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On Free Will, Fair Trials, and the Problem of Evil

A recent series of comments on an article of mine characterizing Obama’s desire to have the KSM trial in NYC as a ‘show trial‘ prompted me to ponder one of the claims made in those comments.  I noted what appears to be a parallel between “Mark’s” argument and atheistic objections to God along the lines of free will and the problem of evil.  In saying this, I don’t mean to imply that Mark is actually an atheist.  I have no idea if he is.  Nor do I mean to unduly pick on him, because in my view youngsters are to be commended for venturing their opinions.

He insisted the KSM trial won’t be a ‘show trial’ because the outcome isn’t rigged.  I retorted that there was no doubt in my mind that if KSM was declared innocent, whether on the merits of the case or because of a technicality, there was no way that KSM wouldn’t end up in custody again, which is in effect an unfair trial under the constitution, for if a person is declared innocent under the constitution, he is free to go.  Mark replied that what happens after the trial is irrelevant to the fairness of the trial.

I will leave aside other aspects of the conversation which you can read for yourself.

I find this to be an interesting argument that seems to be the same argument that many atheists appear to be running with when they decide that it is likely that God doesn’t exist because a loving, omnipotent and omniscient God wouldn’t allow such horrible evils to occur.

What is the alternative?  Let us imagine that every time someone did an evil thing, God swooped in and prevented it.  If this happened, would we imagine that that person really had free will?

God’s omnipotence and omniscience has nothing to do with this.  It is a simple question of logic:  if God is constantly and continually intervening to erase an immoral act or the consequences of that act, how is that not the same, in effect, of having no free will at all?

In my conversations with atheists this simple logical argument has driven them to insist that God’s omnipotence/omniscience must entail his ability to do the non-sensical, ie, God ought to be able to make a square circle if he is so all knowing and all powerful.  They are in essence insisting that God should be able to give us ‘unfree’ free will.  Square circles.  Red taste.  Loud smells.  Unfree free will.

These are not the things that can be done.  They are incoherencies.  I may as well demand that God should be able to to do bugga-bugga doo-dah.  It makes the same amount of sense.

A better answer that I’ve had atheists retort with is that given the scope of just how evil man can be, the price for genuine free will is simply too high.

Well, this latter point is not without merit.  Christians feel the problem of pain and evil more acutely than atheists do.  There is an intellectual answer to this objection but it brings little comfort:  God is the one who determines if the price is too high because he feels the problem of pain and evil more acutely than even Christians do- more than all of the human race… infinitely more so, in fact- and if he thinks its worth it, that’s his call.

There is some comfort though:  If Christianity be true, it is the account of how God looked upon this world of horrors and decided to enter into it to fix it… But note:  the ‘fix’ still reflects God’s desire to honor man’s genuine free will.

So we are left to decide if in fact it is a ‘fair trial’ if after an ‘innocent verdict’ if the government swoops in to negate the effects of that verdict and bundles KSM and his buds off to a military tribunal in hopes of achieving the verdict desired and similarly if it is in fact ‘free will’ if after an unpleasant human decision God swoops in to negate it or its effects.  I say ‘no.’

If you agree, the next question is whether or not you think a ‘fair trial’ is important enough that you will respect the outcome, even if you don’t like it, and similarly whether or not you think that ‘free will’ is important enough that you can accept the fact that God is willing to abide the consequences of our actions, even if we don’t like the results.

The final alternative, I reckon, is that we propose that God simply not create us at all.  Is it really the case that it is better to not exist at all than to exist and have to deal with all of life’s difficulties and griefs?  All of us who have not committed suicide must have already decided that existence is superior to non-existence.  We make that decision for ourselves, and many of us will even bring children into this world of horrors.  If we will continue, and introduce others to, this messy life, why can we not extend to God the right to make the same decision for the entire human race?

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1 comment

    • Mark on February 15, 2010 at 3:28 pm

    What Anthony neglected to mention is that I was mainly responding to his accusation that Obama was advocating a “Soviet Show Trial.” Obama made no such accusation, but Anthony thinks he did because he misinterpreted what Obama said.

    Obama: “There’s no chance that a guilty verdict won’t be returned.”

    Translation: “I believe the prosecution’s case is so strong that once the evidence is presented to the jury, I’m confident that they will feel compelled to find him guilty.” Interpreted this way, there is absolutely nothing sinister or “un-American”, as Anthony puts it,” about Obama’s statement — it’s quite reassuring, in fact. But instead, Anthony finds Obama’s statement “disturbing” and problematic. Why? The only explanation is that Anthony thought Obama was suggesting that the outcome of the trial will be fixed beforehand — like the “Soviet show trials” (hence the title of his post).
    Of course, and again, nothing about Obama’s statement suggests this interpretation.

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