Agnosticism, Atheism, Christianity, Faith, Free Will, God, Religion, Truth

If You Go to Heaven, Do You Lose Free Will?

If you guys have time, I’d like for you to check out the discussion a few of us have been having over at the Thomistic Bent blog on the post “Can We Be Free in Heaven and yet Not Sin?” Humblesmith wrote this post to answer the following question:

If evil and sin are the result of mankind’s free will, then why is it that people in heaven will have free will, but not sin? God made angels, and they do not sin. Why could it not be the case that God could have made humans that do not sin?

Humblesmith’s response borrows heavily from the apologist Norman Geisler, who said that in Heaven we won’t be able to sin because God will “perfect” our freedom. This “perfected freedom” means we won’t be able to sin at all. Of course, I don’t view this as a real answer at all, since it still leaves the obvious question “then why didn’t God do it that way to begin with?” Not to mention the problem inherent in creating a whole new definition for “freedom of choice.”

The post and the subsequent comments are definitely worth reading and weighing in on, so if you have time, head on over there and check it out for yourself.

49 thoughts on “If You Go to Heaven, Do You Lose Free Will?”

  1. Yep, I commented over at humble smith’s blog in short I said: ” I agree that our freedom will be perfected. What God is doing on earth is perfecting our love. “

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  2. Nate, Ultimately, I think questions like this are a little futile. They’re a bit like two twins discussing in the womb what adult life will be like – they don’t have nearly enough information to even make an intelligent comment. Questions about the age to come may be fun to discuss, but I don’t think we should kid ourselves that we are saying much of value when we discuss them.

    There are many difficult questions, whether one is a theist or an atheist – not least how humans can choose at all if atheism is true.

    For what it’s worth (after that intro), my thought is that the real choice we face in this life is whether we will align our wills to the will of God, whether we will accept his position as God and ours as creature. That requires a free choice.

    But once we make that choice, we freely give him the right to interfere in our lives, and we allow our lives to be interlinked with his. The more we freely allow that interconnection, the less we will sin. In the age to come, we will be so “married” to God that sinning will no longer be an option. Whether that is free depends on your definition of freedom. Who cares? It will be good!

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  3. Hi unklee,

    I think I get what you’re saying, but I think for people like myself, these kinds of questions are very important. For you, God is a reality, so how he does a particular thing doesn’t matter just so long as he does it. But for me, God is a question, and if I’m going to make a rational judgment about whether or not he exists, I have to consider the reasonableness of the things I’m told about him. The problem of evil is a major consideration for me, and many theists try to answer the problem with free will. But that makes problems for the concept of Heaven. So while I get that this isn’t a big issue for you, it’s very instructive for those of us who aren’t convinced of God, much less the Christian god.

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  4. Sin is a missing the mark of perfection. It is a choice that we as mankind can choose. We can either be obedient to God’s command or follow your decisions. The latter is what Adam did and also those disobedient angels that followed Satan.

    So, for those that do go to heaven, they still have a choice.

    Evil is not exclusive to sin. A righteous act that results in a bad or unfavorable outcome towards something or someone can be classified as evil. Such was the case when God destroyed the Egyptian army in the Red Sea.

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  5. Hi Steven, thanks for the comment. So would you say that once people get to Heaven, they could still sin and thereby be cast out of Heaven?

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  6. Nate, I understand and appreciate what you’re saying too, I’m just suggesting this shouldn’t be a very important factor in choosing whether to believe in God or not. It simply isn’t an argument, just a question which we have too little information to answer. I think the more obvious arguments and evidence either way are much more important.

    But if we are going to ask difficult questions of God-belief, we need to ask the equally difficult questions of God-disbelief, such as:

    1. Do humans have choice to change the course of events? If so, how does it work in a physicalist universe? If not, who is kidding who that belief and disbelief are about evidence and choice?

    2. You behave ethically. I suggest that is because you were brought up christian. Most atheists choose to behave reasonably ethically, but why? Are some things really right and wrong, if so, how come in a physicalist universe? If it is just their personal choice, how can they criticise anyone who chooses differently? For example, I just read a newspaper article about rape as a weapon of war in Mali. You and I would both find that abhorrent, yet it makes sense on evolutionary terms – impregnate the women of your opponent and maximise your own genes. So how does all that fit together?

