Monday, June 18, 2007

Free will & morality

This is a follow up to a discussion that actually began on another blog (http://jumpingfromconclusions.com). It is in response to something Dagoods said there, but as I have explained in the past, I unfortunately do not have time to jump around from blog to blog, so I have to confine most of my comments to this particular locale. Also, in the interest of fair play, Dagoods has a blog of his own for anyone interested at http://sandwichesforsale.blogspot.com.

So here’s the issue for discussion. Dagoods advanced a position on that other blog as follows:

“What the ‘greater purpose’ defense says is that there is something more important than morality. To God. (And due to the complete lack of ability to verify what God finds important, this is all speculation, obviously.) If I do something immoral, what is more important (to God) is that I showed free will. If I do something moral, what is more important (to God) is that I showed free will. Regardless of what I do, God’s greater purpose is fulfilled. Morality is the same as immorality. Like saying regardless of whether I take a train or a plane, the greater purpose of reaching Indianapolis is obtained. Planes are the same as trains.”

And in a later elaboration:
“I see it as a logical consequence of the Free Will defense to the evidentiary Problem of Evil. Christians may not want to say it, but that is what it logically entails. Tell me if I have the answers incorrect in the following questions. I believe the answers (in bold) are the Christian position to the Free Will defense. Could God create a world without immorality? Yes. Would that world have Free Will? No. Does our world have immorality? Yes. Therefore it was more important, in this world, for God to have Free Will than to have a world with no immorality. I am uncertain how one gets around this.”

So is it a necessary consequence of the free will defense that God considers free will to be of greater value than morality? Actually, I believe the way Dagoods phrases the first two questions is incorrect. He seems to be operating under the assumption that we have two separate entities here: (1) morality, and (2) free will. After all, he is saying that (according to Christians), free will is more important than morality. They must then be separate entities with no cross-over between them. But if free will in and of itself has moral value, this comparison doesn’t make any sense. After all, he would essentially be saying “a moral good is more important than morality”, a nonsense statement. In fact, if free will has moral value in and of itself, then all that is going on here when God allows some evil in order to accommodate free will is a weighing of the moral consequences, just like we undergo with any other moral decision. Does the value of allowing free will outweigh the harm done by allowing evil? We can all disagree in our little finite minds about whether or not we think the benefits outweigh the costs in this equation, so to speak. But to say that God believes free will is more important than morality is to separate free will from morality when in fact it is a subset thereof.

I personally believe it is pretty easily apparent that free will has at least some moral value of its own. After all, if I was to bind you up (without cause) and forcibly keep you from going home, going to the grocery store, or doing whatever else it is you desire to do, I think we would all agree that I have committed a moral wrong. So free will clearly has some moral value, which means the locus of our discussion can be on whether the costs outweigh the benefits, but not on whether God believes free will is more important than morality.

Dagoods also said

“I once saw a Christian defiantly proclaim to a non-believer, ‘If you were God, do you think you could make the world any better?’ To which they responded, ‘Sure. All I have to do is create the exact same world we have today, only with one less child dying. Or one less broken arm. Or even one less tear being shed. That would, by definition, be ‘better’ than what God can apparently do.’”

I’ve seen this argument many times, and it strikes me as being more illustrative of the speaker’s unwillingness to make a genuine inquiry into whether God exists as opposed to trying to set up a legitimate standard by which we can decide whether or not to believe. After all, if God really did keep just one more child from dying, or prevent one more broken arm or one more tear, how would you know? This is a standard which atheists like to raise but which we can never know if it was met. So if we can never know if it has been met, is it really a reasonable standard? After all, it argues from the ABSENCE of an activity (i.e., one more child who DID NOT die, one more arm that DID NOT break, one more tear that WAS NOT shed). If these events never happened, how would we ever know they were missing? In fact, someone could easily point out to the atheist who makes this argument, “How do you know God has not already done so?” That’s the problem. It is a statement without meaning because we can never know whether or not the requirements of the statement have been satisfied. In fact, the only way to know if God is preventing any evil or suffering would be if He was to eliminate ALL evil and suffering, but that falls into all the free will problems that have been outlined countless times before (the removal of the concept of evil from this world would also eliminate the concept of good as well, but that is a philosophical discussion for another day).

Finally, a personal note to Dagoods. You mentioned in your post on the other blog that my concept of God hates you. I’m sure you’ve probably heard this before, so I’m probably not telling you anything new, but God does not hate you. He loves you and He is reaching out to you as we speak. I can certainly understand why you would think He hates you, especially with the unfortunate way that some people who claim to be Christians (especially online) spew hatred your way (not meaning you specifically, but toward all non-believers) instead of love and respect. This is an unfortunate tendency for which I myself have “called out” many Christians, but it is not God’s will for how His people are to treat others in the world. To the extent I even have the authority to do so, I apologize to you for any poor treatment you have received in the so-called name of Christianity. It is not right, and I will continue to do my best to treat you and everyone else (believer or non-believer) with dignity and respect.

Ken

24 comments:

DagoodS said...

Ten Minas Ministries: But if free will in and of itself has moral value,…

…then you have completely cut the legs out from underneath your defense to the Euthyphro Dilemma.

Interesting tactic. I admit, I cannot reason it…but still an interesting tactic.

When we were discussing God’s Character, which contains His Morality, you put it as a subset of God. And then specifically and deliberately removed Will from His Character. (you know—the Moral part.) Your words:

Can you really describe a will as a character trait? Imagine if you were describing someone’s character. Does it sound right to say, “He is truthful, courteous, loving, and he has a will.” What does having a will have to do with his character traits?

here

Now you say:

More: …is to separate free will from morality when in fact it is a subset thereof.

However, when we were discussing Euthyphro you said:

God's will, i.e., that part that makes the decisions, is still outside of His character.

here

So we have God’s Character, which contains his morality. And a subset of Morality is Free will. But God’s free will, is outside of his character.

How can it be a subset of his Character and outside of his Character at the same time?

As to your personal note—thank you. You have no control over what other humans do. No need to apologize for others; I do appreciate the spirit. However, that was not what I was saying.

I said your concept of God hates me. Not your God. Your God does not exist. (Atheist, remember?) If your God has free will, which is more important than even immorality, and chooses to not draw me to him (John 6:44) he would choose to not call me his son. (1 John 3:1-2) Ergo—this concept of God must freely be choosing to not love me. That is why I said your concept of God must hate me.

Never fear—I don’t lose any sleep over it. *wink*

Ten Minas Ministries said...

I know I can't apologize for others, but I've seen that behavior often enough that it irks me. Please, if you ever sense me slipping into that kind of attitude (hey, I'm human too), call me on it.

As for the free will argument, you are confusing the ability to exercise free will with the moral rule stating that it would be wrong to deny someone's free will. And I openly admit that the way I originally phrased my comments may have led to this confusion when I said "free will" itself has moral value without clarifying whether I was speaking of the ability to exercise free will versus the action of restricting someone else's free will.

The ability to exercise free will is just that, an ability, similar to my ability to raise my right arm or bend over at the waist (something, by the way, that I'm actually not supposed to do anymore thanks to my back problems). It is something I am capable of doing. You would not say that when I lift my right arm I am taking any sort of a moral action. That act, in and of itself, has no moral quality to it (of course, a moral quality can be imposed upon it given the circumstances, but only if we interpose some form of intent behind the action, in which case the action alone still does not have a moral quality to it; it only gets such a quality when we combine it with some intent).

However, when I restrict someone else's free will, now I have taken a moral action.

So God's ability to exercise free will is outside of His character, because that ability has no moral aspect to it. This is what I was talking about in our Euthyphro discussion. The ability to do something is neither moral nor amoral. However, within God's character there is a rule against restricting the free will of others. If God uses His free will to violate this rule, then He has committed a moral wrong (which, of course, as we discussed before He is not capable of doing).

So I do not believe this defeats my Euthyphro response.

Ken

Ten Minas Ministries said...

After I posted this, another clarification popped into my head. An action can have moral VALUE without being a moral ACTION. In other words, we place moral value on our ability to exercise our free will. God's character similarly places moral value upon this ability. So the question then becomes, "what is the relevant moral action to this thing of moral value?"

The relevant moral action would be restricting that ability to exercise free will. That is the action of moral significance to the thing we have assigned moral value. It is when someone else limits my ability that a moral wrong has been committed. When I exercise my free will, that action does not violate the thing of moral value. It is neither a moral wrong act nor a moral correct act (because I was not obligated to take that action, I was free to choose to either do so or not to do so).

To use an example familiar to us lawyers, it is kind of like a demand note. If you are the holder of the note, you have the right to demand payment whenever you see fit according to the terms of the note. I cannot restrict your ability to make that demand whenever you want. Your decision to either make or not make the demand is irrelevant to whether the contract has been breached. However, if I do something to prevent you from exercising your right to be paid on demand, then I have breached. Similarly, the act of exercising free will is irrelevant to the moral rule in God's character that we shall not violate the free will of others. Only when someone prevents you from exercising that free will (whether you would have done so on your own or not) is the moral rule violated.

Ken

DagoodS said...

To be straight with you, Ten Minas Ministries—this comes across as a great deal of doublespeak. You seem to be creating definitions within definitions and (seemingly) arbitrary distinctions to get out of an inconsistent method.

It is not very convincing to me. (Sorry.)

Before, when we talked about God and Euthyphro, you were kind enough to adhere to my Venn Diagram analogy where we had a large circle of “God” and within that large circle, a smaller circle of “God’s Character.” We agreed (I think) that there was more within “God’s Character” than morality, and more within the other part of the larger Circle then just God’s will or “the part that makes decisions” (your words) but for purposes of our Euthyphro we limited ourselves to those particular items.

And, at least within God, we made very separate distinctions between “will” and “morality” and (as I pointed out in my quotes from you) the “will” of God was definitely outside the “character” of God. Since your defense of the Euthyphro relied upon God’s morality being exclusively within His Character we must have, in one part of God “Will” which cannot and will not ever cross over to the other part of God “Morality.” They may touch (as the teeth on a gear), but remain separate.

Now, in this blog entry, you state:

Ten Minas Ministries: He [DagoodS] seems to be operating under the assumption that we have two separate entities here: (1) morality, and (2) free will. After all, he is saying that (according to Christians), free will is more important than morality. They must then be separate entities with no cross-over between them.

Isn’t that what you said about God? Yet what appears to me (again, I am being frank) is that when it is convenient for your argument to have free will and morality separate (in the defense of Euthyphro) you maintain they are separate. When it is convenient to have them non-separate (in the defense of the Greater Purpose) you maintain they are crossed-over.

This appears inconsistent and a bit too much of modifying the definitions of each to suit one’s current needs.

Secondly, you state that the ability to exercise free will is amoral (no moral actions) whereas the restriction of free will has moral implications. (Curiously you intone that the restriction of free will is morally wrong (!) however, I think you would mean that the restriction has moral overtones. If the Government restricts your free will by placing you in prison as a sentence for a crime, I doubt you would hold this restriction was morally wrong. If I have that incorrect, and you are stating that every restriction of free will is morally wrong…I apologize. )

However, this conflicts with your description of God in the Euthyphro defense. That God’s free will is “restricted” in that He must follow the dictates of his Character. That would place this restriction (exactly as I feared at the time) in the “other-god” the part outside of God’s Character. Meaning you have, once again, put Morality (if restriction of free will has moral implications) outside of God’s character! Again, I see contradiction here.

