A dilemma for Christians – is there free will in heaven?

Why would an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent God knowingly create a world containing the evil we see all around us? That, in a nutshell, is the well-known theological “problem of evil”.

A standard Christian response runs as follows: God, being omnipotent, certainly could have created a world without evil. However, a world without evil would be a world without free will, because free will implies the ability to choose to do evil. In a world without evil, we would effectively be robots preprogrammed to do only the good. God values free will so much that he chooses to grant it to us despite knowing that we will misuse it. In short, God chooses to create a world containing free will, at the expense of some concomitant evil, rather than creating a pristine world full of robots.

Now consider heaven, a perfect place in which there is no evil. Do believers have free will in heaven?

Suppose they do. In that case they are free to sin, but they choose not to – otherwise there would be sin in heaven. But if it’s possible for them to have free will and yet refrain from sinning, then why didn’t God create them that way in the first place? They would have had their free will and there would have been no evil in the world. God could have done this, but he chose otherwise. Thus God is responsible for the evil in the world.

Now suppose instead that there is no free will in heaven – our free wills are removed as we pass through the pearly gates, and we are thereafter unable to choose to do anything but the good. This raises an obvious question: if God is willing to deny us our free will for eternity, then why was it so important for us to have free will on earth?  If God is happy to have a heaven full of robots, then what is wrong with an earth full of them?

It seems to me that Christians are stuck between a rock and a hard place. No matter how they answer the question “Is there free will in heaven?”, their answer clashes with a standard response to the problem of evil.

I described this dilemma in another thread, and Vincent Torley responded. I’ll post his response, and my rebuttal, in the comments.

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71 thoughts on “A dilemma for Christians – is there free will in heaven?

  1. Vincent Torley’s response:

    Hi KeithS,

    Good question. According to Christian doctrine, the blessed in Heaven are not free to turn away from the Beatific Vision of God. They have made a final decision for God. As to why God didn’t make us perfect:

    (1) libertarian freedom, considered in itself, is a good thing, which befits a rational creature;
    (2) although God might have made all human beings impeccable from the get-go, He was certainly under no obligation to do so;
    (3) I would also add that had God made human beings that way, their very identity as individuals would have been different. For a human being with libertarian free will, the only property which defines that person’s identity is their relation to their parents: I would not be “me” if I’d had a different father and mother. But if it is an essential property of me as an individual that I cannot fall into sin, then that fact also defines me, and becomes part of my identity. Putting it another way, if I had been made perfect from the start, then I would not have been “me,” but someone else, as the conditions defining my identity would have been different;
    (4) thus I cannot wish myself to have been created perfect without wishing myself out of existence, which is metaphysically incoherent;
    (5) hence to claim that the world would have been better had God made everyone impeccable from the beginning is mistaken, as it overlooks the vital question, “Better for whom – the individuals who exist in the perfect world or those who exist in the imperfect one?”;
    (6) your argument against God’s goodness assumes that God is responsible for any evil which He could have prevented. But I would answer, “Responsible to whom?” Responsibilities are not free-floating; they are always directed at someone. God cannot be held responsible to an individual X for an evil that God could have prevented only by preventing the existence of X.

    My two cents.

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  2. My reply to Vincent:

    Vincent,

    According to Christian doctrine, the blessed in Heaven are not free to turn away from the Beatific Vision of God.

    According to most Christians, they don’t turn away. However, I don’t think there’s agreement regarding whether that’s because they are free to turn away, but choose not to, or whether they aren’t free to begin with.

    Let’s go with “not free”, arguendo, since that is your position.

    You wrote:

    (1) libertarian freedom, considered in itself, is a good thing, which befits a rational creature;

    If libertarian freedom is a good thing, befitting a rational creature, then why does God deny it to believers in heaven?

    (3) I would also add that had God made human beings that way, their very identity as individuals would have been different…thus I cannot wish myself to have been created perfect without wishing myself out of existence, which is metaphysically incoherent;

    Why is that incoherent? Suppose Tom Cruise wishes he were taller. Would you argue, “Well, if you were taller, you wouldn’t be Tom Cruise anymore; therefore you’re wishing yourself out of existence”?

