On Free Will and God's Will
What is the problem with positing both that there is human free will and that God directs or guides the course of events to achieve a desired outcome? Theists argue for both. But their argument is incoherent, as I hope to show here.
In questioning the omni-benevolence of God, I posited a scenario where there was just slightly less suffering than what we have in our world, and asked if God, in all his goodness, couldn't have made that happen. A theist responded:
I don't think that even omnipotent beings can do logically impossible things, so it might the case that it's not feasible for God to make a world that contains free creatures and that is devoid of evil and suffering. - Keith RozumalskiThe theist is making the argument that every single instance of suffering that has ever happened is necessary in order for God to bring about his desired outcome. It says that the world couldn't possibly contain any less suffering because the consequence would be that humans would then somehow be deprived of the opportunity to exercise their free will to choose good over evil. It is an admission that there is causality in the chain of events, because any deviation from that path of history would result in an outcome different from the one that God wants to achieve. Even one single animal being spared from a painful death somewhere along the way would foil God's plan, and he is powerless to make it otherwise (despite his omnipotence).
OK, so events have consequences, and any deviation from a particular course of events would alter the eventual outcome. I agree completely with that. That's what we call causality. One state of affairs leads to the next. This is in keeping with the Principle of Sufficient Reason. Outcomes occur because they are caused by something. This is a major assumption in the First Way of Aquinas.
So then, how can the theist argue coherently that there can be any free will at all? Free will contradicts other theistic beliefs in at least two important ways.
First, to claim that a person makes a choice out of free will is to say that there was no underlying cause for making that decision. The free will advocate must deny that circumstances drive someone to a particular choice, but given a choice of actions A and B, he could choose B just as well as A, and it is free will that allows him make the selection arbitrarily, without any forces or circumstances driving him to that choice. In other words, action A, being chosen by free will, has no cause (or it has a causal chain that begins with an uncaused free choice). The theist can't even claim that God is the ultimate cause in the causal chain that leads to action A, because that wouldn't be free will. So free will denies the Principle of Sufficient Reason, and it undercuts the First Way of Aquinas.
Second, it is self-contradictory to argue on the one hand that God's desired outcome can be achieved even when the course of events is not determined, and on the other hand that God's desired outcome dictates that the course of events could not have been different, as the theist argues in defense of gratuitous suffering.
Let's take Keith's example. God wants you to get a certain job offer. He carefully arranges the course of history to bring about all the right elements at the right time. But then, suppose the guy who already has that job, having free will, decides not to leave it, so there is no opening for you, and God's plan is foiled by free will. Now, this example is very facile, because it depends on a single free decision that sets the course of events on a path that deviates from God's plans. But the reality is that it's not just that one decision that leads to a desired outcome. God would have to make certain that every event in history would play together in just the right way. For example, he would have to arrange the entire course of your life to put you in the position to be ready and able to take that job. He would need to arrange the meeting of your parents, and your parents' parents. He would have to assure that not one single event in history took a wrong turn that would send the course of events down a different path.
And that extends back to pre-history as well. God would have had to make sure that humans evolved properly. So every event in the history of the earth is significant. The meteor had to strike at the right time and place. Some furry little critter that was the ancestor of humans had to escape predation. Perhaps something as insignificant as a dinosaur walking one direction instead of the other made the difference between humans evolving eventually, or never existing at all.
And let's not forget that God isn't just managing your job opportunities. He has to arrange outcomes for everybody and everything, all at the same time. That can't possibly be done if anything is left to chance. The events in the lives of all people are intricately interwoven, and one single free will choice will inevitably alter the course of events for not only for the person who makes that choice, but for many others whose lives intersect with his. And their lives intersect with still more people.
This thesis nominally agrees with the concept that all the suffering in the world was absolutely necessary in order for God to bring about some objective. The theist who claims that we live in the best possible world that an omni-benevolent God could have created, who claims that God has no choice but to allow every single instance of suffering ever experienced by all of his creatures, is agreeing that the course of events is determined by causality, and that any deviation from a particular course of events would result in an outcome different from the one desired by God. How, then, can this theist also claim that there is room for people to make their own free decisions?
There is nothing illogical or incoherent about what I've said. God can bring about events and we freely respond to those events, and God can counter with more events that lead to more free choices until he achieves his end goal. I don't see the problem here. - Keith RozumalskiThe problem is that this theist's position is indeed incoherent. For if God has the ability to allow free choice and still achieve his desired outcome, then it would stand to reason that he easily could have been a little more benevolent and allowed one single creature to avoid suffering somewhere along the way, and still managed somehow to get the course of events back on track.
The theist's position is self-contradictory. It seems to be dependent on which of his beliefs he's trying to defend at any given time. If he's defending the benevolence of his God, he is forced into a position that says God has no choice, due to causation and the inevitable course of events. If he's trying to defend free will, all that talk about causation goes out the window. God is omnipotent, and can achieve his goals, regardless of the course of events.
And this, folks, is one reason I'm not a theist. It's called logic.