By Hendrik van der Breggen
Evil and the Free Will Defence
Christians often appeal to the Free Will Defence to avoid the apparent logical incompatibility between the existence of moral evil and the existence of an all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good God.
Here's the defence: (1) The existence of creatures who can love God is a great good, so God creates them; (2) love requires freedom; (3) the creatures choose not to love God; (4) because God is the supreme standard of goodness, the choice not to love God is the same as choosing evil; (5) hence, evil and God co-exist.
Some critics of Christianity object to the Free Will Defence as follows. Surely, an all-powerful God could do anything. Surely, an all-knowing God would know how to do anything. Surely, too, an all-good God would want to be rid of evil. Surely, then, this God could have made people who are free to reject God, but never do. Therefore, because evil exists, God doesn't.
I think that this objection fails. Here are my reasons.
That people always freely choose to love God is a logical possibility. Significantly, however, the objector's claim describing God's task of making people who always freely choose to love God is not a logical possibility. Such a claim is self-contradictory.
The creaturely freedom under discussion is a freedom that stems from being made in "God's image," what philosophers call Metaphysical Libertarian Freedom. This is a freedom of decision-making the outcome of which cannot be brought about by a force outside the free agent and cannot be guaranteed in advance.
More simply stated, it’s a freedom that puts the creature squarely in the driver’s seat. The creature isn’t a puppet or a robot.
So far, so good.
But now consider this: The objector's task requires God to make people make choices that are made without God's making them make those choices (think about it).
In other words, the objector's task requires God to create people so that (1) they are guaranteed to choose X and, at the same time and in the same respect, (2) they are not guaranteed to choose X. But, of course, this is a contradiction—a logical impossibility.
Philosopher Stephen Davis puts the matter this way: Asking God to force or guarantee the outcome of free choices is like saying to a sculptor "make a sculpture such that independent of any effect you might have on it, it will have quality Q." Davis adds: It's like saying to a scientist, "please conduct an experiment in which independent of any and all influence you might have on the experiment, it will lead to result R."
Clearly, whether people freely choose to love God is up to people, not God.
Hence, the Free Will Defence stands: God and moral evil are not logically incompatible.
(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is assistant professor of philosophy at Providence College, Otterburne, Manitoba. The views in this column do not always reflect the views of Providence.)