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Marcus Arvan

Hi Elisa: fun topic! One thing that got me thinking more about this lately was an NPR story I heard about "The Sims" videogame.

In the Sims, you (the "Creator") can decide how *much* free will to give your simulated characters. You can slide the indicator from 0 free will all the way up to 100% ("high free will").

What's funny about this is that when you give them high free will, they do all kinds of horrible things: cheat on their spouses, cook their children on BBQs, and set their houses on fire.

In contrast, when you give them lower free will, they "behave." Why couldn't we choose to love God with, say, 75% free will? Wouldn't the world be a better place?

Another (rather disturbing) thought I had. It is sure a whole lot more *fun* to watch your Sims on high free will. The stuff they do is hilarious (to me, their "Creator"). Perhaps God just set free will on high because He finds it amusing? That's why *we* set it on high.

A final, still more disturbing thought. When I watch my Sims, they *appear* to have rudimentary "emotions" (they get angry, disappointed, etc.). And yet I don't think they "really" feel. But, could I be wrong? Could it be that, at some level, they *do* feel? And, could it be that God set free will on high to amuse himself, and it didn't occur to *him* (as it doesn't occur to us about our Sims) that we actually *experience* all these things?

Indeed, might he think we -- the players in his videogame -- are no more capable of "real" emotions than we think our Sims characters are (might he think we are just automatons)? How do we know "God" doesn't think we are just an amusing simulation, not "real" beings? Might we, similarly, be guilty of creating (minimally) sentient beings in the Sims without realizing it?

This isn't exactly crazy, at least if one adopts a Dretske-esque theory of mind according to which even things like thermometers have intentional states.

Further, see Sam Coleman's unpublished paper "Neurocosmology" (https://www.academia.edu/4901338/Neuro-Cosmology). According to Coleman -- and I think he's onto something -- qualities (i.e. experiences) are inherent in everything physical, including electrons.

Crazy stuff, I know. But, given how our little Sims characters react, how sure can we be that they *don't* feel (not even a little bit)? Might we be irresponsible "gods" ourselves? ;)

David Bzdak

A friend in grad school used to use the following example with his students:

Q: how many of you ate dirt for breakfast this morning?
A: (Confused, puzzled looks)
Q: Did anyone eat dirt for breakfast?
A: Obviously not (scoffing).
Q: Why not?
A: It's gross and the thought would never occur to me (until now).
Q: Why couldn't God make evil like that?
A: Waddya mean?
Q: He could give us the capacity to do evil, but make the evil options such that they would never occur to us to actually choose them.

This might be open to similar responses that you make above, but in this case, there's no limit on our free will at all (as there is in the donate $100 or $1000 case) -- assuming we're all perfectly free to eat dirt (though any example of an act that we can do but which never occurs to us will suffice). Does free will depend on not only having the ability to do X if we choose but also for X to be appealing to us in some way?

Elisa Freschi

@David, thanks for the very funny example. I see that God in your example would not have prevented us from doing evil in principle. But making us dislike it as much as we dislike eating dirt would be (almost) the same, I am afraid.

To go back to what is, in my opinion, the problematic part of the story, if God made Her/Himself so attractive that we would all love Her/Him (say, just like we all long for tasty foods), would not S/He then feel dissatisfied by a love that was almost imposed on us?

(Once again, this only works if one imagines that God cares for our real, spontaneous love, as God in Dostoevskij's The Grand Inquisitor. If we think of God as only a legislator, my theories are worthless)

Elisa Freschi

@Marcus, nice counterexamples!
As for your first point, I think I want to be loved in a completely free way –and I can imagine that God, who is omnipotent and thus more sensitive to the issue, shares this feeling. In fact, while human beings might be content with imposed love because love is so important for us, God can have whatever S/He wants and the only thing S/He might actually long for is *freely* given love.

As for your Sims dystopia, yours is like the Brain-in-the-vat experiment, insofar neither it nor its opposite can be proved. You will remember the similar beginning of Descartes' Meditationes (How do I know --he asks himself-- whether it is not God, but a wicked spirit who leads my thoughts?).

(On a less serious vein, you might want to have a look at this page: http://www.zerocalcare.it/2011/12/09/inverno-1/#more-55 (about the population growing in a student's washing machine…until one finally decides to empty it)).


