Monday, May 01, 2006

Free Will

While I am getting to grips with the control interface I want to put forward one of the main difficulties that I see with the traditional Christian worldview. It is the Problem of Evil. I will state this briefly now.

If God is omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenificent, how can there be suffering in the world?
This topic has been dealt with at length by philosophers and theologians and is still debated on blogs and message boards to this day. What really makes me curious is this:
What is it that makes people find the argument that suffering is a result of us having free will convincing?
I know that all the predicates such as omnipotence have limitations such as avoidance of logical contradictions. It does not follow from this, however, that the world we see is the best of all possible worlds given those necessary parameters.
It just does not seem credible, whether you take this metaphorically or not, that God should create a universe bounded by the categories of time and matter in order for it to be a habitat for humans. Further why, foreseeing every move that the feckless, weak willed and covetous creatures would make, He nonetheless created them only to be outraged by their sin? The notion that He would then sacrifice part of Himself to Himself in order to atone for sins which are breaches of moral absolutes that He encoded into the universe in the first place is counter-intuitive. All this so that despite a lack of good evidence for His existence, we, as rational beings could have the free will to chose to have a relationship with Him via his sacrificed son? Why is the concept of atonement morally acceptable anyway? How does somebody else's sacrifice influence the moral status of what I have done? Nor does the suffering seem related in a simple way to free will and sin. Malaria, earthquakes and the like are morally indiscriminate, they kill innocents and guilty alike. The remark that we are all sinners after the 'fall' seems an outdated and morally abhorrent concept. Why did God not create us to enjoy eternal bliss, without the wish or predisposition to do evil? Would any loss of free will that this would entail be a bad thing? I think not.
So as a whole picture, the Christian solution to the Problem of Evil seems incoherent.

24 comments:

ephphatha said...

If God is omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenificent, how can there be suffering in the world?

Since this post seems to be addressing the free will theodicy, let's say "free will." Free will is how there can be suffering in the world.

What is it that makes people find the argument that suffering is a result of us having free will convincing?

It could be just mere observation. We see people who walk around and seem to have free will, and much suffering is the result of them excercising it.

I know that all the predicates such as omnipotence have limitations such as avoidance of logical contradictions. It does not follow from this, however, that the world we see is the best of all possible worlds given those necessary parameters.

If "the best of all possible worlds" does not follow from God's attributes, then there is no problem of evil. After all, the problem of evil states that if such a God existed, this would be the best of all possible worlds. It is because atheists think this is not the best of all possible worlds that atheists argue such a God with those attributes doesn't exist. Here's the problem of evil as a syllogism:

1. If God is all good, all knowing, and all powerful, this would be the best of all possible worlds.
2. This is not the best of all possible worlds.
3. Therefore, God is not all good, all knowing, and all powerful.

If what you are saying is true, then the first premise in this argument is false, and if the first premise in this argument is false, then the argument against God from evil fails.

Further why, foreseeing every move that the feckless, weak willed and covetous creatures would make, He nonetheless created them only to be outraged by their sin?

According to the free will theodicy, God considered a world with free creatures who commit evil better than a world without free creatures or evil.

Why is the concept of atonement morally acceptable anyway?

Without God, where do morals come from anyway? If they are human constructs, then why should we expect something outside of humanity to conform to them? If they are based on God, and God deems it morally acceptable, what basis is there for objection other than the fact that we don't like it?

The Bible compares the atonement to one person laying down his life for another person. That characterization seems perfectly moral to me.

How does somebody else's sacrifice influence the moral status of what I have done?

Not sure I understand this question. The moral status of what you have done doesn't change with Christ's sacrifice. If you did anything wrong, it's still wrong. The sacrifice was to atone for the wrong--to pay the penalty for you.

Nor does the suffering seem related in a simple way to free will and sin.

The suffering is related to the sin in that the suffering was the payment for the sin.

The remark that we are all sinners after the 'fall' seems an outdated and morally abhorrent concept.

Your "morally abhorrent" comment gives me the impression that you believe there really is such a thing as right and wrong. The claim that "Nobody is perfect," is in very common use to this very day, which shows that the idea of everybody being sinners is not an outdated concept. I can't imagine why the idea that "nobody is perfect" is a morally abhorrent idea. Do you mean it's immoral for it to be true? If it is true, whose immorality is it that it's true? Or do you mean it's morally abhorrent to believe it?

