God, Rape & Free Will

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freewill.jpg (Photo credit: Thunderkiss59)

The stock problem of evil is that the existence of evil in the world is incompatible with the Philosophy 101 conception of God, namely that God is all good, all powerful and all knowing. After all, if God has these attributes, then He knows about all evil, should tolerate no evil and has the power to prevent evil. While some take the problem of evil to show that God does not exist, it can also be taken as showing that this conception of God is in error.

Not surprisingly, those who wish to accept the existence of this all good, all powerful and all-knowing deity have attempted various ways to respond to the problem of evil. One standard response is, of course, that God has granted us free will and this necessitates that He allow us to do evil things. This, it is claimed, gets God off the hook: since we are free to choose evil, God is not accountable for the evil we do.

In a previous essay I discussed Republican Richard Mourdock’s view that “Life is that gift from God. I think that even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something God intended to happen.” In the course of that essay, I briefly discussed the matter of free will. In this essay I will expand on this matter.

For the sake of the discussion, I will assume that we have free will. Obviously, this can easily be dispute, I am interested in seeing whether or not such free will can actually get God off the hook for the evil that occurs, such as rape and its consequences.

On the face of it, free will would seem to free God from being morally accountable for our choices. After all, if God does not compel or influence our choices and we are truly free to select between good and evil, then the responsibility of the choice would rest on the person making the decision. It should also be added that God would presumably also be excused from allowing for evil choices—after all, in order for there to be truly free will in the context of morality there must be the capacity for choosing good or evil. Or so the stock arguments usually claim.

For the sake of the discussion I will also accept this second assumption, namely that free will gets God off the hook in regards to our choices. This does, of course, lead to an interesting question: does allowing free will also require that God allow the consequences of the evil choices to come to pass? That is, could God allow people moral autonomy in their choices, yet prevent their misdeeds from actually bearing their evil fruit?

One way to consider this matter is to take the view that free will requires that a person be able to make a moral decision and that this decision be either good or evil (or possibly neutral). After all, a moral choice must be a moral choice. On this approach, whether or not free will would be compatible with God preventing occurrences (like rape or pregnancy caused by rape) would seem to depend on what makes something good or evil.

There are, of course, a multitude of moral theories that address this matter. For the sake of brevity I will consider two: Kant’s view and the utilitarian view (as exemplified by John Stuart Mill).

Kant famously takes the view that “A good will is good not because of what it performs or effects, not by its aptness for the attainment of some proposed end, but simply by virtue of the volition—that is, it is good in itself, and considered by itself is to be esteemed much higher than all that can be brought about by it in favor of any inclination…Its usefulness or fruitlessness can neither add to nor take away anything from this value.”

For Kant, what makes a willing (decision) good or evil is contained in the act of willing itself. Hence, there would be no need to consider the consequences of an action stemming from a decision when determining the morality of the choice. An interesting illustration of this view can be found in Bioware’s Star Wars the Old Republic game. Players are often given a chance to select between light side (good) and dark side (evil) options, thus earning light side or dark side points which determine the moral alignment of the character. For example, a player might have to choose to kill or spare a defeated opponent.  Conveniently, the choices are labeled with symbols indicating whether a choice is light side or dark side—which would be very useful in real life.

If Kant’s view is correct, then God could allow the freedom of the will while also preventing evil choices from having any harmful consequences. For example, a person could freely chose to rape a woman and the moral choice would presumably be duly noted by God (in anticipation of judgment day). God could then simply prevent the rape from ever occurring—the rapist could, for example, stumble and fall while lunging towards his intended victim. As another example, a person could freely will the decision to murder someone, yet find that her gun fails to fire when aimed at the intended victim. In short, people could be free to make moral choices while at the same time being unable to actually bring those evil intentions into actuality. Thus, God could allow free will while also preventing anyone from being harmed.

It might be objected that God could not do this on the grounds that people would soon figure out that they could never actualize their evil decisions and hence people would (in general) stop making evil choices. That is, there would be a rather effective deterrent to evil choices, namely that they could never bear fruit and this would rob people of their free will. For example, those who would otherwise decide to rape if they could engage in rape would not do that because they would know that their attempts to act on their decisions would be thwarted.

The obvious reply is that free will does not mean that person gets what s/he wills—it merely means that the person is free to will. As such, people who want to rape could still will to rape and do so freely. They just would not be able to harm anyone.

It is, of course, obvious that this is not how the world works—people are able to do all sorts of misdeeds. However, since God could make the world work this way, this would suggest various possibilities such as God not existing or that God is not a Kantian. This leads me to the discussion of the utilitarian option.

On the stock utilitarian approach, the morality of an action depends on the consequences of said action. As Mill put it, “actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness.” As such, the morality of a willing would not be determined by the willing but by the consequences of the action brought about by the willing in question.

If this is correct, then God would need to allow the consequences of the willing to occur in order for the willing to be good or evil (or neutral). After all, if the willing had no consequences then it would have no moral significance on a consequentialist view like utilitarianism. So, for example, if a person freely wills to rape a woman, then God must not intervene. Otherwise He would be interfering with what determines the ethics of the willing. As such, if God did not allow the rapist to act upon his willing, then the decision to rape would not be an evil decision. If it is assumed that free will is essential to God being able to judge people for their deeds and misdeeds, then He would have to allow misdeeds to bear fruit so that they would be, in fact, misdeeds. On the usual view, He then punishes or rewards people after they die.

One rather obvious problem with this approach is that an all knowing God would know the consequences of an action even without allowing the action to take place. As such, God could allow people to will their misdeeds and then punish them for what the consequences would have been if they had been able to act upon their intentions. After all human justice punishes people even when they are prevented from committing their crimes. For example, someone who tries to murder another person is still justly punished even if she is prevented from succeeding.

It might be countered that God can only punish cases of actual evil rather than potential evil. That is, if the misdeed is prevented then it is not an actual misdeed and hence God cannot justly punish a person. On this view, God must allow rape in order to be able to toast rapists in Hell. This would, of course, require that God not consider an attempted evil deed as an evil deed. So, actual murder would be wrong, but attempted murder would not. This, of course, is rather contrary to human justice—but it could be claimed that human law and divine law are rather different. Obviously humans and God take very different approaches: we generally try to keep people from committing misdeeds whereas God apparently never does. Rather, He seems content to punish long after the fact—at least on the usual account of God.

