Too few believers will go so far as to ask this question: “Could God have stopped the Paris attacks?”
Perhaps many believers will not ask this question, because the answer they have been told is not comforting. Most theologians in the past and present, after all, would say God allowed the Paris tragedies and other terrorist attacks. They believe God has the kind of power to prevent this unnecessary death and suffering. But according to most theologians, God permitted this pointless pain in Paris and elsewhere.
I disagree. A few theologians will say it is logically impossible for God to both give free will and not give free will. So in choosing to give free will to the ISIS terrorists, God was self-constrained.
Some would say that God certainly could have prevented evil and suffering by not creating at all. But perhaps Oord thinks that God creates of necessity; goodness is essentially diffusive and "spreads itself out" so to speak--a controversial thesis but not as controversial if one adds that God did not have to create this world. That at least, has definitive orthodox backing from a Christian theological perspective (if not the former proposition as well). More controversially, he might add that God has to create a world like this which has evil in it. Is there a good argument for that? If there is, then I suspect there is also support from natural revelation for the Trinity, since such an argument presumably appeals to God's necessarily loving others. Still, perhaps Oord is assuming conditional necessity at this stage. He's working under the supposition that if God were to create a world like this, then he cannot prevent acts of evil or evil results.
Regarding logical impossibility, it does seem logically impossible for God to create me having a capacity to exercise my will freely and at the same time create me lacking a capacity to exercise my will freely. But is it logically impossible that God create me having a capacity to exercise my will freely at some time T1 but to either remove that capacity, determine my will or action in such a way that I not act freely, or make the circumstances such that at some later time T2 I do not act freely? I'm skeptical.
But these same theologians will say that if God wanted to do so, God could interrupt the entities, agencies, molecules, and atoms involved in these events. These aspects of reality do not have full-blown freedom. So controlling them would not mean overriding freedom.Many of these theologians would also say God could interrupt natural laws, if God saw fit. They believe God could intervene among entities and atoms and their law-like regularities in ways that would not involve taking away the free will of those who perpetrate evil.For instance, this view says God could have jammed the rifles the terrorists used. It says God could have made the bombs fail to detonate. Or God could have controlled the weather or environment to thwart the attacks. In the minds of these theologians, God can control all parts of creation that don’t involve free will, if God so chose.I would go a step further: not only do molecules and atoms not have "full-blown freedom," they lack freedom, period. For even if atoms (or energy fields) behave indeterminately, they lack a capacity to choose, a necessary (but perhaps not sufficient) condition for being free (at least for creatures).
Could God have jammed the rifles of terrorists if God saw fit? The answer to that surely has to be, yes. The contrary position is that if God had seen fit, he could not have jammed the rifles. But what could have prevented God, if he saw fit, from jamming the rifles? After all, this is a being with the power to create ex nihilo. Not only that, God has to power to sustain everything else in existence and the power to refrain from sustaining things in existence. If he has the power to refrain from sustaining everything in existence, then he has the power to refrain from sustaining the bullets in existence.
In my new book, I’ve carefully laid out an argument that says God’s uncontrolling love prevents God from being able to prevent genuine evil unilaterally. God is still almighty, I argue. God is omnipresent and loving too. God knows everything that can be known. But the uncontrolling God I describe should not be blamed for tragedies like those in Paris, because God cannot stop them acting alone.The key to my answer is my claim that God’s self-giving, others-empowering love comes first in God’s nature. This means God must give freedom, agency, self-organization, being, or law-like regularities to creation. God cannot control free will creatures or creation.I find comfort in believing that God could not have stopped the terrorist attacks. If a loving God could have prevented them, I think this God should have done so. But if divine love is such that God is metaphysically unable to thwart such attacks, I can without scruples maintain my faith in the steadfast love of God. My hope is that this uncontrolling love will one day winsomely win all creation to right relationship.
I find comfort in believing that God could not have stopped the terrorist attacks. If a loving God could have prevented them, I think this God should have done so. But if divine love is such that God is metaphysically unable to thwart such attacks, I can without scruples maintain my faith in the steadfast love of God. My hope is that this uncontrolling love will one day winsomely win all creation to right relationship.Suppose it's true that God must give freedom, agency...and law-like regularities to creation. That by itself is not sufficient for God not to be able to have prevented the Paris attacks or results of the attacks. For there could be law-like regularities governing bullets but either (a) when a miracle occurs the miracle makes it such that the laws governing things like bullets are--still the governing laws but false generalizations (why can't a natural law be false?) or (b) the law-like regularities simply describe the powers of created things such that no law is violated (since the laws merely describe the natural powers of things and a miracle brings about an event for which no natural powers can bring about).
But Oord goes on to say that God cannot control free will creatures or creation. This is a radical position. It would seem, on the face of it, not only to be inconsistent with there being actual miracles but with the very possibility of miracles. For if God cannot control creation, God cannot bring it about that the wind and waves obey him, that a man can walk on water, that water can be parted, that water turns into wine, and the like. One would hope that there is independent motivation for such a view beyond its usefulness against an argument from evil. Otherwise it seems ad hoc on stilts. I do not know what that argument would be, but then I haven't read Oord's book.
If a loving God could have prevented [the terrorist acts], I think this God should have done so.
But why think that is true? Why think that if God could have prevented some evil that God should have (and would have) done so? There would be a reason to believe it if the following were true:
P: If one could prevent some evil where one is in a position to do so, then should (or would) do so.
Two problems emerge for Oord:
(1) On Oord's view it appears that God has to create and create a world like ours. If God has to create and has to create a world like ours wherein there is evil, it would seem that God needs evil. But if God is a perfect being, surely he is not dependent on evil either for his existence or creative activity.
(2) P is false, as Peter van Inwagen has convincingly argued. Judges make reasonable but arbitrary rulings all the time. Suppose someone commits felonious assault. And suppose for the sake of argument that no good will come of the offender's being in jail except the good of deterring future crimes by having criminals serve jail time. A day in jail is an evil in the life of a prisoner. Furthermore, the removal of one day in jail will not have the effect of reducing the deterrence effect (e.g., a would be criminal will not be deterred from committing a crime if he knows he would serve 9 years and 364 days in jail rather than 10 years.) So by the principle P, the judge should wave a day from the original sentence. But this is absurd. The judge has no such duty. Moreover, if the offender appealed a few thousand more times he should get out with no time served. Again, an absurdity.
The moral: There is nothing wrong in drawing a semi-arbitrary line when it comes to preventing evil. We do it all the time and not unjustly.