XFiles Friday: The “free will” argument for why there is no evidence of God

(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, p. 30-31)

Ok, we’re 30 pages into the book, and so far Geisler and Turek have worked hard to stack the deck in their own favor whilst confidently boasting that it is non-believers who suffer from that most shameful of disabilities, having faith. You might think by now they’d be ready to start showing us some of the incontrovertible evidence they claim to have, but no, we’re still stuck trying to spread the insinuation that non-Christians secretly know that Christians are right, and simply refuse to admit it because they’re not willing to live moral lives.

While many non-Christians have honest intellectual questions, we have found that many more seem to have a volitional resistance to Christianity. In other words, it’s not that they don’t have evidence to believe, it’s that they don’t want to believe…

The skeptic might then ask, “But why would anyone want Christianity to be false? Why would anyone not want the free gift of forgiveness?” Good question, but we think the answer lies in the volitional factors we touched on earlier. Namely, many believe that accepting the truth of Christianity would require them to change their thinking, friends, priorities, lifestyle, or morals, and they are not quite willing to give up control over their lives in order to make those changes.

Ah, yes, the behavior and lifestyle of Christians set such a high moral standard that non-Christians–who are basically corrupt, immoral people who hang around with their fellow low-lifes and who value sin and selfishness above virtue and obedience–are reluctant to commit themselves to the tremendous amount of self-improvement that would be required to become as good as the Christians. I’m glad to see Geisler and Turek taking such an impartial and non-judgmental approach to understanding why Christians find Christianity less than plausible.

We might be able to prove Christianity is true beyond a reasonable doubt, but only you can choose to accept it. Please consider this question to see if you are open to acceptance: If someone could provide reasonable answers to the most significant questions and objections you have about Christianity–reasonable to the point that Christianity seems true beyond a reasonable doubt–would you become a Christian? Think about that for a moment. If your honest answer is no, then your resistance to Christianity is emotional or volitional, not merely intellectual.

My honest answer is yes, thankyouverymuch. But regardless, Geisler and Turek have made their point: evidence has no power to compel you to believe the Gospel against your will. Everybody got that? Is that point perfectly clear? Good, because they’re just about to contradict it.

This freedom to make choices–even the freedom to reject truth–is what makes us moral creatures and enables each of us to choose our ultimate destiny. This really hits at the heart of why we exist at all, and why God might not be as overt in revealing himself to us as some of us would like. For if the Bible is true, then God has provided each of us with the opportunity to make an eternal choice to either accept him or reject him. And in order to ensure that our choice is truly free, he puts us in an environment that is filled with evidence of his existence, but without his direct presence–a presence so powerful that it could overwhelm our freedom and thus negate our ability to reject him. In other words, God has provided enough evidence in this life to convince anyone willing to believe, yet he has also left some ambiguity so as not to compel the unwilling. [Emphasis theirs]

So after spending the first 30 pages of the book insisting that there was so much evidence that no reasonable man could reasonably reject it, and insisting that the evidence cannot compel anyone to believe against his or her will, Geisler and Turek now concede that the evidence is “ambiguous” at best, and claim that God’s absence is required in order to avoid confronting us with evidence that will compel us to believe even against our will. So, are they lying when they claim to have objective, verifiable evidence that Christianity is true, or are they lying when they say that God’s absence is required in order to prevent the compelling evidence from harming our free will?

Well, both, actually. We know that they’re lying about having verifiable evidence, because if they really did have conclusive evidence of God’s existence, they wouldn’t need to appeal to the idea of free will to explain its absence. And we know they’re lying in the second case because the Gospel, and indeed the entire Bible, is little more than the claim that God did show up and did give men the kind of compelling evidence which Geisler and Turek are about to cite as being proof that it takes more faith to be an atheist than to be a Christian. If Jesus was God, and his presence was thus “so powerful that it could overwhelm our freedom and thus negate our ability to reject him,” then how to you explain the verses in Scripture that insist he was rejected?

Truth is consistent with itself, and whenever you try to tell a story that’s not true, you inevitably end up creating the kind of contradiction we see above. Gospel accounts of what God is willing and able to do are simply inconsistent with what we see in real life, which is that God consistently and universally fails to show up. This is an undeniable fact with an inescapable consequence: in order to believe Christianity, we have to put our faith in the stories told to us by uninspired men, even though these stories are manifestly inconsistent with what we see in the real world. That’s not faith, that’s gullibility.

