bookmark_borderProf. Pruss on Hell and Free Choice

Prof. Alexander Pruss considers the traditional doctrine of hell and its alternatives:
The three salient proposals, then, are these (2 and 3 are quotes from Prof. Pruss’s post):
(1) The traditional doctrine: At death there can be no further changes in one’s eternal destiny.
(2) Imposition: God imposes moral transformation on those who do not freely opt to love him.
(3) Endless Second Chances: God ensures that those who refuse him nonetheless always have another chance.
According to the traditional doctrine, those who die in a state of grace go to heaven at death, with perhaps, according to RC doctrine, an initial stay in purgatory. Those who die unrepentant and unforgiven go directly to hell, where they remain for eternity. The second possibility is that God, wielding his omnipotence, simply forces a moral transformation upon sinners, psychologically altering them so that they duly repent and accept forgiving grace. The third scenario is that the unregenerate would have a postmortem, presumably non-punitive existence (perhaps something like the first circle of Dante’s hell), but would be endlessly invited to accept Christian salvation.
Pruss argues that the second option is unacceptable because it would involve a gross abrogation of personal freedom. He says: “It’s pretty plausible (pace compatibilists) that in Imposition, God takes away the agent’s freedom to refuse him.” The third option really reduces to the second, he says. Although you may be free on any given occasion to reject God’s offer of grace, you would not have the stamina to resist endless importunities over eternity. Endless nagging would eventually wear you down. Sub specie aeternitatis, option three gives you no more freedom than option two. By implication, then, neither seems to be an acceptable alternative to the traditional doctrine.
As a compatibilist on the free will issue, allow me to comment on why one kind of imposition need not be seen as an abridgement of freedom. For compatibilists like me, the paradigm case of a free choice would be to be allowed to choose solely on the basis of my beliefs, my values, and my desires. For instance, in an election, my vote is free if nothing interferes with my ability to vote for the candidate whom I sincerely believe to best represent my values and whose desires for the good of the country or community are most consistent with my own. However, I do not (or at least do not entirely) choose my beliefs, values, and desires. Ideally, my beliefs are determined by what seems true to me; my values are determined by what seems right to me; my desires are determined by what seems desirable to me. Seeming true to me, seeming right to me, and seeming desirable to me, are not, or at least not entirely, under my control.
Beliefs, then, do not appear to be totally under our control. Indeed, I would say that there are instances of what we might call “epistemic compulsion.” Perhaps the best instance of epistemic compulsion would be a genuine instance of an experimentum crucis. In July 1945, Los Alamos scientists had produced two designs for an atomic bomb, the simple, gun-design uranium bomb, and the more complex implosion-design plutonium bomb. They were confident that the uranium design would work and did not plan a test, but the plutonium bomb had to be tested, and hence the Trinity Test in the New Mexico desert on July 16, 1945. Many of the assembled Manhattan Project scientists were deeply dubious that “The Gadget” would work. J. Robert Oppenheimer, the scientific director of the project, bet that it would have a yield of only 300 tons of TNT—a fizzle. At 5:29 A.M. The Gadget went off with a yield of 20,000 tons of TNT. When the light “brighter than a thousand suns” filled the desert and the shock wave hit like an earthquake, there could be no doubt that The Gadget worked. Here we have a case of epistemic compulsion if ever there were one. All doubts were banished in that moment.
Epistemic compulsion, making the truth so plain that it cannot be doubted, is not a restriction of freedom in any pejorative sense. My freedom to believe is not unfairly or illicitly abridged by having the truth plainly demonstrated. Indeed, insofar as I am rational, I very much want my beliefs compelled in the right way, i.e. by a clear and accurate perception of the truth. The very measure of the strength and value of evidence is the extent to which it constrains our interpretive freedom. Many incompatible interpretations are possible when evidence is scanty or vague, but eventually we hope that the evidence will become so clear and compelling that wiggle room is reduced to nil.
Interestingly, Scripture in places also seems to endorse proofs that make doubt impossible, at least temporarily. I Kings, chapter 18 tells the story of Elijah and the priests of Baal. Elijah challenges the worshippers of Baal to a contest. Elijah will build an altar to The Lord and the priests of Baal will build one to their deity. The side that calls down fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice will be proven to represent the true God. The priests of Baal try all day to no avail, as Elijah mocks and taunts them. Elijah then calls upon The Lord and a vast torrent of fire falls upon Elijah’s altar instantly consuming the sacrifice and even the altar itself. The assembled multitudes are given an overwhelming display of the power of The Lord, and they celebrate with a salutary massacre of the priests of Baal. This is about as good an instance of an experimentum crucis as one could want.
Suppose then, that after death I were greeted by angelic beings who then reveal to me in no uncertain terms the resplendent majesty, power, and goodness of God. I would then have no choice but to admit that the naturalistic/atheistic convictions that I had maintained in life were 100% wrong. It would also be clear to me that I needed to “get with the program.” I might wonder, as Bertrand Russell said he would under such circumstances, why I had not been given such evidence before. However, I would certainly not think that my freedom to disbelieve had been abridged in any harmful way. Indeed, I would be deeply grateful that the truth had (finally) been shown to me. The upshot is that, for the compatibilist, imposition, in the sense of epistemic compulsion would be not only permissible, but wonderful.
It is not even clear that epistemic compulsion would rule out freedom in the libertarian sense that, I imagine, Pruss favors. One could, like those who refused to look through Galileo’s telescope, simply refuse to consider any evidence, experiment, proof, or demonstration. Further, as I understand it, libertarian freedom encompasses the freedom to be irrational, to know the truth and to reject it anyway. Sadly, there are many instances of human beings who, even when confronted with hard, undeniable evidence, blithely and willfully persist in folly. Even when shown the indubitable truth, one might still choose, like Mr. Burns in The Simpsons, to wallow in one’s own crapulence. After all, do not Satan and the fallen angels persist in evil even though they have known God face-to-face?
A viable alternative to the ones Pruss considers therefore seems to be for God to demonstrate, or at least offer to demonstrate, The Truth in a manner that makes it indubitable. This will not constitute an illicit violation of freedom either on the compatibilist or the libertarian sense. For many of us unbelievers, our rejection of the “truth about Christ” is not due, as I think Prof. Jerry L. Walls puts it, to “concupiscence and hardness of heart.” Rather, we do not believe because we cannot. The Christian message seems to us no more believable to me than the stories of The Prose Edda, and those latter ones are a lot more entertaining. Many of us have read the arguments of Plantinga, Swinburne, Moreland, Craig, Alston and others as well as the works of Christian apologists, yet, guided by our best lights, we are thoroughly unconvinced. If we are wrong, we would consider it a great boon to be shown that we are, in this life or the next.

