Paul Copan and Free Will in Heaven

One comment below asked the question about free will in heaven and whether or not the saved will have it. It's a good question, and Christian philosopher Paul Copan has dealt with it. Here's my response:

Paul Copan offers three possibilities with regard to free will in heaven [in “That’s Just Your Interpretation”, (Baker Books, 2001), pp. 106-108].

1) That through our truly libertarian free actions on earth we gain access to heaven where we no longer have this freedom to sin. But if heaven is a place where we longer have the freedom to sin, then God could’ve bypassed our earthly existence altogether. If there is no free will in heaven then why not just create us all in heaven? What does it matter what we did or didn’t do on earth? Furthermore, why reward someone by taking away their free will? If free will can be taken away without a loss of goodness, then why create us with it in the first place?

2) That God foreknows that no one who enters heaven will freely choose to sin. But if God has that kind of foreknowledge then again, what is the purpose of creating this particular world? It appears to be a cruel game of hide and seek, where God hides and we must find him, and only the few who find him will be rewarded while the many who don’t are punished when they die. If God has foreknowledge then why didn’t he just foreknow who would find him even before creating them, and simply place them in heaven in the first place?...then there’d be no one punished for not finding him. If heaven is a reward, then “it seems absurd for a wholly good God to force humanity into a position of ignorance regarding correct moral choice and then hold people accountable for such a choice.” [Suffering Belief, Weisberger, p. 136]. Furthermore, if this world is to teach us the virtues of courage, patience, and generosity in the face of suffering, then most all of those virtues are irrelevant in a heavenly bliss where there is no suffering or pain.

3) That those who enter heaven will be in “the unmediated presence of God” such that “not sinning will be a ‘no brainer’—even though it remains a possibility.” But if this is the case, then why do Christians think the Devil rebelled against God, since he was supposedly in the direct unmediated presence of God? How was it possible for the traditional Devil to have such an experience of absolute goodness and absolute power and still rebel against God?


Hallq said...

I am curious to know your thoughts on Copan's treatment of Hell. I got a copy of Copan's book, and the treatment strikes me as extremely weak. Basically, he claims that those who end up in Hell end up there because they choose/are nursing a grudge against God. Based on Copan's affiliation with Ravi Zacharias's organization, I take it that he believes all non-Christians are damned. This means his claim is that the only reason anyone rejects Christianity is they hate God. This claim, of course, is untennable if you put any trust whatsoever in human testimony, specifically regarding self-reports of reasons for rejecting Christianity.

Anonymous said...

This reminded me of a question I have: in Christian Theology, are humans the only animals with free will? I've always thought so, but someone I know emphatically disagrees (mostly because he's Christian and doesn't hold that view). So are humans the only ones with free will?

Steven Carr said...

'1) That through our truly libertarian free actions on earth we gain access to heaven where we no longer have this freedom to sin.'

When do aborted babies gain access to Heaven through their truly libertarian free actions?

In the first trimester or in the second trimester?

And why did God not take away Satan's freedom to sin, when Satan was in Heaven?

John W. Loftus said...

Hallq, as you may know Paul is a personal friend of mine, and I consider him quite the scholar. As President of the Evangelical Philosophical Society he has written many scholarly articles and several books defending evangelical Christianity. He and J.P.Moreland are co-editing an Apologetics Bible to be out soon (watch out now!). And he's set to publish several more books too. He tackles the hardest questions from the evangelical Christian perspective and comes up with some of the best answers from that perspective, and I admire him for that.

Are his answers weak when it comes to hell? I think anyone who tries to defend hell will have weak answers, definitely. He argues that resistance to God continues in hell, and quotes C.S. Lewis as saying the doors of hell are locked from the inside. But I think Paul offers some of the best answers possible from the evangelical perspective, and that's a recommendation!

Hallq said...

Hate to say this, John, but your reply comes off as little more than a polite dig at evangelicalism.

John W. Loftus said...

Hallq, I argue against evangelicalism at every turn, and you know this. I just think Copan is the brightest of the bunch.

By the way, I can't wait to hear you on the Atheist Hour!

Anonymous said...

This sort of sums up the response I've been giving the religious when they ask me, "If there's no God, what's the point of Life?"

"If there is a God, what's the point of the afterlife?"

ochristian said...

Frankly, the problem with Hell is that the notion exists at all. It is not based upon the Hebrew scriptures and the fact that the modern church has latched onto salvation from this fate as being the cornerstone of its doctrine is tragic.

You pose an interesting question that I had not considered before, concerning that of free will in Heaven. The idea of Heaven itself is subject to debate, even within the church. Jesus speaks of a new Earth coming at the end of time, filled with people having corporal, although 'perfect' bodies. One would have to assume that there would remain free will for without that there could be no free love.

What all this one knows. Does it sound reasonable? Yes and no, depending how much you rely upon a literalist interpretation of scripture, either as a believer or a non-believer. Is any of it beyond God's pale? Of course not.

CS Lewis tended towards a belief in annhilation for those who chose not to accept salvation, in spite of his parable "The Great Divorce" or things he said in "Mere Christianity". It does not seem to make sense for a loving God to punish anyone (even Hitler) for eternity. Of coure, we do not know what eternity is, it is really just a word that we can not comprehend.