    3. You live your life with some sense of purpose. But Richard Dawkins assures us that that purpose is illusory and the universe shows us just blind pitiless indifference, Professor William Provine, Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, confidently asserts that “Naturalistic evolution has clear consequences that Charles Darwin understood perfectly. 1) No gods worth having exist; 2) no life after death exists; 3) no ultimate foundation for ethics exists; 4) no ultimate meaning in life exists; and 5) human free will is nonexistent”, while Francis Crick talks of his astonishing hypothesis: “You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.” So what is the logic that allows you and many others to ignore these conclusions of some of the finest biology minds we have?

    Each of these could be used as a basis of a formal argument against atheism, but I am not using them that way here. I am simply suggesting that these anomalies are far more serious, and based on far more evidence that the anomaly you raise here. Yet somehow you and other atheists don’t find that a telling critique of your worldview, yet you find choice in an unknowable future age somehow something to raise?

    I honestly don’t get it.

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  7. It may not be a good argument against the existence of God, but it’s a decent argument against the existence of the God of Christianity. Christianity’s god is supposedly perfect; he is “all-good.” There is no evil in him at all. Since he created everything, one must wonder why evil exists (I know you’re familiar with all this).

    So to answer the problem of evil, many Christians say that evil exists because God gave us a free will. It’s our fault that we chose evil. Christianity also teaches that all men sin; only Christ was able to live sinlessly.

    However, Christianity also teaches that those who are saved (maybe even the unsaved, eventually) go Heaven to spend eternity. There is no sin in Heaven, because God can not abide sin. But that gives us a dilemma: if sin exists because of our free will, then as long as we continue to have free will sin will continue to occur. This means that we could (and would) sin in Heaven. God would have to cast us out, which means no one would stay there forever. That contradicts the eternity thing.

    So how do we get around that? Does God take away our free will in Heaven? There are a number of problems with that idea. But if we say that God can somehow let us retain free will but in a way in which we won’t want to sin, then he could have created us that way to begin with, eliminating an incredible amount of evil. Of course, he didn’t do that, so does that mean he wanted evil to exist? This contradicts his nature.

    But sure, it may not be the biggest strike against Christianity. I still think it’s a pretty big one though.

    As to the problems you brought up with atheism, they’re also good questions. Of course, I don’t find them as problematic as you do, just as you don’t find the contradictions in God’s character that Christianity perpetrates as problematic as I do. I feel like I have some good responses to those questions, but it would take us pretty far off this specific topic. So I’ll try to address them in some posts very soon.

    I think that the biggest difference between the two of us is that I view atheism as the default position, and I think you view theism as the default. The “revealed” religions that I’m familiar with just aren’t convincing to me. So while I concede that a god might exist, I haven’t seen any evidence to make me actually believe he does. You, however, are convinced he exists, and I guess Christianity seems most reasonable to you as the correct avenue toward him. Is that kind of how you see it too?

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  8. @Unklee.
    “Nate, I understand and appreciate what you’re saying too, I’m just suggesting this shouldn’t be a very important factor in choosing whether to believe in God or not.”

    What! Are you serious?
    There must be heaven. That’s where god and Jesus live, right?
    If there is no Heaven then what is the point of all the sacrifices I am making down here on good ole Terra Firma
    God wouldn’t tell Porkie Pies, would he? Not JC. Heaven forbid. .
    Nosiree, when I kick the bucket I want all the maidens and free flowing ale and plasma TV with remote, and general roistering..and lie-ins on Fridays as well as weekends and no mowing the bloody lawn every celestial weekend…and…
    Oops, that’s Valhalla, isn’t it? Sorry, Unklee , carry on…..

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  9. Nate,
    That is correct. What is to stop a person whether human or angelic from be disobedient where ever they reside? They are not robots. Both are created with free will. Are you suggesting that perfection resists opposition?

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  10. Unklee,
    Of course there is a Heaven as you have supported lay stated. However, I would caution on speaking of the Earth as being down here or up there. The Heavenly expanse is tremendous in size; far more than we can know and understand. We do not even know if the term “top and bottom” are appropriate in describing the Earth relative position.

