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Posted by Gregory Koukl on February 08, 2010 at 03:00 AM in :Greg Koukl, Theology, Video | Permalink
How could Jesus be incapable of sinning and yet be 100% human? How could he be capable of sinning and be 100% God? In my opinion, that's a paradox that will be solved when we can ask him face to face.
Steve M |
February 08, 2010 at 01:50 PM
I don't know if it works to say that since Jesus is one person with two natures, and since one of those natures is God, and since God can't sin, then Jesus can't sin. The reason is because we often make distinctions between Jesus' capacities as God and his capacities as a man. For example, as God, he knows all things. As man, he does not know all things (e.g. Mark 13:32).
I think there is another way to answer this question. The reason Jesus is unable to sin isn't due to a lack of power, but due to a lack of inclination. No temptation could ever overcome Jesus' motives and desires to live in perfect and complete obedience to his Father.
This question is really the reverse of another type of question. We are told in Matthew 5:48 to be perfect just as our heavenly Father is perfect. But, of course, none of us has the ability to live up to that standard. How is it, then, that we can have an obligation to do what we are incapable of doing?
In our case, the question is how we can be worthy of blame when we can't help but sin? And in Jesus' case, the question is how can he be worthy of praise if he can't help but NOT sin?
The answer is the same in both cases--we are worthy of praise or blame because we act with full inclination. We act consistently with our desires. It is BECAUSE we do what we are inclined to do that we are worthy of praise or blame. There is a difference between a physical or natural inability and a moral or psychological inability. If we are physically or naturally incapable of doing something, then we can be worthy of neither praise nor blame for failing to do it. But if the only thing keeping us from doing it is simply a lack of desire, then we are praised or blamed for the desire that we DO act on.
Jesus explained very clearly why he is incapable of sinning in Luke 6:43-45 when he said:
"For there is no good tree which produces bad fruit, nor, on the other hand, a bad tree which produces good fruit. For each tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they pick grapes from a briar bush. The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart."
Jesus' has no evil in his heart. That is why he is incapable of sinning. Surely that is something he can be praised for.
February 08, 2010 at 04:58 PM
I get hung up on the part that says Jesus has no evil in his heart and that is why he is incapable of sinning. Is it that he is incapable, or just chooses not to? I think the fully human nature of Jesus would give him the capacity to sin. Of course, being fully God, he cannot sin...and around it goes.
Adam and Eve had the capacity for evil, and yet were without sin until the fall. I believe the angels have the ability to sin, and yet they stand continually in the presence of a thrice holy God.
I think this gets to the heart of why Jesus was made flesh in the first place. The penalty for sin is death - spiritual and physical. If he were only God and not man, he wouldn't be capable of death, and thus paying the penalty for our sin. And since he was capable of death, wouldn't that mean that he is capable of the sin that requires death (I'm not sure on this point)? Indeed, he became man precisely so that he could be made sin for us.
And that is why God the Father turned his back on God the Son. Did he turn his back on the divine nature or the human nature, or both? I don't know that we can say, but it's inconceivable that God could reject God. It's also inconceivable that Jesus could sin and not sin.
This was hastily written, so I hope it makes sense.
Steve M. |
February 09, 2010 at 06:59 AM
"How could Jesus be incapable of sinning and yet be 100% human?"
Because capacity for sinning is not a necessary condition for being human. It is only an accidental property.
After all, in the afterlife, human nature will be perfected and those in heaven will not have the active power to sin. But that does not mean we are any less human.
Francis Beckwith |
February 09, 2010 at 11:20 AM
Steve: "I get hung up on the part that says Jesus has no evil in his heart and that is why he is incapable of sinning. Is it that he is incapable, or just chooses not to?"
There's not much difference, depending on what you mean by "incapable." There are two senses in which somebody might be incapable of doing something--naturally and psychologically. I think Jesus obviously has the power to sin. Nothing physically prevents him from doing what he ought not do. So in that since, he is capable of sinning. But I say that Jesus is incapable of sinning in the psychological sense. Lemme explain a little more.
An action is not a choice unless it is done on purpose. Everything we do on purpose, we do for a reason. The view of the reason is the motive we act on. So every intentional act (i.e. choice) is done out of some motive.
If Jesus does good, it is because his strongest motive is to do good. His inability to do good is due merely to a lack of motive.
