Free Will Isn’t Free

You get up on a Saturday morning, get dressed, and throw open the front door. How are you going to spend your day? You can keep things small and routine: visit a friend, go shopping, watch TV. You might also do something epic: take a spontaneous road trip, withdraw your savings and give it to the homeless, start that novel you’ve been talking about for years. The possibilities are seemingly endless!

But they aren’t endless. There are somethings that you are simply not allowed to do, at least not legally or easily. You can’t throw hand grenades at pedestrians. You can’t declare yourself a police officer and start fighting crime. You can’t drive your car onto an airport tarmac.

Is your “free will” restricted by not having every theoretical activity available to you? Perhaps, but is this really a problem? We generally agree as a civilization that, as a whole, we’re better off if individuals don’t have certain options on the table. We might argue about what those options are, but few advocate anarchy as the ideal state of affairs.

Now let’s get into a specific example. Let’s say you’re a young man with a history of violence, and you really have it out for your mother-in-law. You decide to spend your day of endless possibility by going to her church and shooting up the place.

Would anyone have a problem if this man wasn’t given this particular option? If God placed an invisible wall around the church, preventing the man from entering or firing through, would we be any worse off? Indeed, wouldn’t this in fact be a powerful testimony of God’s protection? Imagine if someone got a video of a gun-wielding madman smacking into absolutely nothing!

Instead, in the aftermath of yet another gun massacre, we are forced to assume that God must have his reasons for not interfering – just like in Columbine, Paducah, Killeen, Austin, San Bernardino, Sandy Hook, Las Vegas, Orlando, Virginia Tech, Fort Hood, Aurora, Charleston… and on and on.


God Doesn’t Live Here Anymore

This post will be more of an emotional argument than I generally try to employ, but I’ve decided to take a page from the Christian playbook and prey on the victims of a recent tragedy.

The Sutherland Springs church shooting was, on the one hand, yet another in a string of killing sprees that has become such a depressingly mundane part of American life. Not even churches are immune from this kind of tragedy, as we already know from the events in Charleston two years ago.

But aren’t Christians supposed to be special? Isn’t God supposed to be “a very present help in trouble“? What happened to the David’s God, of whom the king declared:

“The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield, and the horn of my salvation,
my stronghold and my refuge,
my savior; you save me from violence.” (2 Samuel 22:2-3)

“Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him;
I will protect him, because he knows my name.
When he calls to me, I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him
and show him my salvation.” (Psalm 91:14-16)

“The Lord is your keeper;
the Lord is your shade on your right hand.

The Lord will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.” (Psalm 121:5,7)

What reassurance is a believer supposed to take from these passages? Why does God include them in his Word if he doesn’t intend to follow through?

If your God lets a deranged maniac waltz into his own house, where he is supposedly present, and gun down his own faithful, not even sparing children – at what point do you consider the possibility that he isn’t really there? Surely if there was ever a time for God to demonstrate his awesome power, it would be in the face of a disturbed man hell-bent on showering his holy place with the blood of his followers.

How will these people go back and worship God in the same place where he failed to protect their family and friends? How will the pastor, whose own daughter was among the deceased, get up and preach about God’s love and compassion?

How would you handle this failure on the part of anyone else? If your security guard allows a robbery to happen, you fire him! If your doctor fails to diagnose an illness, you get a new one! Or do you convince yourself, against the weight of evidence, that these are the best individuals for their respective jobs, to the point of recommending them to those around you?

The Real Miracle Would Be Demonstrating One

At the most recent meeting of the Atheist Christian Book Club, we took a break from books to watch this old debate between Bart Ehrman and William Lane Craig. The discussion hinged upon the admissibility of miracles as an explanation for historical events. Craig claimed that, in the case of the resurrection, a miracle was the only explanation that fits the evidence. Ehrman stressed that miracles cannot be addressed by historical methodology as historians cannot presuppose the existence of a particular God.

Ehrman takes to the extreme the colloquial usage of the term “miracle.” He considers miracles as possible but inherently so improbable that almost any other explanation is more likely. This means even the most dubious naturalistic explanation is more plausible than a supernatural one.

This is the challenge to those who wish to prop up ancient miracle stories. Have they ruled out trickery on the part of the miracle worker? Have they ruled out embellishment, even unintentional, on the part of the writer? Have they ruled out an unknown but entirely natural explanation?

Even those who believe Craig’s supernatural explanation for the resurrection do not apply the same thought process to everyday life. If you find your lost keys under the couch with no idea how they got there, do you immediately assume that God put them there? Or do you figure there’s some relatively mundane reason that you don’t happen to know?

Supernatural intervention is an explanation of exclusion, not of evidence. Craig does not support his claims with his own affirmative evidence. Instead, he decides that no sufficient natural evidence has or can be presented to disprove him. Craig’s argument thus becomes an overwrought god of the gaps: he can’t come up with a convincing naturalistic explanation, therefore it must be God.

Craig says it’s entirely plausible that God raised Jesus from the dead, assuming the existence of God. But if we assume one god, why not assume others? Once you start admitting supernatural causes, where do you stop? How do you decide which otherworldly beings interact with our world and which do not? Can you say for sure that it was Jehovah and not Poseidon that gave Jesus the ability to walk on water? Was Jesus raised from the dead by Jehovah or Dionysus? Once you open this can of worms, the worms are all over the place, so you’d better have a damn good reason for touching that lid in the first place.