Further, if the ability to exercise free will has no moral action (i.e. is amoral) then God would have free will! There is no limiting factor in His Moral Character, because this is something you have placed as outside morality! Yet you have indicated that God does not have the free will to do anything contrary to His character. Again, I see contradiction here as well.

I see no distinction between an action that has “moral value” and an action that is a “moral action” other than an attempt to create some new category by which to differentiate the problem. Can you describe something of “moral value” that no moral action is attached to it? Isn’t the “value” within the morality dependent on an action occurring?

Ten Minas Ministries: In other words, we place moral value on our ability to exercise our free will.

Yes, we certainly do. But is using human perceptions a consistent method as a reflection of how God places value? Remember where this started from—the Evidentiary Problem of Evil or the Problem of Suffering.

As a human, I look at pain and suffering in others and desire to stop it. If I have the ability, I do so. I look at what people describe as God, and they appear to claim that God has both the desire and ability. I wonder how that description fits the reality as I know it as a human, and I am informed that due to my limited human ability, I do not understand the Grand Great God ability, and that He has a Greater Purpose. When I question where this comes from, I am told to look at reality as I know it as a human!

Skeptic: Look at humans—we try to stop pain. Why doesn’t God?
Believer: Ah…but you can’t look at humans. We have finite minds. God has an infinite mind, and with that mind has devised a Greater Purpose—Free will.
Skeptic: But how do I know that “free will” has any value?
Believer: Look at humans—we place value on free will.
Skeptic: So when it comes to pain, I shouldn’t use a human perspective, but when it comes to free will, I should use a human perspective??

Again, this seems to be a switch of a method to fit whatever is necessary for the moment. Do we use human values or not when determining what God is like?

Worse, if we use the God of Christianity, we see him restrict free will all the time either directly or through agents!

Look at the Tower of Babel. Or Pharaoh. Or David’s census. Or Balaam’s donkey. Or Job’s hedge. Jesus used a miracle to keep the Jews from stoning him. Twice. Isn’t that a restriction on their “free will”? (And here is another reason why, I think, you cannot hold that restriction of moral actions is wrong. You would have to say God was wrong in doing so.)

How can we reasonably state that God’s refusal to impinge on free will is why there is suffering, yet we see accounts of God impinging repeatedly within what the Christian claims is history.

I do not mean to be rude, and I hope I haven’t come across too rough. But I see glaring inconsistency here, with new arbitrary definitions and distinctions which are not very convincing to skeptics.

Ten Minas Ministries said...

First of all, don’t worry, you weren’t rude. I have no problem with people attacking each other’s arguments if they are not convinced by them. My issue arises when people attack each other personally, which you have not done. Also, you said in regard to my argument “It is not very convincing to me. (Sorry.)” No need to apologize. Remember, I’m a Christian. So from my perspective I don’t expect to be able to convince you unless the Holy Spirit is moving in your heart first. *wink*

Now to the merits. You really don’t think there is a meaningful distinction between our ability to exercise free will (in and of itself) and taking the action of restricting someone else’s free will? Here’s my problem with your argument. You’ve conceded this point before (albeit in a slightly different context so you may not have realized you conceded it). You may recall this discussion we had on the post “The Existential(?) Argument from Suffering…”:

Ten Minas Ministries:
Here is a simple illustration. Suppose you are in a room with three other people. Two are standing up against a wall, and in front of them is a man who is holding a gun in one hand and a piece of paper in the other. He turns to you and says, 'You get to choose. Either I will shoot person #1 in the head and kill him, or I will give person #2 a paper cut. What will it be?'

Now I am assuming person #2 is not a hemophiliac and is not going to die from a paper cut. What do you choose? If you acknowledge that the better choice is to give person #2 a paper cut, then you have acknowledged that the concept of a 'greater good' exists, and sometimes some degree of suffering may be justified for the greater good.

DagoodS:
Not sure I will be much help for you. I agree with your premise that the Problem of Suffering does not make a solely loving God logically impossible.

I would agree that, from what we can observe, it is logically possible for a solely loving God to have a reason suffering exists.


Now let me ask you a question. Did your action of giving someone a paper cut, IN AND OF ITSELF WITHOUT ANY REGARD FOR CONTEXT, have moral implications? No. You seem to have conceded this point by acknowledging that there could be a “greater good.” Simply giving someone a paper cut, depending on the context, may be either morally right or morally wrong. So the ACTION of giving someone a paper cut, in and of itself, does not carry moral implications. It only gains moral implications when it is put into a particular context; i.e., when a certain INTENT is put behind it.

Let me give you another example. Imagine that I am holding flowers in my hand and extend my arm with the flowers forward. Does that action in and of itself carry moral implications? Put another way, does my ability to extend my arm carry moral implications? Not without understanding the context and my intent behind it. If I am extending those flowers as a gift to my wife as an expression of love, then it is a good action. If I am extending those flowers to someone I know to be deathly allergic in hope of sending them into shock, then it is an immoral action. If I am simply extending them out a window into a rain shower so that they will get some water it is a completely amoral action. In fact, imagine that I decide never to extend those flowers at all. Do I still have the ability to do so? Yes, I do. But does the fact that I have that ability carry any moral implications when I have not exercised that ability? No, it doesn’t. The ability itself does not determine the morality of the situation. The intent behind how I exercise that ability determines the morality.

When we were having our Euthyphro discussion, you were asking me about God’s will; i.e., His ability to choose between different options. This raw ability, as I have demonstrated above and as I argued when we were discussing Euthyphro, does not carry any moral implications. The EXERCISE of that ability may carry moral implications, but as I mentioned in that Euthyphro discussion, the exercise of God’s will is guided by His character, WHICH IS WHERE MORALITY RESIDES. So the exercise of the will carries moral implications, but that is because of the intent behind it. God’s intent is guided by His character. His raw ability to choose, though, standing by itself, is amoral and separate from His character. You see, you cannot make a moral issue arise for God without first putting His character into action. You cannot define any alleged moral quandary for God based upon His ability to choose alone. That is like asking whether a moral issue arises because I am capable of extending my arm with those flowers, even if I never decide to do so. It is only when His character is guiding that ability to choose that a moral question arises. But then the morality that resides in His character would be factoring into the equation in addition to His will. Because both the character and the will are at work, you have not proven that the character (i.e., morality) and the will are combined.

Let’s talk about the moral rule I am describing for a few moments. You are correct that I am not claiming that every act of restricting free will is morally incorrect. I believe there is a general moral rule against restricting someone else’s free will, but there is also a hierarchy of rules, and one can trump another. How would this work? It works in the same manner as the “greater good” examples I outlined above. For example, there is a moral rule that we should not give people paper cuts. But there is also a moral rule that says if we can prevent an innocent person from being shot in the head, we should do so. In this example, the second rule will trump the first. Do you want an even clearer example? There is a general moral rule that we should not kill people. But there is another moral rule that we should defend our own right to life when it is wrongfully threatened. The result? The second rule trumps the first so that killing in self defense is permissible.

So there is a general moral rule against restricting someone else’s free will. But this general rule may be trumped by other rules depending on the context (for example, allowing the incarceration of convicted felons even though this restricts their free will).

Now the mistake you make is that you blend the distinction between restricting someone else’s free will and restricting your own free will. Recall that the moral rule I am advancing only prohibits unjustly restricting someone else’s free will. After all, it is not even logically possible to commit a moral wrong by restricting your own free will. Don’t believe me? Simply ask yourself how exactly someone would go about committing a moral wrong by restricting their own free will. Could they make a conscious decision to limit their options and thereby limit their free will to choose the options they have eliminated? The problem with this is that it is impossible for them to limit their free will in this way without exercising their free will to do so in the first place. To argue that someone can choose to restrict their own free will creates a logical contradiction because they have exercised their free will to restrict their free will. If they made a free choice to restrict their own options, then they haven’t really restricted their free will at all. They simply made a choice using their free will.

Now you may respond, “But wait a minute Ken, in my example God’s free will was restricted by His character, so there was no conscious decision to restrict His free will.” But here’s the problem with that argument. Let’s go ahead and assume that God’s free will is limited by His character. How exactly does that carry MORAL implications? Remember what we outlined above. In order for something to have moral implications, there must be some intent behind it. The intent and context determine the morality. At a minimum, this requires some consciousness behind the restriction before morality can be implicated. Where is the consciousness that is restricting God’s free will? To put it bluntly, an immoral act requires an act, or at a minimum a WILL behind it in order to make it immoral. If you say that God is using His will to limit His free will, you run into the contradiction outlined above in which He must exercise His free will before He can limit it. If you say that God is not using His will to limit His free will, then you have no moral implications because an action without a will behind it cannot carry moral implications. Does a tree commit a moral wrong when it falls onto a house? Does snow commit a moral wrong when it falls in an avalanche onto a cabin? These are not moral actions because there is no will behind them. So if you remove God’s will from the equation, you can no longer ask a moral question about the transaction. Either way the result is clear. It is not possible to commit a moral wrong by restricting your own free will. You are stuck in a catch 22. You cannot advance your argument without contradicting yourself.

The problem is that you are trying to squeeze something into a free will discussion that really has no place there. To say that God’s character “restricts” His free will is really misleading. God’s character “guides” His free will, but you try to make it appear that every one of God’s actions is already predetermined by His character such that He has no free will whatsoever. This is the problem when we try to oversimplify the concept of consciousness into something like the gears of a machine. It may be helpful for whatever point we are discussing at that particular moment, but wholly inadequate when extrapolated to other discussions. When you are faced with a moral decision, are you telling me that there is always only one “right” answer? Imagine you see someone drowning in a lake. You have the ability to save them. Now you could do so by swimming out to them, rowing a boat to them, or perhaps reaching them with a long stick or throwing a life preserver to them. Are you telling me that if it is morally correct to swim to them, then it must be morally wrong to row, reach or throw? Of course not. Even when we say that God’s will is guided by His character that does not mean that He has no free will. There are plenty of options within that character that He can choose from.

Really, all we are doing when we say that God’s will is guided by His character is describing how His decision making process works. As a practical matter, God will always make choices that are compatible with His character. Here’s a newsflash…we humans do the same thing. All of our decisions are guided by our character as well. Now it just so happens that all humans have a flawed character. None of us are perfect (I once heard Michael Ramsden say that if anyone believes they are perfect there is only one hope for them … they MUST get married). So even when we make bad choices, these choices are still in line with our character. They are just in line with those flaws; with the dark side that we all have but may be hesitant to admit. God is perfect. He does not have any flaws in His character. So it simply stands to reason that if His character is perfect, and He (like us) will always act in accordance with His character, then He will always do right. Now do you argue that because mankind acts in accordance with its character we do not have free will? We act in accordance with our character. God acts in accordance with His. We still have free will. Why doesn’t God?

You only have these options: (1) you could try to argue that humans take actions that are outside of our character, but to do so you would have to argue that humans have a perfect character; after all, if we have a flawed character even morally flawed actions would be within that character. Your other option is (2) you would have to argue that humans do not have free will. Otherwise, you are creating a double standard and applying something to God that you are not willing to apply to mankind. This would be the second time now that I have pointed out this double standard (the first being when you agree that the context of an action can determine its moral implications, but when discussing God you were unwilling to concede that an action in and of itself is amoral). There will be more to come…

So now that we have shown that the moral rule we are talking about only applies when someone unjustly restricts someone else’s free will, answer me this question. Who, OUTSIDE OF GOD, is restricting His free will? Even if His will is restricted by His character, it is restricted by something inside of God, not outside of Him. So the moral rule has not been violated.

