Thursday, June 18, 2009

Evil and compatibilist free will

Could God have created Adam (technical term for whoever the first human was) and given him free will, meaning by that that Adam could usually perform the action that he most wanted to perform. At the same time, God "wires Adam up" in such a way that his desires are always to do what serves God. If God does that, then Adam is free (in the sense that he is able to do what he truly wants to do) but nevertheless all of his actions are sovereignly determined by God in such a way that Adam freely does what is right.

If this picture of free will is accurate, then it seems pretty clear that the atheist philosopher Antony Flew is right. God could have created the world in such a way that everyone freely does what is right. Flew concludes that if God could have done this, and if he were truly perfectly good, then he would have done it, saving the world all the heartache that it has gone through these thousands of years.


unkle e said...


I can't help feeling Flew and others have missed the point (a big call, I know). I don't think God had some abstract purpose of constructing a creature that technically has free will, as if God was a laboratory neuroscientist.

God is the ultimate giver, so he chose to create life that was like him in that we have real autonomy, understanding of right and wrong, freedom to choose across a whole range of possibilities, etc, not just "freely" choose what we have been predisposed to do. We have the opportunity to create ourselves to a degree, not just live as God's creations.

As CS Lewis once said, the strongest charge we can bring against God is that he is a gambler, and this strategy certainly had its risks, but it's the only one that seems to me to make sense of the world and credits God with big, self-giving, ideas.

Steven Carr said...

It is Christian dogma that this alleged god created many many creatures with free will, who also came with a guarantee from the same supposed deity that they would never choose evil and so have to be kicked out of heaven.

Of course, not only is it logically impossible for God to create creatures with free will that never choose evil but Christians can name some of these logically impossible beings (Gabriel, Michael etc)

Steven Carr said...

Adam must have been a bit shocked when he discovered that the creature that bore him, his mother, was no more than a mindless robot, without any free will, or any sense of right and wrong.

His mother didn't even really love him, as Adam was the first creature with free will and the capacity for love.

What a horrible childhood he must have had, living in a theistic world where there was this discontinuity between creatures with free will (ie him) and creatures without free will (ie his parents)

kbrowne said...


Christian teaching does not hold that the angels were created with a guarantee that they would never choose evil. They were all presented with that choice and some chose evil. Those that chose good were then admitted to the beatific vision, in which state they no longer had free will.

Exactly the same is taught about humans. When humans die they then become incapable of free will and can no longer choose between good and evil.

As for Adam's mother, of course she loved him. Apes are capable of love, aren't they?

I am not a Christian but let's be fair about this

Steven Carr said...

KBROWNE says let's be fair and distorts what I said.

I did not say 'the' angels, I said 'many, many' angels.

This supposed deity is alleged to have created many beings with free will in the full knowledge that they would never choose evil.

Christianity teaches that when humans die, God turns them into preprogrammed robots, with no free will?

What an amazing belief system!

Apes are capable of love....

So you don't need free will to be capable of love, do you?

Ilíon said...

VR: "... and given him free will, meaning by that that Adam could usually perform the action that he most wanted to perform."

"Free-will" isn't about performing actions (movement of the body), it's about performing acts (movement of the mind).

Clayton said...

Ilion is right. That's why it's so puzzling that God doesn't interfere to prevent our acts from having evil consequences. It's not as if it interferes with our freedom in any important sense.

VR, even if Flew is wrong and this isn't possible, isn't it possible that God selects creatures God know will freely act rightly in the situations that God chooses? If God knows prior to creation, for example, that Adam would sin if put into situation 1 but would not sin if put into situation 2 and that sin would greatly effect Ben, why wouldn't God share in the responsibility for the grave effects on Ben if God created Adam and situation 2?

kbrowne said...


I am sorry you think I distorted what you said. If I did so, I did so unintentionally. If God's foreknowledge means that the angels were not free then no one is free and certainly Adam was not free, since God knows everything.

I did not think God's foreknowledge came into the question. I thought what was being asked was whether God would or could create someone who was free but so 'wired up' that "his desires are always to do what serves God." I thought you were giving the angels as examples of how God did this. They are not examples of that since they were free to disobey God. That's all.

Yes, I think it is true that Christian teaching has it that after death humans are no longer free to obey or disobey God. Whether that turns them into robots I don't know. It seems rather an enviable state for those in Heaven and a very unenviable state for those in Hell.

Yes, love is possible without free will. Small children love, babies love, animals love without any choice about it. Indeed, I think it is true of adult humans as well. I don't think I have ever chosen either to love or not to love anyone. Maybe that just shows I am at a low level of development.

Joshua said...

@Clayton - How is your will "free" if you never have the freedom to abstain from a self-destructive or sinful act?

Clayton said...


I don't think I said that people had free will without having the freedom to refrain from acting. All I asked was about a situation where Adam would freely act in one way in C1, a different way in C2, and God knew this but created C1 in which Adam's actions harmed Ben. Do you think it follows from the fact that God has such knowledge that Adam isn't free? I was assuming that God's knowledge isn't a threat to freedom. (We could probably reformulate my question to VR in terms of God's knowledge of likelihoods.)

Victor Reppert said...

Clayton: Yes, freedom is about acts of the mind. But if God were to subvert the ordinary consequences of acting wrongly in some dramatic way, it would seem that I would be aware of it. After a few attempts to do evil and failing, I would give up, without any conversion of my character.

Ilíon said...

I don't know about the giving up, but yes, there would be no growth to anyone's character in the irrational and illogical world Clayton demands God to have created.

Kellen Reid said...

If God were to do something as this, it would prove Him to be a very narcissistic deity to create a living being to be worshiped by, but I wouldn't doubt such a thing with a deity that damns you to eternal suffering for not believing in Him.

This does however solve the Problem of Evil in a very simplistic analogy.