Christianity's problem with free will
Originally posted here, please bookmark, follow, etc. my blog.
Before I get into this, I'd like to ask you to forward this [as in, the link up top] to any christian you know who might be able to refute this somehow, and send it to other atheists to use in online debates if you think it's a good argument against christianity. I mean, I implicitly ask you to send every blog post to your friends just by posting it, but here I'm explicitly asking because I want real discussion here.
I discuss religion with christians a lot. In reality, I sort of miss religion, and would almost like to be convinced the religion I was brought up in is true. One of the biggest hurdles to overcome in order to reach that point is theodicy, as in "the problem of evil" not the epic Greek poem (that joke works better if you're reading this out loud, and are aware of The Odyssey). The Problem of Evil, from a christian standpoint, is that the world has a lot of evil in it, yet the christian god is portrayed in the bible as all-loving, all-powerful and benevolent. As Epicurus said:
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?
The common modern christian response to this is the citation of free will, as in, god doesn't wish to force us to love him, so we're given a choice, and that choice allows for evil. However, this presents us with three fairly major problems. Firstly, the event that supposedly allowed human suffering, according to christians, is the fall ow man. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, the fall of man only allowed for very specific aspects of evil and suffering. Now, let's say that christians are slightly mistaken on this. Let's say that some suffering (childbirth being painful, people being able to die, people needing to farm for food, etc.) was caused by the fall, and the rest was always out there, just not in Eden. Fine, that's a minor point anyway. There are still two very large problems with chalking evil up to free will.
Primarily, there's the fact the bible itself says that free will isn't possible. How, you ask? Well, there are many prophecies in the bible that apparently came true, and many others that have yet to be fulfilled regarding the end of days. There's even a website that lists 100 prophecies in the bible that have been fulfilled. Whether or not these prophecies really did get fulfilled is up for debate, but this does set up a reality where things are predetermined, and anyone who is familiar with the philosophical concept of freewill vs determinism knows that they're basically incompatible. If the future can be predicted, everything is predetermined, and if things are predetermined, we do not have free will, simply the illusion of free will. Our entire lives are governed by whoever determined how events will play out in the future, and all of our choices are laid out exactly so that there is no deviation from the plan.
But let's say that there is a way to get around that. I don't see how it's possible, but let's say that there is a way that we can legitimately have free will while having hundreds of prophecies that have come true, and several more that will. We still have a problem. Is free will a good thing in the christian worldview? On the one hand, god gives us free will so that we can choose him. After all, only a total evil tyrant would force people to believe in him and obey his every law. On the other hand, that's exactly what god does when you get to heaven. While we don't have a complete picture of what the christian heaven would look like, we know there's no sin. In other words, people who have shown themselves willing to obey god's laws and who love god enough to want to be with him forever have their free will taken away. Even if god simply "alters the programming" so to speak, to allow them to choose to do anything that isn't a sin, it's still a violation of free will. By christians' own admission, that would make god evil, at least towards residents of heaven.
And if this solution to the problem of evil doesn't work, then that brings us back to square one: Epicurus' old riddle.
So my questions for christians are these:
1: How do you reconcile your belief in free will with your belief that god has a plan for us all?
2: Is free will a good thing or a bad thing? If it's good, why does god not allow it in heaven? If it's bad, why does god allow it at all?
3: If you can't adequately solve the previous problems, how do you solve the Riddle of Epicurus?