow.

In other words, our ‘free will’ is always being limited by the available choices, which is constrained by things out of our control, such as our environment at any given time.

If god is comfortable with that sort of constraint, why not offer the sort of constraint that would mean constant peace and stability?

 

 

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63 Comments

  1. The atheist argument against the existence of God can be restated as follows:

    Since God does not act like I, the atheist, thinks he should act, God does not exist.

    That is a completely irrational argument.

    To argue against reality requires an argument that is real, not a figment of the atheist imagination.

  2. I speak as a believer in God, having come from a very conservative Christian background. However, I will tell you that due to many things in my life and my own personal journey, I am trying to reconcile many of the exact points that you just made in your blog posting.

    I have always had difficulty understanding why God would allow such horrible things to happen, especially from those that claim to be “Christian” (and no, you can’t use the “No True Scotsman” argument in every single case of a Christian who has committed murder or rape, because that’s not the real world). So if it helps, many of use who believe in God and have studied the Bible for years are searching for answers as well. Thank you for your blog post and I look forward to seeing more from you.

  3. Thanks for responding but can you define good and evil for us and why your definitions should be the universal standard for a God? “No” is an acceptable answer.

    In the end, however we define good and evil, it eventually falls at the feet of God. Most christians would agree that god has the power to stop evil in this world but chooses not to stop all. We also have no idea how much evil he is stopping if any.

    You have the free will to choose to believe the christian god is evil because he allows more evil than you think is acceptable. I have the free will to believe god is good and have faith he knows what he is doing.

    • Then feel free to use the biblical version of good and evil.

      That doesn’t change the argument in the slightest.

      To save time, we could even find an act that you would define as evil and that your bible would define as evil, such as murder. Then go from there. Using murder, you could then explain to me how my argument fails.

      Thank you very much for your response.

  4. Hey GC, great post! I’ve got a couple of comments.

    (1) Churches that claim offenders get withdrawn or separated from God’s presence are still offering a doctrine of hell; it’s just the buddy Christ version of it. At least as it was explained to me growing up, one of the theories of hell is that it’s awful because God isn’t there. So, while the claim sounds nicer, it’s still a form of eternal torture for not sending constant mental signals to Jesus that you love him.

    (2) I like how you’ve presented that “evil” isn’t necessary. The next attack you should expect on your view (which I think one comment has already pointed out) should be on what is “evil.” After that, there should be a word salad that makes it so evil not only should be in the world, but is necessary for the greater good.

    Putting it another way: bad things have to happen so good people will know what not to do. Of course, it completely ignores the point that if nobody’s choosing evil, then the whole issue is moot. But then you’ll get it’s not REALLY free will, and…well you see how this thing goes around.

    And that’s where free will usually ends. With a whole “it’s not REALLY X” distinction.

    At any rate, you’re right. The choice to love any god isn’t superior to human misery. It always makes me wonder why Christians don’t offer up their free will as compensation for helping others.

  5. I may not have been clear. I am not defending god or trying to refute your claim that if god exists he allows evil to exist therefore he can’t be an all good god. I believe by faith that god is good and what he does is consistant with a good god.

    My other point is that since you don’t have a universal objective definition of what evil is your thoughts on the subject are your own and cannot be applied to all. I believe murder to be universally wrong because god says it is sinful. You believe murder to be wrong based on your own moral code that is not an objective truth.

    • “I am not defending god or trying to refute your claim that if god exists he allows evil to exist therefore he can’t be an all good god.”

      That wasn’t my claim.

      “I believe by faith that god is good and what he does is consistant with a good god.”

      That’s a handy way of saying you believe without evidence, even when your god has supposedly furnished you with evidence in the form of the bible.

      “I believe murder to be universally wrong because god says it is sinful. ”

      Okay. So then let’s go with that. Why does god permit murder? Why does free will mean that murder has to be one of the available choices?

      “You believe murder to be wrong based on your own moral code that is not an objective truth.”

      And so do you. You don’t follow everything in the bible any more than I do. Your morals are no more objective than mine.

      • I do believe without evidence. I don’t understand how the bible can be proof god exists.

        I have said all evil eventually comes back to gods responsibility. He either lets evil happen or makes evil happen because we both know things that god says are evil do exist. I have faith that god is good and what he does is consistant with a good god. I have no argument to defend god on why evil as god defines it exists in this world, I was not trying to do that.

        Really my point is you don’t have a universal definition of evil and I do if god exists no matter if I follow it or not. I concede I am a sinner and violate the very moral code I think is true. I bet you have to. But that has nothing to do with whether gods (if he exists) morals are universal.

        Can you concede that if a god exists that created everything its morals would be true and your beliefs about morals would be false if they disagreed with this god?

        • ” I have faith that god is good and what he does is consistant with a good god.”

          Please explain why allowing murder and creating conditions where murder is possible is consistent with a good god.

          “Really my point is you don’t have a universal definition of evil and I do”

          Please share.

          “Can you concede that if a god exists that created everything its morals would be true and your beliefs about morals would be false if they disagreed with this god?”

          No, but that is an excellent idea for a blog post. Thanks for asking it.

          Just because something were to create us, doesn’t necessarily mean that its morals would be superior to our own. It would merely mean it’s more powerful than us. Power doesn’t necessarily make right. In fact, power often leads to the opposite.

          • “Please explain why allowing murder and creating conditions where murder is possible is consistent with a good god.”

            I can’t. I have faith that it is.

            “Please share.”

            My definition of evil is defined as sin. Transgression of gods law. Whatever god defines as evil is evil if he does exist.

            “No, but that is an excellent idea for a blog post. Thanks for asking it”

            Can’t wait to read it.

