The Free Will Defense to Explain the Problem of Evil

templeton-free-will-essayAlvin Plantinga, an American analytic philosopher and professor at the University of Notre Dame, argues that it’s logically possible for God to be all-powerful and all-loving and still allow moral evil in the world. His main contention is called “The Free Will Defense.” Here is his argument. “A world containing creatures who are significantly free (and freely perform more good than evil actions) is more valuable, all else being equal, than a world containing no free creatures at all. Now God can create free creatures, but He can’t cause or determine them to do only what is right. For if He does so, then they aren’t significantly free after all; they do not do what is right freely. To create creatures capable of moral good, therefore, He must create creatures capable of moral evil; and He can’t give these creatures the freedom to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so. As it turned out, sadly enough, some of the free creatures God created went wrong in the exercise of their freedom; this is the source of moral evil. The fact that free creatures sometimes go wrong, however, counts neither against God’s omnipotence nor against His goodness; for He could have forestalled the occurrence of moral evil only by removing the possibility of moral good.”

First, let’s define free will as best we can. Free will is the ability of rational moral agents to make “independent” choices in the real world without being “entirely” affected by outside factors beyond their control (hard determinism). This would include the physical laws of the universe, physical or psychological coercion, social constraints, metaphysical realities (if you posit the existence of a God) neurological disorders, and/or a genetic predispositions to a certain illness.

The question then becomes: As moral agents, do we have some control over our actions, and if so, what sort of control and to what extent? I believe this is where I would slightly disagree with Alvin Plantinga. He believes in libertarian free will (incompatiblism), which would argue that humans are absolutely free to make their own choices, even from the metaphysical agent God. However, if this is true, then God would be incapable of determining the future. God would only have foreknowledge of the “hypothetical possibilities” of our human choices since He can’t determine them. This would contradict his nature of being all-knowing (past, present, and future). I would argue that we make real choices, but they are predetermined by our social environment, genetics, and by the all-powerful and all-knowing God (soft determinism).

In the New Testament, Acts 4:27-28, the actions of Herod, Pontius Pilate, the Gentiles, and the people of Israel had been determined and decreed by God Himself to occur as they planned against Jesus and did what their will decided beforehand. Although God had determined that Christ should die, those responsible for His death were still held responsible for their actions. Christ was put to death by wicked men, “yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer” (Isaiah 53:10). Once again, the answer to the question “who put Jesus to death?” is both God and the wicked people. There were two purposes being carried out within a single action.

In my opinion, I believe that God has two types of will: His permissive will is one that he does not decree to occur, such as allowing sin, evil, and suffering in the world. However, because of the allowance of man’s independent wills, all of us experience it, and even God himself does. Christianity is the only worldview that says God became truly man as Jesus and suffered for the sins of the world. Not even God himself evades suffering. The second will is perceptive and is what God desires for all people. For example, God wills that man does not sin, that we do not lie, steal, or murder one another. I believe these two wills are cohesive and do explain the act of moral agents committing evil against one another. In conclusion, I believe God is both completely sovereign and man is completely responsible for their actions. What are your thoughts on this subject?

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