So really, in my view, there is no difference between being unwilling to do something, and being psychologically incapable of doing it. By "psychologically incapable," I simply mean the person lacks the proper motives, desire, inclination, or willingness to do something.
Since it is a contradiction to suppose that somebody could be willing to do what they are not willing to do, it is impossible for Jesus or anybody else to act contrary to what they are presently willing to do.
Jesus always chooses to do the right thing because that is always his greatest motivation. His will is bent toward being perfect just as his Father is perfect.
The thing that enabled Adam and Eve to sin was persuasion. Whenever one person persuades another, they implant a motive or desire in the other person that the other person didn't previously have. Sometimes, it requires trickery to do it.
But no temptation could ever be strong enough to overcome Jesus' natural bent toward the good. That is the difference between Jesus and Adam before the fall. At least that's how I see it. I could be wrong.
February 09, 2010 at 03:37 PM
What you are saying, Sam, is that it's not so much that Jesus can't sin, it's that He can't bring Himself to sin. This solution was once used by Nelson Pike in an effort to reconcile omnipotence and God's inability to sin in an article entitled, oddly enough, "Omnipotence and God's Ability to Sin." Philosophers generally viewed the effort positively, though many wondered whether it was orthodox. The many were generally right to wonder. More on that below.
In the same article, Pike made another distinction. He said that it is one thing to say that God cannot sin and another thing to say that Yahweh cannot sin. The reason is that God is a title term and Yahweh is a name. When you say that God cannot sin, you are saying that sinlessness is a qualification of holding the title "God". This does not attribute any incapacity to sin to the individual who is God (Yahweh).
Here's an analogy.
Suppose that I say "the Super Bowl XLIV Champions are the NFL team that scored the most points on Super Bowl Sunday in 2010." There's one way of understanding my statement that makes it a kind of logical truth. Being the team with the most points is a requirement for holding the title of Champion. It's really logically impossible for the Super Bowl Champs to have the fewest points, just like its logically impossible for there to be a married bachelor.
But I'm in no way saying that it was logically impossible for the Saints to have the fewest points, even though they are the Super Bowl Champs. A sequence of events where Manning did not throw the fourth quarter interception but instead led his team to a touchdown and two-point conversion taking 3 minutes and 24 seconds to do so didn't happen, but it wasn't precluded by logic.
This distinction, together with the idea that Yahweh can't bring Himself to sin allows Pike argue for the following triad:
1. It is logically impossible for God to sin.
2. It is logically possible for Yahweh to sin, but were He to do so, He would lose the title "God".
3. Yahweh can't bring Himself to sin.
It seems, then, that if you replace "Yahweh" with "Jesus" in the above triad, you've got your position, Sam.
The substitution of "Yahweh" with "Jesus" is perfectly orthodox and veeery well supported Biblically. This is because the Bible is crystal clear that Jesus=Yahweh.
The difficulty though is that the result of the substitution in this case is that being-God becomes a mode (or accidental property) of Jesus.
I'm pretty sure that orthodox teaching is that being-God is an essential attribute of Jesus. To say that Jesus is only accidentally God implies that God is only accidentally Jesus: a form of Modalism.
This is why Pike's original point is also unorthodox...being-God is only an accidental property of Yahweh according to that original position.
February 11, 2010 at 07:03 AM
My position isn't Pike's position. I don't think "God" is a title that could be lost if Yahweh sinned. When I say "God can't sin," I mean the exact same thing as if I said, "Yahweh can't sin." In my view, there's no difference between saying, "Jesus can't sin," and saying, "Jesus can't bring himself to sin." In my view, there's no contradiction between saying God is all powerful and God cannot sin, because his inability to sin is not due to a lack of power, but due to a lack of inclination.
February 11, 2010 at 10:40 AM
"In my view, there's no difference between saying, "Jesus can't sin," and saying, "Jesus can't bring himself to sin.""
In this respect, your view tracks with Pike's.
"I don't think "God" is a title that could be lost if Yahweh sinned. When I say "God can't sin," I mean the exact same thing as if I said, "Yahweh can't sin.""
In essence then, you are treating "God" as a proper name that's equivalent to "Yahweh". You are certainly within your rights to do so, but that doesn't really avoid the issue. If you don't like the idea that "God" is a title, the entire argument above could be recast in terms of the title: "The Divine One" and the same difficulties would arise.
