Can God Create a Morally Perfect Creature? (Part Two)

Tim

Stratton

(The FreeThinking Theist)

|

January 14, 2019

Question:

Got a question for you guys after reading a recent article from Tim Stratton. It’s titled Can God Create a Morally Perfect Creature. Here goes… If God is free in the libertarian sense, and he cannot sin, why could he not create us to be free and yet unable to sin as well? I’m asking because the free will defense usually assumes that a being cannot be free without at least the possibility of doing evil. That is the point Tim stresses in the first half of his article. However, it seems to me that God’s freedom undercuts that assumption. It is not even possible for God to do evil, he is free. So, the heart of my question is…is it possible for God to create beings with the same kind of freedom he has? The second half of Tim’s article is very thought provoking. But it doesn’t seem to me that contingent beings need omniscience to be good. We won’t have omniscience in heaven and yet we will be morally perfect? So if knowledge is the issue, why could God not create us with that knowledge?

– Jordan


Tim’s Response:

Hey Jordan! Thank you for taking the time to read my article and for your engagement. I see that many others are interacting with your post on social media, but since I wrote the article I suppose I better address your questions myself. Allow me to address them in a step by step manner.

You asked, //If God is free in the libertarian sense, and he cannot sin, why could he not create us to be free and yet unable to sin as well?//

First, we must ask what it means to “sin” or “do wrong” or “do evil”? Usually, sin (and related terms) are defined as acting against (or intentionally disobeying) God’s will (or at least God’s will that has been revealed to us). I have also described sin as “missing the mark” of the objective purpose in which we were created.

In this sense, then, it is easy to see why God cannot sin: God is eternal without beginning and a necessary/uncreated being. It follows that He could not be created on purpose and for a specific purpose. Thus, it is not even possible for God to “miss the mark” of some “higher purpose.” Moreover, God cannot intentionally disobey His own will (or character or nature); for example, if God is loving, He cannot be unloving or He always freely chooses to love. And it is easy to see why human beings can sin: we can intentionally disobey God’s revealed will and we all intentionally (and unintentionally) miss the mark of the objective purpose in which we were created.

Second, what do we mean when we say that God cannot sin? Although I am not necessarily affirming the late (and great) Dallas Willard’s view, I have not ruled it out. He taught the first class I ever had at Biola University and I will never forget a comment he made: “Of course God could sin, but why would He want to? He’s too smart for that!”[1]

This corresponds to what he wrote in The Allure of Gentleness:

“[W]e agree that God is not the agent behind these things. God doesn’t do evil. He knows better. It’s the same reason I don’t stick a pen in my eye. It’s because I know better. God designed a world where people have space to choose their own actions, starting at the very beginning with Adam and Eve, and there is an enemy in the picture taking advantage of this. On the larger scale, we all know this.”

I know this is controversial,[2] but I do not think we should be so quick to rule it out because it seems to approximate to the possible vs feasible worlds paradigm. That is to say, it seems like Willard might have promoted the view that although it is possible that God could act in a manner inconsistent with His promises to humans (which I think is the best way to think about the possibility of God “sinning”), He never would do such a thing. That is to say, God always freely chooses to keep His promises (although He is powerful enough not to keep them).

Of course this would cause us to reconsider the semantics of Perfect Being Theology. The Willardian would have to affirm that a possible world exists in which God breaks his promises to mankind, but that no feasible world exists in which such a thing would actually happen. Indeed, if this is the case, perhaps it would maximize God’s greatness! After all, who is more worthy of worship: a being who simply cannot help but do good, or a being who always freely chooses to do good?[3]

Perhaps I am missing something, but the latter resonates with me.

You said, //I’m asking because the free will defense usually assumes that a being cannot be free without at least the possibility of doing evil. That is the point Tim stresses in the first half of his article. However, it seems to me that God’s freedom undercuts that assumption. It is not even possible for God to do evil, he is free.//

Although the Willardian view I offered above would not be scathed by such a problem, it is still fair to say that even if God did not possess the ability to break His promises to mankind, He still possesses the libertarian freedom to choose otherwise in other areas. In fact, I contend that God possesses the ability to create or not to create beings who would be in a true love relationship with Him if He were to create them. Since God freely chose to create mankind, He took the first step (if not the next several steps) toward a true love relationship with humanity.

