Monday, September 19, 2011

God, People, and Moral Perfection

1.    Any agent A that is not morally perfect (MP) and has a free will shall ultimately/eventually commit a sin.
2.    A is morally innocent only in the case that A has freely refrained from any sin and has moral obligations.
3.    Any A that is MP cannot sin, and has no moral obligations.
4.    Therefore, any A that is MP is not morally innocent.
5.    Therefore, any A that is morally innocent is not-MP.
6.    God is MP.
7.    Any man created by God would have been morally innocent.
8.    Therefore, any man created by God is not MP.
9.    Therefore, any man created by God with a free will shall ultimately sin.

I think (1) is true because of what it means to be MP. Moral perfection is not merely lacking a blemish or a negative standard. Rather, perfection is in complete conformity to a standard. A sports analogy may be helpful. Sometimes it may be said, “this team is perfect this season” and yet it has not played a single game. Is such terminology accurate? Of course not. We don’t mean the same thing there as we would if it were applied to a team who had played some games and yet not lost. This tells us merely lacking a mark against or a blemish is a necessary but insufficient condition for perfection. (1) is also not saying that any specific sin cannot be avoided. It’s merely a recognition that being not-MP entails an eventual sin.
The second premise is very plausible. For of what can one be guilty or innocent except moral obligations, which come from moral commands or intuitions? Further, sufficient freedom of the will seems to be necessary in order to merit moral praise or blame. Hence, (2) should be accepted.
That any A that is MP cannot sin and has no moral obligations might be less than obvious. However, I think this is true because in order to be morally perfect, one must be the standard. While perfection, in normal usage, means complete conformity to a standard, we also intuit that real perfection is the incapability of failure; on the simpler definition there is always the possibility of failure. This is not so with perfection. If that is true, then any A that is MP is both the standard of morality and cannot sin. If A is the standard of morality, then A owes himself no moral obligations, per se. (4) and (5) are conclusions and hence analytic entailments of the prior three premises.
The sixth premise is true for any theist or person who would describe God in terms of being morally perfect. (7) seems to be true prima facie. That is, any MP being would bring into existence beings who at least lacked the deficiency in character and who had no sin. One may object (7) begs the question, but this isn’t quite true. If one has already accepted the reasoning for (1-3), then (7) is an entailment (rather than the alternative, that God would create beings who had the property of being MP). (8) and (9) are logically-entailed conclusions, and hence cannot be denied of themselves.
This has serious ramifications when it comes to the problem of moral evil. If any being created by God will, given free choice and sufficient time/opportunity, freely choose to sin, then God is not able to avoid the scenario of creating a world of significant moral freedom and relationship to God in the relevant way without sin. Now God could choose not to create anything at all, or create only beings who lack significant moral freedom. But why should the world be robbed of the great good of those creations of God because someone else would have chosen wrongly? Why should your existence be snuffed out because it is true someone, somewhere, would sin? Why should the joy and bliss of billions in eternity be negated because some sin, somewhere, would be committed? Consider also that this criticism really only applies in cases where God cannot do anything to rectify that situation.
“If God were to create free beings who will inevitably sin and can do nothing to save their souls, then God should refrain from creating,” is almost in need of no defense. But God can do something, and he has. He sent his Son Jesus Christ as a real, historical person. He was God in the flesh. He had multiple, ancient, eyewitness accounts of his life and claims. He claimed to be God. He was executed by the Roman government at the request of his religious opposition. Three days later, people experienced independent visual experiences of Jesus, seemingly in full health and quite well. These appearances coincided with an empty tomb. This tomb was guarded night and day by a contingent that had good reason to protect the tomb. The followers of Jesus were hopeless at the time of the empty tomb and had scattered, many going back to earning a living fishing. There was no one to steal the body. Jesus Christ died and was resurrected by God himself, vindicating his claim to be the Son of God.
But in that case, Jesus really did come to pay the penalty for sins—yours and mine. In order to have our sins forgiven, all we must do is: a) believe the claims of Christ-that he was God and he paid for our sins, b) believe that he died and was raised to life again by God the Father, c) want to be saved and forgiven for your sins, and d) place your trust in God to forgive you of your sins. It’s not enough to simply believe in your head these things happened, and it’s not enough to wish that you were saved from separation from God. You must actively trust in God, and in that moment you do so, your sins are all forgiven. You can now live for Christ!
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  1. //(1) is also not saying that any specific sin cannot be avoided. It’s merely a recognition that being not-MP entails an eventual sin.//

    If not-MP entails an eventual sin, doesn't it follow that said eventual sin could not be avoided? Putting it another way, if any specific sin can be avoided, then why can't sin be avoided altogether?

    Also, what do you believe regarding the doctrine of original righteousness?

  2. Hey Ryan, great questions. :) While there is a possible world for every moral agent in which each choice is made correctly; thus this entails there is a possible world where an agent never sins. However, given the reality of lacking moral perfection, it only follows that such a possible world is not feasible. That is, it is not true that such a creature will avoid every sin. It would not follow from these statements that any specific sin could not be avoided. It is merely the complete set that will not be, again given the lack of moral perfection. I think it's an issue of feasibility given certain states of affairs of agents rather than a modal issue of being able to avoid sin or necessarily committing sin.