How does this relate to our Euthyphro discussion? God’s ability to exercise His free will exists outside of His character. After all, it is just an ability, no different that my ability to extend my arm. Abilities do not carry moral implications. Inside God’s character, though, is a moral rule that says you should not unjustly restrict the free will of others. This part of God’s character will guide His ability to exercise His free will as the need arises. As we discussed with Euthyphro, this is how the character “gear” guides the will “gear.”

Now it’s time to point out another double standard. You admit that the restriction of free will can sometimes be justified, for example, in incarcerating felons. So you admit that the concept of a greater good exists. And yet you still refuse to accept that God would have a greater purpose. This isn’t merely speculation. It is a logical necessity. I have yet to see anyone squarely respond to this argument. Answer the following questions:

True/False Mankind has a finite mind.

True/False Because mankind’s mind is finite, we have a limited capacity to understand the moral implications of an action.

True/False Because mankind has a limited capacity to understand the moral implications of an action, we will sometimes arrive at incorrect moral conclusions. In fact, there will be instances in reality in which something will appear to us to be either moral or immoral, but we will be wrong.

True/False If an omniscient God exists, He will have an unlimited capacity to understand the moral implications of an action.

True/False Because God has an unlimited capacity to understand the moral implications of an action, He will always draw the correct moral conclusions.

If all of the above statements are true, it is a matter of logical necessity that if an omniscient God exists, He will understand the moral implications when we do not. He will make the right decisions even when we believe those decisions are wrong. This is the very definition of a “greater good” when viewed from our human perspective. If you want to dispute whether or not an omniscient God exists, that’s fine, but that evidence would have to come from somewhere else. The existence of suffering does not get you one inch closer or further away from proving that proposition, because once you acknowledge all the above statements are true, you have admitted that we cannot see things from the same perspective as God and therefore are unqualified to draw any conclusions from the existence of suffering. If you want to disprove this argument you have to tell me which of the above statements are false and why. If you can’t do that, then you have admitted that you do not have the required perspective to draw any conclusions. At best you can only see part of the picture, not the big picture. Would you let a jury render a verdict after only viewing part of the evidence? If not, why do you feel qualified to do the same? Again, we have a double standard when applied to God.

So I don’t argue that you must look to a human perspective to determine that free will has value. As a Christian, I would argue that this comes from divine revelation (there are plenty of examples in scripture when God orders us to respect the sovereignty of others). But as an atheist, you would not buy that. You look to human standards to assign value because from your perspective that is all there is. So when a Christian tells you that even a human perspective shows that free will has value, they are not telling you that this is how they would make their argument. Instead, they are pointing out our common ground and arguing on your terms. We both agree that free will has value; you because you believe that human standards give it value and me because I believe divine revelation tells me it has value. But out conclusion remains the same. However, once you concede that free will has value, for whatever reason, you also must admit that God would be committing a moral wrong if He was to completely eliminate that free will. Using the human perspective is simply a tool to show that even based on your humanistic assumptions, the free will argument still defeats your position on suffering. Again, you are being inconsistent.

Does God sometimes impinge on free will? Yes, He does. Does that prove anything? No, it doesn’t. After all, we have already established that sometimes the general rule against impinging on free will can be trumped by other considerations. You are willing to concede this point when we humans restrict free will by incarcerating felons but you are not willing to give the same privilege to God. Again, a double standard.

Suffering proves absolutely nothing. The existence of suffering is just as compatible with the existence of God as it is without Him (in fact, I would argue that more problems arise with God out of the picture). Keep in mind that the general atheistic position is that the existence of suffering is inconsistent with the existence of a loving God. In order to refute an allegation of inconsistency, all I have to show is some POSSIBLE way in which they could each co-exist. It does not need to be actually true in order to defeat the atheistic argument; only possible. So the mere fact that it is possible that God has a higher purpose (a point you have previously conceded) is enough to refute any alleged inconsistency. However, I believe that I have demonstrated far more than mere consistency. I believe it is logically impossible to argue against God’s existence based upon suffering without contradicting yourself or setting up double standards between what we expect of God and what we expect of ourselves. You say that I have set up “arbitrary definitions and distinctions which are not very convincing to skeptics.” But this is why I can never understand the skeptic’s position. These same “definitions and distinctions” that you label as not convincing when applied to God, you use every day when applied to mankind. You don’t believe that you have taken a moral action simply by having the ability to do something, but you argue that because God has the ability to do something, somehow this blends His morality with His will. You believe humans have free will even though their decisions are guided by their character but somehow because God’s will is guided by His character you think this somehow eliminates His free will. You wouldn’t let a jury render a verdict based upon only part of the evidence, but you yourself feel qualified to do so when you put God “on trial.” Until I see a consistent and logical atheistic argument against God, I will never be able to justify slipping into skepticism.

Thank you again for your discussions. If you are ever in the Baltimore area, drop me an e-mail and let me know. I’d love to take you out to lunch.

Ken

Ten Minas Ministries said...

As I proofread my last comments, I thought I should make one point of clarification to head off one possible response you may give. In regard to my argument that an action without a will behind it does not have moral implications I said that "an immoral act requires an act, or at a minimum a WILL behind it in order to make it immoral."

Before you start claiming that I am contradicting myself and claiming that the will and morality are thereby blended, recall that when the will acts guided by the character. So to be more specific, in order for a moral issue to arise, an immoral act requires a will GUIDED BY CHARACTER in order to make it immoral."

DagoodS said...

I enjoyed this comment. No, I REALLY enjoyed this comment. I am not sure where I want to dig in. There are so many rabbit trails I could go flying down, and so many avenues to bring up. I will try and work on a response by this weekend, but I am kinda busy. If you could give me a little time—that would be great.

DagoodS said...

Ten Minas Ministries,

I have struggled with a way to frame a response to this comment, and our other discussions. Do I take it from the top? Do I only highlight certain aspects? Do I hop on some rabbit trails and fly off into the stratosphere? Do I create a Table of Contents, just to give some sense of form to the reply?

I have not come up with a satisfactory solution. So I think I will just jump in, somewhere in the middle, and work out toward both ends, seeing where I end up. If this seems sporadic, then I am sorry. There is SO much to dig in, here, and I would like to start somewhere. Therefore I hope you keep up your gracious attitude. And patience.

First of all, there is quite a bit that you wrote which I agree with. I know that sometimes it must seem that I can’t agree to anything because we constantly “battle” and our focus, at times, is more on the disagreements and not the agreements.

I liked and agree with the discussion that led to the conclusion:

Ten Minas Ministries: The intent behind how I exercise that ability determines the morality.

I also appreciated your argument and presentation of the logical inconsistency of “I do not have free will because I use free will to restrict my free will.” (Not your words, but that is the concept.) That was very clear.

Finally, I do appreciate the position you place yourself in by giving a description of your God. Yes, all it has to be is a logical possibility, but the easiest retreat would be to posit a Deistic, fully morally free god, and then give no more limiting descriptions than that. That is a very difficult god to find logical contradictions, due to its broadness.

The more you describe a God within a defense to the Euthyphro, or a God in defense of the Problem of Suffering, the more possibilities to allow some heartless skeptic (He, he. Namely me!) to attack the position. For that, I am grateful.

Even with that, I am left with questions and concerns. So on with the show!

Freewill

Does God have the Freewill to commit an immoral act?

I would agree that when we were discussing Euthyphro, we were discussing God’s ability to choose between different options. The options were: moral, immoral or non-moral. (For some bizarre reason I slipped back to “amoral” in my previous response. I will correct myself back to the better “non-moral” terminology.)

You refer to God making non-moral or moral decisions. Sure, God could have chosen to make 3 pine trees where he made 2 maples and a pine tree. Or God could choose to heal someone with cancer by surgery or chemotherapy. That is not the essence of the thing. The question of Free Will is the ability to make a decision between an immoral act and a moral act.

This is key.

We started this particular discussion on the Problem of Suffering. The Evidentiary Problem of Evil. Why do Tsunamis exist? Clearly, the free will decision of whether to murder someone or give them money has no effect on a terrible earthquake happening tomorrow in California in which 100’s of 1000’s are killed.

My understanding of the Unknown Purpose defense (and correct me if I am wrong) is that God has a reason for the suffering that happens. And we have been focusing on the reason of “Free Will.” That in order for God to make this world, He had to allow the free will to choose between moral and immoral actions. That decision, and more specifically The Fall, had consequences, including the eventual natural consequences of Tsunamis and Earthquakes.

Do I have that wrong?

Again, whether Adam and Eve had the Free will to choose between broccoli or asparagus for supper had no effect on the world. The problem was that free will ability to choose between moral and immoral.

Let’s look at our two choices…

God has Free Will

The idea that God could choose to follow his character or not. We immediately run into the problem:

Ten Minas Ministries: As a practical matter, God will always make choices that are compatible with His character.

O.K. But what is God choosing between? Before the universe we would have God. Which encompasses “Other-God” and “God’s Character.” “Other-God” has the free will to choose to follow “God’s Character” or “Something Else.” Where is that “Something else”? Where is that immorality? If all we have is God, where, in my Venn Diagram, do I put the pushpin “Immorality” or “God’s other choice”?

If God has the Free will to choose between Immorality and Morality, and God’s Choices come from His Character, then his Character must include at least the possibility of Immorality and Morality.

I don’t see a way around this. (And yes, I slipped into the Logical Problem of Evil. So sue me! *grin*)

If God’s Character is Perfect, and God can only choose from following: Perfect or Perfect, then is that really the same as the Free Will we are talking about—the choice between moral and immoral?

God does not have Free Will

Then this kills the defense that Free Will is necessary in some way. You stated:

Ten Minas Ministries: Even when we say that God’s will is guided by His character that does not mean that He has no free will. There are plenty of options within that character that He can choose from.

Then likewise, if free will was so important, God could have created us with a similar free will, to make the same choices among options as he has, yet remain completely moral. There would be no need for the broader free will of also choosing between moral and immoral.

It is here, the ability or lack of ability of God to choose between immoral and morality that I see the greatest confusion between the Euthyphro Defense and the Unknown Purpose defense.

So, rather than blather on, I guess I need direction. Does God have the Free Will to choose between moral and immoral? If so, how would you know which one he choose and where did that choice come from? If not, why do we need Free Will?

Intent and Exercise and Morality and Choice

Ten Minas Ministries: So the exercise of the will carries moral implications, but that is because of the intent behind it. God’s intent is guided by His character.

Again, I agree that a physical act, in and of itself, does not provide us insight into the morality of the act. As in your flower example. I agree that we must look to the “intent.”

But doesn’t intent require choice? As you are well-aware, in the insanity defense, the question is whether the person can have the requisite “intent” to commit the crime. Whether they had the ability to choose between it being legal or illegal.

If God has no choice (i.e. no free will) then he has no intent. He can do nothing but! He has no ability to form the requisite balancing of determining whether something is moral or immoral, and choosing to perform or not perform that act.

If God HAS a choice, you have placed that ability to choose squarely in “other-God”:

Ten Minas Ministries: His raw ability to choose, though, standing by itself, is amoral and separate from His character.

Then can’t God choose to NOT follow his Character? That is the only way to develop his “intent.” Which means God can do an immoral act by not following his Character.

This seems further complicated by:

Ten Minas Ministries: To put it bluntly, an immoral act requires an act, or at a minimum a WILL behind it in order to make it immoral. If you say that God is using His will to limit His free will, you run into the contradiction outlined above in which He must exercise His free will before He can limit it. If you say that God is not using His will to limit His free will, then you have no moral implications because an action without a will behind it cannot carry moral implications.

