April 22, 2011

  • (argument map) The Dubious Doctrine of Hell

    Intro:

    [Please, note that updates to this map will be posted here: "(argument map) The doctrine of hell is unjust."]

    So last week I was listening to Alpha & Omega Ministries’ James White give his very Christian thoughts on the William Lane Craig vs. Sam Harris debate.  White presented a number of amazing misrepresentations of Harris’ views, made huge accusations against Harris’ character based on circumstantial evidence, and gave many standard “not my religion” objections to what he called Harris’ “red herring” rebuttals in the debate.  This isn’t just “off topic” for White, but also even if it were the topic White wants to think Harris has misrepresented various aspects of Christian doctrine (not all are covered here though). 

    So this inspired me to revisit my old post, “The Dubious Doctrine of Hell” and generate a comprehensive argument map with some updated arguments (Actually, I did the vast majority of it from memory, but it parallels the content from that post and I double checked some things to make sure I remembered my talking points).


    Anyway, the basic premise is that the doctrine of hell is a punishment that does not fit the crime no matter how you cut the cake.  Christians preach a just god and hence their moral paradigm and their worldview are incoherent.  Most Christians if they accepted that conclusion would not remain Christian even though technically speaking, there could still exist an extremely powerful unjust god or forfeit Biblical inerrancy or something.  I state that argument in the “popular” sense so that all the cliche’ responses to it from Christians can “correct” the argument and then I can show how those “corrections” don’t amount to anything more than quibbling. 

    Enjoy:


    Feel free to update me with more of those delightful nuances (or spelling corrections, etc.) in the comments.  There will be no “not my religion” excuses, but I’m sure there’s more twists and turns to add.

    I really like the longest tangent there that cuts through the majority of the map since the end summary basically gets to add up a long list of improbable, unproven, and suspiciously ad hoc excuses that it would take to make the doctrine of hell morally plausible.  Basically god’s perfection and goodness amount to his omnnipotent arms being mysteriously tied behind his immaterial back.  My old post is an extremely long and thorough reaming of the doctrine from every conceivable angle I could think of at the time.  I recall being baffled at many of the things various Christians were offering up in defense and I even took an informal poll at work to find out if it was true that people would really value eternal torment over non-existence.  Sometimes it really seems like Christians will gnaw off their own philosophical foot like a wolf caught in a trap before they’ll doubt their religion.  As far as Biblical arguments from evil go, the doctrine of hell is probably the biggest thorn in the side of mainstream Christian culture from a PR perspective and merits rigorous articulation to nail all that defensive apologetic Jell-O to the wall. 


    Outro:

    There are two “link nodes” on the map (“Does the Bible teach eternal suffering for the unsaved?” and “Is it easy to be saved?“) that have been posted.  There are six links to other maps that I’ll get around to posting eventually. 

    Ben

Comments (22)

  • Ben, you are incorrectly assuming that an eternal punishment (how long the punishment lasts) is an infinite punishment (how much punishment is inflicted). Consider an asymptotic function (e.g., f(x)=1/(1+x^2)). The integral of this function approaches a finite number even as x continues on to infinity. Therefore, it is possible for a sinner to deserve a finite amount of punishment and to receive that finite punishment over an infinite duration.

  • @Jayman777 - So you are saying that the mildest “punishments” are spread out over all eternity, like paying back a million dollars a penny a day?

  • @WAR_ON_ERROR - perhaps a better way to put it would be that you pay off half of your one million dollar debt each day. In this case you would approach, but never reach, paying off the one million dollars. Personally I am a universalist (the unsaved get punished for a finite period of time) but I see no reason why a punishment of infinite duration is necessarily unjust.

  • @Jayman777 - Is that how you’d like to see credit card companies run?  I doubt it.

  • @WAR_ON_ERROR - it would make no practical difference to me whether I had to pay a credit card company exactly one million dollars or whether I had to pay them virtually, but not exactly, one million dollars. But this is irrelevant. You need an infinite amount of punishment for a finite amount of sin for your argument to work.

