Let's have another look at the free-will argument. This attempts to resolve the problem of evil (see previous post) by saying that for humans to make moral choices, they must be morally free. This requires the possibility of choosing good and the possibility of choosing evil. The point I made in the previous post was that just because it is possible for a moral agent to choose evil, this does not mean that this possibility need ever be realised. After all, all things being equal, there would be no reason for a perfect being to do evil, as the good choice would always be the best choice.
I want to follow up this argument by illustrating two examples from within Christianity that show it is possible for there to be free moral agents that never commit evil, and hopefully demonstrate that the mere possibility of evil is not sufficient to explain its actual existence in the world.
Example #1: Jesus
According to Christianity, Jesus was completely sinless. However, traditional Christianity also claims that Jesus, while being fully human, was also fully God, and that he was not affected with original sin. Now these other claims about Jesus might at first glance appear to invalidate a comparison between Jesus and moral agents such as you and I, but I think we can cut through these apparent difficulties by asking this question: Did Jesus have free will? If the answer to this is no, then Jesus was not a free moral agent, and we can disregard this example. However, I do not know any Christians who would say that Jesus did not have free will! So I think we can safely claim that Jesus was a free moral agent, and in that respect, the comparison holds.
I remember when I was a Christian having an intense discussion with someone from my church about whether or not Jesus could have sinned. The Bible says that Jesus was tempted to sin on many occasions, and even says he was "tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin" (Hebrews 4:15). I was trying to argue that Jesus could have sinned but didn't, because if he couldn't have sinned then he couldn't have been tempted by sin, and the claim that Jesus was actually tempted is vital to many Christian doctrines, including that of him being an example to us of how to resist temptation. The person I was arguing with claimed that Jesus couldn't have sinned, because he was God and God cannot sin, therefore when the Bible says he was tempted, it doesn't mean that he was actually tempted, just that he was tested to see what his response would be!
The question is, did Jesus have the ability to sin? Was it possible that he could have done evil? If not, then Jesus was not a free moral agent, and had no free will with regard to moral choices. If so, and yet he never actually did any evil, what is the difference between Jesus, the free moral agent, and Adam, the free moral agent. Both were in a position of perfection, having no "original sin" to bias their choices towards evil. What did Jesus have that Adam didn't have? If Jesus was free in all ways that Adam was free, how did Adam go wrong? If Jesus had something that Adam didn't have, that enabled him to resist temptation more effectively, how can Jesus be said to be an example of how to resist temptation, if he had an unfair advantage? And why did God not give this advantage to Adam?
Example #2: Heaven
In Heaven there is no sin; this is part of the definition of Heaven. So what of its inhabitants (i.e. dead Christians)? Are they free moral agents? If so, I repeat the questions of the previous paragraph: What is the difference between free moral agents in Heaven and free moral agents on Earth? If the occupants of Heaven are free moral agents, it is possible for them to sin, and yet they do not. In fact, since Heaven is eternal, if its occupants make moral choices, they must make an infinite number of moral choices and always choose the good.
If Heaven's inhabitants are not morally free, this raises some interesting questions about the value of free will. If, as is to be supposed, the state of man in Heaven is God's desired state for the human race, then free will is surely only a means to an end, which end is purity without free will. The whole free-will answer to the problem of evil collapses if this is the case, as it now seems that free will is not as important to God as is claimed, since man's ultimate, eternal state is one of a morally pure, non-morally-free being.
I have heard it argued that those in Heaven are those who have, out of their own free will, chosen to have their free will revoked, the important point being that they used their free will to get there. This smells very fishy to me. Firstly, why would a being with free will choose to give it up? I can see no reason other than that of having no other choice (i.e. a choice between eternal punishment with free will or eternal bliss without free will). This seems very wrong to me: what kind of God would create beings with free will, and then give them the choice of revoking their free will or being eternally punished? Secondly, it severely diminishes the value of free will, as it implies that for a being to exist in a state of perfection, it must have no free will.
If it be argued that there is no sin in Heaven because there are no actual moral choices to make, perhaps because there is no temptation to sin, then that raises the question of why there was temptation in the Garden of Eden. If man's state in Heaven is God's desired state for all of us, Adam and Eve included, then why not bypass the whole temptation -> sin -> judgement -> salvation process and just create it like that in the first place? Anyway, if there were no temptation to sin in Heaven, there would be no possibility of making an evil choice, which would mean that those in Heaven would not be morally free agents, which conclusion again lends itself to the objections raised earlier.
Given these two examples in Christianity of sinless, morally free agents (given that I have sufficiently demonstrated that they are in fact morally free), I conclude that there is no reason to suppose that the possibility of evil for a morally free agent in any way determines that evil will actually occur, and so the free-will objection to the problem of evil does not hold.