Friday, November 23, 2012

The Free Will Theodicy Attacking Itself


The free will theodicy is an attempt to help save theism from the problem of evil and says that the reason why God allows evil is because he’s given us humans free will and that at least some of this evil can be justifiably allowed as a cost of freedom. The free will theodicy can come it various ranges when it rebuts the argument from evil, from trying to explain all evil that occurs to only a small portion of it. However, allowing certain evils to occur on the grounds that human freedom is morally valuable has the potential to be self-stultifying.

A Good Point

I actually think the free will theodicy has some merit; people should be allowed to have some control of their own lives, and there are many things that are bad for people that we don’t outlaw (such as choosing to watch bad television over reading) because we respect people’s freedom to make bad choices, albeit to a limited extent. We tend to outlaw bad choices when they infringe upon the rights of another individual, e.g. punching people in the face without their consent.

A Major Problem

The free will theodicy fails spectacularly when one person uses their freedom to severely infringe upon the freedoms of another. We live in a world where somebody can punch me in the face even if I don’t want him too. In that situation, someone punching me in the face overrides my freedom to not get punched in the face. So consider these two conflicting freedoms: a stronger opponent wants to use his freedom to punch me in the face, whereas I the much weaker individual want to use my freedom to not get punched in the face. Only one of these two freedoms can be satisfied. A major problem with the free will theodicy is that it fails to explain why God seemingly chooses to favor the wrong freedom. Simply saying “human freedom is good” does nothing to address the problem of why God would choose to favor e.g. someone’s freedom to punch me in the face over my freedom to not be punched in the face. Why would the violent man’s freedom be more important than my own?

To illustrate further, suppose we find a man beating an innocent woman without her consent. The man is violating the woman’s freedom not to beaten, and in that situation we would stop the man’s violence, precisely because we respect the woman’s freedom not to be beaten and we realize such freedom is a good thing to have. It would be ridiculous to favor the violent man’s freedom to beat the woman over the woman’s freedom to not be beaten, and yet the free will theodicy would have us believe that this is what God often does. I think most theists deep down realize that “God allows it to happen because it’s good to value human freedom in that way” is ridiculous, because even theists would not consider the violent man’s freedom to be more important than the woman’s freedom not to get beaten, and in recognizing this theists would stop the violent man if they could. But given that this is the correct freedom to favor, why doesn’t God do so? Why on earth would God favor the violent man’s freedom over the woman’s freedom?


While the atheist can agree with the theist that it’s good for each individual to have at least some freedom, the free will theodicy depicting God as allowing people to have freedom to negate other people’s freedom seems to be a case of a theodicy attacking itself. In the scenario where a man beats a woman without her consent, it would be morally irrational to favor the man’s freedom to beat an innocent woman over the woman’s freedom to not be beaten. Why not consider the woman’s freedom to not be beaten more important than the man’s freedom to beat her? Clearly we recognize it’s correct to value the woman’s freedom over the man’s here, but given that, why wouldn’t God do the same? In this case it’s clearly nonsensical for a loving and compassionate God to—in the name of freedom—allow the man to oppress the freedom of the woman, because a loving and compassionate God who truly valued human freedom would value the woman’s freedom not to be beaten over the man’s freedom to beat her. A free will theodicy that says otherwise shoots itself in the foot because it fails to recognize the value of freedom it claims to champion.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

