Foglesong: Free Agency, Free Will

Foglesong: Free Agency, Free Will

By Samuel Foglesong

In debates between theologians and atheists, the crucifixion of Christ is a common point of contestation. Atheists are fond of criticizing God for reasons similar to the matter Richard Dawkins, a well-known atheist, once discussed, “This paradigm of science, this genius of mathematics, couldn’t think of a better way to rid the world of sin then to come to this little speck of cosmic dust and have himself tortured and executed so that he could forgive himself.” This criticism really doesn’t seem logical and misses the point of the issue. Looking at both sides of the argument can tell us some interesting things about human nature and our own free will.

Dawkins, it seems, would rather have had God snap his fingers and complete the same task done so through Jesus. Indeed, that is one of the many things that skeptics of religion have a hard time with. After all, wouldn’t it have been simpler for God to remove the vagueness from belief, just present himself and remove all doubt about his existence? But, at the end of the day, there is value in this vagueness and in maintaining a certain degree of unknowability.

God not presenting himself to everyone allows us to have faith. In Dostoevsky’s character, the Grand Inquisitor, we see a similar opinion. In it he criticizes Christ for cursing man with freedom to choose whom to follow in life. He says God could just have easily given all men bread and had them follow him for life. Instead, Christ chose to give them the choice of whether to follow him, because man lives on more than bread alone.

Indeed, followers of religion maintain that the air of mystery and uncertainty surrounding the many miracles of the Bible is necessary. God knew that he had to appeal to human nature in all of his miracles. An event like the crucifixion inspires people because it represents a powerful vision — a man giving his life for the good of others. To make a man appreciate the extermination of sin, it must be an event that man would remember. We need something to strive for and to have faith in, which is what Christ’s crucifixion provides.

God couldn’t just perform miracles every day or say, “Here I am. Now worship me,” because that would deprive us of our freedom to choose what to believe.

If we are to assume that God created man, he therefore knows the way we think and live. It seems strange that he would need to tailor his actions so that we would choose to follow him out of our own free will, as this seems to undermine the entire concept of free will itself. But if God has identified free will and free agency as important qualities for people to have then maybe he can’t simply give himself to us so easily. We must choose. As Christopher Hitchens once said, “To say, of course I have free will, God says I do, is to make a mockery of the whole concept.”