  • @Jayman777 - Maybe I’m not following your argument exactly, but it seems to me you are saying that a finite punishment can be inflicted over an infinite amount of time in ever diminishing amounts, Zeno’s paradox like.  But this is indistinguishable from universalism since basically hell wears off and it would get down to such minimal “punishment” that it wouldn’t be noticeable.  Or…if the threshold is maintained forever above a line of tolerance, then that’s definitely an eternity of punishment no one could ever have hoped to earn in this life.  

  • @WAR_ON_ERROR -

    “Maybe I’m not following your argument exactly, but it seems to me you are saying that a finite punishment can be inflicted over an infinite amount of time in ever diminishing amounts, Zeno’s paradox like.”

    That is correct.

    “But this is indistinguishable from universalism since basically hell wears off and it would get down to such minimal ‘punishment’ that it wouldn’t be noticeable.”

    Universalism would entail full reconciliation with God, not the mere absence of punishment.

  • @WAR_ON_ERROR - Isn’t it the way the prison system is run?

  • You’re ignoring the flipside of the paradigm. The rewards are not in line with the accomplishments/ obedience either. In a binary system like that the shades of grey reduce to absolute black and white. 

  • Errors in the order which they appear, reading from top to bottom, left to right, and from the center outwards, if that makes any sense to you.

    “I find it hard to believe that a god can be infinitely hurt or offended by a mere act of rejection from an unworthy being.” There are a few issues with this one, the least of which being that any parent can feel deeply impacting emotions in response to rejection from their own children and vice versa. Let’s pull it out a step though, where would you begin to form a basis for your beliefs about a god, their motivations, their psychological make up, etc? 

    Also, “Since when is the human mind even capable of such mental feats of infinite magnitude?” It is my understanding that in this scenario it is the interpretation of an action or belief that deals with infinity and not the actions or beliefs themselves. Sin is defined by heavenly mandate. It is in the palms of a deity that each decision is weighed, not on the mind of a mortal. 

    “Who are you to judge God?” Is sort of a valid question. In a recent discussion about the natural born citizen clause I had to pose a question of qualification. The common man is unfit to properly interpret the constitution from a legal perspecctive. That’s why we have the supreme court. A single person judging a constitutional matter may be correct or incorrect but they have neither the authority, nor likely the knowledge, to do so definitively. Now, I don’t know about you but I’d be intimidated with someone such as Stephen Hawking or Albert Einstein standing in front of me at a cocktail party and they are well within the bounds of human physiology and psychology. I’m not ever sure where I’d begin to find a justification for my personal ability to evaluate the decisions of a being that is omniscient OR so intelligent and knowledgable above and beyond the scope of humanity as to appear omniscient. I have trouble believing that you would either. 

    “Even if it was easy to be saved, that wouldn’t justify punishments not fitting the crime.” Well, without referencing another response, Where would you begin when deciding what crimes fit what punishments? As it stands, with humanity sort of pulling the answers out of our collective backsides and then comparing notes and reconcilling them into law, we still don’t agree. Do murderers deserve to die or live their life in prison? Do people that use marijuana deserve prison time, a fine, or no punishment at all? Stating that a punishment fits a crime insists that there is a golden standard from which to deviate. I know of no such standard. Even the most reasonable analysis of prison, in this country, 

    Which brings us quite smoothly into “That is unprincipled internal coherency as though a mere statement affirming the opposite of a logical contradiction makes the contradiction go away.” Actually, it cannot be said that it doesn’t rest on similar principles as the system we have in place now. At the root cause of every moral sprouting from thin air or being pulled cleanly from someone’s behind is an emotional response to an event. This event can be in reality or in their head (a reaction to a bit of information or an imagined occurrence). A thing is wrong because of effect a, which is undesirable because it evokes a negative emotion or spawns a situation which will evoke a negative emotion or denial of a positive physical or emotional state. I sense a healthy rebuttal to this one so let me know if you have something. 

