Multiple Choice

Some criticize the Free Will Response to the problem of evil, claiming that: 
a. If God’s free, then it’s possible to free and never do evil; and if God’s not free, then free will must not be one of the greatest goods
b. If there’s freedom in heaven, then it’s possible to be free and never do evil; if there’s no freedom in heaven, then free will isn’t one of the greatest goods
c. The good of free will doesn’t outweigh the bad of all the evil in the world
d. Even if free will justifies moral evil, it doesn’t justify natural evil
e. All of the above


John B ( said...

I think it's important to define what one means by "free will". Many people don't define it to mean 'can choose any possible alternative option'. Instead they take it to mean 'can choose any option available to them according to their nature/circumstance'.

So while a gold fish has the free will to swim anywhere in its bowl, it cannot choose to swim on the livingroom floor.

In a similar way, God has the free will to act according to his nature in that his inability to do evil, lie, sin etc. doesn't violate his free will since by definition, these options are not even available to him.

Steve Maitzen said...

Ex: Good post. If I may...

d*. We never excuse someone for committing terrible evil on the grounds that he was exercising his free will.

d**. Morally valuable free will needn't (and perhaps couldn't) be libertarian free will.

d***. Juries routinely convict defendants without ever asking whether the defendants exercised libertarian free will.

d****. The Bible (Old and New Testaments) portrays God as interfering with human free will, both on particular occasions and as a matter of policy.

exapologist said...


Angra Mainyu said...

Good post, ex.

Just to add my two cents.

f. If person A allows person B to immorally inflict terrible suffering on person C, and person A offers as a justification that she wanted to respect B's free will, we do not (and should not) accept the proposed excuse. There might be acceptable excuses (e.g., in some cases, if person A would have been at very significant risk if she tried to stop B, that would be good enough), but not the 'free will' one.

Making an exception if A is God on the grounds that – allegedly -, if he were to intervene in that fashion, he would be curtailing the free will not only of the perpetrator but of many others, and so even if people usually have such obligations to interfere if they're powerful enough, God does not, seems to have a very odd result, namely that at first, as power increases, so do interfering obligations (nothing odd there), but then at some point, further increases of power would result in less or no obligation to interfere.

It looks like some sort of odd 'With great power comes great irresponsibility' idea to me.

For instance, if a human sees another human apparently in the process of torturing a child to death for fun, and she can stop the perpetrator at no significant cost or risk to herself or to others, then I'd say that she should do so, even if other potential perpetrators might feel potentially threatened if she stops the attacker by force (i.e., the impact on the perceived freedom of other potential perpetrators does not count as a significant cost or risk).

If Superman sees the same, it seems to me that he ought to stop the perpetrator as well.

But if an omnipotent moral agent sees the same event, under the exact same circumstances, it's not the case that she should stop the perpetrator, because that would take away the free will of either the perpetrator or other agents?

It seems very implausible to me.

Steve Maitzen said...

Angra Mainyu: I quite agree. Thanks for making those points. If I may, a recent paper of mine takes something like this line. See pp. 10, 22 at this link. At one point, in fact, I quote the Spider-Man Principle you allude to in your comment. I don't see how God can permissibly delegate the responsibility to prevent a child's torture.

Angra Mainyu said...

Steve Maitzen,

Thanks for the link. I'm afraid I can't commit myself to a full discussion, but in the case of Ashley's suffering, and considering only the fwd, it seems to me that:

a. If Bob is a special forces soldier, has a gun, sees what the perpetrator is doing to Ashley and reckons that he can stop the attack at no personal risk, or risk to Ashley, or to anyone else who doesn't deserve to be at risk, and has no more details about the specific situation of its potential consequences, then he has a moral obligation to intervene and prevent the perpetrator from acting, thus taking away his freedom.

However, the proponent of the fwd in this case (perhaps, these scenarios may be more suitable in the context of the evidential problem of evil, but still, the fwd might be attempted anyway) is committed to:

b. If God is an omnipotent, omniscient moral agent, it's not the case that he has a moral obligation to interfere if he witnessed the event, because his interference would be a significant limitation to free will (or freedom, but adding lfw to the matter doesn't change the commonsense assessments one bit in my view).

Now, if it's only the freedom of the perpetrator that is of concern, the fwd would be obviously untenable, since for that matter, Bob reduces his freedom just as much, and generally we take away much of the freedom of, say, violent criminals when we put them behind bars.

So, it seems to me that the main issue is whether or not the intervention of such a powerful entity would reduce freedom (by means of coercion by the threat of interfering) so much that it justifies the non-intervention of such entity.

