Thursday, June 15, 2006

God's sovereignty and man's responsibility, part 5

Now I want to answer some of Dagood's questions he brought up in the discussion section of his "check your oil" blog. I had brought up Philippians 2:13 where it says, "It is God who is at work in you both to will and to work for his good pleasure," and I said, "God gives us the disposition to work and strive, and then it is we who do it." He asked a series of question in order to flesh out my thought. I'm going to answer these question in light of everything I've written so far.

1. If God gives us the disposition, can we still choose to not do it?

We can, in the natural sense, choose not to do it, but not in the moral sense. That is, if we are disposed to act in a particular way, whether that disposition got there because God put it there or some other way, we cannot dispose ourselves to do otherwise, even though we may have a natural ability to do otherwise (i.e. nothing is physically stopping us from doing otherwise).

2. If God does not give us the disposition, can we still do it?

We can if we have the same disposition for some other reason. But if we have no disposition whatsoever to do something, then we have a moral inability to do it since the will cannot act without a disposition. We may have the natural ability to do it, but not the moral ability.

3. If God gives the disposition, and the person does not do it, is the person responsible?

This question is based on an impossible premise. It's not possible for a person to not do what he has a disposition to do. That is, of course, unless he has a stronger contrary disposition, or he has a natural inability to act on the disposition. If he has a natural inability, then no, he's not responsible. But if he acts on a stronger contrary disposition, then yes, he is responsible.

4. If God does not give the disposition, and the person does not do it, is the person responsible?

Whether the person is responsible depends on his reason for not doing it. If he fails to do it because he has a natural inability, then he's excused. But if he fails to do it because he has a moral inability (i.e. a lack of disposition), then he is responsible.

5. What exactly IS “giving the disposition”?

A disposition is just a mental state in which the will prefers a course of action. For God to "give a disposition," that just means that God brings it about somehow that the person has such a preference or desire. When he hardened Pharaoh's heart, for example, he created in Pharaoh the disposition to not let Israel go.

The end.

8 Comments:

At 6/15/2006 4:30 PM , Blogger DagoodS said...

ephphatha, some of it is becoming clearer, and some remains murky. I’ll tell you my thought process, and perhaps you can clear it up for me. Perhaps not.

If you will allow me the indulgence, I am going to quote you from your last blog’s comments:

It's impossible for any being to act contrary to its nature.

That is, there is nothing physically preventing God from doing evil. He doesn't lack the power or natural ability to do evil things.

When I say God can't do evil, I mean it in the moral sense.

If God only prefers good, then, it's impossible for God to do evil. He would have a moral inability to do evil due to a lack of evil inclination.


From what I gathered you bifurcate (and I will confess I remain puzzled as to how these two concepts interact) ability into two forms—physical and moral. In this blog you use the term “natural” instead of “physical” but they appear to mean the same thing. Perhaps not. (Which would be something else to clear up!)

For the moment, I will rely upon these two abilities. You indicate:

1) As to God performing evil, he has the physical ability, but not the moral ability
2) It is therefore impossible for God to perform evil.
3) It is contrary to God’s nature.
4) It is impossible for any being to act contrary to its nature.

Taking those four statements, I conclude that if a creature does not have the moral ability to perform an act, it is impossible (due to the law of non-contradiction) for the creature to perform the act.

For most of these questions/answers these seems to stay consistent. But then we encounter a big problem, which is where I am looking for clarification. For example.

My Question: If God gives us the disposition, can we still choose to not do it?

You seem to say in this situation, we have the physical ability to not do it, but not the moral ability. Therefore we have no choice but to do this. That is consistent. God has the physical ability to not perform good, but not the moral ability, therefore God has no choice but to perform good.

My question: If God does not give the disposition, can we still choose to not do it?

You indicate that we may have the disposition from elsewhere, and therefore the moral ability to still do it. Again, staying consistent that “ultimate ability” (for a new term) rests on moral ability.

My question: If God gives the disposition, and a person does not do it, is the person responsible?

Consistent with your approach, this question IS an impossibility. If God grants the disposition, and with your answer to No. 1, we have no choice but to perform it, then there could never be a situation where a person does not commit an act where God grants the disposition. Ever.

(Not to be obstinate, but I ignored the “stronger contrary disposition” because that begins to conflict with your answer to No. 1. Either we have the moral inability or we do not upon God giving the disposition.)

But here is where the wheels fall off the bus. You state:

…If he fails to do it because he has a moral inability…, then he is responsible. (emphasis in the original)

re-read your answer to Question 1.

