Saturday, June 14, 2008

Does Christopher Hitchens Secretly Want to Abuse Children?

"Nothing optional--from homosexuality to adultery--is ever made punishable unless those who do the prohibiting (and exact the fierce punishments) have a repressed desire to participate" -- Hitchens, "god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything," p. 40

"[I]f I was suspected of raping a child, or of torturing a child, or infecting a child with venereal disease, or selling a child into sexual or any other kind of slavery, I might consider committing suicide whether I was guilty or not. If I had actually committed the offense, I would welcome death in any form that it might take . . . The ignorant psychopath or brute who mistreats his children must be punished but can be understood. Those who claim a heavenly warrant for the cruelty have been tainted by evil, and also constitute far more of a danger" - ibid, p. 52

Since Hitchens thinks child abusers (of all forms) must be punished, and since he implies, and since it is obvious, that almost all instances of child abuse are done by those with the proper control of their actions to be morally responsible, and Hitchens thinsk they could refrain, so it is "optional," then Hitchens, per Hitchens, must "have a repressed desire to participate."

Really, people lauded this drivel?

The New Atheism?

What a threat.

Perfect instance of "The No-god Delusion."

Satin doll universalism

Jason Pratt said...

“Yeah, Steve was more than a little testy with me, too, when Thomas Talbott and I were discussing universalism with the Triablogue crew…”

“He's referring to the discussion with Talbott that I linked to. Frankly, his review of your book is a lot more temperate than the denigration of me he posted up on Triablogue…”

“As for getting off light--at least he didn't start hurling invective about you being some Satanic-level blasphemer pretending to use orthodox theology to mislead people.”

On the one hand, Jason Pratt holds out hope that everyone will be saved. God would literally be Satanic if he didn’t try to save Nazis who turn Jews into lampshades.

On the other hand, we’re treated to this crybaby rhetoric when Jason Pratt feels that he’s been verbally abused. The poor thing!

Universalism is like a lady’s club in which they politely debate the optimistic fate of Josef Mengele and Vlad the Impaler over tea and watercress. It’s such a civilized debate inside the lady’s club. No one every raises her voice. One lump or two?

But if someone barges into the lady’s club and says something “denigrating,” well, that’s very indecorous and hard on the nerves. How could people be so mean to sweet old Jason and interrupt her pretty little speech about how God wouldn’t be God unless he rescued Vlad the Impaler from hell? Why, it’s downright rude! What’s the world coming to?

Jason Pratt is to universalism what Leonard Bernstein was to the Black Panthers. He inhabits his theological dollhouse, where he can wax expansive about his hypothetical compassion for the damned—as long as no one in the real world hurts his feelings by talking disrespectful to him. One wonders what would happen to his cosmic philanthropy if someone tried to turn him into a lampshade.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Lying for Mammy Nature

Dawkins called those associated with "Expelled," liars for Jesus. So I'll assume he thinks my terminology fair.

"I shall simply say that those who regard [Saddam Hussein's] regime as a 'secular' one are deluding themselves" -- Christopher Hitchens, "god is not Great, How Religion Poisons Everything", p. 25)

Let's see what the "About Atheism/Agnosticism" web site claims (do I need to point out that I'm invoking a source not sympathetic with my own view of the world?):

********************************

Name:
Saddam Hussein
Saddam Hussein Abd al-Majid al-Tikriti

Important Dates:
Born: April 28, 1937, in al-Awja, Tikrit, Iraq
Executed: December 30, 2006

Joined the Baath Party: 1956
Married his cousin, Sajida: 1958
Attempted Assassination of Iraqi Prime Minister: 1959
Aided in Baath Party Coup of Iraq: 1968
Seized Power in Iraq: 1979
Invaded Iran: 1980
Married Second Wife, his daughter's teacher Samira Shahbandar: 1984
Invaded Kuwait: 1990
Captured by U.S. forces: December 13, 2003

Titles:
Great Uncle
Glorious Leader
Field Marshall
President

Biography:
Born in a mud-brick house to a family of sheep-herders, Saddam Hussein rose to become one of the world's most brutal dictators of the latter-half of the 20th century. Key to this was his participation in the secular and nationalist Iraqi Baath party. Originally this party was united with a Syrian Baath party, but the two eventually split due to doctrinal differences. The Arabic word ba'th means "resurrection" or "renaissance" and is used here as a reference to the ideal of a renaissance of Arab power in the world — a curious stance, given that the power they were striving for was secular while the historical power was constituted at least largely on the basis of religion. This secular/religious contradiction in Baathist ideology would play a role in Saddam Hussein's own rule.

Socialist and secular in nature, the Iraqi Baath party has a great deal in common with European fascist movements, both religious and secular, with its reliance on developing extremist national consciousness as a means of uniting the people against enemies, both internal and external. Islamist movements in the Arab world have much the same goal, though they base their political philosophy on Islamic religious ideology rather than secular socialism. The fact that both secular and religious ideologies can achieve popularity with the same goals despite being opposed to each other indicates that they are both are tapping into something important.

Saddam Hussein received law degrees from the University of Cairo and the University of Baghdad, with the latter occurring after a non-violent Baathist coup in Iraq. At this time Hussein served in various positions within the party and the government, but in 1979 when President Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr announced his retirement, Hussein managed to assume the positions of Chairman and President, consolidating a great deal of power in his hands alone.

Saddam Hussein: Secular or Religious Ruler?
Saddam Hussein's popularity in the Muslim and Arab world varied greatly, depending upon whom one asked and what the political situation at the time was. Because of his repression of the religious Shi'ite minority in Iraq and his long war with Shi'ite Iran, it was difficult for Shi'ite Muslims to find anything good to say about Hussein. In addition, because of his staunch secularism and his secularization of Iraq, it was been difficult for devout and conservative Muslims of any type to think well of him.

On the other hand, Hussein was also one of the few Arab leaders to have been able to stand up to the West on a regular basis, asserting Iraqi and Arab independence from Western interests and power. This, rather than the brutal repression of his own people, was the point upon which many Arabs and Muslims focused the most. In a region which has had few powerful leaders to whom people could point with pride, Saddam Hussein became something of a folk hero.

As poor of a hero as he was, the lack of any better candidates assures him a position of respect and honor for Arabs and Muslims for generations to come. Usually Muslims are regarded by Westerners as putting religion above everything else, but here we have a clear example of many Muslims doing just the opposite: even though Saddam Hussein was staunchly secular, he can still be a hero among devout Muslims because of his political accomplishments. Is this merely a contradiction in some Muslims' worldview, or a sign that their politics is more complicated than Western critics normally give them credit for?

Saddam Hussein's conflicted relationship with religion has also created a conundrum for conservative critics in the West: should they condemn him as an example of what happens with Islam is allowed to control society, or should they condemn him as an example of what happens when a fully secular government is allowed to control society? Religious conservatives would like to attack both, but they can't attack both in the person of Saddam Hussein at the same time.

Iraq under Saddam Hussein was very secular and, as a consequence, there was far more freedom for women and non-Muslims than in most other Arab Muslim nations. In contrast to the religiously authoritarian direction which Iraq has taken under the American occupation, though, such secularism is a difficult target for criticism for religious conservatives who otherwise treat secular governments as inspired by the Antichrist. Indeed, it's not unusual to see religious conservatives complaining about events in Iraqi politics that they might otherwise praise in American politics.

