Edward Feser’s Imaginative ad hoc Excuse for Eternal Punishment

Eternal Damnation

Christian apologist: In his Of True Religion, Saint Augustine describes hell as a place where there is no truth and no reasoning, because there is no shining of the light of the Logos. This makes sense: rationality is the distinctly human feature, and hell is where humanity is in ruins.

Response: So God makes it metaphysically impossible for anyone in hell to ever change, locking people into eternal Logo-less straight jackets, thus ensuring that all possible change (via supernatural healing, new experiential knowledge, introspection, repentance, etc.) is impossible?

Like Augustine, Thomist Edward Feser hypothesizes that God imposes a metaphysical straight jacket on the damned so that they may never see the light. In his post, “No Hell, No Heaven,” Fezer says only corporeal physical beings can repent, so after one is separated from one's body at death, one remains stuck in either good or evil mode. Of course that simply begs the question of why the damned can't repent after regaining bodies at the general resurrection. So Feser adds a further hypothesis, that new resurrection bodies are restricted concerning changes they can undergo, again the straight jacket response. But then one merely has to ask, why are the resurrected given bodies that prevent them from expressing free will, and lock them out of any possibility of repenting or seeing the light? Same problem and questions as before. See other questions raised on Feser's blog:

Chad Handley
March 30, 2018 at 12:15 PM

Couple of questions:

  1. No living Christian is actually incapable of willing evil. So if upon death a Christian becomes the type of being that is incapable of willing evil, he has undergone a tremendous change, even though he does not have a body. So why is this initial non-corporeal change possible, but all further non-corporeal changes impossible?
  2. Christianity preaches the resurrection of the dead, which entails the conjoining of the spirit with a physical form. Why can't the soul undergo change when it is again conjoined to a physical form post-resurrection?
  3. How exactly do we know that only physical things can change? What are the independent arguments for this?

(I'll take references to other articles or books as an answer to this; not expecting anyone to defend such a claim in the combox.)

April 3, 2018 at 10:32 AM

During our lives we are never locked fully onto good or evil.

April 5, 2018 at 5:02 AM

If death locks us into whatever our current position is, then why wouldn't we be locked into a mixed disposition?

Kirill Nielson
March 31, 2018 at 8:32 AM

I usually agree with Aquinas and Feser, but this is where we part ways. There are a lot of holes in the doctrine of hell and damnation. Why can't the incorporeal beings change their minds? After all, if they can make a “basic decision” upon creation once, why not make the same kind of decision later on? There's also the fact that eternal damnation is grossly disproportional to any kind of moral choice that one can make during life or any crime that one can commit. Our most basic moral intuition suggests that punishment must be adequately proportional to the crime. There's also the matter of infant deaths. What are we going to do with those souls that died while being babies? Send them directly to Heaven? Well then what's the point of this life to begin with? … At the end of the day, Universalism is for me.

[Replies to Kirill, and his counters were also interesting. For instance]

David T., [rejecting Kirill's advocacy of universalism, replied,] “God does not owe us eternal happiness. The idea that He does may be at the center of the sin of pride.”

But wJoeD replied to David T April 1, 2018 at 11:48 AM
I'm pretty sure universalists aren't just arguing that God owes everyone eternal happiness. Rather, they argue that, since God has gone to such extreme lengths to give us eternal life, it seems reasonable to ask why that sacrifice doesn't save everyone, since it seems fitting that God also save everyone. In other words, if God is gonna be so gratuitous as to give us eternal life, why not gratuitous enough to save everyone? Universalists also make the argument that it would be very beautiful and aesthetically fitting for all humans to be saved, or even the demons in what is called the apokatastasis. The appeal there is basically that since Christians appeal to fittingness and even aesthetic goodness to make arguments in favour of the Incarnation, Resurrection, creatio ex nihilo and so forth, it is reasonable to use such an approach for universalism. It's simply not about supposing that salvation were owed us at all, although some may have that as a motivation.

Vincent Torley
March 30, 2018 at 3:50 PM

I have a question for Ed Fezer. In your latest book, “Five Proofs of the Existence of God,” you write that God “knows everything – including the present and the future – precisely by virtue of being its cause” (2017, p. 214), and you compare God's knowledge to “an author's knowledge of the characters and events of the story he has come up with” (2017, p. 212). You add that “it is in a single, timeless act that God causes to exist everything that has been and will be. And it is in knowing himself as so acting that God knows everything that is, has been and will be. His knowledge of the world is a consequence of his self-knowledge.” (2017, p. 212) So now I ask you: does God know wicked people's choices by causing them? Yes or no?

