Thursday, August 19, 2004

Whose Freedom?

Suppose Bob tortures and murders Sue. Could an omnipotent, omnibenevolent being allow such an event to take place? Seemingly not, yet such atrocities occur in our world all the time. So, the argument goes, God must not exist. Theists sometimes try to rebutt this "problem of evil" by suggesting that God allows such evils for the sake of free will. But why should Bob's will count for more than Sue's in this case? How, exactly, is God preserving free will by allowing Bob to impose his will upon Sue? Wouldn't it be better - maximising not just utility, but also freedom - to prevent Bob's actions, and uphold Sue's desire not to be harmed? The imposition on Bob's freedom is fairly trivial when compared to that which would otherwise have befallen Sue. So it seems that despite conventional wisdom, considerations of free will might actually exacerbate the problem of evil.

There's something quite counterintuitive about the above reasoning (to me, at least - I assume others' intuitions are similar). That doesn't necessarily mean it's wrong - instead I think our intuition is. But it just seems strange to talk about Sue's will in such a case. We see the victim in a passive light, whereas 'will' seems to be an intrinsically active phenomenon. (Isn't "passive exercise of will" a contradiction in terms?) But I think the ascription of passivity was probably where our intuitions go awry. Anyone being tortured would surely 'will' (very strongly and actively) that the torture cease.

So why do we think divine interference would be an assault on free will? Perhaps this laissez-faire approach rests on a deontological rather than consequentialist view of divine morality: that is, it would be wrong for God to obstruct any person's free will, even for the sake of others' freedom. I don't know, maybe that could work, but it doesn't seem very plausible to me. In fact, preventing people from doing evil strikes me as an entirely good thing. It is in no way bad that you are obstructing their will. If their will is to do evil, then it ought to be obstructed. They can still choose to be evil (in character), and attempt evil deeds, but any omnibenevolent being would surely do all in his power to ensure that those attempts did not succeed in harming anyone else.

But in case you disagree on the above points, there is an even more compelling example of God-withheld freedom: addiction. What possible justification could there be for making human brains predisposed towards addiction of any sort? It only impedes our freedom, restricting our ability to make rational decisions and exercise our 'free will'. Similarly for mental illness. Our brains are far from optimal when it comes to freedom and rationality. If God existed, he could free us from the bondage of addiction and other serious mental defects. So I think the importance of free will actually counts against the theist when considering the problem of evil.

Some other aspects of the problem of evil were discussed elsewhere a few months ago: See, for example, Chris' objection to the "God works in mysterious ways" response. Also, Jonathan Ichikawa and Brian Weatherson describe some clever (possible, if perhaps not entirely plausible) solutions from possible worlds.

The best (most interesting) solution I've ever come across is undoubtedly Mark Steen's (scroll to April 27) Lagadonian extension of Ken Gemes' response:
"God did not create this world, he merely thought of it. Our world then is a merely possible world, one God thought of but chose not to create. Presumably it was his knowledge of the evil in this world which led him to decide that it was beneath creation..." (Gemes)

[...]The major problem, of course, is dealing with incredulous stares and people pounding their Moorean fists. How to reply? The answer is that God speaks and thinks in Lagadonian, and, while ‘speaking’ the actual world in Lagadonian, he merely thought of our world in Lagadonian. But what, pray tell, is Lagadonianism? Well, I’m glad you asked.

A 'Lagadonian' language [...] is a (or 'the') language where every object is a name of itself (and, similarly, every event is it's own name/description, every property is a name for itself, every state of affairs is its own description, and so on). Just as we can represent the state of a affairs of 'the apple is red' by 'le pomme est rouge', 'la manzana es rojo', by morse code [etc...] so is, or possibly can be, the state of affairs of the apple being red represented in the apple's being red.
Now, assuming God exists, we'd like to suppose that he would think in the most perfect language possible. There's a prima facie case, if a Lagadonian language is possible, that God would think in Lagadonian.

The idea being that all the physical objects in our world are merely the Lagadonian "words" God has thought of, but not actually said. That makes our world non-actual, so the evils in it don't matter, so the empirical facts are consistent with an omnimax God after all. You've gotta love philosophy.

25 comments:

  1. [Copied from old comments thread]

    free will isn't about maximising freedom.

    you say But why should Bob's will count for more than Sue's in this case? as if there's some divine imperative directing god to maximise everyone's freedom. that's not what free will is. free will is being free from god, not free from bob. sue does not have less free will just because she is being tortured.
    andrew cooke | Email | Homepage | 20th Aug 04 - 12:41 pm | #

    -----------------

    Yeah, I wondered about that - it sounds like you're going with the deontological view I described in my post. But I'm not really sure that I understand the motivation behind such a position.

    Why is it a breach of free will if God obstructs our actions, but not when other people do? What is the relevant difference? If our will is thwarted, then it matters not the source of the obstruction. So if tortured-Sue is still free, then to be consistent we must say that Bob would also be free even if God temporarily paralysed him each time he misbehaved.

    Perhaps in both cases the person's will (understood as a purely internal matter) remains free, though their attempted actions are being obstructed as an external matter of fact.
    Richard | 20th Aug 04 - 1:43 pm | #

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  2. The following is from an email Dilip Ranganathan sent me, quoted here with his permission. (Bits in italics are where he is quoting me.)

