I’ve been thinking about the concept of free will, as relates to biblical teachings (aka excuses for the evil in a world ostensibly ruled by divinity) and decided to revisit something I read years ago, that being On The Choice of Free Will, written by Augustine of Hippo, who become known as St. Augustine, in 395 AD. They named a city in Florida after him, likely because he had a condo on the beach or turned water into Margaritas or something…
The question being addressed in this book, using the Socratic method, is whether God can control this free will. It seems, after re-reading that which I last read at least 20 years ago, that the simplistic and dishonest method he uses for explaining away this argument which would offer incontrovertible proof of God’s power is simply too transparent. It uses deliberate circular reasoning and a “student”, Evodius, who is obsequious to the degree of a hungry Beagle.
All wicked people, just like good people, desire to live without fear. The difference is that the good, in desiring this, turn their love away from things that cannot be possessed without the fear of losing them. The wicked, on the other hand, try to get rid of anything that prevents them from enjoying such things securely. Thus, they lead a wicked and criminal life, which would better be called death.
About one-third of the way through the book, Evodius asks the $60,000 question:
Now explain to me, if you can, why God gave human beings free choice of the will, since if we had not received it, we would not have been able to sin.
This is the issue that all religious people bring up when asked why God does not feed the hungry, heal the sick and end wars. They use the free will Get-Out-Of-Jail-Card.
Here is St Augustine’s answer to that question. Note the circularity of the argument.
If all of this is true, the question you posed has clearly been answered. If human beings are good things, and they cannot do right unless they so will, then they ought to have a free will, without which they cannot do right. True, they can also use free will to sin, but we should not, therefore, believe that God gave them free will so that they would be able to sin. The fact that human beings could not live rightly without it was sufficient reason for God to give it.
The very fact that anyone who uses free will to sin is divinely punished shows that free will was given to enable human beings to live rightly, for such punishment would be unjust if free will had been given both for living rightly and for sinning. After all, how could someone justly be punished for using the will for the very purpose for which it was given? When God punishes a sinner, don’t you think he is saying, “Why didn’t you use your free will for the purpose for which I gave it to you?”— that is, for living rightly?
So brothers and sisters, according to St Augustine, the PROOF that we have free will, which includes the ability to be evil, is that God told us not to use it for evil or else he’d punish us in Hell. So, in order to believe in God and Hell, one must believe that he gives us free will, and in order to believe in why he would give us free will to perpetuate such evil in our world, one must believe in God and Hell.
You must believe that God is all powerful, yet gives us free will to do evil things, for which you must believe that he will send you to Hell, which is a Godly construct, for which you must believe that God is all powerful. One must accept God as both the cause and the effect.
Augustine (1993-10-01). On Free Choice of the Will (Hackett Classics) (pp. 7-8). Hackett Publishing Company, Inc. Translated by Thomas Williams