Weblog of a Christian philosophy student

Weblog of a Christian philosophy student. Please feel free to comment. All of my posts are public domain. Subscribe to posts [Atom]. Email me at countaltair [at] yahoo.com.au. I also run a Chinese to English translation business at www.willfanyi.com.

Location: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Thursday, August 13, 2009

God cannot do evil. Does this raise problems?

The Bible says that God cannot do wrong:

James 1:13 "When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone"

Titus 1:2 "in hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began"

Does this raise problems?

Some argue this means that God doesn't have free will. If God cannot do wrong, then how is God free to do wrong?

One response to this argument is that there are actually two kinds of 'cannot':

Cannot 1
Cannot 2

For example:

"I cannot throw this rock into space from my backyard." Cannot 1.

"So you think I should make money by robbing banks? I could never do something like that!" Cannot 2.

I would say that 'cannot 1' applies to physical impossibility. 'Cannot 2' applies to the inability to be tempted by something.

'Cannot 1' applies to physical objects. I cannot throw a rock into space because my body is physically unable to do so.

'Cannot 2' applies to persons, and deals with an inability to find reasons for doing something. Without a reason for doing something, I can't do it. For me to rob banks, I would need to have a reason to rob banks. But robbing banks is evil. As long as I remember that robbing banks is evil, then it's impossible for me to find a reason to rob banks. So I literally cannot rob banks as long as I remember that it's evil.

'Cannot 1', when applied to persons, takes away free will. If someone is put in prison, then they cannot ('cannot 1') go outside. They are not 'free' to go outside.

This is OK when it comes to God. Because 'cannot 1' doesn't apply to God, 'cannot 2' does. Christians think that God, being all-powerful, is physically able to do evil. The issue with God is that God cannot be tempted to do evil.

So the question is: does 'cannot 2' take away free will?

I don't think so. Consider this: as long as someone remembers that it's evil to murder someone, then they cannot be tempted to murder someone. No one could be tempted to murder someone while they were thinking that it's an evil thing to do. Think about it. It's impossible. And yet would anyone say that this being the case takes away free will?

Of course not. Someone doesn't lose their free will because they can't be tempted to murder someone while they remember that it's an evil thing to do.

So 'cannot 2' seems fine for free will, at least in some situations (described above).

And so it seems that God's free will is fine. It doesn't seem to hurt God's free will that He cannot do evil as long as the 'cannot' is 'cannot 2' (note: this analysis might only work with regard to evil).

So why doesn't God make 'cannot 2' apply to humans as well as to Himself?

The reason why God can't do this is that creatures must be able to think in terms of self-interest. This is because finite creatures need something to think with, for finite creatures this means finite reasoning, and the nature of finite reasoning is such that it always thinks in terms of self-interest (e.g. game theory). God can protect us from this 'dark side' to being a creature (as in the Garden of Eden) but the allure to think in terms of self-interest is always going to be there.

So for humans (especially after a 'Fall' like in the Garden of Eden) free will requires the ability to be tempted by evil, because of our self-interested mode of reasoning. But this isn't the case for God, who has a mode of reasoning (not finite) such that He doesn't think in terms of self-interest. We can't even imagine what this is like (Isaiah 55:8).

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