 

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65 Comments.

  1. There are three problems of evil and three answers:

    1) To a person who believes in God and is trying to understand why God makes us suffer: The rewards of heaven will more than compensate for earthly suffering. God is accomplishing a higher good by making us suffer in this life. What that higher good is we don’t know, but it must be there. It is analogous to parents letting their children go outside to play even though they might get hurt. The higher good is their child’s character development.
    2) To a person who is trying to refute the proof of God’s existence: Evil does not have any status in being. Evil is the absence of being. When a loved one dies all that is real is the absence of being. The hurt and sadness are not real.
    3) To a person who is explaining why they don’t believe God wants us to be saved when we die: It is a good reason not to believe. People who don’t believe usually give bad reasons, like God doesn’t exist or free will is an illusion. When they give good reasons it should be acknowledged. That He makes suffer is evidence that He doesn’t care about us.

  2. David Roemer,

    1. Unfortunately, there is no actual evidence that we will be rewarded post death for our suffering here. While some people believe this, this does not show that it is true. I admit that it is not logically impossible for a rewarding (or punishing) after life, but this is hardly adequate grounds for belief. After all, it seems more likely that there is no afterlife.

    2. The idea that evil is a privation is often part of the stock replies to the problem of evil (Leibniz does an excellent job at milking this idea in his Theodicy). However, claiming that evil is a privation does not seem to make it hurt any less.

    3. Well, the explanation that God does not exist or that He is not all good or not all powerful or not all knowing seem to be plausible explanations for the existence of evil rather than bad explanations. I do agree that if God exists and He makes us suffer, than that would show some degree of indifference or malice. I do have some sympathy for the idea of valuable suffering-after all, I am a distance runner and six days of the week involve me putting myself through redemptive suffering. Or, as I call it, training for or running a race. :)

  3. David Roemer:

    I’ve read that very argument elsewhere, but it doesn’t mesh with what seems to be most people’s view of a “loving” God, a God that is even more loving than the most loving parent. Do loving parents deliberately chose for their children to suffer and die? I’m not talking about minor “suffering,” like being grounded for a week, but major suffering: malnutrition, disease, etc?

    Parents may allow a child to go outside to play, even though there is some risk, but no sane parent would allow a child to stand in front of a speeding train to teach the child a lesson, even if the child wanted to stand there.

    Another thought: If suffering is for a “higher good,” wouldn’t any attempt to alleviate that suffering be an attempt to thwart God’s will and a rebuke to God? Wouldn’t it result in a net negative to the suffering person?

    I (and many others, apparently) have problems with any answer like, “God did it,” or, “It’s God’s will.” Those kill inquiry, at a minimum, and can lead to a passive acceptance of evil and suffering.

  4. This is for me purely a mental exercise, a thought experiment, based on the assumption that an all powerful entity exists which created, and organised the world as humans understand it. This entity we agree can be called God. I presume that it is taken that the mind of god works similarly to ours. Accordingly, he feels he understands how we feel and vice versa. The question is Why did god make a world containing human beings who are capable of evil if god does not approve of evil? As an all powerful entity could god not have excluded evil from his design? Apparently he introduced it and gave humans the opportunity of choosing whether or not to be evil. I cannot see why a creator would do that, other than for his her own amusement. “Let’s give humans free will, and see what happens.” If something is made or created surely the creator endeavours to make the product as near perfect as possible, or in the cased of god, Perfect. Why make something flawed, or capable of becoming flawed, if it can be made otherwise. In this connection I cannot see that giving humans free will i.e. capable of becoming flawed gets god off the hook of responsibility. If I say to my child you have free will to chose, you can play on the cliff top, but do not go near the crumbly edges as you may fall to your death. I cannot avoid responsibility for my child’s death on the grounds that I warned him and he did not take my advice, Better had I taken him to a safer place and diligently kept my eye on him. Like god I was in the position of calling the shots. Wrong decisions by a human are God’s responsibility, and by the child, mine. It is a matter of overall responsibility.
    If God is perfect how and why did he get to create the imperfect,
    If evil exists either god cannot prevent it, or he will not prevent it.
    If he cannot then he is not all powerful
    If he will not then he is not all merciful.
    It seems to me the only way one can accept the existence of god is by blind faith. The concept does not stand up to rigorous examination. There are no acceptable explanations from which valid inferences can be drawn, no tests can be made, there is no compatibility with scientific research, The Hypothesis God exists, is no more than a hypothesis for its own sake it has no relevance to any known fact. All that mankind possess are merely stories of such an existence. And these have their origins in bygone days when superstition, ignorance, and magic held sway.

  5. Yin and yang — it’s impossible to recognise evil without good to contrast it to.

    Evil’s a matter of perspective. A cancer tumour may seem evil to you, but it’s just life if you ARE a cancerous tumour.

    Do we think that God created the universe only for humans, or that She cares as much for Her bacteria and meerkats?

  6. Don Bird:

    “It seems to me the only way one can accept the existence of god is by blind faith.”

    That seems a bit overly broad and inclusive. That train of logic might argue against a particular concept of God, namely the (modern) mostly-evangelical Christian concept. Unfortunately, this is the target of many “anti-god” books by the “New Atheists.” It is understandable, of course, because Christianity is big and Islam has a similar concept, plus it is primarily Christianity that surrounds the New Atheists in the Americas and Europe.

    In history, there have been other concepts of God (or gods) that had no problem with the existence of evil. The Greeks (and Romans, to an extent) thought that the gods were much like themselves and could be petty, mean, stingy, irrational, and even cruel. I expect that many religions around the world have felt the same way. That’s one reason theyfelt that they must do whatever was required to appease the gods, to prevent evil things from happening. If something evil did happen, then whatever they did was incorrect and/or insufficient, or their rivals did it better, or their rivals’ gods were more powerful (that might lead to conversions) or their gods were being spiteful and cruel.

