I came across a YouTube video the other day by popular atheist, Alex O’Connor (Cosmic Skeptic) titled “The Problem of Evil: The Free Will Defence.”
Alex is enjoyable to listen to, so I usually hit play when I see a video title that grasps my attention. After listening, I decided I wanted to respond because it makes some good points.
First: credit where it is due. Alex actually comes under the “theist umbrella” and looks around, studies what he finds, and then makes his critique. This is admirable, and makes his arguments that much weightier. Bravo.
The Freewill Defense of the Problem of Evil
The problem of evil, roughly stated, is thus: If God is all powerful and all good why is there evil in the world? It is undoubtedly the strongest argument against God, in my opinion.
I’m skipping much nuance in the problem of evil to get to what I actually want to discuss, so please excuse my quick explanation.
Now, the most common defense, and in my opinion the best defense, is what Alex is referring to as the “freewill defense.”
It is stated roughly: What God really wanted from humanity was a relationship. Relationships require freewill, so God had to create humanity with freewill if he wanted to reach His desired end — a relationship.
However, on the flip-side, freewill also means that human beings might reject God and sin. Humanity does sin, and the consequence of sin is death and all sorts of evils. This explains how their could be a good God and evil. Why does God allow it? To take evil away would be to take away humanity. Presumably, God finds it good to allow evil so that he can have a relationship with those who choose to be in his family.
Now, Alex says he sees two problems with this defense.
The first problem he calls “natural evil.” In Alex’s defense, many Christians and other theists think this is a problem too and I’m guessing that’s where he picked up on it. Again, the man does his homework and that is applaudable.
However, we don’t all agree on this (typical Christians). I would say there is no such thing as a “natural evil.” Evil is a moral term and only human beings can make moral actions, rightly understood.
If a tree falls and kills me, that wasn’t evil. That was bad luck. Evil implies intent and the tree didn’t intend to kill me. The same goes for all natural disasters.
Secondly, Christians believe the world as a whole has been affected by the human choice to sin. Sin has changed the very fabric of our world. This is why you see sin referred to anthropomorphically in the Bible. It is also why you see language like “dominion of sin”. Could this language be metaphorical? Maybe, but most Christians believe Adam and Eve’s sin had an affect on the natural world.
If this sounds ridiculous, or like magic, good. If you think it is ridiculous to think bad human choices can have an effect on the natural world, can we stop talking about climate change now?
I didn’t think so, so I guess it isn’t so ridiculous after all. That’s all we mean.
It seems to me that so-called “natural evil” does not necessarily render God morally culpable. It seems to me that the freewill response encompasses this evil as well.
Freewill in Heaven
I’ll address this topic more broadly and not limit myself to Alex’s words.
Will we have freewill in heaven? My response: Will we be humans? Yes, so yes, we will have freewill. A human without freewill is not a human. What it means to be a human is to be a rational animal. And freedom of the will is necessary to be rational. A determined will cannot rationally justify anything.
Is there the possibility for rebellion in heaven? There was once. Christians believe the Satan rebelled against God in heaven. So, it fits within the worldview and is a real possibility.
However, remember this: the final destination on Christianity is not heaven. The final destination is the new heavens and the new earth, which really comes to mean heaven on earth.
The Bible begins in the garden of Eden, that picture becomes corrupted by sin, and the Bible ends in a new garden of Eden, made possible by Jesus the Messiah.
Adam and Eve had freewill in the original picture and I believe we will in the final picture.
One thing they had that we won’t have is the pesky serpent that got the ball rolling in the first place. At bottom, sin enters the world because of the Serpent. Yes, Adam and Eve had a choice, but the serpent gave them the choice, if you will. All I mean is that he tempted them.
What I believe, as many other Christians do, is that we will have free will to an extent, which is what we’ve always had. Nobody believes we have an unlimited free will. Only God has that. For example, I can’t just decide to jump to the moon. I’m limited by my own nature.
In the final destination for believers, the new heaven on earth, I don’t believe there will be anyone that wants to tempt us to do evil. We will be capable of it, sure, but we won’t.
Even if I’m wrong, and some people will sin in the new heaven on earth, it doesn’t really prove anything. Christ died for our sins once-and-for-all, as most Christians believe. That would include any sins committed in paradise, at least in theory, right? So, I don’t know what the big deal is.
What God really wants from humanity, including Alex O’Connor, is a relationship. He wants each of us to be in his family. For that reason, he created us with freewill, a necessary condition for love.
Unfortunately, each of us has chosen to use our freewill to do things independent of what God wills. For this reason, death and evil entered the world.
By God’s grace he defeated death and evil by overcoming them both in a singular event: the Resurrection of Jesus. Jesus defeated the curse of death and sin, so that whoever believes in Him will have eternal life.
I invite Alex O’Connor, or anyone reading this, to surrender their life to the One who defeated death and sin on their behalf.