    (5) hence to claim that the world would have been better had God made everyone impeccable from the beginning is mistaken, as it overlooks the vital question, “Better for whom – the individuals who exist in the perfect world or those who exist in the imperfect one?”;

    I assume you agree that God isn’t obligated to the trillions of people he doesn’t create. That leaves the ones he does create, whoever they may be. Each of them will be sinned against if born into a world full of imperfect people. Therefore, each of them would be better off if everyone else were perfect. God can bring this about, but fails to do so. (Or, more likely, he isn’t an omniGod. Or, more likely still, he doesn’t exist.)

    Also note that your logic leads to a moral absurdity. Suppose God created someone who by her very nature was constantly in agony, from birth to death. By your logic, God would be blameless for deliberately creating her. After all, if he had he created her differently, to spare her from suffering, she would have been someone else. And as you put it, “God cannot be held responsible to an individual X for an evil that God could have prevented only by preventing the existence of X.”

    (6) your argument against God’s goodness assumes that God is responsible for any evil which He could have prevented. But I would answer, “Responsible to whom?”

    To the people (and other sentient creatures) who suffer because of the evil God permits.

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  3. The Profession of Faith answers your question obliquely, so I’ll try my best to fill in the rest. Our faith is hindered by imperfection in this life, but rewarded with perfection in the next. That means the will is still free, but it its unwavering in its remade nature – like a compass needle pointing north. Those with wills that would not accept such a fate do not enter into heaven.

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  4. I don’t think it is responsive to the question.

    Assuming God is capable of creating heaven, why earth?

    Is it something like boot camp? A bit of hell that is enjoyed in retrospect, after you get away from it?

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  5. God created earth and man to demonstrate his glory. That probably seems very selfish to you, but he did so from love and goodness. Earth is the means by which we come to this understanding on our own. It gives us the opportunity to explore the creative powers available to us, and decide if we want to share in God’s goodness.

    294 The glory of God consists in the realization of this manifestation and communication of his goodness, for which the world was created. God made us “to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace”, for “the glory of God is man fully alive; moreover man’s life is the vision of God: if God’s revelation through creation has already obtained life for all the beings that dwell on earth, how much more will the Word’s manifestation of the Father obtain life for those who see God.” The ultimate purpose of creation is that God “who is the creator of all things may at last become “all in all”, thus simultaneously assuring his own glory and our beatitude.

    295 We believe that God created the world according to his wisdom. It is not the product of any necessity whatever, nor of blind fate or chance. We believe that it proceeds from God’s free will; he wanted to make his creatures share in his being, wisdom and goodness: “For you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” Therefore the Psalmist exclaims: “O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all”; and “The LORD is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made.”

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  6. Hi rhampton,

    Our faith is hindered by imperfection in this life, but rewarded with perfection in the next. That means the will is still free, but it its unwavering in its remade nature – like a compass needle pointing north. Those with wills that would not accept such a fate do not enter into heaven.

    That’s fine, but it doesn’t resolve the dilemma. If perfected, unwavering free will is possible in heaven, then why doesn’t God grant it to us on earth?

    Free will without sin is better than free will with sin. Why does God choose the latter?

    You argued that

    Those with wills that would not accept such a fate do not enter into heaven.

    If God is omniscient, he knows in advance that they will rebel against such a fate. Why does he create them when he knows this will lead to unnecessary evil and suffering?

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  7. If God is omniscient, he knows in advance that they will rebel against such a fate. Why does he create them when he knows this will lead to unnecessary evil and suffering?

    The suffering is necessary, it helps us to understand. God suffers too, when we choose to turn from God, yet God loves us so much to give us that freedom. Without evil, what would we choose from?

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  8. rhampton,

    The suffering is necessary, it helps us to understand.

    If God is omnipotent, why doesn’t he create us with the necessary understanding instead of forcing us to suffer?

    God suffers too, when we choose to turn from God, yet God loves us so much to give us that freedom. Without evil, what would we choose from?

    With perfected, unwavering free will, we would have the option of choosing evil, though we would never succumb to that temptation.

    If God gives us that kind of free will in heaven – and you have asserted that he does – then why does he deprive us of it on earth?

