“Do Christians actually believe that it is a preferable state of affairs to have God bestow free will on those he creates, even though it always has and always will result in the atrocities and injustices of life, than for God to not give them free will and simply create humans who always treat their fellow man well?”
This is the question author Vincent Bugliosi puts to believers on page 35 of his recent book The Divinity of Doubt.
“Is free will more important that the absence of pain, misery, death and suffering brought on by the monstrous acts of fellow humans?” These rhetorical questions pepper his entire book; in fact, he uses such questions to avoid the difficult work of actually considering and giving a fair hearing to Christian beliefs.
Now, on its face, this seems a very ironic challenge. Free will encompasses many things, but at the least it involves the desire to shape one’s own destiny. Free will allows us to make choices among competing alternatives. Our will may not be completely unfettered; there are many things that we cannot choose to do, because we lack the power, or that we would not choose to do, because our natural inclination is against it. But the common human condition, throughout the world and throughout time, is a quest for control; first of ourselves, then of our immediate surroundings and then, far too often, of those around us.
The irony is that Bugliosi is no different. He wishes to exercise control over his life and his destiny. When he has “better” ideas, he wills to put them into circulation, trading on his fame in the hopes of shaping other people’s views, and selling books. In fact, at one point in the book, Bugliosi says that he doesn’t want to go to heaven because he doesn’t have any interest in the kinds of things that Christians say are in heaven. But Bugliosi’s ambition is much larger. He wishes to exercise control over all of creation, apparently substituting his perfect world of people who “do no harm” for the harsh world in which we find ourselves.
So which is it? Is it good to have free will or is it better to never have the chance to write books and persuade people and choose where you will go and what you will do? Indeed, it appears that Bugliosi does not really want to give up free will, for himself anyway. He does want to shape other people’s will, to bend it in such a way that they can never do what he considers to be wrong. But what if writing books against Christians offends me? Would it be okay for me to want that choice removed from him? How about if I don’t like any views different from my own? A bit of reflection makes apparent that someone must be the arbiter of what choices are available to us? Christians happen to believe that the Creator – with infinite wisdom – is a better choice than say, Vincent Bugliosi, in making that call.
I also wonder if Bugliosi has thought about what the elimination of free will would accomplish. This of course would not be difficult for God to do. He would simply reoccupy the space He has created between us and Him and would force us to do His will. Whatever God wished to do with us, whatever task He had in mind, we would simply do - without complaining, without resisting, without evading. We would be, in effect, machines. If God ever does listen to Bugliosi and grants this wish, I certainly hope that He also eliminates our self-awareness. I can think of no worse fate than to spend endless time being controlled, directed, adjusted, worked - totally devoid of any ability to plan or to choose or to accomplish.
Bugliosi might object that constraining "true" evil would not be difficult for God. Couldn’t God limit choice so that violent crimes could no longer be committed? And wouldn’t that be preferable? In this, I want to agree with Bugliosi. From my limited perspective, it is difficult to see God’s reasons for allowing suffering. It is even harder to accept it, even with the promise that we will eventually be rescued. But I suspect that God actually does constrain evil. I can easily imagine a world in which the atrocities of the Nazis were practiced on every street corner in every city on every contintent; fortunately, such extreme wickedness is not our reality. But the harm is real, and it is great. There is no denying that.
But still Bugliosi is mistaken in his conclusion. He wishes to use the recognition that God allows evil acts to occur to prove that there is no God. He does this by employing a faulty syllogism.
-An all powerful and all good being would not allow evil acts to occur
-Evil acts are all around us
-Therefore God does not exist.
While Bugliosi may mean by “evil” crimes of violence, evil is any departure from the will of God. Some departures are greater and more serious – crimes such as murder and rape – while others are less so – lying to gain an advantage or mocking Christians to sell books. When seen in this way, it is apparent that at some point eliminating choices renders "free will" a fiction. If only choices pleasing to God were allowed by God, then we should dispense with the idea that free will has any meaning. Although difficult at times, I trust that an infinitely perfect God has set the balance where it belongs.
In the end, we can’t have it both ways. Perhaps many, like Bugliosi, think they would be happier in a world in which all their behavior was controlled. But in such a world, they would only be happy if they were directed to be; they could not choose happiness. In any case, such a world is not our world, and while this may be difficult to accept, it does not logically prove anything about God's existence.
It does, however, tell us something about His nature, and what it says certainly grabs my attention.