Eight big, gaping holes in the free-will defense
Today, in a podcast of a debate, I heard yet another theist spout his take on Plantinga’s free will defense and decided I’d had enough. I scribbled down eight reasons that “free will” is an absurd and inadequate explanation for why an omnipotent and all-loving God would allow people to commit evil acts against each other.
The explanation I heard in the podcast was similar to Plantinga’s defense but more aligned with the standard blurb I’ve heard from many Christian preachers and laymen over the years. Essentially, it went: God created humans to love him, but they can’t be forced to love him (otherwise, it isn’t love), so he made all humans with the ability to do good or evil. Intervention is a slippery slope, so on principle he refuses to ever physically restrain people from doing evil or to force them to do good.
To that, I say:
- The whole concept — what God wants, how he operates, the whole thing — is speculation that is not even supported by the Bible. It is a transparent and futile attempt to reconcile Christian doctrine with reality.
- If the purpose of free will is for God to enjoy a mutual love relationship with humans, its success rate has been dismal. Presumably, having a sincere love relationship with God depends on having an accurate (Christian) concept of who he is. Even if you take the Old Testament at face value regarding the origin and history of the human race, it’s clear that only a minority of people have ever been exposed to the Judeo-Christian concept of God — and only a fraction of those have actually come to love God. To compound the injustice, many have been robbed of the opportunity to love God because they were killed (according to the Bible, not me) before they could be exposed to Christian ‘truth.’ Some of those killings were by people exercising ‘free will,’ and of those, some were mandated by God!
- Loving God does not equate to willing to do good. Even if it did, a person’s actions would still be only indicators of his will. Physically restraining people from doing what they will to do (let alone preventing their victims from being harmed) does not prevent them from willing to do those things in the first place.
- By contrast, for God to “change a person’s heart” seems like the kind of undue influence he would really want to avoid, yet he does this routinely (according to the Bible and innumerable Christian testimonies).
- If it is wrong for God to physically intervene in human behavior, it must be even more wrong for humans to physically intervene in other humans’ behavior, yet God allows — or, rather, commands– governments, “masters” and parents to do just that, and in some cases has held them accountable for the sins of the people they failed to control!
- If physical manipulation is not an option for God, coercion via bribes and threats should not be, either. Yet “the greatest commandment” in Christianity is to love God to an extreme degree; the incentive for belief in God (a prerequisite for loving God) is eternal joy; and the consequence of not believing in God (which rules out loving him) is eternal punishment.
- It is unclear how a human could “love” God in any sense that would be meaningful to God. If a person “loves” God because he redeemed humanity, that is actually just gratitude. If a person “loves God for who he is,” that is actually just admiration — or, viewed another way, perceptiveness! If a person desires and enjoys communion with God, that might be characterized as simple affinity or even selfishness. A human’s “love,” whether for another human or for God, is always conditional — a manifestation of some kind of self-interest — and God should know this better than anyone.
- A common-sense parenting analogy goes a long way: If you saw your child attempting to do something wrong or dangerous (to herself or someone else), it’s a no-brainer that you would try to stop her. Do you seriously think that that single intervention — or even ongoing interventions — would permanently rob her of all her free will, or that it would make it impossible for her to ever sincerely love you?