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Even Satan can perform good actions

Postby Pree » Sun Dec 17, 2017 5:15 pm

Consider the following argument:

1. Free will entails having the capacity to perform both good and bad actions.
2. All angels have free will.
3. So, all angels have the capacity to perform both good and bad actions.
4. Satan is an angel.
5. So, Satan has the capacity to perform both good and bad actions.

Which of these premises do you disagree with? If you want to argue that Satan is evil by nature, who gave him this nature? And can God justly punish him if he has no control over his actions?
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Re: Even Satan can perform good actions

Postby jimwalton » Sun Dec 17, 2017 5:17 pm

I disagree with several of them.

> Free will entails having the capacity to perform both good and bad actions.

Not necessarily so. God has free will and yet cannot perform bad actions because his nature is wholly good.

> Satan is an angel.

We don't know what Satan is. We know nothing about his origin nor of his classification—what sort of being he is.

Your argument fails.
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Re: Even Satan can perform good actions

Postby Pree » Mon Dec 18, 2017 2:26 pm

Interesting. I think several Christians would disagree, but I’ll go with it. Do you think Satan has free will?
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Re: Even Satan can perform good actions

Postby jimwalton » Mon Dec 18, 2017 2:43 pm

Yes. Satan is a free agent. Since God, being wholly good, cannot create what is evil, Satan's arrival at evil would have to have been a volitional choice.

But lurking behind these questions of yours is possibly a caricatured or stereotyped understanding of who and what Satan is. A Satanology would probably be a beneficial pursuit. As far as origin, we have nothing. The Bible gives no backstory on the origin of Satan or of evil.

In the Old Testament, Satan is not a proper name, but a descriptor. He is known as "The Adversary," and he is a functionary commissioned by God. He is neither portrayed nor perceived as inherently evil.

The idea of Satan as "The Devil" evolves through the post-exilic period of Israelite history (400s BC and forward).

The NT picks up the wording of the OT and the concepts of the post-exilic period, and presents Satan as the adversary, the Devil, and the enemy of God's people. He is never particularly portrayed as the enemy of God except in the sense that he opposes God's purposes and opposes God's people. So he's not on God's side, but he doesn't rank high enough to be an enemy of God. When God deals with Satan as an "opponent," it's more or less like shooting fish in a bucket. Satan has nothing against God's power.

In the temptation of Jesus, Satan is doing exactly what God wants him to do. Everything he does is folded into God's plans. I wouldn't go so far as to say that the NT presents him as a functionary of deity; it's not like he's one of God's minions doing his dirty work. He is portrayed as having volition.

So when you claim that Satan can perform good actions, even though I disagree with your premises #1 & 4, it depends what you mean by "good actions," and it depends what we mean by "evil."
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Re: Even Satan can perform good actions

Postby Regnus Numis » Mon Dec 18, 2017 4:13 pm

> Not necessarily so. God has free will and yet cannot perform bad actions because his nature is wholly good.

In that case, how would you define free will? Assuming free will simply means the freedom to act according to one's nature, then is our nature predetermined? Are God's actions predetermined by His nature?
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Re: Even Satan can perform good actions

Postby jimwalton » Mon Dec 18, 2017 4:18 pm

Free will isn't really free in terms of being able to do or choose anything. It can't possibly be, and that is not what anyone means by free will. Free will doesn't mean we as humans can choose to fly to Saturn on a hot dog if we so choose, or that we are free to turn ourselves in armadillos. That's not what free will means. It means we have the capability to choose what is properly within my capabilities. Teleporting myself to the rings of Saturn is an option in contradiction to my capability, and is therefore impossible and not within the scope of possibilities for me. Free will always has limitations, or parameters.

God has free will, but he's not free to sin. He's not free to renege on His promises. He's not free to be evil. These are options in contradiction to his character, which is impossible, and therefore not within the scope of possibilities for Him.

> then is our nature predetermined

Our nature is determined by our DNA, as are our capacities. No matter how hard we wish, we can't see like eagles or sniff like bloodhounds. That has no bearing on the fact that our choices are not determined.

> Are God's actions predetermined by His nature?

Only to the extent that it is impossible for God to sin or to do wrong. But He is a free agent in those areas that are the proper exercise of His nature.
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Re: Even Satan can perform good actions

Postby Regnus Numis » Mon Dec 18, 2017 5:12 pm

> Free will isn't really free in terms of being able to do or choose anything. It can't possibly be, and that is not what anyone means by free will. Free will doesn't mean we as humans can choose to fly to Saturn on a hot dog if we so choose, or that we are free to turn ourselves in armadillos. That's not what free will means. It means we have the capability to choose what is properly within my capabilities. Teleporting myself to the rings of Saturn is an option in contradiction to my capability, and is therefore impossible and not within the scope of possibilities for me. Free will always has limitations, or parameters.

I never argued that free will meant we literally have the physical capacity to do anything.

> God has free will, but he's not free to sin. He's not free to renege on His promises. He's not free to be evil. These are options in contradiction to his character, which is impossible, and therefore not within the scope of possibilities for Him.

It seems like you're talking about a different type of free will here. Earlier, you were discussing our physical limitations as human beings, not our moral limitations, as if implying that free will meant a complete lack of physical limitations. However, you do not apply the same standards of free will to God. Instead, you discuss how God would never act contrary to His character. Hence, your definition of free will remains unclear to me.

> Our nature is determined by our DNA, as are our capacities. No matter how hard we wish, we can't see like eagles or sniff like bloodhounds. That has no bearing on the fact that our choices are not determined.

Once again, I'm not talking about physical limitations. When addressing our nature, I'm talking about our character. Speaking of which, if God is limited by His nature to only do good, then why doesn't He limit our nature to only doing good as well? If the nature of a psychopath is determined by his DNA, then why doesn't God intervene and modify human DNA to prevent psychopaths from being born?

It's often stated we can sin because we have free will, so claiming God has free will yet cannot sin requires a redefinition of free will, unless you define sin as rebellion against God. If so, then perhaps I should replace the word sin with the phrase be malicious.
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Re: Even Satan can perform good actions

Postby jimwalton » Mon Dec 18, 2017 5:30 pm

> I never argued that free will meant we literally have the physical capacity to do anything.

I think free will is a category that spans our entire existence—physical, emotional, social, and moral. When we speak of "nature" categories get blurred. For a monist, there is no line of distinction between the physical and spiritual. For them, we are a unity (Gn. 2.7: "and man became a living soul"). We may be skating on thin categories to try to draw lines between what is part of our nature and dividing between capabilities and moralities.

> Hence, your definition of free will remains unclear to me.

Yeah, free will is pretty tough to define without allowing any loopholes. I can only sort of describe its characteristics and its necessity. It's the modulation of ongoing action, the distinguishing of potential courses, the ability to reason, the exercise of autonomy. Now, these are off the top of my head without thorough weighing, so I won't swear by them and won't be held to them. I offer them in good faith to continue the conversation.
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Re: Even Satan can perform good actions

Postby Regnus Numis » Mon Jan 01, 2018 12:47 pm

Fair enough; I've personally always wondered where free will would be placed if we could design a complete model of the human psyche/soul.


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