Wednesday 3 September 2014

The Problem of Freewill (an extension of the Problem of Evil)

A common response when faced with the problem of evil is to offer a freewill theodicy. Many believe that libertarian freedom is necessary for very great goods, such as moral agency, spontaneity, or a genuinely loving relationship with God. And, it is thought, unless God violates our freedom, he cannot prevent us from doing evil. God would thus have good reason to permit the bulk of evils that populate our world.

While both premises are often contested, it's sometimes argued that the very patterns and magnitudes of human freedom are themselves evidence against God. As such, the theological problem simply resurfaces. After all, with freedom comes power; power over the well-being of oneself and others. And sometimes it can be quite inappropriate, or even harmful, to give someone this sort of power.

First it's important to notice that freedom isn't an all or nothing deal. Everyone has certain powers and limitations. No human, for example, has the freedom to fly about like Superman (at least not yet). And very few humans have the freedom to bring about war, genocide or famine. Most people don't have nearly that much influence on the world, so clearly these sorts of freedoms are not so important that God should always preserve them.

The question, then, is which actions should we be free to perform? This largely depends on the individual. God himself is a perfect being, and as such it's good for him to have unrestricted freedom, for he will only ever do good with it. God does not struggle with temptation, he fully understands the moral consequences of his actions and, more importantly, he cares. But humans are, for whatever reason, not so impeccable.

Anyone who gives their young child a loaded gun and the freedom to use it at his own discretion is doing something quite evil. Not only is the child ignorant of the potential harm he could cause himself and others, but he isn't even capable of understanding. There is a certain level of maturity one must reach, before one can fully grasp the evil consequences of their actions. Furthermore, even if the child was fully aware of how dangerous a loaded gun is, we still shouldn't expect him to choose wisely. There's a certain level of maturity one has to reach before they're capable of caring about the consequences of their actions. You might think this is silly, of course people care about their best interests. But then, what were you doing as a teenager? Right. Many adults, even, live for the moment and throw caution to the wind, racking up debt they know they wont be able to pay back because they are so focused on the immediate satisfaction.

Of course there comes a time when it would be very appropriate to place a gun in your child's hands, after all you can't learn to use a gun if you're never permitted to touch one. But even then, you still wouldn't give him completely unrestricted freedom. You would teach him gun safety, and appraise his maturity level every step of the way. You personally make sure he's not going to hurt himself or anyone else. And this is how people should acquire freedom: slowly and gradually, as they learn to be responsible with it.

Then again, there are some people whose freedom should be restricted, not because they're ignorant or immature, but simply because they are evil. This is precisely why we jail criminals; if someone proves themselves irresponsible with their freedoms, we take those freedoms away. If someone has a tendency for violence, cruelty, or has a general apathy towards human well-being, then it would be very wrong to place him in any sort of power over others. It would be wrong to allow him to hold a job as a child educator, or a nurse, and it would be especially wrong to let him be a politician.

On theism, one would expect God to give us only as much freedom as we deserve. And yet sometimes children get their hands on guns, and sometimes genocidal maniacs are elected to public office. Many of the most horrific evils brought about by human freedom are the result of undeserved freedom, and as such are doubly problematic to theistic belief. Not only is the evil act itself surprising, but the freedom it was performed in is highly unexpected on classical theism.

The patterns and magnitudes of human freedom do not very well match the patterns and magnitudes of human responsibility, and as such actually constitute evidence against the existence of God just as much as any other seemingly gratuitous evil.