2010-01-14

The Nonsense of the Freedom Argument When Accounting for Evil

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by Neil Godfrey

It’s become a trite argument for religionists to justify evil in the world by saying we want our freedoms. God also wants us to be free to choose, so we are told, and that’s why he allows evil. To prevent evil he would have to take away our free will.

I think that’s bollocks.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:A.afarensis.jpg

Evil has nothing to do with being free or having free will. It is all about being human on a planet not entirely benign for its many life-forms.

Being human is not always bad. Most people anywhere I think are basically caring and hospitable and kind to others. There are arseholes too, of course, but they are mercifully the few. I don’t believe either type of human is the way they are because they “choose” to be like that. Or I should rather say I doubt that they are. Sure we may think a lot before deciding to give to a particular charity or beggar or before deciding to actively commit to a social justice cause. But isn’t that just a matter of us being us?

What worries about free-will (it also kind of reassures me) is that set of experiments that have demonstrated that people really make up their (false) reasons for making a particular decision. I wish I could think of sources and specifics right now.

It might be worrying to think that we will be shown to not have the freedom of will we like to think, and that our responses are as basic or hidden as they are for any other social animal. But at the same time there’s a hope and a reassurance in there. It’s nice to know we really “are what we are”, and we are all of the same kind. More room for understanding and compassion.

Not that I “choose” to have more understanding and compassion, mind you. It’s just that that’s me. As I keep having to remind my partner, I really am just a nice guy after all. Like most of us.

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Neil Godfrey

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  • Alex
    2010-01-14 22:24:40 GMT+0000 - 22:24 | Permalink

    Not just this, but the free will defence often runs that restrictions could not be placed upon free will as this would be oppressive. Yet this forgets that limits and restrictions on total free will are already there. There are simple limitations of the human body: I can will the ability to lift up a bus or wings to fly with…

  • Alex
    2010-01-14 22:25:24 GMT+0000 - 22:25 | Permalink

    So my point is that a few more restrictions might well have been possible…

  • Jer
    2010-01-14 23:16:52 GMT+0000 - 23:16 | Permalink

    Evil has nothing to do with being free or having free will.

    The Bible actually supports this view, if the folks who take a “literal interpretation” would just take it literally. Adam and Eve were innocent until they ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge but free will clearly DID exist because they could choose to eat the fruit. God could of course have prevented them from eating the fruit of the tree by not putting it in the garden in the first place – which would have been a restriction on their free will, but it’s the same kind of restriction that Alex delineates above like not being able to fly. Free will and evil aren’t linked except that free will makes for a convenient excuse for the religious to get a perfect God off the hook for the imperfection of his creation.

  • paul s
    2010-01-15 07:25:57 GMT+0000 - 07:25 | Permalink

    How do you get from the argument that free will is a bad excuse to get a monotheistic creator off the hook to arguing it being a bad excuse to get a monotheistic creator off the hook proves we don’t have free will? I’m sorry, but any system of thought that says we don’t have free will or that we can’t choose to change is anathema and an abomination, whether religious or atheistic in its outlook. Its just an excuse to stagnate as a person and never grow.

    • 2010-01-15 07:58:38 GMT+0000 - 07:58 | Permalink

      No no — I wonder about lab experiments that point in this direction. Scientific explanation changes nothing. I will not stop being actively involved in trying to make this world a bit better place, or from being kind to my fellows and strangers. Sometimes I will be slack, but I will regret it.

      Explanations are not excuses. We can explain a rapist and a psychopathic mass murderer. But we can never excuse them.

      But I won’t resist science just because I don’t like what might be its implications for my philosophy. We are social creatures with a sense of responsibility for our fellows (generally speaking) — I don’t understand how it all works, and nothing will change — except perhaps I will have more reasons to feel motivated to care and do a bit more.

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