Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Does God have free will?

Sometimes I listen to James White's webcast, "The Dividing Line." Several times, I have heard him say the same thing. He'll say that he believes in free will, but that God is the only one who has it. I guess I need to call his show sometime and ask him what he means by "free will."

There are a lot of different definitions out there, and I sometimes think we could settle our differences if we could just define our terms clearly. Let me show you what I mean.

Martin Luther wrote this book called The Bondage of the Will in response to Erasmus who had written something about free will. Luther's whole point was that the will is in bondage to sin. He uses the Bible to prove his point. If the bondage of the will to sin is the opposite of having free will, then what does free will mean to Luther? Well, to Luther, free will would have to mean freedom from our bondage to sin. If we had free will, that would mean that we could live and move about free from any irresistable compulsion to commit sins.

If we go with Luther's definition of "free will," then God does have free will. But God isn't the only one who has it. Everybody who has died and gone to be with God also has free will since, as Paul says, "he who has died is freed from sin" (Romans 6:7). I suspect that many of the angels also have free will according to this definition.

But that isn't what most people mean by "free will," and I don't think it's what Erasmus meant. Unfortunately, most people are unclear about what they mean by "free will." If asked, most of them would say simply, "The ability to choose." That's an inadequate definition, because the act of willing is the same thing as the act of choosing, whether the will is free or bound. The will is the faculty of choice, whether the will is free or not.

In philosophy, there are two kinds of free will. There's libertarian free will, and there's compatibalist free will. I'm convinced that only philosophers hold to libertarian free will, because when pressed, people who claim to believe in free will inevitably back away from the libertarian definition.

Libertarian freedom means that there are no antecedent causes or conditions which determine the acts of the will. When the will acts freely, it acts independently from any antecedent conditions. That means no desire, motivation, inclination or anything compells the will to act. Now granted these things can have an influence on the will, but they don't determine the will.

Some people seem to have this understanding of free will. I often hear people say that free will is destroyed by the threat of hell. If we are being threatened with something so gastly as hell, then our decision to accept Christ was not a free will decision. The reason is because the threat of hell creates a motive in us so strong that the will is unable to resist it. The motive determines the act of the will.

I'm resisting the urge to give a refutation of libertarian freedom. Oh, it's so hard! Just go read Jonathan Edward's book on The Freedom of the Will.

Anyway, if God has libertarian freedom, then it is just as easy for God to do evil as it is for God to do good. But in Titus 1:2, Paul tells us that God cannot lie. What does he mean by "cannot"? Does he just mean does not, or does he really mean cannot? He also says that God cannot deny himself (2 Timothy 2:13). There is nothing physically or logically impossible about saying something that isn't true. If God cannot lie, then God does not have libertarian free will.

Here's another argument. If God could do evil, then God is not necessarily good. God only happens to be good. If God is necessarily good, then God cannot have libertarian freedom.

And I think it's quite plain that God is necessarily good. If God is the standard of goodness, then he can't be anything but good. I remember in grade school reading about how there was some king who wanted to have a standard of measurement. To decide a standard length for a foot, they measured the king's foot. Now how long do you think the king's foot was? Well, it was exactly one foot, because it was the standard by which everything else was then measured.

Compatibalist freedom is the view that we excercise the greatest freedom when we act out of full intention. In other words, we act freely when we do what we want or what we are motivated to do. Now, of course, we often have conflicting desires, but the strongest desire always wins out. Compatibalism is sometimes called soft determinism, because compatibalists believe the acts of the will are determined by the strongest motivation.

This is the view I hold. Any act that is not based on some intention is an unintentional act. It's just an accident. It's a spontaneous knee jerk reaction we have no control over. I think any act that can rightly be called a "choice" must be based on some inclination, desire, or motive. I think this is the common sense understanding of "freedom," and I think it's what most people mean by "free will" when they aren't trying to be philosophical about it.

By the compatibalist definition of free will, everybody has free will. Some people have less of it than others, of course. People with nervous ticks, muscle spasms, etc., don't excercise free will when having spasms or ticks, but every intentional act is a free will act. God acts out of perfect freedom when he does good, because it's his nature to always do good. We act out of perfect freedom when we sin, because it's in our nature to sin.

49 Comments:

At 1/24/2006 8:50 AM , Blogger Jeff said...

Great topic Sam.

I have found this misconception with Christians who hold dogmatically to Arminianism.

They take it as a presumption that all men have free will. They understand this as libertarian free will and on this basis reject the doctrines of sovereignty.

The definition of free will that you prefer, from my understanding, is the one traditionally held by Jewish culture.
Libertarian free will is the view held by the Greeks.
Hence the clash of meanings. The Bible is written primarily from the Jewish perspective, yet our culture is strongly descended from Greek/Roman cultures.

 
At 1/24/2006 4:56 PM , Blogger Jeff Travis Henderson said...

[i]I'm convinced that only philosophers hold to libertarian free will, because when pressed, people who claim to believe in free will inevitably back away from the libertarian definition. [/i]

I'm actually convinced of the opposite. When you ask people if they consider a specific action to be free, they will say yes. If you ask them why they think it was free, they usually give one of two justifications:

1) "Because I wanted to do it." (I acted according to my desires)
2) "Because I didn't have to do it" (I could have done otherwise)

Compatiblists focus only on the first justification and entirely ignore the second one, even though it is central to most people's view of freedom. Only after they see some of the more complex philosophical problems with libertarianism do they recant the second one as a condition for free will.

