Religious morality has maintained a powerful grip on the human psyche for two millennia through the concept of "free will." Without the notion of free will granted by an omniscient and omnipotent god, religion would run into an immediate and insurmountable conundrum. Humans would be automatons, doing god's bidding with no choice. By definition, with no free will, all actions by all people would be a direct expression of god's will. That would clearly pose a problem, with war atrocities, rape, torture, genocide, and the full repertoire of human debauchery reflecting poorly on the almighty. No religion would tolerate such a grim view of the creator, so there must be a way to reconcile the reality of ugly human behavior with an all-powerful, all-knowing god. David Hume nicely summarized this tension between a kind god and the unkind reality of human existence, saying, "Our natural terrors present the notion of a devilish and malicious deity: Our propensity to adulation leads us to acknowledge an excellent and divine. And the influence of these opposite principles are various, according to the different situation of the human understanding."
Judging by what is written, the author must be talking about "Libertarian Free Will", He neglected to give a concise definition of what it is he means when he uses the term "Free will". What I mean when I use the term is that one who has Free Will has the ability to make decisions based solely on what one desires without outside prompting or direction. It is my understanding that Schweitzer is latching on to the philosophy that there is "tension between a kind god and the unkind reality of human existence" that needs to be reconciled. I'm further understanding that he refers primarily refers to Judeo-Christianity given that all religions have something to say about human suffering but not all religions believe there exists an omnipresent and omnipotent God. For example, Buddhism has no supreme deity.
Here is the central dilemma: religion must somehow explain the existence of evil in the presence of god, an endeavor known as theodicy. Despite heroic efforts, all attempts at theodicy have failed completely. The bottom line is clear. In a world that knows evil, an all-powerful god responsible for all creation must be evil. That interpretation is unavoidable and certain. But given that many people will wish to dispute the claim, I will show next how no other conclusion is possible.
I agree with Schweitzer's definition of "Theodicy". I disagree with the conclusion he gives. Schweitzer makes his conclusion clear: "In a world that knows evil, an all-powerful god responsible for all creation must be evil. That interpretation is unavoidable and certain" He promised to prove this beyond all doubt. It's important to recognize that this line of argument often lead to denying God's existence because of the perceived contradiction of God's existence and the presence of evil. The problem is that does not fly because the flawed understanding of who God is and what good is. Let's watch his argument fall apart.Adam and Eve started roaming the earth; in another, evil sprang to life without god's permission, as a rude cosmic surprise. Both scenarios would give god a pass on being evil, but would at the same time mean he was not omnipotent. None of the three scenarios is looking too good for the big guy. Let's review: in the first case, an all-powerful god must be evil since evil exists and god created all, including evil; in the second case, god's work got beyond his control, a mistake not typically associated with an all-powerful thing; in the third case, god not only does not control our fate, he is incapable of peering into the future, a decidedly un-god-like attribute.
Schweitzer describes three scenarios based on different ways of understanding who God is. I'm going to argue that the only way to understand the character and nature of the Judeo-Christian God is to look at what the Bible says about Him. Schweitzer describes God as all-powerful and all-knowing. I'm sure he got that understanding from the Bible. That being the case his understanding of God's nature should square with what the Bible says. Each case falls apart because it does not describe the God of the Bible.
Case 1: God is suggested to be evil. but James 1: 12-15 says:
12Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.
13When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. 15Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
Therefore God cannot do evil nor can he be tempted to do evil. People do evil because of the evil desires of our own hearts.
Case 2 Suggests that the world God created is out of His control. Isaiah 45:7-10 says
7 I form the light and create darkness,
I bring prosperity and create disaster;
I, the LORD, do all these things.
8 "You heavens above, rain down righteousness;
let the clouds shower it down.
Let the earth open wide,
let salvation spring up,
let righteousness grow with it;
I, the LORD, have created it.
9 "Woe to him who quarrels with his Maker,
to him who is but a potsherd among the potsherds on the ground.
Does the clay say to the potter,
'What are you making?'
Does your work say,
'He has no hands'?
10 Woe to him who says to his father,
'What have you begotten?'
or to his mother,
'What have you brought to birth?'
In case it was missed: God is saying he controls everything. There is no verse in the Bible talking about how God is limited.
Case 3 says that God "not only does not control our fate, he is incapable of peering into the future, a decidedly un-god-like attribute." The thing is the Bible disagrees. Acts 17:24-28 says:
24"The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. 25And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. 26From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. 27God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 28'For in him we live and move and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, 'We are his offspring.'
