The topic of free will is being much discussed of late. Partially this is because of new scientific findings, but which is all to the good as it helps us understand who (or what) we are. However I am somewhat dismayed at the level of thinking employed. For example, one common use of the concept of free will is to provide room for “god” to wiggle out from under the Problem of Evil.
The Problem of Evil, if you are unaware, is this argument: if God is good (the Perfect Good), why does evil exist? It was given a strong voice by Epicurus as: “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?”
This argument is one of the strongest against the existence of a Judeo-Christian type god.
The wiggle room provided by religious apologists is that evil exists because their god wanted us to have free will. I will explore the motivation for that later, but currently the argument is: if we are not to be automatons, we must have free will and if we have the freedom to do good, then we must also have the freedom to do evil. (This is a variant of the “blame the victim” approach of many religions.)
This argument is quite bankrupt. Why, if their god was good and perfectly so, would he go out of his way to invent evil? Consider what the world would be like if the choice to do evil things were not available to us. Would we be deterministic puppets? Instead of us having myriad choices every day, half good and half evil, we would only have myriad good choices, no? Is this being a puppet? I would venture to say that you actually know some people like this. These are kind, gentle people who would not hurt a fly, are willing to help anyone in need, and never have an ill word to say about anybody. The idea of them making a choice that is evil is unthinkable. And they have the freedom to do anything that comes into their little minds, evil things not being among them.
Were the world to be so constructed, would we bemoan the lack of opportunities to do evil? I do not think so. There would still be any number of unfortunate happenings: forest fires, earthquakes, floods, landslides, shark attacks, dogs digging holes in your new lawn, etc. Misery and pain would not disappear. (Some apologists argue that pain has a biological function and if evil were not to exist, we would be imperiled because of the lack of pain as a guide. This is blazingly idiotic.) Compassion and generosity would still be choices we would need to make. Deliberate acts of humans to cause unnecessary pain and anguish, though, would not exist.
So, how would this diminish “God’s Plan”?
The inherent problem here is obscured by the apologists, partially because, I think, they find the missing part quite natural. The missing piece in the discussion is actually the unnatural part: according to them humans were created to worship their god, full stop, end of story. Some obscure this by saying, no we were created to “give God glory.” Of course, “glory” means “praise of a god or goddess.” In simple terms, we were created to be cheerleaders by a god with low self-esteem. We are needed to buck up the sagging ego of an all-powerful, all-knowing supernatural entity! And, we need to be able to choose to do that because if their god had created us to do that with no choice being involved on our part, well that would be too narcissistic! OMG!
My argument is simpler. we have free will (not limited to conscious decision making) because it is demonstrably one of our faculties. Why we have free will is kind of a silly question. Why can we think? Why can we fart with gusto? Why do Claussen Deli Style Hearty Garlic Dill Pickles taste so damned good? The unfortunate thing about philosophy is it is basically thinking about thinking (an inevitable consequence of sentience?). What we choose to think about is up to us. The fact that many cannot think their way of a wet paper bag is lamentable, though.