The Problem of Evil (Part 5)
THE FREE WILL DEFENSE
The most common apologetic tactic taken by Christians in reply to the PE is known as the free will defense (FWD hereafter). This position was held by the earlier Augustine , defended by Alvin Plantinga in contemporary analytic philosophy, and expounded by Norman L. Geisler in popular evangelical apologetic works. In summary form, the FWD asserts that God cannot create “genuinely” free creatures and avoid the existence of evil. Now a word of clarification is necessary here. According to the point of view presented in the FWD “genuine” freedom is defined in terms of what is referred to as libertarian freedom. R. K. McGregor defines libertarian freedom as,
[T]he belief that the human will has an inherent power to choose with equal ease between alternatives. This is commonly called the “power of contrary choice” or “the liberty of indifference.” This belief does not claim that there are no influences that might affect the will, but it does insist that normally the will can overcome these factors and choose in spite of them. Ultimately, the will is free from any necessary causation. In other words, it is autonomous from outside determination. (Quoted in John Frame, No Other God: A Response to Open Theism. Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2001, 120)
The FWD argues that true love cannot be “forced,” but instead must be the response toward God by free creatures. Yet God also knows that in a world inhabited by free moral agents that evil is possible (recall that freedom, in the sense in which argument assumes, entails that a moral agent has the equal ability either to choose or refuse a given course of action). Since God has endowed humans with libertarian freedom, humans may choose to act in ways that are contrary to God’s intended purposes. In order for God to enter into personal, loving relationships He must preserve this freedom even though, through its misuse, humans are capable of monstrous evil.
Therefore, if God is to preserve libertarian freedom, the possibility of evil must remain. According to proponents of this theodicy, God’s goodness is preserved, and our freedom is maintained. In the words of Geisler,
God then is responsible for the possibility of free choice, but we must bear the responsibility for the actuality of it. (Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, pg. 219)
A critique of the FWD. While at first glance, and especially on Plantinga’s model, the FWD sufficiently addresses the logical PE, I find it to be inadequate. Why? The difficulty rises when we realize that we are looking for more than merely logical answers, but rather true answers. As discussed earlier, in order for a defense to be presented as a true Christian defense, it must be:
- derived from the texts of scripture, and
- be logical and rationally defendable.
Unfortunately, the FWD presupposes a libertarian view of the human will, which not only is philosophically implausible , but more importantly, unscriptural and in opposition to cardinal Christian doctrines (original sin, the inspiration of Scripture, etc). If libertarian freedom doesn’t really exist, then in what meaningful way should we present it as a true rebuttal to the PE?
[For a short and incisive critique of libertarian freedom, from both theological and philosophical perspectives, see John Frame, No Other God, 122-131]
Libertarian free will also rules out a robust doctrine of God’s free and sovereign rule over all of His creation (cf. Eph 1:11). Thus, the FWD, in an attempt to defend the Biblical God against the PE has actually diminished the power, wisdom, and goodness of God at the cost of appeasing the unbeliever. God’s control over His creation in limited by will of the creature. His goodness is lessened in that by not making the display of the full array of His attributes the ultimate object of praise for His people He thereby diminishes their ultimate joy. And His wisdom stifled by creating a world in which so much purposeless evil occurs that could have been avoided.