I’ve written the following dialogue that outlines the common interaction I see between theists and atheists when discussing the doctrine of free will. What do you think? Is the skeptic’s argument valid?
A short discussion about free will . . .
“God allows evil,” says the apologist, “because he has given us the ability to choose him or reject him. He has given us free will. God is not responsible for evil; we are responsible for evil through our choices.”
“Okay,” replies the skeptic, “but let me ask you a question.”
“Sure,” says the apologist.
“If you were a character in a book,” asks the skeptic, “would you, as a character, have the ability of free will?”
“Well,” replies the apologist, “if I was a character in a book, I wouldn’t really exist. I would just be a figment of the author’s imagination.”
“Fair enough. But let’s say, for sake of argument, that you and I are conscious beings but are also characters in a story. Our very dialogue, the words that I am saying to you right now, has actually been written down by a writer. However, we don’t know that this is the case. Would we have free will?”
The apologist answers: “No, I don’t think we would.”
“Why?” asks the skeptic.
“Well,” replies the apologist, “once the story is written, it can never be changed. Whenever the story plays itself out in the eyes of the reader, it will always follow the same path.”
“Well done,” says the skeptic. “Let me now ask you this: does God know the future?”
“Yes, the Bible clearly states that he is omniscient.”
“So God knew, from the beginning of the universe, every little detail that would happen in the future?”
“He knows everything,” replies the apologist.
“Let me explain the problem with that,” says the skeptic. “If God knew everything in the future, then he would know all the choices that you and I would make in our lives – including the choice of choosing or not choosing him. The universe would be like a story already written, and the normal sequence of events playing themselves out would be like someone who is reading the story. If God knew from the beginning of the universe that I would not choose him, then how can I have free will?
“Even if God knew,” replies the apologist, “he still left the choice up to you.”
“But how can that be?” says the skeptic. “If God knew – from the beginning of time and with absolute certainty – that I would reject him, then no matter what I do in my life, there will be no way in which I can choose otherwise. As humans, we don’t have free will. However, God, as the author of the universe, had a choice what to include in the story. He chose that suffering and evil would be a part of this world.”