Initial 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.

 

About Jeffery Jay Lowder

Jeffery Jay Lowder is President Emeritus of Internet Infidels, Inc., which he co-founded in 1995. He is also co-editor of the book, The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave.

  • Steven Carr

    ‘God passively permits individuals to go to hell because that’s what the individual chooses. ‘

    So a billion Muslims have all chosen to go to Hell?

    Does that make any sense?

    • PDH

      Plainly not. The best explanation for 1.4 billion Muslims rejecting Jesus is that they don’t think he’s the son of God. Not that deep down they recognise the enormous folly that they’ve made but are so eager to be ‘separated’ from the God to whom they’ve devoted themselves and their lives that they will reject a certain, crucial doctrine whilst broadly agreeing with much of the rest.

      I can just about imagine a few really committed masochists perhaps willingly choosing to suffer eternal damnation but it strains credulity, to put it mildly, to imagine that the majority of the world’s population are so desperate to be tortured forever that they would reject an idea they secretly believe just for a chance to experience unending punishment.

      And even in the case of those few, surely insane, people who would choose that, surely a benevolent being would recognise that they weren’t in their right minds? If a person threatens to slash their wrists we don’t just shrug our shoulders and ‘permit’ them to go through with it.

      Andrews can re-interpret the Christian afterlife however he likes but he can’t re-interpret human psychology to the extent that he would have to do to get away with that profoundly implausible response.

      • Mikegalanx

        How about Mimi Rogers in “The Rapture”? Knowing she’s condemning herself to Hell, including eternal separation from her beloved young daughter, she rejects Heaven because she considers God morally unworthy to be loved and worshipped
        (echoing JS MIll’s famous quote).

        Or, in what I thought was a quote by Buddhist scholar D.T. Suzuki but have been unable to find, that if the Christian idea of Heaven and Hell is true, the only moral choice is to enter Hell to try and ease the suffering of the damned, even if you know that is impossible.

        Plus, the argument for Hell1(at least as I’ve heard it) results in it ending up the same as Hell 2. This is not a Classical Greek type of Hel full of sad-sack ghosts, much less the milder circles of the Inferno.

        Separation from God means separation from all that is good, since God is the source of good. Thus water will not quench thirst, food will not sate hunger, there will be no warmth from the cold, nor shade from heat, no relief from any kind of pain.

        Hard to tell the difference.

        • sam

          While Roger’s character is fictional, I think Andrea Yates serves as a real life example. She drowned all 5 of her children before the “age of accountability” in order to avoid jeopardizing their souls with their adult ‘sin’.
          If memory serves, she was interviewed after incarceration & she admitted her conviction that her acts would send her to hell. In this case, she wasn’t defying a god she clearly believed in. She sacrificed her eternal soul in order that the souls of her 5 children were guaranteed to experience eternal bliss.
          Now compare her god’s sacrifice: 2+ days in hell for the salvation of all mankind (or most, some?). Clearly, a much lower cost for a much higher benefit. It’s odd how a mentally diseased human could make a greater sacrifice than her god.


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