In this blog post I'll focus only on the "free will" defense. This reasoning satisfied me for the most part while I was a firm believer, but eventually I came to realize that its greatest failing is that it doesn't account for natural suffering uncaused by humans: tsunamis, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, diseases, starvation, parasites, physical ailments, predation, accidents, animal suffering, etc.
Some apologists seek to downplay the extent of natural suffering and to turn it all back to humans as free moral agents. For example, there's plenty of food to go around, so there would be no need for anyone to starve if we weren't so selfish and wasteful with our food, or if evil despots didn't sell food for arms. As a Christian, my favorite author was Philip Yancey (and I still do respect him more than many Christian writers, even if I disagree with him.) He points out that most of the diseases we experience in the West are brought about by our own lifestyle choices: "heart disease and hypertension related to stress, cancers associated with a toxic environment, AIDS contracted through drug use and sexual activity, sexually transmitted diseases, emphysema and lung cancer caused by cigarette smoking, fetal damage resulting from maternal alcohol and drug abuse, diabetes and other diet-related disorders, violent crime, automobile accidents involving alcohol" (Philip Yancey, "Rumors of Another World," 2003, p. 131.)
We can all acknowledge that much suffering in the world is caused by human choices. But even if 90% of all suffering were human induced, how does that solve the problem of the 10% that's not related to free will? (I do not for a moment think that anywhere 90% of our physical suffering is caused by people, but I'll use this figure for the sake of argument.) What about that chimpanzee living 5,000 years ago in the forests of central Africa, dying of rasping parasites and starvation? What about that French child dying of smallpox in the Middle Ages while her parents pleaded to God to spare her life, to no avail? What about that contemporary American man whose back is constantly racked with pain that's beyond the reach of surgery? What about the family burned alive in an automobile accident after swerving to miss a deer on the road and then being struck from behind by a truck? What about the young adult who died of Cystic Fibrosis after his lungs filled up with mucous? As long as there remain any sources of suffering not linked to human free will, the "free will" defense fails. Utterly.
In the wake of the recent Penn State sexual abuse scandal, there has been an outcry against not only the perpetrator of these unspeakable acts, but also against those who knew what happened yet failed to report it to the police. Coach Mike McQueary, who witnessed one of the incidents, is being blamed for failing to take immediate action to break it up. We all would like to think we would have been more courageous than McQueary. Yet if we can blame McQueary—someone subject to real human fears and limitations—for failing to intervene, then why do theists not blame God for watching as countless millions of humans and animals suffer daily, even though he has limitless resources at his disposal to act and put an end the suffering, both natural and human-induced? And if McQueary had intervened, would he not have been interfering with God's plan to allow human free will—that of Sandusky—to be fully exercised? If God wants human free will to run its course and therefore refrains from intervening, how is McQueary guilty for following God's example of inaction?