At the end of our first debate on the Problem of Evil (after videotaping had stopped), John Loftus was explaining to the audience why free will isn’t very important. I brought up the movie The Stepford Wives (the new version), which deals with free will. In the film, husbands program their wives to be the “perfect” mates—completely obedient to the will of their husbands. The point of the film is that a “perfect” robot wife is only better than a real wife if your sole criterion is that your wife always does exactly what you want her to do. If other things are important (e.g. if it’s important that your wife does things of her own accord and not because you programmed her to do them), then a real wife turns out to be much, much better.
I asked the men in the audience whether they would prefer a Stepford wife to a real wife, and atheists and theists unanimously agreed that a real wife is better. When she says, “I love you,” she means it. When she spends time with you, it’s because she chooses to spend time with you, not because of a computer chip in her brain.
There was, however, one person who thought that a Stepford wife would be better than a real wife—John Loftus. While I respect his honesty, the idea of programming a woman to do whatever you want her to do seems a bit repulsive to me. I suspect that technology may one day make Stepford a reality, by allowing us to purchase the ultimate blow-up dolls, such as the robots from Steven Spielberg’s AI. But are “perfect” robot women better than real women? I suspect that even most atheists would say that they are not. But why not?
The difference is freedom. A robot wife only does what it is programmed to do. If it says, “You’re the king, Baby,” this is only because a programmer inserted a program that made the robot say these words. Hence, there is no value in what it says. No genuine complement was made. A real woman, however, is free to leave if she likes. Thus, there is value in her staying. When a real wife gives her husband a kiss, it’s not because she must. She could have refrained, which is why a kiss is so special.
John recently wrote an article explaining why free will isn’t very important. I haven’t read it yet, because after two debates I have a fair idea of his reasoning. Freedom isn’t important enough to justify God’s allowing us to suffer. But even before I read the article, I have to wonder what John is really aiming at. Yes, God could have made a world full of Stepford wives and Stepford husbands. We would take care of the planet and not hurt one another. But is this the sort of world a good God would create? If we say “Yes,” then as far as the movie goes, we should greatly admire the men who turn their wives into robots, and despise the man who chooses to preserve his wife’s freedom. After all, a real wife might criticize you, or nag you, or leave you, or even kill you. Why take the risk?
I plan to discuss John’s reasoning more thoroughly after reading his article. But I’m greatly interested in knowing what other people think about this. I suspect that most Christians will say that free will is far better than programmed obedience, but I’m not sure how atheists will respond.