Why did God not create us to enjoy eternal bliss, without the wish or predisposition to do evil?

Lacking the wish or predisposition to do evil could only prevent evil if you assumed that all of our actions followed from wishes or predispositions. But if our acts are determined by wishes or predispositions, then we don't have free will in the sense that free will theodicists say we do. Free will theodicists say that having free will means our choices are not determined by any antecedent causes or conditions, including wishes and predispositions. According to the free will theodicy, the reason God created us with free will is because he thought a world with free will was better than a world without free will, even if it resulted in evil.

Would any loss of free will that this would entail be a bad thing? I think not.

Then that's what you should focus on in your argument against the free will theodicy--whether a world with free will or a world without free will would be better. Be sure to address the arguments free will theodicists use to support their claim that a world with free will is better. I'm not a big advocate of the free will theodicy myself, but I did write some blogs on it here and here. Angie's response is here, and then I make one more response here and here.

Alvin Plantinga, in his book, God, Freedom, and Evil, makes what he called a "free will defence." A defence differs from a theodicy in that a theodicy is an attempt to describe an actual state of affairs that reconciles the existence of evil with God's attributes, but a defence is an attempt to describe a possible state of affairs that reconciles evil with God's attributes. Plantinga argued that it wasn't necessary for the free will scenario to be true in order to demonstrate the consistency of evil with God's attributes. He said all that was necessary was that it describe a possible state of affairs. If the scenario is even possible, Plantinga argued, then evil is compatible with an all knowing, all powerful, and wholly good God.

And I'm the first person to respond to your first post-with-an-argument! :-)

Sam

Psiomniac said...

And a good response it is too. I want to address some of the points you have raised.

It could be just mere observation. We see people who walk around and seem to have free will, and much suffering is the result of them excercising it.


The trouble with this is that we also see what appears to be widespread arbitrary suffering which seems to have nothing whatever to do with free will, for example earthquake victims.

I agree that if one does not accept that this is the best of possible worlds, the problem of evil goes away, as shown by your syllogism. However, the point I was making was this: It just doesn't seem credible that this is the best of possible worlds. It is easy to come up with some improvements on the back of an envelope in 5 minutes that don't seem to jeopardize free will or the logical consistency of the universe. Now, it can be replied, that since we are not all knowing, we have to accept that we cannot think things through effectively enough to realise that our 'improvements' would not work. We cannot know, of course, but it should be noted that this argument could defend any world, as it is a form of special pleading analogous to 'God works in mysterious ways'. What I am addressing is, does the Panglossian proposition seem credible? My unsurprising answer is:no.


Without God, where do morals come from anyway? If they are human constructs, then why should we expect something outside of humanity to conform to them? If they are based on God, and God deems it morally acceptable, what basis is there for objection other than the fact that we don't like it?

This refers to the old problem which is: Are things good or bad because God decrees it, or does He decree it because they are good or bad? Again, one could defend any moral system by assuming the former and assuming that his reasons are beyond our understanding.


The moral status of what you have done doesn't change with Christ's sacrifice. If you did anything wrong, it's still wrong. The sacrifice was to atone for the wrong--to pay the penalty for you.

I agree with this statement. I didn't frame the question well and your answer clarifies the issue. It is morally counter-intuitive to me that somebody can pay your penalty and thereby you are absolved.

Your "morally abhorrent" comment gives me the impression that you believe there really is such a thing as right and wrong.
I am a moral relativist, but that does not preclude strong moral feelings and thoughts. If the first premise in the syllogism is true, and sin is a way of describing the fundamental imperfection of our species then it would not seem abhorrent. Clearly if the premise is at issue, we look to the world to see what 'payment for the sin' might mean. I see that children and babies die horribly and find the concept difficult to apply without a feeling of moral repugnance.

I will look at the links and see if I can address the arguments put forward that life with free will and suffering is better than no free will.

I wonder if you will keep your 100% record and be the first to reply to a reply?
P.

ephphatha said...

