Free Will as a Reason For God Allowing Evil?

(95 Posts)
headinhands Sun 22-Sep-13 09:00:13

I used to be a Christian but I can't remember how the free will argument actually works. As a human, if I could stop someone doing something awful to a child, I would. Furthermore, if I knew someone had witnessed a rape they could have stopped I wouldn't think that person had acted morally. I fully expect people to intervene where they can to prevent bad things happening. If they said 'I don't want to affect their free will' I would find that deeply offensive. How come Christians find this logic acceptable?

The free will argument is one which says that God has allowed people to have choices (free will) and that some of those choices will lead to bad things happening to other poeple (I choose to drive my car when drunk and kill someone.) The alternative is to have people who are autonoma and can only choose good, thus are not really human as to be human involves choice. That is the very basic version of the free will argument.

The idea that you don't act to stop evil doesn't come from Christinaity which has a very strong strand of social justice as well as a parable from Jesus about the Good Samaritan where the man who helps another who has been mugged is commended.

I think the idea about not intervening comes from the eastern religions as there is a belief in reincarnation so by intervening in an evil act you might be preventing the soul learning and moving on. This may be a wrong interpretation but it is how it was explained to me a few years ago.

headinhands Sun 22-Sep-13 13:18:21

See the thing about the automna. Good needs to let us have free will so that if we love him, it's because we chose to, and he likes that more than he doesn't like bad things happening? See if I was making intelligent robots to be my friends, and I had 2 options, one was that they couldn't do evil, which would mean they were being nice because they couldn't do anything else, and the other was to give them free will so that potentially they could abuse and murder children but if they chose to love me it would stroke my ego, I'd say 'stuff my ego, all the ego stroking in the world isn't going to make small children being abused justified.'.

If you saw someone blind drunk getting behind the wheel of a car and you could easily stop them from driving, but you didn't because you didn't want to infringe their free will, that would be morally reprehensible. If god does it, it's seen as good?

Will we be able to sin in heaven?

StackOverflow Sun 22-Sep-13 13:24:21

The bit I've never understood about this argument is why the free will of those intending to harm others is apparently privileged over that of their victims. Why must a murderer/rapist be allowed his will to murder/rape but the victim's will to go on about their business without falling prey to a violent criminal need not be taken into consideration?

Tuo Sun 22-Sep-13 14:40:03

OK. This is a hugely complex issue, I know, and I have very little time and definitely no pat answers, so I'm just going to throw my twopenn'orth into the pot and hope that it contributes to the discussion, although I know it doesn't answer it.

The key factor that helps me to get my head around this (a bit!) is the factor of time. God is eternal; He is in eternity; that is to say, that God does not experience time as we do, in an ongoing sequence of 'and-then-and-then', but rather in a single eternal 'now' in which past, present and future come together.

Head's examples presuppose a before and an after: acting now to prevent a rape, or child abuse, or a war in the future. But this is to conceive of time from a human rather than an eternal perspective. For God there is no 'and-then-and-then', and so for Him, and in His creation, the before and the after, the action and its consequences, are already present.

Now, this doesn't answer, for me, the problem of evil, nor does it make it acceptable. But it does answer the question of why God doesn't intervene in specific instances to prevent harm, suffering, or abuse. Because, the way that I look at it, God creates the world free once and for all: He does not kind of watch history unfolding and go 'Oh dear, no, I don't like how that bit panned out... rewind...', because He is not watching history in a linear sequence in the way that we experience it.

It doesn't completely answer the question, I know, but it seems to me that it's important we remember that, in giving the world its freedom, God does not just cast it loose as a great seething blob of 'will' - that is, desires, appetites, self-obsession, whatever - but rather also gives us a moral direction, a sense of right and wrong, so that, at best, we not only will what is right and therefore pleasing to God (and remember that Jesus makes plain that what is pleasing to God is that we should behave well towards one another), but also act as good stewards for the world that God has given us (which means, yes, looking after the planet, but also IMO campaigning against things we believe to be wrong and seeking to change our world and make it better. So I believe that God does intervene to prevent evil, not absolutely (because the world is an imperfect world in which sin and evil patently exist) but on an individual level every single time that one of us (and I mean 'one of us human beings' not only Christians, obviously) performs an act of charity, speaks up for what we know to be right even in the face of opposition, and so on. This means that I don't look to God to intervene to make the world a better place by somehow overriding free will , but that I try to make the world a better place by using my free will for good not ill.

Tuo Sun 22-Sep-13 14:42:30

With apologies for the missing bracket after 'make it better'!

FavoriteThings Sun 22-Sep-13 15:43:43

The op is the wolf in sheeps clothing poster so be careful.

headinhands Sun 22-Sep-13 16:21:30

Tuo, I've heard the 'god outside of time' explanation. It may well have been the one I sort of liked best when I was a believer. Looking at it now I think to myself that he still knows what it feels like to be that victim bound in by the earthly hems of time and still chooses not to act. For example, I've never been stabbed but I can imagine it sufficiently enough to know it feels horrible, and would leave the victim with problems that outlasted any physical injury even if they made a full bodily recovery. and as such would prevent someone being stabbed if I possibly could.

The risk of this 'outside of time' outlook is you could argue why bother to ease suffering? Why bother to prevent death? Isn't the advance of medicine preventing suffering that, in a way, should be happening?

headinhands Sun 22-Sep-13 16:26:05

Favourite? How/why am I pretending to be anything? You said this about me before but you didnt explain what you meant?