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  9. At UD, Joe G. writes:

    I was under the impression that the souls who made it to Heaven were free of sin- meaning they chose not to sin here. So why would these good souls all of a sudden decide to sin in Heaven- a place where all is well and good?

    No, Joe. Christians believe that all of us are sinners. The people admitted to heaven don’t get there by being “free of sin“.

    In the past, you’ve claimed knowledge of Christianity. How did you manage to misunderstand such a fundamental point of doctrine?

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  10. keiths:
    At UD,Joe G. writes:

    I can’t believe I’m actually going to write this, but since Joe G can’t respond here, I find this comment as rude as when the UD denizens post questions for Lizzie over there.*

    Plus, what the heck are you doing slumming over there and dragging rotting carrion into a nice place like this? You remind me of my cat!

    *I know that you’re more than willing to post there and engage the intelligent design creationists directly, so I don’t find it intellectually dishonest and cowardly, unlike when they do it.

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  11. keiths,
    You are describing the plight of the Angels, who had greater knowledge of God and goodness than human, but who also had free will. Some turned against God, which in turn allowed humans to make the same selfish choice. But unlike angels, God’s means of imparting knowledge to human souls is through mortal existence.

    Also, human souls become free of sin in the process of being perfected before joining God in heaven.

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  12. Patrick,

    I can’t believe I’m actually going to write this, but since Joe G can’t respond here, I find this comment as rude as when the UD denizens post questions for Lizzie over there.*

    I can’t post at UD, so of course I responded here. How is that rude?

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  13. Okay a thoughtful thread.
    We were not meant for heaven. We were made for earth. However death forced us to the other world. So heaven and hell are just holding areas until a new earth and heavens is made and hell thrown into the lake of fire.
    Do angels have free will? The big point is to give us identity and not be robots(AI or not) So we are given free will but only would do the right thing.
    Curious matter all around

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  14. rhampton,

    But unlike angels, God’s means of imparting knowledge to human souls is through mortal existence.

    If God is omnipotent, why can’t he impart knowledge to us directly through the process of creation? Are you claiming that he is unable to do so?

    Also, human souls become free of sin in the process of being perfected before joining God in heaven.

    Why doesn’t he create us already perfect? You do believe he’s omnipotent, don’t you?

    Why does God insist on bringing evil into the world when he could exclude it without depriving us of free will?

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  15. keiths:

    I can’t believe I’m actually going to write this, but since Joe G can’t respond here, I find this comment as rude as when the UD denizens post questions for Lizzie over there.*

    Patrick,

    I can’t post at UD,so of course Iresponded here.How is that rude?

    My apologies, I didn’t know you were with the banned. 😉

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  16. Hi keiths,

    Thanks for your comments. You wrote:

    If libertarian freedom is a good thing, befitting a rational creature, then why does God deny it to believers in heaven?

    The fact that something is good as a means does not make it good as an end. The freedom to accept or reject God is an appropriate thing for rational creatures in pursuit of their ultimate goal of the Beatific Vision; having attained that goal, they have no further need for such freedom.

    I might add that the blessed in Heaven won’t lose their libertarian freedom as regards the actions they choose to do, in accordance with God’s wishes. (Hey, if it were just singing psalms all day, I don’t think I’d be that keen on Heaven. Why not enjoying friendships with other people, doing research or even building cities?) There are numerous alternatives, and no obvious “best alternative” may present itself. In such cases, the blessed in Heaven may freely decide for themselves what they want to do.

    Why is that incoherent? Suppose Tom Cruise wishes he were taller. Would you argue, “Well, if you were taller, you wouldn’t be Tom Cruise anymore; therefore you’re wishing yourself out of existence”?

    No. Tom Cruise’s height will vary throughout his lifetime; it doesn’t define him as Tom Cruise. His parents, however, do. Tom Cruise cannot coherently wish himself to have been born of different parents; and I would argue that for the same reason, he cannot wish himself to have been created perfect. If he had been, he wouldn’t be Tom Cruise.

    I assume you agree that God isn’t obligated to the trillions of people he doesn’t create. That leaves the ones he does create, whoever they may be. Each of them will be sinned against if born into a world full of imperfect people. Therefore, each of them would be better off if everyone else were perfect.