Isn’t this really your problem—not mine? As I agree, saying God uses his will to limit his will is a logical contradiction. But to say God is NOT using his will to limit his will, then his actions have no moral implications. God is doing what God is doing. This falls squarely on the “Might makes right” horn of Euthyphro!

Ten Minas Ministries: So if you remove God’s will from the equation, you can no longer ask a moral question about the transaction.

Right. So he must have the free will to choose between morality or immorality. You have been careful to insist that God’s Character is inside God, not OUTSIDE. (Capital letters are yours.) Doesn’t this logically follow that, if God is choosing to follow His Character, and he has a choice between morality and immorality, and insisting this is inside, that part of God’s character is immorality?

Moral, Moraller, Moralest

You use the phrase “Greater Good.” That stuck out to me. (I tend to shy away from “good” although I know what you mean. “Good” is also a designation of quality as in “Good Job” that has nothing to do with morality. I have seen confusion on this issue elsewhere.)

Is there such a thing as a grade of morality? Can I see two acts and state, “This is moral, but that one is moraller?” And, of course, can we say that one act is immoral, another immoraller?

Obviously, as humans, we tend to grade acts. Murder is considered worse than speeding. Yet in this philosophical debate, isn’t the difference really at the level of moral, immoral or non-moral? If intent is what drives the morality of the situation, how does intent affect the level of morality?

For example, your paper cut/shooting comparison. We agree that intentionally inflicting a paper cut on a person is immoral. (Or if you don’t, work with me on this one.) We agree that shooting someone is immoral. As humans we make think one act is “less” than the other, but at the very basic level, both are immoral.

We then purposely inflict the paper cut. Does the act become moral (or non-moral) by the balancing test, or is it still immoral, just that shooting someone is immoraller?

Interesting question that I have not come to a conclusion on.

However, by the phrase “Greater good” it would seem to be a comparison between “good” and “greater good” by virtue of “greater.”

If God’s free will ONLY consists of the ability to choose between moral, moraller and moralest, then we do not need immorality to have free will. Again, by claiming “greater good” this would seem to kill the concept that somehow immorality is necessary for free will to exist. God would have free will. God can make moral decisions between grades of morality. Yet God does not “need” the ability to choose immorality to have free will.

Me and the Paper Cut

While we are here (warned you I would jump around a bit) my response to the question whether a solely loving God is logically precluded by the existence of suffering. I would still say it is not. (Although you are starting to convince me I am wrong, and that it IS logically precluded! …Not really. *wink*)

However, I do think the God of your Defense to Euthyphro and the God of your defense to Free will is suspiciously logically precluded.

That is why the back-and-forth of my response so far.

Ten Minas Ministries: God’s ability to exercise His free will exists outside of His character.

Ten Minas Ministries: But to say that God believes free will is more important than morality is to separate free will from morality when in fact it is a subset thereof.

The foundation of your defense to Euthyphro was that Morality was NOT a tautology or the exact same thing as God, but rather was a subset of God, being His Character. So Free Will is a subset of morality and a subset of God’s Character. But now you say God’s ability to exercise free will is outside of His Character.

How can Free Will be both solely outside God’s Character and solely inside God’s Character? Isn’t that a logical contradiction?

And yes, I see the qualification of “ability to exercise free will” as compared to “free will.” Is there a difference? I certainly see the difference between exercising free will and free will. I may have free will to choose to speed or not, which is different than speeding itself. But is there a difference between having the ability to exercise the choice to speed and the ability to choose to speed? I am having trouble seeing that difference.

Free will is the ability to choose. Saying we have the ability to exercise the choice seems to be saying the same thing. Inherent in the definition.

I would say that the inflicting of a paper cut was not a “greater good.” It was an act that, while in many circumstances would be considered immoral, was moral by these particular circumstances.

Double Standards

Ten Minas Ministries: Otherwise, you are creating a double standard and applying something to God that you are not willing to apply to mankind.

I have no choice BUT to apply a different standard to God. I say humans have the choice to perform moral, immoral and non-moral actions. If there was a God, I would say, by virtue of the created reflecting a creator, that it, too, would have the choice to perform moral, immoral and non-moral actions.

However, you have indicated that your God cannot perform immoral actions. (Hint: The Amalekites.) We both agree that humans can immoral actions. In order to even discuss this with you, I have to figure out God’s standard, and how He has the inability to do something I can.

I am VERY willing to apply the same standard to God that I apply to humankind. But I am discussing a God that is different than humans. Hence, I have to use a different standard—don’t I?

Does God have the same Free Will as Humans when it comes to choosing between moral and immorality? If we say “yes” then I am willing to use the same standards. If we say “no” then I think we have to discuss different standards.

True/False Questions.

1. Mankind has a finite mind. True

2. Because mankind’s mind is finite, we have a limited capacity to understand the moral implications of an action. True

3. Because mankind has a limited capacity to understand the moral implications of an action, we will sometimes arrive at incorrect moral conclusions. In fact, there will be instances in reality in which something will appear to us to be either moral or immoral, but we will be wrong. True Although if we define morality SOLELY by intent, this would be “False.” We could not have a situation where an act was moral by intent, and later determined immoral by result. By definition, “intent” would always supercede results. But I get where you are going.

4. If an omniscient God exists, He will have an unlimited capacity to understand the moral implications of an action. False See below

5. Because God has an unlimited capacity to understand the moral implications of an action, He will always draw the correct moral conclusions. False See below

(6.) He will make the right decisions even when we believe those decisions are wrong. False See below


Answer to Question 4. Actually, this is technically “True.” I just knew that if I put “True” this may come back to haunt me, so I put “False” to explain it.

The only God you have described in these questions is Omniscient or All-knowing. By virtue of the definition itself, God would “know” the moral implications of all actions. (I could also quibble with the word “unlimited.” There is no such thing as “unlimited.” Even this God would be “limited” by logical necessity. To coin the old “rock he can’t lift” euphemism, God’s all-knowing is limited in that God cannot know what it is like to not know something that exists. But I understand what you are getting at.)

By confining the definition of only one particular God to “all-knowing” this makes the sentence to be true. But that is not the God we are talking about, is it?

For example, if a god can (and does) commit moral, immoral and non-moral acts, but is all-knowing, it would also understand the moral implications of actions. It just commits all of them. OR a God could be a deistic God that understands the moral implications, but simply does not care. OR a God could be aware of the moral implications, but unable to do anything about them.

We have been talking about a solely moral God, who is “guided” by his Character, which is solely moral, and who either does or does not have Free will, and who has the power and inclination to reduce suffering. Yet there are numerous other types of God that this answer would also be true

For this reason I added question 6—to point out that limiting it to all-knowing provides us with a “True” answer—but the conclusion in No. 6 does not follow Question 4. Is that fair?

Answer to Question 5.

I was uncertain what “correct moral conclusions” means. What, for example, would be an “incorrect moral conclusion” that a God could make, by which I can compare? Can a god be wrong?

Who is grading God on whether his moral conclusion was “correct” or “incorrect”? He is a God! There is nothing above him to say, “Whoops—nope, God. You got that wrong.” So the idea of drawing a correct moral conclusion provides us with no new information, or any direction. Especially without the ability to know what an incorrect moral conclusion is.

Further, this still does not mean God is moral. God could know that a certain act was immoral. God could draw the correct moral conclusion that the act was immoral. And then go ahead and do it.

There is some underlying concept here that God will always do the “correct” moral action where the “correct” moral action is being moral. But isn’t that what we are trying to determine?

Probably the better answer to this would be neither “True” or “False” but rather “There is no possible way to verify this since we do not know who is grading God as to being correct or not.”

Answer to Question 6.

Yeah, I know this was not one of your statements, but I added it to make the point. Are you saying “right” as in “moral” or “right” as in “free from error”? If it is moral, then the conclusion most certainly does NOT follow from these 5 questions. A God that commits moral, immoral and non-moral actions would still qualify for the same “True” Answers as this god.

If it is “correct” as compared to our “wrong”—who is judging the papers? Imagine, just for a second, that God made a mistake—how would we know? How could we possibility verify it? By virtue of his power, he can cover up any such mistake. If he is all-knowing, there would be no such thing as a “mistake” as the only thing that exists would be God doing what he is bound to do. Nothing is “correct;” nothing is “incorrect.” Nothing is “right;” nothing is “wrong.” Everything just…is.

Impinging

Ten Minas Ministries: Does God sometimes impinge on free will? Yes, He does. Does that prove anything? No, it doesn’t. After all, we have already established that sometimes the general rule against impinging on free will can be trumped by other considerations. You are willing to concede this point when we humans restrict free will by incarcerating felons but you are not willing to give the same privilege to God. Again, a double standard.

Hmm…Maybe I was not clear about the consideration of impinging on Free Will. I am talking to a human (you.) We both are restricted by an inability to verify claims about God. He isn’t talking to us. We can’t view him. But we can view our world, and discuss various concepts. And, as I said before, you present certain aspects about this God as possibilities.

Being a skeptic, I am going to investigate those statements to see how they hold up. Part of the Unknown Purpose defense is that God holds Free will in high regard. So high regard that its existence results in tsunamis, earthquakes, etc.

Yet on occasion I see claims of that exact same God restricting free will. Causes me to wonder. Is the only response the same—that because God does it, it must be moral?

And if you prefer I do not use a “double standard”—that is fine by me. I see humans who restrict others free will. Sometimes that restriction is moral, sometimes it is not. Holding God to the same standard, I would equally claim that sometimes when your God concept does it—it is moral. Sometimes it is not. Since the humans who are using God to make that claim have the same motivations as…well…humans.

Conclusion

Ten Minas Ministries: At best you can only see part of the picture, not the big picture. Would you let a jury render a verdict after only viewing part of the evidence? If not, why do you feel qualified to do the same? Again, we have a double standard when applied to God.

Oh, absolutely I would let a jury render a verdict after reviewing only part of the evidence. Especially if the other evidence would tend to hurt my case!

Just kidding.

Seriously, I’ve never understood the idea that there is any force behind this argument. I only know what I have access to as of today. Sure, it would great to have all the knowledge that people will have in 2050 CE or 2100 CE or 2500 CE. But I don’t. Stuck here in 2007 (at the moment.)

And I can only do the best with the knowledge that I have. I expect other humans to make the judgments best they can with what they have. Why is it so wrong for me to do so?

Aren’t you equally making judgments about God? At least as to what he is doing, whether it is “right” or “correct” or “moral”? Why are you allowed, with your equally limited knowledge, to make such judgments, yet if I do it is a “double standard.”?

I am unsure as to your repeated statements of “double standard.” How is using the most knowledge I have about a subject—any subject—including God to make a determination, yet always be willing to modify that determination upon new information being a “double standard”?

Ten Minas Ministries: However, once you concede that free will has value, for whatever reason, you also must admit that God would be committing a moral wrong if He was to completely eliminate that free will.

*shrug* I would say that human life has value and the claim that God ordered the death of babies in the Amalekite genocide was morally wrong. I would say a God that is interested in virgin females and gold over human babies is morally wrong. I would say a God that kills a baby for the crime of his parent is morally wrong.

I am not sure how humans equating something to be value means that your God is prohibited from eliminating it, or effecting it in any manner.

That is enough for now.

Probably the key question remains—Does your God have free will to commit an immoral act?

Someday, when in the Baltimore area, I would love to take you to lunch.

Ten Minas Ministries said...

Okay. When in Baltimore, you can buy! In the words of Ravi Zacharias (and I know he was quoting someone, but I don't know who), "You pay, I'll pray."