"there's no contradiction between saying God is all powerful and God cannot sin, because his inability to sin is not due to a lack of power, but due to a lack of inclination."
I may be missing a subtlety here. Surely if Yahweh/Jesus is unable to sin then it is because He lacks an ability. That much, at least we have to agree upon.
Now, it seems there are two ways in which one can lack an ability: One may not know how to do a thing, or one may lack the power or capacity to do that thing.
One might also lack the ability to bring oneself to do a thing. Lack of inclination would be relevant to that. Perhaps that's what you meant in the comment above?
Let's assume so.
The difficulty is that if that is all there is to Yahweh's or Jesus' inability to sin, then Yahweh/Jesus is not sinless by nature, but only by the accidental fact that He always acts according to His inclination. (Note that if you say that He lacks the power to act contrary to His inclination, then He lacks the power to sin after all)
That is, sinlessness is not a property that Yahweh/Jesus has in every possible world in which He exists. Instead, it is a property He has in every possible world in which He acts only according to His inclinations. But the fact that Yahweh/Jesus has the power to sin (and only lacks the inclination to do so) implies that there are possible worlds where He exists and sins.
BTW - Please do not take these comments in the wrong way. I'm not trying to denigrate your views or accuse you of heterodoxy. Or anything like that. I've generally been very impressed by your comments on this site and enjoy reading them. It's because of that that I'm engaging your ideas here (which are very interesting).
February 11, 2010 at 05:29 PM
>>The difficulty is that if that is all there is to Yahweh's or Jesus' inability to sin, then Yahweh/Jesus is not sinless by nature, but only by the accidental fact that He always acts according to His inclination.
Acting according to your inclinations/character/desires is not accidental. Everyone does this in all possible worlds. God is perfectly good in all possible worlds, therefore every act that comes from Him is also good and perfect because every act comes from Him and His nature (which is perfectly good and sinless).
Of course He has the physical power to do something bad, but nobody--not even God--has the power to act outside of who He is. That would be as nonsensical as a square circle. It could not happen in any world.
And since God always acts out of who He is, therefore there will never be a time when He sins in any possible world. It's not possible.
February 11, 2010 at 06:34 PM
Thanks, WL. I've enjoyed and been impressed by your contributions, too. I'm glad you hang out here.
I haven't read the article you cited by Nelson Pike. My impression of him only comes from what you've explained about his view. Right now, I'm a little confused. Earlier, you said,
"What you are saying, Sam, is that it's not so much that Jesus can't sin, it's that He can't bring Himself to sin."
Then you said,
"This solution was once used by Nelson Pike..."
I gathered from your statements that Pike thought there was a difference between saying, "God can't sin," and saying, "God can't bring himself to sin." Otherwise, what did you mean by "not so much that..."?
So I responded by saying,
"In my view, there's no difference between saying, 'Jesus can't sin,' and saying, 'Jesus can't bring himself to sin.'"
Based on what you explained earlier, I got the impression that Pike thought there WAS a difference. And I was saying I didn't agree with Pike. But your response to me saying there's no difference was this:
"In this respect, your view tracks with Pike's."
That left me very confused. If Pike thinks there's a difference, and I don't, then how am I tracking with Pike in this respect?
When I said that "I don't think 'God' is a title that could be lost if Yahweh sinned," I didn't mean that "God" wasn't a title. What I meant was that Yahweh wouldn't lose that title just because he sinned. And when I said that "God can't sin" means the same thing as "Yahweh can't sin," it wasn't because I thought "God" was a proper name just as "Yahweh" is a proper name. It was because both "God" and "Yahweh" refer to the same being, and that being can't sin. Whether you use a title to refer to the being or his proper name, you're still talking about the same being. That's what I meant.
"The difficulty is that if that [lack of inclination] is all there is to Yahweh's or Jesus' inability to sin, then Yahweh/Jesus is not sinless by nature, but only by the accidental fact that He always acts according to His inclination."
I agree completely with Amy's response. I don't think it is accidental that God always acts according to his nature. I don't think it's possible for it to be otherwise.
But I would also add that you're making a false dichotomy between God's inclinations and his nature. His nature, or character if you will, consists of the sum total of his desires, dispositions, inclinations, biases, motives, etc. His inclinations are, at least in part, what make up his nature. I take his "nature" to mean "the way he is." It's in God's nature to only do what is right, but it is not in God's nature to do wrong. That's why he is morally or psychologically incapable of sinning.