    ---------------

    Note that I am *not* suggesting God interfere for the sake of mere utility (or 'good result', as you put it), but rather, that he could interfere to protect the free will of other people (such as the torture victim), when their freedom is under threat from other human agents.We (I mean considering my background -- I am from India but live in the USA) have a different concept when we look at free will. You have "freedom" only within the constraints imposed by your karma. Karma can be of 2 types -- good and bad. Both types of karma keep accumlating depending on what kind of path you choose in every step in your life. Before I go further you should realize that eastern philosophies (particularly the ones from India) do accept re-births. The endless cycle of birth & death is what affects the individual soul (called the SELF) in the guise of karma. If you have a lot of bad karma accumlated over different births you tend to suffer them out until they are totally paid for. If you think about it that will explain why a person (lets call him TortureDude) has an upperhand when he tortures a less powerful person (lets call him SufferingDude). SufferingDude in some past life has accumlated so much bad karma that his current predicament is the consequence of his past actions.

    Realize that his predicament could have been worse -- we tend to think that God has mitigated it and left it at a point where it currently is. TortureDude is well on his way to generate so much bad karma that he is bound to pay for it some time or the other. If not in this life then in his next life or the next. It doesn't matter -- he will pay for it in the end.

    This viewpoint will explain 2 things:

    * Why Free will appears as if its being curbed in certain cases
    * Why God as is usually postulated is actually a benevolent human being -- he just lets an individual decide what path he wants to take.
    *BUT* that individual is ultimately responsible for the consequence of his actions.

    When thinking about birth one point you may want to keep in mind that in Indian philosophy tomes, the BODY and the SELF are two different things (sort of like the mind-body duality as spoken by Descartes (was it him?). The SELF neither has a beginning nor an end. It is a manifestation of the Supreme Being (typically called God). This SELF assumes different BODIES and takes different births to completely negate the karma.

    I admit I'm rather ignorant of eastern philosophy, but I take it you're talking about the idea that "what comes around goes around" right? I'm not sure that is sufficient to justify evil, though. It does provide a degree of justice, at least, but I don't think that is *enough*, for it still doesn't explain why the evil should be allowed to occur in the first place.In order to explain this you will have to understand that in our philosophy taking a birth is something like a punishment. The status quo of the Self is with the Supreme Being. The very fact its still taking bodies and identifying itself with the material world means its karma is not yet paid off.

    For example, imagine you see a man attacking a little kid. Would you interfere to protect the kid, or would you wait until the kid died, and then beat up the man until he died too?Try this for size: The man is merrily increasing his quota of bad karma, the kid is suffering the consequence of some major bad deed in his past life. I got and beat up that man and increase my quota of good karma. Will that make sense?

    Clearly the first option is much preferable, and one that any all-good, all-powerful agent would be morally obliged to perform. Merely dispensing justice after the fact would not be good enough.I'd say that all-powerful agent is watching over us all the time and if not for God things could've been much much much worse. The problem with the statement I just made is its hard to prove it one way or the other. You say God does not step in to stop an evil being perpetrated -- I say the evil is mitigated to a degree only because God *is* watching.

    --------------------

    Dilip also offered the following link to an overview of Hindu philosophy.

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  3. In response to Dilip, I still don't see how karma can justify evil in the first place. The core move seems to be to argue that victims always deserve the harm that befalls them (because of bad deeds in their past life or whatever). That just strikes me as awful. Even supposing the dubious metaphysics was all true, it still doesn't solve the problem of evil. Because regardless of whether people "deserve" to be harmed, the world would still be a better place if they were not so harmed. And an all-powerful God, if such existed, would be able to achieve this. Evil, even "deserved" evil, suggests no such (benevolent) God exists.

    And there is also the problem of freedom-denying harms, such as mental illness etc, discussed in the post. Can karma justify those? If they detract from our free will, then it would seem to prevent us from earning our future good/bad karma, an unjust denial which presumably God would seek to remedy.

    Here's my argument, made explicit:
    1) A benevolent God would seek to maximise free will
    2) An omnipotent God could achieve that end
    3) The empirical facts of the world demonstrate that free will is NOT maximised.
    4) Therefore, there is no benevolent and omnipotent God.

    Which premise of the argument is karma supposed to refute?

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  4. I think the best work on the problem of evil in recent years has focused on real relationships rather than some undefined notion of freedom. Once you have that, you need natural laws to predict the consequences of our actions. Even with a compatibilist sense of freedom, you'd need some possibility of evil or relationships won't feel free. Mackie thinks that possibility can be realized without actual evil, but I'm not sure. I'm not sure you can have the internal sense of why not to do evil things without experiencing them first-hand. So you'll need to have something that from the person's own perspective (even assuming compatibilism) makes them want not to do evil, so you have natural consequence for bad choices. Given the existence of evil, you would expect also that people would be better off having experiencing certain situations themselves before encountering others who have done so, and you also get the value in developing character that comes from experiecing greater evil given that there already is some. There are things you can say to these, but it doesn't seem to me to be relying on libertarian freedom in any way. Christians have this further "participation in Christ's sufferings" thing that's also relational, but that's not really the same sort of thing. 

    Posted by Jeremy Pierce

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  5. Jeremy, thanks for the comment. I haven't done any proper research into the problem of evil, so it could be that I'm missing something (or several somethings) here.

    But even if we grant that people should be able to choose (some) evil for the sake of "real relationships", that seems insufficient to justify all (or even most) the evil in the world. For instance, I'd be quite happy to have relationships knowing that the other person couldn't possibly torture or murder me even if they wanted. Such 'divine safeguards' on freedom wouldn't upset me at all - in fact, I think it would be wonderful if they were real.

    And of course the biggest problem, as discussed in the post, is addictions and other mental impairments that reduce our freedom. How could they possibly be justified? I've never heard a theist address this objection.

    I agree with you that my argument does not depend upon compatibilism. Rather, I think, it depends upon having a quantitative account of freedom (which I more recently argued that compatibilism, for one, can provide). This then allows us to say that restricting one person's freedom is acceptable, in order to protect a larger 'quantity' of freedom for someone else. 

