Friday, April 5, 2013

Further issues with the free will defense

The "free will defense" is a response to the problem of evil.  Namely, a benevolent omnipotent god allows evil to exist in the world because it is necessary in a world with free will.  God apparently believes free will is worth the evil.  The corollary is that we live in the best of all possible worlds that God can create without defying human free will.

Another corollary is that evil should be roughly constant in time.  People had just as much free will several centuries ago as we do now.  We live in the best of all possible worlds with free will, and so did they.  Therefore, we'd expect that our world is about as good as the world several centuries ago.  I don't think that's what the actual world looks like.

In the context of Christian beliefs, I'm also confused how it's supposed to fit in with heaven.  Ideas about heaven are quite diverse, but I gather that it's supposed to be a world that is better than our world.

One possibility is that heaven has free will.  But that implies that our world is not the best of all possible worlds with free will.  The alternative is that heaven does not have free will.  But if free will is so important on Earth, why isn't it important in heaven?


(These are intended to be a "light" or "fun" arguments against the free will defense, not an especially serious ones.  For reference, I've previously discussed the problem of evil.)

13 comments:

slightlymetaphysical said...

I'm not sure about either of these arguments.

For the first argument, it depends how exactly God calculates the best possible world. Let's assume God is utilitarian and wants either a) the most happiness and least pain for the greatest number of humans, b) the most happiness and least pain for the greatest number of his followers or c) the most happiness and least pain for the greatest number of conscious beings.

I'm imagining God, who knows the free will choices we make in all circumstances in advance, booting up the universe with all the acts outside our control (hurricanes, earthquakes, infectious diseases) such that they lead to the best possible world OVERALL. A temporal difference in 'evil', or rather, pain, is no greater argument against the free will defense than a geographical or individual difference in pain. Less so, in fact, since the 12th century sucked, but there were an awful lot less people in it than there are in the 21st, while 3rd world poverty sucks, but there's a lot more people in poverty than in relative luxury. We can't tell that this isn't the best world over the *entire* course of history- there may be a relative utopia coming which balances out everything so far.

As for the second problem, if we define evil as people screwing each other over, the problem resolves itself. The population of Earth is everyone who happened to be born. The population of Heaven is the sub-population of people who happened to be born WHO AREN'T EVIL. QED- There's a hell of a lot less evil in Heaven than on Earth. Everyone in Heaven has free will, but they're explicitly chosen for their ability not to be evil.

miller said...

Now I'm imagining history following a principle of least evil (just like the laws of motion follow a principle of least action.) :D For it to really work, we'd have to posit a mechanics of evil, and then we get back to the question of why god created those.

James said...

"There's a hell of a lot less evil in Heaven than on Earth. Everyone in Heaven has free will, but they're explicitly chosen for their ability not to be evil."

Ah, but would it be possible for their to be any evil at all in heaven? The general consensus is that because God is entirely pure and righteous there can be no sin in his presence, hence the need for a hell to hold those unworthy.

If we assume no sin can be allowed at all in heaven then we must conclude that free will is absent. That, or there is only the illusion of free will.

In fact, it seems the theology that there isn't free will would seem to make more sense. Perhaps salvation is like a gate you choose to walk through. Before you walk through the gate, you notice the sign above it says "Come all who wish to enter." Once you walk through the gate, you look back and above this side of the gate it says, "You did not choose me, I chose you." Did you really have free will?

Another idea is regarding God's omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience. If God knew he was going to create me and knew I was going to choose to not believe him, he could have chose to make me one of the believers. Instead he chose to make me knowing I would not believe and therefore would be destined to hell.

It is hard to make the idea of free will work with the concept of God.

slightlymetaphysical said...

Eugh, free will is not contradictory with theological determinism. I'm so bored of people saying it is.

Basically, if you're a free agent, but God (a potentially timeless agency) already knows your choices, that doesn't make them any less choices in any meaningful way, any more than historical figures don't have free will because we know what they're going to decide. This applies doubly if you believe that God knows everyone better than they know themselves- sometimes, when you know someone really well, you can predict exactly what they'll do, but that doesn't mean they're not exercising free will.

Also, that last paragraph: 'If God knew he was going to create me and knew I was going to choose to not believe him, he could have chose to make me one of the believers. Instead he chose to make me knowing I would not believe and therefore would be destined to hell.'

I... I can't see how that reads as anything but an argument AGAINST your hypothesis. If there is strict theological determinism, God can choose to make us all believers, and THEN he's a bastard if he doesn't. If there's free will (and not just your own free will to choose heaven, but your ancestor's free will to choose all the random actions which lead to your improbable existence), then God has far less moral culpability for all our choices. That's the POINT of the free will defense.

Also: 'The general consensus is that because God is entirely pure and righteous there can be no sin in his presence'
Really? Cos in my understanding, the general consensus to the Abrahamic religions is that God is everywhere- witnesses all sins. Christianity goes even further and says that God made himself flesh SPECIFICALLY to be exposed to sin. So I don't know where you're getting this idea from.

Larry, The Barefoot Bum said...

Give me an operational definition of "free will", even one that includes counterfactuals. A subjective operational definition would be of the form, "I can tell (introspectively) if I myself have free will by observing X" (even if observing X means observing some sort of counterfactual). An objective definition would be of the form, "I can tell that you have free will by observing X."