    “Hell cannot be merely the equivolent of just not being acquainted the Christian god in person with no torturous strings attached since it is constantly and vividly portrayed as eternal torment.” Not so! =) Torture can be a state of mind just as easily as it can be a state of being and the denial of something highly desirable can be torturous. We could start with a limited example of having something that is rewarding, amazing sex for example, and then being denied it for an incredibly long period of time. Problem with such an example, and it applies equally to drugs and any equivalent example, is that the discomfort experienced may be the sole result of the physical changes that occur. People on drugs go through withdrawal which is an actual physical state. People that don’t have sex .. eh too complicated for this discussion when I’m throwing it in a box with off-answers anyway. Now, a good example is coveting something (a person, a place, a thing, a state of being, a feeling) and being unable to possess it and having an emotional reaction to that created solely by the absence of that thing. Worse than that, coveting something that is just slightly out of reach. Worse than that, coveting soemthing that i just slightly out of reach that is of incredible value to you. Like sitting outside of the gates of heaven watching everyone rub shoulders with the big guy for eternity. That would be a self-created state and the vividness with which such a state may be portrayed, well I refer you back to the drugs. Many people use creative language to refer to the desire to resume drug use (or nicotine use, or alcohol abuse, or any other addiciton). They describe scenarios which are clearly only in their head but are compelling, vivid and tormenting. Demons, ‘they just keep calling me’, getting the itch, etc, etc. 

    “Nobody should be allowed to “choose” this state in any event. It’s an inhumane option.” That is the beauty of free will. Just as people are free to say things that are horrifically offensive, untrue, or that have effects on others that can only be described as evil (manson, hitler) they are still allowed to say these things (within the legal bounds of course). Free will works in much the same way. Perhaps nobody should be allowed to slide the barrel of a loaded weapon into their mouth and squeeze the trigger with their toe until their thoughts ooze slowly down the ugly appolstered walls. Then again “should” is kind of a big word for a discussion of this sort. Where is this “should” coming from? 

    “The Christian god is responsible for organizing the metaphysics of the afterlife. If “torment” is the “natural” result of choosing to not be in communion with that god, that’s still mostly that god’s fault.” I wouldn’t say that’s so at all. Building a prison and a college next to eachother does not gaurantee that either will have people sitting in them. It is still the choices of individuals that will land them in one or the other. Knowing that someone will make a certain choice that will land them in either is not the same as dictating that choice, even for someone that’s omnipotent, and even for that omnipotent being to have set up the system. Knowing and controlling are not the same. Building the jail does not an inmate make. Free will comes with responsibility over choices and actions. 

    “A clayvoyant rapist who knows exactly where to hide when a woman trips and falls landing her vagina directly on his penis is still guilty of rape… even if that woman was attempting to rob the place.” Legally, that’s simply not true unless after that initial accidental penetration, she protested and he continued. I mean, I see where you’re going with this.. it just doesn’t fit the definition of the word you’re trying to use for it. Moreover, if you take an action you take responsibility for hte parts of that action of which you are responsible. If you tripped and fell on someone you’d apologize. Why? Because, unless someone else tripped you, it’s your fault. To make this more realistic let’s evaluate a more human example. A guy knows (or for the purposes of this example has good reason to suspect) that a certain woman, when intoxicated or in a particular emotional or physical state, is extremely receptive to sexual advances and though she may not really want sex she won’t say no to it at these particular times. If she places herself in such a situation where her receptivity is unusually high and, where the guy represents a natural or inevitable process or result of an action, the guy takes advantage of that, who is responsible for the ensuing sex? Well, this happens to be a two person example so both people would be but as I said, let the guy represent a natural or inevitable process. This leaves one person to shoulder the burden of the responsibility present, especially if they had foreknowledge or good reason to believe that the results would follow the set of actions they chose to pursue. If she knows she can’t say no to sex when she’s drunk and she goes to a party where guys are posing sexual advances and she gets drunk it’s  not entirely unreasonable to think that she knows she’s going to wake up the next morning with a sore vagina and a throbbing head in someone else’s bed. It also isn’t unreasonable to believe that it wouldn’t have happened had she not drank. Responsibility. =)

    “What’s the practical difference if the end result is senseless eternal suffering of one kind or another?” I’m going to assume the statement that follows this has been used in an actual argument. In any event, that’s a complex question fallacy. 

