ON THE FREE WILL DEFENSE AGAINST ARGUMENT FROM EVIL
By Aparthib Zaman
One of the most damaging argument against the existence of God is the argument from evil, which says the presence of evil (Both natural and moral) implies lack of omnibenevolence, a defining attribute of God and thus contradicts God's existence. The usual response to that by apologists has been the free will defense, which briefly says that free will requires evil, thus God still exists but allows evil for the sake of free will of humans. Here I wish to engage in a critique of the free will defense by theist against the argument from evil. The words omnipotent = all-powerful, omniscient = all-knowing and omnibenevolent = all compassionate are attributes often applied to God, that he is all-powerful, knows all that can be known and is infinitely compassionate. We are often told that God knows all things throughout the entirety of time and space. Everything that can be known, he knows. Everything in the past, present and future is known to God. And he is all compassionate. I will argue that all these attributes run into conflict with the notion of free will unless at least one of the attributes are sacrificed. Religion says that God gave us free will, so that we may make our own decisions, decide our own futures, with no coercion from God. Whether we do good things or bad things is entirely up to us, God just sits back and watches over us knowing ahead of time (through omniscience and prescience) each and every action that we will do. The problem is if God knows today what we will do tomorrow, then we cannot do anything other than what God knows we will do tomorrow, otherwise he will be wrong and not be omniscient. But then if could not do anything other than what Go already knows then where is the free will? If God knows what someone will do in future then that implies that something (by God or any other factor) must have determined what that person will do. Free will only makes sense if one can choose one action from several possible ones solely based on his/her own will. But we just saw that only one action can be chosen, the one that God knows today that we will actually do tomorrow, and no other. So free will does not exist in its strict definition. In other words if you truly have free will then you should be able to do something that even God cannot know ahead of time. True free will should have the ability to prove even God's knowledge of one's future action to be wrong. But such free will then is obviously incompatible with another attribute of God, viz omniscience. So either way a logical contradiction arises. Secondly if God knows ahead of time that someone will commit an act of evil in future because of omniscience then that implies that God is not omnibenevolent for not preventing that person from committing the evil. If not preventing someone from committing evil even when knowing ahead of time that the evil will be committed is considered to be the right thing to for God for the sake of free will then the same must be true for humans. SO that would imply that A should not prevent B from committing an evil, since that will interfere with the freewill of B. But that is not considered morally good for humans. So omniscience and free contradicts omnibenevolence of God and leads to moral contradiction for humans.
As a last attempt to resolve this inconsistencies of attribute of god with one can argue, well, god can actually through omnipotence, endow himself with omniscience or rob himself of it if and whenever he chooses to, in other words, he has the switch which he can turn on and off at will to gain or loose omniscience anytime. And for our freewill to work he CHOSE to be not omniscient about our lives. Omnipotence allows god to become omniscient if an when he chosen to, and hence these both attributes are not really incompatible. Now leaving aside the question as to how the one who argues that way came to know about this remarkable switch of God, let us instead examine this argument more closely.
Let's say god decided to turn the switch on so he indeed became omniscient. So God now knows everything about the future of anyone, anything. But suppose now he wanted to change the future of someone. Can he do it? NO! because if he could then in that case his knowledge about the future of that person just before he changed that person's future would be wrong, which would cause God to loose omniscience. In other words, God CANNOT as a choice turn the switch of omniscience on AND change someone's future while preserving omniscience. So God looses omnipotence in that case for not being able to exercise this particular sequence of choices. So the contradictions between these two attribute cannot be removed by this switching of omniscience clause. Now let us discuss and debate the usual arguments of Free Will Defense of Theism. Theists posit that God is omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent. The argument from evil (AE) against the existence of God can be summarized as :