My daughter's birthday party is today, so I won't be able to respond just yet. I'll get to it, though, I promise.
Ken

Ten Minas Ministries said...

Okay. It took me a while, but I finally got around to my response. Sorry it took so long, but as I said in my last comment, I had to deal with my daughter's birthday party two weekends ago. Then at 4am two Mondays ago I fell down the stairs while fetching a new sleeper for my son. Not a good thing for someone with a bad back. The good news is that after a few medical appointments it seems that I haven't done any more permanent damage than was already done. Combine all this with the fact that the response itself is pretty long (I had to write it piecemeal; newborns don't exactly give you large blocks of free time to work with), and you end up with the delay we had here.

Now down to business. We'll address a few of your specific comments momentarily, but for starters a few general responses need to be brought up. You see, I believe your entire argument rests on some faulty starting assumptions. I'd like to start out by arguing why I think these assumptions are flawed, then get into a bit about how (what I believe to be) the correct starting assumptions refute your arguments.

You keep talking about God "choosing" to follow His character or not to follow His character. But the question itself is not even logically justified. Our character is what drives our will. It determines the choices we make. How exactly would God (or anyone else for that matter) "choose" not to follow His character without following His character by making the choice?

In other words, all choices, divine or otherwise, are guided by character. So in order to make the choice to not follow His character, God's character would have to be instructing His will to do so. But if His character is instructing His will to do so, and He makes the choice to not follow His character, then He has followed the instruction of His character in making the choice! So in order to not follow His character, God would have to follow His character, a paradox. So no, God cannot choose to not follow His character, but neither can you (but you still have free will). It is not because of some external limitation on His free will, but because it would be a logical contradiction (like asking God to make a square circle).

Looking at this in a slightly different way, to say that we can choose to follow our character or not is the equivalent of saying we could choose to have this character or another. After all, if we make a decision inconsistent with character "A", that decision must be driven by something; i.e., character "B". Did you make a conscious choice to have the character you have? If so, people could simply "choose" to change their stripes. But we all know in reality it is not that easy.

You have it backwards. You have the will choosing the character. But in reality character drives the will.

You also said, "If God has the Free Will to choose between Immorality and Morality, and God's choices come from his character, then his character must include at least the possibility of Immorality and Morality." Why? And here is where we get into the heart of your faulty starting assumptions.

We have already established that the will and the character "reside" separately. The answer to your concerns lies in this separation. The will has the ability to choose morality or immorality, but the character driving that will as a practical matter will always guide the will to choose morality.

Picture it this way. "Free will" means the same thing in God as it does in man. After all, free will is the ability to choose. That raw ability is the same. It is what drives that ability that differs. The will itself in both God and man is just as capable of choosing the moral and the immoral.

Remember, it is the character that drives the will. Imagine for a moment that we could remove God's character from Him and replace it with man's character (leaving the will in place). Now would God's will always choose the moral? No, it wouldn't. Why not? Because now that will is being guided by man's flawed character. And as we see time and time again when man's flawed character guides that same free will in mankind, all sorts of immoral actions result. Did we change God's will at all? No, it was always the same. But that same will was capable of choosing either morality or immorality depending on the character driving it.

Let me give you an example from evolutionary biology. Scientists studying genetic mutation recently did a study on the legs of shrimp and fruit flies. Both shrimp and fruit flies have what we will call "body part genes" and "master control genes." The body part genes contain the genetic information about how to make certain body parts. The master control genes boss around those body part genes and tell them where and how to go about making those body parts (so you don't end up with an arm sticking out the top of your head, for example). Both shrimp and fruit flies have body part genes that govern leg production. Left to their own devices, both the shrimp and fruit fly body part genes would produce tons and tons of legs all over the body.

Of course, shrimp and fruit flies are not covered in legs. This is because they both have a master control gene called a "Hox" gene. The Hox gene acts as an inhibitor, preventing the body part gene from making the large number of legs it would otherwise make. The Hox gene in the fruit fly acts as a greater inhibitor than the gene in the shrimp. Hence, the shrimp has more legs than the fruit fly.

In the experiment the scientists removed the Hox gene from the fruit fly and put a shrimp's Hox gene in its place. The result? That same body part gene in the fruit fly that had previously produced only six legs now produced many more. Obviously, there was nothing inherent in that body part gene that was limiting it to only making six legs. It had the ability to make more. But whether it did or not depended on what, outside of itself, was acting on it. Similarly, there is nothing inherent in God's will that prevents Him from choosing the immoral. Whether He does so, though, depends on what, outside of the will itself, is acting upon it (in this case His character). With this view in mind, there is no need for there to be anything within God's character that includes the possibility of both the moral and immoral. In fact, in order for God to always choose what is right, His character cannot contain anything immoral.

Given this framework, there are only two ways God can prevent all evil: (1) He could eliminate all free will so that man's flawed character will have nothing to act upon; or (2) He could alter man's character so that our character is perfectly good like God's and we, like God, would always choose the morally right.

You seemed to admit in your last post that option (1) would be morally wrong. If God's will is driven by His character, and there is nothing morally wrong in His character, then obviously (1) is not an option if by doing so He would commit a moral wrong.

So how about option (2)? You actually asked similar questions to this throughout your post when you asked why God couldn't simply give us a similar character to His so that we still have options to choose from, but those options are limited to various morally correct choices. Is this really a possibility for God?

Remember what we said before. In order for God to always choose what is right, His character cannot contain anything immoral. After all, even one immoral element in His character and He will sometimes make an immoral choice. So in order to prevent all immoral choices, the character driving the will must be perfectly moral. It must be perfect. But no finite creature can have a perfect character. To be perfect, there can be no limit to your morality. But the very nature of our finitude means that we must have limits. So as long as we are finite, we cannot have a perfect character driving our will. The inherent imperfections mean we will inevitably make at least some immoral choices and evil will enter the world.

So if the only reason we cannot have a perfectly moral character is because we are finite, why didn't God make us infinite like Him? The problem with this solution is that it is a logical impossibility for two infinite beings (let alone a whole race of them) to exist. Asking God to create another infinite being would again be like asking Him to make a square circle. The very concept of "two" implies some line of demarcation by which you can determine where one being ends and the other begins. But ANY line of demarcation requires finitude. Thus, there can only be one infinite being.

Now, as a brief aside I should probably mention that in reality God has opted for something similar to option (2), at least as much as is possible with finite beings. He does change our character to some extent. As I am sure you are aware, Christian theology teaches that God promises the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to all true believers. The Holy Spirit resides in us, breaks us down, and re-makes us closer to Christ's image. This will result in us striving to be more like Christ, and therefore to commit less evil. So God's approach to this problem is indeed to change our character. It just is not logically possible to alter our characters all the way to perfection.

Just think about the double standard you have set up. Do human beings have free will? I assume you would say "yes". After all, you seem to agree that in at least some circumstances restricting that free will would be a moral wrong. Am I free to choose to just walk out on the street and randomly kill someone without reason? Do I have the ability to make that choice? If I truly have free will I do. Now would I ever actually do that? No. Why not? Because it is outside my character. Unless you severely change my character (such as through some psychiatric trauma or condition) it is not going to happen. But does the fact that I will never make that choice mean that I do not have the free will to do so? No. We seem to understand this distinction when applied to man but we refuse to give the same privilege to God. If you think God does not have free will because His character drives His will, then you must say that mankind does not have free will either.

The framework that I have outlined actually addresses most of the points in your post. But I will address a few specific issues here before I close.

Believe it or not, I disagree with your discussion of the insanity defense. Admittedly, I don't know what state you practice in, and it could be defined differently there, but in most states it is not simply an absence of intent. Every crime has what is called a "mens rea" element. In English this translates to "mental state." Depending on the crime involved, the mental state needed to satisfy this element can vary anywhere from knowledge to recklessness all the way up to intent (i.e., doing something intentionally). Intent is part of this mens rea element in some crimes.

The insanity defense, at least in every state I have studied it in (I wrote a Master's paper on it) is separate from the mens rea element. There are two general tests for insanity: (1) The M'Naghten rule, and (2) the irresistible impulse test. Some states use (1), some use (2), and others use both.

The M'Naghten rule says that, because of some psychiatric condition, the defendant did not know the difference between right and wrong (one large part of my paper dealt with whether this was properly interpreted as "legally" right and wrong or "morally" right and wrong, but that is a topic for a legal, not a theological forum). The irresistible impulse test says that the defendant was under some irresistible impulse to act in the manner he or she did.

The important point here is that the mere lack of intent does not necessarily meet either of these tests (nor does the presence of intent necessarily mean you are not insane). You may lack intent but not be insane. Similarly, you may be insane and yet fully intend the consequences of your actions.

I can give you one quick example of a case I have come across in which the defense attorney was arguing that insanity meant the inability to have the required intent but lost. In that murder case, the defendant killed a man, but legitimately believed the man to be a space alien invading the Earth. Did the defendant intend to kill another human being? No (although he did intend to kill something). Did he know it was wrong to kill another human being? Yes. Was he under an irresistible impulse to kill? No. Hence, he was not insane. I do not know if the defense attorney was successful in arguing alternatively that the mens rea requirement was not met. I only bring this all up because again you seem to be confusing intent with the ability to choose. The ability to choose lies in the will, not in the intent. It is a raw ability, as I have said before, with no moral implications in and of itself. Intent is involved in the exercise of that ability. To put it more simply, the will is the raw ability to do an act whereas intent is the meaning we subjectively ascribe to that act.

Using your Venn Diagram example, intent would also lie in "other God", outside His character. The full picture, then, could be one of His character driving His intent which drives His will. This picture is the same in either God or man.

You also said, "to say God is NOT using his will to limit his will, then his actions have no moral implications." I am not sure how you arrive at this conclusion. You seem to have a few premises of your argument missing. If God is not using His will to limit His will, then He is not limiting His will at all. To say God is "limiting" something assigns some action to God. But in order for God to act, a will must underlie that act (God is not prone to involuntary seizures). So it is impossible for God to "limit" anything without invoking His will. If it is a logical contradiction for Him to limit His will by using His will, and if He cannot limit His will without using His will, then the logical conclusion is that God is not limiting His will at all. I understand that as a practical matter you believe that God's will is limited by His character, but I have argued above that this is based on faulty starting assumptions unless you are prepared to say that man also does not have free will.

For clarification purposes, I agree that there is no such thing as "more moral" or "less moral". Something is either moral or immoral (if it carries moral implications at all). By the term "greater good" I was simply using common parlance to describe that there is a grading of the criteria that weigh into the moral/immoral decision.

I don't know how many more times we can go over this whole "free will is both inside and outside of God's character" argument you keep bringing up. I am sure you have come across the concept before that the same term in two different contexts can mean two different things. If I say, "It is going to rain today," you will probably believe that water is going to fall from the sky. But if I say, "You are a rain maker for your law firm," will you really think that I mean you bring airborne water pellets down onto your office? No. I mean you bring money into the firm. The same term ("rain") has different meanings in different contexts.

Similarly, in our Euthyphro discussion I used the term "free will" to describe the raw ability we all have to choose. In our current discussion, when I said that "free will" has moral implications, I was talking about a moral rule that exists in God's character against impinging on the free will of others. These are two completely different things. One involves what I can do myself and the other involves what I do to others. I really don't know how many different ways I can say this. I would just refer you back to the earlier discussion of my ability to move my arm and ask you where are the moral implications in that raw ability? Similarly, do you believe there are moral implications in limiting someone else's free will? If you answer the first question by saying "none", and the second by saying "yes" (as you have previously answered both), then you are admitting that there is a difference between the two, and we do not mean the same thing by "free will" in these two contexts.