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  11. Cooeee! Hayden, my erstwhile Godbotherer….I’m here, never fear. How are the chat’s with your invisible Sky daddy, coming along?
    Has he laid out a room in his posh mansion just for you?

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  12. Nate, I agree we should drop the off-topic matters I raised. But let’s try another approach the the free will in heaven question.

    I suggest that your argument can only have weight if you can explain free will on earth. if you can’t then my being unable to answer your question about freewill in heaven is of no consequence. Do you agree?

    So let me offer a friendly challenge for you to answer the following three questions ….

    1. Can you define what you are meaning by freewill in this discussion please?

    2. Can you explain what it actually is – how it relates to factors that we can’t choose (like our genetics or our bodily reactions) and to randomness?

    3. Can you explain how, in an atheistic universe in which the physical is all there is, our brains make choices? How do they escape from being controlled by our brain processes?

    Thanks.

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  13. @Unklee:
    I think you are taking this freewill argument as an actual argument against theism when it looks to me like this is simply a counter response to a typical theist’s response to the problem of evil. Nate: please correct me if I’m the one that’s misunderstanding things here.

    My understanding of this whole exchange is this: The problem of evil is the primary atheist’s argument against an all powerful all good god – that is the origination of this entire discussion.

    It is the apologist who introduces the idea of “freewill” as a counter-argument to the problem of evil. Then the counters continue from there and that is where Nate’s quote in his post above starts from.

    Now I think I understand what the apologist means by freewill when he introduces it into the discussion, so I think it is fair for an atheist to respond to the counter-argument given that understanding. If we want clarification of what freewill actually means it’s probably best to ask the apologist who introduces it to the discussion.

    Again please correct me Nate if I am confused here.

    So Unklee, when you said “this shouldn’t be a very important factor in choosing whether to believe in God or not. It simply isn’t an argument”, are you referring to the problem of evil or to something that isn’t really a primary argument but rather a response?

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  14. G’day Howie, thanks for your comments and questions.

    I think the argument from evil is very powerful, definitely the strongest reason to disbelieve (IMO). I have grappled with it quite a lot in my life as a christian, and on occasions wondered if I should stop believing because of it. I don’t think it can be “explained away” by the “freewill defence”, though I think freewill is a valid part of the discussion. I would never minimise the argument from evil, and I only continue to believe in the face of it because I find the arguments in favour of God’s existence to be even stronger and more fundamental.

    But I think we need to distinguish between things we can’t explain (though we can understand why we can’t explain them) and things that appear to be genuine contradictions. I think the problem of evil is a genuine problem, but the question of freewill in heaven is just something we can understand why we can’t really know.

    Best wishes

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  15. “but the question of freewill in heaven is just something we can understand why we can’t really know.”

    As an atheist I would venture that free will was a given for those allowed through the Pearly Gates.
    However, it would be incumbent on ‘God”‘ to ensure that those that did Pass Go and collect their spiritual $200 to ensure that only those capable of behaving themselves got the nod.
    If he didn’t he would end up with a House full of morons.and it would be like attending church or bible study all over again.
    Now that would really pee Him off.

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  16. I cannot fully remember how Hitchens said it, but it’s rather oxymoronic how God “gave/allowed” us free will.

    The real value of asking these questions and searching for their answers is that they may provide logical evidence for something, I personally feel, has little basis for divinity. That scrutinizing the complex idea of “free will”,a fundamental part of the Christian doctrine, will help us decide whether or not it is valid in making such a claim. If the free will of man ceases within the bounds of heaven, than we will have become nothing more than automatons for our celestial dictator.

    I agree that Materialist’s have a bit of trouble explaining conscious decision making, however the fact that it exists is not valid evidence for any Deity. We do not have a “Made in Heaven” tag stapled to our brains, so how can people claim that the “consciousness” patent belongs to the Christian God? It is a phenomenon that fits with a story and yet is not valid enough to claim it is part of it.