1. God is omniscient, omnibenevolent, omnipotent.
2. God being omniscient, knows the existence of evil.
3. God being omnibenevolent, has the intention of eliminating the presence of evil.
4. God being omnipotent, can eliminate the presence of evil.
5. From 2,3 and 4, we can deduce that the presence of God imply the absence of evil.
6. There IS evil.
7. From 5 & 6,therefore,we deduce that God as defined in (1) does not exist.
The usual response of the religious apologetics against the above argument from evil by skeptics is the free will defense, summarized as : Free Will Defense (FWD) of theism against AE :
1. God had two choices : create beings 1-a)with free will or 1-b) without free will (law of excluded middle).
2. The creation of beings with free will who can commit evil (1-a), is BETTER than creation of beings without free will (1-b), who can only commit good
3. God always does what is BETTER i.e choose (1-a)
4. Therefore, in view of 2 and 3 above, God cannot but create beings with free will with the capacity to commit evil.
Unfortunately, this defense makes three critical mistakes. The first mistake, which is the most obvious, is the assumption that free will is better then the capacity to do no evil. It is rather difficult to agree with the idea that all the evils that man has ever committed are all justified by the freedom of free will and the trade off between free will and evil is that obvious. Only very few who has never suffered the consequences of evil or are themselves perpetrators of evil can say without any qualm that free will (with a baggage of capacity for evil) is preferable to no free will (with no baggage of capacity for evil), since they are the biggest beneficiaries of free will, not the victims. Another argument by defenders of free will argument is that without freewill and the ability to choose evil human becomes becomes like a robot. But then calling a perfect human a "robot" is a personal subjective use of a label. By the same token if all humans with free will abided by the rules of God (Which God wishes anyway) and and didn't commit any wrong then they would equally well become robots. Just like robots obey the computer commands, humans would obey the divine commands. There is no profound difference between the two. By that logic all humans will become robots in heaven since no evil will exist there. Besides there is an inherent inconsistency in the concept of a perfect being (GOD) crafting an imperfect product (human). Imperfect products can only come from imperfect designer. Finally the word " better" in (3) above is being argued by humans (apologists). How are they to know what God thinks is better?. They are judging better in a post hoc fashion, i.e predicting a cause from the effect! If humans had not committed any wrongs then the post hoc logic could have been changed to, God being perfect is not allowing anyone to commit any evil. So this kind of defensive reasoning by humans for God is convenient and self serving to justify a foregone conclusion. God never himself argued this way justifying evil (either in Koran or Bible or anywhere). A human can never know what God wants or thinks and argue on God's behalf unless God says it himself in any revelation. The word "BETTER" above is a highly subjective judgment call and only favours those who can benefit from a free will with capacity for evil. Also another tacit assumption is that without evil there is no good. That without the potential to commit evil there would be no meaning of good and no one would appreciate what good is. And since evil is committed through the exercise of free will hence free will is necessary for evil which is necessary for the meaning of good. This kind of argument about the "logical" impossibility of the absence of evil has been formulated elegantly by philosopher Platinga. But Platinga's contention is like an astute lawyer defending his client by clever reasoning who may not believe in his client. Platinga's argument does little to prove the notion of God as envisaged in religions. It only allows a logical possibility of God with those atrributes that can be allowed by human logic, so effectively renders "God" a notion to play with by logicians Anyway, we are interested in the notion of God of the traditional religions. Then the question arises why does God instruct human not to commit evil and to do good and threaten punishment for non-compliance and reward for compliance? Obviously not all human will commit good, if they did then evil would not exist, and the meaning of good will cease to exist. So for the meaning of good to exist and for human to appreciate it some evil must be committed. So God has to make sure that some do commit evil. So on one hand God is instructing all to commit good and stay away from evil and at the same time he is required to maintain some evil to make the sure the concept of good survives for human so as to inspire them do it. In that case blaming/punishing human for committing very same evil that is required to be committed to maintain the value and meaning of good for others would be a logical contradiction for a perfect/ omnipotent/omniscient/omnibenevolent God. An omniscient God would know all the crimes and wrongs to be committed by anyone ahead of time (omniscience implies prescience) and in that case expressing anger (as reflected in many verses of Koran and Bible referring to punishment in Hell) after it is committed while knowing beforehand that it was coming is contradictory to omnibenevolence. Furthermore if one insists that some evil is essential for good to exist, then that implies that evil should not be prevented, only reddressed. So it is imperative that a disease be not prevented, only treated. Similarly it becomes imperative not to prevent occurrence crime, but reddress it (punish,condemn) after it has happened, because prevention would make evil non-existent and thus render "good" meaningless. So we see that this argument for evil as essential for "good" leads to a contradictory situation.
