Hell and Possible Worlds

| | Comments (9)

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.


This article appeared in December 2012's edition of the Christian Carnival! Readers can vote for their favorite submission here: https://groups.google.com/forum/?fromgroups=#!topic/christian-carnival-ii/51ZCxfBvioo Winner will be posted on the Christian Carnival blog on December 15.

Hi again Jeremy,

I floated past again after a few years. I was "teachable" in your "hardened heart" thread.

It does seem slightly amazing you have thought about these things so long, and noticed so accurately the problems of the settled views and still don't prefer the open view.

Anyway, you are exactly right. Even if open theism might not solve the problem of evil, it is the view that gets us passed the blatant difficulty of God knowing an individual is going to hell before that person is born.

Now for me, whether or not I can solve everything about the problem of evil to my personal satisfaction is not very important. It is important to me that I can interact with a Loving Savior who did not settle the issue of who is going to heaven and who is going to hell before the foundation of the earth.

I don't see the argument. If God, knowing everything I will do, think, desire, and so on can on that basis condemn me to hell, way ahead of time, I just have no idea why that's supposed to be a problem. The mere fact that it's ahead of time isn't the issue. The issue is whether it's based on genuine facts about me. It would be arbitrary if there's nothing that it's based on. But if it's based on whether I have a genuine conversion and so on, then there's no moral issue. So how does mere foreknowledge play any role in any moral criticism of what God does? There are further issues that come up with Calvinism compared with other views where God has exhaustive foreknowledge, but I'm not going to focus on those here, since this is open theism vs. its competitors. I see no reason to think open theism has an advantage over its competitors in general on this issue.

My answer depends on what you mean by foreknowledge. You used the adjective "mere."

If you are referring to simple foreknowledge, in which God can see what is going to happen but cannot change it in any way, then maybe it is not a moral issue. If that is the foreknowledge you are speaking about then I would comment this foreknowledge seems useless. I would also point out that God claims to be Eternal and I much prefer to speak of Him that way then say he is Atemporal, which is something he does not claim to be. And of course I would have to point out how illogical it is that what we think is future already exists. A child would rightly say about this whole simple foreknowledge concept, "It is all very boring and why doesn't God just fast forward?"

But you are probably talking about some sort of foreknowledge which is not so mere or simple. In that case we may be able to find a moral issue.

So what sort of foreknowledge where you thinking of? Do you think my comments on mere foreknowledge are mistaken or were you referring to a more complex foreknowledge, in which God can see "what would happen" and then make some adjustments and then see "what would happen" again?

and btw, have a Happy New Year!

Well, there are two issues here. One is the reality of the future. I think you have the whole of science standing against you on that one. Presentism is at odds with our best physics. I consider that completely decisive. There's no way to make sense of a privileged present, because what is present is entirely dependent on frame of reference, and there's no privileged frame of reference. There's no way what's real can depend on which frame of reference you happen to be in. There are a lot of other problems with denying the reality of times we happen not to be at, but that's about as decisive as you can get for a philosophical argument.

The other issue is the moral question, and I think you're assuming a bunch of things here that I wouldn't grant. One is that we probably have completely different views on what is required for moral responsibility, and I think I'm morally responsible as long as I'm acting based on elements of my own character, decisions arrived at through my own process of deliberation, emotions and beliefs that I accept and own from a first-person point-of- view, and so on. As long as my reasons for doing what I do are my own, then I am responsible for what I do. This is the view of Augustine and Descartes, who were libertarians, and Leibniz and Jonathan Edwards, who were compatibilists.

One question you could raise against this view is that such choices are not free, but that doesn't seem to be your objection. You might disagree with me on that, but I don't think most libertarians would. They might disagree on the root metaphysics of what's going on, but they wouldn't require arbitrary choices for no reason at all, like the Epicurean swerving atom. They expect that freedom is at least compatible with having reasons for action, reasons that can be reliably predicted, even if some will insist that there's always a small chance for someone to choose differently. Augustine's main argument in favor of foreknowledge is that God could predict based on the reasons people would have for acting, in a way that doesn't interfere with their freedom. And that would make an exhaustive providential plan compatible with human freedom.

What you seem to be raising is a different problem, however. It's a problem of evil. The idea, if I'm taking you correctly, is that it's wrong for God to place someone in a situation that God knows will lead to their making choices that end up with them in hell. Even assuming freedom compatible with exhaustive providence, it would not be right to put someone in a position where they, in their completely moral responsibility, choose to be a way that leads them to end up in hell. So it's not questioning their moral responsibility. It's rather insisting that God is also morally responsibility, even if they are too.

If that's right, then I would simply respond the way people have traditionally responded to problems of evil in general. The argument assumes that the most important moral responsibility God could have is to keep people out of hell. It doesn't assume just that there's a moral bad if people go to hell. Both sides of this debate can accept that (although I would argue that maybe we shouldn't, if justice is a good thing, and people in hell are justly there). Even if we accept that it's a moral bad for someone to end up in hell, why should we think that that makes it wrong for God to do something deliberately that allows someone to be there? We don't think it's morally wrong in general to allow moral bads. There are often bad things that happen, and sometimes we have an indication of why it's better for God to allow it, and sometimes we don't. We might have some indications here, and we might not. But this is just a particular case of the problem of evil, and I don't see why the general sorts of things people say about that wouldn't apply.

In particular, a common theodicy for hell is that there is a good in sparing people from hell, and it needs to be a genuine threat for that good to be achieved. If it's a high enough good, and it can't be had without some people justly and deservedly going to hell and achieving the good of just punishment for their evil, then it's not wrong for God to allow it, even if there's also a bad to it. It might well be that for an entire world to give a large enough group of people the freedom (and I think this can be said with either model of freedom) to repent, it wouldn't happen without a genuine chance, and indeed the genuine reality, of people not all responding. Plantinga's trans-world depravity is a weird way of making a point like this, but there are other ways to do it without such controversial assumptions.