On the other hand, Saddam Hussein only turned to religion near the end of his reign when he desperately needed anything that would bolster support. Conservative critics in the West have tended to focus on this, ignoring the fact that he was only using religion for political purposes - something we see in the West as well. Lumping Saddam Hussein with other Islamist leaders and movements is also likely to be inaccurate because Hussein himself was a frequent target of Islamist criticism for being too secular and not enforcing Islamic religious laws.

If anything Saddam Hussein and his rule can serve as a bad example both to secular atheists and to religious theists. First, he is a good example that a secular government cannot necessarily be trusted to be completely just or good and that removing religion from government will not necessarily lead to great improvements. Secularization means little without democratization and liberalization. Second, Saddam Hussein is also an example of how donning a cloak of religious piety will not automatically provide political legitimacy to a troubled, unpopular leader. Religious theists shouldn't trust a politician merely because they use the right religious language and proclaim their desire to serve religious tradition.

http://atheism.about.com/library/glossary/islam/bldef_husseinsadam.htm

**************************************

A Muslim I once knew told me that it was not against Islamic law to lie to infidels. He was a used car salseman. I guess that same type of thinking is how Hitchens justifies his repeated lies in his book, "god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything." Since he affirms qualitative hedonism, and thus is a consequentialist, what does a little lying matter so long as you can "eradicate faith?"

No Wars . . . and No Religion Too?

CNN isn't known as a pro-religious, pro "right" organization.

******************************

Suicide bombings as military strategy
Expert: Attacks motivated by logic, not religion
By Henry Schuster
CNN


Thursday, June 30, 2005 Posted: 1605 GMT (0005 HKT)

Editor's Note: Henry Schuster, a senior producer in CNN's Investigative Unit and author of "Hunting Eric Rudolph," has been covering terrorism for more than a decade. Each week in "Tracking Terror," he reports on people and organizations driving international and domestic terrorism and efforts to combat those.

Women, as well as men, are suicide bombers, including Chechnya's "black widows."
Image:

For years, suicide bombings in the Middle East have caused death, destruction and chaos. In turn, they have generated news headlines and analyses that often frame the attacks, like those perpetrated by Palestinians or Iraqi insurgents, as weapons in a holy war.

But Pape, author of the provocative new book "Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism," contends those reports fuel significant misperceptions about the bombers, their motivations and specifically the role religion plays in their actions.

"There is little connection between suicide terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism, or any one of the world's religions," he says.

Before September 11, Pape's main academic focus was the impact of air power in military conflicts. After the attacks, he shifted his attention to suicide terrorism.

Finding out what motivated these bombers and their groups proved challenging, as he discovered little in the way of comprehensive data. So Pape began building a database and then mined it for details.

After studying 315 suicide attacks from 1981-2004, the University of Chicago political science professor concludes that suicide bombers' actions stem from logical military strategies, not their religion -- and especially not Islam.

While American news-watchers may hear more about Israel and Iraq, Pape calls the Tamil Tigers the leading purveyors of suicide attacks over the last two decades -- until now. An adamantly secular group with Hindu roots, the Tamil Tigers are engaged in a struggle for independence and power with the Sri Lankan government.

So what is the suicide bomber's main rationale? It is that the attacks work, Pape found.

"What nearly all suicide terrorist attacks have in common is a specific secular and strategic goal: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from territory that the terrorists consider to be their homeland."

Which means, in the case of al Qaeda and like-minded groups, getting the United States out of the Arabian Peninsula and Iraq.

How it started
Suicide terrorism -- which Pape defines as attackers killing others and themselves at the same time -- began in Lebanon after the Israelis invaded in the early 1980s. (He does not include Japanese kamikaze pilots from World War II because they operated on behalf of a government.)

Hezbollah, a new group at that time, began recruiting bombers, and almost immediately had spectacular success with devastating attacks on American and French targets.

Two-hundred forty-one American servicemen died in the truck bomb attack on a U.S. Marine Corps barracks in Beirut in 1983, leading to an American withdrawal from Lebanon a few months later.

The Tamil Tigers picked up on Hezbollah's strategy, even training alongside them in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. The Tamil Tigers perfected the suicide belt, notes Pape, using it to kill former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991.

Other groups -- including Hamas, the PKK (a Kurdish group in Turkey), Chechen rebels and, of course, al Qaeda -- followed suit, incorporating suicide terrorism in their military strategies.

According to Pape's charts, about half the suicide terrorist campaigns from 1980-2003 achieved some degree of success; the Israelis, for example, withdrew from Lebanon following bombings by Hezbollah.

And with success came a rise in suicide terrorism, even as overall terrorist incidents were declining. It became a key tactic, alongside more conventional attacks, for these groups.

The religion question
September 11, 2001, along with years of suicide attacks in Israel, prompted many to link Islam with suicide bombing -- an assertion that Pape rejects.

Having studied who the attackers were, he points out that Hezbollah's campaigns against U.S. and Israeli forces in Lebanon involved as many suicide bombers who were secular as religious. The same is true for the recent wave of attacks in Israel by Hamas and other groups.

Religion may be the prime motivation for some individual suicide bombers, Pape admits, and some groups may be religiously based, including al Qaeda. But he says that suicide terrorism is used because it works, not because it fits any particular religious ideal.

What nearly all suicide terrorist attacks have in common is a specific secular and strategic goal: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from territory that the terrorists consider to be their homeland.
-- Robert Pape"Suicide terrorist groups are [not] religious cults isolated from the rest of their society," Pape writes in his book. "Rather, suicide terrorist organizations often command broad social support within the national communities from which they recruit, because they are seen as pursuing legitimate nationalist goals, especially liberation from foreign occupation."

Where religion does come into play, he argues, is when the group using suicide bombing points to these foreign occupiers and demonizes them for threatening their local religion. So the United States becomes "Crusaders and Jews" threatening the Arabian Peninsula, according to al Qaeda.

While not everyone in the counterterrorism community has embraced Pape's ideas -- particularly about the lack of a link between Islam and suicide bombing -- his book has gained legitimacy and credibility.

Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was "very impressed and very interested" after reading Pape's book and being briefed by him, according to a Lugar aide.

Suicide bombers in Iraq
What has Pape most worried at the moment is Iraq. That nation will soon overtake Sri Lanka as the site of the highest number of suicide terrorist attacks.

In hindsight -- and he emphasizes hindsight -- he says going into Iraq was bound to create the condition for more suicide bombers, citing a strong national insurgency coupled with the presence of U.S. troops who are seen as occupiers.

And that has allowed for local Iraqi support of suicide bombers, even if many of them seem to come from other countries.

But he contends that the consequences of the Iraq conflict, as it affects suicide terrorism, don't end there.

He points to the history of al Qaeda, which started with suicide attacks against Americans and their allies in other places, then launched the September 11 attacks on U.S. soil.

"The longer the suicide campaign in Iraq goes on, the more at risk we are it will come to our shores," says Pape.

http://edition.cnn.com/2005/WORLD/meast/06/30/schuster.column/


********************************

If "religion" (notice these terms are never defined) were gone, would wars follow them? David Livingstone Smith, professor of philosophy at the University of New England, and an atheist, has written a book called "The Most Dangerous Animal: Human Nature and the Origins of War." In it he claims to analyze war as a philosopher and a researcher. He puts in some serious time looking at "war." As an atheist, and an ardent evolutionist (co-founder of the Institute for Cognitive Science and Evolutionary Psychology), what has his hard thinking and long hours of research led him to find?

