This is The Skeptical Zone, so it’s only fitting that we turn our attention to topics other than ID from time to time.
The Richard Mourdock brouhaha provides a good opportunity for this. Mourdock, the Republican Senate candidate from the state of Indiana, is currently in the spotlight on my side of the Atlantic for a statement he made on Wednesday during a debate with his Democratic opponent:
You know, this is that issue that every candidate for federal or even state office faces. And I, too, certainly stand for life. I know there are some who disagree and I respect their point of view but I believe that life believes at conception. The only exception I have for – to have an abortion is in that case for the life of the mother. I just – I struggle with it myself for a long time but I came to realize that life is that gift from God, and I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape that it is something that God intended to happen. [emphasis mine]
Mourdock’s comment has created a political firestorm, and debate is raging about what he meant by it, exactly. Did he mean that God intended for the rape to happen, or merely that God intended for the pregnancy to happen once the rape had been committed? While Mourdock’s intended meaning is an interesting question, I’d like to concentrate instead on the scenario he mentions and what it says about the God that Mourdock believes in.
Mourdock is a non-denominational evangelical Christian. As such, he presumably believes in a God who is omnipotent, omniscient and perfectly good. How do Mourdock and other theists who share that belief reconcile their God with the fact that rapes happen? An omnipotent God could intervene to prevent rapes from happening, but he does not. Why not? He could also presumably have created a universe in which rapes don’t happen, but he did not. Why not?
One common Christian response is that free will is very important to God. If God intervened to prevent bad things like rapes from happening, according to this argument, then he would be denying us our free will. Similarly, if he created a universe in which rape never happened, it would require turning us into robots who were incapable of doing bad things, also denying us our free will.
Setting aside the issue of whether free will exists, this argument has always seemed bogus to me. Suppose that tomorrow I decide to blow up the entire earth. Does the mere fact that I’m incapable of carrying out my plan mean that my free will has been denied? I don’t think so. If it did, it would mean that God is constantly denying our free will, because there are always things that we want to do but can’t. If that’s permissible, then why isn’t it okay for God to prevent us from raping?
And what if I were capable of blowing up the earth, but God intervened at the last moment to prevent me from succeeding? Would that constitute a denial of my free will? Among humans, intent is enough to convict (cf the recent case of a man who thought he was detonating a bomb at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York). Why isn’t free intent good enough for God? Why does he insist on allowing us to go through with our evil acts?
Comments are welcome, particularly from theists who believe in an omniscient, omnipotent and perfectly good God.