[i]If God is necessarily good, then God cannot have libertarian freedom.[/i]

Not true. Let's imagine that the definition of goodness was to "live like Sam". Now let's imagine that you (Sam), freely make a decision in the libertarian sense. In that example, Sam is necessarily good and has libertarian free will. Since God is the standard of goodness, what he does is necessarily good, even if he chooses it with libertarian freedom.

[i]Now, of course, we often have conflicting desires, but the strongest desire always wins out. [/i]

The problem with this statement is that it is neither potentially falsifiable or necessary. It's kind of like how my grade 2 teacher used to say "You can do anything if you put your mind to it." - but whenever I would give a counter example of someone who had tried and failed at something, she would just say "Well, they didn't put their mind to it."

Similarily, if I were to give you an example of a time where I didn't act according to my strongest desire, then you would say "Well then it wasn't your strongest desire." That's begging the question: Your argument is the very thing you are trying to prove.

[i] Any act that is not based on some intention is an unintentional act. It's just an accident. It's a spontaneous knee jerk reaction we have no control over. [/i]

Compatiblism has a similar problem: If we act only according to our strongest desires, and we can't control our desires, then in what meaningful sense are we responsible for out actions. (I know you've addressed this one before, but I think the problem still stands)

I guess if we're making book suggestions, I'd suggest the first 2 chapters of On Metaphisics by Roderick Chisholm. He addresses the above problem with libertarianism fairly well.

Sorry for the long post. :)

 
At 1/24/2006 4:57 PM , Blogger Jeff Travis Henderson said...

Oops, I messed up on my html tags. :)

 
At 1/24/2006 9:12 PM , Blogger ephphatha said...

Jeff, I think anybody would agree that a free act is an act done in a situation where the person could have done otherwise. The question is whether "could have done otherwise" should include "if I had wanted to." I think if pressed, anybody would admit that an act is more free if done according to our intentions rather than contrary to our intentions. Compatibalists don't ignore the "could have done otherwise" condition of free will. They just add the condition, "if I had been enclined to."

To be necessarily good means to be impossible to do other than good. The compatibalist position is that we always act according to our nature. If God's nature is good, but God has libertarian freedom, then God ought to be able to do evil, since having libertarian freedom would allow him to go against his nature. So even if God's nature is the standard for goodness, God could still do evil. And if God can do evil, then God is not necessarily good. He only happens to be good because he happens to always act according to his nature.

I didn't try to prove that people always act according to their strongest motivation, so my argument can't be circular. I only made an assertion. You're beating up a strawman by addressing an argument that I didn't make.

This whole idea of choosing our desires is another problem I have with libertarianism. If it's necessary that we choose our desires before we can be morally responsible for our actions, then we run into a problem. Before I can choose a desire, I first have to have some reason for doing so. There'd have to be some preexisting desire to choose that desire. But then there'd have to be another desire to choose that desire. And you either get into an infinite regress or else you come to an originating desire which you did not choose.

It's because we act intentionally--for some end--for some reason--with some motivation--that we are morally accountable. I don't see how moral accountability can be possible on the libertarian view since a libertarian act is an act that seeks nothing, strives toward nothing, and has no end in sight. It's just an arbitrary act done apart from any antecedent cause, condition, motive, inclination, or desire. It's an accident.

But you've heard all my arguments about that, so no need to go into all that.

Sam

 
At 1/25/2006 9:01 AM , Blogger Steve said...

"If God's nature is good, but God has libertarian freedom, then God ought to be able to do evil, since having libertarian freedom would allow him to go against his nature. "

Ok my problem here is that you can only talk about this free-will argument philosophically. Can you imagine what would happen if God DID commit an evil act? Lets just assume for a moment that he did.

What do you think an evangelist would say if God committed an evil act? They would simply claim it was a test to challenge us and that a particular case of rape, or child molestation, is actually a good thing (you just can not see it from God's perspective). Even if it was evil, from earth, we'd never know because there's a rationalization for everything, and it all boils down to faith - even if that faith were misplaced (in the above scenario).

 
At 1/25/2006 9:38 AM , Blogger ephphatha said...

Steve, I don't think it's possible for God to do an evil act, because I'm a compatibalist, so anything God did, I would assume, by necessity, that he had a good reason for doing it whether I knew what that reason was or not.

 
At 1/25/2006 10:32 AM , Blogger Jeff said...

Steve's point seems to be that we have no way of evaluating the goodness/badness of any of God's actions.

I agree that's true. There are some good reasons to presuppose that ALL of God's actions are good but you've got to believe Scripture, or be compelled by the arguments from necessity to agree.

Aside from agreeing, I don't see why being able to evaluate God is a necessity. Why can God only be true if we are able to evaluate the morality of His actions?

Jeff Henderson:
You're pretty smart. In this statement:

"Not true. Let's imagine that the definition of goodness was to "live like Sam". Now let's imagine that you (Sam), freely make a decision in the libertarian sense. In that example, Sam is necessarily good and has libertarian free will. Since God is the standard of goodness, what he does is necessarily good, even if he chooses it with libertarian freedom."