*********************************

"War can be approached from many angles. We can consider it from the standpoint of economics, politics, history, ideology, ethics, and various other disciplines. All of these are important, but there is one dimension that underpins them all: the bedrock of human nature." (p. xiii)

"Historically, there have been two broad, sharply polarized views of the relationship between war and human nature. One is that war is human nature in the raw, stripped of the facade of contrived civility behind which we normally hide. In most recent incarnations of this ancient theory, the taste for killing is said to be written in our genes. The other is that war is nothing but a perversion of an essentially kind, compassionate, and sociable human nature and that it is culture, not biology, which make us so dangerous to one another. In fact, both of these images are gross oversimplifications: both are true, and both are false. Human beings are capable of almost unimaginable violence and cruelty toward one another, and there is reason to believe that this dogged aggressiveness is grounded in our genes. But we are also enormously sociable, cooperative creatures with an elemental horror of shedding human blood, and this, too, seems to be embedded in the core of human nature. Strange as it may sound, I believe that war is caused by both of these forces working in tandem; it is a child of ambivalence, a compromise between two opposing sides of human nature." (p. xiv, emphasis original)

"What evidence was that these people [who caused wars or acts of terror or brutal slayings] were insane? There is usually none. The psychologists who painstakingly sifted through the data on the senior Nazi officer brought to justice in the Nuremberg trials found that ‘high-ranking Nazi war criminals … participated in atrocities without having diagnosable impairments that would account for their actions.’ They were ‘ as diverse a group as one might find in our government today, or in the leadership of the PTA.’ If the Nazi leaders were not deranged, what about the rank and file who did Hitler’s dirty work? What about the members of the Einsatzgruppen, the mobile killing units that committed atrocities like the mass killing at Babi Yar, where 33,000 Jews, as well as many gypsies and mental patients, were machine-gunned to death during two crisp autumn days in 1941? Do you think these men must have been psychopaths or Nazi Zealots? If so, you are wrong. There is not a shred of evidence to suggest that they were anything other than ordinary German citizens. ‘The system and rhythm of mass extermination,” observes journalist Heinz Hohne, “were directed by … worthy family men.” The men of the German Reserve Police Battalion 101, a killing squad in Poland who were involved in the shooting of at least 38,000 Jews and the deportation of a further 83,000 to the Treblinka death camp, were ordinary middle-aged family men without either military training or ideological indoctrination. ‘The truth seems to be,’ writes psychologist James Waller, ‘that the most outstanding characteristic of perpetrators of extraordinary evil lies in their normality, not their abnormality.’ Purveyors of violence, terrorists, and merchants of genocidal destruction are, more often than not, people who fit the profile that Primo Levi panted of his Nazi jailers at Auschwitz: ‘average human beings, averagely intelligent, averagely wicked … they had our faces.’ To Hannah Arendt they were ‘terribly and terrifyingly normal.’ They could be your neighbors, parents, or children. They could be you.” (p. 4)

“Wars are purposeful. They are fought for resources, lebensraum, oil, gold, food, and water or peculiarly abstract or imaginary goods like God, honor, race, democracy, and destiny” (p. 7)

“Hobbes thought that antagonism simmers beneath the surface of all human interactions, constantly threatening to erupt into lethal violence, and the problem lay in human equality.” (p.9, ).

***********************************

Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris et al. would have us believe that once religion is eradicated, we would all be safe. Their teaching is dangerous, then. It draws many into a false sense of security. Thousands of young atheists will spend their time trying to make religion obsolete. But will it work?

************************************

"In broad terms the causes that have commonly compelled people to engage in terrorism are grievances borne of political oppression, cultural domination, economic exploitation, ethnic discrimination, and religious persecution. Perceived inequities in the distribution of wealth and political power have led some terrorists to attempt to overthrow democratically elected governments. To achieve a fairer society, they would replace these governments with socialist or communist regimes. Left-wing terrorist groups of the 1960s and 1970s with such aims included Germany’s Baader-Meinhof Gang, Italy’s Red Brigades, and the Weather Underground (see Weathermen) in the United States. Other terrorists have sought to fulfill some mission that they believe to be divinely inspired or millennialist (related to the end of the world). (See Millennium). The Japanese religious cult Aum Shinrikyo, responsible for a nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995 that killed 12 people, falls into this category. Still other terrorists have embraced comparatively more defined and comprehensible goals such as the re-establishment of a national homeland (for example, Basque separatists in Spain) or the unification of a divided nation (Irish nationalists in Northern Ireland)."

http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761564344_2____11/terrorism.html#s11

*************************************

There's no reason to think that it will. The problem, a sinful nature, will still remain. War, violence, terror, and suicide bombings would still remain. Thoese with the ethical grounding to speak out against it, ex hypothesi, wouldn't. Atheists are focusing their energies on the wrong place. Too bad that by their rejection of the Savior, their un-atoned sinful ways, they are opting to spend an eternity at war with each other and with God. The peace the atheist strives for is a false peace. It leads to everlasting war. They will not live in the land where the sword has been beaten into a plowshare but in the land where teeth gnash 24/7. Such is the irony of the Godless life . . .

Van Helsing v. Funkenstein

“Dr Funkenstein” has decided to reply:

http://badapplesblog.blogspot.com/2008/06/response-to-steve-from-triablogue.html

“Obviously I'm not familiar with every pro (or anti-) theistic argument ever made, so if Steve had pointed me in the direction of some links or given me a brief outline I would happily have read them.”

Here’s your reading assignment for today:

http://christiancadre.org/topics/cosarg.html

“Contrary to what he suggested I did in fact read the psychology journal he posted - possession is not recognised as a valid psychiatric illness by the 2 major psychiatric boards in the US.”

Notice that “Funkenstein” dodges the concrete evidence presented in the article by retreating into a tendentious appeal to human authority.

“It is curious that he would present a (fairly obscure) peer reviewed journal on the subject as evidence, when he would no doubt dismiss one on common descent, natural selection and the like as being scientific dogma.”

As usual, Funkenstein is either too dim or too dishonest to follow his own argument. This was his original claim: ““Can I shout 'viewpoint discrimination' if psychiatric journals won't allow me to publish my demonic theory of mental illness?”

So I cited a counterexample. When, however, I answer him on his own grounds, he changes the subject. This is typical of the way in which Rintintin-cum- Funkenstein behaves. When you meet him on his own turf, he shifts ground.

“Some of the points I responded to where Steve mocked my biblical exegesis - these are genuine views of Christians I have spoken to or who put forward ideas in the public domain (eg talking snake, global flood etc). A reading of the English version of Genesis makes me consider these to be fairly reasonable representations, but obviously I don't speak ancient Hebrew and not every Christian denomination interprets these the same way. I am not a mind reader, so being unaware of Steve's specific beliefs my statements might not be applicable to him personally.”

Funkenstein is debating me, not Ken Ham.

More to the point, it’s irrelevant how some Christians interpret Genesis. Funkenstein is attacking Genesis. So his attack depends on his interpretation, not theirs. As such, it’s incumbent on his to justify his interpretation, using grammatico-historical exegesis, and interacting with alternative interpretations in the standard exegetical literature.

For example, if Mary Baker Eddy took Gen 1 a certain way, and Funkenstein demonstrated that her position was scientifically untenable, that wouldn’t prove that Gen 1 is scientifically untenable—but only that her position on Gen 1 was scientifically untenable.

“On the subject of the serpent, my statement that it seems ludicrous was met with a reply that Bronze age people wouldn't have had access to it either. But this doesn't really hold up - they were apparently privileged with an abundance of miracles of equivalent impressiveness for a period of several thousand years. Jesus performs a veritable plethora of miracles throughout the Gospels for example.”

