Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Has God done all he can for the unsaved? Part 2

This is a follow-up post to part 1 of the same title. First, we established what God has done/is doing for every person, regardless of whether or not she will believe. Next, we pointed out that if a person simply will not believe, then it is the case that God has literally done all he can in order for that person to believe. Then, we began to examine objections to this teaching. We continue with that here.

3. God should override free will just in the case they choose incorrectly.

This objection would say God should allow free choices in everyday and even important matters. However, we should remember that if God interferes in our choice to worship him, it is not really a choice. Consider the standard definition of free will: the ability to choose A or not-A. In this case, choosing not-A entails rejecting Christ. But suppose we accept the truth of Frankfurtian thought experiments, and we thus believe it is possible to maintain free choice even if doing otherwise were to be actually impossible.

In this case, I think the objection is still wrongheaded. For even on this analysis, true freedom of the will requires that we are the true originator of our own choices. If Charles wishes to choose to reject God, but God forces him to instead believe the moment before his death, is this Charles’ free choice? Of course not! Why is this a problem? First, accepting Jesus Christ is an eternal relationship with God. Hence, in order for it to be more meaningful for Charles than say, being God’s pet or a robot with respect to salvation, Charles’ choice must be free. I suspect most people value their free will, and it makes sense insofar as this mirrors God (I believe freedom of the will is part of what it means to be made in God’s image). In that case, then, constraining the will is not something God can do to ensure the salvation of the lost anymore than it would benefit animals.

4. If appropriate counterfactuals exist, God should place those persons in precisely those circumstances in which they will be saved.

The idea of a counterfactual is a proposition in the subjunctive mood concerning what a free creature does in alternate circumstances. Suppose it is true that “If Fred were to be in the actual world, then he would freely reject Christ.” Suppose further that the counterfactual “If Fred were to be in world W147 then he would freely accept Christ” is true. The reasoning goes that if God is to do all he can then he should place Fred in W147 . Given that he does not do so, then it follows God does not do all he can.

First, this objection assumes there are such circumstances in which Fred would accept the Gospel. If the property of transworld damnation is true, then none of those who are lost in this actual world would have believed on Jesus Christ in any world feasible for God to create.[1] For those who respond that they must see proof of this, they must remember that the major claim is an objection to the consistency of two statements. If therefore a mere possibility is presented that is itself consistent, then the Christian has a defeater for the objection. Only in the case that we think the objection is more probable on our background knowledge than the defeater should the objection stick. Unfortunately, there is just no way we have of knowing, and hence the objection fails.

However, I am not entirely sure transworld damnation is in fact true, and hence I feel that any solution relying on this ought to be tentatively held. For one thing, the biblical record seems to indicate that there are circumstances in which people who wind up in Hell would have repented.[2] In any case, is there another solution? I think there is. This solution relies on our moral intuitions regarding both fairness and love.

Let us consider a number of scenarios: Suppose a man hears and rejects the Gospel once but would have accepted after two attempts. Can it be said that God has done all he can in this case? Probably not, but again we may not be so sure. Let us for the moment say God has not done all he can. Next, suppose the man hears and rejects the Gospel once but would have accepted after 10 times. Has God done all he can? At this point, we may hesitate. After all, God has died for him, worked in his life, and he has heard the Gospel and rejected it and will hear it again and reject it. As far as fairness/justice goes, he’s on the hook! However, if God will just extend to him nine more chances, the man will be saved. Let us suppose this is tenuous and uncertain for now.

Now suppose the man has heard and rejected the Gospel 95 times, but would accept it after another 100 hearings. In this case the man has received ample opportunity—more, in fact, than most people in the majority of the world! Yet he has consistently rejected it. Suppose it is the case, however, that if this counterfactual is true, some other counterfactual with deleterious consequences is also true. For instance, suppose “If there are 195 attempts for this man to be saved, there would be some village tribal chief who will not be saved. If this chief were not to be saved, then there would be an entire village who are unsaved,” and on and on, so that the effects of the salvation of the man result in thousands or even millions of other people not being saved.

Further, the counterfactuals presented in the scenario are far too simplistic. Because any true counterfactual has fully-specified circumstances in its antecedents, it’s probably not true that “For any world, if the man hears the Gospel 195 times, on the last time he would freely receive Christ.”[3] Rather, it is likely true that “if the man were to be in circumstances C, he would freely accept Christ,” where C is the entire history of the possible world up until the point of the counterfactual, including the 195th hearing of the Gospel. But in that case, the theist may retort that such a world may not be feasible for God, or that if it is, it contains much in the way of deficiency.

