why_did_god_allow_the_possibility_of_evil_and_suffering_tSteven Cowan and Greg Welty argue contra Jerry Walls that compatibilism is consistent with Christianity.[1] What they question is the value of libertarian free will (the freedom to do other than what one, in fact, chooses to do, including evil).  Why would God create human beings with the ability to choose evil?  Libertarians typically argue that such is necessary in order to have genuine freedom, including the freedom to enter into a loving relationship with God.  After all, if one could only choose A (the good), and could never choose B (the evil), then their “choice” of A is meaningless.  The possibility of truly and freely choosing A requires at least the possibility of choosing B. The possibility of evil, then, is necessary for a free, loving relationship with God. It is logically impossible for God to create free creatures who are unable to choose anything other than A.

Cowan and Wells ask, however, what would be wrong with God creating us in a way that made it impossible for us to desire or choose evil, and yet our choice would still be free.  All that would be required is the presence of more than one good to choose from (A, C, D, E, F…).  No matter what we choose, we could have chosen some other good, but never evil.  This avoids the logical contradiction and preserves real freedom of choice.  Cowan and Wells argue that such a world would be superior to our world since this possible world preserves libertarian free will, but lacks evil.  In their assessment, there is no reason for the actual world if the value of libertarian free will (relationship with God, gives us freedom to choose the good, gives us the freedom to do otherwise) could be obtained without the possibility of evil.  For the libertarian who wants to maintain that the actual world is superior to this possible world, they must maintain that the greatest value of libertarian freedom is that it gives us the opportunity to do evil.  Why would God value our ability to do evil if He is good and hates evil?  Why would God create a world in which libertarian freedom results in evil if He could have achieved all of the goals of libertarian freedom without evil?

How would one respond to this argument?  Keep in mind that their possible world requires that for every choice a libertarian free creature makes, he must first be presented with multiple options, all of which are morally good.  Is that possible?  For many choices, yes, but not all.  The most obvious example is actually one of the stated purposes for libertarian free will: to allow us to freely choose to enter into a loving relationship with God.  When it comes to a relationship with God, how many good options do we have?  One, it seems to me.  It’s a dichotomous decision: either we enter into a loving relationship with God, or we don’t.  Choosing not to have a relationship with God would be evil.  But in the possible world, one cannot choose evil, so one could not choose not to have a relationship with God.  That would mean they must choose to have a relationship with God, and they are no longer free.

Since Cowan and Welty’s possible world cannot, in fact, achieve all of the virtues of libertarian free will without evil, it is not a feasible world. To achieve a world in which creatures enjoy libertarian free will, God had to create a world in which evil was possible.


[1]Steven B. Cowan and Greg A. Welty, “Pharaoh’s Magicians Redivivus: A Response to Jerry Walls on Christian Compatibilism”, Philosophia Christi, Vol. 17, No. 1, 2015, pp. 151-173