Talking About the Problem of Evil: Human Free Will

Yesterday we covered the principle of sufficient reason as part of the best-of-all possible worlds. The last principle of the best-of-all-possible-worlds is human free will. For Leibniz, this idea was just a principle in part of his greater defense. For Augustine, CS Lewis, and Alvin Plantinga[i] it was an entire defense by itself. In its simplest form, it goes something like this: God set us up not to be machines but free agents with the power to choose.

If God were to make us capable of freely choosing the good, he had to create us also able to freely choose evil. Consequently, our free will can be misused and that is the explanation for evil.

Jean-Paul Sartre communicates this wonderfully: “The man who wants to be loved does not desire the enslavement of the beloved…If the beloved is transformed into an automaton, the lover finds himself alone.”[ii]  God knows that a better world is created if human beings are infused with free will, even if they decide to behave corruptly.

Were God to force us to make good choices, we would not be making choices at all, but simply implementing God’s instructions like when a computer runs a program.

For humans to have the capability to be ethically good, free will is necessary. Morality hangs on our capability to freely choose the good.

Plantinga asserts “God creates a world containing evil, and he has a good reason for doing so.”[iii]  John Stackhouse Jr. says, “God, to put it bluntly, calculates the cost-benefit ratio and deems the cost of evil to be worth the benefit of loving and enjoying the love of these human beings.”[iv]

Stackhouse sums up Plantinga’s argument like this:

“God desired to love and be loved by other beings. God created human beings with this in view. To make us capable of such fellowship, God had to give us the freedom to choose, because love, though it does have its elements of ‘compulsion’, is meaningful only when it is neither automatic nor coerced. This sort of free will, however, entailed the danger that it would be used not to enjoy God’s love and to love God in return, but to go one’s own way in defiance of both God and one’s own best interest.”[v]

God created us with free will because our decision to say “yes” to Him is only a real choice if we are also free to say “no” to Him.


[i] Particularly in his book God, Freedom, and Evil

[ii] Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness (Philosophical Library, 1956), 367.

[iii] Alvin Plantinga, God, Freedom, and Evil (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eardmans Publishing Co., 1977), 26.

[iv] John Stackhouse Jr., Can God Be Trusted? (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009), 85.

[v] J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Inter-Varsity Press, 2003), 81.


This originally aired on Probe Radio and appeared on Probe.org.

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