In Defense of Free-Will

It was sorely disappointing to leave the Erhman-D’Souza debate without a definite answer to the problem of suffering. I really thought yesterday was going to be the night- the night when someone finally proved the existence of God. Nevertheless, philosophy showed us yet again that it only yields more questions, never solutions.

Most of the debate was tough to watch; there were almost as many fallacies as there were blank stares. Analogy after analogy, Erhman and D’Souza tried to one-up each other with superior appeals to emotion and examples of science. They attempted to educate us in Geology and evangelize for their side, but neither came out a victor.

A particularly painful claim was made by Erhman on several occasions. Apparently, the concept of free-will is overly simplistic and should be ignored. He went on to “disprove” it using this argument: If one believes that free-will results in suffering on Earth, and that we will have free-will in Heaven, then there must be suffering in Heaven- something contradictory to what we are led to believe by the Bible.

However, Erhman failed to consider a few important factors. The Bible does not guarantee admission into Heaven. In fact, sin is not permitted to enter Heaven, so only Christians will be present (Because we are all inherently sinners, and only Christians have accepted Jesus as their Savior). This is not to say that Christians do not sin, just that everyone in Heaven should have a drive to please God.

It is not free-will that causes suffering, it is the decisions that people make with their free-will. It was sin that brought suffering into the world, when Adam and Eve decided to disobey God. Consequently, both “moral” and “natural” evil emerged, talked about extensively by both debaters. Moral evil is when our choices deviate from God’s will, and natural evil results from the initial instance of moral evil. As far as we know, death and horrific natural disasters would never occur if we were not forced to leave the Garden of Eden.

We must also remember what led to the fall of man. It was, of course, spurred by Satan tempting Eve. Satan, known previously as Lucifer, was an archangel who became power hungry and lusted for God’s throne. In turn, he was banished from Heaven, and thus the great spiritual war begun (we all know this Sunday School story). It is easy to overlook the fact that Lucifer, a creature of Heaven, still had the free-will to chose not to follow God. Although free-will is present in Heaven, and we have the ability to use it to our detriment, suffering will only affect us individually. We will not be able to inflict pain or murder, since we will all be eternal beings- we will only be able to violate God in our thought and our speech. This may subsequently get us sent downstairs, but it will not torment others.

When Ehrman so affirmatively concluded that free-will had an inherent flaw because of Heaven, he did not take into account Hell or Lucifer. How easy it is for people to use the Bible for their own purposes and conveniently leave out passages that may oppose their pre-formed opinions. Ehrman did it, and perhaps even D’Souza. I’d even go as far as to say we all have done it at one time or another.

We learn Popular Christianity, and Christians and non-believers alike love to throw around phrases like “judge not lest you be judged” and “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” What a travesty. I cannot say I know too much about the Bible, or being a “good” Christian for that matter, but I am pretty sure this is not what God intends. Regardless, we have the ability to do it as autonomous humans. We can make God in our own image without fear of immediate punishment; this is our right. God will never force us to love Him because that would not be genuine love. We must do so voluntarily, in spite of our circumstances. This is the crux of the free-will argument, and it makes sense to me.

Obviously, not even I can say for certain that I am completely correct on the issue of suffering. My entire point of view, like D’Souza’s, is based around the premises of the existence of divinity and the infallibility of the Bible. But oftentimes we must make these leaps of faith. Religion cannot be explained with reason, only experience. It would be naive for us to think we could understand the logic of our Creator. We want to know the unknowable. Did Adam have a belly button? If God can do anything, can he make a donut too big for Him to eat?

Maybe we should be more concerned with using our free-will to love others and help those who most need it. Maybe we can make the most compelling argument for God’s existence by being like Christ, because He is in us. Maybe bickering over unanswerable questions does more harm to the Kingdom than good. Just some food for thought…

11 thoughts on “In Defense of Free-Will

  1. jlcrowde Reply

    I agree with you regarding the appeal to emotion. I also thought Bart was being a bit elitist with his emphasis on "complex" answers. Especially when his answer seemed so simplistic to me.

    However, I would just warn you regarding your statement that "Religion cannot be explained with reason, only experience." I am not going to refute that statement, I would just say it smells of relativism. Popular writers seem to have gotten that idea in a lot of adolescents' heads lately.

    But, good post!

    • pyelena Reply

      If by "popular writers" you mean great men like Jonathan Edwards who described the nature of religious experience as summed up in the word "sense". Edwards emphasized religion as a regenerative experience that left a person reoriented, changed, converted. "A person does not merely rationally believe that God is glorious, but he has a sense of the gloriousness of God in his heart." The difference between cognitive knowledge and a true sense is that the "former rests only in the head….but the heart is concerned in the latter." Edwards exalted the "sixth sense" (sensing God's reality) over reasoning about it; yet from this experience, he said, reason itself would be "sanctified".
      "True religion obtains when a person experiences a sense of divine excellency, the work of redemption, and the revelation of God in scripture."

      I don't think one can come to reason oneself into believing God's existence, he must first have that experience of God to change his heart and the reason follows. Reason is also what builds up the Christian in his faith. Religion, as a man made construct, has all sorts of "reasons" for existence, but it is wholly different from one's personal relationship with the Creator.
      The purpose of apologetics, in my opinion, is to show the non believer that there is more to the Christian faith than what they see Christians play out (as it sometimes may be misunderstood to the secular person), that Christianity rests not only in works or an apparent display of good deeds and kindness, but a solid foundation of truth that draws not only on the inerrancy of the Word of God, but also how that God has made himself manifest through science, philosophy, and the aesthetic world. That it isn't merely a flimsy, "crayon" Christianity through which we draw pictures of what we wish was apparent in the world, but, after coming to catch a glimpse of God through that "experience" (whatever it may be), that we seek further to understand and learn more about this awesome, incomprehensible, yet personal being. And the more we learn about him through our reasoning minds, and come to know Him as a personal savior and friend, the more our love and awe is played out through emotional experience. Reason and emotion are intertwined in Christianity and I don't think God would have it any other way.

      • cwjones

        I think part of the problem is that humans are not entirely rational. As the saying goes, "you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink it." You can demonstrate that Christianity is true, but you can't make someone believe in it. Belief and faith are different than revealed truth.

        The existence of something can be demonstrated to someone, but that doesn't mean they believe it exists. They can always refuse to believe what is clearly demonstrated to them.

        Also, I think believing in something is different than believing it exists. Believing in something implies a level of trust. I believe my coffee table exists. I don't believe IN my coffee table. Trust implies an interpersonal relationship, which always has an emotional component in addition to rationality.

        This is not to say that reason is not important to Christianity (contrary to what some of the authors that I believe Crowder is referencing have written). All relationships have a rational component. After all, I can't be your friend if I am not sure that you exist.

      • cwjones

        I would say that the concept of the imaginary friend is such that the individual who has such a friend knows that said imaginary friend does not exist.

      • Bart ehrman

        Not if you really really believe they exist

    • pyelena Reply

      Scott, do you read JD Greear's blog? Well, first I should preface that by asking if you go to Summit Church in Durham? If not, you should still read this, pastor's response on the debate: Under Oct. 08

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