February 11, 2010 at 07:58 PM
The point I was making about Pike's view is that he distinguished lacking the metaphysical power to do X from the not being able to bring oneself to do X. The person who can't bring himself to do X typically has the metaphysical power to do X.
I took you to be making a similar distinction when you said this in response to Steve:
"I think Jesus obviously has the power to sin. Nothing physically prevents him from doing what he ought not do. So in that sense, he is capable of sinning. But I say that Jesus is incapable of sinning in the psychological sense..."
When you said "there's no difference between saying, 'Jesus can't sin,' and saying, 'Jesus can't bring himself to sin.'" I took you to be saying that the only important meaning of "Jesus can't sin" is that He can't bring Himself to sin. While you would continue to say that He obviously has the power to sin, but you'd tend to view that as a less important matter.
That is why I think that this part of your view tracks well with Pike's.
But forget about Pike, it seems that you are now saying these things:
1) Jesus has the power to sin.
2) Jesus has no inclination to sin and every inclination to refrain from His sin.
3) It is impossible for any individual to do what he has no inclination to do and every inclination to refrain from.
Now it seems that 2 and 3 imply this:
4) It is impossible for Jesus to sin.
So you seem to be saying that:
5) Jesus has the power to do something that it is impossible for Him to do.
I think there is something fundamentally wrong with the idea that an individual cannot act contrary to his/her inclinations and desires. This is to say that no individual can be capricious or irrational. So your (and Amy's) equation of inclination, desire etc. with an agent's nature strikes me as wrong-headed.
But the whole excursion into God's inclinations may be a side issue. The argument above can be recast without reference to inclination:
1') Jesus has the power to sin.
2') It is contrary to Jesus' nature for Him to sin.
3') It is impossible for any individual to do something contrary to his own nature.
Now item 2' is squarely orthodox. Sinlessness is explicitly categorized as part of Christ's nature. But these still have the consequence that:
4') It is impossible for Jesus to sin.
And this again results in the paradoxical result:
5') Jesus has the power to do something that it is impossible for Him to do.
As odd as it sounds. I think you may be on to something here. It could be that the solution to the conundrum is that divine power extends beyond the limits imposed by the nature of things. This is an idea that dates back at least to Peter Damian in the 11th century.
February 12, 2010 at 02:10 AM
>>I think there is something fundamentally wrong with the idea that an individual cannot act contrary to his/her inclinations and desires. This is to say that no individual can be capricious or irrational. So your (and Amy's) equation of inclination, desire etc. with an agent's nature strikes me as wrong-headed.
We're not saying that a person can't do something differently than he usually would, or that he could act out of his usually displayed character. But do you see that every action that is chosen comes out of you and who you are? If you are acting against something you want to do, it is only because you have decided that you want something else more.
For example, you may want a doughnut very, very badly, and then act against that inclination and not eat one. But you would not be "acting contrary to your inclinations/desires" in this circumstance, you would merely be revealing to us, through your choice, a deeper desire within you (deeper than eating the doughnut) to be healthy. Our choices will always reveal our inclinations and desires, even if they're irrational or seemingly capricious.
A person behaves irrationally because that comes out of his irrationality--however small a part it is in him. A person may act outside the character he usually displays, but make no mistake, it is coming from his true character and reflects his true self if he is doing it.
Since there is no darkness, no irrationality, no sinful bent whatsoever in God's character, there will never be a time when any of these things will peek out to reveal what's "really" at the heart of God's character in the way that some of our darker imperfections can suddenly show themselves.
>>5') Jesus has the power to do something that it is impossible for Him to do.
This is not a strange concept. Here's an example of this: I have the physical power to eat a bowlful of peas, but I promise you that this is impossible. I will never do it. It is not in my nature, and I will never in the least desire it. I'm a little tongue in cheek here, since I could conceive of a situation where I would have a deeper desire to eat the peas, say, to save someone's life. So this isn't exactly parallel to the subject of sin and God. I'm merely showing that having the physical power to do something doesn't mean you would ever, ever have the inclination to do it, rendering it impossible that you would ever do that thing.
February 12, 2010 at 12:41 PM
We can agree to disagree about the inclination issue, Amy (and Sam I presume), since, as I think I showed, it turns out to be a side issue. The core issue is that orthodoxy seems to require that it is essential to Jesus that He be sinless (whatever the reason). But you also want to say (as do I) that He has the power to do anything (including sin).