Moreover, we must not forget that even if God does not possess the ability to do otherwise (the PAP), He is still libertarianly free in the sourcehood sense as nothing external to God is causing Him to choose as He chooses. Be that as it may, it could be the case that God is the ultimate source of His choices and that He also has the ability to choose otherwise (at least occasionally).

With this in mind, if God created humanity with a nature that will always love as God does in the libertarian sourcehood sense, then we seem to lose libertarian freedom and we get compatibilistic freedom instead (as our nature was ultimately up to God). This type of so-called freedom is not free at all since it is ultimately determined and up to God. I don’t think God wants this kind of “love relationship” with Humans. He wants libertarian love and therefore must create humanity with a PAP ability to resist His love or not!

It stands to reason that if God chooses to create a world in which humanity can freely enter into a true love relationship with God, then God must create humanity with libertarian freedom in the PAP sense.

You said, //So, the heart of my question is…is it possible for God to create beings with the same kind of freedom he has? The second half of Tim’s article is very thought provoking. But it doesn’t seem to me that contingent beings need omniscience to be good.//

Yes, God possesses libertarian freedom and it is possible for God to create humans with libertarian freedom. I contend that this is exactly what God has done. Be that as it may, I did not argue that contingent beings needed omniscience to be good. I argued that humanity needs to “learn over time” just how stupid it is to not always freely choose to follow the commands of Christ and to always approximate to the objective purpose in which we were created (to always love all persons).

You said, //We won’t have omniscience in heaven and yet we will be morally perfect? So if knowledge is the issue, why could God not create us with that knowledge?//

I made a case in the article that “experiential knowledge” might be needed.[4] I noted that God’s omniscience apart from the first moment of time — and thus, His middle knowledge — allows Him to experience all possible worlds “all at once” (so-to-speak). Thus, God “learns” (in a sense) all at once logically prior to His creative decree — and logically prior to time itself — just how stupid it would be for God to “sin” (whatever we mean by that).[5] Since it is impossible for a contingent being created “in time” to possess middle knowledge, God must create us in a state of affairs in which we can experience pain, evil, suffering, and affliction and learn from it. This is what I believe the Apostle Paul is referring to in 2 Corinthians 4:17 when he wrote, “These light momentary afflictions are preparing us for eternity” (My paraphrase).[6]

Unlike Adam, Eve, and Satan who were created in a perfect state of affairs, took it for granted, and freely chose to wreck it, humans have the blessing of being created in a world full of sin and suffering. Because of this, we can learn from sin, evil, pain, suffering, and affliction. This is why I believe we will keep our power of libertarian freedom for eternity and into the infinite future. On the other side of eternity, although we COULD sin, now we are in a state of affairs in which we never WOULD sin. Perhaps, like God, we are too smart for that because now we know better.

I ended the “Morally Perfect Creature article” with the following:

“Although it might be impossible, with feasibility in mind, for God to create morally perfect human beings instantly ex nihilo — it seems that God did create morally perfectible creatures who possess the ability to evolve (change over time) into moral beings who will eventually  eternally freely choose to love all persons — from each Person of the Trinity to every person the Trinity ever created.”[7]

This means that although humans could never be the standard of perfection (since we have sinned), we can be “perfectible” and reach a state where we stop sinning into the infinite future.[8] Those who spend eternity with God are just those kinds of people.[9]

Stay reasonable (Isaiah 1:18),

Tim Stratton


Notes 

[1] Perhaps Willard was using “could” in the modal sense or in some other sense (maybe epistemic?). In the quote from “Allure of Gentleness,” he used “doesn’t do” rather than a modal expression such as “couldn’t do.” Or , perhaps Willard was making a teaching point to highlight God’s omniscience. It could be the case that (a) it is logically impossible for God to sin or for God to do evil, and (b) God’s necessary omniscience is such that He necessarily knows (in the propositional sense, not in the experiential sense) the folly of sin and evil. (Thank you, Elliott Crozat.)