  7. Re GeorgeS Dec 11th:-

    “It seems to me the only way one can accept the existence of god is by blind faith.”
    Yes, I was hesitant about saying that, but it was late and I let it stand. It is in need of some attempt at justification and development. My concept of god was for the purpose of what I wrote derived from the main Abrahamic religions, Judaism Christianity and Islam. I agree with what you say and my understanding is that some religions in addition to praising and worshipping their god or gods will under the bludgeonings of ill chance heap abuse and anger at those deities they also worship.
    I am wondering if any of the higher primates, excluding humans, have any conception which might be similar to that of evil and its associated emotions in the human. There are certain behaviours in the higher primates that may threaten group cohesion or cooperation such as cheating, lying, and stealing. MRI studies have found that such situations activate areas in the brain associated with disgust. cf Wikipedia Evolution of Morality

  8. Don Bird,

    Your points are certainly worth considering.

    I’d put forth the idea that God could be subject to scientific testing. In fact, Hume sort of points in this direction in his writings on religion and the problem of evil. Rather roughly put, he argues that to infer a perfect God from the available empirical evidence is a rather dubious undertaking. While he does note that faith could be used to “justify” such a belief, reason seems to indicate that such a belief is lacking in a foundation.

    I wrote an essay a while back arguing that a teleological account of the universe could be scientific in that it could be confirmed or disconfirmed via empirical investigation. A similar sort of case could be made for God’s existence.

    In the case of God’s existence, the evidence seems to go against there being a perfect, loving, etc. God. If the perfect, loving, etc. God hypothesis was being advanced as a scientific theory in a dispassionate and objective way, then it would certainly be regarded as a dubious theory. Not impossible, of course, but dubious.

  9. Steve Merrick,

    Leibniz made a similar remark, namely that the universe was not made just for us-hence some things will seem evil to us that are not seen as such by others. As a silly example, I use the classroom temperature: it has to be one temperature and is set what the folks who decide such things consider best. However, some will find it too cool and some too warm.

    Of course, when one starts talking about genocide or massive Tsunamis, then the matter seems a bit different.

  10. How about this? Individual suffering is part and parcel of a larger scheme to perfect the species. That sort of answer, by the way, is found at the back-ends of Plato’s Gorgias and Republic – so the bloodline is good, eh?

  11. Boreas:

    Again, that would suggest that we should not attempt to alleviate suffering, as doing so would mAake the species less perfect or at least slow down the climb toward perfection.

  12. I understand that this is a philosophical argument, but man seems to have invented all sorts of Gods to suit his purposes, before The Almighty was even thought of, where are we going with this? :grin:

  13. Mike,

    I think this article handles aspects of Theodicy better than the earlier one of yours in the blog.

    I’d say the key point in “Free Will” here is that it can not be de-linked (by prevention/intervention) from consequences. If you could it would be a sham game of free will, as it allows players to not take it seriously (responsibly), something that in a life of actual consequences is not so simple.

    The lion kills the antelope on the savanna, not because it is evil let loose, but because it serves the “good” of evolution, a co-evolution of predator/prey species. Evil comes about (as per Augustine) when we, sentient-sapient creatures aware of morals/natural law, choose a lesser good, typically a selfish good (e.g., love of a pear) over a higher good (not stealing one from an orchard).

    I am no big fan of Utilitarianism, because we, as finite non-omniscient beings, can not fathom the ends of our means. Applying evil means for a good end in the complexity of human life leaves us responsible when the good end does not materialize. This is the G E Anscombe consequentialist objection to utilitarianism. Hence we should only apply good means in all circumstances. We can not argue that allowing rape is good for any purpose, or that we can leave it up to God to resolve. We must choose to intervene, IF, AND WHEN, WE CAN.

    But, there are circumstances when we can not intervene. Unpreventable “Acts of God” occur, our moral choice there is not so much in prevention as in mitigation of the consequences.

    For the conception of God as a omniscient being this objection (that God is thus not good) is not applicable (since the ends can be “seen” by him, and thus the evil means is perhaps just the lesser of evils, it would be evil to choose a path of ultimate greater evil). This is the Leibniz “Best of Possible Worlds” argument on theodicy.

    If we put God in the dock for allowing the rape to happen and pregnancy to occur, we must dismiss God (if we have faith it is for the greater good in the “big picture”). For many this is not acceptable, it is too much to ask, but remember it only applies to those circumstances we can not act to prevent. If we can, we must. So in a sense this is just a faith-based acceptance of what will happen with or without our moral agency. We are left with cleaning up the mess of suffering after the event – it is the best we can do – and we should.

    So you can have a conception of a Good God. Free Will is central to the argument, but not one de-linked from consequences. We distinguish between events that are “natural” and those that are “evil”. We must seek to do no evil, to prevent it. But when it happens and we can not prevent it, we should seek to reduce suffering.

    This is not acceptance of evil, it is acceptance that there is inevitable suffering in life, though we should seek to minimize it.

  14. I notice that not one of you, including the original author, has mentioned that the free will of the female human was taken away by the rapist. That this is discounted by “philosophers” as not worthy of mention nor discussion should be a wake up call for you: half of adult humankind is missing in your discussion.
    But perhaps you feel that philosophy is just for and about men?

  15. @Woman: You ask “But perhaps you feel that philosophy is just for and about men?”

    I can answer that with some authority: Yes. At the outset and for many blessed ages thereafter, women were on the fringe of philosophy. That, of course, has changed. Has philosophy improved? It seems like there is a lot more fussing and conceptual housekeeping and much less good and beautiful grand concepts these days. I wouldn’t say that things started to go downhill when Diotima taught Socrates but it had to start somewhere didn’t it, eh?

  16. Re Boreas Dec 11th
    GeorgS Dec 11th

    I Am not sure that perfection is what any form of life targets. Certainly at the level of genes Survival is paramount. So if evil acts have survival value, they will be selected for. It is of course not that simple as humans at least seem to have some control over their destiny. However in the final analysis survival of the gene by virtue of its ability to mutate and construct a life form vehicle for survival seems an overriding factor. Sudden and complete extinction of all life on Earth would of course put an end to all efforts for survival

  17. Re: Woman, December 12, 2012 at 4:50 pm
    “But perhaps you feel that philosophy is just for and about men?”

    No. It would nice if more women contributed to these discussions.

  18. “But perhaps you feel that philosophy is just for and about men?”
    No philosophy is for and about everybody. However I do note that the vast majority of contributers to the blogs on this site are male. Why would that be, it is open to all?

