Thursday, June 04, 2015

Does libertarian freedom entail the ability to do good or evil?

Some folks attempt to hold on to libertarian freedom even in light of an inability to do good or an inability to do evil on the basis that when faced with a choice between good and evil, there are multiple options for doing good and multiple options for doing evil. So let's say Jesus has libertarian freedom, but he is incapable of doing evil. One would say that when faced with a choice between good and evil, there are multiple good options that Jesus could choose from, and his final choice is not determined. If he chooses one good option, he could've chosen the other.

I don't think this is an adequate escape for libertarians, though. I think it's a slight of hand. Let's say George is faced with a choice between drinking Sprite or Dr. Pepper. You might be tempted to think this is a choice between two options. But in reality, it's two distinct choices with two distinct sets of options. One choice is whether to drink Dr. Pepper or not. The other is whether to drink Sprite or not. That's two different choices, each with it's own set of options.

When Jesus is faced with some temptation, his choice is whether to give into that temptation or whether to resist that temptation. If resisting that temptation leaves him with multiple options, those multiple options are part of a distinct choice. If Jesus had libertarian freedom regarding the choice whether to give in to the temptation or resist the temptation, then he would be capable of doing either. So if he is incapable of taking one of those options, then he does not have libertarian freedom regarding that choice. If, having resisted the temptation, he is left with multiple morally praiseworthy options, his choice between those options can be free in the libertarian sense, but that doesn't make his choice on whether to give in to or resist the temptation free in the libertarian sense.


Matthew Bilyeu said...

Great post, and I think you're right about the inability of "multiple good options" to maintain libertarian freedom in the face of the inability to choose evil.

Could it be the case that Christ is absolutely free to choose good or evil, but that his being tempted to do evil cannot result in his actions towards evil? If the authors of the new testament are correct, then God would be incapable of being tempted. Perhaps this would be because temptation entails some level of deception on the one tempted. That is to say that he believes that his choice to do evil will actually be better than the good.

This could never occur with Jesus, however, because if he is God then he can never be deceived about the consequences of his actions. He may be tempted by the temporary pleasure afforded by the sin, but his complete knowledge of the full consequences of the sin would create in him a greater desire to avoid the sin at every point in which he might sin.

I'm trying to lose weight, for example. I'm frequently deceived that *just one cookie* won't hurt. How much could one cookie's worth of calories really impact my overall weight loss goals after all? If I were Jesus, however, then I would see that giving in to the cookie may lead to a pattern of giving in that ultimately causes my overall goal to fail. Since I would know completely the full consequences of giving in, then I would say no at every point that I desired the delicious taste of a chocolate chunk cookie.

In this way Jesus' sinless-ness would be placed in his omniscience rather than in some true inability to sin. Would that work?

Sam Harper said...

In all of these cases of deciding between whether to eat the cook or to refrain, to sin or to refrain, ultimately it comes down to whatever the strongest desire or motivation is. I don't believe Jesus could ever sin because I don't believe any temptation could be strong enough to overcome his desire to do his Father's will. Jesus is just that good.

A lot of ink has been spilled on this subject, though. Some people think Jesus couldn't sin because he's God. But part of his emptying (cf. Philippians 2) entailed that he gave up the independent use of his divine attributes, including his omniscience, so maybe he didn't know he was incapable of sin, in which case the temptations were just as real for him as they would be for us.

My own view is that "temptation" can be used in two different ways. On the one hand, you have verses like Deuteronomy 6:16 and Exodus 17:7 where it say not to put God to the test. Some translations say not to tempt God. Psalm 78:41 says, "Again and again, they tempted God." From those passages, it seems like tempting God is something it's possible to do. Otherwise, why forbid it?

But on the other hand, you have James 1:13 that says, "God cannot be tempted by evil."

But I just think being tempted can mean two different things. On the one hand, it can mean that you are attempting to persuade somebody to do wrong. If we attempt to force God's hand or to cause God to depart from his own will or plan to to do evil, then we are tempting God. But that doesn't mean God feels any urge to do evil.

On the other hand, we can feel tempted to do something wrong. In that case, temptation isn't an effort to persuade, but the feeling of being persuade. It's in that sense that I don't think God can be tempted.

So God can be tempted in the sense that we can attempt to persuade him to do evil, but he cannot be tempted in the sense of being persuaded.

In the same way, the devil tempted Jesus in the sense of attempting to entice Jesus to sin, but Jesus could not be tempted, meaning Satan could not succeed in persuading Jesus to sin.