    But each of them would not exist if everyone else were perfect, since each of them had two sinful parents. As for Adam and Eve, who didn’t have sinful parents: they may have been sinned against by their progeny, but they chose a world full of sin in the first place, so they have no-one but themselves to blame for that. You might still ask why God didn’t make them perfect. I could answer: (a) He wasn’t obliged to; (b) in a perfect world, there might have still been an Incarnation (I’m following Duns Scotus’ opinion here, as against Aquinas’ view), but there would have been no Redemption.

    Also note that your logic leads to a moral absurdity. Suppose God created someone who by her very nature was constantly in agony, from birth to death. By your logic, God would be blameless for deliberately creating her.

    Your counterfactual is absurd. Pain cannot be one of the defining conditions of one’s existence, as it does not confer identity on an individual.

    “Responsible to whom?”

    To the people (and other sentient creatures) who suffer because of the evil God permits.

    But if their own existence depends on God’s permission of suffering, then they have no right to protest against the existence of suffering as such. At most, they might protest against its unnecessary prolongation.

    Got to go now.

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  17. I always understood it in terms of the dualistic nature of man, body and soul. The soul seeks unity with the One, the body just wants to have a good time. So all the time the soul inhabits the body it has free will to choose between the material world’s temptations and its spiritual yearnings.

    Yadda,yadda yadda, the body dies, and with luck the soul unites with the One, thereby losing its individuality. There is no separate being to have will, free or not.

    But we do have an example of free will exercised in heaven, the Angels, we only have one example of their use of free will. It did not turn out well for those who did not choose wisely.

    Now I did learn this from Abrahamic Theist, so it might be completely in error

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  18. keiths,

    God does not bring evil into the world, but he does allow it to exist … We can keep going down the rabbit hole but I don’t foresee a point at which you will be satisfied with the answers. I can offer a reading of Summa Theologica and Contra Gentiles for further insight, but I suspect that’s not really what you want. Suffice it to say that you do not understand why I am not thrown by the dilemma presented, and I have not been able to help you see why that is so.

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  19. There are two creeds considered to be articles of faith by most Christians — Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox.

    Among other things they assert belief in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. I’m not sure how this comports with the image of a disembodied afterlife.

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  20. petrushka,

    It’s implied that the afterlife is free of entropy, and I don’t see how bodies as we understand them could exist. It may be that our remade bodies, like an infinite existence, are beyond human understanding – or that I’m ignorant of this aspect of Catholicism.

    I can’t deny that there are more than enough mysteries to justify rational doubts.

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  21. A body wouldn’t be much use without entropy.

    The wording of the creeds was not arrived at in haste, and the idea of a sprit or soul was assumed, so I find it odd that the body is resurrected.

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  22. No, not in haste, but with limited understanding.

    Think of it like physics; some things we believe we understand quite well, other things less so, and still others we are at a loss to explain at all, all of which is rightly understood to be provisional subject to new theories and evidence. None the less, those things which we believe to understand quite well, we expect to be much closer to the truth than not. So in practical terms, any change would likely be quite small and/or on the margins.

    Theology is no different – consider that the works of Aquinas appear twelve centuries after Christ. An fitting historical example of how theological truths are processed within the Church is The concept of Limbo; to which

    The inclusion of each individual dogma in the ensemble of all dogmas. They are not intelligible unless we begin with their internal linkage (nexus mysteriorum, DS 3016) and within their integrated structure. In this respect particular attention must be given to their rank or to the “hierarchy of truths” in Catholic teaching. This arises from the different ways according to which the dogmas are tied in with the christological foundation of Christian faith (UR 11). Without doubt, all revealed truths must be held in virtue of an identical divine faith, but their meaning and weight differ in proportion to their relationship with the mystery of Christ.

    What a resurrected body would be like in heaven is unknown (at least to me, there could be a developed exegesis that I am ignorant of), but I suspect that those who believe it to be literally the same as the one we possess now are being too literal in their understanding (not unlike a literal interpretation of Genesis).