    Posted by Richard

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  6. Free will is not maximized, because people are free to manipulate each other? A world where people were unable impose their will on others would be more free?

    Well how do you qualify freedom? It is certainly not the ability to do whatever we desire. I may desire to walk on water but my desires are limited by the environment that I exist in. Freedom is about being able to choose from the options available.

    We might say that a drug addict or a prisoner has less actual freedom because he has fewer options available, but has no less metaphysical freedom in that he can choose any of the available options he desires. (Assuming determinism is false).

    For god to save Sue, he must restrict Bob’s metaphysical freedom whilst increasing Sue’s actual freedom (she now can choose to walk away from Bob as he cannot torture her.)

    We now have no choice but to leave in peace and harmony. We are unable to sin; we are unable to turn away from God. Our metaphysical freedom is diminished and our actual freedom is both reduced and increased, all the Bobs have fewer options available and all the Sues have more.

    So it is not that overall freedom is increased, it is simply that evil no longer exists.

    As to why God would value freedom over the existence of evil, I don’t really have an answer, but I know that I would rather live in the free world than the prison paradise. 

    Posted by Illusive Mind

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  7. "We might say that a drug addict or a prisoner has less actual freedom because he has fewer options available, but has no less metaphysical freedom in that he can choose any of the available options he desires."

    We might say that. But I've previously argued that we shouldn't. Actual freedom is all that really matters. What good does it do to have the (metaphysical) ability to choose, when you have no real available options to choose from?

    Besides, God's interference wouldn't alter our metaphysical abilities here. He might just narrow down the available options a bit - take away the option to kill or torture other people, for example. What's the harm in that? We're still free to do everything else. And, more importantly, we're now free *from* such an awful thing happening to us against our will.

    So it's just not true to say that "For god to save Sue, he must restrict Bob’s metaphysical freedom whilst increasing Sue’s actual freedom". Divine interference would be a minor restriction on Bob's actual freedom, but it would be a massive boost for every aspect of Sue's freedom. (I assume that corpses have neither metaphysical nor actual freedom!)

    I just don't see how someone can consistently allow humans to interfere with one another (to stop a murder, say), and yet disallow God from doing the exact same thing. What difference does it make who the obstructing agent is? Why are you free when I stop you doing something, but not free when God does the same? Such a view is inconsistent. 

    Posted by Richard

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  8. not JUST inconsistant. we would (I'm assuming this is a common moral intuition) judge very harshly someone who could easily but refrains from preventing a particular "evil" (say the torture of a child). to judge "god" by a LESSER standard seems very bizarre. my moral intuition tells me very strongly that IF there is a god- god is a monster. (there are other reasons for NOT believing there's a god, of course. but while there's been a lot of "moral arguments FOR the existance of god- mostly pretty weak- it seems to me there's actually a MORAL argument against god's existance- eg the existance of an omnipotent god is MORALLY offensive.)

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  9. [quote]I just don't see how someone can consistently allow humans to interfere with one another (to stop a murder, say), and yet disallow God from doing the exact same thing. What difference does it make who the obstructing agent is? Why are you free when I stop you doing something, but not free when God does the same? Such a view is inconsistent.[/quote]

    God is a person with whom people can choose to have a relationship with. This requires them to align their will to that of Gods over time (as the relationship develops -an eternal process). Its a personal choice of the individual at each step of their life to decide what is Gods will in this situation and do I follow his will and not my (corrupted human) will.

    If God stepped in and prevented "Sin"/ "Evil" at each situation from occurring (whether Evil is theft of money from your boss at work, or causing physical pain/ death to someone -Bob & Sue's situation), then he removes our ability to choose to align our will with his.
    If we no longer have free will we are merely machines and not created beings capable of genuine feelings such as Love.

    On Evil:
    Jesus said that to even lust after a married women is to have committed adultery with her in your "heart". Likewise to burn with anger/hatred toward someone is the same as having committed murder (See the Sermon on the Mount, Matt5). What he is saying is that when you align your free will, not with the will of God but against it, you are in fact sinning/ committing Evil. The evil act itself is already pre-willed by your desires.

    Another example Paul explains is where some new christians in the early church still believed that eating meat was a sin (meat/animals were used for sacrifice to the pagan gods). Paul cautioned more understanding christians not to eat meat in front of the ones who still thought it a sin, as they may be confused and start eating it also. The act of doing something you think to be against the will of God, makes it a sin/evil, even if the act itself isnt. Its the heart and the will which are central.

    So why would an omnipotent being choose not to interfere in "Evil". Because as "evil"/ "sin" is considered by God, he would be preventing ALL our freewill. Not just what we think to be the really awful things (torture, murder, rape etc), but every thought or even things we think are evil in Gods eyes but arent (such as eating meat!).

    To prevent the possibility of evil is also therefore to prevent the possibility of genuine love in all its forms: compassion, kindness, generosity, peace, grace and forgiveness -all character traits we ascribe to God himself, and desire to have within us.

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  10. Mav - God could easily prevent harm to others whilst still allowing "sin" within one's own heart. He could constrain our actions whilst leaving our will free. Thus the evil person can still will to do evil, but a truly benevolent God would prevent him from acting on this in a way that is detrimental to the freedom and well-being of others.

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  11. [quote]
    Mav - God could easily prevent harm to others whilst still allowing "sin" within one's own heart. He could constrain our actions whilst leaving our will free. Thus the evil person can still will to do evil, but a truly benevolent God would prevent him from acting on this in a way that is detrimental to the freedom and well-being of others.

