The Problem of Evil and Human Freedom
William Hasker (Huntington College) identifies ways in which philosophical answers to the problem of evil can provide answers to perennial questions about God, human freedom, and the meaning of life.
How do we go about this? Well, there are a couple of key ideas, and I’ll just sketch them briefly and then we can pursue it if you want to. One concept that I think is very important and is pretty widely recognized as important, is what is known as a free will defense, or a free will theodicy. It’s the idea of an explanation. What you’re after is an explanation of how it is that God, who is good and loving, can nevertheless allow… such evils to exist in this world. And the free will approach points out that… God has endowed us with free will, with the power to choose, the power to choose between good and evil, are there many limitations on this, but nevertheless it’s a real power that we believe that we have. Now, some people of course doubt that and that’s an argument in itself, but I think the majority of Christian philosophers do believe that in this sense, we have free will, that there are alternative paths that we can take, that it’s really in our power to take, to go one way or another. And it would be almost contradictory, or at least self defeating, if God were to entrust us with this power. But then, as soon as we make the wrong choice, he says: “Okay, sorry back up, we’re going to get a do-over there.” [laughs] We discussed at the beginning of this discussion that if one of us went off on the wrong track, we could back up and it would be edited out of the tape,
But our life choices would be a lot less significant and a lot less real if we could get a do over any time we wanted and sometimes we don’t even want to. So, the point is that if God really gives us this ability to make choices and we make bad choices, there are going to be consequences. And it would be… the ability to choose would be meaningless if God were to sort of reverse the… edit out the tape every time we choose wrong, or would always prevent the bad consequences from happening. And so a tremendous amount of the evil that we see in the world is a result of the bad choices humans have made. And we make some really, really bad ones. And one way of looking at this, is that God is endowing us with this power to choose, is taking a risk, you know? If you let your 16 year old drive your car, you’re taking a risk. God willing, he’ll be all right, but in handing the keys over, you’re giving up some of your control over what happens with your car. And God, in giving us this power to choose, has given up, or qualified, some of his control over what happens. So that’s an enormous part of, I think really, by far, the greater part of the serious evils that afflict the world, are that kind.