why_did_god_allow_the_possibility_of_evil_and_suffering_tSteven Cowan and Greg Welty argue contra Jerry Walls that compatibilism is consistent with Christianity.[1] What they question is the value of libertarian free will (the freedom to do other than what one, in fact, chooses to do, including evil).  Why would God create human beings with the ability to choose evil?  Libertarians typically argue that such is necessary in order to have genuine freedom, including the freedom to enter into a loving relationship with God.  After all, if one could only choose A the good), and could never choose B (the evil), then their “choice” of A is meaningless.  The possibility of truly and freely choosing A requires at least the possibility of choosing B. The possibility of evil, then, is necessary for a free, loving relationship with God. It is logically impossible for God to create free creatures who are unable to choose anything other than A.

Cowan and Wells ask, however, what would be wrong with God creating us in a way that made it impossible for us to desire or choose evil, and yet our choice would still be free.  All that would be required is the presence of more than one good to choose from (A, C, D, E, F…).  No matter what we choose, we could have chosen some other good, but never evil.  This avoids the logical contradiction and preserves real freedom of choice.  Cowan and Wells argue that such a world would be superior to our world since this possible world preserves libertarian free will, but lacks evil.  In their assessment, there is no reason for the actual world if the value of libertarian free will (relationship with God, gives us freedom to choose the good, gives us the freedom to do otherwise) could be obtained without the possibility of evil.  For the libertarian who wants to maintain that the actual world is superior to this possible world, they must maintain that the greatest value of libertarian freedom is that it gives us the opportunity to do evil.  Why would God value our ability to do evil if He is good and hates evil?  Why would God create a world in which libertarian freedom results in evil if He could have achieved all of the goals of libertarian freedom without evil?


Deliberation-by-Mario-Sánchez-NevadoCompatibilists are those who believe that freedom and determinism are compatible with each other. On their view, one is free so long as they make actual choices. And they maintain that people do make actual choices: They choose what they desire. Of course, the problem comes when you ask where those desires come from. The desires are determined by God or physics. So what if physics or God determined for you to desire to kill your roommate? Then you will “choose” to kill your roommate.

In my estimation, this is not a very robust sense of freedom. Indeed, I would argue that it is not freedom at all. If desires cause actions, but the desires are determined by something other than the self, then the actions are determined as well, even if only in a secondary or intermediate sense. More could be said in the way of critique, but I have done so elsewhere.

For this post, I just want to pose a simple question to compatibilists: If our choices are caused by our desires, are our desires are determined by God/physics, then why is “choosing” so hard?  Why do we struggle with deliberation?  The only reason we experience deliberation is because we possess conflicting desires and we need to weigh them to decide which desire to act on.  If our desires are determined, does that mean God (or physics) determined for us to have conflicting desires?  If so, what would the purpose be other than to give us the false appearance of having libertarian free will?

coyne_jerry-209x300Scientists say the darndest things.  Last January I blogged on an article Jerry Coyne wrote in USA Today regarding free will.  At one point he said, “So if we don’t have free will, what can we do? One possibility is to give in to a despairing nihilism and just stop doing anything. But that’s impossible, for our feeling of personal agency is so overwhelming that we have no choice but to pretend that we do choose and get on with our lives.”

Coyne is still spinning the same gobbledygook.  Recently, on Coyne’s own blog, a commentator took Coyne to task for acting as though humans have freedom, while being adamant that they do not.  Coyne responded:


thinking manPhilosohpers David Bourget and David Chalmers recently surveyed 931 philosophy faculty members to determine their views on 30 different issues.  Here were some of the more interesting results:

God: atheism 72.8%; theism 14.6%; other 12.6%.
Metaphilosophy: naturalism 49.8%; non-naturalism 25.9%; other 24.3%.
Mind: physicalism 56.5%; non-physicalism 27.1%; other 16.4%.
Free will: compatibilism 59.1%; libertarianism 13.7%; no free will 12.2%; other 14.9%.
Meta-ethics: moral realism 56.4%; moral anti-realism 27.7%; other 15.9%.
Normative ethics: deontology 25.9%; consequentialism 23.6%; virtue ethics 18.2%; other 32.3%.
Science: scientific realism 75.1%; scientific anti-realism 11.6%; other 13.3%
Time: B-theory 26.3%; A-theory 15.5%; other 58.2%.
Truth: correspondence 50.8%; deflationary 24.8%; epistemic 6.9%; other 17.5%.

Notice that although 72.8% of respondents are atheists, 56.4% are moral realists. This goes to show the strength of our moral intuitions. While atheists do not have a sufficient ontological grounding for objective moral values, they still believe in them nonetheless.

I was surprised that only 13.7% believe in libertarian free will. I would expect it to be much higher.  Perhaps this correlates with the high rates of physicalism.

HT: Scot McKnight

A friend of mine made a point the other day that I thought was insightful.  If matter is all that exists, and there is no free will because everything is either determined or indeterminate, then there is no real distinction between rape and consensual sex since the distinction relies on the notion of free will.  If the will is not free, then strictly speaking, no act of sex is chosen—even so called consensual sex is not chosen.  Every act of sex is chosen for us by forces that lie outside of our control.  We may think that we choose to engage in sexual activity or choose to refrain from doing so, but these are just illusions.  Prior physical processes cause us to either have the desire to engage in sex or the desire not to engage in sex.  



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