So God does not show up and has not given us genuine evidence, but rather has left us to depend on the stories, superstitions, and subjective feelings of fallible men. Honestly, does this sound like a plan to “protect free will”? Or does it sound like a scam? “God loves you and wants you to follow what I teach.” “Why doesn’t He show up and say so himself?” “Uh, because he can’t show up without destroying your free will. Yeah, that’s it.”

Note that this is not a Biblical excuse for God’s absence from real life. Not one verse of Scripture makes the claim that man’s free will depends on being kept in the dark about God. Why would it? If you start telling a story about how God showed up, in person, in real life, and taught us the Gospel of salvation, and worked genuine miracles that everyone could see and that no one could deny, resulting in the salvation of some and the condemnation, and then you stop partway through to claim that God consistently fails to show up and act in real life because His absence and silence are required in order for us to have the freedom of choice we need to make the moral decision that will determine our eternal destiny, you’re only highlighting the discrepancy between what your story tells us and what we find in the real world.

More than that, the Bible very plainly contradicts the notion that God’s absence is somehow required in order for man to have free will. Satan, for example, is supposed to have free will even though he knows that God is real. Adam and Eve supposedly retained their free will even though God was present with them in the Garden of Eden. The apostles and prophets were supposed to have free will despite their contact with God, and the Pharisees and unbelieving Jews continued to have the free will to reject Jesus and the Gospel, despite having resurrection-quality miracles thrown in their faces and even Jesus, God the Son Himself, in their presence. And are we not supposed to retain our free will in heaven, in the presence of God? If not, then what’s the big deal about making such an issue of it here on earth? The Bible says that most of God’s children will go to hell as a consequence of their free will, which would seem to imply that free will was fairly important, and not something that just evaporates anyway as soon as we’re in God’s presence (in heaven or on earth).

The “free will” argument is a terrible argument that does nothing to explain the existence of unbelief (or evil). I’m just a poor, uninspired dad, but even I’ve been able to raise my kids to make responsible choices, through offering them a selection of good alternatives, and through spelling out ahead of time exactly what the consequences will be if they come up with bad alternatives. I didn’t need to hide myself from them and set them up with a sneaky trap that would guarantee that at least one of them would suffer for the rest of their lives, and hate me. So it is possible to cultivate free will and moral responsibility without hiding or sending anybody to hell.

If we start from what God is allegedly capable of, and allegedly wants, and work out the most likely consequences, it’s fairly easy to predict that God ought to simply skip the part about creating the possibility of evil, and let us develop our freedom of choice by giving us a selection of good alternatives to choose from. As a dad, I don’t feel my kids’ love for me is diminished in any way by the fact that I’ve admitted my own existence, spent time with them, and made no provisions for creating a life of misery and torment for anyone who disobeys me. “Free will” is just not something that would require God to hide the evidence of His existence, or to create the possibility of evil and of eternal suffering.

So then, common sense contradicts what Geisler and Turek are saying, the Bible contradicts it, and even they themselves have been contradicting it, up to now. So why make this argument? It’s an excuse. God manifestly does not behave as though He believes the Gospel were true. He does not show up for Christians any more than He does for unbelievers, even though the whole point of the Gospel is that He wants to be with us forever, and that His death made that possible. So if it’s possible and it’s what He wants, where is He? The Christian Gospel just does not match what we find in real life.

Christians need a rationalization, a good (or at least plausible) reason why God can’t show up in the real world. The best they can come up with is that it would somehow “coerce” our love if God were to admit that He really does exist. But that’s nonsense. If a boy loves a girl, he can’t compel her to love him just by admitting his own existence. And granted that God allegedly could put on an impressive display if He wanted to, He still has to be dumber than I am if He can’t think of any way to show up in a less-overwhelming form. And if He can’t then the Bible is lying about all the times it says He did show up without coercing anyone’s love.

The only opportunity God gives us by failing to show up in real life is the opportunity to put our trust in the ones who do show up, in uninspired and fallible men, in their superstitions and stories and subjective feelings (and our own as well). He gives us, in other words, the “opportunity” to be gullible, ignorant, and superstitious. And He’s (allegedly) denying Himself His fondest desire–to be with us forever–in order to do it. This is not the behavior of a wise God who wants to give us a moral basis for our free will. It’s the behavior of a fictional character in a story told by con men.

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