The Free Will Defense and The Problem of Evil After the World War II and the Holocaust, many Jewish and Christian people were left wondering why God would let such a thing happen. Many felt estranged, as if God had somehow abandoned them in their most desperate time of need.
The world needed an explanation as to why God would let such a thing happen to his so-called children. This need for an explanation of why evil exists in a world that is supposed to have been created by an all-powerful and all-loving God has plagued religious believers for centuries. Because of this need, many scholars have sought out explanations.
This search for an answer to the problem of evil has resulted in many theodicies, or defenses of God in view of the existence of evil. One such defense is known as the free will defense. The free will defense attempts to combat the problem of evil by rationalizing that evil is the result human action and therefore, God is not to be held accountable for it. This essay will discuss both the strengths and weaknesses of the free will defense.
Before we can discuss the free will defense, we must define the different types of evil that exist. Philosophers distinguish between two types of evil that exist in this world, natural evil and moral evil. Natural evils are those evils that occur that are outside of our control, or more simply put, the evils exist in nature. These evils include natural disasters like earth quakes, floods, and tornados. They also include other forms of chance occurrences that are out of our control. Moral evils, on the other hand, are the evils that are in the control of humans and result from human action. They include things such as murder, rape, theft, etc.
Evil, both natural and moral, creates many problems and contradictions regarding the existence of God. One such problem that has been created by the existence and abundance of evil in the world can be summed up into one logical argument: God is supposed to be all-loving and all-powerful, but how can he be all-loving and all-powerful and at the same time allow the existence of evil and suffering in this world. This is essentially the idea behind the problem of evil for many believers. It is also the basis for the argument that many disbelievers use to disprove the existence of God.
There are many approaches taken by theologians to answer the problem mentioned above. The free will defense, in particular, is one of the most popular approaches. This approach makes its argument by attacking the purposed idea that an all-loving and all-powerful God cannot exist in a world where evil exists and is in abundance. The argument says that when God created humans, he gave us was the ability to choose our course of actions for ourselves. He did this because He wanted us to have the ability to choose on our own between right and wrong, good and evil, and believing in Him or not. God could not create humans without giving them free will.
If He had done so, then humanitys faith in God and their actions of piousness would mean nothing. We would essentially be robots. That is why God gave us free will, despite knowing that it would result in evil, suffering, and the questioning of his existence. The argument goes on to state that since humanity has free will, they are responsible for their own actions. The evil that exists in this world and the bad things that result from it are a direct result of human action. Humanity may be tempted by the appeal of evil, but regardless of this, it is still humanitys choice of whether or not to choose to commit evil. If humanity does indeed choose to commit evil, it is their fault, not Gods.
Therefore, humanity is held accountable, not God, for the presence of evil in the world, because the choice to sin was made by humanity alone. Regarding the free will defense, some philosophers and theologians, like Ediegar Burkovitz, believe that while God is not held accountable in the here and now, he is held accountable in the afterlife. God may not be responsible for the evil that we create in this world, but He is responsible for giving us free will. God knew that humanity was bound to choose evil, because we are imperfect, and therefore, He is in some way responsible. All the innocent people that suffered because of the evil acts of others must be compensated in the afterlife for being faithful to God, in spite their suffering. This is why some believe that for the free will defense to work, there must be a dimension beyond time and history where all suffering finds its course. Biblical support of the free will defense can be seen in the story of Adam and Eve.
In story of Genesis, God created a perfect world for Adam and Eve to live in, The Garden of Eden, where they had no need for want or sin. Adam and Eve might have had no need to sin, but God gave them the ability to choose their actions for themselves. Both Adam and Eve were tempted by the Devil to rebel against Gods commands and chose to sin. They made this choice of their own accord. This example of the Original Sin shows that when God first created humanity, He valued moral independence so highly that He gave humanity a sense of free will, despite knowing that they might choose to commit evil. It also reinforces the idea that humanity is responsible for its plight and the existence of evil in the world today. The free will defense is such a popular theodicy because it has such a logical way of explaining evil.
It forces humanity to hold itself accountable for the evil that exists in the world and it gives good reasons for why this evil exists. As the logic goes, God could not eliminate evil without at the same time rendering it impossible to accomplish other goals that are important to Him. Certainly, for God to create human beings that are capable of sustaining a personal relationship with Him, they must be beings that are capable of freely loving Him and following His will without coercion. Unfortunately, the logic of the argument fails when approached from certain angles. The free will defense provides a good explanation as to why moral evil exists in the world, but in order for the free will defense to work, it must adequately explain not only moral evil, but natural evil as well. This is where the free will defense is weakest. Some might argue that there are evil forces in the world that cause natural evil, and because of this God is not responsible for these evils.
There is no proof, however, that such evil forces exist, so this argument fails. Others argue that humans indirectly cause natural evil, for example, floods caused due to deforestation. However, this argument fails too, because there are countless other natural evils that are not caused in any way by humans, like hurricanes or tornados. Natural evils that exist in the world are not the result of human action, but that of nature, which is attributed to God. The free will defense essentially fails to free God of the responsibility of natural evil; therefore, the free will defense cannot adequately answer the problem of natural evil since natural evil is not the result of human action.
The free will defense is not entirely infallible when applied to moral evil either. One philosopher who has found flaw in this argument is John Mackie. Mackies argument is that, If God has made men such that in their free choices they sometimes prefer what is good and sometimes what is evil, why could he not have made men such that they always freely choose the good? Religion’s response to this argument is that if God had done this then it would still limit humanitys free will by not allowing humanity the ability to choose the bad in addition to the good. Mackie responds by saying that the church contradicts itself when it says that free will cannot exist in such a state because when the church seeks a happier or more perfect state of affairs than now existsthey are explicitly recognizing the possibility of a state of affairs in which created beings always freely choose the good.
By this logic, Mackie is able to prove that it was indeed possible for God to create a world in which suffering does not exist in such abundance. Therefore, God is in some way accountable for the suffering that exists in this world, because he could have prevented it and still maintained free will. The free will defense is a very functional way of approaching evil in this world. It allows people to logically understand and accept the fact that evil is able to exist in a world that an all-knowing and all-powerful God created. This defense is not infallible; in fact, it has several flaws and critics.
It does, however, adequately answer the problem of evil for many believers. It might not be able to turn the disbeliever into a believer, but it will provide assurance for those who feel doubt in their religious faith because of the abundance of evil that exists in the world. Theodicies are an important thing for the believer. The believer must know that God is just, all-loving, and all-powerful, for his faith the be strong, and I believe, despite the inconsistencies in the argument, that the free will defense does indeed assure these things.