The trouble with this is that we also see what appears to be widespread arbitrary suffering which seems to have nothing whatever to do with free will, for example earthquake victims.

I agree that's a weakness in the free will theodicy. The free will theodicy only seems to account for moral evil, but not natural evil. Some people do try to make it account for natural evil, though. They'll say it's possible natural evil is a result of free will plus the butterfly effect. Or they'll say natural evil could be the result of the free will of spiritual forces we can't see.

It just doesn't seem credible that this is the best of possible worlds.

Even if we grant that it's not, Alvin Plantinga argues that there are possible worlds that not even an omnipotent god could actualize. I wrote about that here. You see there's nothing incoherent about a world containing free creatures who never go wrong, so such a world is logically possible. But it could be that God can't actualize any of those worlds, and it has nothing to do with a lack of power.

We cannot know, of course, but it should be noted that this argument could defend any world, as it is a form of special pleading analogous to 'God works in mysterious ways'.

As unrealistic as it may sound, it does show that God and evil are compatible. If they were compatible, then it wouldn't be possible for both to exist simultaneously under any conditions. So all we have to do to show that God and evil are compatible is to come up with any possible state of affairs under which both could exist simultanteously.

This refers to the old problem which is: Are things good or bad because God decrees it, or does He decree it because they are good or bad?

That seems like a separate question to me. What I was getting at is that if you are going to fault God on moral grounds, then you need an objective basis for morality other than God. The problem is that if you eliminate God, you also elminiate any objective basis for morality. That makes any argument against God from morality self-refuting.

It is morally counter-intuitive to me that somebody can pay your penalty and thereby you are absolved.

Paul compares the atonement to paying a debt incurred because of violating God's law. If you got a speeding ticket, and your dad paid it for you, is it counter-intuitive to you that you no longer owe anything?

I am a moral relativist, but that does not preclude strong moral feelings and thoughts.

But it does make your arguments against God and against the atonement irrelevent. You're basically objecting merely on the basis that you don't personally approve of it, not that it violates any objective standard of right and wrong. It does away with the whole concept of "the best of all possible worlds," since "better" and "best" are only relative terms.

I see that children and babies die horribly and find the concept difficult to apply without a feeling of moral repugnance.

I eat pepporoni pizza and feel repugnance at the taste. But what do my personal feelings have to do with what objectively ought or ought not to be? Since you're a moral relativist, you must hold that there is no particular way things ought or ought not to be. There's nothing objectively wrong with babies suffering horrible deaths.

First to reply to a reply! Wahoo!

ephphatha said...

woops. Major typo. I wrote:

If they were compatible, then it wouldn't be possible for both to exist simultaneously under any conditions.

But I meant to write:

If they were incompatible, then it wouldn't be possible for both to exist simultaneously under any conditions.

Psiomniac said...

Sam,
Good luck with those exams

First, like you, I simply don't think the butterfly effect is a credible explanation. The butterfly effect is relevant only when the outcome is extremely sensitive to small perturbations in the starting conditions. This is simply not the case with, for example, processes of subduction, where one continental plate is forced with immense pressures under another, leading eventually to earthquake. Spiritual forces we can't see? Well they could fix holes in many an argument.

Now to your other points. I read your links on the Plantinga arguments. I have heard of him as he is credited with a reworking of the Ontological Argument but I haven't read any. As far as possible worlds that cant be actualised I need to think about that more. If they cannot be actualised, then in what sense are they possible? Logically?

That seems like a separate question to me. What I was getting at is that if you are going to fault God on moral grounds, then you need an objective basis for morality other than God. The problem is that if you eliminate God, you also eliminate any objective basis for morality. That makes any argument against God from morality self-refuting.

I still think they are not separate. Actually this argument is not self refuting it is loosely in the form of a reductio ad absurdum. If we can clearly see that atonement is morally unacceptable then either our judgement is wrong on the question or the premise that an all good all powerful god exists and is the source of objective morality and sent Jesus to atone for us is false.

Paul compares the atonement to paying a debt incurred because of violating God's law. If you got a speeding ticket, and your dad paid it for you, is it counter-intuitive to you that you no longer owe anything?