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  23. The official view on the resurrected body:

    999 How? Christ is raised with his own body: “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself”; but he did not return to an earthly life. So, in him, “all of them will rise again with their own bodies which they now bear,” but Christ “will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body,” into a “spiritual body”:

    But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” You foolish man! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body which is to be, but a bare kernel. . . . What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. . . . The dead will be raised imperishable. . . . For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality.

    1000 This “how” exceeds our imagination and understanding; it is accessible only to faith. Yet our participation in the Eucharist already gives us a foretaste of Christ’s transfiguration of our bodies:

    Just as bread that comes from the earth, after God’s blessing has been invoked upon it, is no longer ordinary bread, but Eucharist, formed of two things, the one earthly and the other heavenly: so too our bodies, which partake of the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, but possess the hope of resurrection.

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  24. One of ID’s less gifted thinkers opines:

    “They didn’t sin here KeithS- that is how they made it to Heaven. So why would they start doing something in Heaven that they didn’t do here? Why are you so fucking stupid?”

    Hmmm. Some thoughts.

    Why do adults do things that babys don’t?

    Shouldn’t a logical extension of this bead reasoning be, abortions are good because it sends babies straight to heaven? All infanticide, even.

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  25. Joe G. responds at UD:

    So new born babies are sinners- before they can actually do anything?

    Yes, Joe, believe it or not. It’s called “original sin”, and it’s one of Christianity’s stranger doctrines.

    But anyway, I was brought up a Christian, went to Catholic schools and I never heard of that- that Christians say all of us are sinners.

    You must not have been paying attention.

    Here’s what the Catholic catechism says about both of the above issues:

    402 All men are implicated in Adam’s sin, as St. Paul affirms: “By one man’s disobedience many [that is, all men] were made sinners”: “sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned….”289 The Apostle contrasts the universality of sin and death with the universality of salvation in Christ. “Then as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men.”290 (430, 605)

    403 Following St. Paul, the Church has always taught that the overwhelming misery which oppresses men and their inclination toward evil and death cannot be understood apart from their connection with Adam’s sin and the fact that he has transmitted to us a sin with which we are all born afflicted, a sin which is the “death of the soul.”291 Because of this certainty of faith, the Church baptizes for the remission of sins even tiny infants who have not committed personal sin.292 (2606, 1250)

    404 How did the sin of Adam become the sin of all his descendants? The whole human race is in Adam “as one body of one man.”

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  26. llanitedave,

    This entire discussion is angels dancing on the head of a pin.

    Sure. So?

    My point is to show that certain widely-held beliefs about evil, free will and God’s goodness are logically inconsistent.

    Most Christians are unaware of the many problems with their belief system. The Christians who are aware of the problems tend to keep their mouths shut for fear of damaging the faith of their fellow believers, which they see as an undesirable outcome.

    It’s up to non-Christians to bring these problems to Christians’ attention and to keep them from being swept under the rug.

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  27. Patrick,

    My apologies, I didn’t know you were with the banned.

    Many times over. 🙂

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  28. rhampton,

    God does not bring evil into the world, but he does allow it to exist … We can keep going down the rabbit hole…

    What rabbit hole? We’re talking about a logical inconsistency in standard Christian beliefs. I’ve explained the inconsistency. Do you have a counterargument?

    …but I don’t foresee a point at which you will be satisfied with the answers. I can offer a reading of Summa Theologica and Contra Gentiles for further insight, but I suspect that’s not really what you want.

    I would be satisfied if you could give me a rational argument, or point me to one from Aquinas, Augustine, or your next-door neighbor, showing that the inconsistency I identified is not really an inconsistency or that it doesn’t apply to your belief system.

    As an example, one way to do that would be to tell me that you don’t believe that God is omnipotent. If that were the case, then the inconsistency I identified would not apply to you, as I would cheerfully admit.

    Suffice it to say that you do not understand why I am not thrown by the dilemma presented, and I have not been able to help you see why that is so.

    So far I’ve been able to refute the arguments you’ve adduced. Do you have any stronger arguments to present?

    Think of it like physics; some things we believe we understand quite well, other things less so, and still others we are at a loss to explain at all, all of which is rightly understood to be provisional subject to new theories and evidence. None the less, those things which we believe to understand quite well, we expect to be much closer to the truth than not. So in practical terms, any change would likely be quite small and/or on the margins.

