Turn up the abhorrence dial

Lately I’ve been posting quite a lot about free will, and I’m about to do it again.

After this post, though, I’ll stay away from free will for a while. (At least, I’ll try.)

I’d like to suggest a mechanism for making sin almost impossible, while preserving everyone’s free will. This mechanism is not, in principal, anything new: it is already in place, to a certain extent.

The mechanism is repugnance. Good old fashioned abhorrence. Odiousness. Revulsion.

We find many things repugnant. A lot of them involve themes like bodily fluids, food, and even sex. Other things are related to self-preservation: we are strongly averse to the idea of walking off cliffs, for instance. Yet I don’t think anyone would claim that we somehow lack the free will to engage in the things we find abhorrent. We simply don’t wish to do them.

Why, then, can’t the same be the case for crimes and other “sins”? Why, for example, are lying and cheating not as abhorrent to us as, say, eating live worms? As I’ve already claimed, the mechanism of abhorrence is already in place to some extent: most of us find immoral acts to be repugnant. But as crime statistics indicate, this sense of revulsion simply isn’t strong enough.

I therefore cannot accept that our alarming propensity to choose harmful acts is somehow a necessary result of free will. We have extremely strong aversions to many things, and we hold these aversions while maintaining, as Christians claim, our God-given free will. Why can’t it be the same for sin?


I’d like to make it quite clear that the repugnance argument outlined above is not something I actually advocate. For starters, it is very difficult to change the degree of repugnance we feel about certain things. The best we can do is foster a culture that discourages immoral acts (with “immoral” defined very approximately as something that causes harm).

The primary purpose of this post, then, was to show that the Christian free will argument presents us with a false dilemma. It says that either you have free will, in which case you have the ability to choose to follow God and, along with it, the tendency to sin, or you don’t have free will, in which case you are denied the ability to choose to follow God and the ability to sin. In the Christian view, we must have the free will to follow God, so we must therefore choose the first of the two options, and therefore be obliged to accept our tendency to sin.

I’m suggesting that there is a third route that theology is ignoring: God could have given us free will in order to allow us to choose to follow him, but he could simultaneously have given us strong innate aversions to sinful acts. This is, after all, a situation that people in heaven must (according to theology anyway) be in. People in heaven don’t sin, yet they also retain their free will.


4 Responses to Turn up the abhorrence dial

  1. L.Long says:

    WTF? What does repugnance have to to with sin or even right/wrong? Eating live worms may be repugnant but is not a sin or right or wrong.
    Lying nor cheating are repugnant I do both fairly often nor did I ever think of them as a sin. Now getting caught is definitely a sin!
    I can only think of one sin that I would find repugnant and that is killing. And cannot think of any other commandment that is repugnant or any of the other 613 commandments.
    I think the golden rule is still the best judge of right/wrong.

  2. L.Long says:

    Lying nor cheating are repugnant I do both fairly …
    should be ..
    Lying nor cheating are NOT repugnant I do both fairly ….

    • Keith says:


      Perhaps I wasn’t clear in my post: Repugnance is not something I would advocate from a secular perspective. The point I’m trying to make is that the Christian free will argument does not hold. God, if he had wanted to, could have allowed us the free will necessary to make religious choices without also setting us up to sin.

      • L.Long says:

        I got it now your update cleared my confusion. A good example is the repugnance of gay sex. I’ve heard many secularist state they find the idea repugnant so would not do it. You idea is that this could be extended (by g0d??) so that people would not sin and still be free to choose. And many xtians would say that this is true for many aspects of their actions. And yes there are too many things they do not find repugnant..like shoveling their BS up are puts and killing.
        Thanks for clearing that up.

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