Here he betrays his self-reinforcing ignorance of Scripture. Miracles aren’t commonplace in Bible history. They cluster around major redemptive events. Because the Bible, like any historical work, is selective, and because it’s primarily concerned with the history of redemption, miraculous events are disproportionately represented. But in other historical books of scripture which narrate less epochal periods, miracles are few and far between.

“As far as I can tell, those of us in the modern age have not been given the same benefit.”

This is yet another example of his self-reinforcing ignorance. If you go out of your way to avoid religious experience, you will likely succeed. But miracles didn’t end with the death of the Apostles.

“Seeing as the basic argument is that God, and specifically the Christian God for presuppositonal apologists, is self-evident, this should be as true for me, some guy in an isolated tribe in the Amazon, someone in ancient China or the ancient Aborigines as it was for the people in the ancient Near/Middle East (and apparently van Til et al). Speaking personally, I had no awareness of God until someone told me about the idea when I was a child.”

Presuppositional apologetics doesn’t content that God is self-evident. Rather, the basic argument in presuppositional apologetics is that God supplies the necessary truth-conditions for anything to be true, provable, probable, or knowable.

That’s not the same thing as claiming that God’s existence is self-evident. That’s not a psychological claim, but a metaphysical claim.

Presuppositional apologetics also stresses the noetic effects of sin. Even if God were self-evident, an unwelcome truth will be suppressed.

“Van Til states that ‘God must always remain mysterious to man.’ But obviously not to him and various theologians past and present it would seem. Curiously these theologians with access to knowledge of God don't all agree with each other.”

i) Don’t all agree with each other about what? The doctrine of God? Traditionally, there’s a fair amount of agreement among Christian theologians about the divine attributes.

And where there’s disagreement, it’s generally due to the attempt to reconcile the divine attributes, which they agree upon, with some extraneous precommitment regarding the nature of human freedom.

ii) Of course, scientists don’t all agree with each other. Therefore, by Funkenstein’s criterion, scientists don’t have access to knowledge of the natural world.

“I believe Greg Bahnsen attempted to provide a way of 'knowing the supernatural' while he was alive - yet from reading his words, they gave no real indication of how one would do this or separate it from one's own imagination.”

This is so vague that there’s nothing to respond to. Bahnsen believed in divine revelation. That was the primary way of “knowing the supernatural.” And Bahnsen presented a transcendental argument for the existence of God. What Funkenstein thinks any of this has to do with “imagination,” he doesn’t explain—probably because his knowledge of Bahnsen is so cursory and second-hand that he can’t say anything specific.

“Furthermore, as Frame explains how he knows God illumines the human mind: 'we know without knowing how we know', and also that 'we know that Scripture is God’s Word, but we know very little about the process by which God inspires the biblical writers and texts'. For all the criticism my views have received, these don't exactly seem like rock-solid foundations either.”

i) Frame is simply drawing a distinction between preanalytical knowledge and analytical knowledge. There are many things we know at the level of tacit knowledge that we haven’t bothered to prove. And, in some cases, we couldn’t prove it even though we know it. How does Funkenstein recognize the voice of a friend on the phone?

ii) In addition, Frame doesn’t leave it at that. He marshals arguments for the existence of God. Read the AGG.

“We're also always expected to make concessions for God that would never be made by theists for the alternative - God can 'just exist', yet the universe for some reason cannot (I think Hume pointed this out). The universe needs a cause, since things that exist are caused - yet God does not. I don't see any reason we should agree to these concessions just to suit theists.”

As usual, Funkenstein betrays his self-reinforcing ignorance of Christian theology. The cosmological argument was never that every *existent* is caused, but that every *event* is caused. Everything that comes into being (or goes out of existence) requires a cause. Since God is timeless, he has no temporal origin: hence, no cause.

“A common PA argument for Christianity (often used by Rhology, which is taken from Bahnsen as far as I remember) against atheism is 'the impossibility of the contrary'. But how exactly would someone prove that we couldn't be sitting here having this conversation without a deity of some description?”

Well, if Funkenstein actually bothered to read Bahnsen or Frame for himself, he might be able to answer his own question.

“More to the point how would someone prove that we do indeed need the Christian God - after all Frame's piece simply claims knowledge of the existence and attributes of said God despite there being no way to separate it from pure imagination, then ironically critiques a worldview where an assumption is made then everything shoehorned around it.”

That’s hardly an accurate description of Frame’s position. Read the AGG.

“I've yet to talk to an apologist who doesn't assume everything presented to them that offers a contradiction to their beliefs must be wrong by default (perhaps they might say that of me of course) or can be explained away by ad-hoc miracles.”

Once again, this is too vague to merit a response. What contradictions in particular? What ad-hoc miracles?

“A perfect example is the harmonisation of Genesis 2 with Genesis 1.”

It doesn’t require any ad hoc miracles to harmonize. Just basic reading ability. Gen 1 is a global creation account while Gen 2 is a local creation account. Gen 2 is concerned with the creation of man and his immediate habitant (the Garden of Eden and its “furnishings”). It corresponds to Day 6 on Gen 1.

If this is his “perfect example,” then it shows you what a pitifully weak case he has against the Bible.

“I see a few problems with this. Why so vague that we need to make speculations?”

No speculations needed.

“Why should I assume this attempt at harmonisation to be true unless I have a prior commitment to Christianity being true?”

Why should I assume this attempt at harmonization to be false unless I have a prior commitment to Christianity being false?

Anyway, a Christian could have good reason for his prior commitment to the truth of Christianity.

“Why did God not know Adam would be alone and need companions, and thus make his initial creation right on Adam's doorstep?”

He did. Where does the account say that God didn’t know? It doesn’t. Rather, it says that Adam didn’t know. And there’s a difference between abstract knowledge and existential knowledge. What does it *feel* like to be alone? That’s knowledge by acquaintance. You can only acquire that kind of knowledge through personal experience.

“For a book that is supposed to be the inerrant word of God, having all these vagaries in the first 2 pages doesn't exactly inspire confidence for me.”

It doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in Funkenstein’s competence when he commits so many elementary blunders.

“A lot of the argument on Steve's post centres around Alvin Plantinga's EAAN - some of his work seems like a kind of 'presuppositional apologetics lite' from what I can gather, since it posits a deity as opposed to the Christian God specifically.”

Plantinga doesn’t “posit” a God. He argues for God’s existence.

And he attacks naturalism on its own grounds. His argument against naturalism isn’t predicated on the existence of God. Rather, Plantinga is mounting an internal critique of naturalism. God would be the alternative.

“As one of the commenters defending my posting said, Plantinga's argument was simply presented as a factual statement, despite there being a lot of critiques of it.”

And Plantinga responds to his critics on a regular basis. Funkenstein is trapped in his self-reinforcing ignorance.

“Henry pointed out that legs didn't initially evolve in tetrapods for walking in land, nor did feathers evolve for birds flying - but would anyone say that they aren't useful for those functions? “

“Useful for x” is a teleological evaluation. Methodological naturalism forbids that.

Moreover, this fails to salvage your claim about the reliability of the senses. Reliability is a teleological concept. As an atheist, you can’t apply teleological explanations to the natural world.

“For example, if someone can assume God as a basic belief/first principle when it isn't a conceptually irreducible idea, what's stopping me from doing the same with Rationality + Naturalism? Plantinga's view suffers as much from circularity as the one I've just presented.”

No, these are obviously asymmetrical propositions. Naturalism undercuts its own claims by raising a presumption against the reliability of the brain or the senses. That hardly presents a parallel to divine creation.

In naturalism, a mindless process produces the brain. Moreover, true beliefs are inessential to survival. Hence, there’s no reason for natural selection to select for true beliefs.

