Wednesday, September 7, 2011
The Free Will Argument To The Problem Of Evil
The so-called problem of evil has dogged theistic philosophy since its inception. Essentially it posits that the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent God is incompatible with the existence of evil in the world. Prominent among the theistic arguments against this incompatibility is the free will argument advanced by philosophers of religion like Alvin Plantinga. They basically argue that free will is such a valuable good that in order to secure it for humanity, an all-good God would allow the possibility of its misuse and the resultant evil. Therefore they claim that evil is compatible with an omnibenevolent God.
I happen to think that this argument is totally unconvincing. First it does nothing to address the problem of natural evil, or suffering that is not caused by the agency of a person like that in natural disasters or congenital birth defects, etc. Also, an omniscient God supposedly would know exactly how each person will exercise their free will and whether they will misuse it or not, so God is not trading on possibilities but facts, he knows that if he gives certain people free will they will rape infants, yet we are to think that that person's free will is such an intrinsic good that it is worth the price of that evil? Most defenders of theism believe in a God that is capable of acting in contradiction to the laws of nature when it suits his purposes, the Old Testament is full of these cases. So, why wouldn't God reach down and turn off the free will of everyone he knows is about to commit a horrific and senseless evil?
I could go on and on but my purpose here wasn't to argue against the free will argument but to follow its logical implications and see what they say about how proponents of this argument ought to act.
The free will argument says that the most horrific and senseless instances of evil are justified on the basis of the absolute goodness of human freedom. It says that whatever the cost that the world pays in senseless suffering and anguish, it's not too much for the gift of freedom. Since this is supposedly the logic of God himself and God is considered not only all-knowing and wise, but also the paragon of morality, it follows that we ought to follow his logic in such matters on earth, too. What does this mean practically? Well, if we are to consider freedom the ultimate good and consider no cost paid for it (i.e. in suffering, evil, etc.) as too high, it necessarily follows that we cannot justify the existence of jails, prisons, mental institutions or even rule of law. It is more important that we are able to exercise our free will, than that we be protected from the consequences of its exercise. If God himself does not see fit to restrain a person whom he knows will commit an evil, than what justification can we have for restraining a person just because they might commit an evil, or have in the past?
It seems to me that Anarchy is the only justifiable system to the promoter of the free will defense to the problem of evil, otherwise one is claiming one knows better than God.