Impossibility that arises out of the essential attributes of a thing is a pretty strong notion of impossibility. Your bowl of peas example doesn't come within light-years of doing it justice. There are many Christian philosophers both historical and contemporary who view de re impossibility (impossibility based on essential attributes) as placing a limit on any notion of Omnipotence.
The tension here is pretty powerful. What's being said, in essence, is that Jesus is both an irresistible force (He has the power to sin) and an immovable object (it is impossible for Him to sin).
February 12, 2010 at 02:47 PM
WL, you seem to have a problem with the notion that God can't act contrary to his inclinations, but you have no problem with the notion that God couldn't act contrary to his nature. What's the difference?
The view that people always act according to their strongest inclination is compatibalism. The only other view I'm aware of is libertarianism. According to libertarianism, a person's choices are not determined by any antecedent causes and/or conditions, including a person's own inclinations. I'm unaware of any other view of the will, so if you're not a compatibalist, am I right to think you're a libertarian?
If you are a libertarian, how do you reconcile that with your view that God cannot act contrary to his nature? If God's nature determines what his choices will be, isn't that a denial of the libertarian notion of free will? If God has libertarian freedom, I see no reason why he couldn't act contrary to his nature.
What does it mean to be "essentially sinless"? It seems to me that to be sinless is to be free from all sinful inclinations and sinful actions. So if Jesus is essentially sinless, then his inclinations that give rise to his actions are an essential part of him. That makes good sense under my view that a person's nature is made up, in part, of their inclinations. In my view there's no difference between saying that Jesus can't act contrary to his nature and saying he can't act contrary to his inclinations.
It seems to me that the idea that somebody could act contrary to all their desires, and do it on purpose is incoherent. I don't think omnipotence includes the ability to engage in incoherence, so I don't think Jesus' inability to act contrary to his inclinations is any strike against his power. That's why I said earlier that his inability to sin wasn't a result of a lack of power, but a lack of inclination.
February 12, 2010 at 04:33 PM
The compatibilist view of freedom has always struck me as incomplete. For starters, there's the problem I've already identified: capricious and irrational acts clearly are free acts, but they are not free in the compatibilist sense (since they go contrary to the agent's strongest reasons for action). In addition, acts taken in a case where there is a balance of inclinations (Buridan's Ass cases) clearly are free, but they are not free according to a compatibilist notion of freedom. Finally, the freedom to control one's inclinations cannot be covered by a compatibilist analysis of freedom. But this seems to me to be the most important kind of freedom.
And in the end, I don't really think that the compatibilist notion of freedom buys you anything either. The whole reason Hobbes introduced the idea was to reconcile moral notions with scientific determinism. I don't think compatibilist freedom really is compatible with scientific determinism. And scientific determinism turns out to be false in any case.
So I'm a libertarian.*
But again, I think the principal question is how Jesus can have the power to sin when His nature makes it impossible for Him to do so. I guess to really get at this, we're going to have to drill down to what you mean when you say "Jesus has the power to sin"
When I see you say "Jesus has the power to sin", I basically read you as saying that he's free in the libertarian sense to sin...Sinful possibilities are open to Jesus...When Jesus refrains from sin, we may still say that He could have done otherwise. Etc.
To say that sinful possibilities are open to Jesus is to admit that they are possibilities, but this is the opposite of what the essential sinlessness of Jesus seems to imply.
But perhaps you mean something different when you say "Jesus has the power to sin".
* There is, of course, another kind of determinism: theological determinism. Presumably a compatibilist notion of freedom would be as (un)successful in that arena as in the arena of scientific determinism. There are, of course, other ways of arguing for the compatibility of freedom and theological determinism that don't present themselves in the case of scientific determinism. There's no real need to horse around with the definition of freedom in the theological case.
February 12, 2010 at 06:33 PM
WL, what do you mean by "capricious and irrational acts"? When you say they go against a person's strongest reasons for action, I get the impression you mean that capricious and irrational acts are acts that are against self-interest, or just plain stupid decisions. If that's all you mean, then I don't see how that's a strike against compatibilism. Even when a person is doing something stupid or something he has good reason not to do, he's still acting out of some desire or motive. The "best reason" does not always correspond to the "strongest motive."