Finally, it may not be objected by someone that “if only God had done more, then I would be saved!” First, it loses judicial force. Just as we do not punish people for what they would have done in other circumstances, I see no reason to reward people for what they would have done in other circumstances.[4] Second, the antecedent clause is not strictly logical in nature. That is, we should not be saying “God does all he can” in a strict logical sense. Technically, God could make it to where no free will exists (although he cannot bring it about that he forces a free choice). What we mean is the antecedent in terms of broadly logical meaning. As an example, it is possible for Jones to eat the sandwich at time T and it is possible for Johnson to eat the sandwich at time T. Since both are logically possible, we would be forced to conclude that “Both Jones and Johnson can eat the sandwich at time T,” which is absurd when taken realistically! Though the statement is true in a strict sense, in broad logical terms, there is only one sandwich at that time, and only one of them can consume the sandwich in its entirety. Suppose we add “Jones will eat the sandwich at time T.” Given this truth, it is not broadly logically possible that “Johnson will eat the sandwich at time T.”

This is a crude illustration, but it provides the basis for the answer being given. Given certain goals and truths of the world, could God have done more to bring the man in the scenario to salvation? It is unclear. Consider what it means to say God could have done more to bring X to salvation: “God does all he can for the unsaved person X if and only if he performs or ordains all broadly logically possible actions that result in X’s salvation.” But this may be too strong, especially if transworld depravity is true for even some persons. Consider an alternative: “God does all he can for the unsaved person X if and only if he performs or ordains all broadly logically possible actions that are necessary and sufficient for X’s salvation.” But in that case X’s choice to be saved is either not really a choice or does not guarantee X’s salvation (depending upon how “necessary and sufficient” is construed).

So finally here is a suggested axiom: “God does all he can for the unsaved person X if and only if he performs or ordains all broadly logically possible actions sufficient for X’s salvation.” This seems reasonable, for it leaves the choice up to X (a necessary condition for free acceptance of salvation). It also accounts for transworld damnation, whether or not it is true. Finally, it accounts for the concept of broad logical possibility, where one considers what type of world God prefers to another. In any case, so long as God can be said to fulfill these sufficient conditions (paying for sins, drawing mankind, holding them responsible for the light they do have), he can be said to be doing all he can do for the unsaved. According to the above axiom, it is only the actual choice made in the actual world that dictates X’s fate. God loves everyone, and if all could be saved, all would be.

                [1] Thomas Talbott, “William Lane Craig on the Transworld Damned?” < http://www.evangelicaluniversalist.com/forum/viewtopic.php?p=2359>, accessed August 23, 2011.

                [2] It may perhaps be objected that Jesus was speaking hyperbolically rather than philosophically. Or perhaps it may be claimed though this counterfactual was true in some possible world, the world which it described was not feasible (because a feasible world to actualize is one in which all “would-counterfactuals” necessary to be true conjunctively are true; perhaps it is the case that some or even a great many such counterfactuals creating those circumstances would not have been true after all). Finally, it could be objected that while such a world was actually possible and feasible, it contained deleterious consequences (such as much more evil, or only a few persons). All but this last solution are open to the proponent of transworld damnation.

                [3] Note that if we insist on this being the scenario, then the theist can simply respond that either God would not create him or the man would in fact be saved after all. This is because a counterfactual’s being true in a particular world means if that world were actual it would be made fact. This means in every world in which the man is feasibly instantiated and hears the Gospel 195 times, he is saved.

                [4] There is perhaps an exception in terms of sheer character. I intuitively find it commendable that if someone’s character were to be of such high moral magnitude that he would express courage were it to be the case that some danger or temptation were presented. However, no one accepts the Gospel because of present moral character or worthiness, hence any such counterfactual is false. In any case, it is actually the reality of the situation, and not the counterfactual, that is really being praised.

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  1. I have a couple of questions, would you be willing to chat them through with me here? Thank you!

    1. Hello Joe, thanks for commenting! Sorry I didn't see you comment earlier; I usually check every 24-48 hours at least. I would be happy to answer any questions I can.


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