Can God Be Benevolent if He Sends Your Children to Hell? (3 of 3)

Can God Be Benevolent if He Sends Your Children to Hell? (3 of 3) November 26, 2019

What do you think about a god who would send children to hell? Let’s finish our critique of an article by William Lane Craig (WLC) in which he defends God’s honor (part 1).

On to the philosophical question

Remember that WLC said that the first question, the psychological one, was a red herring. Having stumbled through that response, he moves on to the question he says is significant, the philosophical one. Since philosophy is his discipline, you’d expect an intellectual tsunami. You’d be disappointed.

As for the philosophical question, “How can you think that is a fair and reasonable thing for anyone or anything to do?”, I’ve already alluded to the answer, and I’d refer you to my debate with Prof. Ray Bradley on this topic.

He’s spent 90 percent of his article discussing what he says is a red herring, but for the question that he admits deserves an answer, you must sit through a 75-minute debate. Maybe it’d just be easier to take his word for it.

Fortunately, I’ve already responded to his argument from that 1994 debate. If WLC won’t summarize it, I will.

WLC admitted in the debate that “God is all-loving and yet some people go to hell” sounds bad. He tried to turn the tables and argued that the atheist must show two things.

  1. If God is all powerful, then God could create a world in which everyone freely lives their life in such a way that they merit getting into heaven.
  2. If God is all loving, then he would want such a world.

He insisted that, “Both of these assumptions have to be necessarily true, in order to prove that God and hell are logically inconsistent with each other. So as long as there’s even a possibility that one of these assumptions is false, it’s possible that God is all-loving and yet some people go to hell.”

Step back and admire that message: it’s possible that God is all-loving and yet some people go to hell. Said another way, God does look like an immoral tyrant, but you can’t prove it. Yeah, that sounds like a compelling message.

Let’s return to his two points and play the game as he defined it. Christian doctrine seems to accept point 2—an all-loving God would want a world in which everyone merited heaven. In fact, WLC himself said in this article, “God’s heart breaks for the lost far more than mine does!”

So we’ll focus on point 1: could an all-powerful God create a world in which everyone freely lives such that they merit heaven? Surprisingly, God has apparently already created such a world: that world is heaven itself.

Consider two properties that heaven must have. First, people in heaven must have free will, given how vital Christians say it is. For example, Christian apologists say that God won’t step on people’s free will, and that’s why there’s so much evil in the world. They also inform us that God is a gentleman who won’t force people to love him—that would make them zombies. (For more on the bizarre uses apologists make of God’s love, go here.)

Given that Christians insist that our love of God be freely given, we can assume that free will is also mandatory in heaven. But heaven must be a lot better than just a continuation of life on earth. The secret ingredient that makes heaven work must be wisdom. Free will is a clumsy tool in the hands of imperfect humans on earth, but add perfect wisdom, and all the sinful uses of free will (robbery, rape, murder, and so on) vanish. The perfectly wise inhabitants of heaven would have the free will to commit a sin, but they’d have the wisdom to know that that would be foolish.

Conclusion: God could’ve made heaven on earth by giving us the wisdom to use free will properly. That meets the two criteria WLC set out. Therefore, “God is all loving” is indeed in conflict with “Some people go to hell.” Therefore (returning to the subject of this post series), God is indeed not benevolent when he sends your children to hell.

WLC attempts a final defense of hell

This is his conclusion.

There are no good defeaters of this doctrine [of hell], given such facts as (i) the universal reality of human evil and our profound need of forgiveness and moral cleansing, (ii) God’s holiness and justice, (iii) God’s will for universal human salvation and efforts to draw everyone freely to a saving knowledge of Himself, and (iii) human freedom.

No good defeaters? I think we’ve just seen one. But let’s look at his points.

  1. The universal reality of human evil and our profound need of forgiveness and moral cleansing. Our “need for forgiveness” and a fallen world is a Christian invention. That’s not an objective fact of our world.
  2. God’s holiness and justice. God is just pretend, and God is a Bronze Age dictator. Show us that he exists and that biblical morality rises above being merely an anthropological curiosity.
  3. God’s will for universal human salvation and efforts to draw everyone freely to a saving knowledge of Himself. Salvation is a solution to a problem (hell) that Christianity invented. I don’t need either, thanks. As for universal human salvation, remember that Yahweh was initially just the god of the Chosen People, not a source of universal salvation.
  4. Human freedom. Yes, humans like freedom. No, God is no champion of free will.

God’s one-size-fits-all hell, completely at odds with modern Western ideas of proportionate justice, is ridiculously immoral. Justifying it is a desperate attempt to justify one’s belief in the unbelievable.

More posts on hell:

A magician asked me a trick question.
I still don’t know how he did it.
— commenter Greg G.


Image from Marco Verch, CC license

"ed: Yes it does. You obviously have never read a biology textbook or books about ..."

Outrageous Kim Davis: Homophobe and Hypocrite
"Monogamy has a few different meanings but is definitely not "the scientific term for marriage." ..."

Outrageous Kim Davis: Homophobe and Hypocrite
"But on the other hand, the text presents a Creator that at least cares to ..."