    “The Christian system of “if you’ve broken even one law even a little, you’ve broken them all” is about as sane as having a gas gauge that reads empty if even on drop has been combusted.” That’s entirely incorrect. It’s more like having a gas tank with a single drop of gas that reads empty no matter what type of gas that single drop is. If it’s regular and it burns out you’re on empty. if it’s silver and it burns out, you’re on empty. If it’s rocket fuel and it burns out, you’re on empty lol. It wouldn’t matter what type of gas, would it? I think I’d more compare it to a police service examination. If you fail the psych test, you can’t be a cop. If you can’t fire your firearm you can’t be a [real] cop. If you fail the fitness exam, you can’t be a cop. if you have a record, you can’t be a cop. You have to pass all of them or you fail entirely. Alternately, consider genetics. Mis-code even part of the human genetic sequence even a little and you have a pig. 

    “Mercy kills: Allowing this farce to go on forever is cruel and unbefitting of a morally perfect being who would have the sense to put their poor ever-sinning creature out of its self-perpetatuted misery.” Mercy has an emotional basis, not a logical one. That point aside, punishment doesn’t end until it’s over. Just because someone is losing their marbles in a lifetime sentence over a quadrupple homocide doesn’t mean they get out for it, no matter how much you love them and have the power to change it. 

    “If this were the case, it is implausible that a good god woudl create so many infant human souls which he knew oculdn’t be destroyed and would never develop to spiritual maturity since so many die before they are even born.” Source material for timeline of spiritual maturation in-utero and after birth?

    “If created beings are contingent (according to many Christian philosophers) then why can’t contingent beings be undone?” Not 100% on this but aren’t we promised eternal life? Would God break his own word? 

    “It is already possible for humans to have non-experiences where no memories of anything are being recorded in addition to experiencing a bare minimum of awareness.” You’re talking about physical conditions, not spiritual ones. We can’t exactly speculate on spiritual states but as you covered, inadequately, in the counter-point, sinners would get away with their crimes. Again, trying not to reference earlier responses but binary system. Personally, I think any other system is fairly inefficient. It saves time and, if resources were a concern, it would save resources. Imagine if every crime had the punishment of death. Courts would never get backed up. Prisons wouldn’t be draining tax money. I’m also fairly certain that it would be a pretty major deterrent to crime. Anyway, I kinda figure that existence on a spiritual plane would constitute awareness without the corporeal aspects of life that we observe. That said, who says that any sort of state of non-awareness would be possible without it constituting non-existence altogether? I think therefore I am. I do not think therefore I am not. Inverse and all that jazz. 

    “The logical problem of evil.” There is none.  Read Plantiga. 

    “Ironically, only this god would deserve this punishment for giving out this punishment unjustifiably.” See what I mean about determining punishments? To you that makes some modicum of sense in the sense that it would be giving him a dose of his own medicine, retribution being one of the finer points of western thought, but is there an actual justification for that? Evaluate that question after responding to the rest of my concerns. 

    I was reading an article on what cosntitutes a mary sue earlier. It was saying something about constructing stories where you have characters that lack depth as opponents to the author’s favorite character as a way of creating strawmen for their character to beat up in arguments. I’m certain that there are more complex and intellectual responses out there then what you’ve typed up here, mostly because i feel I brought at least a few to bear. 

  • There is a little something that I fail to see in reasoning like this. I agree that most, if not all the arguments people produce in favor of a Christian god are easy to refute and there is no evidence that that god exists.

    You know, I was going to say more, but my brain suddenly fizzled. Long day.

    Suffice it to say, I enjoyed your flow chart and post, but had some things about it I didn’t agree with. I can’t remember what those were, though. So goes life.

  • @Jayman777 - It sounds like false advertising to me if the torment wears off.  As I recall from physics class all our atoms tug ever so gently on all the other atoms in the universe.  But we don’t find it meaningful to say that I’m assaulting someone in Asia when I shadow box in my room.  

    It may not be universalism, but it is basically dovetails into a neutral zone (which is an alternative I offered in my original post on this topic) we seem to find negated by the strong language of the Bible.  Banking on that technicality seems like politician talk and not a reasonable defense of the doctrine.  I’m not saying you are doing so dishonestly, but it doesn’t seem to be an honest argument I would feel comfortable getting behind given the set up of factors.

