Can Compulsive Evil Destroy Free Will?

I’ve been on Twitter for over five years now, defending the Christian worldview as an apologist, and have learned a thing or two about communicating with atheists. From what I have observed, they enjoy a good polemic and some throw Christians under the bus. Many use the same arguments against God’s existence and/or why Christianity is not true ad nauseam. But the other day I heard a new twist against the free will argument for why God allows evil. Here is my response to that challenge.

Let’s call him Bob, an atheist on Twitter, who said this against the free will argument:

“Some people commit evil out of compulsion which destroys free will. It’s a psychological illness. Why did your god create some people so defective they are compelled to do evil?

— an atheist on Twitter

Let’s examine free will.

Free will is the power of acting without constraint. It is not determined by physics or biology—it comes from the immaterial aspect of humanity: your will. It is the ability to choose between different possible courses of action, unimpeded.

Here’s the thing—under an atheistic worldview, which denies that anything outside of the material realm exists (also called naturalism), free will is tough to define. Nonetheless, Atheist Philosopher and Cognitive Scientist, Daniel Dennett, has defined free will as biological. Dennett sees people as a sort of biochemical machine responding to stimuli—we are determined to act this way or that, and morals are simply something humanity created to help our species survive.

Where does this worldview naturally lead? If all of our actions are determined, then moral responsibility is ultimately absolved. I mean, if I am determined to act a certain way or do a certain thing because I’m “wired” that way, then it follows that I had no other option in committing a certain act – it was determined. 

No one honestly lives this way. We have laws based on moral guidelines that if broken, have consequences (which is why prisons are mostly full, sadly). People are responsible for their actions—that’s how we all live. We have free will. But some atheists want to convince us that human free will is just an illusion. This theory is the culprit of a distorted perception of reality (Romans 1:21); the thought of free will being an illusion is, in itself, an illusion.

Inconsistent Worldview

Back to Bob’s statement. It assumes two things exist: free will and evil. But when atheism is thoroughly examined, neither of those two things could really exist. In an atheistic worldview, how can anything be called absolutely evil? Bob is presupposing a standard of good and evil; his statement assumes compulsory evil is bad. But on what basis can Bob call it objectively evil if human beings are nothing more than accidental byproducts (time + matter + chance) of evolved substances? 

Bob has what is called the “burden of proof” – the obligation to prove one’s assertion falls to the one who made it. Ultimately, he must show how atheism can call anything objectively evil in the first place. Under atheism, something can be subjectively evil, but that’s just an opinion. To say anything is objectively evil, there must be a transcendent standard from which to measure it. We all know that there are some things that are wrong for all time, all people and all cultures (i.e. torturing babies for fun is always wrong and evil in every circumstance). One cannot claim that ultimate evil is just an opinion because opinions can change, and a world where torturing babies for fun (or something akin to that) became okay, would not be a good world at all, and we know it.

Bob does recognize that some of us are defective by stating his concern about those who have a compulsion to do evil. (If we are brutally honest, we all have the capacity to do evil; just read the book Ordinary Men if you don’t believe me).Yet, his assumption requires a transcendent source of goodness to be true in order for his assertion to be valid. Otherwise, a compulsory evil person is just doing what he was determined to do, biochemically. His statement, thus, is inconsistent with his atheistic worldview.

Coherent Worldview

Christianity is consistent within its own worldview, seeing God as the objective standard of good against what we call evil. The effects of the fall is one of the primary reasons things are defective in this world, including people who are psychologically ill or exhibit compulsive behaviors. Christianity has the solution to the effects of the fall: redemption through faith in Jesus Christ. Programs like AA or NA (Narcotics Anonymous) tap into this notion in what some call a “Higher Power,” or what Christians call God, helping people overcome their addictions. 

With the help of the Holy Spirit, literally hundreds of thousands of Jesus followers throughout history have overcome many bad compulsions, addictions and overall sinful behavior. Yes, not all Christians have resisted the temptation to sin. Some have done horrid things! However, there are some “Christians in name only” (those who claim that they are Christian but don’t practice it or exhibit redemptive change). For those who understand what it means to be a Christian, have repented, and show by their actions that the redemptive process is at work (it takes time), we seek justice, love mercy and walk humbly before our God. (Micah 6:8.)

Christianity sees that free will is a characteristic of God that He shares with His creation. God made us in His image and part of that image includes choices. Since free will exists (Christianity believes it resides within the soul of a person, which is your mind, your emotions and your will), people can follow their compulsions or not. Choice is not pre-determined.

Why Does God Allow Evil?

God allows evil for the overriding good of free will. To God, creating people with choices is the higher good, versus having created people determined to behave or to force people to love Him. Love is also a choice.

This doesn’t mean that God will not prevent bad things from happening on occasion. Who knows how many times prayers were answered to prevent evil? There is no way, this side of heaven, that we can measure all of the answered prayers of the saints. We can, however, assume many more terrible things would happen if God’s people did not pray. We cannot know why God does not stop other horrific acts of evil in certain instances. Yet, we do know that part of His plans in allowing evil are to teach us that sin is bad! That is a huge lesson taught in the Bible. It is brutally honest in its record keeping on human sin. Scripture shows us the hard consequences of sin.

We are Part of the Solution

Part of God’s solution to evil is that people are called to help to quell it. We are to seek justice in this world, and we have! Consider all of the Christian relief organizations: the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, Samaritan’s Purse, the International Justice Mission, World Vision, and Compassion International, just to name a few.

“Humanity is the gatekeeper of the gate through which evil threatens to enter the world.”

– St. Augustine

In conclusion, in an atheistic worldview, the human race is doomed to deterministic behavior where nothing can be wholly defined as evil. Compulsive bad behaviors or not, people would be simply be responding to their biochemistry. In contrast, the Christian worldview recognizes evil against the standard of goodness found in a transcendent source (God), as we seek to right the wrongs in this world. Therefore, the Christian worldview is a coherent view, and a more hopeful one when compared to the naturalistic/materialistic worldview.

So, Bob, if you are reading this, please consider showing how atheism can call anything objectively evil in the first place, and make sure you are determined to find an answer.


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