Saturday, February 19, 2011

Free will: The Parable of Two Fathers

One of my most religious friends, an evangelical Christian, and I have been having a discussion about the reason there is evil and tragedy in the world, and it's becoming apparent that my friend is becoming increasingly anxious and uncomfortable talking to me about her beliefs, even though she was eager to share her "good news" about Jesus and the Gospel with me when we started.

Maybe her discomfort is because she's beginning to worry that by continuing to talk to an evil atheist like me, she'll put her own salvation in jeopardy.

But perhaps her unease is because she's never had to really think before about the contradictions in, and implications of, the Christian apologetics she regurgitates. All of her religious discussions and Bible study are with people who believe exactly as she does, so never challenge her by saying, "Wait. What?!"

Since my friend apparently no longer wishes to discuss her religious beliefs, but I have things I want to say on the subject, I'll write what I'd have said to her here (I know my friend is unlikely to read this blog for many reasons, but writing about this makes me feel better. And, heck, venting is one of the main reasons I started this blog):

Your argument that humans making bad choices when exercising "free will" is the cause of evil, suffering, and tragedy in the world makes no sense to me if God is, as you claim, omniscient, almighty, inerrant, and loving.

How does "free will" account for natural disasters and diseases? If you're going to tell me it all is because of The Fall and the original sin, I ask, what kind of moral being punishes not only wrong doers, but their descendants--forever? And punish them by making them--and their children--suffer agonizing pain and excruciating deaths? 

Didn't your all powerful, all knowing God know before He created Adam and Eve that they would disobey Him? Didn't they do exactly what He designed them to do? Or is God an incompetent designer? What kind of moral being would design a creature knowing in advance that they would fail a test He designed, then punish those flawed creatures for doing exactly what He'd planned for them to do? No moral being would do that, only a sadistic monster.

Think of the example that started our conversation about free will, that of the child who almost died because of a neglectful mother. What kind of moral being who has the power to prevent suffering, allows a child to suffer because his mother exercised her "free will" wrongly? Is that just? When one of your sons does something wrong, do you harm your grandchild to punish your son or show your son "the error of his ways?" No, you don't, because you are more moral than your God is.

If God designed you, and knew from the beginning of time everything that you would ever do, knew every choice you would make before He made you, how can you have "free will"? Could you, exercising your "free will," make a choice different from the one God already planned for you before you were born? RosaRubicondior wrote cogently about this very issue in a recent blog post, On Omniscience and Freewill. If your answer is "yes," your God isn't all powerful. If your answer is "no," then you don't have free will, do you? God has already determined what action you will take, and there's nothing you can do about it. 

You are fond of parables, so I'll tell you one now:  

Once there were two fathers, alike in every way except for the way they instructed their child on what the child was supposed to do. One father, was very authoritarian, and when he wanted his child to do something, would never give his child an option to obey or not. He would simply say, for example, "I want you to put your toys in the toy box."

In contrast the other father was more permissive. He also wanted his child to put his toys put in the toy box, but because he loved his child so much and wanted his child to have the freedom to make good choices, the second father said to his child, "You can put your toys in the toy box--or not. Your choice." And then, when the child choose not to put the toys in the toy box, the father tortured his child for eternity. 

Which is the more moral father? Are you able to decide, or has your sense or what's moral and what is not been so corrupted by your religious beliefs that you cannot even see that the second father--the one that acts like you believe your God does--is an immoral monster.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. In an article today (, Ezra Resnick, a blogger, wrote some very pertinent lines. Let me share them with you.
    Why, then, should I respect a belief system that treats women as cattle, homosexuals as abominations, blasphemers and apostates as criminals — and wants to impose its irrational rules on everyone? Moreover, why should I respect faith at all — why should I respect the willingness to believe things for which there is no good evidence? That willingness is the true root of so many of the world’s conflicts... There is no way for a devout Christian and a devout Muslim to ever resolve their differences: they hold mutually incompatible dogmas. And once you give up reason as a method for solving disagreements, the only alternative is violence.