Can God be Free?

May 26, 2016 at 2:55 pm (Christianity, philosophy, religion)

philosophers godWhat follows is a rebuttal to not only William Rowe’s work, “Can God be Free” (and Ill admit it is in need of polishing, but the point is there none the less), but also a rebuttal to the classical Theist arguements about omniscience, omni-benevolence and omnipotence.  Enjoy 🙂

Introduction and Thesis
The Philosopher’s God is an projection of man’s desires for order and predictability much in the same way a child desires it’s parent to be just and loving. Implicit in that is a child not understanding that justice and love sometimes requires the parent to do things the child does not like or understand at the time.. The Philosopher’s God is an anthropocentric view, that place man’s importance as cheif among the other creatures of this planet, and whereas there may seem to be evidence to prove this, there actually is not. The logical inconsistencies abound in the imagining of God as being in essence exactly what we in our human arrogance want him to be, ie perfect, omniscient, omnibenevolent. I do not argue that God is not these things, I do however argue that he is in fact these things but man in his infantile quest for a universe that caters to his desires, has completely misinterpreted what those intrinsic properties really mean for Creation. In light of these logical inconsistencies, I will argue that God does indeed have free will, and that a more careful analysis and refutation of the premises most philosopher’s take for granted, will indeed back my thesis up.
To begin with there is Leibniz’s take on the matter. God’s nature is like a balance, and whereas Clarke says that takes out free will, in the sense that God is not the causal agent, rather just a receiver and bound to do whatever has the most weight, it does not mean he has to do something. Afterall it is only an analogy, phrases and ideas we come up with to articulate truths very often beyond language. Leibniz goes on to distinguish between moral vs. absolute necessity. Moral is the idea that one should do something, while absolute is that one has to do something. Again, I agree that whereas God’s nature makes it a moral necessity to create the best possible world, He does not have to. God is free, and he freely chose to create the best possible world.