Well clearly I owe my dad big time. But more seriously, are we seriously thinking that the creator of the entire universe created us a intellectually limited greedy feckless people with free will knowing we would go off the rails, then sacrificed pert of himself in human form to pay a debt incurred because god could not formulate laws or our species in such a way that they were unable to come into conflict? Or that it is better that the conflict can arise and , oh dang, wouldn't you know it, it has. Yes this is still deeply counter intuitive to me.


But it does make your arguments against God and against the atonement irrelevant. You're basically objecting merely on the basis that you don't personally approve of it, not that it violates any objective standard of right and wrong. It does away with the whole concept of "the best of all possible worlds," since "better" and "best" are only relative terms.

Yes but as I said if you proceed from the premise that an all powerful all good god exists then you see that within the objective moral system that would obtain that this is not a good world it tends to cast doubt on the premise. Its only in the light of this result that it is logical to be a moral relativist.


I eat pepporoni pizza and feel repugnance at the taste. But what do my personal feelings have to do with what objectively ought or ought not to be? Since you're a moral relativist, you must hold that there is no particular way things ought or ought not to be. There's nothing objectively wrong with babies suffering horrible deaths.

How can you say that? I love pepperoni pizza! Burn him! Heretic!
Seriously though I accept there is nothing objectively wrong with babies suffering horrible deaths. What matters though, is that it is subjectively wrong. Very wrong. I am a human. That's how I have to live so I want to follow my moral instincts and try to promote happiness even though the entire human species will go extinct like all the rest and in a few billion years whatever is around will be unable to detect any sign of our existence.

Psiomniac said...

Further I found the arguments that the world is better with free will unconvincing for the following reason. All of the things we value about free will, such as being loved for ourselves, the way we are, being freely chosen by someone, well that is only one of the pinnacles of our experience because we have free will. If we didn't we could have eternal bliss now. In fact I think I will adopt that as my motto. Eternal bliss now. For everyone. Makes human concerns like choice seem so parochial.

canuckfish said...

If God did not exist, there would be no absolute standard to call anything 'evil.'

Why did God allow for evil in His creation? For a reason which is perfectly sufficient for Him.

Psiomniac said...

canuckfish,
A reason that is perfectly sufficient for him? Well I'm glad that is cleared up then.
Actually on reflection, I'd rather give up the notion of an absolute standard to call anything evil. After all, it has not proved particularly useful has it? What we have actually experienced is a lot of different religions declaring different mutally contradictory things to be evil and these have changed over time. So I don't think this idea of an absolute standard serves us well or stands up to to criticism particularly well either.

canuckfish said...

Actually on reflection, I'd rather give up the notion of an absolute standard to call anything evil.

Yes, some people would rather call torturing babies a morally neutral act, than absolutely evil, in order to maintain their stance that God does not exist.

Some people indeed give up certain notions to maintain others.

Dead Men Don't Bleed
There once was a man who thought he was dead. His family tried mightily to convince him that he was not dead, but he would not be persuaded. Finally, in desperation, they took him to a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist tried various tactics, but nothing worked. Finally he decided, "If I can convince him of one fact that contradicts his belief that he is dead, that should cure him." So he decided to use the simple truth that dead men do not bleed. He gave the man some medical texts to read, had him observe some autopsies, talk with embalmers, etc. Finally, after several weeks, the man said "O.K.!, O.K.!, you've convinced me! Dead men do not bleed!" Immediately the psychiatrist stuck him in the arm with a needle, and the blood flowed. The man looked down at his arm with a shocked look on his face and said "Good grief! Dead men do bleed after all!"

Psiomniac said...

Yes, some people would rather call torturing babies a morally neutral act, than absolutely evil, in order to maintain their stance that God does not exist.

Ah I see the problem. You think we need a sky fairy of some description to decide that torturing babies is not a good idea. Well, newsflash: we don't. Religious ideologies and non religious irrational ideologies have of course given rise to the slaughter of babies. 'Kill them all, God will know his own.' The only ideology so far that I know not to be prone to this activity is rationalist and secular in nature. Now of course, explaining why God does exist and yet allows all this to happen is a thesis industry all of itself. No, free will is not a good answer. But you know that already right?

canuckfish said...