This shows that God more than controls our fates. He had our fates in His hands before He first made anything! Also look at Ephesians 1:7-12 says
7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace 8that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. 9And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.11In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.
Religion solves this conundrum the old-fashioned way: by making up an answer with truly contorted logic. The answer in this case is free will, but only for human beings. Somehow, when god gathered his last strength to make people, before taking a one-day vacation, he decided, unlike with beavers or parrots, to give his new creation the ability to choose a path not preordained by god. This divine grant of free will solves the dilemma because people can choose to be evil without implicating god. Whew!
I notice a hint of smug sarcasm. Undeserved sarcasm. When God rested on the seventh day of creation, it wasn't because He was tired. "Rested" only means He stopped creating not that He was tired. I disagree with the standard idea that Free Will solves the problem because people do not choose to be evil. Evil is default. We are not good people who sometimes make mistakes. We are fallen sinners who are sometimes blessed by God to do good. We are not free of on our own. We are enslaved to sin. Breaking one commandment means breaking them all. Therefore it is silly to think that free will solves the dilemma. We do evil because we want to do evil. This means that we have will of our own only it's not free. The Bible does not teach that we have free will with mean that God is not implicated. Read Romans 5: 18- 21:
18Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. 19For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.
20The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, 21so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
We are not free without Jesus. We are enslaved to sin. Here is another passage that puts it even clearer Romans 7:14-25 says:
14We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.[c] For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
21So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22For in my inner being I delight in God's law; 23but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. 24What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!
So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.
Unfortunately, the idea does not hold water. Even the briefest examination lays waste to the claim that free will was or could be granted by an all-powerful god. The idea is an absurd oxymoron: the very act of granting free will would destroy the power do so. Let's see why by looking at the combination of free will, evil, and prayer in the presence of an omniscient god.
I agree the idea does not hold water. The Bible does say that God is all-powerful but it does not say that God granted us free will. I mean if we had free will then we ought to be able to choose to be sinless - making Jesus' sacrifice and suffering unnecessary. If there had been a better way to fulfill God's purposes don't you think he would have done it? Schweitzer then claims to show that granting free will destroys the power to give free will setting up a contradiction. I disagree because again there is no free will but let's humor him for a few minutes.
We can start with prayer. If god has a plan for everything and everyone, prayer could not affect his behavior. If he changed his plan according to a prayer, that would be an admission that god's original plan was flawed, making him fallible. If only those prayers that fit into god's original plan are answered, then the purpose of praying is defeated. With preordained fate, prayer could not change any outcome, which is the very purpose of a prayer.
I agree that prayer does not affect God's behavior. Prayer changes us not God. When we pray according to God's will we get "Yes" or "Wait". When we pray for something contradicting with what God was going to do, God says "No." Many people are teaching that God is obligated to do what ever we want if we ask with enough faith. I think that Schweitzer thinks that this is something Bible believing Christians thinks. It's not. Look at: 1 John 5:13-15
13I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. 14This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.
A more proper view of prayer can also be found in Matthew 16:18-20
18And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." 20Then he warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.
Look at the part of binding and loosing. In the Greek it really says "has been loosed in Heaven"
and "has been bound in Heaven." This means that we are only saying what God has already said.
"Ah-ha!" you might say. "The trick is that god gave mankind free will -- that allows for the legitimacy of prayer." But prayer cannot work in the case of free will, either. If we have the power to choose our own destiny, prayer has no role to play. If I pray to god for a certain outcome, just the act of praying is an admission that I do not determine my fate; I admit my fate is in the hands of god, that god can change the outcome of my life, making the notion of free will moot. The idea of free will is religion's version of having your cake and eating it, too. You can have a god who already preordained everything, and you can pray for a different outcome anyway, and you have free will to change your destiny. The wishful thinking that a pastry can be consumed without being depleted is no more viable than the notion that free will and prayer are compatible.
Prayer is legitimate but not the idea that you can use it to change your fate. We pray to communicate with God not to change his mind. It's supposed to be a two-way conversation. It's about to be more like God - conformed to the image of his son (Romans 8:29). God wants to change us so that we can see more clearly not to confirm to our skewed understanding of reality! Isaiah 1:8 says:
"Come now, let us reason together," says the LORD. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.
