Today marks the start of a new set of series based on things that are not explicitly stated within the bible but are still taught within the majority of Christian churches. The subject today is one that might spark a lot of controversy depending on what side of the argument that you find yourself on. I will be dealing specifically with the Christian idea of Free-Will but the implications reach into any of the various forms that this idea might take.
“A puppet is free as long as he loves his strings.”
― Sam Harris, Free Will
If you have read my article on the Garden of Eden, then you will know that one of the central themes of this story is that Adam and Eve chose to sin. This might not seem like much of a controversy, however, they were perfect beings created in a perfect world. Being perfect would mean that they have perfect decision-making capabilities, with that capability it is hard to believe that they would make the wrong choice. Here enters free-will.
It is taught that god didn’t want humans to simply be a bunch of sycophants, simply worshiping him because that is how they are programmed, but choosing to worship him because they love him. So god gave man free-will so that they would choose to worship him and instead they chose to rebel, bringing about all of the evils that this world now faces. God supposedly doesn’t interfere with free-will, even though he does numerous times throughout the bible, and thus we are in control of the horrible things that befall mankind. This seems, at face value to be an okay argument but when we look a bit deeper, it falls apart.
For one, did god ask humanity if they even wanted free-will? It would seem that by inserting free-will into our minds, god has done the ultimate in interference, creating a system that was bound to fail. If he truly didn’t want man to sin, then wouldn’t a toned down version of free-will have been far better. When you train a dog, and it messes up, you don’t burn the dog, yet this is what we are to believe that god does if we disobey him.
Secondly, for free-will to be truly given then all the information about its use should have also been given. God told Adam and Eve that if they ate of the tree, they would die. Instead they didn’t die but their lives were cursed to be gawd awful for the nearly thousand years that they were supposedly alive. You really cannot describe a perfect creator if his creation is built without the knowledge of what rebelling would do to them. Imagine a computer programmer stating that he created the perfect word processor, yet when used it could choose to delete everything you had written. I doubt if anyone would consider that programmer to be very good at his job if his program did something completely outside the needs of a word processor.
Third, if god created us with free-will so that we could earnestly choose to follow him, then why would that god then create punishment for those that chose not to? That removes the justification for free-will entirely, since if we must choose to follow one path, then it isn’t truly a choice. Those that choose to follow that path are simply doing so for fear of punishment and are in essence the sycophants that god supposedly wanted to avoid.
For free-will to truly be used in the means that it was originally intended, according to the church, then there can be no punishment or incentive for making the choice god wants us to make. No parent would want a child that only behaves because they expect a cookie every time they do something good, yet that is exactly the type of believer that god wants us to be, always considering the reward or the punishment and basing all of our decisions upon those ends.
Personally, I don’t believe in free-will, be that christian or otherwise. As Sam Harris states in his book, Free Will:
“You can do what you decide to do — but you cannot decide what you will decide to do.”
We are animals made up of genes, these genes control many of our likes and dislikes, environment also plays a large role in our lives. I was born in Iowa, I love the look of cornfields in the fall, the wind passing through the field causes it to wave in an absolutely beautiful way, at least to me. Did I decide at any moment in my life that this was beautiful and pleasing to me? No. I was also born to christian parents which meant that for the vast majority of my life, I followed the christian faith. I cannot think of any moment where I was asked whether I wanted to follow the christian faith or not?
Free-will is really nothing more than a justification for certain things in the bible that make no sense whatsoever if you remove this belief. Even more bothersome is the fact that free-will is used as a scapegoat for god in the paradox of suffering. The only way that an all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-present being can exist in a world which suffers is if you inject the idea of free-will and man being the cause of it all. As stated before this is because god supposedly doesn’t interfere with freewill, yet here are a few examples of when god did exactly that…
1.) Adam and Eve are thrown from the garden (Genesis 3)
2.) Lot’s wife is turned to salt for looking back at her home.(Genesis 19)
3.) The flood kills nearly all of mankind, simply because humans were using their free-will. (Genesis 6-8)
4.) God confuses the language of the workers at the tower of babel simply for building a damn tower. (Genesis 11)
5.) Jonah doesn’t want to go to Nineveh so god sends a fish to swallow him until he relents and goes. (Jonah 1)
6.) God kills the shade tree, which Jonah is sitting under, so that Jonah is even more miserable after god doesn’t destroy Nineveh. (Jonah 4)
7.) God hardens the heart of Pharaoh ten times, and then forces his hand by killing all the first-born kids in Egypt. (How’s that for pro-life) (Exodus 9)
8.) God hardens Saul’s heart towards David. (1 Samuel 19)
9.) God murder all of the folks in a single town simply because two men touched the ark. (1 Samuel 6)
10.) God blinds Paul in order to force him to believe in Christ. (Acts 9)
This is not even close to an exhaustive list, which is why some Christian faiths have chosen to disregard the idea of free-will altogether. Calvinists, for example, believe that everyone born is predetermined to be saved or damned. Nothing we do can change that choice, meaning that Hitler might be lucky enough to enter heaven, but little Timmy that got hit by a car at 5 years old, just might be in hell. Some will add to this the idea that people who do not end up in heaven, where the saints will worship god forever and ever, are simply extinguished when they die. To be honest, if this were the case, I think I would rather not be one of those saints headed to, as Christopher Hitchens called “a celestial dictatorship.”
Lastly, let’s talk a bit about miracles. For miracles to exist, then god must have no problem with interfering with free-will. A miracle is a supernatural event that cannot otherwise be explained by science and reason. Yet, the christian faith is filled with tales of miracles. Just remember, every time god cures a person of cancer or rescues you from an accident, he had destroyed the boundary of free-will and made changes to your life which should otherwise not have occurred. God supposedly giving you 30 more years of life after a miracle cure, is simply 30 more years that you weren’t granted according to your own free-will. This also includes every time god answers a prayer.
So to summarize, Free-will is a scapegoat, a means to explain some of the more ridiculous notions of the bible. It is used to explain why suffering exists, because god will not interfere with it, and yet just by using the bible we can see that he almost constantly messes with free-will in one way or another. Free-will is such a contentious topic that some christian faiths have thrown it out altogether, leading to an even darker and less loving version of god. To put it bluntly, free-will is an excuse and a shitty one at that.
If you have the time, here is a video of Sam Harris explaining his stance on free-will. He is much smarter than I and I will admit, when I first read his book my mind was completely blown away just thinking about it.