Free Will Defense

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Free Will Defense

The occurrence of evil, despite the existence of a perfectly loving and perfectly powerful God, poses a theoretical and existential problem. The Scottish philosopher David Hume (17111776) put the problem in the form of questions: "Is [God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?"

The free will defense solves the problem of evil by claiming that creatures have power to exert freely some control over their circumstances. Creatures can use freedom for good or evil; evil results from improper creaturely use of freedom. The free will defense solution to the problem of evil provides a basis for claiming that creatures, not God, are culpable for the genuine evil that occurs.

Accidental free will theism. Two general forms of the free will defense exist: accidental free will theism and essential free will theism. Accidental free will theism purports that although God essentially possesses all power as omnipotent, God voluntarily gives up power and becomes self-limited so that creatures might act freely. While creatures possess power for freedom on loan from God, this omnipotent God retains the capacity to veto (i.e., withdraw or override) this divinely given power. Accidental free will theists claim that God voluntary became self-limited at the creation of the universe as God bestowed the universe with the birthright of freedom. God grants freedom voluntarily in each present moment as the direct and constant source of power for all creatures. While God always uses divine power lovingly, creatures sometimes use God-derived power in evil ways.

Many forms of accidental free will theism have been proposed. Alvin Plantinga (1932) advocates one form, in which he argues that although it is possible for an omnipotent God to create a world in which creatures are not free, a loving God would not create such a world. Instead, a loving God would create a world in which creatures have the opportunity to make genuinely free decisions among various morally conditioned options. Such a world is the best of all possible worlds that God could have created.

John Polkinghorne (1930) and Arthur Peacocke (1924) also advocate a form of accidental free will theism. The form they embrace, correlated to the Greek word kenosis, entails that God is self-emptied of some power in order for creatures to possess power for freedom. This self-limitation occurs because God lovingly desires others with which to relate and create. Some forms of accidental free will theism suppose that God's loving nature drives the divine desire for others to express freedom, even when the expression of creaturely freedom occasionally results in pain and suffering.

Critics of accidental free will theism argue that if God is omnipotent in every possible world, the best possible world that God would create would be one in which people invariably choose rightly. Other critics acknowledge that it may be logically possible that a perfectly loving and all-powerful God exists despite the occurrence of genuine evil, but the amount of evil makes the existence of such a God evidentially implausible. Perhaps the most severe criticism of accidental free will theism is that it does not explain why God does not prevent genuine evils. A God who is voluntarily self-limited ought to become un-self-limited occasionally, in the name of love, to veto the freedom expressed by perpetrators of genuine evil.

Essential free will theism. Essential free will theism, also known as the free process defense, views divine omnipotence as meaning that God is the most powerful being in existence, rather than possessing all power in the universe. This form of the free will defense speculates that all individuals necessarily posses some power that cannot be completely overridden, withdrawn, or vetoed by anyone, including God. Advocates of this position claim that culpability for genuine evil rests upon the shoulders of creatures that use their own power wrongly.

Process theist David Ray Griffin (1939) posits a form of essential free will theism that entails that God is metaphysically unable to determine creaturely decisions unilaterally. Creatures possess self-determinative power that cannot be withdrawn or overridden by God, and the fact that individuals possess power for freedom is an eternal metaphysical law. God cannot circumvent these metaphysical laws of freedom, partly because God did not create them. God is not indictable for failing to prevent genuinely evil events from occurring because these metaphysical laws prevent God from removing power and freedom away from creatures who misuse freedom. Griffin's free will defense solves the problem of evil by denying that God is able to prevent genuinely evil occurrences resulting from free creaturely decisions.

The recurring criticism of Griffin's hypothesis ultimately derives from the claim that God did not create the metaphysical laws that govern actual existence. Most theists have assumed that part of what it means for God to be the creator is that God created the metaphysical laws that govern what it means for all things to exist. Griffin's process free will defense also envisions God as always relating to and creating from some realm of nondivine entities. This hypothesis undermines the classic Church doctrine of God's capacity voluntarily to create the world out of absolute nothingness (creatio ex nihilo ).

Dialogue with science. Both the accidental and essential forms of the free will defense posit a theodicy that reinterprets the concept of divine omnipotence in light of creaturely freedom. Culpability of genuine evils is removed from a perfectly loving God and is placed upon creatures that have the ability to exert freely a degree of control over their circumstances. This reinterpretation of divine power and creaturely responsibility is profoundly important for the science and religion dialogue, partly because many atheists have chosen not to believe in the existence of God due to the problem of evil. If convinced by the free will defense that God can be considered perfectly loving despite the occurrence of evil, a platform may be secured for discussing other dialogue issues.

See also Evil and Suffering; Freedom; Free Process Defense; Kenosis; Theodicy


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thomas jay oord

matthew henry

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Free Will Defense

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