In Christian theism, an infallible mind (God’s) produces the human mind and senses. And God puts man in an environment to which his mind and senses are preadapted. These are not comparable scenarios.

“The pro-deity argument surely relies on assuming a working brain/senses prior to assuming God, since without these the 'self-evident' knowledge of God might just be the workings of a defective brain etc. After all, Frame does say 'we know we know' - yet how does he know this isn't just a defective brain telling him nonsense?”

Funkenstein is merely reiterating his previous missteps.

“From what I gather, naturalism only suffers when the naturalist takes a Cartesian view of the mind (which I believe Plantinga does) rather than a pragmatic one (which I believe eg Daniel Dennett does).”

What makes him think Cartesian dualism is relevant? I’d add that pragmatism doesn’t select for true beliefs. Many mindless things work perfectly well. My lawnmower does a fine job of mowing the lawn without exhibiting any cognitive ability. So the pragmatic criterion is irrelevant.

“I'm genuinely curious to know how theologians know so much about God outside of what is in the bible (or in fact how the original writers were able to communicate God's thoughts onto paper (papyrus?) - after all Moses wasn't around to see the creation or the flood and so on) - a lot of what they say seems a little 'emperor's new clothes' to me, but maybe that's just my ignorance.”

Yeah, that’s just your ignorance, all right. Try brushing on up on natural theology.

Likewise, Moses didn’t need to be an eyewitness to creation or the flood to know about it if he was a recipient of divine revelation.

If knowledge of the world is dependent on direct observation, then Funkenstein doesn’t believe that cosmology or evolutionary biology or historical geology can tell us anything about the prehistoric past.

“This is interesting for 1 reason. Science can investigate these gaps by hypothesising, collecting data, analysing it and drawing conclusions. The same cannot be said of blanks looking to be filled by supernaturalism, which is basically guesswork.”

What’s the difference between “hypothesizing,” and “guesswork”? Isn’t the former just a euphemism for the latter?

“I also responded to this before by pointing out Newton's reference to angels pushing planets, which was later supplanted by Laplace's work.”

Why not stick with biblical theism?

“Theists also have a very selective application of supernaturalism - I see no reason it should be any less applicable to computer science or engineering than it should be to biology, geology or cosmology.”

There are specific reasons for miracles in Scripture. Ordinary providence does just fine most of the time. Funkenstein takes a simple-minded, all-or-nothing approach.

Most of the time I don’t fight gravity. Gravity is useful. But sometimes, like when I want to travel a great distance, that it’s useful to fight gravity. I’d rather take a plane than walk three thousand miles or swim the Atlantic.

Funkenstein is also fixated on Tiktaalik. But he never answered my question about how he distinguishes between an evolutionary intermediate and an ecological intermediate. If, for example, an organism occupies an ecological zone that has a mixed habit, it’s not surprising if the organism is designed to function on land and water (to take one example) or air and water (to take another example), or land and air (to take another example). This is perfectly consistent with special creation.

Moreover, special creation doesn’t exclude adaptive variation.

“Yes, I have - it wasn't exactly supportive of an anti-evolutionary view despite the claims made on its behalf.”

No one said that Gee is antievolution. But he undermines the evidence for common descent. It you can’t establish lineal descent, how do you establish common descent? Here are some examples from his own book:

http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2007/05/evolutionary-mirror-reading.html

“Furthermore, it was pretty clearly against a biblical literalist view and typological thinking. Interesting how that was never pointed out when Gee's name was touted as proof 'Darwinism' was in disarray.”

No one ever said that he was a young-earth creationist, or any sort of creationist. Once again, we have to explain to you what an internal critique is. Gee’s argument is predicated on geological time-scales. A young-earth creationist would reject that.

But if we accept that for the sake of argument, then the extant fossils are so isolated in time that you can’t properly sequence them.

How many times do we need to walk you through the basic principles of logical argumentation before the point sinks in? Has atheism left your faculties so atrophied that you can’t follow a simple explanation—or even follow your own argument?

“Why does my lack of ability mean that other design is not poorly done?”

You’re in no position to say that a design is defective unless you—or someone else—can design a superior alternative. Unless you experiment with the alternatives, you don’t know if there are any viable alternatives, much less superior alternatives.

“Note the assumption here - the 'establishment' must be the ones who are wrong. This is a common refrain amongst supernaturalists - if their supernatural views aren't accepted, then they are being discriminated against in some way, or the 'establishment' are running scared of some groundbreaking challenge to accepted reality. It couldn't just be that Sheldrake's methods are deficient, or he's cherry picking data or offering up subtle coercions to direct the study in the direction he wants? This seems like a totally uncritical acceptance of a fairly questionable research program on Steve's part.”

i) As usual, Funkenstein isn’t responding to what I actually wrote. I didn’t say that I agreed with Sheldrake. I merely pointed out that he studies natural phenomena that the scientific establishment routinely ignores since such phenomena constitute an embarrassment to the dominant paradigm.

ii) Sheldrake isn’t investigating the “supernatural.” He’s investigating the paranormal.

iii) And, as a matter of fact, members of the scientific establishment, like Richard Dawkins, do indeed act as if they’re running scared:

http://www.sheldrake.org/D&C/controversies/Dawkins.html

“Although not directly related to Sheldrake's work, this is another good explanation of reasons for skepticism when someone claims that natural laws can just break down at the drop of a hat. It amazes me that people (not just Steve) will unhesitatingly accept such supernatural claims purely on the basis of the word of the person making the claim, and because it's the sort of thing they like to believe in rather than anything that stands up to critical scrutiny, yet no amount of objective evidence will convince them of things they don't want to be true.”

Sheldrake isn’t making “supernatural” claims. He’s pointing to evidence for phenomena like animal psi. And I never took a position on his claims. I merely pointed out that he’s investigating natural phenomena which the scientific establishment dismisses out of hand.

Why does Funkenstein keep aiming at specious targets? Is he too dim to follow the actual argument? Or is his problem that he has no counterargument, so he simply “responds” to an argument his opponent never made in the first place?

The Argument from Areligious Experience

"Some of them [people who rejected religious faith] had blinding moments of unconviction that were every bit as instantanious, though perhaps less epileptic and apocalyptic (and later more rationally and morally justified) than Saul of Tarsus on the Damascus road." - Christopher Hitchens, god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, p. 5.

Frame Reviews Enns

John Frame has a substantial and helpful review of Peter Enns' book, Inspiration and Incarnation, here.

Do Passages Like Genesis 19 And Luke 16 Support Prayers To Angels And The Deceased?

Dave Armstrong recently posted an article on prayers to the deceased and angels. I've written on the subject before (see here, for example), and I won't repeat everything I've said in the past, but I want to comment on some of the issues addressed in Dave's article.

Dave doesn't cite any Biblical equivalent of the Roman Catholic prayers Evangelicals object to, because there is no Biblical equivalent. Rather, he cites some Biblical practices that are somewhat similar to the Roman Catholic practice, and he suggests that the former have implications for the latter.

I don't think many Evangelicals, if any, would argue that it's inappropriate to communicate with the deceased and angels in every context. For example, Dave cites Luke 16:19-31, in which a deceased unbeliever, a rich man, communicates with a deceased believer, Abraham. What Evangelical would deny that if one deceased person appears before another, the two can communicate? I doubt that any Evangelical would maintain that two Christians in Heaven wouldn't be permitted to speak with each other, since they had physically died. The rich man in Luke 16 is no longer living on earth, with all of the limitations and Divine commandments that apply to earthly life, and Abraham is within sight. That context is significantly different than a context in which a man on earth attempts to initiate contact, through prayer, with a deceased person whose ability to hear him he can't verify, sometimes not even knowing whether the deceased person is saved.