            “Just because something were to create us, doesn’t necessarily mean that its morals would be superior to our own.”

            You have yet to define which morals are superior to others? How can you even know what morals are better than others? They are just your own conclusions.

            • “I can’t. I have faith that it is.”

              Then we will never agree on this, since I don’t think faith is a good reason to believe something, especially when it’s contradictory to itself.

              “My definition of evil is defined as sin. Transgression of gods law. Whatever god defines as evil is evil if he does exist.”

              And yet your God (according to your own bible) created evil.

              “You have yet to define which morals are superior to others? ”

              That’s because morals are more complicated than reading a book.

              “How can you even know what morals are better than others?”

              Moral reasoning. The same way you do.

              “They are just your own conclusions.”

              So are yours. That’s why Christians don’t stone their kids for being disobedient or follow a slew of other things outlined in their bible.

              • I agree we probably will not agree because I don’t need scientific evidence for my faith. What kind of evidence do you need to believe something?

                It is debatable whether god created evil. Either way he is responsible for its continuance.

                Moral reasoning is fine but it does not make your conclusions universaly true.

                If the bible did want me to stone my kids I admit I would not do it.

  6. Pingback: If you’d just act like I think you should act, God, I’d believe in you | Mindful Digressions

  7. You seem to have gotten it backwards. Evil exists because free will exists and allows a full range of choices. If I harness the power of the atom, I can wield that power for good or evil. If I am truly given free will and the freedom to act in the world, then good and evil are natural outcomes.

    If you create a world (call it “Candy Cane Land”) where I can’t make evil choices, then you’ve taken away half the full range of my choices. My choices no longer really mean anything.

    Keep in mind, the fundamental premise of spiritual views is that your choices in life matter — that life is a kind of test. For that to work, you have to have the full range of choices.

    • Thanks for stopping in and leaving your thoughts.

      ” Evil exists because free will exists and allows a full range of choices.”

      Who created evil and provided those choices? Why is it desirable to have the choice to murder and rape? Did this God not know the outcome before he even began this trial?

      “If I harness the power of the atom, I can wield that power for good or evil.”

      Yes, but we’re talking about a being supposedly capable of knowing everything and all possible outcomes, and has unlimited power to do what he wants. Nuclear science is completely in our hands and has no supernatural connotations.

      “If you create a world (call it “Candy Cane Land”) where I can’t make evil choices, then you’ve taken away half the full range of my choices.”

      Perhaps? I still ask you, ‘so what?’. It would mean a planet full of peace and prosperity with plenty of choices to be made.

      “My choices no longer really mean anything.”

      Why wouldn’t they? You need the option to rape, murder and injure people in order for the other choices to mean anything?

      That’s sort of scary.

      “that life is a kind of test. For that to work, you have to have the full range of choices.”

      Why would a being capable of knowing the outcomes need to test at all? And why would this being use a finite amount of time (.01-80 years or so of a persons life) to judge them for the rest of eternity (billions upon billions of years). It sounds like a flawed test. Any being worth the title of god could surely come up with something better, right?

      • Thank you. Doobster sent me, so you can blame him. 😀

        “Who created evil and provided those choices? …”

        Good and evil are labels we apply to actions. Surely you would agree we have freedom to act in the world? And because we are free, those actions can be seen as good or evil? The spiritual belief is that actions are meaningful in some higher sense.

        What is more meaningful: choosing between all positive alternatives or choosing between positive and negative alternatives? (Implicit is the idea that negative choices result in special gains. Murder and rape “allow” you to do things society forbids.) Choice is most meaningful when sacrifice is involved.

        It is not “desirable” to have murder or rape — they are inevitable outcomes given men, women, sex, money, property, society and the freedom to act. They are part of the human condition.

        Given that we have great power, it follows that we have great power to do good or evil. If our choices are intrinsically meaningful, then choosing to wield that power for good — turning our back on equally powerful methods to achieve our ends — is a meaningful choice.

        “[Candy Cane Land] would mean a planet full of peace and prosperity with plenty of choices to be made.”

        Consider that war is the greatest driver of technology. The harsh conditions of northern Europe during the middle ages gave birth to science as we know it today. Strife and conflict foment growth. Evolution succeeds because only those fit to survive perpetuate their genetics.

        The bad things in the world are a check and balance, plus we get smarter in figuring out how to deal with them. If life is easy, there’s no real incentive to change. Plus a true test requires a true challenge. Baseball pitchers perform differently on the mound during a real game than during any simulation.

        “You need the option to rape, murder and injure people in order for the other choices to mean anything? That’s sort of scary.”

        No. Asked and answered above. But here’s an example that might make it more clear:

        Let’s say you own a gun that you use for sport. On any given day you have the choice available to take that gun to work and shoot your annoying boss. Let’s say you also have a water pistol with which you have the same option.

        Which involves the more meaningful choices?

        The water pistol, your boss might actually just laugh. The worst outcome is you get fired. The gun? The outcomes are quite different — much more meaningful.

        “Why would a being capable of knowing the outcomes need to test at all? And why would this being use a finite amount of time…”

        It’s Abrahamic concept that God is omniscient. Maybe he isn’t. As for time, one modern view of physics is that time doesn’t exist. Maybe God sees all of time as a whole (which physics suggests it might be).

        Further, many processes have sequential steps, and steps take some amount of time. Computational processes (such as, say, the human mind) may require a huge number of steps. Some degree of time is implicit in consciousness, so some time is required to “take the test.”

        Maybe 60 or so years is what it takes to truly test a person. I know I’ve changed quite a bit in the last ten.

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