bookmark_borderYouTube Video of Today’s Miller-Cavin Debate on Jesus’ Resurrection

Here is the link to the YouTube video of today’s debate between Callum Miller and Robert Greg Cavin on the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection.
Also, the Secular Outpost YouTube Channel has a playlist for all of Cavin’s debates on Jesus’ resurrection.
Related Links:


bookmark_borderBiola’s / Talbot’s Doctrinal Statement

William Lane Craig teaches at Talbot Theological Seminary, affiliated with the Bible Institute of Los Angeles (BIOLA) University. (Some readers may not know that Josh McDowell graduated from BIOLA or that Josh McDowell’s Evidence That Demands a Verdict helped convert Craig to Christianity.)
Here is the doctrinal statement he, J.P. Moreland, and the other faculty must agree with:
Note their blunt description of eternal torture of non-Christians in the afterlife:

All those who persistently reject Jesus Christ in the present life shall be raised from the dead and throughout eternity exist in the state of conscious, unutterable, endless torment of anguish. (emphasis mine)


bookmark_borderInitial Impressions on the Andrews-Schieber Debate: Part 3

In parts 1 and 2 of this series, I reviewed each debaters’ arguments for or against Christian theism. In this and future posts, I want to selectively comment on statements from their rebuttals which caught my eye. I’m emphasizing the word “selectively” because I’m not simply not going to be able to parse the rest of the debate transcript with the same level of detail found in parts 1 and 2. In this post, I’m going to comment on Andrews’ first rebuttal.
Andrews writes takes issue with (23), the third premise in Schieber’s soteriological argument from evil. For reference, here is (23):

(23) There is no moral justification for sending anybody to suffer eternally in Hell.

Here is Andrews:

Concerning Mr. Schieber’s argument on the impossibility of God due to hell I contest the truth of P3—“There is no moral justification for sending anybody to suffer eternally in hell.” This premise is flawed on many levels. Again, for the argument to be unsound, and thus false, the premise must simply be demonstrated to be false in any capacity. My first objection is that God doesn’t send anyone to hell; rather, he permits them to go their own way.

I think the “send vs. permit” distinction makes very little difference. Schieber could very easily modify (22) and (23) as follows:

(22′) If God exists, he chose to create Hell and permit the vast majority of people to suffer eternally within it.
(23′) There is no moral justification for allowing anybody to suffer eternally in Hell.

With the argument so modified, the first objection no longer applies.
Let’s return to Andrews’ reply:

Secondly, God is morally justified in permitting the reprobate to be eternally separate from God. I don’t think the Bible is describing eschatological furniture when describing hell so all I’m willing to commit to is that it is an eternal separation from God—the worst state of an unglorified existence.

When Andrews says, “I don’t think the Bible is describing eschatological furniture when describing hell,” I interpret that to mean that Andrews is uncertain about whether Hell involves merely “eternal separation from God” or “eternal separation from God” plus other bad things (such as eternal torture). So, for the sake of simplicity, let’s divide the doctrine of Hell into two variants: Hell1, mere eternal separation, and Hell2, eternal separation and torture. Hell1 is supposed to the enormous moral problems with Hell2, while at the same time being consistent with the Bible. Since I have zero desire to debate Biblical interpretation, I’m going to assume (but only for the sake of argument) that Hell1 is compatible with Biblical teaching.
I want to explore two questions about Hell1. First, is Hell1 a punishment? Second, regardless of whether we call Hell1 a type of punishment or something else, is it fair?
Let’s turn to my first question. Is Hell1 a type of punishment? In my experience, Christians who promote Hell1 as the correct understanding of Hell waffle on whether it is a good thing or a bad thing for the inhabitants of Hell1. Andrews seems to be a case in point. On the one hand, Andrews says, when God permits people to go to Hell1, He is simply giving people what they want.