  19. I understand – I think – the problem for any godlike being in reconciling the existence of free will with eliminating evil. If the former is to be respected, then we must be free to act on or resist our urges and temptations. But what about the presence of urges on the first place? It may be necessary for this godlike being to allow choices, but do we need the existence of ‘evil urges’?

    Like most people, I think, I have a degree of free will (or at the least the plausible delusion thereof.) But also like most people (presumably), I don’t constantly struggle against monstrously immoral urges. I don’t find myself sexually drawn to prepubescent children. I don’t harbour Dexter-like urges to kill. Sure, I am occasionally tempted to do things that sit uneasily with my higher order values – who isn’t? – but not to do monstrous things.

    Does the fact that I’m not beset by horrible urges mean that I am unfree? If not, why is it necessary for other people to be so beset? I find it hard to imagine that anyone would choose to be a paedophile, for instance. Why would a god sprinkle such terrible temptations among the population?

  20. Dennis
    Snap: you beat me by 3 minutes.

  21. Don,
    I am not as fast as Mike LaBossiere. It is amazing that he can respond to a half a dozen comments within a few minutes – and do this while playing an RPG. :smile:

  22. It seems near-universal for (mono) theists to maintain that (1) God is omniscient, and it seems very frequently (if not universally) to be thought that this means that (2) God (infallibly) knows all that will ever occur. Similarly, it seems commonly (if not universally) held amongst theists that (3) Man is possessed of ‘free-will’ (in a very strong ‘libertarian’ sense).

    There seems, at least, a prima facie tension between (2) and (3) though – certainly numerous religious thinkers and philosophers have thought it required grappling with. And it seems to me that the theist has some burden to either argue why (1) doesn’t lead to (2) or show how the apparent tension between (2) and (3) is resolved (or dissolved) if she wants to hold onto (1) and (3) and then refer to (3) in her theodicy for moral evil.

    So it occurs to me at any rate.

  23. Dennis,

    I’ve worked the response system into an RPG-I get treasure for responding. Expect WoW to copy this feature. :)

  24. While I certainly appreciate attempts to imply that I am engaged in some sort of sexism, you’ll note that rape is presented as an extremely evil action. A review of my writing here should indicate that I am not a sexist and that I believe that philosophy is open to everyone.

    In regards to the free will of the woman who is raped, clearly she is forced into this and thus denied choice. The overall issue here is, however, not about humans forcing humans to do things against their will. Rather, the concern is whether God has to allow the consequences of evil choices to occur. This is gender neutral, although I focused on the evil of rape because of the awful things that have been said by Akin and Mourdock on the matter.

  25. Dennis,

    I certainly agree and wonder why more women do not participate.

  26. Jim P. Houston,

    One clever reply is to say that God exists outside of time, yet perceives all of time at once. So, He knows what we will do, but we are free to do it. When we humans look back at an event, we know what people did, yet do not think this robs them of freedom. In the case of God, He can (supposedly) “look back” at everything and see what “was done.”

  27. Re:Mike LaBossiere

    If God knows the Past Present and Future then does that not preclude his intervening at any time to make an adjustment? Would that not make prayer ineffectual; we cannot ask for something to be the case as it is already set, perhaps otherwise? It is something like watching a massive piece of machinery slowly turning over we know when a part of it will be activated and when it will be passive and that cannot be altered.
    Were this so, then it seems to add some body to my suggestion that we have been created merely for God’s amusement.

  28. Don,

    Coincidentally, I did a an article called “Powerless Prayer” that is featured in my 2008 book, What Don’t You Know?

    But yes, prayer would ineffectual on this view-after all, God does not need to be asked nor would He alter things. Actually, perhaps he could not.

  29. Re Mike LaBossiere Dec 14th
    Yes, if god be omniscient there is no point in prayer he already knows our plight and if he be all merciful, will rectify it without being asked.
    Can he do the impossible e,g, square the circle, trisect an angle yes if he is all powerful, but he does not seem to have done it yet, so as you say, perhaps he cannot.
    I have just ordered your book from Amazon, it looks like an interesting read.

  30. Sheldon W. Fleming

    “I am interested in seeing whether or not such free will can actually get God off the hook for the evil that occurs.”
    If God is off the hook or not is neither here nor there. So I am not interested and proud to be a secular humanist.

  31. Perhaps you could also comment on the Reformed / Calvinist explanation of free will and God’s goodness?

  32. Why is a serious journal still talking about “God” in the 21st century? Why not also have serious articles about ancestor spirits or Zeus and his pantheon? Actually, to remover tongue from cheek, there is probably as much evidence in nature for a pantheon of conflicted deities as there is for Yahweh, which is to say, none. Shame on you for printing this nonsense. By the way, I have an article on phlogiston I’d like to submit.

  33. Dusting off some memories, I recall that the Calvinists accepted pre-destination. That is, our ultimate destination of Heaven or Hell is pre-set by God. While we all deserve Hell (because we all sin and any sin against an infinitely good being is infinitely bad and hence deserving of infinite punishment-but no more than infinite) God spares some elect few and brings them to Heaven. There they can gaze down on the damned and enjoy their blessed state all the more because of the suffering of the unlucky.

    This doesn’t seem to leave much room for meaningful free will (none at all if we look at in terms of free choice having a chance of affecting our final destination).

  34. Charles,

    Yep, we are still talking about God. There certainly still seem to be interesting things to say about God and the matter does not seem to be decisively settled. Also, even for folks who do not believe in God, there are still relevant issues to discuss.

  35. Find it tough to know where to start since I disagree not only with this but with standard Christian doctrine.

    So, who’s planning a life? God, or just random? In either of those cases, what happened to free will? Seems like it got abrogated. Think that the only way to really have free will is to have it at the spiritual level and any physical life would, at least in broad outline, be preplanned (after a decision to even have a physical life) unless the soul decided not to.

    From this point, how does God have any responsibility for “evil” that occurs during those lifetimes?

    But as I look at what was created, it seems reasonable that God would create the spiritual realm, but why would there be involvement in creating a much lesser, more constrained, less free physical realm? Think it likely that is the work of the souls God created, except in cases where assistance was asked of God and co-creation occurred.

    Now we have two degrees of separation between God and any physical act, which also has its own decision.