The Balance
I agree with Leibniz, but not in the sense that God is the balance, but rather Creation is. There must be a cosmic balancing force, life vs. death. Death more often than not is what we percieve as evil, but we only percieve it this way without the knowledge of the necessity of this balance. Afterall a world with no death would very quickly become overpopulated, so many bodies that we are crammed in like the proverbial sardines, resulting in poor quality of life for all. Furthermore, all those people would have to be fed, resulting in not only a very rapid stripping of resources that would eventually lead to starvation when they ran out, but massive evil inflicted up the other creatures of this planet as we humans eat them to exinction. As to intervention in cases of gratiutous evil, God can tip the scales, but every action has repercussions, and I would argue that there is a principle of cosmic justice, and whereas we may not always see it, it may not occur in our desired timeframe it does eventually happen. Therefore the greater weight is the greater good. Creation is indeed like a balance and God’s decisions are weighed in that manner.
In the case of Creation, and moral necessity vs absolute necessity, again there is nothing to say that he has to create the best possible world, or a world at all for that matter. God can be less than absolutely perfect. I know, this flies in the face of the theist’s arguement, but just because we want hm to be perfect doesnt mean he is in fact perfect, or has to be, or even wants to be. More importantly, define perfection. Just because it serves our ends to have him be a certain way, does not mean he has to be that way, and in addition, as I would argue, he is perfect, but that doesnt mean he fits our definition of perfect, or that his perfection suits our needs. Like the parent, and being omniscient, I would argue that he knows exactly what he is doing, it is the right thing.
Furthermore, we do not know what perfectly benevolent would be, as its definition is relative to the person doing the defining. Are we talking in terms of good that is our own wishes and projections, or do we mean just actions(justice), or do we mean good in terms of the other creatures of this planet? We want there to be divine justice and perfection because to think otherwise is scary at best. But really what do we as humans deserve, we believe we are special a above the rest of creation but I would argue that is man’s anthropocentric fantasy, not the reality. I realize this doesnt fit in the Theist arguement, but are we interested in the Truth here, or just conjuring up a Being to help us sleep at night in a world that can appear chaotic and unjust all too often? Because if we are interested in Truth, he can, he does have the choice, and those choices do not necessarily have to serve our human ends, as we are not the only other species on this planet. Rowes conclusion that its either one or the other, God is not free because he has to create the best world, or he didnt and is not worthy of worship, blithely glosses over the subtle implications of certain points, and that they are not a priori given assumptions. God can still be all the things we want him to be in the Theist sense, but that does not mean it translates to a result we would wholly desire or recognize. Such a conclusion is arrogant as best, for it is saying somehow we are omniscient, and we know the mind of God, what he would do, and why he would do it. The idea is absolutely preposterous.
Rather, God can be omniscient, omnibenelovent etc, just as he could be the opposite or somewhere in between, it’s just that being less than perfect would deny him what he really wants, our love and devotion. He does have a choice, he just refuses to take the other option. God does not have to be perfect (or our definition of perfect that suits our mortal interests)to be creator only knowledgable in how to create. I do however argue he is perfect however for he does understand greater good and the balance between life and death that must occur.
I would however concede though that chosing good is limiting, but it is still a choice based on a desired outcome and a being’s priorities. In the human world, I could give the example of loving another but knowing consummation of said desired love would destroy your mate, whom you also love. It is an extremely tough choice, as one way or another you are going to lose the affections of someone you care about. It is personal sacrifice and loss of freedom, but it is still a choice, a person can choose to act selfishly, but it still means a loss. However integrity and goodness are indeed their own reward.
It’s a funny thing about power and responsibility, everyone think they can do a better job, but weighing the choices, choosing the better is not easy. God wants all to love hm, but some choices result in alienating another for the greater good. That being said creation is indeed a perfect machine. Sin is sin not only because it is an offense against God, but in the long run hurts others and eventually results in our own downfall. That is the glaring fault of egoism(selfishness) it eventually results in loss of power/love for the individual when people realize they are being used. There is always a choice. Furthermore, whereas being bound by choices would appear to limit Gods freedom and power, and as a result his praiseworthiness, I would argue no it doesnt. Saying that is like saying that because your boss has to make tough choices he is no longer superior to you. Try telling that to your boss and seeing what happens, and in addition, he is praiseworthy for having to make those tough choices and choosing the best for all involved. Authority is not easy, and usually involves everyone under you who have no idea what its really like, nor do they have a full understanding of the issues, thinking they can do a better job than you. I dont envy God, and dealing with the questioning of his authority, and the thankless job he does because in our arrogance we think we somehow know better.