    Theology is no different…

    The difference is that science lives and dies by the evidence, while theology is almost wholly untethered empirically. That is why theologians continue to discuss an omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent God, despite the overwhelming evidence, in the form of evil and suffering in our world, that no such God exists.

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  29. Hi Vincent,

    Thanks for engaging my argument. I enjoy sparring with you.

    keiths:

    If libertarian freedom is a good thing, befitting a rational creature, then why does God deny it to believers in heaven?

    vjtorley:

    The fact that something is good as a means does not make it good as an end. The freedom to accept or reject God is an appropriate thing for rational creatures in pursuit of their ultimate goal of the Beatific Vision; having attained that goal, they have no further need for such freedom.

    God, if he is omnipotent, can create people who have the freedom to reject him, yet freely choose not to. In that way God can grant free will to us without thereby bringing evil into the world. Why doesn’t he do so?

    keiths:

    Why is that incoherent? Suppose Tom Cruise wishes he were taller. Would you argue, “Well, if you were taller, you wouldn’t be Tom Cruise anymore; therefore you’re wishing yourself out of existence”?

    vjtorley:

    No. Tom Cruise’s height will vary throughout his lifetime; it doesn’t define him as Tom Cruise. His parents, however, do. Tom Cruise cannot coherently wish himself to have been born of different parents; and I would argue that for the same reason, he cannot wish himself to have been created perfect. If he had been, he wouldn’t be Tom Cruise.

    You haven’t thought this through, Vincent. If imperfection is an essential part of your identity, and if you become perfect when you enter heaven, then by your own logic your identity is destroyed when you enter heaven. You cease to exist in heaven, and someone else — with a different identity — takes your place.

    keiths:

    I assume you agree that God isn’t obligated to the trillions of people he doesn’t create. That leaves the ones he does create, whoever they may be. Each of them will be sinned against if born into a world full of imperfect people. Therefore, each of them would be better off if everyone else were perfect.

    vjtorley:

    But each of them would not exist if everyone else were perfect, since each of them had two sinful parents.

    You’re misunderstanding my argument. I’ll explain in a separate comment.

    keiths:

    Also note that your logic leads to a moral absurdity. Suppose God created someone who by her very nature was constantly in agony, from birth to death. By your logic, God would be blameless for deliberately creating her.

    Your counterfactual is absurd. Pain cannot be one of the defining conditions of one’s existence, as it does not confer identity on an individual.

    You’re arguing that a propensity to sin can be an essential part of a person’s individual identity, but a propensity to suffer cannot be? How do you justify the distinction?

    But if their own existence depends on God’s permission of suffering, then they have no right to protest against the existence of suffering as such.

    I’ll address this in a separate comment.

    vjtorley:

    Got to go now.

    See you later.

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  30. Vincent,

    It’s time for bed. Tomorrow morning I’ll try to explain, in clearer terms, why my argument isn’t undermined by the following objection of yours:

    God cannot be held responsible to an individual X for an evil that God could have prevented only by preventing the existence of X.

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  31. Well, the New Testament does say we need to be reborn, so the replacement theory has some standing.

    I still maintain that the existence of an afterlife without suffering demonstrates that suffering isn’t necessary. Presumably it is in some way our afterlife, so sin and suffering can’t be essential to our identity.

    I don’t see that the experience of this life can be essential or important, since a high percentage of humans die in miscarriage, infant or childhood death.

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  32. llanitedave:
    This entire discussion is angels dancing on the head of a pin.

    Indeed. While it’s somewhat interesting as an intellectual exercise to point out the myriad inconsistencies in theists’ arguments, doing so ignores the elephant in the room: There is no objective, empirical evidence for any deity.

    Until some theist comes up with such evidence, they are writing and speaking literal nonsense.

    If they weren’t a political force, there would be no more reason to engage on this topic than there is with anime fans.

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  33. I have no intention of entering this discussion, except to call your attention to a great song by the wonderful Mark Graham: No Democracy In Heaven.
    Lyrics here, and you can find a music sample here that will give you a sense of the tune. It’s best done with lots of old-time mountain music sound.

    Mark is not only one of the great comic songwriters, but also a better-than-first-rate old-timey musician.