You asked, "Does God have the same Free Will as Humans when it comes to choosing between moral and immorality? If we say "yes" then I am willing to use the same standards." I believe I have adequately explained that the answer to this question is "yes", so its time to start using the same standards.

I agree with your argument that just because a god is omniscient (and therefore understands the difference between right and wrong) does not necessarily mean He will act that way. However, (1) it does mean that man, who is not omniscient, is in no position to evaluate whether or not that god is acting morally; and (2) If that god, like the Christian God, is also perfectly moral (i.e., His will is driven by His perfectly moral character as we have already discussed), then it DOES follow as a matter of logical necessity that He will always act morally. So while your point is well taken when applied only to the characteristic of omniscience, it is irrelevant when all the characteristics of the Christian God are taken into account.

Now we turn to your discussion of question 5, "True/False. Because God has an unlimited capacity to understand the moral implications of an action, He will always draw the correct moral conclusions." In response you asked, "Who is grading God on whether his moral conclusion was 'correct' or 'incorrect'?" But you are dodging the question (also, as we'll see momentarily, by even asking this question you have admitted to my conclusion). The True/False argument I put forth is playing on your terms. Assume there is a moral standard outside of God, WHATEVER THAT STANDARD MAY BE. Doesn't it follow that if God is omniscient He would perfectly know that standard whereas you would not (in fact, in your earlier discussion about how an omniscient God would know the standard but not necessarily follow it, you seemed to admit this point, so I have trouble seeing why at this point of your argument you take the exact opposite stance)? Answer the question. If you admit that the answer is "yes", then you have admitted that you cannot really judge God (yet that is precisely what you do in the argument from suffering). Just so I do not get accused of dodging your question, the answer is "nobody is equipped to grade God because only God in omniscient." Furthermore, because God is the standard it follows that He can do no moral wrong. More on this later.

You claimed that, "God could draw the correct moral conclusion that the act was immoral. And then go ahead and do it." While this is true if you look through a very narrow lens only taking into account God's omniscience, as I've already mentioned, it is not true if God has a perfectly moral character that drive His will.

You conclude this discussion by saying, "There is no possible way to verify [statement 5] since we do not know who is grading God as to being correct or not." This statement is simply logically untrue. It doesn't matter (for the purposes of this argument) who is "grading" God; i.e., where the standard resides. The very definition of "omniscient" is "all-knowing". "All" means "all"! Regardless of where that standard resides, GOD WILL KNOW IT. We will not. That's the point. Whether we can evaluate this God's decisions or not is irrelevant to the conclusion (in fact, the conclusion is that we cannot judge Him). As a matter of logical necessity He will know what we do not. This conclusion is not in any way dependent upon our ability to evaluate His moral conclusions.

In trying to avoid the implications of this argument you are judging God. In other words, you are saying that because you cannot know whether what this God is doing is right or wrong, you refuse to accept the argument. But besides the fact that this is not a logical reason for attacking the argument, by using it you have just admitted the conclusion of the argument. The conclusion of the argument is that we lack the ability to judge God's moral actions (and therefore we cannot say God is wrong in allowing suffering). Why have you rejected statement 5? Because you say we lack the ability to judge God's moral decisions! Yes! Precisely! That's the point. The entire argument from suffering depends upon us having the ability to judge God, an ability you now admit we do not have. After all, if you cannot judge God, you cannot say He is "wrong" to permit suffering. You contradict yourself.

In response to another of your questions, "right" in what you have labeled as question 6 means "free from error."

Now we get to what I believe is the heart of the matter. You ask that when you see God restricting free will, "Is the only response the same - that because God does it, it must be moral?" I do not think this is the only response (we can get some comfort in the general knowledge that we know at some times such restrictions may be morally appropriate and that God knows more than we do). But the conclusion you recite is correct. Yes, because God does something, it logically follows that this "something" must be morally correct. Simply asking if this is the logical conclusion in a disapproving manner does not attack the logical validity of that conclusion. The logical pathway is pretty obvious.
(1) God's character is morally perfect.
(2) God's character drives His will.
(3) God's will drives His actions.
Therefore, God's actions must be morally perfect.
So when you ask whether this really is the conclusion (the implication apparently being that you are unwilling to accept that conclusion), your resistance is not really logical, but rather volitional. You do not want to accept this conclusion even though it is logically valid. This, of course, is something else that is taught by Christian theology, but which most atheists deny applies to them.

One of your closing arguments claims that if you were to apply the same standard to God that you apply to man, you would conclude that because humans who restrict free will are only sometimes morally correct, God (who also restricts free will) is also only sometimes correct. This is not applying the same standard. This is committing the logical error of the undistributed middle. You assume that just because two things are alike in one respect they must be alike in all respects. Your argument is as follows:
(1) Men sometimes restrict free will.
(2) God sometimes restricts free will.
(3) Man is only sometimes morally correct when he restricts free will.
Therefore, God is only sometimes morally correct when He restricts free will.

Let's see this same argument structure with different terms in order to better illustrate why it doesn't hold up.
(1) An ostrich has two legs.
(2) George Bush has two legs.
(3) An ostrich sticks its head in the sand when it is scared.
Therefore, George Bush sticks his head in the sand when he is scared.
Some people may think this is figuratively true, but I doubt too many people believe it is literally true (and it certainly is not logically required).

Applying the same standard to God and man would be to admit that sometimes restricting free will is morally justified. We understand this when applied to man. We should also grant this when applied to God. Because God is the source of morality, He will always be correct in His moral decisions. Man is imperfect, so we will not always be correct.

You ask why you cannot draw conclusions based upon the extent of knowledge that you have. The answer to this is that you can. The problem is that the logical validity of the argument I have advanced is part of the knowledge that you DO have. But you are making a volitional choice to ignore that part of your knowledge and rely only upon your other limited knowledge (even though the logic of this argument tells you that this is precisely what you must NOT do). If you were to base your conclusions on ALL the knowledge available to you, you would conclude that you lack the ability to judge God's moral actions. You can only avoid this conclusion by willfully excluding some of your knowledge from the equation.

You ask why I am allowed, with my equally limited knowledge, to make judgments about God, yet when you make judgments it is a double standard. What judgments have I made about God's actions? In fact, I have argued the exact opposite. God's actions are by logical necessity morally correct. I never have sought to use my own sense of morality to judge whether what God does is right or wrong. In fact, I have repeatedly argued that this cannot be done. You, however, have continually insisted upon applying your own sense of "morally wrong" to God even though you seem to admit that your moral beliefs are based on only partial knowledge and you would not grant that same privilege to others (such as juries, for example). I would not grant juries that privilege, nor do I grant it to myself.

You illustrate this point brilliantly in your closing statements when you say that YOU believe human life has value and YOU believe the death of the Amalekite babies was morally wrong, etc. (the other two examples you gave open up a theological discussion for another day; I believe you misrepresent God in those comments). Aside from the fact that the atheistic worldview has no basis for assigning moral value to human life or anything else (also a conversation for another day), the fact that you even made these comments proves my point about your inconsistency. It is YOUR PERSONAL moral beliefs that you apply to God in these comments. But you have previously admitted that your personal beliefs are not fully informed.

Does this mean we should not make any moral judgments? No. Moral judgments are a necessity of life, and recall that the only reason we concluded that we could not judge God is because the Christian God, by definition, will have perfect knowledge of morality. Other men obviously will not have perfect knowledge, so we are on equal footing. Under such circumstances, we are called to use what knowledge we have (just like we did with God, but now the "perfect moral knowledge" element no longer applies) to draw the best conclusions we can.

With God, we are dealing with an entity that we know to have perfect knowledge (or at a minimum, which you must ASSUME has perfect knowledge if you are claiming that your argument disproves His existence). It is the pinnacle of human arrogance (a flaw I believe the whole race currently suffers from) to believe that we have any business judging Him. Intellectually honest people know that we do not have the foundation necessary to accurately judge God, yet so many people choose to do it anyway, then use their flawed judgment as a basis for rejecting Him. That is a double standard.

Again, I apologize for the delay, but I hope this response presented a fair and thorough evaluation of your points. Thank you again.

Ken

DagoodS said...

I was truly curious as to the answer to the question, “Does your God have the free will to commit an immoral act?”

Without that answer, it would seem we are at a standstill.

At first I thought your answer would be “no” by the statement:

Ten Minas Ministries: In order for God to always choose what is right, His character cannot contain anything immoral

It would seem, by virtue of God’s character being moral; God could never choose to perform an immoral act. (Or have his character drive him to choose to perform an immoral act. However you want to say it.) But then you state that humans and God have the same free will, which would include the ability to commit immoral acts:

Ten Minas Ministries: The will itself in both God and man is just as capable of choosing the moral and the immoral.

You state that humans and God have the same free will when it comes to choosing between moral and immoral:

Ten Minas Ministries: You asked, "Does God have the same Free Will as Humans when it comes to choosing between moral and immorality? If we say "yes" then I am willing to use the same standards." I believe I have adequately explained that the answer to this question is "yes", so its time to start using the same standards.

But go on, at length, as to how we are finite and he is infinite, so we do not have the same free will:

Ten Minas Ministries: So in order to prevent all immoral choices, the character driving the will must be perfectly moral. It must be perfect. But no finite creature can have a perfect character. To be perfect, there can be no limit to your morality. But the very nature of our finitude means that we must have limits. So as long as we are finite, we cannot have a perfect character driving our will. The inherent imperfections mean we will inevitably make at least some immoral choices and evil will enter the world.

If God’s and Humans’ characters are different, and characters are what drives free will, then the free will would not be the same when it comes to choosing between moral and immoral. But you said they were the same. Frankly, this back-and-forth is not only completely unconvincing, it is becoming equally confusing. (Curiously, you then give an example as to how I should NOT use the same standard regarding the restriction of free will as the same between God and man. I am never sure which position I should be responding to…)

It is a simple question—given your concept of God; including his Character, his “other-god,” his ability to exercise the choice to have free will—whatever you want to include within the total package—does this God of yours have the free will to commit an immoral act?

It seems (to me) that if you say “Yes” you have contradicted your position on Euthyphro. If you say “No” then you have contradicted your position on the Unknown Purpose defense to the Evidentiary Problem of Evil.

Ten Minas Ministries said...

I think we may be done here, because you do not seem to be understanding what I am saying. Yes, God's will has the raw ability to choose either morality or immorality. In operation, though, it will never choose immorality because it is being acted upon by a perfect character. The shrimp/fruit fly example, I think, is a pretty good illustration of how something can have a raw ability (so it would be improper to say it "can't" do something), but as a practical matter will not do that thing because of external forces acting upon it. You still have not addressed this distinction (remembering that this all dates back to your Venn diagram example when we were very clear that the will and the character are separate entities).

In other words, you continue to confuse the concepts of "could" and "would" (or "can" and "will"). Did the fruit fly's Hox gene have the ability to make more legs? Yes it did. But in a normal fruit fly does it make more legs? No it doesn't. These are two completely different questions. Just because God never will choose the immoral does not mean He lacks the raw ability to do so.

Let's face it, any number of factors go into all of our decisions. Those factors will determine the decisions we make. But according to your argument, the mere fact that there are factors that influence our will means that every action is predetermined and there is no such thing as free will for anyone. If you follow your argument through to its logical conclusion, only completely random acts, with absolutely nothing influencing the will one way or another, could be said to be "free". Because the moment anything influences the will, you argue that it is limiting that will so that the will never really had the ability to choose otherwise.