    God doesn’t seem to be near the hook.

  36. S T Lakshmikumar

    Since there are already so many comments, I would rather refer directly to the article. No amount of theological analysis is going to solve this problem. The article mentions in passing “it can also be taken as showing that this conception of God is in error”. This concept of an all loving, all powerful God is not a piece of logic that can be subjected to rigorous logical analysis. It is a description used by the devout to emotionally link to GOD of his conception. Religion is justified by the subjective experience and necessity. It is not a scientific truth that can be shared. Even the shared congregation only serves as a source of emotional sustenance not of consensual logic. A religious minded person is guided by the personality and life of the saint not by the dry logic of a theologian.
    If one still wants to appreciate freewill rather than define it, “Is God a Taoist” by Raymund Smullyan is the best source.

  37. Re Charles Dec 17th.
    I take you point here, with which I have some sympathy. How ever I think we must remember that literally millions and millions of Human beings still believe that god and all that He/She/It, entails, actually exist, in some sense, and that Human beings, are in the final analysis, created and controlled by this system. This you will appreciate is for the likes of you and me a nonsense. However as you know religious beliefs especially where they are in fundamental form, can be of a harmful and murderous nature. What we can do about that I am not sure, but The Concept of God and all that it entails is complex, very complex, but nevertheless, a fertile field for discussion. It does not have to be true, you just play, the game according to the rules with a view to finding defects in them and or what follows logically if we adjust the rules. Unfortunately I do not have time to develop this particular theme, but hopefully you get some idea of what I am driving at. An idle mental exercise maybe, and there are certainly better ones. For all that, the important question remains why do people believe in what for you and me is nonsense. It is not so much that they believe for a belief can be true or false, they have Faith that such and such is the case, and I am not sure one can argue against Faith very easily, it is not amenable to reason. So you see religion poses great problems and if you like problems, then there is much material there for discussion, Philosophical, Logical, Psychological, Historical, Anthropological and so on, Things do not have to be true to be interesting. Think how many times we say what if X were the case, what would follow then?

  38. God is not just a problem with good and evil. It casts doubt on God’s “omnipotence.” Epicurus said it best and most succinctly 300 years before Christ:

    “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
    Then he is not omnipotent.
    Is he able, but not willing?
    Then he is malevolent.
    Is he both able and willing?
    Then whence cometh evil?
    Is he neither able nor willing?
    Then why call him God?”

    Epicurus

    You can’t answer that: then you got nothing. And I don’t know of anyone who has answered it in a way that validates and justifies belief.

  39. Mike LaBossiere: “One clever reply is to say that God exists outside of time, yet perceives all of time at once.”

    Don’t care about the second part of the sentence. In the first part, the word “clever” indicates a disagreement or at least skepticism. For me, the problem is if God doesn’t exist outside of time. In that case, the omnipotence moves from God to Time. God becomes the big wimpy schmuck and free will decreases to a few crumbs.

    “I’d put forth the idea that God could be subject to scientific testing.” Same problem. Science works in the physical realm. Good if there was a big wimpy schmuck but I wouldn’t count on finding God.

  40. Steve,

    I call things “clever” as an expression of praise (although I might condemn other aspects of something that is clever).

    You say “For me, the problem is if God doesn’t exist outside of time. In that case, the omnipotence moves from God to Time.”

    I’m unclear on your reasoning there.

    You also say “Same problem. Science works in the physical realm. Good if there was a big wimpy schmuck but I wouldn’t count on finding God.”

    Unless it is assumed that science is limited to the physical sciences, then science might “work” in other realms. Also, I’m unclear on your reasoning here.

  41. My understanding is that God will only allow what can be redeemed in time. Not that he wants us to go through terrible things, but that if we can learn from what we go through, we’re helping to push us all in the right direction. It’s also my understanding that when we speak of judgment, what is really happening is we are being allowed to see the reality of our lives including the pain and joy we caused others clearly. For those who were good, loving people who brought joy to others, this will undoubtably be a happy experience. For those who spread pain and suffering, experiencing all the pain you caused other people will undoubtably suck yak nuts. God is allowing all of this to happen so that we can learn what we need to learn for ourselves.

    I believe that there are/have been times when God has intervened either to point us in the right direction or keep something from happening that was going to be beyond redemption (i.e. damaging beyond recovery – here or in any other life). But I believe that the less we need God to do that – by becoming more mature, wise and focused on what really matters – the more we are able to really recover from all the mistakes we as a human race have been making.

    It’s a process of growing up, really. We’ve always been taught to think of God like a father, but really who would want a father who was as controlling and protective as we often think God is supposed to be?

  42. Rebecca Trotter:
    You speak of your understanding. It may be more enlightening if you explained how you came by that understanding.

  43. Don Bird,
    the ancient Hebrew form of meditation was this: to hold conflicting ideas in one’s mind until the truth and connections between them became clear. I have used this way of meditating to hold reality, scriptures and various wisdom traditions and beliefs together in order to figure out what works. The reason we have such a hard time figuring out why the world works the way it does is because:

    1. We refuse to deal with reality. See creationists, people who dismiss hundreds of thousands of near death accounts to insist that there’s no reason to think we exist beyond death, people who think those who disagree with them are evil, crazy or stupid, people who think they know how other people’s lives work better than they do, etc. My faith tradition says that creation is a testimony to God. Which means, we learn more from reality about how God actually works than we do from how we think he’s supposed to work.

    2. Shallow thinking. It always drives me crazy when people talk about others who are suffering as if their suffering allowed others to decide for them that their life isn’t worth having. I’ve been raped. Twice. I’ve been poor. I’ve had close friends who came from places where people starved. I’m married to a man who has PTSD from suffering extreme physical and sexual abuse as a child. And anyone who might be willing to pull their head out their arse long enough to bother taking the views of those who actually suffer into account will discover that people who suffer still have good lives, very much worth living. No, you would never chose to go through such things, but it doesn’t call the goodness of creation into question! Dig deeper. “People suffer, so the world is inconsistent with a loving, perfect God” is just about as shallow as one can get. It’s about on par with the fundamentalist “and then God turned on a light switch” account of creation in terms of depth, complexity of thought and creativity.