If there are cases where inclinations perfectly balance each other out, but people choose anyway, then that might be evidence for libertarianism, but I don't know how you'd go about proving that the inclinations were perfectly balanced. Such a scenario is wholly unpersuasive to a compatibilist because from a compatibilist point of view, the fact that a decision was finally made proves that the inclinations were not perfectly balanced.
I may agree with you on your third point, assuming I'm understanding you correctly. If you're saying that under compatibilism we don't have direct control over our desires, then I agree with that. I don't think our desires are under the direct control of the will. We can control them indirectly by exposing ourselves to things that cause our desires to change (e.g. we can walk into a donut shop). But under compatibilism, the notion of choosing your desires leads to an infinite regress since even if we could choose our desires, we'd first have to have a desire to do so, and a desire to choose that desire ad infinitum. In my view, all of our choices are ultimately the result of desires we did not choose. I don't think even God chooses his own desires anymore than he chose to exist. His desires are essential aspects of his nature (which is why he can't sin). They're just the way he is.
Why do you think it's important that we choose our desires?
I don't subscribe to compatibilism for the same reason Hobbes did. I agree that scientific determinism is false. J.P. Moreland attempted to reduce compatibilism to scientific determinism in Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview by saying compatibilist freedom is like a row of dominoes where one of the dominoes (representing the will) is red. Presumably, red is used in the analogy because it's an inconsequential difference insofar as the causal chain is concerned, just as the will is in compatibilism. But for me there is an obvious difference between a blind mechanistic cause and an intention or mental event. There is a difference between one domino being caused to fall because another hit it, and a person choosing to do something because that's all he wants to do.
I'm a compatibilist for psychological reasons. I think it makes the best sense of my own experiences when I reflect inwardly on my own choices. And I think compatibilism makes far more sense out of moral obligations than libertarianism does. In fact, I think that libertarianism is inconsistent with moral obligations.
Besides that, I think compatibilism is more Biblical than libertarianism. One example is Luke 6:43-45, which I quoted earlier. It shows that the condition of a person's heart is what determines their choices. Martin Luther gave many more examples in his book on The Bondage of the Will.
When I say that Jesus has the power to sin, I'm saying that if there is some action, such as eating a sea kitten, that is wrong, Jesus has all the necessary physical abilities to do it. He has a mouth, he has the muscles capable of chewing, etc. He even knows how to catch sea kittens and cook them. But if it's wrong, then Jesus will have no desire whatsoever to do it. And without that desire, he can't do it. When compatibilist say things like, "He could do it if he wanted to," they really take that if he wanted to seriously. People talk like that all the time, even if they're not compatibilists.
If you want to read a really good defense of the point of view I'm advocating, I highly recommend Jonathan Edward's book on The Freedom of the Will.
February 12, 2010 at 07:55 PM
Now that I think about it, I guess there IS a third option besides compatibilism and libertarianism. There's epiphenominalism where the will is just an illusion and has no causal power over the body. It's just a by product of brain chemistry. It's passive. The feeling we all have of intending to do something and then doing it as a result is an illusion. But I think we can both agree that epiphenominalism is false.
February 12, 2010 at 07:59 PM
Yes. We both agree about epiphenomenalism.
Let me take a quick look at your example.
Jesus is free to eat the sea kitten because he would if He wanted to. In general, I suppose that Jesus is free to do A because if He wanted to do A, he would do A. Now when you say "If Jesus wanted to do A, Jesus would do A", I take that to mean that if things are just different enough from the way they actually are so that Jesus wants to do A, they are also different enough so that Jesus does A. (Of course, if Jesus already wants to do A, then no difference from the way things are is necessary.)
Now, omnipotence seems to be freedom with respect to every act. Jesus is omnipotent, then, because for every potential act A, if things are just different enough from the way they actually are so that Jesus wants to do A, they are also different enough so that Jesus does A.
But Jesus can't sin, let's say by eating a sea kitten, because it's not possible (thanks to Jesus' nature) for the world to be different enough from the way it actually is that He wants to eat a sea kitten.
But the definition of omnipotence suggested above (that for any A, if Jesus wanted to A, he would do A). Runs into the infamous McEar problems introduced by Richard LaCroix. Imagine an individual whose nature is such that the only thing he ever wants to do is scratch his left ear. Conditions never will, and indeed can't, change enough for Him to want to do anything else. Is McEar omnipotent? Clearly not. But it looks like you're going to have to say that he is.