For example, Jerry Coyne defines free will such that, I do X at point/time t. If I "rewound" the clock, with all observables remaining the same, I have free will if and only if I could do something other than X at time t.

I don't know that Coyne has the right definition, but at least it is a definition.

Define your terms or GTFO. ;-)

slightlymetaphysical said...

Larry- fair enough. I guess there's a broad range of ways we could define free will.

For the purposes of this specific discussion, I'm assuming free will to mean the ability to choose something outside of God's choices. If God is the writer of a book, he can force me to suddenly do something out of character from nowhere. From my entirely subjective observation, it seems that all of my actions have a natural cause in my personality or ways of thinking or automatic bodily reactions. I guess the key point here is that I'm defining free will such that I still have free will *even if* God made sure I had all those personality traits so that I would later act a certain way.

I don't think there is an objective test of free will. I'd say that the problem of other minds (the idea that you can't tell that anything else is actually sentient) tells us that it's impossible to have an objective test for *will* generally. The existence of non-believers is evidence towards free will, though I'm not sure to what extent.
A subjective counterfactual test may run: If I hear God's voice telling me to do something, then I can choose to disobey.

Larry, The Barefoot Bum said...

To expand on my previous post.

According to Coyne's definition, having knowledge of another's future actions contradicts free will.

1. Assume there is some state of the world at time t.
2. Agent A makes decision D at time t+1.
3. We "roll back" the world precisely to its state at time t
4. Agent A has "free will" if and only if she could make a different decision, D', at time t+1.

Assume at time t, Agent B knows that Agent A will make decision D. Therefore, if we roll back to time t, Agent B still knows that A will do D. If B really knows that A will do D, then A really will always do D, and cannot do D'. If Agent A really can do D', then Agent B cannot really know what Agent A will do.

I'm not saying that Coyne's definition is the "objectively correct" definition, I'm not saying it's the only definition, and I'm not saying it's the best definition. I use it just to point out that without a definition of "free will", we cannot argue about whether or not it is or is not compatible with other ideas, such as the omnimax nature of god or physical law.

Larry, The Barefoot Bum said...

I'd say that the problem of other minds (the idea that you can't tell that anything else is actually sentient) tells us that it's impossible to have an objective test for *will* generally.

Philosophically, I can take your position to conclude that you deny that I have any reason to believe you have a mind, indeed that you are anything but a figment of my imagination.

Sounds like bullshit to me.

slightlymetaphysical said...

'Philosophically, I can take your position to conclude that you deny that I have any reason to believe you have a mind, indeed that you are anything but a figment of my imagination.

Sounds like bullshit to me.'

No. You don't have any PROOF that I have a mind, you have plenty of REASONS to think that I do. The idea of the theory is that there is no objective test which could ever prove to you that I have any kind of agency and aren't a figment of your imagination or a complex robot (let me know if you can think of any). It makes sense to treat me as an autonomous being, since that's by far the most likely explanation- the fact that you can't objectively PROVE that I'm an autonomous being doesn't mean you automatically assume that I'm not, just as the fact that you can't PROVE the non-existence of the Christian God doesn't automatically mean He exists.

I'm drawing a distinction between free will as a generic philosophical concept and free will *as it relates to the free will defense*. The Coyne definition doesn't make much sense in that context (what matters is WHETHER we can choose evil or not, whether God knows in advance is irrelevant), the free will defense simply says that God can't (or won't) *compel* us to make a particular choice. Which, afaik, is pretty much not up for debate (see; the existence of non-believers, the theology of sin). The only question is whether our free will from hypothetical God provides sufficient explanation or moral justification for the question of evil.

Larry, The Barefoot Bum said...

It would be a waste of my time to continue this discussion, slightlymetaphysical, so I won't.

miller said...

I'm on record as endorsing a compatibilist view of free will. In brief, I think something is an act of free will if it's caused by conscious cognitive processes (which in turn may be caused by other things). In this view, the free will defense doesn't work. There's no reason an all-powerful being couldn't create a world where everyone uses their free will to make the right choices. Indeed, if heaven existed, it would be an example of such a world.

Jerry Coyne has a more libertarian notion of free will. For him, free will contradicts determinism. It also contradicts omniscience, insofar as omniscience implies determinism.

Slightlymetaphysical, you seem to be taking a compatibilist view of free will. On the other hand, you defined free will as an "ability" to choose against God's will, which sounds like a libertarian definition. I don't think this is consistent without more explanation.

slightlymetaphysical said...

When I say free will, I don't mean as a general statement of the human condition that may be true or false. I mean as it relates to the OP, in which free will seems to me as being defined pretty much as 'the ability to choose against God's preferred way (as set down in scripture/tradition).' It seems to me to be a different thing to philosophical ideas of free will, but with a confusingly similar name and subject.

I don't have a theory on philosophical free will, and I'm not sure what the relevance of philosophical free will is to your OP, because, from what I can see, your OP is about theological free will. I think we're talking past each other, either because you and Larry are happy to let the conversation drift into a discussion of philosophical free will, which is a conversation I don't especially want to be an active participant in, or because you can see some way in which philosophical free will is relevant which I can't, or because I mistook James' comment for being about theological free will when it actually wasn't.

miller said...

Theological free will is a philosophical concept whether it wants to be or not. It doesn't need to match compatibilist or libertarian conceptions of free will, but it needs to be a self-consistent concept of some sort.