October 16, 2007
Man has long asked how a loving God could allow evil to exist in the world. It's an age-old philosophical question that can cause those who want faith to doubt and those who want to doubt to mock faith. A Christian's answer to this question is "free will," a concept critics may regard as something reduced to a convenient cliché. The truth is, though, that this is a most fascinating subject to inquisitive minds.
The two qualities that make us like God are intellect and free will, despite the fact that the former can seem as lacking as the latter is abused. Why intellect has prerequisite status is obvious, but why free will? If God is omnipotent, He can prevent the immeasurable pain and suffering we inflict on one another with the blink of an eternal eye. Why doesn't He do it? Perhaps this problem is what caused people such as Thomas Jefferson to embrace deism, the belief that God set the Universe in motion but then receded into the background, indifferent to our plight. So let's examine free will.
Imagine you have a child, and technology has advanced to a point where you can implant a computer chip in his brain, one that would ensure he never acted wrongly. If everyone were thus controlled, we would have a world in which everyday transgressions were unknown. Yet, would you view this as an acceptable remedy for your child's human frailty?
A good father certainly would not, for it would render the child something less than human. He would then be nothing more than an organic robot, an automaton, controlled by an outside agency whose will has supplanted his own. Just picture the Borg in Star Trek.
After all, what of love? While a child thus controlled would behave in ways that may seem loving in a superficial sense, he would not be acting out of love at all. We only exhibit love when we could be hateful, but choose to be loving instead.
As to this, think about how much more we appreciate aid rendered voluntarily than that which is coerced. When starving, we may certainly be happy to receive a meal from a man who has a gun to his head, but it sates our soul as well as stomach when he helps us with a happy heart and of his own accord. Likewise, it's considered a mitigating circumstance when a person is coerced into committing a crime. (Note: these examples involve incomplete consent of the will due to duress, not the elimination of free will, as my computer-chip hypothetical does.) Or, think about dolphins trained by the military to detect mines in the ocean, attack enemy divers or plant explosives on ships. While we certainly may appreciate what these animals can do, it cannot be compared to the conscious decision made when a man accepts the risk to life and limb on a bomb squad; the dolphin acts in accordance with his training -- or programming, as it were -- whereas the man has made a decision to risk his life with full knowledge and consent of the will. Intellect and free will are what separate us from the animal kingdom.
Getting back to our hypothetical child, a good parent wants him to be more than just controlled. Sure, when he is young, he may be watched continually and his life micromanaged, owing to his immature state. As he grows, however, we can loosen the reins commensurate with his increasing capacity to govern himself from within. And we look forward to the day when he will exercise his free will rightly, for only then will he have come to full flower as a human being.
If we fail in this task of moral formation and the child goes astray, he may end up in prison, a place where his ability to exercise his free will is limited. From a moral standpoint, we then may consider him to be a malformed human being. Were he to not have free will in the first place, however, he would be something less than a human being.
Then, when saying that we cannot believe in God because of the existence of evil, we accept a contradiction. If God doesn't exist, how can we label a position evil with credibility? If man is the author of what we call right and wrong, if morality is all a matter of opinion, then there is no evil in any real sense. In other words, if we are judging some things to be good and others evil, we have to ask what standard we're using as a yardstick. If the standard is simply consensus opinion, then what we call morality falls in the realm of taste. And if 90 percent of the world liked chocolate ice cream and disliked vanilla, we wouldn't think this rendered chocolate good and vanilla evil; it's simply a preference. So, should we think murder was evil simply because 90 percent of the people said they didn't like it? If there is nothing outside of man and his emotions that deems it so -- if it is not objective reality -- then it also is simply a matter of taste.
"Oh, but it involves death, not dessert. C'mon, it's morality!" say the critics? Sure, your feelings may tell you this distinction is significant, but if it doesn't accord with external reality, those feelings are in error. They are then simply biases, ones powerful enough to evoke passion, but biases nonetheless. And those very different terms, taste and morality, would be nothing but semantics.
So, for "good" and "evil" to truly be reckoned as such, the standard we use cannot merely be taste masquerading as "values." And since man is being judged (we are, after all, talking about our actions), he cannot be the standard, for a standard cannot judge itself any more than a board can be used to measure itself for a carpentry project. For a standard to judge what is good and evil, it must be both outside and above them, in which case that standard starts to sound an awful lot like God.
So it's ironic: Some find the existence of evil to be convincing proof God doesn't exist, but the Truth is that the existence of evil would prove God does exist.
When we look around us at man's inhumanity to man, it may seem a high price to pay for free will. Yet, when pondering how much we value freedom and have often sacrificed for it, the matter is illuminated. Our Founding Fathers and many others were willing to shed blood, both theirs and others, and risk their wealth, land and status for that cherished value. If in our finer moments we are willing to endure hardship and misery so that we will not be puppets of the worldly, it should surprise us not that He who has only fine moments would allow us to endure same so that we would not be puppets of the divine. The difference is that what man offers his brother only when there is a full flowering of the human spirit, He grants without reservation so that the spirit may be truly human.