Free Will Fails to Explain the Existence of Evil?

The classic problem of evil/pain is a big one for me. I.e., how does one explain the existence of evil when God should want to eradicate it, He is capable of doing so, and He has the know-how to do so.

Setting aside babies dying in earthquakes (natural evil, which I think is hardest for believers in the Christian God to justify), I’d like to address personal evil.

Almost every discussion I have with a Christian inevitably comes back to free will. A poster on this GD board recently put it thusly: “The only way to be sure that nothing undesirable will happen is to refuse the freedom of choice.”

But, that argument has never worked for me. I don’t think free will explains the existence of undesireable things.

If God has free will, and yet, over an eternity of choices, He never chooses to do evil, not even once, then certainly free will, by itself, is not enough to justify the existence of suffering. There must be something different about us that makes us susceptible to evil, something that He put in us or left out of us, presumably on purpose, something other than free will, which leads to evil/pain.

Please critique.

I’m not sure that God does have free will.

Good and evil are dependent upon each other, you can’t have one without the other. They are also subjective. What you consider evil, I may consider ‘just’, humane, consequence of action, etc…

Not real clear on what you mean by pain. Physical pain is a good thing, let’s you know when and where you are injured. Emotional pain is usually associated with loss. That can not be avoided as long as you have attachments ( apathy makes the pain go away :slight_smile: ) because nothing in this world lasts forever. Pain and pleasure are also interdependent. One is meaningless without the other.
I think your quest for understanding might prove more fruitful if you stopped asking Christians for answers and took a more academic approach. Take a college course in Sociology, Psychology, Wolrd History, etc… they will help you understand the human condition better than any religion can.

Well, according to the bible satan is the basis of all evil, or so I’ve been taught in sunday school. So, if there was no evil before satan turned against god, why would he turn against god? Because god gave him power? so was that evil to give satan power?

I thought about addressing this position in the original post, but I thought most believers would find this position untenable. If God has no free will, then what’s so great about free will that he gave it to us?

Again, I guess my questions are biased towards a Christian perspective on God since I was raised that way, but I’ll listen to any input on my free will reasoning.

FWIW, a colleague once put it to me that I’m not a sinner because I have sinned. Rather, I am a sinner, and that’s why I sin.

That assertion tends to suggest that we do have something * ‘in us or left out of us’ * which ultimately leads to evil/pain and wrong-doing.

Maybe how we sin is down to free-will. Why we sin… that’s inbuilt.

There’s two-pen’orth to chew on.


I don’t know, it’s my impression (not that this counts for much) that God by definition is somewhat limited to making the perfect choice every time he is faced with a decision, but of course that opens up yet more paradoxes.

Personally, I just wish he’d not created that immovable object right where I was going to park my irresistable force.

Sounds like you need to look at the Zoroastrian mythos - the good God of the Zoroastrians (IIRC) is not omnipotent. This sorts out the above argument.

Omnipotent doesn’t necessarily have to mean ‘able to do anything, including that which is logically impossible’.

I don’t want to be one of those people who posts definitions to threads, so I shan’t, but I think most people do take that word to mean what you said it doesn’t necessarily have to mean; hence the confusion.


The path that this thread has very interesting and surprising to me. I’m so tempted to respond to all of these comments, but this discussion seems to be going backwards (at least from my perspective). That is, in the past, I’ve always started at other places in my discussions regarding religion & evil (e.g., at the basic premises of the philosophical argument regarding evil/pain), and I’ve always ended up at free will. Now, I’ve started at free will, and I seem to be going back to the nature of those original premises (e.g., what is omnipotence, really? and, What does all-good mean and can good exist without evil?).

Perhaps my past experience of always ending up at a basic disagreement/misunderstanding about free will isn’t generally systemic to this discussion, but rather systemic to me and how I participate in these discussions. Now that I’ve changed my tact, people are going in another direction responsive to that.

This is very interesting, and very disconcerting because it implies that I will never have an answer to this major dilemma, and that in fact you cannot use logic to at least decide from where, and in which direction, to make my faith leap.

I know, I should expect this. After all, this problem wouldn’t be discussed in philosophy classes all over the world for centuries if it weren’t a toughie. But how does one deal with it? Perhaps I need another thread on how Christians deal with the problem of pain.

At any rate, to comment on point: So far (and perhaps it’s early), it seems that no one is disagreeing with my contention that free will is not a sufficient reason alone to explain the existence of evil.

Interesting. So free will is unnecessary to explain evil. Rather, evil springs into existence by the mere existence of good. Is this good/anti-good viewpoint typical of Christians? Defining God as being dependent upon Satan? E.g., God can’t be all-good without the presence of an all-bad anti-God? Is God more powerful than Satan, or are they co-equal and co-dependent?

This seems, well, problematic. The baby dying in the meteor strike and the baby massacred by the invading horde are hard to justify when there is an all-good, all-powerful, all-knowing and all-present entity around.

Is your argument that we have imperfect knowledge, and so cannot properly judge these events as evil? If that is the case, how can we be trusted to make judgments of good and evil in choosing our faith? Did we not eat from the tree of knowledge (literally or figuratively) so that we, like God, could discern good from evil?