Vincent Torley
March 31, 2018 at 5:39 AM

In other words, God causes the propositional content of our wicked thoughts, the visual content of our wicked fantasies, and the physical/psychological content of our wicked actions? All of these contents are positive, and not mere privations.

March 31, 2018 at 9:38 AM

[Let's consider a question for Ed Fezer's Thomistic philosophy raised by cryogenics and future biological advances] the scenario here is that the person really is dead and even has decayed a bit, and his body is cryogenically frozen. Some think that, considering all of the advancement of science has made in medicine, we will be able to revive those who are truly dead but who are frozen a few days after death in some way. If this really does happen, and there are some ways in which it could (taking DNA from the dead body cells and finding the specific genetic code to reverse aging and start the cellular factory all over again by introducing new chemicals, or even replacing the whole body with new cells and preserving the memories so as to revive it back completely), then this would require an explanation in terms of hylemorphism. If the matter of the body goes through substantial change via death, and then the body is tinkered with such that the process of life is started again in that piece of matter, and the revived being would also be rational, it seems we have both matter being enformed with a sensory soul and rational soul. If the revived body has a rational soul, there are only 2 ways in which that could be explained. Either God creates a new soul to embody that revived body, or he brings the dead soul back to the body. If it's a new soul, then this would seem unfitting since we would have a completely new soul possessing the memories and traits that belonged to a completely different soul, and would likely make the new soul think it was someone who it wasn't. If it's the same soul, this could only be accomplished if God either keeps the dead soul in stasis so that it hasn't made a final definitive choice on good or evil, or if God just brings a damned or saved soul back after it has made it's decision.

Both ways above would be objected to by asking “Why doesn't God just keep every soul, especially the damned, in stasis? Why doesn't he just bring back all damned souls to their body until they choose good? Wouldn't the damned and saved souls also continue choosing their respective choice of good and evil perpetually while in the body as well?”

Edward T. Babinski
March 31, 2018 at 2:01 AM

And are frozen human zygotes souls on ice?

David Bayless
March 31, 2018 at 7:55 AM

To add to the critical comments above: what, on Ed Feser's view, is to become of the millions of people who have taken their own lives? Surely the majority of these poor souls were not orienting their minds to God prior to completing suicide, whether they completed suicide on an impulse or following meticulous planning. If anything, they were thinking that whatever God there may be had abandoned them, that their lives were meaningless, and that it would have been better for them if they had never been thrust into existence. If Ed's view on Hell is correct, then those who were thinking such things prior to completing suicide will be incapable of achieving a relationship with God, and hence will face eternal damnation. But this seems absurd. Risk factors for suicide completion include depression, substance abuse, psychosis, chronic pain/illness, absence of social support (e.g., no spouse), and, foremostly, a previous suicide attempt. If epidemiology is to be trusted, the vast majority of suicides have at least one of these risk factors. The vast majority of suicides, in other words, are in great distress when they complete suicide. For them to go from a state of great distress in life, to a state of eternal separation from God in the afterlife, seems far too cruel a thing for God to allow. For this reason alone I am inclined to regard Ed's view on Hell as unacceptable.

[A Catholic responded to David Bayless (who is a Christian), by citing the dogma that suicides go to hell no matter how cruel that may seem to us. See my page on depression and suicide among Christians and changing views of suicide mentioned near the end of the page:

March 31, 2018 at 11:59 AM

No matter how many arguments I encounter for any particular side of these issues (which souls are saved, who goes to hell, is there a hell, etc), as a Catholic I am always returning to the words in the brief formula that was supplied by Our Lady at Fatima, and which is usually incorporated as an oft-repeated Rosary recitation: “O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, lead all souls to Heaven, especially those most in need of Thy mercy.” Now, it strikes me that such a prayer is asking us to request that ALL souls be led to salvation — not just some. In which case, I would never consider that our Lady would deceive us by supplying us with such a prayer — which actually contains such a hope — if it were not indeed possible. It would then seem that, through our aspirations and free will in this matter, by offering such prayer, it might supercede many of the above questions. [i.e., The “hopeful universalism” alternative, not full universalism, also advocated by Tentative Apologist Randal Rauser.]

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