God Is Not Free

I read Clarke’s theory of whether or not God can do evil as God choosing to not do evil which, in turn, means that He is not free. I believe that having the power to do something is not the same as having the freedom to do something.

Samuel Clarke’s theory of whether or not God can do evil can be read in two ways. One way is that God can do evil because He is omnipotent, but He chooses not to because of His goodness. The other way God cannot do evil is because even though he has the power to do evil as an omnipotent being, He will not due to His goodness. I endorse the second way to read Clarke but I believe this position is flawed. This position if flawed because God’s inability to do evil undermines His freedom even though He is omnipotent.


The freedom that I speak of is not defined in terms of power. The terms “freedom” and “power” are usually compared. That is because if God has the power to do or not do something, we assume that He is free to do or not do it. As such, Clarke says God cannot do evil, but He is still omnipotent. Therefore, some would view God as free because He is not doing evil, precisely because He still has the power to do evil. Some might think that God is able to refrain from acting upon reasons that seem best and that He does so because the world must keep a healthy dynamic. That is to say, He is free to act or not act upon situations when He wants to. However, I think this idea of refraining from evil would mean that He does not choose the best outcome for all, which means He refrains from giving people the best world. Hence, God does have the power to do evil but is unable to because He is only good.

However, I believe that that conception of freedom is not adequate because the freedom to do or not do an action requires more than having the power to do or not do an action. I argue that the definition of freedom is that freedom presupposes ability, so lacking that ability to do something takes away the freedom in doing it. Thus, to Clarke, God is a being made of only perfect goodness who has the power to do evil but lacks the genuine ability to do evil. An infamous example of evil within the world is the Holocaust, and many might claim that God caused it because He controls the world and the actions of everyone in it. However, if Clarke claims that God is only good and perfect, then He would not be able to cause the Holocaust. I say further that He was not free to cause the acts of evil during the Holocaust because He lacked the genuine ability to. 

Humans act similarly to God in terms of having power to do things but not being free to do them. I am speaking of free will. Hence, we might have the power to do evil, but as humans we understand that there are laws and repercussions for doing evil. Therefore, we often refrain from doing so, when though we have the ability to do so. The difference is that humans are not only good and we are not perfect, so we sometimes have the genuine ability to do evil but we refrain from doing so.

However, there are some humans that commit evil acts, so one might assume that these people perform evil action freely. This freedom follows from the idea of having the ability to do evil which then gives the person freedom to do it. In this case, freedom would not presuppose ability. Granted, the rest of the people have the power to commit evil, but lack the ability to do so. I am considering people who, say, are deeply good and whose conscience is so powerful that they are unable to choose to do evil. These people are the most comparable to God, whose perfect goodness rules out His ability to do evil. Hence, I further say that the people that do evil are more distinguishable from God because they are finite fallible imperfect humans, even with a powerful conscience they are not perfectly good. This means they retain some degree of ability to do evil so their choice of good is genuinely free. Precisely because they could choose evil, unlike God whose perfection rules out his ability. 

I will now turn to an example where I have the power to commit an action, but I lack the freedom to do it. If I am in front of a vending machine with multiple drink options, I might be torn what drink I want to fill my cup with. Technically, I am a being that has the power to fill many cups with all of the drink options I want. However, for various reasons I probably would not feel free to take all of the drinks so I instead might choose just ginger ale. I had the power to choose many different drinks, but since my attributes do not fall into a category of feeling comfortable taking all the drinks, I did not have a genuine ability to do so. Therefore, despite having the power to take other drinks, I was not in fact free to take other drinks. 

Similarly, God has the power to do evil. However, He has been deemed by Clarke as a being with the attribute of perfect goodness. This attribute rules out the ability to do evil. Since He lacks this ability, He is therefore not free. As I have stated throughout this paper, God is not actually a free being because He is unable to commit evil acts. Even though He might sit back and watch evil occurring, there is not way that He is causing this evil because, according to Clarke, God is only good and perfect. I think that, in his article, Clarke should have specified how it is possible for an omnipotent being cannot do something, even if that something is evil and it is an all perfect being.

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