    3. There are two types of suffering, imo. The suffering which is part of the normal processes of life on this earth – i.o.w. the world as God actually made it. This would include death, decay, sickness and a certain amount of conflict between people who all have different ways of thinking, preferences and personality traits. I think that our lives are best understood as stories. There’s no such thing as a decent story where there’s no conflict, no pain, no nothing. Most people’s ideas of perfection are so insipid and worthless that they won’t even allow for change. Without change there is nothing learned. Without learning, curiosity is pointless, creativity cannot exist. And change is always painful. It means letting go of one thing to embrace something else. It means not knowing if it’s even going to work. You can’t have a decent story without the sort of difficult experiences which are inevitable in life.
    The other sort of suffering – the one which God did not create – is the suffering we impose on each other. Rape. Tying a kid to a bed and beating him for an hour straight. Slavery. That is our responsibility. Only we can fix it. For God to fix it by fiat would violate the entire system by which the stars and galaxies and plant cells and all the other wonders of the universe were created. At which point, it would really be better if we were just allowed to exterminate ourselves. It is foolish to think that we who are barely bacteria on the surface of a skin cell in the universe should expect the laws of the universe to be declared null and void so God can fix what we’re continually breaking. A

    lso, much like with a parent, what you do for your child, they do not learn to do for themselves. When we try to come up with schemes by which God could allow free will while not allowing its consequences, we’re basically like a 26 year old trying to come up with a plan for how his parents can continue to support him living with his girlfriend and her toddler in the basement until the parents die and leave him the house and enough money to survive. It’s not like many of us have actually done the work of being good, loving people to everyone in our lives. It’s not like we can honestly say, “well, we’ve given it our best shot. We’ve been great parents and take care of those who can’t take care of themselves and we’ve worked really hard not to be in conflict with other people and to be forgiving and not be so self-centered that we can’t deal with traffic without freaking out like a 2 year old.” Maybe if we could say that, we’d have a leg to stand on when it comes to this whole issue, but we can say no such thing.

    At any rate, obviously this is an issue which has consumed a great deal of men’s time and thought. It’s not an easy thing to riddle out, especially since so many of our basic paradigms need to be shifted and re-thought. So clearly, offering a sufficient answer to how I came by my understanding would require yet another book that no one would read. But basically the formula is deal with reality, reject shallow thinking, dig deeper when things don’t make sense instead of throwing everything out and take responsibility for making things better. Anyhow, I have a naked 3 year old who has been sitting in my lap waiting for me for the last 10 minutes, so that’s the best I can offer at the moment!

  44. BTW, I should add a quick clarification about what I mean when I say that God would be breaking the rules of the universe by acting via fiat. The universe cannot exist without randomness. Evolution moves forward by mutations – mistakes. Perfection as we humans tend to think of it is completely incompatible with the existence of stars, galaxies, life, or anything else in existence. Our free will is probably best understood as a manifestation of this same randomness which allowed the universe to evolve and develop. For God to step in and “fix” the fact that we are abusing this free will is really no different than the mindset of the Intelligent Design person who thinks that creation only works if God steps in to “fix” it every so often. It diminishes God. In the normal course of things, a most randomness is destructive. Occassionally it is exactly what moves us forward. How exactly this is working out in terms of humanity is a whole other topic, but I just wanted to make this connection between randomness, the existence of all that is and free will. And why the idea of God stepping in to fix the results of the randomness which has allowed the whole universe to exist is ridiculous.

  45. Thank you for a thoughtful reply. I cannot respond to everything you say and prefer to keep things as simple as possible. However could you enlarge on this apparent entity which you call God. I am familiar with the name but have never been able to discover a satisfactory explanation of the term. Mostly all I have ever been able to find is stories which of course are not thoroughgoing explanations.I fear you may not satisfy me in this connection, but if you have the time and inclination give it a go.

  46. Rebecca Trotter,

    What about the deterministic universe model accepted by Newton, Hobbes, Spinoza and others? Are they simply wrong because randomness is a matter of some sort of necessity (that is, a deterministic universe is impossible)?

    One problem with using randomness to account for free will is that randomness would not be free. If I am determined to select option 1 of 8, I am not free. If there is a random process by which an option is picked from 8 (a cosmic D8, perhaps) then I would not be free either.

    One serious question: what is the difference between a random universe without God and a random universe in which God does nothing?

  47. Mike LaBossiere:
    Thanks for clarifying your usage of clever.

    God and t(T)ime: Omnipotent is all powerful, which for me that is the side that is capable of imposing rules or bounds. If God is in time, time is setting a boundary on God and presumably a direction also. That would indicate that time is more powerful than God. So God must be outside of time.

    As example, Hawkings said that “You can’t get to a time before the big bang because there was no before the big bang.” And so no God as creator because there is no time for one. My definition of God has no problem. Any god bound by time would fail the test.

    “Science works in the physical realm”: Decided to look up a definition of science to make sure I was on the right track — “knowledge attained through study or practice,” or “knowledge covering general truths of the operation of general laws, esp. as obtained and tested through scientific method [and] concerned with the physical world.” Okay.

    I think what is perhaps a better way of saying what I said is the I see science as the objective study of spacetime and all that exists within it. As with God and time, also with space. So while I see God permeating space, there is no particular spot and therefore no gradient. What is left is the reports of individuals which is generally not considered evidence because of subjectivity and lack of controls.

    I suppose I can’t rule out science testing for God but I’m not seeing how.

  48. Don Bird, my understanding of God based on both experience and study is that God is ultimately love. But that God is also a being with personality. I also understand God to contain all that is which is not to say that all that is is God – a kind of pantheism. Rather if something exists in creation, it exists because it comes out of something which is already present in God. So creation is a reflection of God – an image – which is creative by nature, but while capable of creating great variety can create nothing which doesn’t also exist in God.

    When everything is working properly, the creation is a reflection of God with human beings as the most fine grained pictures we have of God, if you will. When something gets off-kilter, we miss (the meaning of “sin” in Hebrew is “to miss”. It’s an archery term). Creation becomes like a mirror that’s been warped and of centered so it is no longer properly reflecting God. That is the state that Christianity believes mankind to be in.

