In defense of the Free Will Theodicy

I recently read Winfried Corduan’s No Doubt About It and was surprised by his argument that the Free Will Theodicy is invalid. (In a nutshell, this response to the problem of evil argues that moral evil exists in the world because God granted human beings the freedom to make significant moral choices.) Corduan argues, “The idea of freedom prohibits God’s directly influencing our choices, but there is another way of making sure of the desired outcome, namely by limiting the circumstances within which we choose.”

Corduan begins his argument by making the legitimate point that we do not have absolute freedom because our choices are constrained by external circumstances. “I cannot sensibly choose to be a world-class oboe player or the olympic gold medalist in butterfly swimming; I just do not have what it takes. I cannot reasonably choose to spend next semester on Mars: the laws of the universe and the policies of my university will not permit it. In short, pure unbounded freedom of choice does not exist. If we do choose freely, it is still within the limit of options given us.”

Because our choices are constrained by our situation, Corduan argues that God “could have arranged our available choices in such a way that we would be free but would only freely choose to obey Him.” As an example, he suggests that God could have created the Garden of Eden without the tree of temptation, thereby avoiding giving Adam and Eve the opportunity to rebel against him.

I believe a twofold response to these assertions is possible. First, Corduan misses a significant element of the Free Will Theodicy. The emphasis should not only be on moral freedom as intrinsically good, but also on free moral choices rightly made as a means for spiritual development. As James writes, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4). Can courage come in the absence of danger? Patience or hope in the absence of trials? Forgiveness without sin? Even love itself is best cultivated when directed towards one who has wronged us (Matthew 5:43-47).

The decision to choose the right when confronted with a genuine choice is the only way to cultivate many of the greatest virtues. For a perfect being – God – such moral development is not necessary. However, God in his wisdom chose to create mankind capable of moral growth, and such growth appears to only be possible in the presence of real temptation.

This is not to say that sin is necessary for moral development. One need not ever play the coward in order to be courageous, but courage in the absence of danger is no great virtue, nor will it create a more courageous creature. Adam and Eve did not need to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in order to grow morally, but they did need to be able to choose not to eat.

With this in mind, it seems that a universe so arranged that mankind was free to choose, but only from an array of virtuous choices, would miss the point of free moral will. Further, however, I believe Corduan’s position has a second and even more fundamental flaw, because the possibility of evil is inherent to the creation of a morally free, self-aware being.

Satan did not need a Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in order to fall. All he needed were two things: himself and God. As soon as a being with free moral will is aware of itself as not-God, it can choose to value itself above God. And that is evil. If God’s only act of creation was to craft a disembodied mind floating in nothingness, that mind could not not be capable to sin if it was (1) morally free and (2) aware of itself (3) as not-God.

Because the nature of evil makes it logically impossible for a morally free, self-aware creature to exist in any set of circumstances without the possibilty of sin, even an omnipotent, omniscient God could not create such a situation. (See “Things God Cannot Do”.) God could choose not to create. He could choose not to create a self-aware creature. He could choose not to grant that self-aware creature free moral will. But he could not choose to create a self-aware creature with free moral will that could not sin, any more than he could create a circle that was square, or an inanimate object that was alive.

Because the real possibility of sin is necessary for true moral freedom, and because creation of a morally free, self-aware being necessarily makes evil possible, Corduan’s response does not adequately refute the Free Will Theodicy.

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2 thoughts on “In defense of the Free Will Theodicy”

  1. David, thanks for your good evaluation of my argument. Just to tweak the point a little bit, I don’t think that I said that the free-will theodicy (fwt) is invalid. I think that it is. I did say that it does not work, but that’s for metaphysical reasons, not logical ones. For it to work you have to accept the notion that not only does free will make sin possible, but that it makes it unavoidable.
    That’s where we disagree. It seems to me that we could have had free will and not sinned. But let’s leave that aside for a moment. I’m fascinated by the way you defend your position. To quote, “he could not choose to create a self-aware creature with free moral will that could not sin, any more than he could create a circle that was square, or an inanimate object that was alive.” I’m not entirely sure whether that is an assertion or an argument, but we can leave that question aside as well. What intrigues me is that you (and most other advocates of the fwt) wind up appealing to what God intended. He did not just intend to create creatures, nor just creatures with a free will, but specifically creatures who are capapble of a free moral response for the sake of his purposes.
    And that’s really my point. Just appealing to our having free will does not mean anything unless we place our free will into the context of why God created us with that capacity. If God gave us a free will, he did so for a reason. He was not just tinkering around to see what kinds of things he could make.
    And so, that’s where we come together again. Whether you accept that God gave us totally free choices or just morally significant choices, we still have to trust God that he made the right choice in creating us, and that he did so for his greatest glory and to bring about an outcome that is better than would have been possible without having done so.
    Again, thanks for your good interaction with the argument. In Christ, Win

  2. Thanks for your response, Mr. Corduan. I would certainly agree that appealing to free will without providing “the context of why God created us with that capacity” is meaningless. We can’t simply start with an a priori assumption that free will is some sort of ultimate value which must be sought at any cost. (A proposition with which I would strongly disagree.)


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