November 2012 Archives

Hell and Possible Worlds

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Henry Imler retweeted a post today giving a defense of hell from the Arminian point of view. Randal Rauser argues that Calvinism means God isn't all-good, because in Calvinism there's no possibility of the reprobate (i.e. those predestined to hell) avoiding hell.

This strikes me as extremely odd reasoning. The idea is that Arminianism is better than Calvinism because of what happens in non-existent possible worlds, rather than having anything to say about the justice of hell in the actual world. Arminians believe that all the people going to hell have non-existent counterparts in non-existent possible worlds who didn't go to hell. Calvinists believe there are no possible worlds where those people avoid hell. So on one view you have non-existent people in non-existent worlds going to hell, and in the other view you have the same non-existent people in some (but not all) non-existent worlds not going to hell. I guess somehow the non-existent people in some of the worlds that don't exist not going to hell makes the view better than if the non-existent people were in hell in those non-existent worlds. I'm not getting it. Wouldn't be better just to argue for the justice of hell in the actual world?

That's even ignoring my huge quibble with how compatibilism is often framed as not allowing alternative possibilities. I'm perfectly fine with talking about contra-causal possibilities. If my free actions are fully explainable in terms of things in this world, I can still speak of possible worlds where things go differently because of different causes, and it's not as if it wouldn't have been me if the explanations for what I do had been different and I did different things. So why couldn't a Calvinist believe someone actually reprobate could have been elect and someone actually elect could have been reprobate? I would expect most Calvinists to say exactly that, in fact.

I also have problems with the use of James Rachels. Rachels thinks the following two cases are morally equivalent:

1. Planning out a murder, arriving on the scene, and killing the person.
2. Planning out a murder, arriving on the scene, finding them dying a preventable death, and standing their grinning watching them die.

I'm not sure how that distinction is relevant, because this is being compared to:

3.The hyper-Calvinist view where God actually delights in the person's eternal suffering itself and wants no good for them
4. The Calvinist view where God doesn't delight in the death of the wicked but has reasons for allowing the natural consequences of their wickedness to take their course in not regenerating them and letting them be wicked for eternity around other wicked people and not around God and his moderating influence. (This is not the only conception of hell, but I think it's the best one, and it has a pretty prominent proponent in Augustine.) Their own choices lead to their destruction, even if it's also true that those choices were part of God's plan. And God has motives for allowing it (just as God does on the Arminian model; you need open theism to avoid this, but open theism hardly solves the problem of evil).

Notice that 3 and 4 have contrary motivations, where 1 and 2 do not.



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