God is not looking for us to tell Him why He is wrong. He wants to give us the gift of seeing the truth as it is. Schweitzer's argument fails because he does not understand what the Bible teaches about prayer.
An argument often provided to counter this line of reasoning says that god knows what every person will choose beforehand, but the person does not; the person is still making a choice. How oddly tautological. Whatever we choose, our choice is according to god's plan because we chose it! But if god already knows what we will choose, already knows the outcome of every choice, that is not free will, only the cruel illusion of free will. The choice was already made at the beginning of time, meaning there never was any choice.
God does sometimes decree something and people involved just make decision on their own fulfilling that decree. For Example King Cyrus of the Persian Empire returned the Jews from Exile 70 years after the destruction of Jerusalem. God takes credit for the Babylonians destroying Jerusalem and for Cyrus ending the exile - centuries before the events. Look at Habakkuk 1:5-11 and Isaiah 45:13. Some other times God restrains us from sinning. Sometimes we think it was our idea to do the right thing instead of the wrong thing but sometimes God tells us it was him preventing us from doing the wrong thing. I've personally experienced that but it's also in the Bible where King Abimelech was kept from sleeping with Abraham's wife Sarah although he did not know Sarah was Abraham's wife (Genesis 20:1-20). Still another scenario is that God uses the evil that we do to get profound good. For example when Joseph's brother sold Joseph into slavery, Joseph told his brothers over 20 years later after he became the second most powerful man in Egypt: Genesis 50:19-21
19 But Joseph said to them, "Don't be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. 21 So then, don't be afraid. I will provide for you and your children." And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.The good that was being accomplished? - Saving the known world from starvation.
Another common argument is that free will allowed humans to fall from god's grace, without impugning god's character. That is simply defining away the problem without solving anything. If god is all-powerful, he could have created a species of humans who chose to use the gift of free will only for good. That his creations chose to behave badly means that such behavior was either god's original intent, or that god is not all-knowing.
I agree that God could have chosen to create us so that we would never sin. But God didn't. Why? I don't really know all the reasons why, but one thing I am certain about it was because God had You in mind. He had me in mind. He had in mind everyone who has or ever will existed. And our existence in our current state - genetically and environmentally - is contingent on the fact that everything you have ever experienced had to happen when and how they happened or you would not exist. The same is true for everyone else. If the people in the past had not lived and died when and how they lived and died you would not be here to ask such questions. God has purpose for everyone. And everyone fulfills that purpose. God knows who is going to disobey him and how. There is no way to predict how He will react in every situation because God keeps his own counsel. Sometime God chooses to extend his mercies other times He punishes. What we know for sure is that if a person repents, God will not ignore the person or say "no" to them.
Perhaps a benevolent god created a world with evil, but he chose to do so for good reasons. He created evil but is not evil himself. Assuming this logic, some argue that evil and suffering are necessary in order to know god. Well, that is simply another example of solving the problem by defining it away, and ultimately contributes nothing. Since god is all-powerful, he could have just as easily designed the world such that suffering was not required to know him.
Schweitzer is paying "Monday morning Quarterback". Of course God could have chosen to create a world without suffering. However you would not be in it. Neither would I. For some reasons that we cannot yet fathom God has chosen to do things this way. Schweitzer's argument fails because he failed to prove that God did not create a world where evil was possible. Being all-powerful also means that God gets to do things the way He wants. Isaiah 45:7 says:
I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.
Let's look at a real case of evil, that of Slobodan Milošević and his choice of genocide: only three scenarios are possible. One, god knew beforehand the choice Milošević would make and did nothing to prevent the outcome; two, god knew beforehand but could do nothing to change the outcome; or three, god did not know what choice Milošević would make. From these three possibilities we must come to a conclusion that is irrefutable, undeniable, and logically immune to any counterargument. In a world in which evil and suffering exist, god is either all-powerful and is responsible for that evil and suffering, through design or neglect, or god is benevolent but not all-powerful. Nothing else is possible, other than the obvious conclusion that god does not exit. With evil in the world, an all-powerful god cannot be benevolent. Whether god's power is diminished either as an original state of being or as a consequence of voluntarily relinquishing his power to human free will, the effect is the same. If god is benevolent and not culpable of evil, he has no control over evil. If god is not evil, he cannot alter our fate. No amount of twisted or convoluted logic can change that immutable conclusion. Saying "God works in mysterious ways" or "We are humble enough to admit that we will never understand god" just do not cut it.