It looks like you are presupposing Divine Command Theory. ie. that the only definition of good or evil is how it conforms to God's arbitrary commands.
If so, is that a safe assumption?

 
At 1/25/2006 3:23 PM , Blogger ephphatha said...

Jeff, I don't think it's necessary to discover God's goodness by evaluating his actions. I think you can conclude that God is necessarily good on philosophical arguments and then assume his actions are good based on the fact that he is necessarily good. I wrote a blog about that here.

 
At 1/25/2006 5:33 PM , Blogger Jeff Travis Henderson said...

I don't know whether I actually hold to Divine Command Theory, but it was clear that Sam did to some extent believe that God is the "standard of goodness". I was trying to show that if that is the case, then it doesn't really matter what actions God chooses, so there is no reason to rule out libertarian free will.

 
At 1/25/2006 5:53 PM , Blogger ephphatha said...

Jeff H., my view is a little different than the divine command theory. In the divine command theory, good and evil follow from God's commands. In that case, you're right that God can have libertarian free will since anything God commands, however arbitrary, would be good by definition.

But in my theory (not sure what it's called), God's commands follow from his unchanging nature. So they are not arbitrary, and God can't command anything whatsoever. He can only command things that are consistent with his nature. If he had libertarian free will, then he could command things against his nature.

 
At 1/25/2006 5:57 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry I guess I misunderstood your view, Sam. There's a strawman around here who looks just like you.

 
At 1/25/2006 7:01 PM , Blogger Steve said...

Sam - I guess it just seems to me that Gods nature is untestable (since we cannot determine whether he is good or not based on his actions).

The only way we can say "God is good" is by defining him that way. But one cannot look at the world, and work backwards to see if the God who created it was good.

We ASSUME God is good, and then look for ways to explain it in the real world! Simply calling the world "objectively good" and putting the burden of proof on others to explain why not, is twisiting philosophy so that two unprovable propositions are weighted in favor of the one side in which we assume is probably true - rather than approaching it from a neutral standpoint.

 
At 1/25/2006 7:17 PM , Blogger ephphatha said...

Steve, that's not the procedure I use. I begin with what I know intuitively. I know intuitively that there's a difference between right and wrong. There is a difference between good and evil. I also know that it's impossible to have any objective standard of good and evil unless it is based on a personal transcendent being. So I form this argument:

1. If there is no God, then there is no good and evil.
2. There is good and evil.
3. Therefore, there is a God.

Since I've concluded that God is the standard by which we distinguish between good and evil, I can continue my train of thought. Between good and evil, good is what "ought to be done," and evil is "what ought not to be done." It's clear then that God has a preference for good over evil. In fact, anything that God prefers is good. That makes God necessarily good.

If God is necessarily good, then anything God does is good. So rather than look at some event and conclude God is evil (which I think is self-refuting since it also undermines your basis for making a distinction between good and evil), I assume God has a good reason for whatever he does whether I now what that reason is or not.

Sam

 
At 1/25/2006 9:14 PM , Blogger Steve said...

I see what you're saying.

I think I question premise number two

"there is good and evil" we can say that something is evil, but as I suggest above, how do we know its not simply an act a powerful God intended to be a good thing? How do we know anything is evil, rather than simply a complicated - beyond our understanding - good act of a powerful God.

 
At 1/25/2006 11:11 PM , Blogger ephphatha said...

I think we know good and evil intuitively. Basically the same way we know that our senses correspond to an external world. Sure, we could all be plugged into the matrix, but I think we should trust our general cognative faculties unless we have good reason to think we're wrong. I give a lot of weight to common sense. Our physical senses do correspond to an external world, our memories do correspond to a real past, and our moral perceptions do correspond to a moral law. I can't prove it, but it seems far more reasonable to affirm than to deny.

 
At 1/25/2006 11:32 PM , Blogger Roger Yang said...

Note: I am using an omnipotent and omnicent god in this example, because you're referring to Martin Luther.

Okay, free will is a strange thing with god. Actually, it's only strange if you say god is all-knowing.

Because if god is all-knowing, then he cannot have free-will.

I define free-will as, "Being able to make your decision on the spot."

However, god is not free-willed, because he is omnicent. If he is omnicent, then he is all knowing. If he is all knowing, then he knows what can happen in the future. Therefore, he already knows that in the future, he will make this decision, or that decision.

Likewise, humans do not have free will. Many people say that humans have free will. But once you pack it with omnicent, we no longer have free will. We can no longer make changes in our lives to prevent us from going to hell. God already knows that we are going to hell, and that there is nothing he can do about it (unless he has already foresaw it).

 
At 1/25/2006 11:38 PM , Blogger Steve said...

Sam - but that's my larger point which is that our intuition has bounded rationality. Whose to say our intuition simply doesn't understand that an act - which we think is evil - is actually good. Therefore, we cannot affirmatively say that evil exists other than to "assume" it exists based on what seems to make the most sense.

As such, we cannot say good and evil exists, other than hinging it on that leap of faith you've made based on what seems reasonable (which I have to ask - reasonable on what basis if you cant prove it?). THUS we can't prove God based on the good/evil argument!

 
At 1/25/2006 11:55 PM , Blogger ephphatha said...