God passively permits individuals to go to hell because that’s what the individual chooses. As a decision to reject the revelation brought before an individual they consequently choose a life of eternal separation from an eternal God. The[y] choose hell because that’s what they want and in the end, God gives them what they want.

But, on the other hand, Andrews says that Hell1 is a type of punishment.

There is sufficient warrant to believe that some people who have not had their sins atoned for by Jesus Christ die without atoning for their sins in this lifetime.  Posthumously, this person must atone for his own wrongs in order for God to be perfectly just.  Each sin warrants a finite punishment; however, this person will not cease to sin in the after this life since he has not had his sins atoned for by Christ. He will not be ushered into a state of beatitude (which can be warranted based on rewards and the concept of justice and the moral beatification of atonement).  Because this person continues to sin he will always incur consequent self-atonement for each sin and if there are a[n] [potential] infinite set of sins then the duration will last without end as well.  Self-atonement without beatification (because this person chose to atone for his own sin) will be eternal by the successive addition of sins.  Sins imply punishment, so an infinite duration of punishment is warranted as well.

If these two quotations do not outright contradict one another, they are certainly in tension. Consider the following example. A man steals a car, is caught by the police, tried in a court of law, and found guilty. In the sentencing phase of the trial, the judge announces the following sentence: “You are guilty of theft. Since it is the policy of this court to give people what they want, therefore, your punishment is that you get to keep the stolen car.” That doesn’t sound like a punishment to me.
Andrews may reply that this analogy is flawed. Since the car is stolen property, a law-abiding judge cannot let the thief have it. Of course, that reply raises its own problem for Hell1 proponents like Andrews: it means that the Christian God cannot consistently give the unsaved what they want. But let’s put that issue aside and rewind to the judge’s sentence. Suppose, instead, the judge says this. “You are guilty of theft. I am a really cool guy. Since it is the policy of this court not to let criminals like you hang out with me, therefore, your punishment is that I am going to shun you. You are eternally forbidden to hang out with me.” The problem with this, however, is that it doesn’t seem like a punishment. Most, if not all, criminals have no desire to hang out with judges. Hell1 faces essentially the same problem. Andrews suggests that the unsaved have no desire to spend eternity with God. If all Hell1 consists of is God giving  people what they want, this sounds like no punishment at all. Indeed, on Andrews’ logic, if God wanted to punish the unsaved, one might expect Him to do the opposite of Hell1 and send the unsaved to Heaven! (They wouldn’t be getting what they want, so it would be a punishment.)
Let’s turn now to my second question, is the doctrine of Hell1 fair? The first step is answering this question is to notice that something can be bad even if it is not a punishment. For example, suppose for the sake of argument that a man gets cancer and the cancer is not in any way linked to any behavior one might consider immoral. It’s just the result of a freak genetic mutation. Along the same lines, Hell1 could be bad for the people inside Hell1, even if Hell1 is not a punishment.
The second step is to notice that Hell1 is, in fact, supposed to be bad for the people who are in Hell1. On the assumption that Christian theism is true, it is hard to even imagine how it could fail to be the case that being in Hell1 would be bad. If for no other reason, people in Hell1 are missing out on the opportunity to experience God, which is a good thing by definition.
The third step is to notice that, on Andrews’ view, God interferes with or “arranges” the world in a way that decreases moral accountability.

I hold to an infralapsarian view of salvation. Under this view, God elects all individuals who would freely cease to resist his saving grace.  God will so arrange the world, via strong and weak actualizations, to bring about a person’s experiences and circumstances in which they would freely refrain from rejecting God.  With this understanding of election, God is both sovereign in actualizing salvation and permissive in allowing the reprobates to go their own way.

Just as we saw with Andrews’ flawed reply to the “coarse-tuning evidence,” once again Andrews writes as if the Christian God isn’t omnipotent. God can arrange the world so that some people freely refrain from rejecting God, but not all people. How convenient! In fairness, I admit that, at one level, there is some plausibility to the idea that some people are “bad apples” and maybe there is no set of experiences or circumstances that would lead them to freely refrain from rejecting God. But, at a deeper level, that idea overlooks the fact that we are talking about the Christian God, not a human parent. If Christianity is true, then God created all humans with the personalities that they have. God created altruists like Gandhi and Mother Theresa, but He also created psychopaths like Ted Bundy. The point here is not that personality is fixed at birth for all people–though in the cases of some people, like psychopaths, they may be. The point is that if Christian theism is true, God created the whole system. He could have created everyone with  altruistic personalities, but he didn’t. That is why Hell1, as a bad thing, is unfair.