What is free will? It's obviously not the ability to do anything, since my inability to levitate or to leap over a building is not a violation of my free will. Free will just means that amongst the options we have available, we are free to choose.
So here's my hangup. Imagine our options for a particular choice are a collection of fruits:
- An apple.
- An orange.
- A pear.
- A grape.
God could have also given us the option of a pineapple and a kiwi (and an infinite array of other alternatives), but he didn't. Free will just means that we get to choose from within our palette of available choices.
On their own, none of these fruits are inherently bad. Sin isn't something that existed before god came around and god just happened to be powerless to do something about it. Even something like lying with man as with woman (gasp, anal sex!) isn't inherently bad until god decides he doesn't like it. No, god decides what is sinful. So one day, for whatever reason, he decides that chowing down on the apple is a sin and that he's going to punish whoever does it.
Rather than remove the apple from the list of options (or just leaving it as an ambiguous option in the first place), he leaves it there. Taking away the apple as an alternative would not violate our free will, just as my inability to levitate doesn't violate my free will. We would still have options to choose from.
So what motivation could there possibly be for tainting the apple and leaving it? The only real possibility is to trip us up all the way into eternal torment, and that's a pretty mean play on god's part.
So when the skeptic asks, "Why does god have to give us all these fun, harmless options that he deems sinful?," the answer can't be because he loved us so much that he wanted us to have free will - we can have free will without the malignant options. Seriously, can't we trade the ability to eat shellfish (Leviticus 11:10-12) for the ability to fly? How cool would that have been? That's some free will I could get behind.
Unless god decides he doesn't care for flying either. How fun can heaven really be hanging around this dude?
* Disclaimer: I believe we live in a deterministic universe. Choices are the result of a particular brain state, and your brain is surreptitiously connected to all other matter in the universe. So from the get-go, I think the idea of free will is only true in the sense that we recognize options. However, for the sake of the following argument, I'm treating the idea of free will in the fashion that most religious people view it.