Distinctions like these aren't just made by Evangelicals. If a Christian from China visits Dave's church, and he speaks with that Christian while he's visiting, Dave won't assume that he can speak with that Christian through prayer after he returns to China. And when Dave wrote an earlier article discussing whether we can pray to Jesus, he didn't cite the centurion's conversation with Jesus in Matthew 8 or the disciples' conversations with Jesus in John 21, for example, to justify the practice of praying to Jesus. It seems that Dave understands that there's a relevant difference between speaking with Jesus in a context like Matthew 8 or John 21 and speaking with Him today, while He's in Heaven.

Yet, Dave repeatedly disregards such distinctions when citing Biblical passages about the deceased and angels. For example, he cites Matthew 17:1-4 and 27:50-53, even though those deceased believers had returned to life on earth, yet he doesn't cite passages like John 21, in which people speak with Jesus after He returned to life on earth, in order to justify prayers to Jesus. Maybe Dave will begin appealing to passages like John 21 in that context, but his apparent failure to do so in the past suggests to me that he's aware of and agrees with distinctions such as the ones I've made above.

If the people of Biblical times had practiced prayers to the deceased and angels, we would expect to see that practice reflected in the Biblical record. We wouldn't expect angels to have to initiate contact with people on earth before we saw people on earth speaking to angels, for example. Why didn't Saul pray to Samuel rather than attempting to contact him through a medium? The people of the Bible would speak with the deceased or angels if the deceased or angels manifested themselves in some manner, but they wouldn't attempt to initiate communication through prayer to a being who gives no indication of being available for contact.

Dave often makes comments such as:

"Saints in heaven are aware of earthly events."

"Angels are aware of earthly events to an extraordinary degree, being super-intelligent beings."

He claims that deceased believers are "perfectly aware of affairs on earth".

But the deceased and angels can be aware of some events on earth without being aware of every event. Angels have limitations in understanding and interacting with events on earth (Daniel 10:13, 1 Peter 1:12). Passages like 1 Kings 8:38-39 and Revelation 2:23 suggest that only God thoroughly knows the human heart, and 1 Kings 8 is addressed specifically to the context of prayer. We would need some further warrant before concluding that the deceased and angels are aware of people's thoughts and speech. Angels are messengers. They're sent to perform particular tasks. Different angels work in different parts of the universe. The fact that an angel is "aware of earthly events to an extraordinary degree" in the earthly context he's sent to address doesn't suggest that he would be aware of a prayer in the heart of a child in some other part of the world, for example.

The Bible addresses thousands of years of human history in a large variety of contexts. There are hundreds of Biblical examples of prayers offered to God. There are many Biblical examples of people interacting with the deceased and angels if they leave the earthly realm (in Heaven, in visions, etc.) or if the deceased or angels manifest themselves in the earthly realm. But we're never encouraged to attempt to initiate communication with the deceased or angels through prayer. Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and others who believe in praying to the deceased and angels do so millions of times every day, and their behavior leaves many and explicit traces in the historical record. How likely is it that there would be no such traces in the Biblical record if prayer to the deceased and angels had been a practice of the people of God in Biblical times?

Or, if we're to believe that it's an appropriate practice that didn't develop until post-Biblical times, then why should we consider it an appropriate development? Nothing in Dave's article leads us to the conclusion that the deceased and angels are appropriate recipients of prayer. Dave doesn't want us to speak with an angel who has appeared to us on earth, as in Genesis 19. He doesn't want us to speak with an angel who appears to us in a vision, as in Zechariah 2. He doesn't want us to speak with deceased believers who return to life on earth, such as the ones in Matthew 27. He doesn't want us to speak with Abraham if we see him in the afterlife, as in Luke 16. Dave wants those of us who are still in this life on earth to try to initiate communication with the deceased and angels through prayer, often when the deceased and angels aren't known to have entered the earthly realm and without our knowing whether the deceased are saved. There's a significant difference, and Dave's article doesn't do anything to bridge the gap.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Pride goeth before a prattfall

Since Jason Pratt is being incorrigible, I’ll take a little time to reply:

Jason Pratt said...

“What's funnier is that they regularly complain when opponents hold back on doing exegesis due to time constraints. So, one wonders, why not deal with your exegesis?!”

http://evangelicaluniversalist.blogspot.com/2008/06/gregory-macdonald-worships-false-god.html

Since Jason is far too clever not to know the answer to this question, I must assume that he’s dissembling. So I’ll have to repeat myself, as well as expand on my original explanation:

i) As I said in my original post, I’ve already reviewed three books on universalism. So I’ve already interacted with standard universalistic prooftexting.

ii) In fact, MacDonald frequently piggybacks on the very writers (Adams, Bonda, Talbott) whom I’ve reviewed—including their exegesis.

iii) As I also said at the time, he rehashes annihilationist arguments to blunt the force of certain prooftexts for everlasting punishment. Once again, I’ve dealt with annihilationism elsewhere.

What is more, there are standard rebuttals to annihilationism which I notice that MacDonald doesn’t bother to engage, e.g. C. Morgan & R. Peterson, eds., Hell Under Fire; W. Fudge & R. Peterson, Two Views of Hell.

iv) The only somewhat original thing about his exegetical case for universalism is that he redeploys NPP arguments in defense of universalism. So he’s using one controversial thesis to prop up another controversial thesis.

In a partial book review, I’m not going to get sidetracked on the NPP. That’s become a very specialized field of study. There are many erudite monographs in print critiquing Sanders, Wright, Dunn et al. on the intricacies of the NPP. That’s a separate argument, and I don’t need to reinvent the wheel.

v) Finally, it isn’t necessary for me to do exegesis to respond to MacDonald on his own grounds, for MacDonald made clear in the first few pages of the few chapter of his book that exegesis is secondary. For, as he made plain at the outset, if he thought the Bible taught everlasting punishment, that wouldn’t convince him to be a Christian who believes in everlasting punishment. No. That would convince him that he could no longer believe in the God of the Bible. So, for him, the witness of scripture isn’t normative. He will only believe the Bible if the Bible rubberstamps his universalistic sentiments.

“As for getting off light--at least he didn't start hurling invective about you being some Satanic-level blasphemer pretending to use orthodox theology to mislead people.”

Let’s set the record straight on how all this got started. Here are a couple of Jason’s zingers:

“That’s why Satan would be wrong to be doing either of those, too; or me, for that matter. (I’m pretty sure it says in the Bible somewhere that God is not a worker of iniquity. {wry s} In effect that means we can expect Him not to pre-damn Esau to hopeless torture and/or annihilation which is the sort of thing we would normally expect Satan or some other sinful tyrant to do, not God, the One Who is Good.)”

“The sin has to go, and reconciliation of the sinner must be achieved. Otherwise there is no justice. (Except the only kind of ‘justice’ Satan could imagine. I think God is a better person than Satan.”

Jason is the one who initiated the satanic comparisons, not me. The only difference is that Jason applied them to God. That’s so much better, don’t you think?

Jason’s immediate target is Reformed theism, but his target isn’t limited to Reformed theism. He happened to be debating a Calvinist. But his satanic comparison is a special case of his general views on everlasting punishment.

For him, any version of everlasting punishment, where there’s no hope of redemption, is literally satanic. A God who punished a sinner without holding out hope of redemption would be morally equivalent to Satan.