    Also returning to Unklee’s comment on rape in Mali. Biologically speaking, it is a very effective weapon of war. Ethically speaking, it is a monstrosity, however this feeling is prompted by my cultural upbringing and my situation related to this incident. These men are in much dire situations than we could ever imagine and it’s these stresses that can change one’s ethics towards another human being. Proper ethics are not innate to human beings, therefore a personal sense of what is moral can be corrupted to the point that these atrocities occur. You don’t even have to use rape as your example, as them slaughtering each other is just as abhorrent.

    Anyways I may have attempted to further derail this chat and I apologize.

    Thanks for the hard work Nate and you as well Unklee, for if we didn’t have people such as yourself, we wouldn’t have ever challenged ourselves to question every part of Religion.

    Matt C

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  17. @Ark, It’s sky WIZARD! Jeez. And yes the room is very nice. It has pink walls but hey, “beggars and choosers” right?

    So this whole discussion is based on what men say? Whether there is a God or not depends on what a bunch of power hungry dipsticks have handed down over the years and if they’re wrong on anything, and they are, then there is no God? And if they’re “right” then what? There is a God because of that? It seems a little juvenile to me either way.

    You base your Atheism off of some people with pretty bad faults making mistakes, lying, cheating, stealing, murdering and so on and when you discover this “Clearly” there is no God because the guys that passed this down as truth are actually scumbags.

    And if you believe what these men passed down and take it to heart and live by it, you’re a Christian.

    This whole discussion gets no one closer to anything because it is still you deciding what is truth. Whether there is a God or not is not based on what you believe. He either IS or, like Elmer Coogan, ISN’T. Our belief for or against has no effect on that.

    There are people out there who honestly believe the earth is flat, Arkenaten, but their belief has no effect on the reality that the earth is round.

    Is there free will in heaven? I honestly do not care. I got work to do while I’m here. Not least of which is trying to get Arkenaten to convert from a giant jumping Khepresh head to a normal human being. Which as all of you know is going to be more than enough to keep me busy for the rest of my life. Free will in heaven? I’ll worry about that when I get there.

    God bless.

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  18. Personally, this is how I see it. God as described by the Bible does not exist. Maybe some other version of him does — maybe even a version of Yahweh/Jehovah — but I think most of us in this discussion would agree that if you take the Bible literally, that God can’t exist. As for anything beyond that, we’ll probably never know.

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  19. @Nate.
    When you say ‘God’ doesn;t exist are you including Jesus in this denunciation? He is the CHRISTIAN god, after all, right?
    For if you are you are setting yourself up for some serious smiting, I hope you realize?
    Even a stern warning from William Lane Craig. Eeeek!
    Tread lightly, my friend…

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  20. “God as described by the Bible does not exist.”

    I think statements like this are very interesting Nate. Let me look at a parallel.

    Suppose I said “Barack Obama is a Republican, Muslim, Communist President of the USA who was recently elected for a second term.” That statement would be correct in some details but wrong in others. But this doesn’t mean that Barack Obama doesn’t exist, only that my description of him is inaccurate.

    We could play around with this example, and add in more accurate characteristics until the description was 99% accurate, and clearly that Barack Obama exists. Or we could add in more inaccurate characteristics until it was only 1% accurate, and we may then want to say that that Obama doesn’t exist – or we may still prefer to say that he does exist but is very poorly described. There is a continuum here that I think your statement doesn’t fully recognise.

    Now I would say the same about the description of God in the OT. I think the OT gives a somewhat rudimentary description of God with some apparent inconsistencies. The NT modifies and develops that description, and I accept those changes.

    So does the God of the OT exist? You could say, as you do, that he doesn’t, but I think that is overstating the case, just as it would be to say that the Barack Obama I described doesn’t exist. It is reasonable to say that you don’t think any God exists, and reasonable to say that you think the description of God in the OT is inaccurate, but I feel that your statement says too much and is more confusing that helpful.

    I think this is an interesting issue and well worth discussing further. Thanks.

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  21. Uncle E – I don’t think that it would be overstating to say that the “Barack Obama you described” does not exist. It would be an accurate statement.

    I think I get your point though. But Nate seemed very generous in his statement when he even said some other version of Jehovah might even exist.

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