Kate Wilson

"The free will defence solves the problem of evil" Discuss.

Many philosophers have flagged the fact that evil exists in the world as a fundamental reason why an omnipotent and omnibenevolent God – the God of classic theism – cannot exist. They argue the case that either God is not able to prevent evil, (therefore not all-powerful), or he is not willing to prevent it, (meaning he is malevolent). There appears to be an inconsistent triad when it comes to god's complete power and love, and the existence of moral and natural evil. A Christian however, would not be able to accept a God that is not omnibenevolent and omnipotent, and it is unlikely that a Christian would be able to deny that evil exists in the world. The free will defence appears to fix the problem of the inconsistent triad by asserting that because God has given humans the power of free will.

J. L. Mackie does not accept that there are only two possible ways that god could have created us: with free will (which allows moral evil), or without it at all. Mackie states that genuine free will does not necessarily have to incorporate moral evil, he says that it would be possible for God to have created us with free will but in such a way that we would always choose good over evil. He argues that we humans sometimes choose to do good over bad, therefore, why couldn't God have created us in such a way that we are compels to always do the good. However, Mackie is sure to stress that God would not be taking away our ability to choose the bad, therefore leaving our free will intact. God did not create this perfect alternative world, however, so God couldn't possible be omni-benevolent/omnipotent.

Mackie also attacks the free will argument by stating that because God knows what we are going to do before we do it, he could intervene and prevent it from happening in the first place. In doing this, God is not stopping our free will, only stopping the horrific outcome of evil acts that result from our free will. But if God dislikes evil does not intervene, then it is clear that he is powerless to do anything which means that our free will is stronger than himself – therefore not all-powerful.

Choice applies, not only to good/evil acts, but the choice we have to love God. Because God is a personal being, he longs for a relationship with his creation: humans. However, if he simply designed us in a way that meant we were engineered to automatically love him, then our love would be meaningless – we would be little more than machines that were unable to stray from the path of their programming. Forced to love him through design. Almost all would agree that determinism would not be better than free will, however some may argue that there is no excuse for the extent of evil that goes on. Dostoyevsky is a perfect example of this when he points out how humans seem to have been created with ability, taste and the imagination for "artistic cruelty", the way that animals have not.

There is also a flaw in assuming that humans definitely have free will in the first place – if we did not have free will, would we know it? If this is the case and God has pre-determined our paths but given the illusion of free will, then the free will argument is made redundant. This is also a problem when it comes to God's omniscience – God knows the future, he knows with certainty exactly what will happen at every moment, past, present, and future. This means that all possible choices have their outcomes already known and nothing can change that. You can't choose differently because you can't choose. The idea of omniscience and free will appear contradictory.

The most obvious flaw is that free will defence of evil is that free will only affects human choice and therefore, natural evil still goes unexplained and seemingly unacknowledged by God. This in itself seems to break down the argument since it does not explain why God does nothing for the sufferings of innocent people at the hands of earthquakes and volcanoes. Christians could argue that all of this turmoil is simply the punishment for the original sin of Adam and Eve, but this is a weak argument as God, (being just) should surely not punish the descendants for something they had no part in.

In conclusion, although at face value, the free will defence seems to be a conclusive explanation for the origin of evil, once closer inspected, flaws begin to surface, and it begins to be difficult to conceive of this omnibenevolent and omnipotent God that could allow such evil – moral or otherwise.