William Lane Craig and free will

Over at the other blog, we’re still working our way through chapter 7 of William Lane Craig’s On Guard. This week, Craig tries to make it sound like the Almighty was forced to impose suffering on mankind, due to circumstances beyond His control. You can read the whole thing if you’re interested, but for this blog I wanted to take a look at just a snippet of his reasoning. According to Craig, the atheist believes human suffering is inconsistent with the existence of God, which necessarily assumes that God could have created any world He wanted, and that a loving God would not have created suffering.

If God is all-powerful, He can create any world that He wants. Is that necessarily true? Well, not if it’s possible that people have free will! It’s logically impossible to make someone do something freely.

How much can Craig get wrong in just four sentences? How many problems do you see?

Let’s count:

  1. Craig’s statement of the assumption is wrong. Creating a world without suffering doesn’t require that God be able to create “any world He wants,” it merely requires being able to create a world without suffering. Free will is irrelevant to that point.
  2. There’s no need to make anyone do anything against their will in order to create a world without suffering. You might need to stop them from doing certain things, but you wouldn’t need to make them do anything.
  3. Free will is already constrained. I can freely choose when to eat, but I cannot choose to stop eating and still life a full and productive life. Likewise, God could prevent us from doing anything that led to suffering, which would merely constrain our freedom, not destroy it.
  4. There are plenty of things we can freely choose without creating suffering, so if God wants a world that contains free will, there’s no need to impose suffering to achieve it.
  5. God could have created us in a way that would have left us incapable of experiencing suffering, with or without free will.
  6. There’s no rule that says free will is necessary, or is necessarily desirable. If God wanted a world without suffering, and if free will necessarily involved suffering, why not just create a world without free will?
  7. Is God capable of exercising free will, without suffering (and without choosing evil)?

There’s probably more, but I’m out of time for this morning. How many others can you find?



  1. says

    Does heaven have free will? If it does and there is no suffering, then Craig’s premise is contradicted by Christian theology.

    Any time a person points to some intervention by God in our universe (to prevent some disaster, heal an illness, get a job offer, score a touchdown, etc.) as evidence of both God’s existence and God’s goodness, then that person is inadvertently describing God’s free-will violating. Why does God just not do more of exactly the same thing? We get told it would violate free will. Did it violate free will for God to do it in that 1 particular instance then? They tend to flip back and forth quite a bit on whether their god is a hands-on interventionist god or a hands-off deistic god.


    • had3 says

      One would assume there is free will in heaven as the revolt by the angels makes no other sense. This leads to the requirement to continue making humans as we, given sufficient time, have to commit some act that offends god & gets us kicked out. I guess there’s suffering in heaven too. If for no other reason than for those who are there with the knowledge that their loved ones are eternally damned. On the bright side, he’ll has eternal bliss for the same reason.

      • Len says

        If for no other reason than for those who are there with the knowledge that their loved ones are eternally damned. On the bright side, he’ll has eternal bliss for the same reason.

        Sounds like he’ll be torn apart psychologically. For all eternity. Unless he’s impervious to suffering. 😉

  2. Aaron says

    Your link to “the other blog” is broken (most likely by forgetting http:// in the href part, causing it to be interpreted as relative)

  3. Crommunist says

    Mosquitoes. God could have easily created a world in which mosquitoes do not bite humans. Malaria is not a free will argument – it affects and kills children and pregnant women with their fetuses. He has created a world in which the completely innocent suffer and die without the possibility of Christ’s redemption.

    • Snoof says

      The argument there is “original sin”. Yeah, by deciding (of his own free will) to eat the damn fruit, Adam caused mosquitoes.

      Yes, I realise that makes no sense whatsoever.

  4. Randomfactor says

    The existence of suffering does NOT rule out the existence of gods, just the existence of benevolent ones.

    When asked why if there’s a god there’s so much suffering in the world, Mark Twain replied that there IS a god, and he’s a “malign thug.”

    But I’m not sure Craig wants to justify that sort of deity, the kind who’s painted quite well in the book of Job. (Or anywhere else in the Bible, for that matter.)

    Christianity’s whole problem is that they let the traveling salesmen set too much of the dogma. Omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent–only a huxter trying hard to close the deal would claim all three features at once.

