Occasionally, I have a question from a skeptic that really makes me think. It doesn't make me think, "Gee, maybe Christianity is wrong after all." I have responded to enough skeptical ideas over the last 10 years that I believe it is highly doubtful that any atheist will ever actually shake my confidence in Christianity (but they are welcome to keep trying). Rather, the question (which is usually designed to shake my confidence) usually makes me look prayerfully and more deeply into my own understandings of Christian philosophy. One such question came up earlier this week.
Since I don't have permission from the skeptic to repost his question word for word, I will paraphrase the challenge. The anonymous skeptic was discussing the question of why there was evil in the world. Certainly, I have heard that question many times, and I have my approach for answering the question and it involves the Free Will Defense. For those unfamiliar with the Free Will Defense, here is a fairly decent description from The Problem of Evil: How Can A Good God Allow Evil? by Rick Rood of Probe Ministries:
The key to the resolution of this apparent conflict is to recognize that when we say God is all powerful, we do not imply that He is capable of doing anything imaginable. True, Scripture states that "with God all things are possible" (Mt. 19:26). But Scripture also states that there are some things God cannot do. For instance, God cannot lie (Tit. 1:2). Neither can He be tempted to sin, nor can He tempt others to sin (James 1:13). In other words, He cannot do anything that is "out of character" for a righteous God. Neither can He do anything that is out of character for a rational being in a rational world. Certainly even God cannot "undo the past," or create a square triangle, or make what is false true. He cannot do what is irrational or absurd.
And it is on this basis that we conclude that God could not eliminate evil without at the same time rendering it impossible to accomplish other goals which are important to Him. Certainly, for God to create beings in his own image, who are capable of sustaining a personal relationship with Him, they must be beings who are capable of freely loving Him and following his will without coercion. Love or obedience on any other basis would not be love or obedience at all, but mere compliance. But creatures who are free to love God must also be free to hate or ignore Him. Creatures who are free to follow His will must also be free to reject it. And when people act in ways outside the will of God, great evil and suffering is the ultimate result. This line of thinking is known as the "free will defense" concerning the problem of evil.
However, this particular skeptic took a different tact then I anticipated and asked a question to which I hadn't previously given much thought. He said (paraphrasing):
The Free Will Defense doesn't work. Assuming that God is omnipotent and never does evil then he could have freely chosen to make us in a way that we would not choose evil, as well. Indeed, if God never does evil then He would have been required to make us that way knowing that the alternative was going to result in the existence of evil. A totally good God who never chooses evil would would never have chosen to create us in a way that we would choose evil.
Do you see what this skeptic has done (even if he didn't intend to)? He is asking a perfectly legitimate question that may circumvent the Free Will Defense. Instead of challenging the logic of the Free Will Defense (which I believe is perfectly logical), he asks why God couldn't have created us in a way that would make it almost automatic that we would choose good over evil. This would still allow for the opportunity to sin, but reduce the possibility that we would do so to almost zero.
It's like asking if God were creating automobiles in 2003 why God, with all of his knowledge and power, would create us to be Kia automobiles (which, according to a 2003 J.D. Powers survey, was the least dependable car of 2003) when he could create us to be the extremely dependable Lexus automobiles (rated most dependable car in 2003 by the same survey). Given that God is supposedly loving, why would he create us in such a way that it seems as if we regularly break down and choose evil instead of good. Why wouldn't he have created us in such a way that we could still choose evil instead of good, but where we would be so much more likely to choose good that those who choose evil would be doing so against their nature.
That's a great question. I have a pretty good answer, but it is going to take a couple of posts to get it in place. (For those of you visiting from the Internet Infidels, this means that the answer is more complex than the usual fare that passes for depth on that website -- especially since the main argument found there is usually to deride others' opinions without any serious analysis.)
In the meantime, I would be interested if anyone who is a thoughtful person (meaning that they don't spend time at the Internet Infidels board) has a preliminary answer to this question. For my part, my answer begins with Part II (to be posted shortly).