Roger, that's an interesting definition of free will I haven't heard before. Do you believe that any action we plan to do in advance is not a free will action?

I think free will and divine forknowledge are compatible. I wrote a blog entry about that here.

 
At 1/26/2006 12:08 AM , Blogger ephphatha said...

Steve,

Whose to say our intuition simply doesn't understand that an act - which we think is evil - is actually good.

Whose to say our physical senses are not merely the result of brain stimulation from probes stuck in our heads? I'll grant that we can be (and sometimes are) wrong about what we call good or evil. But then again, we're also wrong about what we perceive in the physical world. We're even more often wrong about what we remember. But just because we remember things differently than they really happened, that doesn't mean there isn't a past. And just because we may sometimes be wrong about morality, that doesn't mean there is no morality.

Therefore, we cannot affirmatively say that evil exists other than to "assume" it exists based on what seems to make the most sense.

The same is true of the external world. There's no way to verify that anything you perceive exists anywhere but in your head.

which I have to ask - reasonable on what basis if you cant prove it?).

Reasonable on the same basis that affirming the reality of the past, the external world, and the uniformity of nature are reasonable. They are reasonable because they have a strong appeal to common sense. If we deny them, then we have to deny the reliability of our cognitive faculties, which leaves us without any basis for denying or affirming them. We have nothing but our cognitive faculties to distinguish between true and false. If we start denying the basic assumption upon which all other knowledge is based, then we might as well give up thinking altogether.

 
At 1/26/2006 12:45 AM , Blogger Steve said...

Sam I see what you're saying but, for example, my intuition tells me there's no God. Based on your logic, shouldn't I be able to trust that intuition as being correct? And even our cognative abilities are at times wrong - our knowledge of the external world could be wrong. That's the idea behind a mirage!

Fundamentally, I think you're saying all people share the same basic intuition about good and evil, but that's not necessarily true (in my humble opinion).

 
At 1/26/2006 1:45 AM , Blogger ephphatha said...

Steve, i agree that we are sometimes mistaken about what our cognitive faculties tell us. A mirage is a good example. It shows that we can sometimes be wrong.

Be be honest with yourself. Does the mere possibility that you could be wrong about the external world really cause you to have serious doubts about whether there's any external world at all?

Knowledge by intuition isn't as arbitrary as you seem to think. There are some things that every normally functioning mind automatically assumes until given some reason to deny. From the time we are born, everybody automatically assumes that what they experience corresponds to reality. It isn't until we become philosophers that we begin to deny it. And we all assume that the future will be like the past. A three year old child need only touch a burning candle one or two times before he stops out of fear that he'll burn himself the next time he touches it. The uniformity of nature can't be proved by any means, yet it is the basis for the scientific method and all knowledge we gain from experience.

Morality is the same way. Everybody has a sense of right and wrong. Whenever we stumble upon people who seem to have no sense of right and wrong, we lable them sociopaths. We think they are mentally ill. So even people who deny the objective reality of morality continue to have the same moral perceptions as everybody else. But they are like people who deny the reality of the external world. People who deny the external world perceive the same thing we do; they just deny that what they perceive corresponds to reality.

I simply affirm what seems obvious to me unless I have good reason to doubt it. Being wrong about something isn't enough to doubt it altogether. I've been wrong about my sensory perception, my memory perceptions, and my inductive reasoning from past experience to future expectation. But that doesn't cause me to doubt that there's any past, any external world, or that past experience can tell me something about what the future may hold. So the fact that I have been wrong about morality shouldn't cause me to doubt the existence of morality altogether.

There are some things people universally assume. The knowledge is just sort of built in. People who deny these things don't cease to perceive them. They simply deny that what they perceive is real. Obviously, not everything is that way. I deny the existence of unicorns. But I don't go on having an intuition that there are unicorns. Unicorns, then, don't fit into that category.

Whether God fits into that category, I'm not sure. I believe in God. I went through a period of agnosticism in my early 20's, but I have never concluded that there is no God, so I don't know what it's like. Some people say that people who say there is no God are in denial. They say they say that deep down everybody believes in God, even if they deny him. I don't know whether that's true or not.

I guess you want to know if your denial of God fits into the same category as my affirmation of the external world, the past, the uniformity of nature, and morality. Considering what I've said about these things, what do you think? What all these things have in common is that (1) They can't be proved, (2) All mentally healthy people percieve them, even if they deny them, and (3) On the face of it, it seems unreasonable to deny them. Would you say your denial of God fits those three criteria? I think the biggest problem is with 2. You'd have to say that all mentally healthy people have an intuition that there is no God even if they say there is. Maybe I'm one of the crazy ones, but that doesn't seem true to me.

Sam

 
At 1/26/2006 5:12 AM , Blogger Steve said...

I agree that my denial of God is unprovable because the way in which the idea of God is constructed in unassailable (if he's so powerful, he could mask his existence, for example).

As such, I see no more reason to abandon my beliefs for an equally unprovable proposition! As such, that is the nature of my spritual impasse!

 
At 1/26/2006 6:08 PM , Blogger DagoodS said...

ephphatha, how do you reconcile this?: If God is necessarily good, then anything God does is good. Up to and including creating a world in which evil potentially exists?