The debate over free will is one of the biggest in philosophy. There is a really good intro in the 'Very Short Introduction' series

Amazon link

niminypiminy Sun 22-Sep-13 18:18:00

HiH wrote "Good needs to let us have free will so that if we love him, it's because we chose to, and he likes that more than he doesn't like bad things happening?". No, God gave us free will because he made us in his image. It's not conditional; he doesn't give us free will so that we will do any particular things that he would want us to do (because there is nothing that he needs from us, he is complete in himself already).

HiH wrote: "See if I was making intelligent robots to be my friends, and I had 2 options, one was that they couldn't do evil, which would mean they were being nice because they couldn't do anything else, and the other was to give them free will so that potentially they could abuse and murder children but if they chose to love me it would stroke my ego, I'd say 'stuff my ego, all the ego stroking in the world isn't going to make small children being abused justified.'. " God doesn't need our love. His ego, if you want to use that metaphor, doesn't need any more narcissistic gratification. If there were no free will there could be no evil things done, it is true; but there could be no good things done either. There could be no free actions done at all, and we would just be like dolls being moved about in a huge dollshouse. But God doesn't need us to exist in order to do something for him -- our existence is a free gift, and free will is an essential part of that gift. We get to be actors for ourselves, able to do actions that are venal, and cruel and stupid -- also loving, self-abnegating and virtuous.

HiH wrote: "If you saw someone blind drunk getting behind the wheel of a car and you could easily stop them from driving, but you didn't because you didn't want to infringe their free will, that would be morally reprehensible. If god does it, it's seen as good?" This example assumes that God is going to intervene sometimes and sometimes not, and that is the central problem that I have seen you come back to time and time again HiH. Of course, this kind of example is a commonplace of ethics (for example in the trolley problem, and very knotty problems they are.

But where would you start the stopping in this example? Would you stop them as they got into the car, or would you stop them before they they had that tenth pint, or would you stop them before they had the first pint, or would you stop them before they went into the pub, or would you stop them before they went to work and got sacked, or would you stop them before they had their first drink... Since God can see the action in all its past and future extent, stretching backwards and forwards over time, where would he intervene? And how are we to know, with our time- and space-bound views, which is the critical moment? I don't know.

And at which point would God be saying to the person involved, 'well, you're obviously not capable of using your free will properly so I'm going to take it away from you'? But gifts aren't like that: when you give something, you can't take it back. And free will is indivisible. It's like an unquantifiable adjective (eg a thing is either unique or it is not; it can't be more or less unique). You can have free will -- or not. You can't have it sometimes, and you can't have it conditionally. It's yours to fuck things up with -- or to do amazing things with. That's the nature of the gift.

crescentmoon Sun 22-Sep-13 18:42:38

Thanks to greenhearts, tuo and niminy for your posts, lots of interesting points and things to think about.

headinhands Sun 22-Sep-13 18:51:28

So god has free will? He could do evil stuff?

niminypiminy Sun 22-Sep-13 18:57:11

God is free will. He could not do evil stuff, because he is entirely, eternally good- the goodest thing there ever could be, the gold standard of goodness. He cannot act except in accordance with his own nature, which is to be good. God is always, freely, himself - all that is good, all that is loving.

headinhands Sun 22-Sep-13 18:57:40

Jesus commands us to love him. In the OT god says he is jealous and will punish the children, grandchildren and great grandchildren (possibly even great great grandchildren) of people who don't love him. That doesn't strike me as someone who isn't needy.

headinhands Sun 22-Sep-13 18:59:24

If god doesn't need us to do anything for him what about the great commission at the end of the NT sending us out to convert and heal etc?

headinhands Sun 22-Sep-13 19:02:46

But according to many posters on this board god has intervened in their lives? I can't see why he couldn't have made us unable to sin, that is, after all what heaven is supposed to be like?

Viviennemary Sun 22-Sep-13 19:07:57

I must say I don't quite get the concept of free will. I don't see why we all couldn't have been made 'good' either. Life would be a lot easier.

Lots of great points from headinhands and others. I agree with you. The free will argument is illogical.
For one thing yes HIH ... what about heaven, how would things be different there ?

I think there is value in the world faiths and religions, with their writings containing some of the most thoughtful, beautiful, and wise sayings of people through our history.

But I think fundamentally that we created God not he us.
It is all just as wonderful, if not more so, looked at that way round.

I still value my faith community which is thankfully the very liberal Quaker community.
Religiously speaking I'd declare myself to be a Liberal non-theist Quaker.
One thing most Quakers can relate to is the idea that "There is that of God in everyone" Also that any moment in life can have a sacramental quality to it.

niminypiminy Sun 22-Sep-13 19:25:25

There's a difference between 'needs' and 'wants', isn't there? God wants us to love him (because he loves us), he doesn't need us to.

God could have made us without sin, that is, without free will. But he chose to give us free will, and we can so bad things. We can also do good things. What would a world where we couldn't do anything good be like? What would a world where we couldn't do anything freely be like? Is our stupendous ability to mess up the price of our capacity to love?

No niminy, I think our capacity to mess up is more to do with our not being as evolved as a species, or as civilised, or as intelligent, or as good at communication, negotiation, and rational logic (or as perfectly designed in God's image) as we often assume we must be.

Not to mention kindness, empathy, love and other stuff like that which might help us get along with one another better!

niminypiminy Sun 22-Sep-13 19:38:40

Ah, yes, human perfectibility. Not showing much progress, is it?

Sadly not niminy sad
- Interesting thread for a Sunday night x

headinhands Sun 22-Sep-13 20:23:36

but you said earlier Nimmy that although god has free will he can't do anything bad so it must be possible to have free will and be good. Why couldn't he have made us like that?

Regardless of wether it's a need or a want if I said 'love me or I'll hurt your kids' you wouldn't think I was well adjusted would you?

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