But God does not need physical pain to teach Him. He conceived of and created our need for physical pain. Seems quite unnecessary given his all-powerful and all-knowing nature.

Seems: either (1) God experiences pain so that he can appreciate pleasure, or (2) the experience of pain is unnecessary to the appreciation of pleasure. Do you prefer the former?

Everything you have said makes sense from a non-religious perspective, and even from a religious perspective that doesn’t conjure an all-good/powerful/knowing god (Zoroastrian). From those perspectives, I think I understand the human condition quite well. As an agnostic, I have no problem with evil/pain–it’s just a part of the world with which I must deal.

Who made those physical/logical laws by which God must apparently obey?

Deuteronomy 30:15
See, I [God] have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil.

Isaiah 45:7
*I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil; I the Lord do all these things. *

I don’t see the problem. There are both good and evil in the world according to the bible. Both are from one source, God. The question is which you choose to do and how you react to each when done to you.

That’s all well and good if you don’t believe that God is all-good. But your post suggests that an all-good God is an extrabiblical concept.

If God isn’t all-good, why is he so worthy of worship…and why is he reportedly so harsh on others who aren’t all-good just like Him?

[Time Bandits]
Kid: “But why does there have to be evil in the first place?”

God: “I never remember the answer to that. It has something to do with free will.”
[/Time Bandits]

Like the OP, I have never been satisfied with this response.

The usual view among Christians is that humans are evil because of Satan, who leads them astray. This seems to get God off the hook for creating such crummy humans that they do evil, but it doesn’t really, because now we have the same problem with regard to Satan. Why was he such a crummy angel that he “fell” in the first place?

There are various explanations that have been tried to explain the fall of the angels from heaven:

  • Pride: Satan wanted to rival God in his power.

-Lust: the angels wanted to have sex with human women (I am not making this up - check the apocryphal book of Enoch)

-Jealousy: Satan was pissed that God was paying so much attention to mere humans

OK, but why was Satan such a crum-bum that he had these ignoble feelings? Here things get fuzzy again.

Ancient Jews, on the other hand, had a monist view: God is responsible for everything, good and bad. You have to realize that “evil” for the Jews (as in Is 45:7) did not mean EVIL in the sense of a powerful spiritual force that was in opposition to God. Rather, it meant “when bad things happen to good people (i.e., us)”. The answer to why God lets these things happen is in the book of Job. “Who are you to question me? I am GOD!”

Bottom line: don’t expect a logical explanation from a myth.

I think you are putting too much stress on God. He allows evil to exist, just as he allows good to exist. It says nothing of His nature. His allowance of the existance of both gives you the choice of which to pick, which is the very nature of free will.

His nature is of no concern to me. If He exists, there is nothing I can do to change His nature nor effect it. The only thing I have control of is my actions in the here and now.

The concept of an evil force opposing God (aka the Rebellion of Satan and expulsion from Heaven) is an extra biblical concept.

As for worthiness of worship. I guess you’d have to define worship. Of course, a definition of “good” and “evil” would probably help too. No dictionary references please, I’m more than able to read a dictionary.

Saying God doesnt have free will is a bit absurd. I do not presume to know God’s will either but christian teachings suggest that it is God’s will (free or otherwise) that you have free will. Hence giving free will presumes consiquences (ie pain, suffering, eternal damnation etc). Free will goes against divine intervention wich some people presume is His duty if He is a just, omnipotent God. it would seem to me that if he intervenes, he is taking away your free will to choose. That brings up the argument of prayer for devine intervention. Wich would go against free will.

IMHO, I think that nature is not connected to free will. It is like a house provided for us but has no free will itself. it just is there. Takes it’s course. If we die because we stood too close to the ac vent it is not hi will, nor is it natures will. it just is.

I have never understood the “there must be evil to allow for free will” argument. I mean, I make a million choices every day that have nothing to do with evil. Do I get up in the morning and go to work - or do I stay at home and loaf? Do I have chocolate or vanilla? Do I vote Republican or Democrat? All of these are expressions of free will that do not involve “evil” by anyone’s standards. I would not miss a thing if I were unable to concieve of the notion (or be physically able) to cook my children and eat them, rather than read them a bedtime story.

The notion that humainty is somehow enriched by the existance of evil, but that it would be “good” (obviously) that no one ever made that choice is very strange to me.

Think about it, if you were taking care of some children, would you put a plate of cookies and a loaded shotgun on the table - then tell the kids that they must not touch the gun while you are gone, or you’ll punish them ? And it’s better that way, because they can choose to play with the shotgun or eat cookies? What kind of sense is that?

Likewise, I can imagine many many evil things that are physically impossible, and yet that doesn’t make me think that I lack free will. I can wish that the sun would stop shining, and plunge the earth into eternal darkness. I can wish that flaming death rays came out of my eyes to roast old ladies in the street. I can’t do any of these, but it doesn’t stop me from enjoying life.

[Devil’s advocate]
Earthquakes are caused by gay sex. Hmm…maybe I should try it…
[/Devil’s advocate]