This question is a little confusing. You ask, "wouldn't a better God have given us free will, but with certain limitations?" This confuses me because I think it's supposed to be an implication of an affirmative answer to this question:

1. Wouldn't it have been better if God had give us free will, but...etc?

That is, i think your question presupposes that, if we answer 1 in the affirmative, then we should think God *himself* would have been better had he given us this kind of free will.

Maybe. But I doubt it. I think two things to think about are the following questions:

2. What do we mean by 'better'? and,

3. Better for whom?

To get an answer to 2, we have to know what the purpose is of God's creation (of the world and of us) in the first place. The answer to 3 is, i think obviously, going to have to be 'God'. In which case it'll follow that it's *also* better for us.

The answer to 2 will bear heavily on the outcome of whatever we want to give to your original question. But, i think, at least on the Christian story, the answer will turn out to be 'no'.

Elisa Freschi

Hi Roger and thanks for adding your view.
Part of the problem you notice is due, I think, to the different points of view of the discussants. Kurt's point of view, as can be clearly seen in his answers to Jason's blog-post (http://catholicphilosophyblog.com/2013/12/09/does-free-will-require-the-ability-to-do-evil/comment-page-1/#comment-409 ), is that of a sceptical approach to the existence of God and (like with Moti Mizrahi's skilled post discussed here: http://philosopherscocoon.typepad.com/blog/2014/02/can-there-be-free-will-in-heaven.html ) he devises clever ways to prove that His/Her existence is logically untenable. From this perspective, the point at stake is:
1. God is intrinsically benevolent (benevolence is His/Her own nature)
2. God did not do the best for us (=S/He did not endow us with free will, but no capacity to do evil)
3. Thus, God is not benevolent
4. Thus, God does not exist (a non-benevolent God would no longer be a God).

Here, the point of reference for "better" in the title (and in your reconstruction) is clearly "towards the human beings S/He created"). I have been attacking 2 as it stands in Kurt's argument. What you are doing, if I am not wrong, is to reverse the perspective and leave humans out of the center (good for us --in this case-- depends on being good for God).


Yes, that's right, Elisa. I deny 2 because it has the view of God all wrong. Anyway, it has the view of the Judeo-Christian God all wrong (and isn't that the God at issue?). On *this* view of God, God never does anything that is for us in a way that isn't, first, for him. And, insofar as God does anything good for himself, it is good for us.

So, the real question is whether or not it would have been better for *God* had we lacked free will (or had some more limited version of it--surely it's limited in some way, though!). And the answer to *this* question isn't obviously 'yes'. And, i think, at least according to the Christian story, the answer is more likely 'no'. (See, for example, the first chapter of St. Paul's letter to the Colossians.)

Elisa Freschi

Roger, sorry for answering just now. Do you mean that Col 1 can be seen as a hint at the fact that evil (and the suffrances it causes) is part of God's benevolent plan?


Right, Elisa; that's what I mean, especially vs. 13 - 20. Given that St. Paul is writing about Jesus in the foregoing verses, it's pretty startling to learn that *Jesus* is the reason for creation at all. But, if you think about who Jesus is--not who the Second Person is qua Second Person, but the Second Person qua *Jesus*, in particular--that is, the suffering servant, you might think that Jesus' incarnation requires evil and suffering. His name, after all, means 'God saves'; and, if we assume that his name is not accidental, then it seems to follow that his saving us requires, as I said, his suffering, and so suffering and evil generally.

And if we take it to be the case that Jesus is the reason for creation, then we have to take it that Jesus' existence brings the most glory to God. And if we think that bringing glory to God is the highest good--and God's purpose for doing anything at all--then allowing evil and suffering is a necessary condition for bringing God the most glory. More glory, even, than a world that lacks evil and suffering (and, so, Jesus).

This belief, the one I just described, is at least alluded to in a Catholic Easter vigil. It goes something like this: "O felix culpa (i.e. Oh, happy sin; or Oh, fortunate fall) that afforded us so great and glorious a savior..."

Something like that. So, anyway, this is one way of cashing out the Christian view of evil and suffering. And, I think, the right way to cash it out.

Elisa Freschi

Roger, thanks for the interesting Augustinian addition. The only point I would disagree about is whether "bringing glory to God" is *God*'s purpose. Perhaps a discussion in a separate post will be better suited for that, though.

Elisa Freschi

Here is the post on God's purpose, let me know what you think: http://philosopherscocoon.typepad.com/blog/2014/03/what-is-the-purpose-of-gods-creation.html

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