If “potential evil” is “good” and, as you claim God is necessarily good, then God has the potential (just like his “good” creation) to do evil. Previously you contradicted that with: I don't think it's possible for God to do an evil act,..

Is the potential to do evil “good”? If yes, then God has the potential to be evil. If not, then God created something that is not good. Can he do that and we still say, “Anything God does is good”?

It seems to me that you have eliminated “evil” (and thus violated your first premise and your own intuition) by reducing it to a sliding scale of Good. God created everything. If everything He created was good, then “evil,” at best is still good, just a lot less of it.

 
At 1/26/2006 11:03 PM , Blogger ephphatha said...

ephphatha, how do you reconcile this?: If God is necessarily good, then anything God does is good. Up to and including creating a world in which evil potentially exists?

Like this:

1. Anything God does, he has a good reason for doing so.
2. God created a world containing evil.
3. Therefore, God has a good reason for creating a world containing evil.

You seem to me making a leap from, "God created a world containing evil," to "God does evil." Before you can make that leap, you need to argue that creating a world containing evil was an evil thing to do.

There are plenty of examples in the Bible where God had some purpose in something that was evil. The classic example is Joseph's brothers selling him into slavery. When his brothers went to Egypt and discovered who Joseph was, Joseph comforted them by saying, "You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good." So the same event had both an evil purpose (the purpose of the brothers) and a good purpose (the purpose of God). So although God brought about an evil act, it was not evil of God to do so.

Sam

 
At 1/27/2006 8:06 AM , Blogger Steve said...

Sam - aren't you suggesting though by creating a world where evil serves a purpose, and that purpose is good, that evil is not really evil? It seems that evil which serves a positive purpose is in fact good. Without that evil, one presumably would have something worse (less good would come out of a situation).

I still think the distinctions here between good and evil in a situation where God deliberately created evil is blurred to the point where we're not sure about the difference between the two.

 
At 1/27/2006 9:26 AM , Blogger ephphatha said...

Steve, I don't think God created evil unless you mean natural evil. The Bible is explicit that God creates natural evil (i.e. disaster). But moral evil isn't something that's created. Moral evil is something that people do. God does not do evil.

The fact that evil can serve a good purpose does not make evil good. Joseph's brothers selling Joseph into slavery was still evil of them, even though God meant it for good. God's purpose was good; theirs was evil.

 
At 1/27/2006 9:50 AM , Blogger DagoodS said...

ephphatha, four quick points:

1. What Steve said. (A wiser man would stop here, since he said it so well, nothing further needs be noted. But, a fool….)

2. Notice I said “potential for evil” not evil. You have made the claim that God does not have free will, in that He cannot do evil. He does not have the potential to do evil. But He created a world in which humans were created with a capability to make a choice—between good an evil. Where did that capability come from, if not from God?

I really was looking for an answer to the question, “Is the potential to do evil ‘good’”? You seem to be implying that it is not. I am uncertain. If not, then God created Adam & Eve in an evil state, before they ate from the tree. Adam didn’t introduce sin into the world; God did.

3. If you forgive the indulgence, let me slightly modify your last three numbered points. I prefer to use the terms “moral” and “immoral” rather than “good” and “evil” to clarify. (“Good” can mean a number of things, like unspoiled, “good egg” or producing favorable results—“good” job, and that is why.) Thanks.

1. Anything God does, he has a moral reason for doing so.
2. God created a world containing immorality.
3. Therefore, God has a moral reason for creating a world containing immorality.

As steve correctly points out, this leads to the inescapable conclusion that immorality serves God’s greater purpose of morality. Which means a human moral act is moral to God, and a human immoral act is moral to God. You have effectively eliminated immorality on your grand “ultimate purpose” objective scale, because it is ALL moral, in the end.

4. Your Joseph situation. So God makes the best of a bad situation? Isn’t this a very human thing to do? Are you saying that God, who cannot commit evil, could figure no other way to get Joseph to Egypt, except by evil means? Why is your God so limited in power, ability and time, that He must use evil means to achieve good ends? Even humans do better than that.


Add: (Cause I saw your post) The Logical problem of Evil? This old hat? Where does evil come from, then?

 
At 1/27/2006 10:51 AM , Blogger ephphatha said...

2. My position is that both God and people have free will in the compatibalist sense. God can only do good, because he has a good nature. People can do both good and evil because they have a nature capable of both. The ability to do evil does serve a good purpose or God would not have brought that ability about.

3. You and Steve are both right to say human morality serves God's moral purposes. After that you lose me. When you say that a human immoral act is moral to God, you seem to mean that God doesn't consider what they did to be wrong. But that isn't true. It is still wrong for those people to do that thing, but it is not wrong for God to have brought it about that they did that thing.

4. I'm sure there are several ways God could've gotten Joseph to Egypt, but without know the full extend of God's purposes and the ripple effect of every event, I can't say that there was better way that was consistent with all of God's purposes. I'm sure that whatever God does is the best way to serve his purposes, because God can only do good. I don't see this as limiting his power, knowledge, or anything.

Add: If you are asking whether God is the author of evil, I would say that he is in one sense, but he is not in the sense you seem to think. He is not the author of evil in the sense of committing evil or doing evil acts. But he is the author of evil in the sense of bringing it about that others do evil acts.

