Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Escape route

13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it (1 Cor 10:13).

Some freewill theists cite this as a prooftext for libertarian freedom. On their inference, Paul is saying God has given humans in general (not just Christians) the freedom to either resist temptation (to sin) or succumb to temptation (to sin). But there are some problems with that inference:

i) Paul doesn't say they have the freedom to either resist or succumb to temptation. Even if his wording allowed for that (either/or) inference, it doesn't entail that inference.

ii) It would be odd to say they have the freedom to succumb to temptation. That's not a beneficial freedom. That's puts them in jeopardy. Leaves them in jeopardy. That's not very encouraging. Yet Paul's statement is meant to be encouraging. 

iii) That cuts agains the grain of the text. Isn't Paul's point that God has given them an out, so that they don't find themselves without a sinful option? But that hardly requires them to have both a sinful option and a sinless option. 

iv) On the libertarian interpretation, God has handed them a double-edged sword. It can help them or harm them. 

Although having the freedom not to sin is preferable to not having the freedom not to sin, not having the freedom to sin is preferable to having the freedom to sin. 

Paul Himes claims that:

Therefore, “in situation (x), when confronted with temptation (y), it is possible that believer (w) will endure, but it is also possible that believer (w) will not endure (since Christians do, in fact, sin).”

Ironically, that's not a given in Arminian theology. In Wesleyan Arminianism, you have the Holiness tradition, with its doctrine of entire sanctification. 

Let's examine this Arminian prooftext from another angle:

During the Vietnam war, some G.I.'s fathered kids by Vietnamese prostitutes or girlfriends. By fathering a child, they acquired certain paternal duties to their Amerasian child. Indeed, two nested duties are in play:

i) They had a duty not to father a child out of wedlock when they were stationed overseas. And, according to freewill theism, they enjoyed the freedom to comply with that duty. For freedom and duty are correlative. 

ii) Having, however, exercised their libertarian freedom wrongly, they've acquired a second-order duty to the child they sired. After completing their tour of duty, they returned to the States, leaving their kid (or the pregnant mother) behind. 

On libertarian assumptions, they have the duty, and corresponding freedom, to discharge their paternal duties to their child. Yet in many cases, that's no longer feasible. At this juncture the father can't track the child down. He doesn't even have contact info for the mother. She was just some anonymous prostitute at a fly-by-night brothel. And even if he could find the child, lack of diplomatic relations with Vietnam precludes him from claiming their child and taking him back to the States to raise. His initial abuse of libertarian freedom creates an obligation which he cannot presently discharge.

Offhand, an Arminian (or freewill theist) might try to weasel out of this conundrum in one of the following ways:

i) He might bite the bullet and outright deny that the father still has any responsibility for the child he sired. In that case, we're not responsible for the consequences of our sinful actions if the consequences are out of our control. That, however, would be a morally breathtaking claim.

To take a comparison, if a scientist is unjustly fired, and seeks revenge by creating a doomsday machine, is he not responsible (or blameworthy) for the death toll because, by definition, the doomsday machine is unstoppable once the machine is activated? Likewise, if a business cuts corners by dumping toxic waste into the river, thereby contaminating the water supply downstream, is the business guiltless now that it's too late to undo the damage?

ii)  He might say the father is still responsible, even though he now lacks the ability to otherwise, because his current predicament is the result of a sinful choice he made in the past, at a time when he did have the ability to do otherwise. However, that move sacrifices the prooftext, for on that explanation the text is no longer a standing promise that we will always have an innocent option." That surrenders the original claim: 

Thus, if this paper’s interpretation of 1 Cor 10:13 is correct, one must assert that a believer, no matter what the situation, has the ability to choose not to sin…Since Christians sin, if they have the power/ ability not to sin at any given situation (regardless of their current value scale), then they must possess the power of contrary choice." (Himes). 

iii) He might go the Ockhamist route: if the truth of libertarian freewill requires the vet to be able to discharge his second-order duty, yet in point of fact he cannot now do so, then he must have the counterfactual freedom to alter the past action (i.e. what might have been) that generated this freedom-robbing consequence. 

However, even freewill theists admit that the Ockhamist solution is metaphysically dubious. And, of course, one can't exegete the Ockhamist solution from the prooftext. At best, that's extraneous to the prooftext. 


  1. Steve,

    Compulsion is typically and adequate defense - for example Deut 22:25-28. So the father still has to love his kid and do what he can, but if he's prevented from training/discipline his child, it's far from clear that not doing so is sinful.

    God be with you,

    1. 1) My example doesn't involve compulsion. Try again.

      2) In addition, I anticipate your type of response under (i) [of ways to weasel out of the conundrum]. It would behoove you to pay attention to the actual state of the argument instead of posting your canned answers.

    2. You have a bad habit of drive-by commenting. You can't be bothered to explain how the compulsion in your OT prooftext is even analogous to the alleged compulsion in my counterexample; you don't bother to show how my counterexample is compulsive, much less how any of that's germane to the Arminian appeal to 1 Cor 10:13. Maybe in your furry little mind the connections are self-evident, but you're just talking to yourself in the mirror at this juncture.