And even if I'm wrong about defining omnipotence so that it means freedom with respect to every act, you seem, at least, to be committed to saying that my description of McEar does not count against the claim that McEar is omnipotent. But clearly it does.
February 13, 2010 at 03:25 AM
I'm not sure I understand the McEar scenario. I don't think a person is omnipotent just because they are always doing exactly what they want to be doing. But that's all you stipulated in the scenario, so I see no reason to think McEar is omnipotent.
If you had stipulated more in the scenario such that I would agree that McEar is omnipotent, then no, I don't think the fact that all he ever wants to do (and does do) is scratch his ear counts against his omnipotence.
Maybe there is an ambiguity in saying that omnipotence means that if somebody wants to do something, they can do it. One way to interpret that is that as long as somebody is doing what they want to be doing, they are omnipotent. Is that why you say that in my view, McEar must be omnipotent?
Another way to look at it is that a person could do anything logically possible as long as they wanted to. McEar obviously has the power to scratch his ear, but your scenario doesn't stipulate what else he has the power to do. I tried to make this distinction in my scenario of Jesus and the sea kittens by saying Jesus has all the necessary physical abilities to eat sea kittens and lacks only the desire. Jesus could create another universe if he wanted to. Could McEar do that if he wanted to? You don't stipulate that.
February 13, 2010 at 06:21 AM
"I don't think a person is omnipotent just because they are always doing exactly what they want to be doing. But that's all you stipulated in the scenario, so I see no reason to think McEar is omnipotent."
I stipulated a bit more than that. I stipulated that McEar was free with respect to every logically possible act. There are some acts that it is impossible for McEar to do, e.g. it's impossible for Him to scratch his nose, but that's not because of a lack of power, but a lack of inclination, so that shouldn't count against his omnipotence.
Now it seems from your comment above, that you are willing to bite the bullet and say that my characterization of McEar doesn't count against his omnipotence. If so, I don't think I'll be able to dissuade you.
I think that a better approach here is to assume that God can do the de re impossible. That is, even though an act is contrary to the essential nature of a thing, God can still perform that act. Indeed, what makes something de re impossible is nothing other than the fact that God has chosen that it be so.
God's power is still 'limited' to the de dicto possible. That is, for any consistently describable state-of-affairs, God can bring about that state-of-affairs, but He does not have the power to create states-of-affairs the description of which is inconsistent. This is not so much a limit on the power of God as it is the recognition that nonsense prefixed with the expression "God can" is still nonsense.
This leads to the result that the impossibility of God's sinning is really a self-imposed limit, not a real form of powerlessness.
Perhaps what we have here is a difference of emphasis. I'm emphasizing God's power first and saying that the 'limit' of His essential sinlessness is really self-imposed and not metaphysically binding. You're emphasizing God's nature as excluding every inclination to sin. While agreeing that he still has the power, in some sense, to sin (there are no impediments to His sinning).
February 15, 2010 at 04:46 AM
WL, do you consider God's inability to act contrary to his nature to be a limit on his omnipotence? I still don't think I understand the distinction you seem to be making between God's nature, his character, and his inclinations. If God's nature does not consist in his inclinations, then what does it mean to say that God always acts according to his nature?
When you say that the 'limit' of his essential sinlessness is self-imposed, aren't you simply saying that God chooses to be sinless? Isn't "choice" implied when you say, "self-imposed"? If so, then I don't disagree with you. But the question is whether God could have chosen otherwise even if he had no inclination whatsoever to do so. If he has libertarian free will, I don't see why he couldn't. But I don't think it's even coherent to suppose that he could because that would be to suppose that God preferred what he did not prefer.
February 15, 2010 at 05:53 AM
And besides, I don't understand how "essential sinlessness" could possibly be the result of a libertarian choice since "essential" implies that things could not have been otherwise, but "libertarian" implies that they COULD have been otherwise.
February 15, 2010 at 05:55 AM
I think the position the argument is pushing me to is that essences are the results of God's omnipotence, not conditions on it.
"But the question is whether God could have chosen otherwise even if he had no inclination whatsoever to do so."
What I seem to be forced to say about God is that He could have chosen otherwise in that case. Had He done so, I would not be forced to say that He acted without inclination. I might also be able to say that He brought it about that He had inclinations that He in fact does not have.
