Ehrman’s Problem 3: God Could Have Made Us So We’d Always Do Right

Bart Ehrman asks why God didn’t give humans “the intelligence they need to exercise it [free will] so that we can all live happily and peaceably together? You can’t argue that he wasn’t able to do so, if you want to argue that he is all powerful.” (13)1 This objection is Ehrman’s slant on the more commonly stated argument: God should have been able to create free beings who would always do what was right.

There are two problems with Ehrman’s idea.

First, it would seem that Ehrman sees a strong correlation between intelligence and goodness. Personally, I see absolutely no correlation whatsoever. I do not believe for one minute that intelligence is any indicator of goodness. Those with higher IQs aren’t more moral than those with lower IQs. After all, it was the Nazi doctors who began the genocide in Nazi Germany by killing the disabled and mentally retarded. It took great intelligence to arrange the systematic murder of six million Jews and five million of Slavic descent.

Now I suspect that Ehrman would say that he meant something different than just raw intellectual horsepower. But what would it be? How does God educate beings, like humans, who have decided that He doesn’t know what’s best for us? That He is just holding us back from something good? That He is not looking out for our best interest? That He is spoiling our fun? One student got angry with me: “There must be a way!” My reply was, “Okay, what do you got?” which only made him madder. My point is that it is one thing to just divine, “I know God could have made us so that we would be free creatures but not sin,” and another to actually explain how that would work.

Second, if I understand Ehrman correctly (again, he doesn’t develop these thoughts very far), his argument boils down to: If God can do all things, He could have created only free beings that would always choose right. But, if I do understand him correctly then I’m surprised he doesn’t know better: his argument fails because it requires God do the logically impossible.

When Christians say that God can do all things, we mean that God can do anything that is logically possible. We do not mean that God can actualize contradictory states of affairs. Indeed, Ehrman’s argument commits the fallacy of contradictory premises. Even God cannot make square-circles, two-sided triangles, married-bachelors, or a rock so big He couldn’t pick it up. And neither can He logically create significantly free beings and guarantee that they will never use their freedom wrongly. If we were “engineered” to only choose right, then we wouldn’t be free–we’d be robots. Think Stepford Wives and you’re the wife.

Perhaps this world is precisely the place where free beings are getting schooled that God does, in fact, know best. And this leads us to Ehrman’s next objection, which I will examine in my next post.

  1. Ehrman only has these two sentences for this point and one summary sentence that occurs a little later on the same page. Thus it is hard to know what he means, exactly, by “intelligence” (does he mean IQ, a certain type of knowledge, some other kind of ability, or all of the above?). []
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9 Responses to Ehrman’s Problem 3: God Could Have Made Us So We’d Always Do Right

  1. Brian Mason says:

    Another fine article!

  2. Russell Kaufman says:

    Good explanation of common errors of thought by well meaning but ill-informed Christians.

  3. Mike Corbett says:

    “When Christians say that God can do all things, we mean that God can do anything that is logically possible.”

    So creating the world and the universe, creating life, a man from dust, a woman from the man’s rib, these are all logically possible???

    Sorry – you blew your argument away with that statement.

    • clayjones says:

      Those things aren’t logical contradictions, Mike! If they are logical contradictions, then please explain exactly how they contradict.

      • Brian Mason says:

        Mike’s comment is clear indication the “Logic” is either not being taught clearly in the so-called “Higher Education” or not being taught at all?

  4. Rich Hillyer says:

    It seems Erhman has never experienced the love of God. Perhaps that would have given him the wisdom and strength he needs to endure with out the pain he creates with his perception.

  5. If freedom and full human flourishing without sin/pain/death was inherent in the Garden of Eden and will be again in the New Heavens and New Earth, then why is sin/pain/death necessary in this life?

    The crux of this inquiry comes from the common assertion I hear from Christians that full human flourishing can only exist in an environment where evil is possible. But, evil will not be possible in the New Heavens and New Earth. And many people will be there that did not have the opportunity to choose to be there (for example, young children and mentally ill or mentally challenged people), so the claim that the travails of this life are worth it (because of potential character formation) doesn’t apply to them.

    • clayjones says:

      The travails of this life aren’t worth it for the lost, Andy. For the saved they are certainly worth it.

  6. By human flourishing, I also mean human fulfillment.

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