If a person does not have the moral ability (i.e. disposition whether from God or somewhere else) then it is impossible for them to perform the act. (Again, this is consistent with God unable to do evil do to the lack of moral ability.)

BUT you indicate that a person is still responsible for doing something they did not have the moral ability to do.

Simply put—a person is responsible for not doing the impossible—acting against their moral ability.

Take Pharaoh. (Again. *smile*) God gave him to disposition to prohibit the Hebrews from leaving. Apparently a no-no. According to your answer to Number 1 and Number 3, it would be impossible, then for Pharaoh to do anything BUT what God had given him as the disposition. It would become a moral inability.

Does this sovereign God of yours hold us to the standard that it is impossible (just like it is for him!) to do something, yet we are still to blame? We have a higher standard than God himself?

Taking me back to the original statement you made, “God gives us the disposition to work and strive, and then it is we who do it.” Which would be absolutely in line with what you are saying. Once God gives us the moral disposition, we become moral unable to do anything but—it is an impossibility.

However, you also say: God is responsible for sin, not in the sense of committing it, but in the sense of disposing the world in such a way that others commit sin.

If God disposes humans in such a way that it is impossible for them to do anything but sin, isn’t he the responsible party for the sin? The author, cause and basis for sin?

How close can we dance to saying God commits evil acts without holding him responsible?

 
At 6/15/2006 5:37 PM , Blogger ephphatha said...

Dagoods,

You seem to have a pretty good grasp of how compatibalism plays out in answering these questions. You seem to understand the difference bewteen a moral and a natural ability (or inability).

The only difference you seem to have now is whether the distinction is morally relevent. You question whether a person can be morally responsible if he has a moral inability to obey. I say he can, and you seem to think he cannot.

Earlier in this series, I made a link to another series I did on "an argument against morality from determinism." The argument my friend made was basically the same as yours. The person basically argued that since obligation implies ability, and since all of our actions are determined (meaning inability to do otherwise), then we can have no moral obligations.

He made no distinction between natural and moral inabilities. So the whole series was basically an explanation of how we can be morally responsible even with a moral inability to obey. I granted that we can have no moral obligations if we have a natural inability to obey, but I argued that moral inability does not excuse us. So if you haven't read that series yet, you might want to read it. It would hopefully answer your question more fully than if I just summarized it here in the comment section.

If you don't want to read all that, though, then at least take a lot at the comments on part 3 of this series. Jeff questioned me about the distinction, too, and I tried to give a brief justification for why I think the distinction is morally relevent and why I think we can be morally accountable even with a moral inability to do otherwise.

 
At 6/16/2006 10:36 PM , Blogger daleliop said...

hey Sam,

Congrats on graduating! What are you going to do next?

 
At 6/16/2006 11:39 PM , Blogger ephphatha said...

Hey Dale! Where have YOU been? I'm looking into getting my teaching certification right now, but it's still kind of up in the air.

 
At 6/17/2006 1:07 AM , Blogger daleliop said...

I've been busy with school, it can be lots of work, lol. You've been busy too, I think-- you don't do the one-post-a weekday thing anymore. Teaching college sounds interesting-- Are you thinking of grad school as well?

 
At 6/17/2006 4:01 AM , Blogger daleliop said...

Oops I meant teacher's college

 
At 6/17/2006 9:18 AM , Blogger ephphatha said...

Yeah, I'm thinking if I get a job teaching, I can go to grad school all I want and take as long as I want. That is, of course, provided I can get a teaching job near a college.

 
At 6/20/2006 3:09 PM , Blogger DagoodS said...

Thank you for the links, ephphatha. And the comment section on the third part of the series.

To be honest, it didn’t help. I may just be missing the boat, here, but I see a vacillation between “unlikely” and “impossible” when it comes to moral ability and a clear cut definitive statement as to the difference when it comes to natural ability.

We all seem to concede that physical inability releases one from responsibility, but I am still uncertain as to how moral inability does not. If it is impossible for me to fly, and therefore I am not responsible, it seems equally as certain that if it is impossible for me to resist the disposition of God, I am equally not responsible.

It remains unclear why physical inability gets a pass in this regard and moral inability does not.

You seem to differentiate the two, by stating that going against one’s predisposition is extremely difficult, but here is where I see the difference. We are using the word “impossible.” Not extremely difficult, extremely unlikely or extremely, remotely, and probably-would-never-happen in a billion years. We are saying “impossible.”

Thanks for trying, but it doesn’t resonate with me.

 

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