Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Born for Hell Dilemma

Many thanks to Ebonmuse for his commentary on this argument.

Hell is an all-to-familiar concept for most theists. Depending on the tradition in question, human beings may be cast into that infamous lake of fire for just about any offence, from lying, to being a member of the wrong religious order, to simply eating the wrong kind of food or working on the wrong day of the week. The properties of Hell—and the punishments suffered while interred there—differ from sect to sect, but one thing remains relatively static: Hell is a place of punishment, and is reserved for those who have failed to meet whatever criteria for goodness the religion in question has laid out.

For my purposes here, I will be exploring the deity of the dominant monotheistic religions (Judaism, Islam, and Christianity): omniscient, omnipotent, perfectly good and just, and so on. I wish to present a logical argument against God having certain properties, namely either perfect justice or omniscience. Although this argument may already exist in some form out there in cyberspace, I have not yet been able to locate it. If any reader has information about this argument or one similar, I’d love to see it! All right, without further ado, allow me to present:

The Born for Hell Dilemma

A quick definition first: by ultimate fate, I am referring to the final place where the soul in question will end up, after living out its time on Earth. There are two possible answers under the monotheistic religions: in Heaven with God, or in Hell. Every soul will go to one of these places, with no exceptions. All right, let’s begin. The argument can be laid out as follows:

1. Either God knows the ultimate fate of each human soul from the moment he creates it, or he doesn’t.

2. If God knows the ultimate fate of each human soul from the moment he creates it, then he sometimes knowingly creates souls that will be sent to an eternity of torment in Hell.

3. If God does not know the ultimate fate of each human soul from the moment he creates it, then there is something that God does not know.

4. If God sometimes knowingly creates souls that will be sent to an eternity of torment in Hell, then God is not perfectly just.

5. If there is something that God does not know, then God is not omniscient.

6. So, either God is not perfectly just, or God is not omniscient.

This argument, as far as I can tell, is logically valid. However, to be assured of its soundness, I will provide a defense of the premises:

1. This premise is a simple binary: either A or not A.

2. If God possesses perfect knowledge of where any given soul he creates will end up, then he obviously knows what he’s doing when he makes that soul. Thus, he is well aware of the fact that he occasionally creates souls that, from the moment they come into existence, are doomed to Hell.

And occasionally is probably too gentle a term, if many theists are to be believed: under most versions of the monotheistic religions, the majority of people will end up in Hell; thus, if God knew what he was doing when he made those souls, then he created the majority of humans with a one-way ticket to Hell built in from the start. Some examples: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.

3. If God creates souls without knowing where they’re going to be once their Earthly lives end, then there is—perhaps obviously—some fact of which God is not aware.

4. This is the premise that I think requires the most defending, so pardon me if this section is a tad on the longer side.

What does it mean to be perfectly just? It means that in every instance, a perfectly just being will act with justice in mind. He will never punish any living thing unfairly. He will give unto each of his creations what is due to them, and nothing more or less than that. Now, suppose for a moment that God is about to create a new, Hell-bound soul. What possible reason could God have for forming this soul and placing it in the world? God knows that no matter how hard the person he’s about to make tries, that person will nevertheless be damned to eternal suffering (a fate so horrific that it’s practically impossible to justify… but that’s a different topic, and one that has been covered quite well elsewhere.)

So why make this person? Why bring into existence a being that will live on the Earth for an amount of time so short as to be inconsequential, and then be forced to suffer terrible pain for eternity? Surely it is within the scope of an omnipotent God’s power to only create souls that will end up in Heaven? Furthermore, wouldn’t a perfectly good God desire that state of affairs? God wants his creations to be with him in Heaven (John 14:2-3, KJV), and allegedly does everything he can in order to prepare his followers to go there. Why would he make a soul that had no chance of getting to Paradise?

One more thing: if God can create one soul that’s doomed to Hell and another that’s bound for Heaven, why would he ever make anything except Heaven-bound souls? Surely a good God wouldn’t want to put anyone in Hell unless he absolutely had to? So why would God ever make anything except souls that were pure enough to be worthy of redemption and eternal life?