    Ben

  • @striemmy - Your first comment refers to a comment of mine that misunderstood jayman777′s argument.  At first glance I thought he meant that it would be okay for credit card companies to charge you half your debt every day forever and that somehow it would reset every day and that would be okay.  But that’s not what he meant.

  • @striemmy - I don’t really understand what your second comment is referring to.

  • @striemmy - Thanks for all of the interactions!  I will incorporate many of them into future versions of the map.

  • @Mangonese - Thanks for stopping by!

  • @WAR_ON_ERROR - I was saying that the rewards seem inappropriate as well. Getting something forever for a limited period of effort seems as ill a fit as eternal punishment for whatever you get eternal punishment for. My meaning was simply that it’s a system with only two options, like two sink holes side by side, and no matter how close you are to being on one side, as long as you’re still on the other that’s the sink hole you’ll be swept up into because that’s how binary systems work. Close isn’t close enough. It doesn’t matter how almost saved you were if you weren’t saved and it doesn’t matter how almost damned you were if you werent’ damned. 

  • @striemmy - Ah…that’s what I thought you might have meant.  I agree.  That sentiment invalidates the entire Christian afterlife though instead of justifying a punishment that doesn’t fit the crime.  

  • @WAR_ON_ERROR -

    “It sounds like false advertising to me if the torment wears off.”

    It decreases in intensity but does not fully wear off.

    “It may not be universalism, but it is basically dovetails into a neutral zone (which is an alternative I offered in my original post on this topic) we seem to find negated by the strong language of the Bible.”

    The Bible does not go into detail about the specifics of post-mortem punishments. Most of the descriptions employ stock imagery. Such a belief is compatible with the Bible’s descriptions (though not explicitly stated).

    “Banking on that technicality seems like politician talk and not a reasonable defense of the doctrine.”

    If you believe (1) that punishment is of eternal duration, (2) God is just, and (3) justice demands a finite amount of punishment, then it is not a technicality but rather a logical deduction. Regardless, it still means your argument is technically wrong.

    “I’m not saying you are doing so dishonestly”

    It isn’t my actual position. I could employ this type of argument in arguing for universalism (my actual position) but I will no longer do so because it is a bad argument.

  • @striemmy - I’ve updated the map and tried to make it easier to follow along.  I’ve moved everything to one side and labeled the original objections with numbers so that each tangent has an easy reference starting place.

    Thanks again for so much interaction.

    First note, that the map nodes that are blue-ish/purple and have a triangle with three dots on each point are links in the Compendium software to other elaborate maps that will be posted later (Otherwise, they will look like mere assertions on the current map.). 

    For example:  ”"The logical problem of evil.” There is none.  Read Plantiga.” 

    That’s a map.  The old version is here:  http://war-on-error.xanga.com/729605125/argument-map-the-logical-problem-of-evil-updated-version-9/ and I know I’ve dealt with Plantinga’s objections.  I have a cleaned up version that I will post soon enough.

    I’ve made sure that each issue is “tied off” on the map in each case though.

    The following are issues you brought up that I need some clarification on or that I want to point out are already addressed in some way:

    “Actually, it cannot be said that it doesn’t rest on similar principles as the system we have in place now. At the root cause of every moral sprouting from thin air or being pulled cleanly from someone’s behind is an emotional response to an event. This event can be in reality or in their head (a reaction to a bit of information or an imagined occurrence). A thing is wrong because of effect a, which is undesirable because it evokes a negative emotion or spawns a situation which will evoke a negative emotion or denial of a positive physical or emotional state. I sense a healthy rebuttal to this one so let me know if you have something.”

    And:

    “Then again “should” is kind of a big word for a discussion of this sort. Where is this “should” coming from?”

    This issue is represented by the “Naturalistic moral realism?” map node and is unnecessary as the current map points out.

    “Torture can be a state of mind just as easily as it can be a state of being and the denial of something highly desirable can be torturous. We could start with a limited example of having something that is rewarding, amazing sex for example, and then being denied it for an incredibly long period of time.”

    This is already covered in the trail from Objection 2 in the “doesn’t know what you are missing” part. I may try to make that a little more clear.