As I said before, by your argument, even human beings do not have free will. All of our wills are influenced by outside sources (meaning outside of the will itself). God's is no different. In this context the outside source we are speaking of is His character. Why does the mere fact that His character influences His will mean that His will is not free when it does not mean the same thing for humans?

Dagoods:
"If God’s and Humans’ characters are different, and characters are what drives free will, then the free will would not be the same when it comes to choosing between moral and immoral."

YES IT WOULD! The result may not be the same but the raw ability is. It is the CHARACTER that is different, not the will! Remember the will is simply the raw ability to choose. How is that any different? You have yet to illustrate any change IN THE WILL PORTION OF GOD.

Dagoods:
"Curiously, you then give an example as to how I should NOT use the same standard regarding the restriction of free will as the same between God and man."

No I didn't. I said that the standard is always the same. You always use the extent of your knowledge to draw the best conclusion you can. Saying that we may arrive at different CONCLUSIONS with regard to God and man does not mean that the STANDARD we used to draw that conclusion was any different. Does the legal standard to be applied to a case (the definition of "negligence", for example) mean that the same party will always win? Of course not. Why not? Because different facts are subjected to that standard in different cases, leading to differen conclusions.

My point was that we always use the extent of our knowledge. But there is one key factor that plays into that standard for God that does not play into the standard for men; i.e., God's omniscience. Is God omniscient? Yes (or at least you have to assume Him to be for the purposes of your argument). Is man omniscient? No. That simple fact is part of the "extent of our knowledge" that we must use to draw our conclusions. So applying that same standard to both, we can conclude that moral judgments with regard to men may be appropriate but moral judgments applied to God are not. Where is the different standard here? Again, you simply are excluding that one fact that is part of your overall knowledge from you decision making process. It's like a jury finding a defendant not guilty of murder even though they saw him on video committing the crime, simply by saying, "Yes, we know we saw that video, but we're just going to ignore that part of the evidence and make a decision without it."

So the answer to your question is ,"Yes, God's will has the ability to choose the immoral, but in operation it will never do so."

Just ask yourself in non-theological terms, "Did that Hox gene, in and of itself, have the ability to make more than 6 legs?"

If "yes", then you acknowledge the distinction between having the ability to do something and actually doing it.

If "no", then you are left in the impossible position of explaining why it in fact DID produce more than 6 legs if it did not have that ability.

Either way, your position fails.

Thank you again.

Ken

DagoodS said...

Ten Minas Ministries,

Is it logically possible for your God to commit an immoral act?

Using your shrimp/fruit fly analogy, I am not talking about just the Hox gene. I am talking about the fruit fly as a whole. Apparently it is logically possible, given the right circumstances, for a fruit fly to have many legs.

I get that in most circumstances other factors limit this ability. And that you are using the analogy of God’s character being the same limiting factor on God’s ability to choose to perform an immoral or moral act.

(Believe it or not, I did pass the third grade. I am actually aware of the difference between “would” and “could.”)

Honestly, it appears to me that you want your cake and eat it, too. You want to say God “can” have the ability to choose between performing an immoral act and moral act, but then treat God as if he cannot. If God’s Character is solely moral, and is driving his will, which can only choose to follow his own character, which only includes moral, I do not see how you can fit the ability to make an immoral choice in there.

In other words, I give you the push-pin of “immorality.” Where do you put it in our Venn Diagram of God? (Note, the push-pin of “many legs” is already in your fruit fly.)

So let me ask it this way—Is it logically possible for your God to commit an immoral act?

Ten Minas Ministries said...

Dagoods:
"In other words, I give you the push-pin of 'immorality.' Where do you put it in our Venn Diagram of God? (Note, the push-pin of 'many legs' is already in your fruit fly.)"

Nowhere. We had this discussion before in the Euthyphro context.

TEN MINAS MINISTRIES:
"The problem I see with your argument is that you are taking things which by their very nature are character traits (goodness, justice, lovingness, etc.) and trying to apply them to “other God”. But the category “other God” is reserved for things which by their very nature are NOT character traits.

"For example, you say that “if goodness is within God’s character, non-goodness is necessarily within the Other part of God.” First, I would ask “why?” Why does “non-goodness” have to be included in God at all? The mere fact that “goodness” is included in His character does not somehow mean that its opposite must, by necessity, exist somewhere else in God. But more to the point, “non-goodness” is by its very nature a character trait. This means that if it were to exist in God at all, it would have to exist within His character. It is impossible for a character trait to exist outside of someone’s character."

DAGOODS:
"...you are quite correct. “Truth” and “non-truth” are both Character traits, and just because “truth” is in “God’s Character” that does not mean “non-truth” must necessarily be in “other god.” That was a mistake on my part (and a dichotomy!)."

Remember, the entire basis for our current discussion is that morality resides in God's character. It is a character trait (although very broadly phrased, and perhaps better described as referring to a collection of multiple character traits). You have previously admitted that just because an affirmative character trait exists in God does not necessarily mean that its opposite must also reside somewhere in God, but now you are reversing that position.

The will is a raw ability. That raw ability can choose anything. The character includes everything moral, but nothing immoral. If immorality was to exist anywhere within God, it would have to be within His character. So immorality does not exist anywhere within God.

DAGOODS:
"So let me ask it this way—Is it logically possible for your God to commit an immoral act?"

No, its not. It is possible for the will, in and of itself, to choose the immoral. But the overall package of God never will.

Ken

DagoodS said...

Yeah, I thought that, given your response to Euthyphro, your God concept would have to be logically precluded from committing an immoral act.

But doesn’t this mean that human free will and God’s free will (whatever that may be) are different? Don’t you think that it is logically possible for human to commit moral acts and logically possible for humans to commit immoral acts whereas it is ONLY logically possible for God to commit a moral act?

As you accurately stated, free will is about choice. If one of the choices is logically impossible—is that truly a choice? If God cannot commit an immoral act, how can he have the choice to commit an immoral act?

Does “raw ability” of free will include the ability to choose something logically impossible?

(P.S. Something I skipped over previously, but perhaps I ought to mention it. These discussions have nothing to do with “judging God.” I have a human (you) discussing a certain portrayal of God (Christian God with a third horn of Euthyphro as previously discussed and an Greater Purpose of free will as an answer to the Problem of Suffering.) I am trying to see if these three concepts align. So far, it seems to be only by dogmatic definition, and insubstantial wordsmithing to make it fit. Something I am yet to be convinced will work. There ARE some things about the Christian God that I see how they work. This just doesn’t happen to be one of them. So far.

I simply find it amusing that I am informed certain things about your God, such as He is the standard for morals, or that He cannot do this, or must do that, but if I dare step my foot in the ring of making declarations of God, I am informed this constitutes “judging” or that my finite little mind cannot say such things, because God is infinite. I shrug it and leave it alone. For those who have been around the block a few times, this tactic becomes obvious.)

Ten Minas Ministries said...

Let me ask you this question. When you make a decision, do certain things influence that decision. Even if we are to take the example of imperfect humans, wouldn't you agree that the same human in one set of circumstances may choose to take an immoral action, but if he or she had not been exposed to that set of circumstances, or had been exposed to another set of circumstances, they would have chosen a moral action? Now you could say that the fact that they were exposed to certain circumstances made their ultimate action a foregone conclusion. After all, it was the particular circumstances that influenced them to use their will in a certain way. But does the fact that outside circumstances influenced their decision mean that the decision was not free?

I believe you are confusing cause and effect. When you speak of a certain action being logically prohibited, you are talking about the end result of the whole decision making process, of which the will is only one factor. You may argue that the result is predetermined, but I could just as easily argue that the result of every human action is similarly predetermined. This is why I do not think that you can say that there is anything different about the will itself just because the result is different.

The result is determined by a number fo factors, of which the will is only one (i.e., character and circumstances combine to influence the will, which then leads to the result). This is the overall process, and it is the same in God and man. The mere fact that there is a different result of this process does not mean that there is a difference in the will component of that process. The difference could also be explained by a difference in either of the other components as well. For example, if A, B & C lead to result D in God, but result E in man, that does not necessarily mean there is a difference in A in both God and man. A could be the same in both, but the difference could lie in B or C. That is my position. The difference is in the character, not the will. I think your position leads to the conclusion that only completely uninfluenced, random acts could be classified as "free", a position with which I do not agree.

Ten Minas Ministries said...

BTW. In regard to the "judging God" issue. In this context, if I use that term I am referring to making a moral judgment about God.

Perhaps I am misunderstanding your point, but if you advance the position that a good God is incompatible with suffering in the world, then your position depends upon the underlying assumption that it would be morally "wrong" for God to allow suffering. After all, if it is not morally wrong to allow suffering, then there is no incompatibility between allowing suffering and being morally "good."

That is the "judgment" at issue; i.e., the claim that it would be morally wrong for God to allow suffering. Again, perhaps I misunderstand your position, but I fail to see how anyone who advances this position is not making a moral judgment, at least against the hypothetical god they assume in making their argument. If it is a moral judgment when I tell another person that what they have done is "wrong", it is no less a judgment when I make that same statement about God.

Perhaps you mean something different by "judging", but if we are speaking of apples and apples here, then I don't see how you get around this.

Ken

DagoodS said...

Ten Minas Ministries,

I was really looking forward to answers to my questions. I hoped it could clear up my understanding of your position”

“Don’t you think that it is logically possible for human to commit moral acts and logically possible for humans to commit immoral acts whereas it is ONLY logically possible for God to commit a moral act?

”As you accurately stated, free will is about choice. If one of the choices is logically impossible—is that truly a choice?

“If God cannot commit an immoral act, how can he have the choice to commit an immoral act?

”Does “raw ability” of free will include the ability to choose something logically impossible?

Ten Minas Ministries said...

“Don’t you think that it is logically possible for human to commit moral acts and logically possible for humans to commit immoral acts whereas it is ONLY logically possible for God to commit a moral act?"

Yes. And I could ask you, "Don't you think it is impossible for man to act in a perfectly moral manner whereas it is not impossible for God (as defined by Christianity) to act in a perfectly moral manner?" It really is just a matter of wordsmithing for you to try to impose the so-called "inability" on God instead of man. Do we strive for the ability to be moral or to be immoral? Which one is the true goal? So who really has the inability?

”As you accurately stated, free will is about choice. If one of the choices is logically impossible—is that truly a choice?"

The answer to this depends on what exactly you mean by "choice". Is it an option that will ever come to fruition? No. If we were isolate the will in and of itself, does that will alone have the ability to make that choice? Yes. It is only after that will is acted upon by other forces that we can predict which way it will go.

“If God cannot commit an immoral act, how can he have the choice to commit an immoral act?"

Again, you are not phrasing your question specifically enough. We have been talking about God's will; i.e., that particular part in "other God" that is His raw ability to choose. Will God as a whole ever make an immoral choice? No. Does the small part of God called His will, in isolation, have the ability to make that choice? Yes. Does your will have the ability to choose to just go out and randomly kill someone on the street? Yes. Will your will ever actually make that choice? No. Why not? Becuase of other outside factors that act on your will. But that does not mean you do not have free will.

”Does “raw ability” of free will include the ability to choose something logically impossible?"

This question cannot be answered because it contains an illogical assumption. Something only becomes "logically impossible" once other factors are acting on that will. When we view the will in isolation, as your question seems to be asking us to do, nothing is logically impossible. So you ask me to view the will in isolation, then assume that some choice that will could make is logically impossible. But that is not true UNTIL something else acts on that will. Technically, I guess the answer to the question as phrased would be "no", but that is because there is no such thing as a logically impossible option when we are just speaking about the will alone. If you are asking whether the will, in and of itself, has the raw ability to choose an option that may subsequently turn out to be logically impossible as a result of those outside factors, then the answer would be "yes."