So God as envisaged in the revealed religions suffers from two inherently contradictory desires, which is not consistent with the attributes of a perfect being. Besides if good and happiness requires the existence of evil and suffering then why is there no evil and suffering in heaven which is supposed to be a place of perfect goodness and happiness? Most importantly, is it consistent with an omnibenevolent being to require that evil be committed on children, innocent men and women (after all evil is defined as wrongs perpetrated on the innocent, not on the wicked) just so that the victims ( if they survive) or those who were spared can appreciate the good? It violates all common sense and any moral standards that one can conceive of. Some apologists say "Well, God' s intentions are beyond human comprehension, standards and common sense", but that's an assertion of no substance, because if God's intentions is truly beyond human comprehension then one can say nothing about God, one way or the other and the apologists (who are human) have no basis of defending God either or to contradict what their opponents are saying. Moreover this kind of reasoning has inherent inconsistencies. One cannot make an argument based on ignorance of facts. The whole point of this debate is to refute or prove that God exists. Now one cannot refute the argument which says that God cannot exist because of the incompatibilities of the various attributes that define God by arguing that "God" works in mysterious ways!. "God works in mysterious ways" assume God exists which was supposed to be proven in the first place. More importantly one cannot start out with logic trying to prove God exists and give up logic halfway and appeal to "mysterious" logic to arrive at the conclusion that God exists. One could as well have started out with the conclusion that God exists, and that would have as much validity as invoking a mysterious working halfway. Mysterious logic can be made to arrive at any conclusion by either side.
The second mistake is the tacit assumption that free will necessarily entails a choice of evil, ie. if we have free will then it is impossible to avoid evil altogether, free will must involve choice of either good or evil. That's how the apologists explain the presence of evil as an inevitable consequence of free will. But that's a fallacious presupposition. Free will is the capacity to choose. A choice is picking between many options. By saying that free will necessarily entails evil they are implying that our options are limited to either good, or evil, that a choice only between many goods are not possible, i. e there cannot be more than one good options. But we know that's not true. We come across many situations where there can be two good options along with one or more evil options. So free will can entail choices between good. What is really an important prerequisite of free will is the FREEDOM to choose from whatever choices are given to us, period. What choices are given to us do not determine the freedom. So evil as a choice is not essential for freedom. Even with presence of free will we don't have the choice of doing many things. We can't choose to make ourselves disappear, or to fly or float in the air without any mechanical aid. If we can retain free will even without such abilities then surely we can retain our free will even if deprived of the evil options. If God is all-powerful, then why does he not eliminate all the evil options and only provide good/neutral options to choose from using free will?. He could have provided options between goods of varying degrees and/or neutral (i.e which doesn't benefit or harm). Since evil do exist then either God if he exists, is not all- powerful or he does not want to see evil disappear. In that case he(God) cannot be all compassionate. We can also imagine many scenarios in which free will is compatible with an omnipotent God and no evil. For instance, God could use magical power to "physically restrain" those who intend to commit evil. Perhaps they would find it frustrating, like the repulsive force between two magnets, he could feel a repulsive force restraining him to do the evil, but their "free will" to do harm would nevertheless remain intact. After all free will is a subjective mental perception. As long as one can feel in their mind that they can make a will without interference then free will exists, regardless of whether the will is actually fulfilled or not. But since such magical prevention of evil does not happen then again that proves that an omnipotent God if exists cannot be omnibenevolent. Let us further analyze free will (or its absence) carefully. It seems that the manner in which humans are endowed with freewill is contradictory to the concept of fairness (Another necessary attribute of a perfect God). If right or wrong choices by humans were made under conditions that humans had complete choice on then it is understandable that humans could be held accountable for their choices. But we know that the acts that people choose to do are very much dictated by their minds/personalities which in turn are dictated by their genetic inheritances and the effect of environmental stimulus on the neural connections