Taking a Deeper Look at the Problem of Evil: The Free Will Defense

Taking a Deeper Look at the Problem of Evil: The Free Will Defense

My last post hinted at the one last, ethical, principle of Leibniz’s best-of-all-possible-worlds theodicy: God’s creation includes human free will (capacity of free will is shown in biblical examples like Deuteronomy 30:11-19, Isaiah 30:1 and Joshua 24:14-15). For Leibniz, this idea was just a principle of his theodicy. For Augustine, CS Lewis, and Alvin Plantinga (particularly in his book God, Freedom, and Evil) it was their entire defense or theodicy. Human freedom is vital to grasp how God’s permission of evil is coherent with divine flawlessness and to grasp how God avoids ethical condemnation for letting evil in the best possible world. In its easiest way, it goes something like this: God set us up not to be machines or creatures of impulse but free, sensible agents with the power to choose and hence to love. Then if God were to make us able to choose the good freely, he had to create us adept at also choosing evil. Consequently, our free will can be misused and that proves the existence of evil and God are not incompatible. Although this greater good – for us, of enjoying a sensible soul, and for God of getting genuine loving children instead of some sort of pets – is worth the evil that certainly additionally happens. 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.”[1] A better world is created if human beings are infused with free will, even if they decide to behave corruptly (i.e., in the Garden of Eden). Were God to force us to make good choices, then we would not be making choices in any way, but simply implementing God’s instructions like when a computer performs a program. But it is crucial to say not anything in this notion of free will makes it essential for human beings to choose evil. Free will in this idea really implies a genuine prospect. Just the prospect of sin is inherent to this concept of human free will.

We should know Adam and Eve to have been formed in a state of purity, not in a state of ethical perfection. Purity implies they began with a fresh start, with no temperament to do harm. They might, though, choose evil. Ethical perfection, as dissented to plain purity, requires full ethical maturity, a type of holiness proven across a lifetime of ethical selections (we will appreciate in heaven).

Often, we think God should wipe the world of evil, but we should consider meticulously really what we are requesting when we want God to obliterate evil in the world. God can merely destroy all the terrible human beings and leave the good ones behind. Although who among us would remain? I am not completely good, and a flawless God would have to use a flawless benchmark. Such a benchmark would involve my own extermination and that of my household and friends. Are you and your adored ones ready for that?

While free will can ensue in evil, for humans to have the capability to be ethically good, build virtues, or develop spiritually, free will is necessary. Human ethical integrity hangs on our capability to freely choose the good. His generosity makes freedom conceivable and makes it possible for his creation to pursue him. By wanting the best, God gives the prospect some formed creatures will decide to behave corruptly. Augustine composes:

Such is the generosity of God’s goodness that He has not refrained from creating even that creature which He foreknew would not only sin, but remain in the will to sin. As a runaway horse is better than a stone which does not run away because it lacks self-movement and sense perception, so the creature is more excellent which sins by free will than that which does not sin only because it has no free will.[3]

Plantinga asserts “God creates a world containing evil, and he has a good reason for doing so.”[4] 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.”[5]

Consequently, evil does not make the reality of God unfeasible. Plantinga says, “the existence of evil is not logically incompatible (even in the broadly logical sense) with the existence of an all-powerful, all-knowing, and perfectly good God.”[6] It is merely partially the consequence of the free will of humanity. “…the burden of proof of demonstrating that there is no possibility at all of the coexistence of God and…evil is just too heavy for the atheist to bear.”[7] Moral evils are partly the consequence of the Fall and the sinfulness of man. Stackhouse sums up Plantinga’s entire 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. This is what the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden portrays.[8]

A dilemma instantly gives itself, however. This appears to justify only moral evil but no natural evil. Peter van Inwagen reacts by describing the Fall implies that “natural evil…is a consequence of an aboriginal abuse of free will.”[9] Therefore human free will can somewhat justify the brutality of nature.

Yet, there is an added element of thinking that undercuts the free-will theodicy. Determinism asserts the theodicy presumes if God affords us the donation of free will, then he cannot control the results of its treatment. Although compatibilism asserts the Bible reveals in several places God can sovereignly direct our choices devoid of breaching our freedom and responsibility. For instance, Jesus’ crucifixion was obviously foreordained and destined to occur, but all the individuals who, by God’s blueprint, carried it out were making their choices freely and therefore were responsible for what they achieved (cf. Acts 2:23). This shows it is possible to be free and to have our path led by God – all at once, compatibly. There are more instances of this as well. Therefore, God can supply free will and yet direct the results of our choices to be included in his blueprint.


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

[2] On Necessity and Contingency, in Samtliche schriften und breife, ser. VI, vol. 4 (Halle, Germany: Deutsche Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1923), pp. 1449-50; “Philosophical Writings”), ed. G.H.R. Parkinson, trans. M. Morris (London: Rowman & Littlefield, 1991), 100.

[3] The Problem of Free Choice, Vol. 22 of Ancient Christian Writers (Westminster, MD.: The Newman Press, 1955), bk. 2, 14-15.

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

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

[6] Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief, 461.

[7] J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Inter-Varsity Press, 2003), 552.

[8] Ibid., 81.

[9] Van Inwagen, Problem of Evil, 90.

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