William Lane Craig's Failed Defense: Suffering Helps People Know God

One defense William Lane Crag gives against the problem of evil is that a world suffused with suffering somehow helps people come to know and love God. One might think a world suffused with suffering would have the opposite effect; after all, a popular reason why some people become atheists is the argument from evil. Still, one can find multiple places where Craig makes the aforementioned theodicy. In William Lane Craig’s second rebuttal with his debate against Stephen Law:
Particularly, when we keep in mind the Christian concept of God and the Christian purpose of suffering—it is not to produce happiness in this life—it is rather to provide a context in which people may freely respond to God and his offer of eternal life and forgiveness and come to know him. And it may be that only in a world that is suffused with suffering of a natural and moral sort that the maximum number of people would freely come to know God and his eternal life.
Another tidbit from William Lane Craig:
Much of the suffering in the world may be utterly pointless, utterly unnecessary, if you think that the goal of life is human happiness. But it may not be unnecessary if God’s goal is to build His kingdom and to draw men and women freely into an eternal relationship with Himself. In fact, we saw, when you read contemporary books on missiology, that it is precisely in those nations of the world that are suffering the greatest deprivation and war and famine and poverty that the growth in the rates of evangelical Christianity is the highest, whereas, in the indulgent Western world (Western Europe and North America), the growth rates are almost flat by comparison. I think it is not at all improbable that it is only in a world suffused with natural and moral evil that the optimal number of persons would come freely to know God and His salvation.

One reason this defense fails is that there’s no reason to think that an omnipotent God couldn’t replace this morally questionable approach with a better way for people to come to know and love him. On Craig’s Christian worldview, God loves us deeply to the point of incarnating himself into a human (Jesus) and dying a painful death for us. So if Craig’s worldview were right, one better way for God to have us come to know and love him seems clear: flood people with knowledge of what God is, God’s love, and what he’s done for them. Christians like William Lane Craig believe God is the locus of moral value, something akin to morality incarnate (we ought to love morality above all else, hence we ought to love God). Having everyone know what God is, the depths of his love and his willingness to incarnate himself into a human being to die for us would certainly be much more effective in drawing people to him than inflicting suffering upon the population—not to mention letting people know of the happiness that they would receive from knowing and loving God (especially in heaven).

Moreover, if suffering great “deprivation and war and famine and poverty” really lead to a greater good of knowing God, we should welcome such suffering, not fight against it. Perhaps deep down Christians tend to know this is bunk, for many such Christians establish charities to fight against these very things.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Joe Biden and Abortion

Maverick Christian’s article on abortion last month (last month as of this writing) criticized the moral coherency of Joe Biden’s position about believing human life begins at conception while favoring the legalization of abortion. We can make some sense of Joe Biden’s claim from reading a bit of Judith Jarvis Thomson’s famous article A Defense of Abortion. In the article, Thomson audaciously claims that even if abortion kills an innocent human life, abortion is still morally permissible. An excerpt:

You wake up in the morning and find yourself back to back in bed with an unconscious violinist. A famous unconscious violinist. He has been found to have a fatal kidney ailment, and the Society of Music Lovers has canvassed all the available medical records and found that you alone have the right blood type to help. They have therefore kidnapped you, and last night the violinist's circulatory system was plugged into yours, so that your kidneys can be used to extract poisons from his blood as well as your own. The director of the hospital now tells you, “Look, we're sorry the Society of Music Lovers did this to you--we would never have permitted it if we had known. But still, they did it, and the violinist is now plugged into you. To unplug you would be to kill him. But never mind, it's only for nine months. By then he will have recovered from his ailment, and can safely be unplugged from you.” Is it morally incumbent on you to accede to this situation? No doubt it would be very nice of you if you did, a great kindness. But do you have to accede to it? What if it were not nine months, but nine years? Or longer still? What if the director of the hospital says. “Tough luck. I agree. but now you've got to stay in bed, with the violinist plugged into you, for the rest of your life. Because remember this. All persons have a right to life, and violinists are persons. Granted you have a right to decide what happens in and to your body, but a person's right to life outweighs your right to decide what happens in and to your body. So you cannot ever be unplugged from him.”

Thomson argues that you are not morally obligated to remain unplugged, and so the unborn child’s right to life is insufficient reason for abortion to be unethical. In examining Thomson’s argument it becomes understandable how someone could think human life begins at conception while still being in favor of a woman’s right to choose.