Best Possible World & Principle of the Best
To this I would remark that I agree, and I agree because evil in the world is not divinely made. It is humanly made. Sin is wholly us turnng from God, it is our own fault, as outlined in the punishment theodicy. To blame God is ludicrous quite frankly, why should he intervene for such selfish beings that blame God for their own shortcomings? I would further argue that sin is refusng to accept our own perfect natures, how to use it wisely. I would argue that it is our nature to be good, there is no reason why we cant be. Humans (children) are innately self serving, which can result in great evil, but is not innately evil in and of itself. Jesus (yes i know, not necessarily God of the Philosophers) whole message was that we can and should strive to attain the same level of perfection that he as God incarnate did. But even the best choices can result in someone getting hurt, and we need to remember that as we judge ourselves. Even the best of intentions fail under certain circumstances.
This is where I really start to question the theist’s definition of perfection, for I feel it is blatantly biased and as a result untrue. How do we know god is above passion, “since God is a purely rational being”(rowe 15). We dont and there is plenty of evidence of his anger(passion) in the Bible alone to refute that. Negative aspects of both us and God exist for a reason, to protect that which is most valuable. How do we explain Gods righteous wrath if he is not passionate? Didn’t we figure out with Kant that reason/rationality/logic will only get a person so far? And even if it is solely right, how does one explain God creating us passionate intuitive beings? A priori knowledge, innate? If God is perfect, why did he create imperfect creatures? Rather than assuming there was a reason to create imperfection, we must entertain that perhaps God did create us perfectly, passions anger,intuition and all.
After all if God is bound to choose the best as Leibniz argues, and many have, that would mean his perfect goodness is flawed if he knowingly created imperfect beings. I would argue that it actually makes more sense that he did create us perfectly, and that according to the PSR, there was a reason to create us with our supposed failings, ie we just havent figured out the proper outlet for these things we’d rather shave off of ourselves. I would argue that it is because we suppress them and do not find contructive outlet for them that they become destructive. It’s us being idiots, not God. God created us in their image. As argued on page 20, Principle of the Best is a contigent truth and it is based on free will. God did not have to create existence, but he did, he has a choice, even in light of omnibenevolence, for how do we know existence is better than nonexistence? We dont.
The implication of all this is that we do not even fully understand or know creation or even ourselves as much as we think we do, as a result can we really understand the mind of God in doing what he does? He creates the best because it suits his ends of Love, not necessarily for our interest, and that is a subtle but important difference. The Principle of Sufficient Reason, all things have some rational justification. Life without death is death, ie over population from non-stop multiplying and hellish existence as a result, and, death without life is life, never being born means never having to die. Overcrowding, quality of life, there must be death to make room for the living. No matter which way you slice it, death is not pretty. And all of this negates arbitrary whims of God . Clarkes arguement that god acts on whims ( Rowe 11) would negate God as being praiseworthy for then he becomes irrational, fickle and as a result, not to be trusted. No there is a reason, and God did do the best, we just do not in general see it as we tend to be blinded by self-importance.
Aquinas spoke of the infinity of worlds, God’s goodness is diffusive leading to creation of the world, but God does not necessarily have to make things to manifest his goodness (Rowe 47). He also posed the rather peculiar idea, to me at least, that this is not the best world as there is distance from God.
The analogy of dissonance between different qualiies of lute strings doesnt hold water as why not just change all strings on the lute. Making something deliberately imperfect just so as not to be disharmonious is illogical for that reason, and defies God’ perfect goodness and the Priniciple of the Best. If that were the case, the implications of that are astounding, lets make it all mediocre so its not disharmonious but the individual parts languish as a result. This is noted, but I also take issue that there is infinate space between any creature and God. No God is everywhere and in all things, for he is pnuema, or the animating force, the breath of life. His very nature gives ourexistence, rendering him praiseworthy, and as a result of this close necessary proximity, we are agan back to Leibniz and that this is the best possible world.
Aquinas’ idea again violates Priniciple of the Best, how can God be all loving and good if he keeps creating better and better worlds, leaving the original worlds to languish in their inferiority through no fault of their own? Furthermore such a statement implies that God evolves, which apparently is completely unacceptable in the classical Theist sense. Furthermore how can God not be present in the world as to deny us his presence would violate his omnibenevolence. Rowe later tackles these counterarguements on page 51, but still doesnt quite seem to grasp the full implications. God is present in world, God is good, good of world is infinate even if there are other worlds, extraordinary happens all the time, we just fail to notice .
