Sunday, April 10, 2011

Critiques of Free Will Excuse for Evil

Critiques of Free Will Excuse for Evil

Much is made, by some, of free will as an excuse to get god off the hook for the existence of evil. It is claimed by Augustine, for example, that god is not the author of evil because he only created the ability for humans to choose. They could choose rightly, but they often do not, and therefore evil exists. However, it matters why they choose to do as they do, as we shall see below.

Consider this “intentional intellectual crippling” critique of the FWD. What if a parent intentionally gave brain damage to his children, perhaps through oxygen deprivation? This would correspond to a god who created humans with purposely limited intellects, far inferior to his own, and incapable of understanding many of the complexities of moral decision-making, and details of the cases before them. Given that he gave us a limited intellect, we are not always smart enough to make correct decisions. This is not our fault. We are not the authors of our own intellectual capacities. We can do little about the level of intellect which each of us individually possesses. Therefore, we should not be held culpable for moral decisions to the extent that we cannot reasonably understand and foresee the implications. It is not merely the fact that we are given a choice that creates the evil. It is also possibly due to the fact that we are given limited intellects and limited access to knowledge. If we were given better knowledge of a situation and perhaps a better understanding of what might happen, it is likely that people would make different choices.

On this last point, consider that, in addition to purposely giving brain damage to one's child, one also refused to allow them to go to school or learn a great many things which might otherwise help them. Again, this is not the fault of the child. Therefore, to the extent that an uneducated child makes a bad decision, we might attribute some of that to the fact that the parent deprived the child of an education. Analogously, God refused to educate mankind on a great many facts that he easily could have taught to us or revealed to us that might have made us better moral decision-makers. This includes theoretical knowledge and information pertaining to the specifics of the situation which we might need to know or have revealed to us in order to make an informed decision. As a consequence, when humans make bad moral decisions, that may be partly because God has purposely withheld from us the theoretical and factual knowledge necessary to make better decisions. Therefore, again, humans cannot be entirely blamed for something that god could have assisted us with. God must be partially culpable for denying us the necessary tools to do the job right. Had we been given better tools, we might have done a better job.

Add to this that god also gives us instinctual desires and impulses, which, in some cases, run counter to how we are told by the Bible that he wants us to act. For example, he gives us attraction to members of the opposite sex, or sometimes the same sex, even if we are 80 or 90 years old and may no longer have any use for this impulse. These desires are on a physical level that is below an entirely conscious level, to the extent that a man gets an erection, or a woman becomes moist. We are not entirely in conscious control of these desires, any more than we can prevent our heart from beating faster when we are startled. Granted, we do not have to act on our desires, but it undermines the claim that god is trying to give us a free will choice when he biologically biases us in one direction and then asks his churches to teach the opposite.

Some try to claim that he is “testing” us, or that these desires are “from the devil”, but whether temptations are from god or the devil, actively attempting to entrap individuals into doing something bad would make these entities authors of the evil. That is, even if some claims he or she is just “testing” you by seeing if you will commit a murder by paying you money and giving you the gun to do the act, that person is still partially responsible for the crime if you act.

By na├»ve Augustinian logic, the person who solicits the murder and provides material assistance didn't do anything wrong because you still have the choice of doing it or not doing it. However, Augustine forgets that the person soliciting the crime also had a choice of tempting or not tempting you and that, to the extent that your so-called “free” choice is biased, the person doing the biasing can no longer claim it was a fair coin flip.

To give another example, we all understand how salesmen or politicians might talk a person into making a decision that they would not necessarily make on their own. That is a large part of the job of these individuals. If we really thought that cars would sell themselves, or that communities of people would always vote the right way then we wouldn't need either of these occupations. However, from an Augustinian perspective, the fact that these slick individuals, some bordering on con artists, talked you into the decision cuts no ice whatsoever. He would say that it was still say it was 100% your fault and 0% the fault of the salesman, politician, or con artist. Yet most people disagree by their behaviors, because they recognize that they can be manipulated and misled by others, and they would blame those others, at least partially, for persuading them to make bad decisions.

After all, in the Garden of Eden (Gen 3) Adam immediately blames Eve, and Eve passes blame to the snake. If Augustine were right in his “free will defense”, it would not matter that the snake tricked Eve or that Eve persuaded Adam. Why should the snake be punished at all? It didn't violate God's command. It just persuaded others to do it. Likewise, the fact that Eve persuaded Adam shouldn't particularly matter, because Adam still could have chose differently. However, God seemed to think it did matter in both cases, because he gave special punishments to the persuaders, aside from the punishment given just to Adam. Arguably, the most severe punishment was given to the snake who did not violate God's command, since the command was given only to Adam and Eve

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