Ken

Ten Minas Ministries said...

Please answer some of my questions now.

(1) Does mankind have free will?

(2) Could the same will in a man arrive at different decisions depending upon what factors, outside of itself, are acting upon it?

(3) If your answer to (2) is "yes", does this render that will "non-free" (meaning does it mean that all decisions available to that man are really predetermined by the factors acting upon the will, such that no decision is really free)?

(4) If man can still have free will even though the decisions resulting from his will are determined based upon factors influencing that will, then why is the same not true of God?

Thank you.

Ken

DagoodS said...

Ten Minas Ministries,

Thank you for your answers to my questions. It helped clarify what I suspected was going on. My impression (and this is from a skeptic in the hope to inform you so that you improve how your argument is taken) is that you are breaking your concept of God into smaller and smaller pieces, and then saying, “See? See? This small piece makes logical sense. And as long as each small piece can stand logically, if I put them all together, it must make logical sense.”

What I am saying is that the small pieces together do not add up. (Again, this my impression. I am not trying to be offensive.)

The difference, and reason we appear to be talking past each other, is that we are defining Free Will differently. The way I see it:

You: The ability to choose.
Me: The ability to choose between moral and immoral actions.

This whole thing started with a defense to the Problem of Suffering being Free will. Something that perhaps was never stated, but that I thought was implicit, was that Suffering in the world was a result of immorality being in the world. Simply put—the Curse from the Garden of Evil.

That the reason we have suffering is because God found it necessary in creating this world the way it is, included humans having the free will to choose between morality and immorality. Not SOLELY the ability to choose. I am unaware of a defense to the Problem of Suffering that claims it is a result of our choosing between eating a banana or apple for lunch.

The key is the free will to choose between moral and immoral.

For that reason I have been focusing on THAT aspect of Free will. Not the choice of which socks to wear. And it is there I have concentrated my questions, including about your concept of God.

Since you were kind enough to answer my questions, it would be rude to not do likewise:

“(1) Does mankind have free will?”

Yes. Especially to perform immoral or moral actions. But NOT to do something physically impossible (i.e. “choose” to flap my arms fast enough to fly) or to do something logically impossible (i.e. “choose” to not exist prior to my existence.)

(2) Could the same will in a man arrive at different decisions depending upon what factors, outside of itself, are acting upon it?

I am sorry, but I am uncertain how to answer this question. I am trying to see what you are getting at, but I fear I am misinterpreting what you are saying, so my guess as to what you are saying, being wrong, will result in my answer being equally wrong.

What do you mean by “same will”? I think this is great example of how you and I diverge on the idea of “Free Will.”

I’ll try to explain why…

I would say knowledge has an effect on Free Will that would cause me (or my “will” if you prefer) to arrive at a different decision by an outside factor acting upon it. Imagine you and I were having one of our first Internet discussions, and I used the term “Xian.” Perhaps for me it is simply a shortened term for “Christian” and due to my extensive Internet interaction (*grin*) I had become accustomed to saving time by abbreviating to “Xian.”

I meant no harm by it. But you reply, “Hey. Christ is my savior, and the center of my life. I find it offensive to take ‘Christ’ out of ‘Christian’ since He is the very essence of being a Christian.”

I have now gained knowledge. I now know that my continued use of the term “Xian” is no longer simply a euphemism, but is deliberately offensive to you. My Free Will has changed by that knowledge, in that from now on, I must make a choice to perform an immoral act, whereas before I did not. I no longer have the “same will.”

Again, what seems to me is that you would say my Free Will, my raw ability to choose has not changed at all. That you would break out “knowledge” from “Free Will” and say THAT has changed, but not the very basic Free Will. I tend to look at it as a total package. That my free will and knowledge are interacting together and changing together.

Thus the reason it is difficult for me to answer this question without misinterpreting what you are saying. Can “the SAME will” arrive at “DIFFERENT decisions”? Are you talking the “same” will in all humans, or the “same” will in a specific human?

(3) If your answer to (2) is "yes", does this render that will "non-free" (meaning does it mean that all decisions available to that man are really predetermined by the factors acting upon the will, such that no decision is really free)?

Again, guessing at what you mean by “same will” I would say that in a deep, philosophical 2-in-the-morning discussion sense, I could see where there is no such thing as “free will.” Given a time machine, and arriving back at the exact same time of July 13, 2007 at 2:14:08 p.m., and without any of the knowledge gained subsequently, would I make the same decision? I believe I would. (Sorta of “We do what we do because we did it.”)

However, think about this. How is it that we see a reflection in a window? Light passes through glass. By standing in front of a window, any light that would allow a reflection should pass through, and never reflect back to us. Yet it does. We can see a (albeit dim) reflection of our face, even though we are looking at something that should never show such a thing.

Why? Because quantum physics (or is it mechanics? I apologize if I am confusing the two) says that the actions of quantum’s are predictable but not certain. That certain portions, even though they are predicted to pass through the glass do not and actually reflect back to use, allowing us to see a reflection where none is possible.

Perhaps “free will” is there. At the very basic level of the fact that the universe is NOT predictable. That quantum’s predominantly act a certain way, but are not predetermined to always do so.

Perhaps, given all the same factors, if I had a time machine, I would go back and, even given predictability, perform a different action.

(4) If man can still have free will even though the decisions resulting from his will are determined based upon factors influencing that will, then why is the same not true of God?

Because this is looking at the very small pieces. The TOTAL picture of God given by this concept is different than humans. Thus, inclusive in that total picture, given the difference, God’s “Free will” would not be the same as ours.

“If humans have limited knowledge, why is that not true of God?”
“If humans have limited ability, why is that not true of God?”
“If humans can commit immoral acts, why is that not true of God?”
“If humans can make mistakes, why is that not true of God?”
“If humans can have regrets, why is that not true of God?”
“If humans can deceive, why is that not true of God?”

Over and Over, when I make those same questions, I am told God is different. God is not like humans. We can’t know God. Why should I believe that, given ALL those differences, when it is convenient for God to have the same Free Will, that the same person who has told me (when it is equally convenient) that God is SO different that God must be the same?

Ten Minas Ministries said...

I agree that our difference of opinion lies in our intepretation of free will. I seem to view it as a smaller element of the overall picture of God than you do. I do think we've made some progress in mutual understanding, though. Foe example, we seem to be on the same page about what I have argued on mankind lacking free will if outside factors influence our decisions. I think this is the logical conclusion of your position. In order to say God does not have free will, you must say no one truly has free will.

I resolve this dilemma by separating the will from the factors that influence the will. In order to account for the phenomenon that we can choose to do something, but be otherwise precluded from doing it, I argue that the will is free as long as it has the raw ability to make that choice, regardless of whether factors outside of that will would subsequently make the desired result impossible. I see this as the only way to consistently argue that humans have free will.

As one last attempt to explain my position, I will give a final example. Imagine two people who both make a choice to lift an object sitting on the ground in front of them. The object in front of person #1 is a feather. After making the choice to lift this object he proceeds to lift it easily over his head. The object in front of person #2 is a 2-ton anvil (anvils probably don't actually come in 2-ton varieties, but I think you get the point). Upon attempting to lift the anvil, person #2 fails miserably.

Was there anything different about the WILL of the two people. Both made the same choice. However, due to factors outside of their wills, one had a successful result whereas the other did not. Therefore, when discussing the will and whether or not it is "free", we must do so without regard to the factors outside of the will that may influence the end result (i.e., that may logically preclude a given result from ever occurring, just as person #2 was logically precluded from ever lifting a weight heavier than his muscles had the capability of lifting, but he was still free to choose to do so).

Perhaps you do not believe person #2 ever made the choice to lift the anvil, but rather only to attempt to lift the anvil, but I believe this is examining the will in hindsight. After all, you have to allow for the possibility of genuine error of belief. Person #2 may not have realized how much the anvil weighed before he made the attempt, so at the time he decided to lift it he genuinely believed he would be successful. In that circumstance, I do not believe you can say his choice was only to "attempt" to lift the anvil. If he genuinely believed he would be successful, his decision was to actually lift the anvil. However, due to outside factors, this genuinely willed action was precluded from ever occurring.

As for how this addresses the alleged problem of suffering, if you view the will this way, then there are only two options for ending suffering. I explained this as follows in an earlier post:

"...there is nothing inherent in God's will that prevents Him from choosing the immoral. Whether He does so, though, depends on what, outside of the will itself, is acting upon it (in this case His character). With this view in mind, there is no need for there to be anything within God's character that includes the possibility of both the moral and immoral. In fact, in order for God to always choose what is right, His character cannot contain anything immoral.

"Given this framework, there are only two ways God can prevent all evil: (1) He could eliminate all free will so that man's flawed character will have nothing to act upon; or (2) He could alter man's character so that our character is perfectly good like God's and we, like God, would always choose the morally right.

"You seemed to admit in your last post that option (1) would be morally wrong. If God's will is driven by His character, and there is nothing morally wrong in His character, then obviously (1) is not an option if by doing so He would commit a moral wrong.

"So how about option (2)? You actually asked similar questions to this throughout your post when you asked why God couldn't simply give us a similar character to His so that we still have options to choose from, but those options are limited to various morally correct choices. Is this really a possibility for God?

"Remember what we said before. In order for God to always choose what is right, His character cannot contain anything immoral. After all, even one immoral element in His character and He will sometimes make an immoral choice. So in order to prevent all immoral choices, the character driving the will must be perfectly moral. It must be perfect. But no finite creature can have a perfect character. To be perfect, there can be no limit to your morality. But the very nature of our finitude means that we must have limits. So as long as we are finite, we cannot have a perfect character driving our will. The inherent imperfections mean we will inevitably make at least some immoral choices and evil will enter the world.

"So if the only reason we cannot have a perfectly moral character is because we are finite, why didn't God make us infinite like Him? The problem with this solution is that it is a logical impossibility for two infinite beings (let alone a whole race of them) to exist. Asking God to create another infinite being would again be like asking Him to make a square circle. The very concept of "two" implies some line of demarcation by which you can determine where one being ends and the other begins. But ANY line of demarcation requires finitude. Thus, there can only be one infinite being."

If you cannot accept my definition of free will, that is fair enough and we clearly will never come to terms. But if you do not separate things out in this manner, I believe the only logically consistent position would be to claim that mankind does not have free will in the first place (Which, I might point out, also takes all the teeth out of any argument from suffering or evil because all actions are predetermined, with no free choice behind them; if there is no conscious choice behind an action, it cannot carry moral implications, so there is no moral problem of evil to begin with).

Thank you for the continued conversation.

Ken

MICKY said...

Our moral freedom, like other mental powers, is strengthened by exercise. The practice of yielding to impulse results in enfeebling self-control. The faculty of inhibiting pressing desires, of concentrating attention on more remote goods, of reinforcing the higher but less urgent motives, undergoes a kind of atrophy by disuse. In proportion as a man habitually yields to intemperance or some other vice, his freedom diminishes and he does in a true sense sink into slavery.
PEACE BE WITH YOU
MICKY

Ten Minas Ministries said...

Well said Micky. It always amazes me how people do not understand how addictive sin is, and how we think we can "stop at any time", but fail to understand that by the more we sin, the harder it is to stop, and we truly are slaves (and only God can save us).

Ken