[2] The controversy is primarily connected to the doctrine of biblical inerrancy (I affirm that the Bible is true in all that it teaches). In private conversation, Kirk MacGregor pointed out that at face value, Scripture seems to teach that God cannot sin, not simply that God would not sin. To illustrate, Hebrews 6:18 says that “it is impossible for God to lie.” 2 Timothy 2:13 says that “if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.” MacGregor noted that “it would be an uphill battle trying to show that the prima facie exegesis of these texts is wrong.” Perhaps one could make a case that passages like these ought to be taken as a façon de parler (a manner of speaking).

[3] More questions are raised: Can we split the horns of this dilemma with a third option and state “God simply is the good?” Isn’t a being whose very nature is the foundation of goodness more worthy than a being who either “cannot help but be good” or “always freely chooses to be good”? Perhaps, but I think this move gets us into “Cousins of Euthyphro Problems” down the road. This is why I have argued that God is the perfect standard of LOVE, but He is not “good” in the sense that He does not approximate to some higher standard. Created beings, on the other hand — who are created on purpose and for a specific purpose — can choose to approximate to the objective purpose of life or not. To a degree that one approximates to the objective purpose of life, to that same degree one is objectively good. To a degree that one fails to approximate to the objective purpose of one’s existence, to that same degree one is objectively bad. Since God was not created on purpose or for a specific purpose then this sense of objective good and bad do not apply to Him by definition.

[4] There is a vital difference between experiential knowledge and propositional knowledge. Omniscience is typically defined by the latter.

[5] If by “sin” we have in mind the traditional meaning of disobeying God’s known will, or missing the mark of one’s objective purpose, then it makes no sense to discuss the possibility of God committing a sin.

[6] Elliot Crozat, in private conversation, stated the following: “I’m inclined to accept the view that this world is a ‘vale of soul-making’ (See John Hick; the poet John Keats may have used the term first). Our active involvement in soul-making seems to require LFW [libertarian freedom].”

[7] It seems to me that the “ought-implies-can” principle is true. After all, if we are commanded and thus ought to do something, then it is possible for us to do it. Since Christ commanded us to be perfect (Mt. 5:48) it seems possible for us to be perfect–at least in the certain sense that we are “perfectible.” This seems to be C. S. Lewis’ point in Mere Christianity:

“The command “Be ye perfect” is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command… If we let Him—for we can prevent Him, if we choose—… The process will be long and in parts very painful, but that is what we are in for. Nothing less. He meant what He said.” (Thank you, Elliot Crozat.)

[8] Kirk MacGregor says it well in Philosophia Christi 14.1 (2012): 173-4:

“Perfection, understood as completeness or wholeness in each and every respect, is an essential attribute of God that may only reside intrinsically in God as Necessary Being. In each and every respect, contingent being depends upon Necessary Being for its existence and therefore lacks intrinsic completeness and wholeness. Thus in each and every respect, contingent being is finite and limited. Hence it is logically impossible for God to create anything that is intrinsically perfect, for the simple reason that it constitutes contingent being that is in every respect ontologically dependent upon Necessary Being. Since evil is, as Augustine pointed out, a privatio boni, it is not an independently existing thing but rather a lack, limitation, or incompleteness in something that is good, namely, an absence of the complete limitless fulfillment that equals perfection. It follows deductively that evil is necessary to the creation, both to the natural order and to humanity, as God obviously cannot create anything with an intrinsic attribute exclusively proper to the divine nature…The only way that any created entity could display perfection is nonessentially, that is, God supernaturally acting to overwhelm or ‘make up for’ its resident imperfections; it could not display perfection in and of itself.”

[9] I am grateful to several of my scholarly peers who helped me think through this topic and related issues. I should be clear that we did not necessarily unanimously come to full agreement on all of the points made above, but through the “iron sharpening process” this band of brothers helped me greatly. Thank you, Kirk MacGregor, Jacobus Erasmus, Randy Everist, and Elliott Crozat!

Share:

About the Author

Tim

Stratton

(The FreeThinking Theist)

Tim pursued his undergraduate studies at the University of Nebraska-Kearney (B.A. 1997) and after working in full-time ministry for several years went on to attain his graduate degree from Biola University (M.A. 2014). Tim is currently enrolled at North-West University pursuing his Ph.D. in systematic theology with a focus on metaphysics, history, and biblical data.

Learn More