But by that very comparison, Jason realigns himself with the archenemy of God and God’s people. When Jason vilifies God by drawing diabolical comparisons, he’s reciting Satan’s version of history. God is the bad guy, the cosmic despot, the Omnipotent Fiend—for damning Satan and his minions to everlasting hell.

Jason is reciting a page from the Satanic Bible. The Satanic Bible rewrites Gen 3, making the Tempter the good guy. Lucifer. The liberator. The hero.

Of course, Jason would never be that candid. He’ll simply say that any God who damns a sinner to everlasting hell isn’t the true God, so it’s no sacrilege to compare a false god to Satan. That’s the pious way of redecorating his impiety.

Jason thinks that he should be treated with utmost reverence while he treats his Maker with utmost irreverence. I don’t share his infernal scale of values.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

All dogs go to heaven

An author writing under the pseudonym of Gregory MacDonald has penned a book entitled The Evangelical Universalist (SPCK 2008).

The first question I’d ask myself is, why the pseudonym? It’s not as if he’s in imminent danger of being burnt alive at the stake.

Is he afraid of losing his job if he goes public? But he’d only lose his job if he holds a job in which he’s expected to affirm the traditional doctrine of hell. So I have assume he’s holding down his current job under false pretenses. Why else would he conceal his true identity?

Shouldn’t he come clean about his beliefs? If he was hired under the assumption that he affirmed the traditional doctrine of hell, and changed his mind after he got the job, he should inform his employer.

I’ve already read and reviewed three major books defending universalism. I also got into a lengthy debate with Tom Talbott and Jason Pratt on the subject. My debate with Pratt was interrupted by other duties, and I never got around to resuming that particular exchange.

So, why am I writing about yet another book defending universalism? Well, for one thing, MacDonald managed to garner some striking endorsements.

The endorsement by Talbott is predicable enough, both because Talbott is a fellow universalist, and because he’s quoted extensively and favorably by the author. Also, the recommendation of a theology prof. from George Fox University is less than earth-shattering.

However, Joel Green and Andrew Lincoln are major names in NT scholarship. Mind you, they don’t say he convinced them. Indeed, Green says otherwise. But they’re very laudatory.

He also snagged a glowing blurb from Oliver Crisp, who was, at least up until now, a rising star among Reformed philosophers.

So, that’s quite a build-up. It definitely raises your expectations. Of course, high expectations can be hazardous.

When I turn to the actual content of the book, I’m a bit puzzled by why the reviews think this work marks such a significant advance in the case for “Evangelical” universalism.

In defusing prooftexts for everlasting punishment, he borrows some moves from standard annihilationist literature. His prooftexts for universal salvation parallel Arminian prooftexts for universal atonement. So there’s a deja-vu quality to his treatment.

Let me say at the outset that whether or not you’re impressed with a book like this depends in no small measure on whether you’re predisposed to agree with the author. How much preexisting room do you have in your belief-system to accommodate his claims?

An Arminian has more room than a Calvinist. An annihilationist has more room than a Calvinist—just as an Anglican is more inclined to Catholicism than a Baptist.

I’m a Calvinist. And I’ve been doing apologetics for several years now, so my beliefs are battle-hardened. There’s no opening in my belief-system for him to exploit. No crack in the wall.

This is not a choice between open-mined and closed-minded beliefs. If Lincoln or Green is more sympathetic to his thesis than me, it’s not because they’re more open-minded than me, but because they come to the book with their own theological precommitments which predispose them in favor of his arguments.

I don’t plan to comment on every chapter of the book. There’s a repetitious quality to books defending universalism. A predictable set of well-worn arguments. I’m only commenting on this book since it will probably be touted as the standard defense of universalism.

Reviewers will remind us at nauseating intervals that this is a “challenging,” “thought-provoking” book. That thoughtful Christians can’t afford to ignore it. That we must be prepared to “wrestle,” “grapple,” and “come to terms” with his argument. To think “long and hard” about it as we “tackle” his arguments. Well, let’s see about that.

“Have you ever felt that soul-sickening feeling when you know you cannot worship God with sincerity any longer” (1)?

Can’t say I have.

“Have you ever experienced the painful knowledge that the noble words of praise coming from your lips are hollow” (1)?

If he’s alluding to Wesleyan hymns which contain Arminian errors, I simply make allowance for the fact that hymns are fallible.

“I can recall one Sunday morning when I had to stop singing for I was no longer sure whether I believed that God deserved worship. For a believer, that is a moment of despair. Ever since I had been a Christian, I had never waved in my conviction that God loved people, but on that Sunday I didn’t know if I could believe that anymore. I was having a doxological crisis—wanting to believe that God was worthy of worship but unable to do so. The crisis was brought on by my reflections on hell” (1).

What he apparently means by this is the following: God doesn’t love anyone unless he loves everyone; God doesn’t love everyone unless he saves everyone; unless God saves everyone, God is unworthy of our worship.

I agree with McDonald’s self-diagnosis. He couldn’t worship God with sincerity. Up until then, he was worshiping a false God.

In fact, he still is. All he’s done since then is to shore up his false preconception of God. He’s an idolater.

The question at issue is whether God is worthy of worship unless he saves every sinner.

Let’s think about that for a moment. Suppose I commit mutiny. And suppose I have no good reason. Maybe it’s sheer greed. I don’t rebel against Capt. Bligh. In fact, I rebel because the captain is a man of honor. He’s crimping my style. I want to rape and pillage at will.

My fellow sailors and I decide to become pirates. The captain and first mate are decent men who oppose our evil schemes, so we murder them and commandeer the ship. Eventually, we’re captured and sentenced to death.

Yet I receive a pardon. Why? My father did the king a favor, and so the king returns the favor.

But I refuse the pardon. Unless the king extends the royal pardon to all my mutinous cohorts, then he’s not worthy of my respect.

The ironic thing about men like MacDonald who badmouth hell is that they always manage to badmouth hell in such a way as to justify the very thing they reprobate. Their attitude is such a damnable attitude to begin with. It’s not God who’s unworthy of their worship, but they who proves themselves to be unworthy of a worthy and worshipful God.

“I began my Christian life by affirming with a vengeance the mainstream tradition of the Church that hell was eternal conscious torment” (1).

Throughout this book, McDonald will use the word “torment.” This, of course, conjures up the image of hell as an everlasting torture chamber.

In my opinion, this owes more to literary tradition, augmented by a cinematic tradition, than to the exegesis of Scripture. So his entire book is burning a straw man.

“After a few years, a friend of mine managed to wean me onto a version of hell-as-annihilation...Not long after that John Stott ‘came out’ as a tentative annihilationist, giving considerable credibility to our position—a position that is now thankfully considered as a legitimate ‘evangelical option’ by many” (1-2).

Why should a universalist regard annihilationism as a legitimate option? Moreover, is Christianity a Turkish Bazaar in which we go from booth to booth—dickering over the various “options,” or is Christianity a revealed religion?

“My crisis began some years later whilst I was reading a superb book the philosopher William Lane Craig...defending a philosophical position known as ‘middle knowledge’ (or Molinism)...this is a tremendously appealing view, because it enables the Christian to hold together the biblical themes of predestination and free will” (2).

Is freewill a biblical theme?

“However, as I read the book a question crossed my mind: ‘If God can allow us freedom and still ensure that he gets his will done, why is it that he allows anyone to go to hell?’ If William Craig is right, I reasoned, God could saved everyone without violating our free will!...” (2).