in their brain that occurs since birth, both of which an individual has no choice on. If genetic plus environmental influence makes one more prone to commit an evil then he/she would have to struggle harder to stay away from it (or maybe impossible to stay away from it in case the influence is so deep that he/she cannot even judge right and wrong and views morality as blind rules imposed unfairly by society and religion) whereas in a human whose genetic+ environmental influence made him/ her less prone to commit evil and more prone to do right then it would require much less effort to stay away from evil (As it comes "naturally" regardless if morality is set by society or religion). So there IS some element of programming in human nature and hence there can be no true 100% free will. A true free will which enables one to choose right from wrong would make sense if all humans were born with a clean slate that can only be written with conscious choice at each step, in other words if they had the choice as to what personality/mind they could have. But genetic inheritance and environment's effect on the neural connections of the brain cells invariably makes the slate pre written and humans don't have any choice on how their personality/mind will evolve, instead it is decided for them by gene and environment by the time full consciousness develops in them. If God is to hold each human accountable for their acts at an individual level then it behooves him to endow more freedom to each human being than there seems to be. The third mistake of the FWD apologetics is the omission of natural evil (i.e epidemic, plague, earthquake, floods etc) that are not committed by human. If god exists, he made everything, including natural evils or has the capacity to prevent it. It is therefore an evil on his part to allow it. The Free Will Defense cannot justify this natural evil by their usual argument. Sometimes the natural evil is explained by saying that it is the punishment of God for the sins of human. Which human? The greatest casualty of all natural evils are mostly innocent children, women and men. The evil doers in most cases escape unhurt. The natural evils happen quite randomly and kill people with no selective bias. Good and bad people alike fall victims to it, a situation that can be nicely explained the absence of God and by nature' s random acts. The great Lisbon earthquake of 1755 killed the all the worshippers in the churches that gathered to commemorate the death of a noted saint, as well as many innocent women and children. But it spared many brothels. Another defense of the natural evil is that it is for a greater good. Good for whom? Not the millions who died? And when does the greater good take place? No greater good seem to have followed much of the natural disasters. Of course there can be some beneficiaries from the miseries of others. But is that compatible with an omnibenevolent God? Another response by the apologists are: "What we perceive as evil in this world is a result of our limited knowledge and these evils are part of a grander scheme of God and are not really evil, but part of a greater good that we can't see. God has reasons behind everything". Now in the name of " limited knowledge" these apologetics are asserting something that require extraordinary knowledge, like knowing that God has a reason behind all evil. A limited knowledge cannot lead to this profound assertion!. They are being inconsistent within themselves by saying this. Besides if we accept this argument on faith, then one can also argue back that what we perceive as good in this world can also be an illusion and can be part of a greater evil that we can't see with our limited knowledge. This argument is equally acceptable as a faith. So this kind of reasoning can be always applied no matter how much evil is observed. If evils only happened to wrong doers and innocents were always spared from suffering without exception then this kind of reasoning would immediately point to God's justice and fairness in action. In absence of such ideal situation the reasoning is modified and appeal is made to the limitations of human comprehension to justify the far from ideal situation of evil and a hidden reason behind it. This kind of reasoning is so opportunistic that it would always provide an explanation of any given reality, in favor of the benevolence of God irrespective of the amount of evil and suffering that is observed. Is there any level of evil and suffering that would convince a believer that God is not omnibenevolent after all? Certainly not, because the level we see now is already quite substantial and is consistent with the non- existence of God and a random act of nature. So it all boils down to believe in an omnibenevolent God first and then use all kinds of "post hoc" (after the fact) arguments to "explain" away the observed evil and suffering. So this apology also does not hold under close scrutiny and thus free will and the existence of evil by humans is incompatible with the concept of an omniscient/omnipotent/ omnibenevolent God.
Published at: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/mukto-mona/message/10108
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