Free will means god is a jerk!

In response to the question of why god allows us the possibility of going to hell if he even remotely cares about us, the response is almost always that god wanted us to have free will.  I think this argument helps confirm the idea that god is really, really mean.

First, what is free will?  It’s obviously not the ability to do anything, since my inability to levitate or to leap over a building is not a violation of my free will.  Free will just means that amongst the options we have available, we are free to choose.

So here’s my hangup.  Imagine our options for a particular choice are a collection of fruits: a strawberry, an orange, a pear, and a grape.

God could have also given us the options such as a pineapple and a kiwi (and an infinite array of other alternatives), but he didn’t.  That’s ok.  We still have free will, since free will just means that we get to choose from within our palette of available choices.

On their own, none of these fruits are inherently bad.  Sin isn’t something that existed before god came around and god just happened to be powerless to do something about it.  Even something like lying with man as with woman isn’t inherently bad until god decides he doesn’t like it.  No, god decides what is sinful.  So one day, for whatever reason, he decides that chowing down on the strawberry is a sin and that he’s going to punish whoever does it.

Rather than remove the strawberry from the list of options (or just leaving it as an ambiguous option in the first place), he leaves it there.  Taking away the send-the-violator-to-hell strawberry as an alternative would not violate our free will since we’d still have choices.  So what motivation could there possibly be for tainting the strawberry and leaving it?  The only real possibility is to trip us up all the way into eternal torment, and that’s a pretty mean play on god’s part.

So when the skeptic asks, “Why does god have to give us all these fun, harmless options that he deems sinful?”, the answer can’t be because he loved us so much that he wanted us to have free will – we can have free will without the malignant options.  Seriously, can’t we trade one enjoyable ‘sin’ like the ability to eat shellfish (Leviticus 11:10-12) for another fun ability that won’t land us in afterlife’s big house like the ability to fly?  How cool would that have been?  That’s some free will I could get behind.

Unless god decides he doesn’t care for flying either.  How fun can heaven really be hanging around this dude?

*  Disclaimer:  I believe we live in a deterministic universe.  Choices are the result of a particular brain state, and your brain is surreptitiously connected to all other matter in the universe. So from the get-go, I think the idea of free will is only true in the sense that we recognize options.  However, for the sake of the following argument, I’m treating the idea of free will in the fashion that most religious people view it.

  • Vlad

    As someone who has studied way more theology than anyone ever should, the free will defense usually goes along with a kind of argument that God wants us to develop into autonomous moral agents. They would argue that it's not choice per se that God desires, but developing us into moral agents who would freely choose what's good versus what is sinful.

    So by removing the strawberry, God would be defeating the point. What's important isn't the ability to choose fruit, but the ability to choose the right kind of fruit.

    Which again has it's own theological and metaphysical implications, but fundamentally the free will defense is more than just about the existence of choice themselves. You'll hear a lot of sort of posturing about moral character and "if you were raising your kid you wouldn't wear kid gloves with him forever moral responsibility blah blah".

  • JAFisher44

    Vlad: I have a problem with that position on free will. Why can't an all powerful god just create us as moral agents? There is no need for a "test."

  • Marc

    An all powerful God would not use any "means" to achieve His "ends," He'd simply create the desired ends.

    That a God presents evil choices as a means to develop and "moral agents" leads inevitably to the one of two conclusions: God is not all powerful or God does not exist.

  • colluvial

    If any pet owner acted as God is supposed to have acted toward humans, he would have his pet(s) confiscated and either be fined, thrown in jail, or both. As for sharing heaven with such a psychopath, I can't imagine he'd be any better at close quarters.

  • Vlad

    I don't mean to defend the argument, I just want to make sure we're addressing the right one.

    And again, the standard apologist would say (and again I'm not defending this position) that there can be no moral worth in being created as a moral agent. If all you can do is behave morally, then there can be nothing positive said about behaving that way. That's why free will is needed — if you just behave as you're going to behave it becomes a problem to say you're acting either good or bad.

    John Hick and Alvin Plantinga make a lot of arguments along these lines if anyone wants more than just probably a shoddy second-hand retelling. I actually have sort of a soft spot for theology — I happen to think how they get around these problems are really clever and completely valid if you accept their (rather faulty) presuppositions.

  • JAFisher44

    That argument fails however since most christian folk will tell you that it's all God's plan, Which means, even though I have choice God made me so that I will fail, and others so that they will succeed. Where is the "value" in that? God, could have simply made everyone with free will, but good enough to pass the test.

    Basically Christians who support this sort of rational are saying that life as we know it is quality control for God's creation. Well quality control exists because the makers make mistakes. You have to weed out those mistakes and either fix them or discard them. But God isn't supposed to make mistakes. This means that he INTENTIONALLY makes bad product so that it can be weeded out, or, that he is incapable of making good product consistantly.

  • Recreant

    If there can be no moral worth in only being able to act "morally" what does that say of god? Does he occasionally act imorally? Is he amoral?

  • Adam

    If god has the ability to help people and chooses not to… then he is a jerk! If humans have been around for 200,000 years (on the low side) and god didn't send his son to "help us out" until 2,000 years ago, then for the first 198,000 years of our existence, he let us wander around scared, and falling victim to earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, volcanoes, flood, drought, disease, bacteria, predators, etc. without any explanation to why this shit was happening. Sound like an amoral being to me.

  • tonybaldwin

    I have a child, and, as much as possible, when she was far too young to really understand why I forbid her certain "options", I did my best to limit her access to them. Such as, for instance, rather than simply declare, "Do NOT stick the fork in the power outlet!", I covered the outlet with plastic plugs that she could not remove. Or, instead of "Don't drink the blue juice!", I locked the Windex® in a cabinet she could not open.

    This was, of course, done out of love for her, and the desire to protect her from harming herself.

    I think that makes sense, and, it seems to have worked.

    She's 11 years old now, and knows not to stick a fork in the outlet or drink Windex, for rational reasons, now, so I no longer need to limit her access to Windex, forks, or power outlets.

    On the other hand, handing her a fork at the ripe age of 2 and painting a smiley face on the outlet to make it enticing to feed, well…How much sense would that make?

    That would be a lot like, say, making sex feel good and making women beautiful, and then telling me not to copulate with them, or, even something as simple making shellfish and bacon tasty, and then burning me in Hell for eating them…

    • Adam

      @ Tony: Well written sir. May I use this in a new article on the evolution of morality?

  • Josh

    He’ll does not exist. Therefore many of your arguments are invalid. <—–proof

    Don't try to use the bible to prove your points if you dont understand it.