    I dont think that would be a consistent reality.
    If God prevented the "act", which you are saying is worse than the "intent" itself (which I am saying God considers an equivalent evil), then He is interfering with reality - miraculous hands would come out of nowhere and snatch the feather from Bobs hand, thereby preventing him from tickling Sue to death :p -

    Such an action would greatly influence Bobs ability to decide for himself that what he was doing to Sue is wrong.

    If God stops it it must be wrong. Therefore I can do whatever I choose, and if its wrong God will be there to stop it. There are no consequences for Bobs actions (Sue's death, and the self destruction it causes to Bobs character), and no requirement for him to make the right decision.

    How would he ever know his evil act if God always prevented it from happening? How could anyone (him or others) learn that the act was evil?

    Is ignorance bliss do you think? In Gods eyes Bob is still committing evil, but will never see the consequences of his actions. Never learn the pain it causes in himself and others. Never be able to repent , receive forgiveness through grace, and change his ways and more importantly his character.

    Imagine a world where no-one knew what evil was, they were prevented from committing evil everytime they tried. No matter how hard they tried they could not carry out their wicked plans. I think everyone would be in a fit of internal rage. You would grow up from a child internally thinking and acting selfishly (unselfish behaviour must be taught), but you could not act out your selfishness on others. You would yearn to hit someone to get what you want, but be prevented at every turn by an unknown force (God). Everyone would be outwardly nice to you, but internally they are seething to get their way, prevented by the same external force.

    That is is the picture of a world where God prevents the act of evil but not the intent. To me that would be worse than hell.

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  12. There is no "ignorance" involved. You would learn that something was grievously wrong when God stepped in to prevent it! (Besides, who on Earth doesn't already know that killing innocent people is wrong?)

    It's worth noting that we could draw the line somewhere; if preventing people from hitting each other would really have such terrible results, then that's good grounds to allow it. But surely it would be good for God to prevent murders.

    Again, it makes no difference whether something is prevented by God or someone else. Presumably it would be bad for parents or police to always prevent people from doing minor wrongs, for the same reason it would be wrong for God to stop them. Too much interference can have bad effects. But we all think we have a duty to prevent MAJOR harms such as murders. So why is it suddenly so terrible if - when we fail to prevent them - God does so instead?

    Note that my concern is not with preventing "sin". If people commit 'evil' in their hearts, that's fine by me. God can and should allow that. The problem is when they start imposing their choices on others, in a way that harms others without their consent.

    What justification is there for ignoring Sue's right to life, and letting her be murdered? Isn't that a violation of her free choice? If it's right for God to allow such wrongdoing, shouldn't we do the same?

    You are effectively saying that victims may be used as a means to an end. We/God should let Sue get murdered in order to give Bob a chance to "learn" about evil, "repent", exercise the power of his will, etc.

    That is morally repugnant. I highly recommend you reconsider your view - it is utterly despicable to use victims in such a way. Surely a benevolent God would see all persons as 'ends in themselves' (as Kant would say), not mere pawns that may be sacrificed for the benefit of murderers. Especially when the so-called "benefit" fails to outweigh the massive harms!

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  13. Firstly on ignorance. I grant that it would not be necessary to remain ignorant. I think humans are intelligent (some of us, some of the time anyway ;) enough to realise the fact that ending someones life deliberately (murder) would be impossible. We'd study it in laboratories and come to the conclusion that yes, except in the case of bad luck accidents, old age etc (merely deaths), murder was impossible. Then we'd have theories and natural laws to describe why this phenomenon occurred. Some would think it a religious reason, others not. But besides that, "God" as creator would be responsible for taking steps to remedy this gross evil as we see it.

    Perhaps then our "gross evil" would become something else. Torture to the point of death, but not quite death. Which may in fact be a worse evil. We would then be discussing in forums or blogs the problem of evil and why God doesnt allow murder, but does allow the evil "art" of torture (for example).

    I think its a sticky problem, where we have to decide that God would have to also prevent torture to maintain his "Good" and "Loving" qualities (benevolence). Then the next level of evil expressed by humans on one another (and the environment, other living creatures etc) would become the gross evil... and so on.

    Would parents disciplining their children (be it a smack on the bum, or being sent to ones room without supper) be not also considered as "torture" and therefore prevented by God? (imposing ones will forcefully on anothers -even though the intent is to train the child, and is done out of concern for their development -so they dont grow up to be sociopaths).
    Because of our natures, crossed wills are impossible to avoid (also a problem of maintaining free will). One might argue that this conflict provides a stimulus for human development and is indeed necessary to a certain extent (? I admit this seems problematic too).

    The heart of the matter is surely intent, not the final action? Sure I'm not argueing that the action isnt evil in and of itself, but I'm also saying that to solve the problem of the act, one must solve the root cause - Bobs evil intent to harm Sue. To solve that root cause without impinging on Bobs free will may actually require the action to also be allowed (as you say maybe he can just hit her a little -maybe a black eye or two, but no more? -or would this come under our definition of torture?). Its a hard one to draw the line on without impacting on Bobs free will -perhaps a line in fact *cannot* be drawn?

    [quote]it's worth noting that we could draw the line somewhere; if preventing people from hitting each other would really have such terrible results, then that's good grounds to allow it. But surely it would be good for God to prevent murders.[/quote]

    Another thought -how are we to know that God is not already preventing the possibility of us carrying out even worse evils upon each other than murder and physical torture (seems hard to imagine, but it is theoretically *possible* if indeed drawing a line at all is *possible*)...in which case he has already drawn the line above torture and murder, and perhaps these arent as bad as we think they are....