  5. Michael J says

    I’d like them to back up a little and prove that free will actually exists. There seems to be an implied assumption that we are a blank slate. Take the original sin and think of 20 people that you know and 10 might have left the fruit alone, 5 might have been tempted and 5 might have just given God the finger and eaten it anyway.
    Why is the adam and eve that god created one of the ones that would be tempted? Whether obedience is in the genes or is caused by the environment, God was involved in both for adam and eve.

  6. says

    If god is omniscient, then He doesn’t have free will. He can’t know many contradictory chains of events at the same time. What He “knows” is fixed.

    And, by extension, it is fixed for His creations, as well. There can be no free will in a universe with an omniscient, omnipotent god.

  7. rapiddominance says

    Some of the Christian sites seem to think that your homeboy Dawkins is ducking Craig. I’m not sure I agree with them, though. Some of his previous excuses were shadowy and suspicious, yes; but even still, I can think of some pretty good, practical reasons myself why he would concentrate his resources elsewhere.

    It is interesting to see the effort leveled against Craig by the writers here, however. Not bad pieces of work, especially yours. As well as you dealt with this short (and particular) excerpt, imagine what Dawkins would do to Craig within a whole hour or so! It would be breath taking, would it not?

    Anyway, I’m just scouting ahead and keeping my eyes open for you guys. Keep up the good work. Tales of your bravery and intellectual mastery are being heard EVERYWHERE.


  8. No One says

    If the god can do anything, it can create a universe that has both free will and no suffering. If it cannot do so then it is constrained by “something” from doing so.

    “And no you can’t have my starship bub…”

  9. karmakin says

    Earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, etc.

    There are many things in the world where evil and suffering can be relieved without affecting free will in any way shape or form.

  10. danielrudolph says

    To expand on what Crommunist said, free will only accounts for a small portion of suffering. It doesn’t explain goiters, hurricanes, the majority of dead pets or jock itch. Even things that are apparently caused by free will, like having your shit stolen, are in a broader sense caused by resource scarcity, which could be alleviated without affecting free will.

  11. sunsangnim says

    If there is freewill in heaven, there must be conflict. If there are individuals with freewill, disagreements are inevitable. Therefore, heaven is not a perfect paradise. The only way it could be avoided is if human nature is substantially changed when you step the gate. If that’s the case, then how can it be “you” who gets the reward of eternal life? You’ve been turned into something else. Maybe there is no freewill, in which case, again, you are no longer the same person (you’re an unthinking Godbot, perhaps).

    Easiest solution: heaven is a fantasy that theologians try not to think too critically about.

    • Deacon Duncan says

      Exactly. And if there’s no freewill in eternity, then there’s no point in making us go through all this mortal BS just so we could develop a free will.

  12. G.Shelley says

    If their god is “outside time” as they often claim, with full knowledge of everything that would happen from the moment of creation to the end of time, I don’t see how it could possibly be said to have free will, or even to make choices or decisions

  13. Janney says

    I would like someone to point out to Craig that the existence of a god who knows the future is incompatible with the existence of free will, at least in the generally accepted sense of the term. God is determinism personified.

    Or, if somebody already told him, what did he say? Is there a link?

    Or, if I’m wrong, please correct me.

  14. danielrudolph says

    Janney, the usual response to that is that God knowing what you are going to decide doesn’t mean you aren’t freely deciding it. Just like if you watch a tape of a man choosing fish and chips over a hamburger and you know which he chooses because you’re seen it before, doesn’t mean he didn’t freely pick it.

  15. Janney says


    Well that’s better than the only response I could think of, which is that “free will” is a magical ingredient beyond our understanding.

    But does God know the future or not? If He does, then however consciously and carefully, however long and hard, this man thinks about what he will eat, God already knows what his decision will be. And He knows all the steps in this man’s thinking, however many, leading him to that decision. And He knows all the rest of this man’s decisions, and He knows where this man will spend eternity after he dies. Only a Christian would describe this man as free of will.

    If this hypothetical Christian were charging me with naturalism, or materialism, or whatever, he wouldn’t compromise with me on any degree of free will short of the maximum. But when the shoe is put on the other foot, he would have me believe that he’s happy with a degree of freedom so limited that it amounts to the mechanical performance of a series of foreordained actions in the service of a precisely engineered conclusion.

  16. keithharwood says

    The play `Shadowlands’ begins with C S Lewis addressing the audience as to a public meeting in praise of suffering, it’s a wake-up call from God. When the play proper begins the first speaker is discussing how wild animals regularly eat each other alive, thus destroying Lewis’s argument.

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