Counter Arts
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Counter Arts

God, Maximal Free Will, and The Natural World Hypothesis

Source: Center for Philosophy of Religion

Does God exist? It is simultaneously one of the most interesting and important questions, and yet so over-explored as to be borderline pedantic. Nevertheless, I believe this question is coherent and intelligible enough to pursue. Furthermore, I believe that progress can be made on this question.

We begin with the problem of evil, as the primary counter to the existence of God. In short, the problem of evil states there is an incompatibility between the existence of an omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent God, and the type and level of suffering we see in this world.

Why is the level and type of suffering relevant? Because there could have been less suffering, less suicides, less childhood cancer, etc. At least it seems that way. And type- why are there hurricanes, volcanoes, tornadoes, and pandemics? So called natural evil.

In other words, the traditional concept of God is incoherent based on the existence of evil we find in our world. In some sense, it is an empirical argument, since we cannot know the existence of evil a priori.

Much has already been said about the problem of evil, so what is there to possibly contribute? I believe we can break up solutions to the problem of evil into 3 kinds: the free will defense, the morally sufficient reason defense, and the natural world hypothesis. Each will be discussed in turn.

The free will defense essentially takes the form that it is not logically possible for God to prevent the level and type of suffering without restricting free will. Wars, for example, are nothing more than the poor expression of free will. This much is obvious, but what about natural evil?

Alvin Plantinga, a theist philosopher, argues that perhaps natural evil is the result of demonic free will. While this might seem preposterous to the non-religious, many religious doctrine support the existence of demons, fallen creatures with advanced powers.

On the other end of the spectrum, David Johnson, an atheist philosopher, argues that the solution to the problem of evil is that we must live in a simulation, or at least, Johnson argues that the theist is committed to this seemingly absurd idea.

There is also the extreme version of the free will defense, what I call the maximal free will defense. This argument goes as follows: God must have given us maximal free will, otherwise we would be forced to believe in God.

The thrust of this argument can be seen with an example. If every time we went to punch someone in the face we were prevented from doing so, then we would clearly know someone is preventing us from doing so.

A more depressing example is the Holocaust. If the Holocaust were impossible, then we wouldn’t really have true free will. We must be allowed to freely choose even horrific options for us to have true free will.

This argument is powerful, and there is clearly something to it. Nevertheless, I believe it fails, because we do not truly have maximal free will. (To the astute reader, this is related to the Vulnerable World Hypothesis. In short, it could have been possible for nuclear weapons to be much more easy to acquire.)

God could have given us more free will. Like perhaps it could have been easier to mass shooters to kill more people. Or perhaps Hitler could have won. There seems to be some fine tuning required for the free will defense to work. By fine tuning, I mean God had to choose the “right” level of free will to give us.

The next “solution” to the problem of evil is the preferred approach of William Lane Craig. He argues that the problem of evil does not disprove the existence of God. God could have “morally sufficient” reasons for allowing the evil we see in this world. We are simply in no position to claim that this suffering isn’t morally permissible to an all powerful and all good being.

For example, many have argued that suffering is what brings out the good in the world. For there to be good, there must be evil. Anyways, I don’t particularly like this argument, because it assigns mystery to God’s ways.

I’m not saying there is no mystery in God’s ways, but it just makes it seem like this argument claims it is too impossible to understand the mind of God that we must simply accept that God has “morally permissible” reasons for allowing the level and type of suffering we see.

My preferred solution to the problem of evil is what I call the “natural world hypothesis”. Note that I am not claiming that God exists. I am claiming that the problem of evil fails to disprove the existence of God due to this argument.

In short, the natural world hypothesis claims that for us to have any true free will at all, God must make the world appear completely natural. For if the world were not natural, if it appeared made by a god, then we wouldn’t have true free will.

Imagine that everywhere you went there was a giant face in the sky looking at you. That would obviously be a god of some sort, and it would bias our decisions to follow what the god wants.

In other words, for us to have true free will, it must appear possible for God not to exist. And the world must appear entirely natural for it to appear possible for God to not exist.

Here is the structure of the argument:

  • For us to have any free will at all, it must appear possible for God to not exist.
  • For it to appear possible for God to not exist, the world must appear completely natural.
  • Therefore, for us to have any free will at all, the world must appear completely natural.
  • For the world to appear natural, the final theory of everything will neither prove nor disprove the existence of God.

The reason I prefer this solution is that it doesn’t claim that “God’s ways are mysterious” or “demons cause childhood cancer”. Instead, it claims that the world must appear natural, otherwise God’s existence would be obvious and we would correspondingly not have true free will.

I am not claiming that this is a perfect argument. For one, it seems possible that maybe the world does not have to appear natural for us to have true free will. Furthermore, many would object to my first premise since the existence of God seems obvious to many people.

Nevertheless, I believe this is an important contribution to the problem of evil. Free will is the solution, but not due to demons, but due to the natural world hypothesis.

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