    I think my perspective on this is that our present reality isnt THE REALITY, because of the problem of evil. Despite the apparent moral repugnancy of allowing the evil to occur to Sue, it isnt actually the final REALITY for her (if there is life after death). Sue's life and journey will take on a different phase -if she knew God she would continue with that relationship without skipping a beat -death itself having been defeated by Christ is no longer a threat to her true REALITY (Gods intervention if you will to prevent Bobs evil from affecting Sues true REALITY). I know I'm probably annoying you discussing religious perspectives, but they are integral with my world view. Not that I mind questioning it all -I find it helpful. Its also kinda fun talking about this stuff:)

    I heard recently there is a word for our present circumstances in theology called "eschatological tension", which describes the now and the not yet. The now being the present evil age, but having Gods intervention (christ) enabling THE REALITY to penetrate our present reality, so that our present reality affected by evil is not permanent, not final and our ultimate fate (death) avoidable. Another more real REALITY is accessible in its place. This REALITY does not have the problem of evil that our current reality is plagued with.
    This is a religious/theological proposed "solution" I know, but is there a line between theology and philosophy?

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  14. Richard,

    First, thanks for the info about asogonosia (sp?), very helpful.

    Don't worry, you aren't the only one that thinks that freedom brings with it its own problems for the theist. It seems that insofar as freedom matters, God would have created a world in which freedom flourishes. This isn't it. I remember quite a while back over at prosblogion someone mentioned Swinburne's remark that the atheist tends to be a moral pygmy. Quite the opposite, I think. It is the theist that tends to work with a pitifully underdeveloped conception of freedom that is the culprit here.

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  15. Richard, just going over your argument:

    [quote]
    Here's my argument, made explicit:
    1) A benevolent God would seek to maximise free will

    I disagree with this point.

    God is benevolent, but also just. You cannot pick and choose parts of his character. Christianity has it that he implemented a mechanism whereby people could come to be reconciled to his will rather than our individual corrupt free wills that are forever in conflict.

    For surely freewill in our corrupt human hands is both a blessing and a curse (Bobs action against Sue is evil, yet he has the capacity to be kind to Sue also through free will, yet he has chosen evil).

    A benevolent God would not maximise our freewill if it meant maximising our ability to kill each other too!
    Therefore this premise is false.


    2) An omnipotent God could achieve that end


    could do if it were in his nature to maximise our free will, which i dont think it is.

    He instead is reaching out to people to show them that they can align their wills with his.

    Because as he is God his will is actually in our best interest.

    As a benevolent God he would seek to do what is in our best interests.

    As an omnipotent God he will achieve this end. The good news is that if indeed there is a God, then the problem is being taken care of and is in the best of hands ;)


    3) The empirical facts of the world demonstrate that free will is NOT maximised.


    and evil is the reason why we need a perfect will not our own individual free wills. Thus we need God and not the other way around.


    4) Therefore, there is no benevolent and omnipotent God.
    [/quote]

    unless 1 is wrong of course ;)

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  16. Clayton - always nice to hear a supporting opinion :)

    Mavxp - How is it just that Sue got killed? I think my vision is much more consistent with divine justice. Indeed, I could run a parallel argument based on justice rather than freedom.

    Also, maximizing our ability to kill each other would, by that very fact, not maximize freedom. Dead people don't have many choices open to them, after all, and the act of murder is the ultimate violation of another person's free choice. Again, you're only looking at the agency of the perpetrator, and ignoring the violated agency of the victim.

    P.S. I think what a lot of this argument comes down to is substantive vs. merely 'formal' conceptions of freedom.

    The theist, like conservatives generally, has a pathetically thin concept of freedom as mere "non-interference". Thus we're (metaphysically) "free" so long as no metaphysically higher power (i.e. God) interferes with us -- just like the man lost in the desert is "free" to drink water since no man is stopping him. What rank absurdity. Anyway, you can follow the above link for more details on the political version of this debate.

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  17. I understand what you are saying about maximising freewill:

    Also, maximizing our ability to kill each other would, by that very fact, not maximize freedom.


    This seems a problem but isnt:

    God knows that in order to maximise our freedom, we must lose our current state of "freedom" he sees as bondage to our own evil imperfect ways (eg. our desire to kill each other).

    We must willingly become slaves to his Will. In doing so we become free from ourselves, from our own corrupted free will.
    That is the paradox of Christianity.

    To maximise your freedom you must be willing give up your own free will. To allow your will to be surplanted by his will. Since your will is imperfect and leads you into a prison of your own making.

    Thus you could say he wishes to maximise our freedom but not our free will. Since freedom is maximised through his will alone.

    I see freedom not as you describe at all. Freedom is spiritual, not merely physical or metaphysical.

    I value my spiritual freedom higher than my physical freedom. It is infinitely more important -as it is derived from my relationship with God, through which I have been freed from my human nature, and its consequences - death.
    If you do not have that freedom then you are not truly free, whether you have more options or "free will" or whatever.

    PS: I think you have a problem with thinking dealing with Bobs "killing" is ignoring Sues "being killed". Both are the same action. Killing is defined as evil because we see Sues life and her desire for life as having value, and as a result Bobs action is an act of ultimate selfishness. Thus dealing with the problem of the evil act is to address the problem of Sues loss of freedom. Seems a language difficulty more than anything. Let it go.

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  18. You haven't actually addressed any of the problems I raised, you do realize. All I see is a lot of senseless verbiage which aims to conceal the hard fact of the matter: the world is a less than ideal place. An omnipotent and benevolent God would have done better, and one cannot appeal to "free will" in attempting to justify this failure.

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  19. lol we dont seem to be getting anywhere do we?

    I think you have decided God doesnt exist based on quite a limited viewpoint. Or at least your understanding of the second option is very limited. I doubt I will convince you however, as it seems you have already chosen. Instead let me summarise the argument as i see it from both sides:

    *The State of Nature*:
    freewill begets conflict. You cant have two individuals with two separate wills without having something sometime causing them to conflict. Then "freedom" is threatened.

