Free Will and the Problem of Evil

Free-will is big in apologetics, although as we saw in my July post, it is by no means a requirement for theistic belief. Still, for many apologists it is an important response when dealing with the problem of evil.

Q: if God is omnipotent, omniscient and infinitely good (some theists will object to the term “omnibenevolent”) then why does he allow so much evil/suffering?

Apologist: We have free-will. If God is to allow us free-will, then he must allow us the freedom to behave badly.

If my decisions are determined by my genes then (says the theist) they are not really free. I am an automaton, destined to make the choices I make. I cannot be held responsible for them.

“Oh yes you can!” says Daubney, and quite right too, IMO. The choices I make are still my choices, wherever they come from. I am responsible for them and can be praised or blamed depending on what they are.

An automaton does not make choices but mindlessly follows a programme dictated by the agent who programmed it. A thinking agent makes choices.

I would not have free-will if I had no ability to think, or reason, or decide. I do not have free will when I am sleep-walking.

I would not have free-will if I were being coerced, for instance, where someone puts a gun to my head.

To have free-will I need to be capable of making decisions. The decisions that I make will of course be determined by the type of person I am and the type of person that I am will in turn have been determined by various factors, including my genetic make-up. I do not need to be able to decide what I am going to decide before I can be said to have free-will. If I did, then I would also have to be able to decide what I was going to decide to decide. And what I was going to decide to decide to decide and so on, in an infinite regress.

I can’t be coerced by my own wishes any more than I can hold myself up by my own boot-straps.

So free-will is no way out for the theist. There would be no incompatibility in God giving us free-will whilst designing us as the type of beings who would always chose to do as God would wish. Why didn’t he do that?