    In order to stop missing our target, we need to be more like God. But we don’t know God – no man has seen him. And whatever God does to reveal himself is filtered through human distortions and so is perceived only partly. So God reveals as much as we can deal with, let’s that work until we have learned enough to receive another revelation. These are the religious ideas and movements which have turned the course of human history over the last thousands of years. I believe Judiasm and it’s child Christianity to be the truest of those revelations. I believe that Jesus was how God showed us what we’re supposed to look like in action. And while the church is worlds away from perfect, I still think it’s significant that I’d much rather be a woman in a this day and in this part of the world where Christianity has been so influential than at any other time or in any other place. Jesus said that you will be able to judge a thing by its fruit. What the church gets wrong, it shares with all of humanity. What it gets right has changed the world.

    I suspect that as we better understand our world and ourselves, we’ll also be better able to understand God as well. And what I suspect is that we’ll end up deciding that most of what we’ve been told as doctrine is true, it just didn’t mean what we thought it all meant. So perfect probably doesn’t mean neat, orderly and painfree. Perfect problably means something closer to Ying and Yang – proper balance between different things.

    I expect that much of what we will learn will be closely tied to our study of the universe – particularly quantum physics. for example, is the mystery of the trinity that it is like light – which has substance (the proton), action (the wave motion) and moves through time (the time it takes for a photon to be absorbed by something in its path as documented by red shift with a spectrometer)? At some point, the relationship between science and religion may start to work in both directions – with religion offering hints which can be studied by science even. But at the moment, science is playing an important role in helping us unlearn certain false ideas we’ve held onto for a very long time. Anyways, I suppose I went beyond your question, but each idea sets up another one right down wind, so might as well at least run through some of the more obvious ones, upfront, eh?

  49. Mike LaBossiere,
    funny you should say that as I just read an essay by Michael Shermer on the argument between contingency and neccessity in evolution. As I see it, this argument is basically a more focused examination of the same concept/problem at work when it comes to a deterministic universe vs a random one. Shermer argues and I would agree that the answer is both/and. (The answer’s pretty much always both/and btw. True story.) The real mystery is figuring out what is inevitable and what is subject to chance. So life is probably inevitable given the way atoms arrange themselves. But the range of life which can exist will be limited both due to situational restraints and restraints which are inherent to them. So most mutations fail because they are incompatible with life. They fall by the wayside while those that more or less work are allowed to be passed on. So life is constrained in expression, but life itself is inevitable. The question which of course interests us humans is whether we fall on the side of what was inevitable or the side of what just happened by chance. The answer is that we only exist by chance while at the same time our existance was purposed – not an accident. So maybe our existance as a being who can reflect God is inevitable while the particulars of the packaging – our bodies – are not. We need a body which is adequate to the job, but it might not have had to have been a hairless mammal with 2 arms and 2 legs with an unusual ability to run long distances.

  50. Rebecca Trotter,

    So how do we know that this is a partially random universe? After all, a deterministic and random universe would seem to be the same in terms of observational data. That is, we just observe what happens and never observe what could have happened.

    While there are theories that aim at establishing a universe with chance, that seems to be mere speculation disguised with math. Yes, I am just griping because the folks in physics are doing metaphysics while pretending they are not. :)

  51. How can something be partially random? Randomness has been defined as “Having no definite aim or purpose; not sent or guided in a particular direction; made, done, occurring, etc., without method or conscious choice; haphazard.” Either an event is random or it is not random,
    Is this not a mistake similar to describing something as more perfect? Perfection being an ultimate concept with no degrees.

  52. Re Rebecca Trotter Dec 21st,

    “my understanding of God based on both experience and study is that God is ultimately love. But that God is also a being with personality. I also understand God to contain all that is which is not to say that all that is is God – a kind of pantheism. Rather if something exists in creation, it exists because it comes out of something which is already present in God. So creation is a reflection of God – an image – which is creative by nature, but while capable of creating great variety can create nothing which doesn’t also exist in God.”

    How did you came to form that belief, on what grounds is it based, can it be tested
    with a view to verifying it? You mention experience and study, which is not really a thoroughgoing reply. Do you have any way of persuading a person like myself who holds Scientific Method as the only reliable way of establishing what is the case?
    Speaking of testability, Experiments have been made to test the efficacy of prayer. The results only showed a massive silence to all entreaty. I hasten to add that this does not prove prayer is ineffectual only that the hypothesis that it is, effective, has yet to be verified. I am enough of a scientist to know that all science proceeds on a tentative basis. What is thought to be the case today may in the light of further knowledge be modified, for this reason I cannot declare myself an Atheist, Atheism in fact being no more than just another religion, particularly as it is exemplified by the New Atheists. For these reasons I can proceed no further than the threshold of Atheism.

  53. Don,

    Some aspects of the universe could be random, while other aspects are not.

    In games, some things are random (controlled by dice or random number generators) and others are not. To use a game example, a sword might do 1D8 (a random roll of an 8 sided die) but the strength of the character might add a non-random +2.

  54. re Mike
    La Boussiere 23 Dec.

    Yes I see what you mean. If you
    generate a random number the fact that you add say 2 if it is odd and 3 if it is even does not adulterate the fact that the resultant number is still random.
    I was thinking more in terms of Cause and effect. I suppose an asteroid could at random enter the gravitational field of the earth at which point it would be influenced by well established laws of the gravitational attraction between two bodies. The resultant impact with the Earth has random and non-random cause.
    On the other hand I suppose the asteroid was always bound to hit the Earth from the moment it was formed thus it is not actually a random event. Theoretically at least, it could have been predicted

  55. At the end of the day there is always the matter of choice. If I choose to believe something, I can find reasons to support that choice. If I choose not to believe something I can find reasons to support that choice as well. Or I can decide to choose certain criteria for accepting or not accepting something and believe that I have come to an objective conclusion even though another person has what they consider perfectly criteria which allows them to come to a different conclusion which they also consider objective. At some level, it’s all a matter of choice – what do we believe, what do we accept, what do we regret. Certainly there must be some objective truth out there, but given our limited information any conclusion we reach on certain matters will reflect our choice as much as reality. At some point perhaps we will be able to scientifically prove God’s existance for those without first hand experience. And perhaps some day the physicists will figure out how to mathmatically quantify metaphysical realities. But for now, as the bible says, “we see as through a glass darkly.”