Schweitzer misses another possibility: God is responsible for everything that does and does not happen - making Him responsible. In Isaiah 45:7 God even claims responsibility. The point that is missing from his 3 possibilities that God could have stopped Milošević but did not because of God's over all purpose and goals to do the most good. Schweitzer equates God being responsible with God being accountable. Accountability means that you are beholden to someone. Someone has your leash. Who is God accountable to? Himself. Not to Schweitzer. Not to you and certainly not to me.God is not limited by our will. Milošević is responsible for his actions. God did not make him do any of the evil he did. Same for Hitler. Same for anyone including you and me. We do evil because evil is in us not because God makes us do evil things. The only thing keeping us from being worse than we are is God's mercy.
That conclusion yields an obvious and terminal problem for prayer. If your baby is seriously ill, you pray to god for her recovery. Why? If god is all-powerful, he would already know the fate of your baby, and your prayers would be for naught. Whether you prayed or not, your baby's fate is already sealed, pre-ordained, for better or worse, by the all-powerful god. Plus, since an all-powerful god must be evil, since he is responsible for everything in the universe, including evil, he might take joy in your suffering, since he allowed so much grief to visit the human condition long before your child became ill.
Several problems here. God is not just responsible for evil but for everything good too! Prayer isn't about trying to change the baby fate but for strength to deal with whatever God's decision is and trusting that God will do what is best for you and your baby. The Bible explicitly says that God does not take pleasure in our suffering. 2 Peter 3:9 says
The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
Not saying that people perish against God's will because "not willing" does not mean God does not allow people to perish. It means that He isn't taking joy in it.
Alternatively, if god is benevolent, he is not responsible for the evil and suffering in the world, meaning he has diminished powers since forces exist in the universe for which he has no responsibility and no hand in their creation. You would be praying to a being without the ability to control human fate, rendering the prayer useless. If god has no control over evil, praying to him to stop evil and suffering makes no sense. Prayers to an all-powerful and evil god are futile; prayers to a benevolent god are useless. You might as well pray to the tooth fairy. At least with the tooth fairy you get a dollar under the pillow.
God does stip evil and change fate. I'm certain He has done it in everyone's life and you did not realize it because you would not have been able to tell because you don't know what the other options were in every situation. God is in complete control. Sometimes He does not stop evil because of his own purposes.
The flip-side of human free will is also important to examine; that is, does god himself have free will? If not, can god grant what he himself does not have? An all-powerful god is all-knowing, meaning god knows all of his future actions, and all of the choices he would make. Here is the rub: god could not change those choices, otherwise his earlier knowledge would have been wrong, meaning god would not be all-knowing! All-omniscient god therefore has no free will to choose actions, since all actions must be preordained. God becomes an observer of his own omniscience since all knowledge of the future precludes any changes to that future. Any god with free will would have to be imperfect, and would by definition not be all-knowing.
This is an amazing mess in logic. Why would want to change his choices if his choices are always right and perfect? The other thing is God is not bound by time. Causality means nothing. He does not look down the corridors of time because there is no future from his point of view. Transcendence trumps Schweitzer. Free will does not work like our will where causality and experiencing life moment-by-moment makes no sense from God's point of view.
So an all-knowing god, who cannot possess free will, cannot grant something he himself does not have. But a bigger problem remains. Free will implies a future with no predestination. A god who knows all, about everything past, present, and future, could not create any free will that would prevent that knowledge of the future; the very act of creating free will would destroy the fact of omniscience.
The notion that an all-powerful god granted humans free will is one of the most egregious examples of religion's absurdity. But the situation becomes positively surreal when people believe that praying to an all-powerful god can alter the outcome of events according to the entreaties of the prayer. Holding three mutually exclusive ideas at the same time is a sign of insanity.
In conclusion, this is where Schweitzer really fails. God does possess free will in that He can literally do what ever he wants to do. God has not given humanity free will. Therefore omniscience and omnipotence of God are all logically intact. Schweitzer argument was summed up: "The notion that an all-powerful god granted humans free will is one of the most egregious examples of religion's absurdity." Agreed. Good thing the Bible does not teach that. People who would push Schweitzer's argument further to argue that there is no god are proving that a particualr god does not exist and I concur, but that god is not the God of the Bible..
Jeff Schweitzer: Why Free Will, Prayer and an Omnipotent God Are Mutually Exclusive