    “Legally, that’s simply not true unless after that initial accidental penetration, she protested and he continued. I mean, I see where you’re going with this.. it just doesn’t fit the definition of the word you’re trying to use for it.”

    There is a “Rape apologetics?” map node link that isn’t a necessary aspect of this map, but I’ve covered the issues anyway on another map I can post later.

    “”What’s the practical difference if the end result is senseless eternal suffering of one kind or another?” I’m going to assume the statement that follows this has been used in an actual argument. In any event, that’s a complex question fallacy.” 

    Do you mean this: “People continue to sin in hell and thus continue to earn their neverending suffering.”  If that’s what you are referring to, then yes: a Christian named EthanSudman on xanga made this argument to me a few years ago and I’ve seen it in “official” apologetics as well. 

    I’m not really sure what you are getting at though with your fallacy label.  Please explain how it applies?

    “It’s more like having a gas tank with a single drop of gas that reads empty no matter what type of gas that single drop is.”

    Your three counter-examples are on another map:”Total Depravity: Being morally imperfect can’t mean you are entirely evil unless you are *actually* entirely evil.”

    “Source material for timeline of spiritual maturation in-utero and after birth?”

    I’m not sure what you are requesting here.  Perhaps this:  

    http://richardcarrier.blogspot.com/2007/11/god-still-kills-mommy.html

    Otherwise I’m assuming that Christians that believe the spiritual life begins at conception have a lot of stunted spiritual lives to deal with.

    “I’m certain that there are more complex and intellectual responses out there then what you’ve typed up here, mostly because i feel I brought at least a few to bear.” 

    This map isn’t complex enough for you?  That’s good to know since I was worried it would turn a lot of people off due to its complexity.  ;)  It’s a work in progress, my blog door’s always open, and all your points (other than the ones I need clarification on here) are on the map.  Many of the quotes are actual quotes (or are somewhat adjusted to fit) from apologetic writings from William Lane Craig, Peter Kreeft, Dinesh D’Souza, and others.  

    “but as you covered, inadequately, in the counter-point, sinners would get away with their crimes.” 

    You are free to re-word certain responses if you feel they are straw-men.  That’s fair game as far as I’m concerned.  I will work with anyone to improve the quality of the map and properly represent all positions if that wasn’t already obvious.  

    Ben

  • @Jayman777 - Your comments are mapped (Objection 19).

  • @WAR_ON_ERROR - I haven’t actually given it a good look yet but I commend you on a format that immediately seems easier to respond to. 
    I was sort of wondering what those were. I was certain I had missed a legend of some sort. 

    It’s represented but not adequately addressed. The prooblem is that there is no solid standard to judge it upon and, given that, no good reason not to have an internal critique.  That’s what I was getting at. 
    Well, I’m not sure the “don’t know what they are missing” rebuttal by christians is correct, nor meaningful to the nature of the discussion (not as we’re having it but in general). Most people that are critical of these doctrines do so from a relatively informed stance. So, they have the information they just don’t believe. After death, the afterlife would be confirmation of the information and thus they would instantly know exactly what they’re missing. I’m eager to read the clarification. 
     Link later please. 

    Yeah, I was hoping that no one had actually said that. In any event, “What’s the practical difference if the end result is senseless eternal suffering of one kind or another?” constitutes a complex question because there is no way to answer it directly without affirming the position that the eternal suffering is senseless. If one says there is a practical difference then they are admitting it’s senseless. If one says that there is no practical difference then they are admitting it’s senseless. There is no fair way to answer the question directly. 
    Link please. However, from the title alone I can rebutt that the argument posed invovles a gradiation from moral perfection to moral imperfection to entirely evil that doesn’t really exist. I consider it akin to the system of law. You’re either a criminal or you’re not. If you break one law and are convicted, then you’re a convicted criminal, no matter what law it is and no matter how many laws you break in addition to it. You cannot be a non-criminal if you break any of the laws. 

    The blogspot was interesting but your response after is what I was talking about. I was wondering what would constitute a stunted spiritual life, especially when everyone must die at some point. 

    Hmmm cool. I’ll take a look and see what i can do if I see anything that I think looks strawmanish

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