In my assessment, an affirmative answer leads to questions like the following ones:

Would Captain America have a moral obligation to protect Ashley from the murderous rapist, or is he too powerful?
If Captain America should intervene, then a question is: how about Thor?
Is Thor too powerful to be under a moral obligation to intervene?
In other words, would Thor have sufficient power to not have a moral obligation to interfere, or is he still weak enough to be under a moral obligation to interfere and protect Ashley?
If Thor is too powerful to have a moral obligation, then how about Ironman?
If not, and Thor should intervene as well, then how about, say, Odin?

But that seems bizarre. The main problem here if not a potential difficulty for assessment of some specific cases, but rather, that the whole idea that having greater power would make intervention not obligatory goes against ordinary moral intuitions, when applied to those cases (or to any other I can think of, even if someone might try to make an exception for God).

Someone might say that it's greater power and knowledge that blocks a moral obligation, but again, that seems to be again ordinary moral intuitions (again, at least mine). Moreover, an omnipotent and sufficiently knowledgeable being would be able to simply (assuming that such a show of power were a problem, which seems unfounded to me) not reveal himself as fully powerful, but instead unleash an army of robots (without lfw or even minds; that's not the point, since the alleged problem is for other people's freedom), and stop perpetrators who engage in behavior like the one considered in the case of Ashley's suffering. Furthermore, it seems to me that if we could safely and at no cost to others make robots that would infallibly stop something like Ashley's suffering if they detect it, we should make them, and use them. But then, there seems to be no good reason to make an exception for God, even granting for the sake of the argument that it's possible that God would create morally flawed beings like humans. Generally, he could always intervene in ways that reveal only powers comparable to those of Spiderman, Thor, etc., or whoever would have a moral obligation in that case.

Angra Mainyu said...

So, for the aforementioned reasons, I think that the fwd (at least against that kind of cases and objections) is untenable: any reduction of freedom (regardless of whether one assumes that lfw is a correct interpretation of freedom) that we can expect as a consequence of God's intervention would not justify his inaction (he could adjust his intervention if needed, as I mentioned above).

Granted, the theist might say here that the key to the defense is that Bob, Ironman, etc., have no more details about the situation, whereas God is omniscient and is privy to consequences that the others are not privy to; so, according to this reply, even if any reduction of freedom that we (or Bob, etc.) could expect, from our weak epistemic position, would not justify his inaction, God himself has foreseen other consequences, beyond our reach. However, that kind of reply would be a kind of 'mysterious reasons' reply that would lead to skeptical theism rather than the fwd.

In other words, it seems to me that the respective claims (or implications of their claims and commonsense morality) of the skeptical theist and the free will defender would have to be as follows (when applied to Ashley's case):

ST: God has sufficient reasons to allow Ashley's suffering, and that is because of some consequences of preventing such suffering, even though we have no idea of how those consequences might come about if he interfered and protected her.

FWD: ST: God has sufficient reasons to allow Ashley's suffering, and that is because of some consequences of preventing such suffering, even though we have no idea of how those consequences might come about if he interfered and protected her. The consequences in question (which we have no idea how they might happen) are a limitation of freedom.

But then, I see no advantage to the FWD (at least in such cases), which is also implicitly committed (when considering commonsense moral intuitions) to mysterious causal chains, but implies that the consequences that God justifiably seeks to avoid are of a certain type (i.e., limitation of freedom), without giving any good reason as to why that would be so.

I don't think that skeptical theism is tenable, either, but that would be too long for this post I think (but thanks again for the link to your interesting paper on the matter).

Angra Mainyu said...

Steve Maitzen,

With regard to your paper, thanks for making those points as well.

I agree with much of your criticism of skeptical theism, and to what Howard-Snyder calls "Agnosticism".

In particular, I agree with the basic approach of your paper – namely to use commonsense morality to make the case, rather than trying to use some general moral theory or another.

Those theories are tested against commonsense morality (how else could they be tested?), so I'd say that the correct way to assess the matter is not whether an objection to skeptical theism succeeds under such-and-such general theory, but whether an objection to skeptical theism (or several ones) arise from (and/or succeed under) commonsense morality – and I agree that they do.

I also agree with your assessment that adding theism to "Agnosticism" makes the matter even worse, and with your very good criticism of the view that God allows the suffering because he intends for us to try to stop it.

That said, I have a different take on a couple of issues regarding what the stance of commonsense morality is, but I do not think that either of them makes the situation any better for the skeptical theist, or the "Agnostic".

Steve Maitzen said...

@Angra Mainyu: Many thanks for reading my paper and for sharing your reactions to it.