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.