It is not, I wish to argue, in any way just for God to perform this action. Let me explain: in order to be eligible for punishment, one has to be in command of one’s actions, and then commit an act of injustice. If a person is not acting freely, then it is unjust to punish her. If she has done nothing wrong, it is unjust to punish her. Yet through no fault of their own, certain people come into existence already marked for Hell. Their punishment is set in stone before they are able to commit any actions that might condemn them! Moreover, God made them this way! What justice is it for God to stack the deck in this manner? How could a perfectly just being commit so unjust an act as to create a soul that has no chance for redemption? If life is a test (as some believers assert), then God has already given certain people a big red F stamp before he’s even handed out the exam.

5. This premise appeals to the definition of omniscient. An omniscient being is one who knows all that is knowable. Thus, if God does not know where the souls he makes are going to end up, then he is unaware of certain knowable propositions, and thus fails to meet the requirements for omniscience.

6. This is a logically valid conclusion that follows from the premises.

I will now address a few possible objections:

“Everyone has a chance to get to Heaven / some people choose not to love or accept God / people choose to go to Hell / any other statement regarding the reasons why people are condemned to eternal suffering.”

If everyone were on a level playing field, this might be the case. But as I pointed out, a God with the knowledge of where each soul ends up is a God who is rigging the game. God creates souls that, no matter what they might do, will wind up in Hell. They have no chance at redemption, because God knows where they’re going as soon as he brings them into existence. And thus God is committing an injustice that no human sin can compete with, an injustice for which countless souls are suffering endless pain, if theists are correct.

“God makes neutral souls. Our choices on Earth decide where we go.”

You’re missing the point. Check premise 1 again: either God knows what will happen to us, or he doesn’t. There’s no middle ground here. He can’t just have a decent guess about the matter. It’s one way or the other, and the argument continues from there.

“Human souls choose by their own free will where they will end up. Whether God knows where we’re going or not, he is still acting justly when he punishes people to damnation for sinning.”

Allow me to provide a quick analogy to illuminate why this is not the case. Suppose I am a police officer. If I caught someone in possession of stolen goods or illegal drugs, it would be a just action for me to arrest that person and ship her off to prison. But what if I planted the goods on her? What if I slipped the drugs in her pocket? Then we can easily see that I am committing an injustice by arresting her.

This is exactly what is taking place when God creates a soul that he knows will end up in Hell; that soul had sin written on it from the start. It is unjust for God to judge that soul before the soul has a chance to prove itself, and yet if God knows how he’ll eventually judge every soul he makes, then he never gives those souls that chance. Hell-bound souls are deemed guilty before they even walk into the courtroom.

“The ultimate fate of a soul is not a knowable proposition at the time of that soul’s creation.”

This may be a possibility, but I think it is highly unlikely. Look at it this way: God is alleged to have perfect, intimate knowledge of our souls. He knows us through and through; not a thought crosses our minds that God is not aware of, nor can we ever do anything to shock or surprise God, for he so fully knows our nature as to be able to know what we are going to say before we say it (Psalm 139:1-5, NIV). Surely it is necessary for God to be completely aware of who each person is, in order to judge him or her fairly? If that’s the case, then that knowledge stems from an awareness of our souls, for it is in the soul that all of our memories, personality, and morals are said to reside (and if that’s not where they are, then what does the soul do? For more on that topic, try Ebonmuse’s A Ghost in the Machine).

But then wouldn’t it be the case that God knew of all of those factors when he created the soul? None of those things arose by chance; God put all of them there, carefully, intentionally, and with full awareness. So it doesn’t make much sense to say that God created everything that will eventually decide a person’s ultimate fate, but then isn’t able to figure out what that fate will be until the person has lived out their life. It would be like an author with perfect knowledge of her characters claiming that she doesn’t know—and furthermore, cannot know—how those characters will fare at the end of her book.

I have attempted to show here that God must either be lacking in justice or lacking in knowledge, for there is no way a God with maximized versions of both those attributes could create souls that will end up in Hell. This is because God must either be creating souls that he knows he will condemn, in which case he is acting unjustly, or he is creating souls without any idea where they’ll go, in which case he is missing a rather critical piece of knowledge. Either way, God loses an important characteristic.

Thoughts and comments are very welcome.

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