    So to maximise "freedom" we must first remove free will. We must all be robots, programmed by a higher being to never conflict. Or there can be only One. So that One must be the "higher being" in the first case -ie God.

    Since we find ourselves in a state where there are 6 billion of us walking around with separate wills, there is a lot of conflict, and freedom for many is severely limited.

    *The Argument*
    So if God did exist with the current state, then either:

    1) He's f***ed up somewhere, in which case he isn't perfect, and therefore isnt "God" -*poof* God doesnt exist.

    2) We f***ed up somewhere, in which case we aren't perfect. Thus if God exists and is benevolent and omniscient and omnipotent, then:

    *He must fix the problem in a way that is benevolent to 6 billion people. i.e. not terminating us, without us first making a choice...

    *He must find a way where his will is the only Will. In other words he must "free" us from our own free wills to maximise our freedom.
    If you choose not to follow his will, then you must be left to your own devices -with no God, and nobody else. Freedom must be maximised.

    So take your pick, 1 or 2.
    Try as you might to convince me of 1. I've already decided on 2, and nothing you have presented suggests I shouldn't accept 2 is true and consistent with Gods nature.

    *Sue and the 'violated agency of the victim'*:
    Your concern for Sue is touching, but under the benevolent requirements of God he must maximise freedom - on this point we agree (at least I think from what you have previously posted).
    Unless Sue's will is the same as Gods then Sue's freedom can not be maximised.

    If God intervened to stop Bob, then it would have been both his will and Sues will. Sues will comes secondary however:
    If Sues will was to retain her free will in conflict with God, then why would God save her only to let her die later anyway? Unless He knew she would change and take on His will later in life. Her will for her life can not come against Gods or she will die. (If God is to maximise freedom then she must eventually).

    There is only one reason why God would save her and intervene:
    * He knows her intimately in the past present and future. God is outside of time so he knows her intimately as an eternal spirit. Her Freedom is maximised.

    If he lets her die either:
    1. She already has Spiritual freedom and this is the end of her mortal existence. But her spirit accepts Gods will over her own. Gods will is for her to continue her life with him -so she defeats death. Her Freedom is maximised.

    2. He does not know her, she has rejected his will & retains her free will. The conflict of wills could not be resolved, thus she will die. Freedom is maximised.

    There is a 3rd possibility. Chance occurance that may spare her life. But I'm not sure about this one. If God can do something but doesnt -is that equivalent to him willing it to happen? Is it that black and white?

    So Richard. Have I explained this position thoroughly enough? It is a completely different take and considers things from Gods perspective -not merely yours as a mortal sideline observer, with only a soundbite of knowledge, with which you pass judgement that God doesnt exist. I think that even the possibility that God does exist and hence the implications of his existence are so radical that to dismiss it so quickly is incredibly foolsh. I urge you now to reconsider! =)

    God knows everything about Sue and Bobs situation -being omniscient he has to. He also knows their wills, he knows which of the two wills maximises freedom. And he allows that will to truimph. Always. Never fail.
    If you align your will with Gods you will always triumph -because it is not your will anymore but Gods.

    Anyway, I've tried. I'm not a philosopher which may be painfully obvious. But I do like to think about things a bit deeper. Thanks for reading and giving me a challenge. =)

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  20. Thanks Mav, it's been an enjoyable discussion. As you might expect, I'm suspicious of your suggestion that "to maximise 'freedom' we must first remove free will." That sounds more like minimizing freedom to me! We cannot avoid all conflict, but we might at least avoid the worst of it, by limiting each person's power over others. Thus by "maximization" I do not mean some unattainable perfection, but rather the best that is attainable.

    At least, that's the sort of "ideal" picture I have in mind. Each person has their own (internal) free will, but their (external) actions are constrained so as not to unduly harm others. (As we noted before, it is a difficult issue as to where to draw the line. But let us put aside such details for now.) It seems difficult to deny that this would be a better world -- one that virtuous mortals aim at through crime-prevention and such.

    The fundamental question is, why the double standard? Why ought good people prevent heinous crimes, but not God? If a perfect God sees fit to let such things happen, does that mean they aren't bad after all? Should we disband the police force and tolerate all rape and murder?

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  21. The purpose of society is to minimise suffering for the whole. Its a compromise -a manmade construct to deal with the problem of evil. Without evil, there is no need to enforce "good", or the "rules" of society.

    Generally society as I see it is only there insofar as it enables humans to live together without killing each other all the time. because of our conflicting free wills, without society there would be rampant rape, murder and injustice. Gangs would develop, who preyed on the weak....oh wait, that sounds just like the 6 o'clock news.

    Essentially this is how society developed. Because of this conflict, people banded together in common cause -to be free to farm for food without fear of being attacked by the gangs.

    So in modern society, we try to prevent the formation of gangs amongst us, and prevent outside gangs from taking from us -hence police and military respectively.
    They have a task -a job for which they are paid, to prevent the others in their tribe from being victimised. It is a vocation more than a moral "requirement". It has little to do with sprirituality and where God fits into this picture, and more to do with practicalities.

    There are obvious practical benefits to a police force, and well equiped military.

    Murder and rape are evil on a societal/practical level and a spiritual level.
    It would *appear* God does not intervene for practical/societal reasons but only for spiritual reasons as I suggest above.
    That would suggest that it is over to us to decide how best to "be" and to "do" life -dealing every day with the practicalities associated with the problem of evil.
    Maybe I'm cynical, but if people knew they could get away with it -maximise their free will without restraint -they would rape, murder,& steal with impunity.