    Now if I am being 100% honest I am not entirely clear on what is meant by original righteousness. I would assume it to be that state of affairs of being morally innocent as created. If any morally innocent beings entail imputed righteousness, then it follows that all babies who die go to heaven. It's not something I would think to be too dogmatic about; at least not without further research and study. :)

  3. Randy, my question is related to Ryan's.
    Rephrase P1 and it reads (I think) "Any free Agent (FA) who is not morally perfect (MP) will eventually sin."
    So my question is whether this premise is construed in terms of logical possibility. I'm thinking here of Plantinga and Craig's "possible but not feasible" distinction, where they note, in response to the question of why God did not create free agents who never perform immoral acts, that such a world, while a logically possible world, is not logically possible world for God to cause, since it is logically impossible to cause agents to act freely. But this distinction seems to imply that P1 is false, since there is, according to Plantinga and Craig, a possible world where free agents do not choose to sin. So I'm wondering what you might offer in support of P1. What good reasons are there to think that it is true?

    If this question is based on a misunderstanding, please let me know.

  4. Hi Daniel, great comments! I refer you to my response to Ryan above primarily. Also, I would offer that I agree there is a possible world in which no agent ever sins--but given that he will sin such a world is not feasible.

    I think in this case there is no reason to include that because someone will do something he could not have avoided it. I think much the same defense is at play as with Plantinga or Craig, in that it relies on feasability concerns rather than sheer possibility.

  5. Is it the case that MP cannot sin or simply that MP will not sin or has not sinned? It seems strange to me to say that God cannot sin. It's not nearly as clear as a surefire logical impossibility, like the classic stone case.

  6. I don't really understand your first paragraph. I think this may just be an issue of unfamiliarity with jargon. If there is a possible world in which those who are not-MP do not sin, I don't see why the possible world is infeasible. Further, infeasible doesn't mean impossible, right? If all specific instances in which we are tempted can be resisted, then each temptation can be resisted, and so a complete "set" of choices can be sinless.

    Original righteousness is the Protestant doctrine that Adam and Eve were created morally upright or good. Adam and Eve weren't merely blameless or innocent; they possessed knowledge and were righteous. We lost original righteousness due to the Fall and regain it when conformed to Christ's image. My question pertains to how you view Adam and Eve as they were created. If they were predisposed to practice righteousness - though not necessarily so - then that might affect your thoughts on the feasibility of a possible world in which Adam and Eve don't sin.

  7. Hi Mike, thanks for the question. I do think on a traditional Christian conception of God that he cannot sin. This is because God is posited as the moral standard, which I take to be an entailment of MP. If God just is the good, then by definition nothing of God is not-good. Sin, as defined as a deviation from the good in action, then cannot be performed by God. Of course, any number of these premises could be questioned, but I am arguing from within the traditional Christian conception of God.

  8. Ryan, right: infeasible does not mean impossible, at least not in the normal sense. I think the distinction between "possible" and "feasible" can be said to be the distinction between "broad" and "strict" possibility, or between "strong" and "weak" actualization.

    Consider the following: God can do the logically possible. It is logically possible that Jones freely mows the lawn in circumstances C at time T (free will premise). However, suppose that Jones would not freely choose to mow the lawn were he actually to be instantiated in C at T. Therefore, while possible, it is infeasible that God should actualize a world where Jones freely mows the lawn in those circumstances at that time--given those relevant facts. The underlying principle between possibility and feasibility is that there is some truth such that it delimits a possibility into a narrower selection of worlds to actualize. So while still possible, the world will not actually come to fruition given some other delineating truth.

    In this case the truth is that any non-MP given significant moral freedom and time, will choose to sin in some circumstance. But this doesn't entail the unavoidability of any sin specifically, but it does entail that at least one counterfactual of the sort, "If non-MP A were placed in C, then he would freely sin" is true, again given the requisite truths.

    Look at it one more way: the necessary truth is that "any non-MP will sin, given significant freedom and time." It does not follow that "If non-MP A were in C, then he would freely sin" is therefore necessary.

    One last analogy: suppose there is a basketball game, in which ties are not allowed. The truth "either team A or team B will win" is a necessary truth, yet it would not follow that "Team A won the game" is a necessary truth. I hope that at least helped a little.

  9. One more comment: this would not make sin necessary. For God could have refrained from creating, or refrained from creating beings in his image, or refrained from creating morally responsible beings, etc. So from my previous comments, we see individual sins are not necessary, and we see sin in general is not necessary. All that is necessary is that if God chooses to create and if that creation is imbued with significant moral freedom and time, then that agent commit at least one sin. But since sin is not specifically or generally necessary, then man is responsible for his sin. It's merely a matter of what will happen, vs. what can, more or less.

  10. Ryan, to original righteousness, I think that sounds plausibly true, provided a few caveats. I don't think the righteousness itself entailed moral perfection. Now what I mean is that if they possessed righteousness, it had to have been God's. Hence, there own being was not morally perfect any more than we are morally perfect now (at least how I understand the relevant terms).

