Is Free Will a Design Flaw?

imagesMany people take for granted that we have “free will” and view it as the way things should be. Who would want to be controlled by another if they could, instead, decide their own future?  But not everyone shares that view. Some see in free will a liability, a mistake on God’s part by which he essentially botched creation. As one person put it:

“Why would God create a person who He knows will never know Him and therefore end up in Hell? Isn’t that like deliberately building a part with a defect?”

The problem with this question lies in treating “free will” as a design flaw.  Implicit in such a view is a hidden assumption that, despite having a will that is free, everyone should, in the end, choose God. So, when it appears that God designed us in a way that allows for some – perhaps most – to reject Him, then we must conclude that he created us in a way that is defective. He essentially failed to achieve what He intended, or what He should have intended. He wanted to make all “good” people and instead ended up with a bunch of “bad” ones.

But this assumption – this view of free will – misunderstands what is really at play. “Free will” is by no means a design flaw. Whatever we choose – to follow God or to reject him – we are actually operating the way we were designed to. God had several choices when he created:

1) he could have not created us at all, and no one would go to Hell. But then no one would spend eternity with him either;

2) he could have made us with no free will, either as machines that are programmed or animals operating only on instinct. But then we would not be capable of a love relationship with him or anyone else. We could be “happy” and we could “worship” him, but love by its nature requires freely choosing the person or thing that is the object of the love.

3) The third alternative is to create us with free will, and then abide by our choices. The people who don’t “know him” (as the writer put it) are those who have chosen that. God chose to implement the third approach, because he felt that creating beings who could share love with him was indeed a good thing. His choice was a fair one, even though many will end up separated from Him. It is fair because this is, in the end, what they want, what they have chosen for themselves. More importantly, it is fair because he is not expecting us to do any of the work of salvation. We don’t need to earn our way there or impress Him. We simply need to accede to him, to accept his gift and invite him into our hearts. Many people choose to stand firm in their rejection. Where is the unfairness in allowing us the consequence of our choice. Indeed, if he overrode our choice and forced us to worship him, regardless of our rejection of him, we would not be able to call that free will.

 In short, God in his wisdom thought creating free will beings was a good idea. He apparently believes that the good of some sharing eternity with him outweighs the “bad” of those who suffer torment when they reject him, probably because in each case he is respecting their choice. The problem that sneaks in is the assumption that those who reject him really had no choice; they were blindsided in some way or built in a way in which it was not possible for them to repent. This assumption is false for three reasons: 1) it would be inconsistent with God’s nature of perfect fairness and perfect love; 2) it would contradict Scripture relating to God sending Jesus to save “all” of us, Jew and Gentile alike; and 3) it is inconsistent with what we know intuitively about our ability to think, reason, will, etc. No one is forcing me to make the choices I make, and I have no reason to believe that any human being is different in that way. My limitations relate to capabilities – I can’t do certain things no matter how hard I try. But, I don’t have to do anything to impress God. I simply need to direct my will toward him and not against him. He does the rest. Each of us has that capability. To deny that is simply another way of saying we have no free will, when in fact we do. While a person’s upbringing may shape the way they think, it does not remove free will; they may hate and wish to do evil, but they are aware that they are doing this, and aware that others choose to act differently.

So free will is not a design flaw. Indeed, it is a tremendously valuable gift that we did nothing to deserve.

Posted by Al Serrato

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  1. Jordan says:

    GREAT article, Al. Very well thought through and worded.

  2. zilch says:

    N2ough they typically don’t characterize it as such. Rather, they either magic it away (“God is omnipotent, so He can give us free will even if it is not logical”) or say that “His nature” is such that He somehow restricts Himself to only good stuff.

    So Al: the ball is in your court. To rephrase the skeptic’s question: If God be omniscient and omnipotent, how can we be anything but robots?

    cheers from sunny Vienna, zilch

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