 
At 1/27/2006 12:34 PM , Blogger DagoodS said...

ephphatha – you lost me. It is the simple Logical Problem of Evil—i.e. where does evil come from, if God didn’t create it? If God created it, then He can do evil. Even you consider the logical limitation of God—he can’t create something he can’t do. If he can’t do evil, he can’t create it.

Adam & Eve chose. By virtue of the very definition of choosing, prior to the choosing there must be two or more choices. I could not prefer The Beatles over The Rolling Stones prior to 1960. They had to be in existence in order for me to choose. In order for Adam & Eve to choose between moral and immoral, (and all the other little morals) they had to exist! Therefore immorality was in creation prior to the introduction of the choice. Who put it there?

You say: The ability to do evil does serve a good purpose or God would not have brought that ability about. which is extremely confusing language. By “good purpose” do you mean “moral purpose” or “suitable purpose”? That is why I tried to avoid the word “good” as it has too many meanings.

If you are saying, “The ability to do evil does serve a moral purpose…” then God can have the ability to do evil, as this would still be moral, and not impinge on His goodness. But it contradicts your statement of God can only do good,… as God would then only have the ability to good and not evil. Do you see my confusion?

If you are saying, “The ability to do evil does serve a suitable purpose…” then you have eliminated the differentiation between moral and immoral. As they are both trumped by this “suitable purpose” (Often called the “Greater Purpose” defense to both the Logical and Evidentiary Problems of Evil.) Here is how that works.

God defines two acts. Putting a tattoo of Cap’n Crunch on a banana is moral. Putting the same tattoo on an apple is immoral. BUT a moral act serves His Greater Purpose and an immoral Act serves His Greater Purpose, as well.

I put a tattoo on a banana—yippe for me, I did a moral act and served this Greater Purpose. I put a tattoo on an apple—equally yippe for me. While I did do an immoral act, at least I still served God’s Greater Purpose. Maybe to a lesser extent, but still.

And if God can only do moral, and this is His purpose, His purpose must be moral. Under this defintion, ultimately, every single act, moral, immoral, amoral, non-moral, serves his purpose, which must be moral.

When you say that a human immoral act is moral to God, you seem to mean that God doesn't consider what they did to be wrong. But that isn't true. It is still wrong for those people to do that thing,… Can’t speak for steve, but that is not what I am saying at all. I say, according to this plan, that God looks down and says, “That act is ‘right.’ Which serves my ultimate purpose. Since I am solely moral, my ultimate purpose is moral. That act is ‘wrong.’ Which serves my ultimate purpose. Since I am solely moral, my ultimate purpose is moral.”

You can label, in your human ability, however you desire. “Wrong,” “right,” “left,” “fuzzy,” “rancid”—doesn’t matter. Whatever the label, it serves God’s ultimate moral purpose.

He is not the author of evil in the sense of committing evil or doing evil acts. Not what I am saying. Easiest way out of the Logical Problem of Evil, is that God has the capability to do Evil, but does not. He can, therefore, create the capability to do Evil. And the rest flows nicely. Only problem I ever saw is that this conflicts with James 1:13. Other than that, it was a beaut.

I'm sure that whatever God does is the best way to serve his purposes, because God can only do good. Oh. Well, if you are going to assume your conclusion, then just say so.

 
At 1/27/2006 3:09 PM , Blogger ephphatha said...

Dagoods,

I have a pretty big disagreement with how you view evil and choices. I agree that if a person makes a choice between two options, the options must first exist. Before I can choose between the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, both options have to exist. But an option is not itself a moral evil. A moral evil is when a person chooses an option that it's wrong for that person to choose.

Now I grant that God created the world with options that are wrong for us to choose. For example, he created us with the ability to punch other people in the nose. But the fact that God created noses and fists does not at all equate with God creating evil. Evil is the willful act of punching somebody in the nose. Noses and fists are not evil.

As I have said, though, God does bring it about that wrong-doing happens. I don't know all the ways he does it, but the Bible does give at least one example. He hardened Pharaoh's heart. That created, in Pharaoh, the disposition to do wrong, and Pharaoh then acted on that disposition. Since evil is something that people do and not some entity that exists and needs to be created, then this is not an example of God creating evil. This is an example of two agents involve who both act. God's action was to harden Pharaoh's heart. Pharaoh's action was to refuse to let Israel go and to increase their burden. Pharaoh's action was evil. God's action was not evil.

The fact that Pharaoh's actions resulted in fulfilling God's moral purpose does not mean that what Pharaoh did was therefore right. That just doesn't follow, and I don't think we are any closer to agreeing on that.

I'm sure that whatever God does is the best way to serve his purposes, because God can only do good. Oh. Well, if you are going to assume your conclusion, then just say so.

I would say so if that's what I was doing, but I argued for this position earlier in this discussion, so it's not merely an assumption. It's a conclusion I arrived at.

 
At 1/27/2006 4:20 PM , Blogger DagoodS said...

ephphatha, you wouldn’t be purposely avoiding my questions, would you? What did you mean by The ability to do evil does serve a good purpose or God would not have brought that ability about., specifically the word “good purpose”? Thanks.