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  34. Theology has been remiss in describing what one does for eternity. Hollywood has occasionally suggested that angels are employed coming to the aid of upper middle class white people who are experincing transient personal or social problems. Sick and starving children need not apply.

    I will repeat that this doesn’t disprove the existence of God, though it does call into question the narrative of benevolent interventionism.

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  35. Joe Felsenstein:
    I have no intention of entering this discussion, except to call your attention to a great song by the wonderful Mark Graham: No Democracy In Heaven.
    Lyrics here, and you can find a music sample here that will give you a sense of the tune.It’s best done with lots of old-time mountain musicsound.

    Mark is not only one of the great comic songwriters, but also a better-than-first-rate old-timey musician.

    I love it!

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  36. petrushka,

    Well, the New Testament does say we need to be reborn, so the replacement theory has some standing.

    Except that being “reborn” means that you’re still you. You’re being born a second time. Your identity is intact.

    Vincent accepts that our identities remain intact in heaven, as far as I know. What he doesn’t recognize is that his theodicy undercuts this belief.

    Vincent’s logic implies that it isn’t a rebirth at all. If imperfection is an essential part of your identity, then you cease to exist when the imperfection is removed. A new, perfect person with a separate identity is created in your place.

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  37. Except that being “reborn” means that you’re still you.

    That could stand some clarification.

    Theologeans spend a lot of time discussing things that don’t matter, without illuminating why we should care.

    It’s a bit like time share salesmen. Long on promises and short on testimonials.

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  38. Vincent,

    I explained above why you can’t claim that imperfection is an essential part of our identity, while at the same time maintaining that believers can enter heaven and spend eternity there.

    By itself, that suffices to refute your argument that

    God cannot be held responsible to an individual X for an evil that God could have prevented only by preventing the existence of X.

    …because it shows that according to Christian doctrine, our identities remain intact when we are perfected in heaven. Therefore, God would not be “preventing our existence” if he made us perfect in the first place. Had he done so, he would have kept evil out of the world without denying free will to us and without preventing our existence. Why didn’t he?

    And even if we ignore that and assume that imperfection is an essential part of identity, your argument still fails. To see why, notice that person X is not the only person who suffers due to X’s imperfection. Anyone whom X sins against is also affected.

    Therefore, God causes gratuitous suffering for other people whenever he creates an imperfect person X. He could eliminate this problem by creating perfect people, but he doesn’t. Why not?

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  39. keiths:

    Except that being “reborn” means that you’re still you.

    petrushka:

    That could stand some clarification.

    If X is born, and then X is born again, X has been reborn.

    If X is born, and then Y is born, there have been two births, but no rebirth.

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  40. If X is born, and then X is born again, X has been reborn.

    Being reborn is necessary in order to bring about desired change, Changed X is not X.
    Cloned X is not X. Being born means being without memory. The implication of being reborn is that one is recreated in some purified state.Presumably not having the inclination to sin..

    I’m not disagreeing with you, I think. If eternity is spent in the purified state, the question remains as to what the value is of the corrupted state. One could make analogies with mining and smelting ore, but that seems a bit messy to attribute to an omnipotent and omnibenevolent deity.

    Do other gods complain about the accumulation of toxic waste? Does Satan get paid for storing it?

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  41. petrushka: Do other gods complain about the accumulation of toxic waste? Does Satan get paid for storing it?

    Interesting problem …

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  42. It’s a bit like making up a private version of Dungeons and Dragons. Since it’s made up, you can tweak the rules when someone points out an inconsistency.

    Only problem I have with the theology game is that some players use real people as game pieces.

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  43. petrushka,

    Changed X is not X.

    It depends on the nature and magnitude of the change. If I lose a finger in an accident, I’m a changed Keith, but I’m still Keith.

    The implication of being reborn is that one is recreated in some purified state. Presumably not having the inclination to sin.

    I should point out that being “born again”, for many (most?) Christians, is something that happens on earth, not in heaven, and it doesn’t imply that the reborn individual loses the inclination to sin.

    The transformation that occurs in heaven, or on the way there after death, is not referred to as being “born again.” I don’t know if there is a special theological term for it.

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