Here’s a brief and sad little article. Country star Wynonna Judd is divorcing her estranged husband because he had sex with a minor under 13. In her public statement, she makes the kind of casually thoughtless religious remark that believers make which demonstrates how little they care actually to examine what they’ve been taught to believe. (Emphasis added.)
“Our family will pull together, begin the healing process and hopefully — by the Grace of God — become stronger. We will move forward with our faith, family and our friends to find resolution to this difficult situation.”
Cue automatic atheist response: If you’re so confident your God will help you overcome this “difficult situation,” where was He when your ex-husband was putting a tweener through the “difficult situation” of statutory rape? I guess God likes you better, eh?
Christians reflexively fall back on the Appeal to Free Will whenever the Problem of Evil — always illustrated to maximum effectiveness when a child is harmed — pops up to inconvenience their God’s best selling points, e.g., his omniscience, omnipotence, and omnibenevolence. The idea is that God cannot ever interfere with our most precious gift, our free will, because to do so would make us “robots,” and God doesn’t want to be worshipped by mindless robots who don’t do anything that isn’t pre-programmed. No, He wants us to come to him by our own free choice and love.
What Christians don’t recognize is that the mere claim their God is omniscient negates the notion of free will. If God is omniscient, then he knows every choice you’re going to make from cradle to grave. Even if he doesn’t directly influence it, the mere fact he knows it calls into question that the choice is entirely yours. I’ve heard Christians engage in all kinds of rhetorical contortionism to squirm out of this one. My ex-wife tried to tell me that God “swears off knowing” certain things to allow for true free will. But you cannot “swear off knowing” something you already know. I cannot wake up in the morning and decide that I don’t know my address or my own birthday. I’ve heard that God’s omniscience means he actually knows all possible choices you might make. But this still means that in the end he knows which one you will make.
So either God is omniscient or He isn’t. If He is, human free will cannot exist. QED.
Another intractable problem plagues Christians who try to use the Appeal to Free Will to justify God’s allowing crimes like genocide, mass murder, or the rape of children. I’ve heard so many excuses here I cannot catalog them all. One of the few that has any persuasive power at all is that God must allow evil in order that people may have standards of nobility, courage, and goodness to which to aspire. Without Hitler, would those of us who opposed him have had the opportunity to present the world with a glorious moment of triumph for the concepts of justice, morality, freedom, equality, hope and heroism? If no one ever did wrong, how would you know the difference between right or wrong in order to choose the right?
Persuasive until, perhaps, you consider that such concepts were not necessarily alien to the world at large before the rise of Hitler or any other tyrant you might care to name. It’s not as if there was anyone sitting around in 1938 — other than the racist, lunatic demagogues (and no, they weren’t atheist) who planned the Final Solution, that is — thinking to themselves, “Gee whiz, I just can’t figure out if it’s right or wrong to murder millions of innocent people in converted gas chambers and dispose of their bodies in industrial ovens.”
That one needs a God to first draw of the list of what’s right or wrong before we can comprehend morality was handily disposed of by the Euthyphro Dilemma. Is a certain act right or wrong because God says so? Then what is His basis for characterizing them as such? Is an act — even one like child rape — morally neutral until God slaps the label “wrong” on it? Then His decision would appear to be entirely arbitrary, and God could just as easily have labeled it “right.” On the other hand, if God has reasons for labeling acts as right or wrong, then those reasons necessarily exist independently of God and are rooted in the observable, tangible consequences of the acts. Any thinking being can draw the same conclusions, and God becomes irrelevant to moral development.
Two more problems demolish the Appeal to Free Will as a rebuttal to the PoE.
- Christians seem to forget that innocent victims have free will too. So in the spectacle of child rape, let us say we have three actors. 1) The rapist, whose free will is dictating, “I intend to rape this child.” 2) The victim, whose free will is screaming out, “Help, I don’t want to be raped.” 3) God, standing on the sidelines whistling and buffing His nails, saying, “Sorry, I simply cannot interfere. Free will, don’t you know.” Whose free will? Well, in this case, it can only be the rapist’s. God is in essence favoring the free will of the rapist over that of the innocent victim, rendering Him no less evil than the rapist himself. Thus Christians are put in the embarrassing position of realizing they have spent the last 2000 years worshipping the patron God of child molesters.
- Free will only refers to the ability to want to do something. It refers to a mental process only. To interfere with an actual act in no way impedes the exercise of free will. The FBI might get a tip and thwart a terrorist attack before it occurs. Has the terrorists’ free will been violated? Not at all. Even as they’re being led away in cuffs, they still have every bit as strong a desire to inflict terror and violence. They simply cannot act upon that desire. A crippled man may want to walk, a person with cancer may want to walk out of the hospital in perfect health to enjoy a long life. They cannot do those things, but that will never stop them wanting it.
So the Appeal to Free Will is thus refuted. As long as there are innocent victims of evil, then the Problem of Evil will continue. And while the PoE does not necessarily prove that no God of any kind exists (the indifferent god of deism is utterly untouched by it), it does prove that no God that could possibly matter — that no God anyone would have any reason to worship and court favors from through prayer (and isn’t the act of prayer itself a denial of the Christian claim that God cannot intervene directly in human affairs, since prayers themselves are requests for God to do exactly that?) — exists.