I am not sure why this is so difficult. Is liking the Beatles evil? No. Is liking the Stones evil? No. Is punching someone in the nose evil? Yes. Is not punching someone in the nose evil? No. Who gave me every one of those choices? God.

I would agree, evil is an action, not an object. But the choice to do the action (or not do the action) was given by God. That act, that capability to choose, that ability to determine, was all provided by God. Evil is the willful act of punching somebody in the nose. And Where did humans obtain the ability to do (or not do) the willful act?

Why do you give God a pass on this one? Your bias is showing. Where does evil come from? You simple remove the question one step by continually focusing on the object, and not the willful choice. God is responsible for the creation of both, like it or not. I could re-phrase what I said previously to “In order for Adam & Eve to chose between an immoral act and moral act, they had to exist prior.” Let me say it again. The ability to act immoral existed prior to the choice to do so.

Who put the tree in the Garden? God
Who failed to restrict the tree? God
Who told Adam to not eat of the tree? God
Who gave Adam the capability to eat of the tree? God.
Who gave Adam the capability to not eat? God.
Who predetermined that the act of eating from the tree was evil? God.
How could God know something would be evil, if evil did not pre-exist?

God: Adam, don’t eat of the tree. That would be evil.
Adam: What is this e-vil?
God: Gosh, I don’t know. Good question. Take a bite and find out.
Adam: But I can’t. Tree’s too high.
God: By golly you are right. Let me give you the ability to eat the fruit.
*Adam eats*
God: Uh-oh now you did it.
Adam: But I didn’t know it was wrong! The fruit gave me the ability to discern right and wrong. Prior to that, I did not have the capability!
God: Yes, you did because….uh…..I can’t say I gave it to you. Uh…..you just got it from……uh……I don’t know. You work it out. Just don’t ever say that I gave you the capability to act immorally.

But God didn’t create evil. Do I ask it again? Where does evil (or if you prefer, the ability to choose to do evil) come from?

The fact that Pharaoh's actions resulted in fulfilling God's moral purpose does not mean that what Pharaoh did was therefore right. Don’t make me laugh! God pre-planned to harden Pharaoh’s heart, (Ex. 7:3) so when Pharaoh was inclined to do what God wanted, (Ex. 10:16) God then hardened his heart (Ex. 10:20) so God could kill numerous innocent Egyptians (Ex. 10:7), just to fulfill God’s “moral” purpose of showing the world how powerful God was. (Rom. 9:17) And Pharaoh is in the wrong, not God.

You only saving grace with the Pharaoh story is that it is completely contradicted by history, writings, and archeology, and obviously never happened. But another time, another thread…

 
At 1/27/2006 6:51 PM , Blogger ephphatha said...

Dagoods,

I don't know how to explain myself any clearer. Given that evil is something people do, it makes no sense to me to ask "Where did evil come from?" or "Who created evil?" as if evil is a "thing." I have already agreed with you that God created options that it's wrong for people to take, and God even brought it about that people would take those actions. Why do you keep trying to prove a point I've already agreed to?

The disagreement seems to be in whether that means God has done evil. Was it wrong for God to bring it about that people would do wrong? You apparently think it was. I don't, and I've already explained why.

 
At 1/27/2006 6:55 PM , Blogger ephphatha said...

Oh, and I'm not sure exactly how to explain what a "good purpose" is. I thought that much would be obvious. I suppose I could give a few ostensive examples. If I intend to save money so my daughter can go to college, then I'm saving money for a good purpose. If I rake leaves for my neighbor to relieve them of a burden, then I'm raking leaves is a good purpose.

 
At 1/27/2006 8:51 PM , Blogger DagoodS said...

ephphatha – I got a chance to read some C.S. Lewis. Again. I see where you are coming from. I also re-remembered why C.S. Lewis didn’t impress me even as a Christian. Sorry.

Evil is an Action. Where do actions come from? Are you are saying “where actions come from” makes no sense because it is not a “thing”? In a simplistic, third-grade English sort of way, are you saying that God created nouns, but not verbs?

Where did running come from? Where did praying come from? Where did speaking come from? Where did harvesting come from? Where did choosing come from? (Note: God chooses. Jacob over Esau.) Where does Loving come from? We see a variety of action verbs that God does. Did he create those abilities in us?

Did he create the muscular structure for Adam, but not the ability to walk? Did we, as humans, create all action verbs on our own? Which verbs came from God, and which did not? For example, the action of eating from a tree (which must pre-exist the choice) or the action of talking. Which one did God create, and which one did he not?

Why do verbs get a pass, now? Funny, any other verb—loving, praying, trusting, believing, we attributed to God. Eating from a tree—no way that came from god. How do you pick which verbs God created and which ones he didn’t?

I see you are confusing the word “good” when talking about “good purpose.” As I covered the problems with either the definition of “moral” or “suitable” saying it is both gives you twice the problems, not twice the solutions.

If we are at an impasse, I can stop now, too.

 
At 1/27/2006 11:31 PM , Blogger ephphatha said...

Dagoods, you would probably have a better idea of where I'm coming from if you read Jonathan Edwards' book on The Freedom of the Will than you would by reading C.S. Lewis.

 
At 1/28/2006 3:22 AM , Blogger daleliop said...