    I have to confess I need more study of this topic before I can fully come to an explanation. I may change my mind, you never know! :)

  11. I think I understand what you are saying. I would still disagree that premise (1) is necessarily true, however, as it seems to be an inference grounded on what is the case (not-MPs have actually sinned) rather than what it means to be not-MP.

    Now that I think about it, wouldn't elect angels be a counter-example of a not-MP who have not nor will ever sin?

  12. I had thought about that, but now realize an objector may charge what I am about to say with being ad hoc. But they are the reason (primarily) I added "with free will." The traditional interpretation of elect angels is that they do not now have free will. The theory goes that just as there is a time in life for man to choose and a cut-off point after which choice is not possible (death, namely), so there was such a point for angels: Satan's rebellion. This is not explicit in Scripture, however, and I understand if one would want to reject it (though I don't see anything objectionable about the idea). In any case, it does appear (1) relies on that, or something like that, being true.

  13. Randy,
    Thank you for your answer, but it does not appear to be very helpful. I asked what the justification is for P1, and you seem to say in reply that there is no (broadly) logical impossibility, but that there is an infeasibility. That is, you seem to be saying that it is logically possible that some FA who is not MP does not eventually sin, yet since he will actually sin, such an agent is not feasible. I do not understand what you mean. You do assert that he *will* sin on a long enough timeline, but that is precisely my question: what is the justification for this claim? Why think that *all* free agents which are not morally perfect will eventually sin? Maybe I’m just misunderstanding you at this point. You say, “there is a possible world in which no agent ever sins--but given that he will sin such a world is not feasible.”
    Why is it a “given” that any non-MP FA will sin? I would echo Ryan here in asking whether this claim is an inductive one based on our uniform experience of non-MP FA, or whether there is an entailment somewhere such that being a non-MP FA given a great deal of time… Do these conditions somehow entail moral culpability?
    I would certainly agree that it is not logically impossible that some world exists wherein no non-MP FA sin. I also agree that there is some possible world in which all non-MP FA do sin. But you also seem to say that in any world actually instantiated which contains non-MP FA, the FA will sin. And that this is the justification for P1. But this seems to just be a repetition of P1, not a justification for it.
    I agree that moral perfection is not merely moral innocence; it seems to be necessary moral innocence. (Does Plantinga address God’s moral perfection in any exposition of an ontological argument). X is morally perfect if, necessarily, it is the case that X does not commit sin. This seems the same as saying that there is an impossibility of X committing sin. But it is possible for any created free agent to sin, of course. Therefore, no created free agent is necessarily morally innocent. Therefore no created free agent is morally perfect. But it does not seem to follow that any created free agent must also at some point lose moral innocence.
    A simpler formulation of the argument seems to be

    1. All FA which are not MP are creatures which will eventually sin.
    2. All humans are FA which are not MP.
    3. Therefore all humans are creatures which will eventually sin.

    I grant P2 and the conclusion follows, but I don’t understand the justification you’ve offered for P1.
    Now, you say that you affirm P1 because of how moral perfection is defined. It is not merely moral innocence (lack of sin), but it is complete conformity to a moral standard. (I think this terminology may be confusing, since God does not conform to a moral standard; He simply is the moral standard, as you say). Nevertheless, moral innocence does entail a lack of sin. Therefore, any FA which is morally innocent has not sinned. So, you seem to be saying that not being morally perfect leads necessarily (eventually) to not being morally innocent, since you affirm that any non-MP will eventually sin (not be morally innocent). Why? Could you explain this a little better?

  14. But is Saint Augustine's exegesis of the 2nd and 3rd chapters of Genesis correct? Do a search: First Scandal.

  15. Hi Daniel, you're right that I confused an explanation with justification, and for that I apologize!

    What I am trying to do really amounts to Alvin Plantinga's teaching of transworld depravity, which states that any person would sin in worlds feasible for God to actualize. However, Plantinga only offers this as a logically possible state of affairs. However, I think it is very probably true, given this: for any X, if X is given N number of actions, the probability of his doing all and only good actions is P. However, if N inceased to N+1, +2, +3, etc., the intrinsic probability of the entire set P-1, -2, and so on (please excuse the numbers; I don't intend it as a probability theory-formula). The idea is that as the set of free, rational actions are concerned grows larger, so the probability of the set containing only and all good actions diminishes. Given enough time, it seems it will be overwhelmingly probable that at least one action will be bad, and hence, evil.

    The only way this can be denied, I think, is to say something like freedom is non-libertarianly true, or is such that there is some kind of determinism of character so that the probability of each act being good grows with time and good acts. But that is something I am not convinced of.

  16. Thanks for your comment Robert. I have to confess I have not read Augustine's exegesis, but from what I know of his hermeneutic, it was not infrequently allegorical. That said, I'd need to do a proper study before I feel comfortable offering an assessment of any kind, positive or negative,.

  17. Randy,

    I suspected that this is what your argument was aiming at, and I agree that it is "very probably" the case that all free moral creatures would eventually sin. I just wanted to be clear about whether the argument relies, in a sense, upon probability, or if there was some additional support for premise 1 that I was just missing. Than you for your clarifications.


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