Overall, I would make the agnostic or skeptical point that we're not in a position to know the most important intrinsic goods, the details of which sorts of intrinsic goods can be had without certain intrinsic bads also appearing, and what sort of level of good on a large scale could be put together with the traditional models of providence without requiring certain levels of bad. I can imagine explanations like the ones in the previous paragraph being correct, but I'm not in a position to know if any one ever given is correct unless I see it in scripture (and I do think there are at least hints of some of that in there). But I'm also not in a position to know if any of them is false unless I see it in scripture or whether some other explanation I just haven't thought of is true. And that leads me to be very skeptical of problems of evil in general, this one included. I'm not the sort of being who would be well-placed to evaluate theodicies or even to think up the ones most likely to be true. This is the main reason that I've never found the problem of evil very bothersome, and problems related to hell, including hell in a universe with exhaustive divine providence, is simply an instance of a problem of evil. So that's the most basic reason why I've never found these problems very troubling.

It seems you may be answering:

It does seem slightly amazing you have thought about these things so long, and noticed so accurately the problems of the settled views and still don't prefer the open view.

from my first comment (the second in this thread).

It also seems like you have not chosen to give me any answer to my second comment (the post before this one).

I would have preferred an answer to my questions in the second last paragraph.

For the record:

1. I have not claimed to agree with presentism and I have not given you any indication about how much I have studied physics or the theory of relativity.

2. I have not entered into a discussion about moral responsibility with you so you have little idea about what I might believe in this regard.

3. While the problem of evil exists, you have misrepresented how I would describe it.

I almost wish you could just wipe out your last comment, as well as this present comment, as anyone who might want to read this thread in the future is likely to get lose interest with this lack of dialogue.

Maybe you felt my previous post was off the topic too. I felt you had mentioned foreknowledge and that subject relates to Calvinism, Arminianism and Open Theism which had all been mentioned previously.

From wikipedia:
A straw man is a type of argument and is an informal fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent's position.[3] To "attack a straw man" is to create the illusion of having refuted a proposition by replacing it with a superficially similar yet unequivalent proposition (the "straw man"), and to refute it, without ever having actually refuted the original position.

Let me explain what I think I've said in response to your questions.

I answered the foreknowledge question by explaining why I think it doesn't matter. I explained why I think the "more than mere" foreknowledge view with exhaustive providence does not have the problematic consequences that many people think it has. It took some background to get there, but I'm not sure why you think that's a problem.

I gave my reasons why I disagree with your view that the future is not real. I'm not sure why you find that inappropriate. You did express skepticism about the reality of the future. Any metaphysical picture with no reality to the future has the problems metaphysicians have presented for presentism, so the argument against presentism applies even if you have a different theory of time that has no reality to the future, since the argument is not so much against presentism but against denying the reality of the future. So I'm not sure how denying presentism gets you out of it unless you're going to affirm the reality of the future, which is precisely what you were expressing skepticism about. So I'm not at all sure what your complaint is here.

If you think there are particular arguments that I haven't addressed (or that what I've said wouldn't go any way toward addressing), feel free to present them.

Similarly, if you think your particular view is different enough from what I've been discussing that makes you think I've misrepresented it, feel free to explain why you think that.

I'm happy to look at particulars. General complaints don't help forward the conversation very much, because I'm left guessing what specifically you're complaining about.

I quote from your post:
There's no way to make sense of a privileged present, because what is present is entirely dependent on frame of reference, and there's no privileged frame of reference.


There are some observational frames of reference which are better than others. When God documents events for us, we assume he is using an observational frame of reference which is accurate enough for us to consider it truthful.

For example, God could observe the construction of Solomon's Temple from an observational frame of reference in outer space, 900 light years away from the earth. There is nothing we know about God which would limit him from doing this. He could also observe the destruction of Solomon's temple from an observational frame of reference at the construction site when this occurred around 587 BC.

We understand God is truthful in his documentation of events and would not, as a result of these two observations, inform us the destruction of the temple took place first, and the construction took place afterwards.

Best science, if you want to call it that, allows us to observe a series of events and often we can document the order of events. We are able to use observational frames of reference to accurately observe many of these orders of events. Yes, we understand from a philosophical point of view that there is always a degree of error in our observations, but this can usually be measured sufficiently so we can make some truth statements.

Furthermore, we recognize that because of the distance between the observers position and the original event, all our observations are made after an event occurred. There is a distinction between the past and the future. We have observed past events; we have not observed future events.

We can, however, predict future events on the basis of observations of past events and concepts we have learned through repeated observation. However, there is a distinction between predicting future events and observing future events.

So whatever you are trying to allude to by your denial of a privileged present, the fact remains there are events which are happening at certain times, and God is able to tell us when they happened if he so desired. He has made us in his image, and one result of that seems to be that we can also document events with enough accuracy so they can also be considered truthful. As a result, there are times when we say true things.

So please tell me a little more about these issues you have with the present, the past and the future. One almost gets the impression you want to play around with observational frames of reference so much that the future could become the past.

Just coming back to this. I have to confess that I'm not sure what your objection even is. If it's not what I've responded to, then I don't know what you're saying against what I've said. Your last comment doesn't seem to me to disagree with anything I believe, except I don't see where the last sentence is coming from.

Leave a comment


    The Parablemen are: , , and .

    Twitter: @TheParableMan



Fiction I've Finished Recently

Non-Fiction I've Finished Recently