Actually Christians do not believe that torturing babies is 'not a good idea,' we believe that it is absolutely morally wrong. It is your worldview that cannot say that and remain consistent. Indeed all your worldview ends up with is 'torturing babies is not a good idea.'

Psiomniac said...

Indeed all your worldview ends up with is 'torturing babies is not a good idea.'

Now you are just picking on colloquial use of language. I can say torturing babies is morally wrong within my system of morals. I can also say that this particular feature is universal in human moral sytems for coherent and understandable reasons. So what use have I for saying that it is absolute? What does it buy me? I already believe it is wrong and so does everybody else (who is not a psychopath). You may think your moral arbiter in the sky is necessary to 'underwrite' these notions of what constitutes right and wrong actions. This is an illusion. I think a more likely explanation is that religion is parasitic on our moral sense, not its basis. But religion is one of the things that can take ordinary people and get them to murder and torture. And that is not even starting with the can of worms that is Euthyphro's Dilemma. (No, sorry ephphatha and Paul, in my view it has not been solved.)

But what about in practical terms, has belief helped us morally? Look at history. Look at the old testament. What we see is that competing human groups with different religious world views slaughter each other. So on a pragmatic level this underwriting has not had a 'good' effect in its own terms.

canuckfish said...

Alrighty then, according to your worldview, why shouldn't anyone torture babies?

Psiomniac said...

So, you want to know why it is wrong? Ok, see if you accept the challenge yourself, you tell me why it is wrong. then I will do my best to reciprocate. My hunch is that you actually have no idea why it is wrong.

canuckfish said...

According to my worldview the Bible is the inspired word of God. God's word tells us that He is the Creator and Judge of mankind.
God tells us what love is in His word. Torture is not love.
According to my worldview, torturing babies is absolutely morally wrong because God commands us to to love one another in His word.

You may disagree with my worldview, but that is not the point here.

I'm not asking you why torturing babies is wrong. I am asking why according to your worldview we SHOULD NOT torture babies?

Psiomniac said...

So in your world view the reason something is wrong is that god commands us not to do it? So if tomorrow, God issued a new command to torture all babies, then torturing babies would then be 'right'?

canuckfish said...

I accepted your challenge, and you did not 'reciprocate'. Please answer the question, and I will continue this dialogue.

(By the way to answer your next question something is not 'wrong' because God arbitrarily commands us not to do it. Something is wrong because it is contrary to God's character. God's commandements are according to His character, and His character does not and cannot change).

Psiomniac said...

Canuckfish,
If you have read the thread you can see that I have already met your challenge. One should not torture babies because it is morally wrong. This is true by definition which is why I went straight to the question of why it is wrong.
Dissecting god into nested venn diagrams with labels like 'god's character' does not solve the problem since it can equally be argued that it is arbitrary that he happened to have that particular sort of character.

Fun With Formal Ideas. said...

"It just does not seem credible, whether you take this metaphorically or not, that God should create a universe bounded by the categories of time and matter in order for it to be a habitat for humans. Further why, foreseeing every move that the feckless, weak willed and covetous creatures would make, He nonetheless created them only to be outraged by their sin?"


You may enjoy listening to the John Polkinghorne MP3 "Creation, Evil and Time" linked via a bullet point at the site below:


http://graphite.st-edmunds.cam.ac.uk/faraday/Multimedia.php


I find Polkinghorne very relaxing to listen to. It's a refreshing change to listen to a speaker take his time talking around an argument before drawing his points together, rather than being subjected to the stark, staccato soundbites of pious polemicists.


There are a number of Polkinghorne talks here which may interest you, and several from Simon Conway Morris, himself a very good communicator of very serious ideas. Thoroughly English, a thinker to watch.

Psiomniac said...

Thanks, I'll check it out.

Psiomniac said...

Just listening now. Very good so far.

Fun With Formal Ideas. said...

"Just listening now. Very good so far."

How was it?



12th March 2007. 20:06.

Psiomniac said...

It was an illuminating attempt to achieve a view of god that is consistent with the free will theodicy. Particularly the parts concerning process theology and kenosis.

Fun With Formal Ideas. said...

I am glad you enjoyed it. Try Morris next.




(15 March 2007. 23:47.)