‘Why does God give people freewill if he knows they will misuse it and do evil things in the world?’

One explanation of how evil comes to exist independently of God and the world is advanced by Augustine of Hippo who, before converting to Christianity in the fourth century, lived a thoroughly immoral and decadent life – I mention this because I think it will help us to understand the argument that Augustine develops next after his conversion to Christianity.

The freewill defence

What Augustine does in his argument is reverse the complaint that is levelled against God by pointing the finger of blame about suffering in the direction of humans who he cites as the arbiters of evil. This argument is known as ‘The Freewill Defence’ and goes something like this:

  • For a relationship to exist between us and God,  humans must be created in a way that allows them to reject or accept God’s advances.
  • This necessitates people are created so as to not be naturally predisposed towards loving God because this reduces them to robots.
  • Instead, for the relationship to be meaningful, God woos humans to love Him, running the risk that some will reject him
  • Although God may not like this, the Divine does this so that humans may continue to receive freedom.
  • (and of course) The Divine is obliged to accept individual choices that go against him
  • As rejecting God means a rejection of his attributes of goodness and love – humans can make choices that run contrary to what God desires for humanity. (It is worth noting at this point that humans are unique in this respect as they are able to freely choose in a way that other creatures cannot).
  • The result of this is that decisions are made which result in good and bad things happening in our world for which we as humans must take personal responsibility. And Augustine’s freewill argument finishes by asserting that:
  • Human freewill directed away from God explains the reality of unchecked evil as it occurs in the world today.

So the Freewill Defence suggests that evil is a logical necessity for people to be enabled to make their own decisions in the world. However, this raises a question in regard to the necessity of freedom over and against the removal of evil. We shall consider this in the next post.