On page 42 there is a discussion of an idea of a world where eating food is infinately good. It is not infinately good as what about what’s being eaten? Its experiencing pain, which it would consider evil. Point is there cannot be a world without suffering for if we did not eat, we would then suffer. Maybe this is due to the Fall, supposedly there are yogis who can live off the sun, even a vegetarian diet is better, but science is finding even plants feel it when they are partially eaten. Why must we eat? I dont know, but it is the way that it is, and that must be accounted for in ascertaining the infinate goodness of everything, we cant just ignore the suffering we inflict on others.
As to one infinately good world being better than another, i think his “math” is a little off. Even higher order pleasures cause suffering, wood for violins etc. And yes I realize the implications are paralyzing, but they have to be taken into account. “Leibniz…thought that each kind of living thing has a right to exist”(p44) Rowe interprets that as the right to have existing members of that kind, and it is unclear whether that is Rowe’s take or Leibniz meant it that way, but either way, no it’s not just the right to not face exitinction, its the right of all creatures not to be slaughtered. Obviously this world violates that right as it has to, but again, how can we blindly and naively turn away from the obvious that life is a balance, and whereas the balance is beautiful, the counterweight to creation, destruction, is never beautiful, it is only beautiful in the context to the order it maintains. For such an all loving God, he kills every last one of us in the end, when he could have made us immortal, immune to the sting of death. But why create creatures so self-absorbed and arrogant, who turned from God long ago, immortal? They (us as a whole) do not deserve it. God is perfectly good in his judgement, but that does not mean he is without destructive/culling tendencies. ” as a whole tends to His greater glory…(Rowe, 45) To view it any other way is infantile at best.
In addition, how do we know the lower order things are devoid of reason and the capacity to worship God? Did someone become an ant and no one told me? Just because we dont see something as what we would recognize as same, does not mean it does not exist. What if we really are no better than any other creature? Afterall ants exist in well ordered colonies dutifully doing their job, while humans sit around arguing obtuse philosophy all day and sometimes get in wars about it. You tell me which is really better, the creature that knows its place and function and does it without question, or the animal that has never known its place and out of its anthropocentric arrogance tries to make all of the Earth serve its end, regardless of the destruction it causes? Tell me who really is rational and serves the greater glory of God? Us or the ant? Im going with the ant.
Goodness is not neccesarily diffusive of itself. That being said there is still no necessity of God creating the world . Is not justice good? for if we consider justice, all arguements as to the nature of the best possible world take on new meaning. Do we in all our iniquity and arrogance really deserve anything better? And in the case of innocents suffering that is a product of man-and the perpetrators do meet justice in the end, one way or another. God’s love of his own goodness implies a`desire to multiply it (Rowe 48) But even this eventually results in evil in the form of overpopulation. So God’s in love with himself? That implies selfabsorbtion rendering him imperfect, and sounds more human that divine. My point, is we are projecting ourselves onto God, instead of getting over ourselves and listening, and we wonder why the world is the way it is.
It is going to be dificult for me to analyze these arguements further as to me many of their baic premises seemed to be fatally flawed, and as a result, a moot point, not deserving further arguement. However, I will take on Kretzmann’s view that it in no way diminishes God’s goodness that he did not create the best world. Again this is on what I feel is the flawed view that this is not the best world, a flaw resulting from a broad definition of what constitutes the best and an failure to grasp that the best, and goodness, depend on perspective, and once viewed from that relativst vantage point, become moot undefinable points, a null set. God would have to do the best from his vantage point, and considering we are not God, we cannot ever really know what that would be.
But Kretzmann argues that if there is no such thing as the best possible world, that does not diminish Gods perfect goodness. From the relitivist’s perspective, this makes sense. By having no clear uncontestable idea of what constitutes good, or the best, technically there is no such thing as a best possible world as it is undefinable. Obviously this leads us down a very slippery slope, of what is good vs bad, morality and is there a point to any of this or trying to be ethical, but as Kretzmann argues, if there is no such thing as a best possible world, even a perfect omnibenevolent God, cannot create that which is logically impossible. It is an interesting caveat as it points out, although Im sure he did not mean to in the sense I am taking it, that our definition of the best might not exist, at least not in a way we would understand it.
I think it is fairly obvious that I could go on pointing out one logical inconsistency or assumption after another. And even though they may seem like tangents they are not, because to knock out the premises that make up the arguement, the inferences gleaned, is to knock out the arguement as a whole. Rowe pits two bad conclusions against one another, giving the reader an illusion of choice, when the truth is there are many conclusions one could come to once the blinders are off. In short, God has to have free will as otherwise he would not be omnipotent, and even if he is not omnipotent, he is still praiseworthy as he is our creator.



  1. Yang Ho said,

    What inspired this ambitious article?

    • etheria888 said,

      Sitting in philosophy of religion class and wanting to tear my hair out day after day listening to the assumed premises on which the entire theistic argument rests

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