I personally like the parable of the tares and the wheat to illustrate the ultimate and final outcome of our souls. Many have taken this to describe those who do not believe to be burned up in the fiery pit of a (non-Biblical) hell. I see it to mean that when we face Christ, he will harvest our wheat (what things make us 'good') and burn away our chaff (what makes us 'bad'), leaving only that part of us that will remain with him. Of course I guess it could be possible with some that nothing will remain.

Daniel said...


Good to see you here. For all who don't know, ochristian and I were involved in an extensive dialogue over at Chris Campbell's blog.

He seems a quite sensible and civil theist.

Bill said...

Why wouldn't the actual question be whether or not God Himself has free will? I mean, as children of God, wouldn't the "saved" possess whatever kind of will that God, the father, possesses?
One could argue that God the Father has all the authority, has full control of all His children, but why in that case would anybody refer to that as Heaven? That metaphor just doesn't fit with the promise.
If God has free will, then so would the saved.

Hallq said...


I understand Paul is a friend and probably a nice guy. Nevertheless, making the sort of contrary-to-fact claims he does isn't anything to admire. Evangelical scholarship has produced some sophisticated arguments such as Kalam and attempts to defend the resurrection without contradicting basic consclusions of modern scholarship. I don't think Copan's treatment of Hell falls into this category, though.

I am looking forward to the atheist hour show. Any advice? I've listened to a couple of his shows, and Gene Cook seems to conduct himself professionally even if he has rather extreme views.

Dave Armstrong said...

Weird. I keep seeing this post in the window that opens up when you make a comment, but not in the one that opens up from the front page of the blog when you hit "comments." So here it is again:


I've made a reply to sometimes poster here RubySera, with regard to her blistering attack on my critique of John Loftus's deconversion, here:

Before many of you decide to ignore it as more of the same on a dead-horse topic, let me surprise you by letting you know that I issued an apology for two words or phrases I used which may reasonably have been misconstrued. But they WERE misconstrued, rest assured.

I still plead innocent to the charges from John that I think he is a scoundrel, is insincere, and all the rest of the nonsense. RubySera ups the ante even further, but I show how her greater, virtually hysterical charges are groundless, too.

Thanks beforehand to those who will read and be fair-minded about this and accept my word rather than foolishly attempt to (almost literally) demonize me, as she did.

You guys are capable of much better. I've already seen that several of you are. If some of you act this way towards a Christian who has nothing but good faith towards you, doesn't say you're necessarily going to hell, or that you are bad people, I can't imagine how you would act towards people who actually believe the things I am falsely accused of?

Dave Armstrong (aka Satan)

Dave Armstrong said...

Sorry for the double post. Like I said, I didn't see it in the regular window; then when I did it again, there were two. Dunno why.

But I tought John Loftus should know, out of courtesy, that there was another post about a critique of my critique of his deconversion, in which I made two apologies for phrasing that could potentially be misunderstood as to my meaning.

Dave Armstrong

FCSuper said...

Islam gets around this altogether by stating that hell is a place that is in absence of God, not necessarily a place of torment. The idea being, the absence of God is the torment.

Groups like Jehovah’s Witnesses say the bible doesn’t mention a literal hell, the all those who die as rebels against God at the end of Christ’s1000 year reign over the Earth will simply no longer exist. In this case, living on Earth in a paradise is the reward, not a heavenly abode. In which case, the assumption is that those who remain on Earth use their free will to choose to obey God (having learned how to become “perfect” during Christ’s reign). Of course, then you get into discussions about what being “perfect” means.

I, for myself, am comfortable with believing there is no hell. Regardless of what anyone believes or does, we all eventually end up in the same place, and that Earth is our hell. As I’ve said before, nothing can come close to being worse than what we go through here on Earth every day. lol

Anonymous said...

It's not that Christians have their so called Free Will revoted in Heaven, it's that Believers will be in absolute union with Christ - the sacred text indicates Believers are literally united into one organic body, with Christ as the head.

For a Believer to "sin" in Heaven would be paramount to God sinning. Thus, the proposition is logically impossible. The demima you pose is not a contradiction, it is a common misunderstanding of the Believers' identity.

Outside of time and space Heaven will be a reality of absolute unity with all creatures enjoying the beauty that comes from fully partaking in an absolute purposeful existence with no possibility of division between men and God.

The Redeemed are therefore elevated into a superior position than before the Fall of mankind into sin.

Strive to think of unity rather than about Individualism.

Mr Laurie said...

Point 1: Completely agree, and "there was war in Heaven." (Rev 12:7)

Point 2: I agree that this is unlikely, but for different reasons. Although "no one would be punished for not finding Him," it is not evil on God's part to create beings who would not repent; if a man has free will he can freely accept or reject salvation. Indeed, one could argue that it was necessary for God to create such beings as proof of His judgment - as unpalatable as it seems, it may have been necessary. "My reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be" (Rev 22:12).

Point 3: I believe this to be the case, although on the surface it does seem contradictory. The devil didn't simply sin, he believed himself superior to God (although how this is possible I cannot fathom). Plainly, eternity is a long time to not sin - would we not then be as God? Doesn't work! The question does not come down to not (ever) sinning, but trusting* God (implied in this is believing His judgment just).

* 1 Peter 1:9 (NLT) "The reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls"

savedbygrace said...

Everyone keep in mind that God is HOLY and man is sinful. That is the
most fundamental law of the universe. Just like gravity man is in a fallen condition, therefore he should do everything he can to
appeal for mercy. The rich man in Luke 16 pleaded for 1 drop of water, but it was TOO late. I hope everyone will not wait till its too late to cry out for mercy.