In an earlier post I outlined the standard ‘problem of suffering’ argument against the normal definitions of God and explained why the normal theistic defence defines God as less-than-omnipotent (which is my point, not theirs). I know you can get around some of the suffering in this world by putting it down to human freewill, but that never gets you around naturally caused suffering: disease, pestilence, famine, flood, drought etc.
I want to share my thoughts on why freewill is also not an excuse. I’m not going to call on my real thoughts on freewill (i.e. that there is no such thing), I am going to grant freewill for the sake of this post. But not completely freewill.
There are obviously some limits on our freewill—“I’d be unstoppable if it weren’t for law enforcement and physics”. I certainly cannot choose to open up a wormhole and pass through it to any point in time and space, I’ve tried; I cannot fly, which I know because if I could I would have hurt myself fewer times; I cannot become Spiderman, despite many wishes to the contrary.
There are other limits to our will which are less facetious to consider. I cannot go downstairs and punch my little brother in the face*. It’s within the boundaries of physics and I could probably get away with it. But I could not bring myself to do it. I could also not go next door and stab my neighbour. There may be circumstances under which I could, but now I could not; I have emotional boundaries to the freedom of my will.
I know people who have been unable to do a bungee jump despite being right there and it being just one small step. Emotional boundaries, like my moral sense and empathy and my friends’ fear, are boundaries as real as the physical boundaries that stop me from turning invisible.
God could have given us more empathy as a matter of course. Our moral sense could be more astute. Our fear of hurting other people could be greater. They aren’t, and people can do truly awful things. God has clearly seen fit to put some limits on our will, but not enough for us to live without doing unjustifiable, atrocious and ghastly things to one another.
*I wrote something like this a long time ago, and the example I used of a thing I could not do was “kill my girlfriend”. I still couldn’t kill her. I just wanted to clear that up for anyone that reads this new post and read that old post and was curious about that omission.