Top 20 Most Damning Bible Contradictions
"Like much of history written by historians, the raw events have been organized in the ..."

Would God Want You to Tell ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • eric

    the atheist must show two things. If God is all powerful, then God could create a world in which everyone freely lives their life in such a way that they merit getting into heaven.

    According to WLC’s own Christian doctrine, God is all powerful and yet nobody merits heaven. None of us deserve it. God ‘paid the price’ for us, and that’s how we get in. So as the non-believer respondent, I’d say that it’s pretty clear that Christianity’s hell can’t be philosphically necessary based on the theology that merit is required to get into Christian heaven. WLC cannot require we show the necessity of something his theology states is unnecessary, in order to disprove his theology. So no, the atheist doesn’t have to show that.

    • Michael Neville

      the atheist must show two things. If God is all powerful


      • Rudy R

        The Christian “God’s heart breaks” according to WLC. Showing weakness is not exactly my definition of omnipotence.

        • zenmite

          How could His heart break when he already knew how everything would unfold before He even created anything at all? An omniscient god would know that by creating Adam & Eve, He was condemning billions of souls to ever-lasting torment. Yahweh was also heart-broken and sorry that he ever created mankind when he sent the flood. How can you be sorry for something you knew you were bringing about? It’s all about His own needs. Apparently, the need to be loved (freely) and praised & worshiped endlessly. In order for us to ‘freely’ love him, he had to create the possibility of us rejecting him…the tree of good and evil, letting the snake in the garden. Of course, not accepting his ‘free’ gift condemns us to eternal torture. Talk about an offer you can’t refuse!

        • Greg G.

          Instead of Adam, why not just put Jesus in the Garden? Would Jesus need a rib woman? Would Jesus Rib Woman eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil? Wouldn’t Jesus and Jesus Rib Woman already have that knowledge?

    • JustAnotherAtheist2

      Good point. I just tackled the same thing abovd and overlooked the “merit” part on my response. That said, I think my argument is salvaged by the “could”, which must be possible given Craig’s own ramblings on omnipotence, so I’m going to leave it as is.

    • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

      ‘Merit’ is mixed in due to their need to look down on *somebody*, while cloaking that disdain in some sort of virtue signaling…

  • Greg G.

    1. If God is all powerful, then God could create a world in which everyone freely lives their life in such a way that they merit getting into heaven.

    If there was an all powerful god thingy who thought free will was important, wouldn’t we be able to trace our will through all of our thought processes, preferences, memories, evolved tendencies instead of having impulses pop into our heads then have to be filtered by the expectations of society? Wouldn’t we be able to distinguish free will from the illusion of free will? Shouldn’t I be able to decide whether to lust before I find myself lusting? Anticipating your next thought is as difficult as figuring out what is the furthest thought from your mind.

  • Judaism lacks it, and it’s quite telling the OT has little in terms of an afterlife.

    That said, a literal reading of Revelation suggests no free will exists in Heaven (no sin), and other bits there suggest things are not so pretty there. Of course the problem with those arguments are the If.

  • The Jack of Sandwich

    He also seems to have forgotten to explain why “Nobody goes to hell” must mean “Everybody goes to heaven”. Or why hell has to be a horrible place.

  • Michael Neville

    The common concept of Hell as a place of everlasting torment shows the Christian god to be a sadistic bully, Infinite torture for finite sins is not just yet Christians like WLC claim that their god is just So WLC and his merrie men have to decide if their god is just or if Hell is eternal.

  • MadScientist1023

    In all of these defenses or explanations of hell, Christians always have an unspoken assumption that human’s “sinful” nature is either beyond God’s power to fix or something that humans did to ourselves. Of course, even if you take the Christian Genesis story as true, it’s clear that a sinful human nature was their God’s intent all along. If he wanted humans to be in Eden for eternity, why did he put the tree there? It doesn’t take omniscience to predict that if you put a couple of uneducated curious children who have never been taught discipline or ethics in a room with a tasty looking snack long enough, one of them is going to eat it. But their God is omniscient, so he can’t even claim ignorance or stupidity. The only logical conclusion therefore is that he intended for it to be eaten all along, yet the entire religion is built around how horrible it is a naive child ate a tasty snack she wasn’t supposed to eat.

    • The Jack of Sandwich

      Or why didn’t he ask Adam and Eve to eat from the tree, so that they would understand Good and Evil and know that disobeying God was wrong?

      • RichardSRussell

        Or ask them how to solve the Kobayashi Maru problem?

        • The Jack of Sandwich

          Nuke the ship from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure!

      • MadScientist1023

        Why did he leave the tree there? Or why not leave it on the other side of the planet? Why not make is smell so unappealing that no one would ever want to eat from it?

        You and Bob definitely hit on a big point. Why give us Free Will but not the wisdom to know how to use it in ways that wouldn’t cause harm? Especially for the two people who had no concept of right or wrong. They were two newborns who had received no parenting from anyone, living in a world where they had never encountered danger or death and had no concept of it. How could they be expected to not make a mistake, even a dangerous one? There’s a reason parents childproof their homes; kids do dangerous stuff because they don’t know any better. And the stories always make it sound like Adam and Eve had been alive less than a year before the fall.

