My question is addressed to people familiar with religious theology for any monotheistic religion (e.g., Christian doctrine, Islamic doctrine, etc.). For example, I have heard practicing Christians say that "everything that happens is part of God's plan" (particularly when someone dies), and I presume that they include things that happen as a causal result of human action. On the other hand, they also say that God has imposed normative rules for humans to obey (i.e., behavioural rules of what you should and shouldn't do). However, if actions that are contrary to religious ethical laws are nonetheless part of "God's plan", on what basis are they judged to be immoral?

Answers from any monotheistic religious theology are of interest to me, but the question came from hearing things said by Christians. As an applied example, I would appreciate it if answers could address the case of the Romans/Sandhedrin crucification of Jesus Christ. This is the archetypal example of a human action that is said to be part of God's plan, and yet, the people who did it were clearly engaged in murder of an innocent man, contrary to God's law (as set out in Christian doctrine). However, if no-one had killed Jesus, presumably "God's plan" would be thwarted. So, are the Romans/Sandhedrin who murdered Jesus bad, or good, or neither?

Note: To be clear, I am uninterested in critiques of Christianity or any other religion, or arguments for why God doesn't exist. I am already an atheist, so you would be preaching to the choir. What I am interested in is how this issue is resolved under monotheistic religious doctrines that hold these ideas (or something like them).

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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because this belongs on Christianity SE or a similar religiously themed SE. – MichaelK Jun 8 '18 at 7:29
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    Okay, but it seems like there are quite a few theological questions on here regarding apparent contradictory aspects of religion, which I would regard as being in the domain of philosophy. – Ben Jun 8 '18 at 8:15
  • Quite frankly: no. If a religion wishes to be illogical, and put forth illogical claims, it is up to that religion to try to justify them.It is not up to others — that are not part of that religion — to either try to justify that religion's claims or to try to take the consequences of those claims to their full conclusion. If they want to put forth claims, they must justify them. The rest of us simply withholds judgement until they have done that. – MichaelK Jun 8 '18 at 8:26
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    Well that's what I'm asking for - I'm asking for anyone who is familiar with religious philosophy to tell me their justification on this issue. It might be that they are simply being illogical, but I would like to hear if they have any argument on this point that would resolve the apparent contradiction; – Ben Jun 8 '18 at 8:31
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    I'll vote to reopen. It seems like a perfectly philosophical question to me. (Saying it's not just because one isn't a theist, is like saying, for example, because logical positivism is false, questions about logical positivism are not philosophical.) Out of curiosity, what do you find unsatisfying about Frank Hubeny's answer below? It seems to cover several different answers from different theistic perspectives. – Adam Sharpe Oct 6 '20 at 1:32

As preliminary, the question concerns the possibility of human morality if humans do not have free will. Fatalism claims that God(s) is(are) the only Agent(s), that is, the only one(s) with free will. Causal determinism claims that there are no agents whatsoever, but everything is the result of event causation or randomness.

If humans do not have free will, either because there exists overpowering Agents or because there exist no agents whatsoever, how can humans be moral?

Assuming fatalism leads to the logical problem of evil. Where does evil come from if a good, all-powerful and all-knowing God is the only Agent? Aren’t the two claims of the existence of a all-good, all-powerful and all-knowing God and the existence of evil contradictory? One of those claims would have to be false.

Alvin Plantinga’s Free Will Defense claimed that if there exist other agents, including humans, who do have free will then there is no logical contradiction. That these agents have free will makes the universe better than if they did not have free will. Hence God tolerates evil for the greater good that free choice provides.

Some Christians have argued for human free will through Molinism, Open Theism or Process Theism. If one defines God’s foreknowledge as knowing everything that is knowable and recognizes that acts of free agents are not precisely knowable in advance then one allows for human free will.

With this preliminary consider "the Romans/Sandhedrin murder (by crucification) of Jesus Christ" mentioned by the OP. Given the human free will described above this event did not have to happen and hence the actions involved had moral implications.


The easy answer i see here is that your inclusion of all religious people anecdotally in this argument is basically a straw-man. Most monotheists would absolutely agree with you that a divinely pre-determined existence is absurd and don't believe in it.

Those who are optimistic about determinism do exist in all the big modern religions, so lets take your question as directed at them specifically (and not all religious people in general).

The unsatisfying answer you are going to hear is that God is mysterious. We are ants and can't understand God's plan and why it is what it is. Faith is belief and trust, submit to it. Hitler was a test, a trial. You are right that it would be crazy to pre-ordain Hitler, and they agree, but they trust God had some reason for it.

I don't personally believe any of this, but it is what will almost certainly be said.

  • Even if monotheists do not propose full pre-determination of all events, I think I am on solid ground in saying that Christians regard the crucifiction of Jesus as a central part of "God's plan" and hence determined by God. Thus, I don't think I'm creating a straw man here. – Ben Oct 5 '20 at 20:28

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