    I think God is interested in the individual more than the collective. But there are some very strong messages Jesus presented on how to "do" society:
    1. Love God with all your heart (you do this you follow his will before your own). This means your not just thinking about getting your own way when it comes to:
    2. Love your neighbour as yourself.

    He also said Love your enemies and do good to those who persecute you. Its very similar to Hobbes idea that in order to raise society to a higher level than the "basal state of nature" you need to be willing to give up your will in favour of theirs. Its social contract theory really.

    Replacing hatred and fear with love and tolerance is fundamental to the best possible society. It requires that you start the ball rolling. People will do society a lot easier with a carrot than a stick.

    So did i answer the question?
    Why the double standard
    It appears a double standard but im not sure that it is because of the difference between practical morality and spiritual morality:
    Q:If God lets a murder happen, should we bother going after the crook?
    A: Yes for the practical reasons of not tolerating murder in society. If we dont, then everyone with a stronger arm will do it and society breaks down. More suffering would enschew than if we nabbed the murderer and locked him/her up.

    Q: Does Gods overlooking it mean its A-OK by him to do it?
    A: No. Aside from the practicalities, you shouldnt do it because it is against Gods will.
    If you want to do Gods will and please him then you wont murder.
    If you choose to follow your own will then there will come a time when you must die (see maximising freedom through Gods Will and not free will above).

    Q: Does killing ever become Gods will?
    A: As a general rule no.

    Q: So how does one deal with the practicalities of having to kill to save anothers life?
    A: I'd say this comes under "dealing with the practicalities" of living in an evil world. I'd say its entirely situational. And If I made a mistake and it wasn't Gods will, then I am covered by grace. This is where I think on a spiritual level God is concerned with your intentions/ heart in the matter.

    I may be wrong on this one (the same goes for everything of course ;)
    -he may see it very black and white-ie. flee but do not attack your would-be attacker. defend, but not to kill the other...etc.
    I dont know. I know I would try and defend myself as best I could -even if it meant causing serious harm to my attacker -even death.

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  22. "That would suggest that it is over to us to decide how best to "be" and to "do" life"

    Yes, sure, but that's exactly my point. As things are, many of us do NOT get the opportunity to decide how to live our lives. Instead, other people exert power over us. (Again, you are neglecting the agency of the victim. You cannot just make humanity "free". It's the individual people that matter.) Or else we suffer from addictions and the like which impair our autonomy.

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  23. MAx -

    Basically you assume that there are certain things fundamental in the universe and try to say Because of X and Y - god must do it this way
    But why doesn’t an omnipotent god just change X and Y?

    For example

    > Everyone would be outwardly nice to you, but internally they are seething to get their way, prevented by the same external force.

    But why does god let it work that way?
    Anyway I don’t thinks it does works that way - you would come to internalize god’s rules just like a hostage starts to believe the hostage taker (but a MUCH stronger effect).

    > God is benevolent, but also just. You cannot pick and choose parts of his character.

    You seem to be saying just can contradict benevolence - you are probably right - but then god is not benevolent he is just.... and where convenient benevolent.
    But I don’t think a benevolent god would maximize freedom (unless it did not contradict a number of other things).

    > If Sues will was to retain her free will in conflict with God, then why would God save her only to let her die later anyway? Unless He knew she would change and take on His will later in life.

    Not to sound sinister but Christians die just as easily as non Christians. Furthermore lets consider around 85% Christian Rwanda - don’t tell me there were not going to be any new converts out of the near million people who got killed.

    >Chance occurrence that may spare her life

    Fundamentally there are no chance occurrences to a god outside of time. You keep on failing to assume omnipotence.

    > And he allows that will to triumph. Always. Never fail.

    Does the history of the world really reflect that? A group of people with the correct religion should slowly become more powerful and influential as millions of tiny amounts of assistance from their god (because their wills are alligned better) help them out. Let alone godly assistance to help them win wars and so forth.maybe we can see that effect but it is not as clear as I would have thought it would be.

    > Free will is being free from god

    Sounds rather similar to the standard definition of hell - hardly benevolent.


    Richard,
    I think torture is a better example than murder since from a god perspective death is not all that significant; you just shuffle the person off to heaven or wherever.
    If god terminated 5 billion people just to get the population down to sustainable levels and reduced fertility rates it wouldn’t be a big moral problem since he could reduce net suffering on earth AND improve the situation of 5 billion souls all in one shot.

    By the way
    1) A benevolent God would seek to maximise free will
    Is flawed - unless it was feasible to maximise everything else simultaneously. I am thinking that would only work if we were god,
    Of course there is a strong argument that we should be god ;).

    And
    > If people commit 'evil' in their hearts, that's fine by me.

    As Max I think pointed out it is not possible to draw the line in any valid point - if god DID pass the new law that murder was banned then someone would immediately start arguing "if that why not mental sin?" and would have a good case.

    > Why ought good people to prevent heinous crimes, but not God?

    A test?

    > Should we disband the police force and tolerate all rape and murder?

    Do we want to? If not then probably not.

    Karma fellow,

    > Why God as is usually postulated is actually a benevolent human being

    Actually the karma principle implies a neutral god not an evil or a good one he just returns what you give (evil or good).
    But it also seems a bit rough to punish you in this life for something you did in a past life if you in this life are a pious monk lets say and in the past life you were Satan’s right hand man. The disconnection between the two people could be huge, and the punishment achieves nothing since most people never see it coming and it probably creates more bad karma. It is a budist version of an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.

    Anyway - the previous you might have such distain for the future you he might consider it a bonus on the deal.

    And finally,

    > I would rather live in the free world than the prison paradise.

    Crazy individualists - Ill take the prison paradise thanks.