"I don't understand how "essential sinlessness" could possibly be the result of a libertarian choice since "essential" implies that things could not have been otherwise, but "libertarian" implies that they COULD have been otherwise."
This gets back to what I was saying before about how God seems to be both irresistible force and immovable object. George Mavrodes has argued, successfully in my view, that for both items to coexist one of the concepts must be qualified in terms of the other (which cannot be qualified).
So I guess I'm saying that the irresistible force of God's omnipotence is unqualified and that the immovable object, i.e. the impossibilities presented by God's essence (for example, the impossibility of His sinning), is qualified by Omnipotence.
February 15, 2010 at 09:55 AM
"I think the position the argument is pushing me to is that essences are the results of God's omnipotence, not conditions on it."
That's an interesting thought. So you must not consider "omnipotence" to be part of God's essence, then.
"What I seem to be forced to say about God is that He could have chosen otherwise in that case. Had He done so, I would not be forced to say that He acted without inclination. I might also be able to say that He brought it about that He had inclinations that He in fact does not have."
But if he brought it about that he had certain inclinations, then the bringing it about was, itself, some sort of choice, wasn't it? And if it was a choice, then wouldn't it, too, have required some sort of inclination? Or at least some reason for why he preferred such a course of action? How would you avoid an infinite regress at that point?
"So I guess I'm saying that the irresistible force of God's omnipotence is unqualified and that the immovable object, i.e. the impossibilities presented by God's essence (for example, the impossibility of His sinning), is qualified by Omnipotence."
Okay. I think I understand your point of view, then. In my view, both have to be qualified in the sense that you have to be precise about what you mean when you say that God "cannot" sin, and what you mean when you say that God is "omnipotent." The way I understand these terms, there doesn't seem to be a contradiction that I can see. I suppose you might say that since I think there are two different senses in which somebody might not be able to do something (natural and psychological), you would say that I am qualifying God's omnipotence.
February 15, 2010 at 12:23 PM
"That's an interesting thought. So you must not consider "omnipotence" to be part of God's essence, then."
I don't think I'm forced into that position. I would say that God is sinless in every de re possible world, but not in every de dicto possible world. His omnipotence is 'limited' only by what is de dicto possible. God is omnipotent in every de dicto possible world, and it is this omnipotence that underwrites de re modalities.
I assume that the set of de dicto possible worlds is a superset of the de re possible worlds, so God is also omnipotent in all the de re possible worlds, and, therefore, essentially omnipotent. If you like, I'm saying that He's essentially omnipotent, but I'm also saying that He's not merely essentially omnipotent.
"if it was a choice, then wouldn't it, too, have required some sort of inclination? Or at least some reason for why he preferred such a course of action? How would you avoid an infinite regress at that point?"
No doubt, God has reasons for what He does. But I wouldn't characterize them, as you seem to have, as logically entailing what his actions (or at least His efforts) will be. To use a phrase originating, I think, with Leibniz, God's reasons "incline without necessitating". I avoided that phrase thus far just because you had been speaking of inclinations as you had. What's always left open is that God could act contrary to His reasons.
Now, I know you want to ask:
But how is that possible?
This gets back to what I was saying about how God has the power to do things that it is impossible for Him to do.
"since I think there are two different senses in which somebody might not be able to do something (natural and psychological), you would say that I am qualifying God's omnipotence."
Yes this, I think, gets to the nub. We both agree that there are two different senses in which someone might not be able to do something. You are saying that if X is a sin God can do X in the natural sense, but not in the psychological sense. I am saying that God can do X in the logical (de dicto) sense, but not in the metaphysical (de re) sense.
I'm not sure whether or how your categories map to mine. I'm tempted to map metaphysical to natural, but not tempted at all to map logical to psychological. I'm fairly certain that my view is that God's omnipotence is unqualified and that, insofar as His sinlessness must be qualified, it is qualified only by His omnipotence.
February 15, 2010 at 05:32 PM
Well alrighty then. This has been really interesting, but all interesting conversations must have a stopping place. I really appreciate you talking with me about this, and I'm still a WisdomLover fan even if we don't see eye to eye on everything.
February 15, 2010 at 06:07 PM
Fair enough, and the feelings are mutual.
February 16, 2010 at 06:40 AM
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