Let's say I walk into a junior high cafeteria and drop a gallon of cocaine on the table. If some kids then choose to snort it, was what I did an evil action, or did I merely provide an evil choice?

 
At 1/28/2006 5:28 AM , Blogger Steve said...

Dale - If you don't think a drug dealer is evil, then I think you've lost a bit of perspective here!

I mean, in your example, lets say God puts a child molester in a room full of children. You're saying from Gods perspective, he's neutral on the matter because the evil is being done by the child molestor.

 
At 1/28/2006 5:46 AM , Blogger daleliop said...

Actually, I haven't said anything yet. I'm just asking a question.

 
At 1/28/2006 8:46 AM , Blogger Steve said...

well technically asking a question is saying SOMETHING, but I see your point you hadn't yet made your commentary. sorry to jump the gun.

 
At 1/28/2006 4:08 PM , Blogger ephphatha said...

FORTY!!!

 
At 1/29/2006 6:24 PM , Blogger daleliop said...

FORTY-ONE!

 
At 1/29/2006 9:55 PM , Blogger ephphatha said...

I knew somebody was going to do that! :-Þ

 
At 1/30/2006 11:31 PM , Blogger Paul said...

BTW, Sam, happy blogger anniversary! Mine's next month.

 
At 1/31/2006 3:37 AM , Blogger ephphatha said...

Why thank you, Paul!

 
At 12/19/2006 8:25 PM , Blogger drRic said...

The subject of free will becomes so complicated when we become blind to the word which causes the whole confusion which is "FREE". I have not seen any one here approach the word or even take the time to meditate or think on its authenticity. What does it mean to be "free"? Well, let's look at some profound definitions-"not tied up; unbound; not restricted; no strings attached; unpressured; untouched by anything; unbothered; not a slave of anything". There may be a more concise definition. These are just ones I've thought up in the moment-feel free to agree or disagree. Do we really have free will? But I've been reading the blogs only to find that it is possible that all of you missed the point. Sam and Dagoods, you guys have made interesting points, but it seems like both of you are struggling with your points because both of you apparently, to me, are trying to break down a great GOD by, not intentionally though, trying to see GOD as doing things according to our level of man's thinking. We should know first that GOD's ways are higher than man's ways, and HIS ways are not our ways. How can we even attempt to break down what GOD does.

 
At 8/23/2007 2:37 AM , Blogger Peter said...

I believe God gives free will. If He didn't, we wouldn't be living in a perfect world. One of the reasons why God created humans is that we may honour Him.

Questions:
If someone praised your name or did your will, would that honour you?
If you paid someone to praise your name and to do your will, would that honour you?
If you forced someone to praise your name and to do your will, would that honour you?

Therefore the praise and doing your will in itself is not sufficient to honour you. It has to come from the person's free will to honour you.

Why is there evil in this world? God gave people free will; the ability to go against God's will.

People seem to think that "I have hardened Pharoah's heart" means that God physically hardened Pharoah's heart. I beg to differ. God allowed Pharoah's heart to be hardened, there's a difference. I like to explain this using an example from my tennis experience. I hit with a friend (who is not as good as me). We hit the ball up and down the court, but he mostly hits it out. Now, I know that the ball will land out before it even comes across the net, but I leave it instead of hitting it back into play. We play up to 10 points. Even though I can hit back the balls that are about to land out back into play, I don't. In a sense, I can say "I have made my friend lose" but then again, I didn't actually do anything but allow it to happen. My friend has persisted to hit the ball as hard as he can, and I have allowed that to happen, even though I had the capability to return the balls that were going out.

In the same way, God has allowed Pharoah to harden his own heart. Pharoah wanted to go against God's will, and God allowed it. Because God has the capability to change Pharoah's heart, in a sense, He can say "I have hardened Pharoah's heart".

God put the tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden to give Adam and Eve free will. They were both in the most perfect place in the world, but without something to go against God's will, it would not be perfect.

Did God create evil? That's a toughy... I feel whatever answer I give, I will be trapped. In a sense, God creating something to go against His will would be considered creating evil. But then again, the bible says that God will never tempt us to do evil. Therefore, it was not God who made Eve eat the apple, but from her own personal decision, and persuasion from the devil, which then in turn, created sin.

We will never be able to fathom the complexity of God. There are tons of questions we haven't yet asked that could give us the precise answer. The above comments are my logical and rational explainations for your comments, and in no way imply I have the only truth. That can only be found by talking to God and seeking Him.

 
At 10/28/2010 3:17 PM , Blogger DaveBovey said...

This post is old, but I found it interesting and had a question for DagoodS. Have you looked at St. Augustine's answer to your concern about God creating evil? http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1019.htm Question 19, number 9. If you notice this and have time, I'd be interested in your perspective on it.

 
At 9/15/2012 1:03 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, here we are trying to define God?

Visualize that God is the Sun and we are the Earth. Yes, we are related and made of the same stuff:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/09/a-massive-explosion-on-the-sun-with-the-earth-shown-at-scale/262233/

It's all about scale. It's all about the little mouse who tries to roar.

 
At 10/27/2016 9:44 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Humans do have free will. "Choose you this day whom you shall serve, but as for me and my house we will serve the Lord." Jesus looked upon Jerusalem and lamented how would have gathered them as a hen gathers her chicks, but THEY were not willing.

 

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