  56. Arg – I need an editor under the best of circumstances, bit tonight I’m touch typing on a laptop with missing keys. Hopefully you can work it out. Damn toddlers!

  57. Free Will…again | James Russell Ament - pingback on December 26, 2012 at 8:01 am
  58. In the nature for everything there exists an opposite. Example water & fire, male & female,..etc., Hence for good there exists an opposite called bad. You call Good as God and bad as Devil. The journey from bad to good is through God.

  59. Re B Prasad January 4th

    How does water come to be the opposite of fire. I know in certain cumstances water is used to extinguish fire but it will also dissolve sugar and yet we surely would not think it as the opposite of sugar. You say Everything in Nature has an opposite. What is then the opposite of Tree, River, Tiger, Molecule. I am not happy that Man is the opposite of Woman, but it may just scrape in possibly. Opposite of Fast is not fast i.e. Slow. Opposite of Man is not-man yes Woman could be admitted but many other things are not man e.g. Computer. I am not laying down any hard and fast rules here but the matter of opposites is surely to be approached with thought and caution.

  60. Re Don Bird on mental exercise:
    “I presume that it is taken that the mind of god works similarly to ours.” Nope, not even close. Pretty much clobbers the rest of your comment but will continue.

    “Why did god make a world containing human beings who are capable of evil if god does not approve of evil?” – Could go a variety of directions here, but I diverge from standard Christian belief and would get into explaining that also. Suppose the simplest is that the Spiritual realm is the real and nothing of harm happens there. The physical realm is for experience, rather than simply knowing, and all that happens is just for learning. The second part is that God does not judge, so the statement regarding physical evil is not meaningful (a problem with assuming the mind of God.)

    “let’s give humans free will” – Not exactly, free will to all children of God whether they choose to incarnate, whether on earth or not, or stay discarnate. (Same problem with assuming physical that I have with a lot of Christian beliefs.)

    “If something is made or created surely the creator endeavours to make the product as near perfect as possible” – spiritually, beautifully unique. as humans, as chosen by those incarnating. (i.e. not God’s decision)

    “Wrong decisions by a human are God’s responsibility, and by the child, mine.” (Do like the analogy.) The problem is: the child may die a physical death and you are responsible for that. God is responsible for spirit, which is unharmed (because it can’t be harmed).

    “If evil exists either god cannot prevent it, or he will not prevent it.” Does not exist in the Spiritual realm, therefore doesn’t really exist. Rest of the ifs collapse.

    “It seems to me the only way one can accept the existence of god is by blind faith.” – uh, actually what is proposed is to follow spiritual practices and experience (well, okay, blind faith is what is proposed by religion).

    “The concept does not stand up to rigorous examination. There are no acceptable explanations from which valid inferences can be drawn, no tests can be made, there is no compatibility with scientific research, The Hypothesis God exists, is no more than a hypothesis for its own sake it has no relevance to any known fact. All that mankind possess are merely stories of such an existence.” – generally agree, logic/science extremely unlikely to get you anywhere near spiritual or God.

    “And these have their origins in bygone days when superstition, ignorance, and magic held sway.” – Could have done without that worthless crap.

  61. Re asking and prayer:

    This seems to have come up in several posts. First, that asking is not necessary. Doesn’t seem to be the teaching. See in Luke 11 that “ask, and it shall be given to you”. As far as I can determine that seems to be the case. And how does one ask? That was answered with the Lord’s Prayer. If you look at the form, it starts with an acknowledgement of God, then goes to the needs requested. (In one of the versions, it goes back to the acknowledgement of God.)

    Doesn’t make sense to me that God would intervene without being asked as that would void free will.

    Let’s go a step further. I was reading a reply to someone who was looking to be able to heal people. Hopefully, I can condense without screwing it up: The person who wishes to heal needs to recognize that they are not separate from God, but put aside ego and be infilled with the spirit of God (at least for a moment). Then they need to be aware, so that when someone asking to fill a need connects to God, that they can be sent and be a conduit for the healing.

    Prayer – form as indicated above preferably, connection to God as indicated, (try measuring that). But keep in mind – you can’t control what everybody else is doing. And, prayer does not have to be accepted at that time, it can be accepted later. Can’t imagine doing a controlled experiment.

  62. Okay, so what am I actually doing here? I was reading http://www.fivebooks.com/interviews/susan-jacoby-on-atheism and was reminded of what I read here and when I looked, saw there was a recent post.

    Here are the offending sentences:
    “How do you account for sin when there is an all-powerful all-loving God? The answer Augustine comes up with – as is the answer in Western Christianity and in Judaism – is free will, which is a completely inadequate answer. Either God is all-powerful and is therefore entirely responsible for everything that happens, or he is not, and there is not a God in this sense.”

    Summarizing (skipping the alternative for now): the all/all God is responsible and yet there is sin. There is a bigger problem here than I previously indicated with this thought. The implied assumption is that God would be compelled to act if there was sin. But if God was compelled to act, then God would ***NOT*** have free will.

    Younds! Unbelievable! I look at that and find it difficult to believe that what seems to me to be an obvious assumption was not detected. It denies free will a whole step further than a superficial read would indicate.

    The question that comes up – am I missing anything? Is there some other assumption that would work but would not have the same problem? What are the actually logic steps between all/all and eliminating sin?

    Anybody?

  63. Need to reply to my own December 17th message. Forgot about interpretation. Even if the events of a life are out of control of a person, they still have the capacity to form their own interpretation of them and show free will.

  64. I have read very little of the postings. But I would like to ask this question. What god are all of you talking about? Christian? Or is it each of our own personal types of god? God is an idea true or false its an idea. Before you can discuss it, everyone should be on the same page about the god you are talking about.

  65. Parts of all religions hold some validity and based on our personalities and many other factors we choose what we believe of each and how we interpret them. For instance, I choose to believe in the areas that I can make fit with scientific facts of today. The more I learn, the more my beliefs change or evolve. The theory of universal consciousness and Christianity saying that god is in all places at all times, is all knowing, and created everything fits amazingly to me so that’s what I choose to believe. The fact of the of the matter is that every idea we have about god is based upon personal preferance and this my friends is the most basic reason why we ne er be able to understand god. Real, fictional, or philosophically we will never even begin to understand, or explain anything about god. Its personal preferance and journy. Enjoy :-)

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