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  24. Hi genius,

    I like your comments, very thoughtful and to the point, unlike my rambles. I'll try to keep that theme going;-)

    >Basically you assume that there are certain things fundamental in the universe and try to say Because of X and Y - god must do it this way
    But why doesn’t an omnipotent god just change X and Y?


    You're right of course -he could, unless those changes would bring about a worse state of affairs, or go against his character (maybe he just doesnt want or even better need to). But then we'd never know since this state we are in is all we know. If God had a different character, then our existence could be very different and we'd never know what our current existance is like.


    >You seem to be saying just can contradict benevolence


    I think what I am trying to say is that Gods will is just, and his motive benevolent. An apparent non-benevolent outcome, may actually be where God is being just. Otherwise he would have acted unjust inorder to appear benevolent. Being benevolent to everyone all of the time is impossible -you will find that when you have to look after a group of kids :p.

    I get the feeling we are applying mere words that describe the character of God but arent *the* Character of God. And we are seeing where those words take us, rather than considering something much more complex. A character isnt just character traits written in a list. Its an oversimplification to do this! Are you merely a list of character traits, Or do the character traits merely describe you?


    >Not to sound sinister but Christians die just as easily as non Christians. Furthermore lets consider around 85% Christian Rwanda - don’t tell me there were not going to be any new converts out of the near million people who got killed.


    [ramble mode on]
    Agreed. Sure. And many western countries are likewise statistically "christian". But anyone can see its not reality. A Christian is someone who not only sincerely attempts to follow Gods will, but actually does. Sadly, most people dont, despite the sincerity (or lack thereof), many are sincerely wrong! To quote Mark Twain:

    "Man is the religious animal. He is the only religious animal. He is the only animal that has the True Religion –- several of them. He is the only animal that loves his neighbor as himself and cuts his throat, if his theology isn't straight. He has made a graveyard of the globe in trying his honest best to smooth his brother's path to happiness and heaven."

    Such is the irony of religion and how it is abused and manipulated. "Religion" itself has two meanings: 1. Faith in the devine, and 2. rule keeping -devout following of rules.

    To quote Paul the tentmaker:

    Galatians 5 ("The Message")

    1Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you.

    2I am emphatic about this. The moment any one of you submits to circumcision or any other rule-keeping system, at that same moment Christ's hard-won gift of freedom is squandered. 3I repeat my warning: The person who accepts the ways of circumcision trades all the advantages of the free life in Christ for the obligations of the slave life of the law.

    4I suspect you would never intend this, but this is what happens. When you attempt to live by your own religious plans and projects, you are cut off from Christ, you fall out of grace. 5Meanwhile we expectantly wait for a satisfying relationship with the Spirit. 6For in Christ, neither our most conscientious religion nor disregard of religion amounts to anything. What matters is something far more interior: faith expressed in love.


    That sums up the problem of religion getting in the way of Christianity. Do 85% of Rwanda have a committed relationship with God, are they spiritually free? Do they exhibit Love to one-another, forsaking their own selfish ambitions? I've got to be skeptical about that.


    I tried to describe what could be Gods input to a situation like this, with Sues situation:

    If he lets her die either:
    1. She already has Spiritual freedom and this is the end of her mortal existence. But her spirit accepts Gods will over her own. Gods will is for her to continue her life with him -so she defeats death. Her Freedom is maximised.

    2. He does not know her, she has rejected his will & retains her free will. The conflict of wills could not be resolved, thus she will die. Freedom is maximised.


    [/ramble mode off]

    I like your next comment which made me think:


    >Does the history of the world really reflect that? A group of people with the correct religion should slowly become more powerful and influential as millions of tiny amounts of assistance from their god (because their wills are alligned better) help them out. Let alone godly assistance to help them win wars and so forth.maybe we can see that effect but it is not as clear as I would have thought it would be.


    Two things:
    1.
    If you take the "Bible" as a purely historical text, and consider God as a central character (real or mythical) in the history of the Jewish people in "BC" times, you will see that God is credited as responsible for assisting the Israelites in their conquering of Palestine at the time of Moses. Also other battles against various enemies, unless they failed follow his will. Then they lost big time, or got carried off into slavery.
    Someone would remain true (the "remnant") and the process of reestablishing their kingdom started again. But they simply kept screwing up. People just have a hard time following Gods will consistently, especially with a change in generation -things can turn around completely. So I'm not too suprised that everyone isnt jewish or christian today, by a supposed onward and upward kind of progression. Every person starts life at square 1, makes the same dumb mistakes in life. History repeating etc. Unfortunately its not like science, where we generally learn from our mistakes from one generation to the next.

    2.
    Also "power" and "influence" are actually contradictory to living according to Gods will, which at its heart is not power focused (it gives power away to God, not taking it to profit oneself). It is mans nature that seeks power and influence over others, to set oneself up as a "god" among men, which is in fact anti-christian. I see christianity as more "politically" aligned with anarchy (ie no human power structures) than right wing conservatism, the latter is most certainly a false christianity and has hijacked popular religion (which happens to be christianity in the west) for its own ends. If Jesus were around today he wouldnt go to republican conventions to mix with the rich "shakers and movers", he wouldnt demand tax breaks for the wealthy, or the opening of free markets for unethical corporations. He would be making friends with the marginalised -gays, the homeless, mentally disabled, prostitutes, street kids, AIDs sufferers etc. He wouldnt be judgemental, but meet them where they are at. That's spiritual freedom, and it is simply not in mans nature to be like that.

    -seems I've rambled again. So much for good intentions!

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  25. oh.. linkage for more on Christian Freedom is here:

    http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?book_id=55&chapter=5&version=65

    -a simply superb contemporary translation.

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