        • The original sin idea is a mess, and the implications that it has according to Fundies are worse. Leave it at that.

        • MadScientist1023

          Why leave it at “it’s a mess”? As many fundamentalists have pointed out, it’s the bedrock of the entire religion. Without the fall of man, there’s no need for humanity to be redeemed. With no need to be redeemed, there was no reason for the crucifixion. The entire religion unravels when you pull at the loose threads surrounding the Genesis story. Which is why it’s so much fun to pester Christians about these problems.

        • That’s why they have so much “evolutionism”. No Adam and Eve means no Garden of Eden and no original sin story, even if there’s theology-fiction out there that puts that has having happened during the Big Bang with Genesis being allegorical.

          I know of one of them who loves to reinforce group beliefs to say us deserve punishment, but Jesus through His sacrifice redeemed us, etc. and it gets even infuriating to hear the same again and again.

        • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

          I know of one of them who loves to reinforce group beliefs to say us deserve punishment, but Jesus through His sacrifice redeemed us, etc. and it gets even infuriating to hear the same again and again.

          I’m thinking a comeback *might* be (if it’s SAFE to do so): “So then, according to what you just said, I don’t NEED to believe because that says I’m saved anyway WITHOUT believing?”


        • They often insist so much on that that look like Universalists. Unfortunately they aren’t.

    • If it cannot be fixed, omnipotence does also not work. Period.

  • RichardSRussell

    WLC purports to be a philosopher. I wonder how he’s viewed by academic philosophers generally. Anyone know? (I’d enjoy seeing something like the American Bar Association’s ratings of judicial candidates, but I suppose that wouldn’t be very philosophical.)

    • I can’t say for everyone, but I’ve read many atheist philosophers tearing his work to shreds.

    • Greg G.

      Here is a point WLC made that I still think is wrong.

      At , William Lane Craig says,

      “Alvin Plantinga, one of the world’s leading philosophers, has laid out two dozen or so arguments for God’s existence. Together these constitute a powerful cumulative case for the existence of God.”

      If there was one successful argument for God’s existence, Craig would cite that one. It seems to me that the cumulative weight of the failures of the two dozen or so best arguments for the existence of God is a powerful case for the non-existence of God.

      • Pofarmer

        Alvin Plantinga is one of the World’s leading philosophers according to who?

        • Greg G.

          …according to who?

          William Lane Craig, of course.

        • SocratesTheCat

          “Bend over and I’ll show you..” Chevy Chase 😉

      • Michael Murray

        WLC should gather up two dozen or so failed proofs of the Riemann Hypothesis and see if he can collect the $1 million Millennium Prize.

      • Michael Murray

        Has Plantinga really two dozen or so arguments for the existence of God ? That sounds like the usual list of suspects. I thought the last time I saw an argument by Plantinga it was heading away from “I can prove God exists” to “You can’t prove God doesn’t exist” or “It is not unreasonable to believe in God”. This kind of thing

        “It is possible that God, even being omnipotent, could not create a world with free creatures who never choose evil. Furthermore, it is possible that God, even being omnibenevolent, would desire to create a world which contains evil if moral goodness requires free moral creatures.”[39]

        To me chipping away at the arguments against God’s existence is a long way from presenting an argument God’s existence. Seems more like trying to stop the slide down the slippery slope of atheism denial.

        As you can see my deep knowledge of Plantinga is a skim through his wikipedia page. But you can’t prove that might not be enough to make a correct evaluation of his work.

      • Especially when this list is coming from the best philosopher that they’ve got.

  • RichardSRussell

    One more thing to be thankful for tomoro: There is no hell!

    Jolly holidays, everyone!

    • Greg G.

      I’m expecting a hell of a lot of leftovers.

    • Otto

      There is no hell!

      You haven’t spent Thanksgiving with my family.

    • Quinsha

      There is no hell! My southern baptist christian relatives live on the east coast and I live on the west coast. I can eat Thanksgiving dinner in peace with my spouse!

  • Perfect wisdom indeed would stop most misdeeds, however perfect conscience is another factor. You can’t harm others in possession of that. Accidents would be still possible, just no deliberate and malicious harm.

  • Brian Curtis

    Religion is a mouthwash commercial: They invent the problem, then try to sell you the cure.

    • SocratesTheCat


  • JustAnotherAtheist2

    If God is all powerful, then God could create a world in which everyone freely lives their life in such a way that they merit getting into heaven.

    Craig’s brashness is something to behold here. Given the chance, Bill would (and probably has) eagerly assert that god is powerful enough to have done just this. So what he is really saying is that the atheist must demonstrate the veracity of his own claim for him to be wrong.

    Think about that for a second. Craig is exposing the fact that his own argument is baseless conjecture while positioning this as a weakness of his opponent! And he expects to be taken seriously by anyone?

    Of course, Bill could prove me wrong easily enough. If this isn’t his claim – and, thus, in no need of atheist substantiation – then it must mean he doesn’t think god has the power to accomplish this feat.

    Which is it Dr. Craig?