XFiles Friday: Free will is inevitable.May 23, 2008 — Deacon Duncan
(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, chapter 8 )
When we left off last week, Geisler and Turek were saying,
[S]ince we know beyond reasonable doubt that God exists and that he has…characteristics that include design, purpose, justice and love…then we should expect him to reveal more of himself and his purpose for our lives. This would require that he communicate with us.
The fundamental and obvious problem is that God does not, in fact, show up in real life, as each of us can verify by direct observation. We hear rumors and hearsay and exaggerated claims—from other people—but we never observe God Himself putting in an appearance, holding a press conference, being interviewed on CNN, etc. The communication we need, that we ought to expect, and that by rights God ought to be eager to supply, does not happen. Quite a serious problem, and Geisler and Turek have no choice but to appeal to that fount of infallible wisdom…C. S. Lewis.
But how could God reveal himself so that we could get a more detailed understanding of what his ultimate purpose is for us? Why couldn’t he appear to each one of us? He could, but that might interfere with our free will. C. S. Lewis has some great insights on this topic. In his Screwtape Letters, Screwtape, the senior demon, writes the following to his disciple Wormwood:
You must have wondered why the Enemy [God] does not make more use of His power to be sensibly present to human souls in any degree He chooses and at any moment. But you now see that the Irresistible and the Indisputable are the two weapons which the very nature of His scheme forbids Him to use. Merely to over-ride a human will (as His felt presence in any but the faintest and most mitigated degree would certainly do) would be for Him useless. He cannot ravish. He can only woo.
That certainly makes sense, doesn’t it? The reason God does not show up in real life is because to do so would result in our immediate rape. So instead He has to “woo” us by avoiding us completely. Hmmm.
Let’s get started on some of the vast array of problems that are inherent in this particular excuse for God’s absence. First of all, if the ability to perceive God’s existence necessarily results in the destruction of free will, how is it that Satan has any free will? Both Screwtape and Wormwood, in Lewis’s fantasy, have the knowledge of God that He denies to His beloved children. How is it, then, that they are able to freely choose not to love and obey Him? Or are their evil deeds perhaps driven by His free will, since they have none of their own?
Secondly, the Bible promises that believers (and everyone else) will see God clearly, at the Second Coming, at the Last Judgment, and throughout all eternity. If God showing up means the rape of individual free will and/or its destruction, then believers can look forward to an eternity either of volitional rape or of the absence of free will altogether. If this is to be the final state of free will, what makes it so valuable that a loving Heavenly Father would prefer to see most of His beloved children burn forever in Hell, rather than risk compromising it during the brief span of our mortal years?
Thirdly, Geisler and Turek follow Lewis’s lead in utterly forgetting the Gospel when they claim that God must necessarily be limited to showing up only in “the faintest and most mitigated degree.” In fact, for this particular argument to work, you need to reject huge swaths of Scripture, which speak of fire and brimstone, plagues of death and darkness, burning bushes and pillars of fire, to say nothing of Incarnations.
Geisler and Turek have inadvertently hit on one of the major inconsistencies of Christian apologetics: in order to explain why God does not show up in real life, you are forced to argue that some overriding circumstance makes it unwise and unloving for Him to appear. As soon as you do that, though, you are contradicting all the reasons the Bible gives us for why we should believe He exists. The Bible stories aren’t about people thinking they’ve felt some faint, mitigated sense of God’s presence, they’re about God doing all the sorts of things He should (and doesn’t) do today—if He really believes the Gospel, anyway.
And it gets better:
If God has not chosen the overpowering option of face-to-face interactions with every person on the planet, then perhaps he has chosen a more subtle method of communication…Written language is a precise medium of communication that can easily be duplicated and passed on to succeeding generations, yet it can also be easily ignored by those who freely decide that they don’t want to be bothered with God.
You guessed it: that is the only possible alternative to direct communication that Geisler and Turek even consider. You can practically read their minds. “Hmm, how can we make the Bible sound inspired when we don’t see God acting in real life the way He behaves in the Bible stories?” And their answer? God does not show up in real life, therefore there must be some reason why He can’t show up in real life, therefore He must have communicated to us by providing us with a book—a book full of stories about God showing up, which He obviously cannot have done, because if He could show up in real life, then He wouldn’t need the book. Duh.
The Bible doesn’t just give us stories about God showing up in real life, it tells stories about God showing up and engaging in direct, face-to-face interactions with men (and occasionally even with women). How shall we read the stories of Moses, and of the Virgin Birth, and of the Transfiguration, and of Saul’s conversion on the road to Damascus, if we must believe that God cannot directly manifest Himself to people without destroying their free will? Were the disciples all robots? Are they unsaved, having lacked the free will to choose to believe? And how could the Pharisees deliver Jesus over to be crucified, if their free will had been destroyed by the physical manifestation of the Incarnate Son?
There’s nothing the “free will” argument does quite so well as contradicting Scripture. It’s clever, in a low, crafty sort of way, for Geisler and Turek to figure out a way to argue that God’s absence is evidence for the inspiration of the Bible. But even if we buy the line that God must communicate through a book, there’s still a problem: God didn’t write the Bible. For all that believers habitually give God credit for the writing, the actual words were penned by men (and possibly by ignored and forgotten women). Even its status as “Scripture” was bestowed on it by a vote among men.
So if the only possible way God can communicate with us is through a book He didn’t even write, then at least we can say that Geisler and Turek have fulfilled the promise of finding “the faintest and most mitigated sense” in which divine communication could allegedly occur. Some might even go so far as to point out that it hasn’t occurred at all, because the writers of the Bible would have to have done it without any help from God, in order to avoid the direct contact which would have destroyed their free will.
The alternative to such silliness is to admit that free will is not, in fact, any significant impediment to God’s ability to show up in real life. After all, does not Genesis 3 tell us that Eve only exercised her free will after God appeared to her and told her face-to-face not to eat the forbidden fruit? Lewis is merely spinning excuses to satisfy the gullible, excuses so shoddy and self-contradictory that only the gullible would swallow them. But the alternative is to admit that God really should be showing up in real life—if the Gospel were true. And that means confronting the evidence that shows the Gospel is false. Small wonder, then, that believers prefer to preserve the myth of “fragile free will.”