Christian libertarians have, indeed, backed themselves into a corner on this issue. Why didn’t God simply instantiate a possible world with only heavenbound agents? Some possible worlds have both heavenbound and hellbound agents, other possible worlds have only hellbound agents, while still other possible worlds have only heavenbound agents. For that matter, some possible worlds are unfallen worlds.

While the totality of agents involves a mix of sinful and sinless agents, hellbound and heavenbound agents, why didn’t God instantiate the subset of heavenbound agents? Why not limit his selection to the free agents who only do good?

(Admittedly, Plantinga tries to solve the problem by positing transworld depravity. But it’s implausible to first attribute libertarian freedom to human agents, then insist that there’s no possible world free of sin. It’s an odd sort of libertarianism that commits you to an inevitable outcome.)

However, you can relieve a contradiction in more than one direction. It’s not as if univeralism is the only game in town.

“The problem Craig’s book raised for me was that the main argument I had used to defend hell, at least when not going through a Calvinist phase, was that God had given humans free will, and if people choose to reject the gospel, then God would not compel them to accept it. Craig’s book began to remove that argument from my armory, leaving me defenseless” (2).

Notice how apologetics is driving MacDonald’s theology. Our main argument for hell should be divine revelation. What do we really know about the afterlife apart from revelation? At best, philosophical arguments and parapsychological evidence might give us some reason to believe in the survival of the soul. But when it comes to the detailed content of the afterlife, how would anything short of revelation fill the gap?

This doesn’t mean that a revealed truth can’t be defended on rational grounds. But MacDonald is making that secondary exercise the primary reason we should either accept or reject a revealed truth. The divine authority of revelation itself doesn’t figure in his calculations.

“The problem was that over a period of months I had become convinced that God could save everyone if he wanted to, and yet I also believed that the Bible taught that he would not. But, I reasoned, if he loved them, surely he would save them; and thus my doxological crisis grew. Perhaps the Calvinists were right—God could save everyone if he wanted to, but he does not want to. He loves the elect with saving love but not so the reprobate” (3).

Which relieves the tension.

“He may love me, but does he love my mother? I was no longer sure. Could I love a God who could rescue everyone but chose not to? I could and did go through the motions, but my heart was not in it. And that was what happened—I sang and prayed; but it felt hollow and so I stopped. I no longer loved God, because he seemed diminished” (3).

Several issues here:

i) Should we only sing and pray when we feel like it? If anything, it’s when we don’t feel like it that we need to sing and pray all the more. The walk of faith has its dry seasons. It isn’t strewn with lilacs and butterflies.

ii) The emotional dimension of the issue is undeniable. And I’ll have more to say about that as we progress. At the same time, this all depends on what example you choose. It’s easy to come up with tearjerkers that make universalism very winsome. But one can come up with counterexamples, no less realistic.

Take the battered-woman syndrome. No matter how often the husband or boyfriend beats her to a pulp, she can’t bring herself to leave him. She’s emotionally dependent on him. She’s hopelessly in love with her abuser.

In the eschatology of wife-beaterism, a battered-woman can’t imagine the prospect of eternity without her abusive husband or boyfriend, so she constructs a heaven for wife-beaters. In heaven, the wife-beater will continue to get drunk and slap her around—cuz heaven wouldn’t be heaven without him. If God didn’t save her abusive boyfriend, he wouldn’t be worthy of worship.

Should we reformulate our eschatology to accommodate the psychology of the battered woman? If she can’t face the prospect of life without her abusive boyfriend, should we remodel heaven to include abusive boyfriends?

iii) This may well be a deal-breaker for the universalist. They would rather spend eternity in hell with their friends than spend eternity in heaven with a God who didn’t save their friends. Mind you, their friends won’t be very friendly in hell.

“According to the traditional doctrine, hell is everlasting, conscious torment” (11).

i) I’m less concerned with the traditional doctrine or traditional formulation that with the Scriptural doctrine.

ii) Apropos (i), I wouldn’t define hell as everlasting, conscious *torment*. Rather, I’d define it as everlasting, conscious *punishment*.

It isn’t necessary to define the punishment as *torment*. It isn’t necessary to specify or narrow down the nature of the punishment, as if “torment” is synonymous with retribution, which is obviously not the case. The retributive theory of punishment does not entail “torment.” Torment may or may not be punitive, but punishment isn’t inherently tortuous, and retributive justice doesn’t necessitate “torment.” This is a straw man argument.

Now, it’s possible that the damned torment each other, which would be a case of poetic justice rather than retributive justice. And to say the damned torment each other is not equivalent to saying that God torments the damned.

I’d add that you don’t have to be tormented to be miserable. Or suffer. To constantly cast the opposing position in terms of “torment” is prejudicial.

“What possible crime is a finite human capable of committing that would be justly punished in this way? Many find the idea absurd, because it is hard to see how even the most hideous crimes humans commit could be balanced by the traditional eternal punishment. The upshot of this is that the traditional doctrine seems to require a theory of punishment that ends up undermining it” (11).

i) Where’s the argument? He poses a rhetorical question, which begs the question. He then asserts that many find the idea absurd—which doesn’t give us a reason to agree with them.

ii) He then objects to the idea of infinite demerit. But this represents a popular confusion. The fact that something is of endless duration doesn’t make it infinite. That would make it a potential infinite rather than an actual infinite. And a potential infinite is an actual finite.

iii) The damned do not experience infinite punishment. They only experience finite punishment. They are punished moment by moment. Of what is conscious punishment conscious? The present. While—to some degree—we remember the past, and while—to some degree, we anticipate the future—we are directly aware of the present. Each instant of the specious present.

He also attacks the idea that hell is a vicious cycle. The damned are sinners. They continue to sin. So God continues to punish them.

He raises a couple of objections to this argument: “this view seems incompatible with a biblical theology according to which in the coming age God destroys sin from his creation” (14).

But that objection merely begs the question in favor of universalism. On the traditional view, God doesn’t eradicate sin from every square inch of his creation. Rather, he quarantines the damned in the penal colony of hell.

MacDonald is smuggling an assumption of universalistic eschatology into his critique of hell. But that grants the very question at issue.

ii) More to the point, guilt has no decay rate or expiration date. If you’re guilty of wrongdoing, you’re not half as guilty five years later. The passage of time is irrelevant to your culpability. You’ll be just as guilty a billion years from now as you were the hour you did it. In Scripture, it’s redemption, and not the lapse of time, that atones for sin.

“Why would God wish to create a situation in which many of his creatures rebel against him forever? Hell didn’t have to be that way” (14).

That’s not a bad question to ask. And we’ll get around to the answer in due course. But in the meantime, we could pose a parallel question for the universalist: Why would God wish to create a situation in which many of his creatures rebel in the first place?

How does universalism justify the Fall? Why must they go through hell to get to heaven?

Remember, MacDonald is a libertarian. He believes that God can save everyone without infringing on their freewill.

But in that event, God doesn’t actually need to save anyone. Salvation presupposes sin. God only needs to save everyone if everyone is lost—apart from salvation.

But why, on libertarian grounds, should we grant the operating assumption? Why didn’t God populate the world with the subset of free agents who never sinned? Think of how much pain and suffering that would avert—both in this life and the next (assuming postmortem salvation via a hellish Purgatory).

Hell didn’t have to be that way. Neither did life on earth.

He also discusses the suggestion that “Hell is everlasting; but, from the perspective of the damned, it is not that bad a place to be” (14).

It depends on how this is formulated. Hell is where sinners sin to their heart’s content—or discontent. They sin without restraint. They give free rein to their evil impulses.

I don’t see how God is wronging a wrongdoer by giving him what he wants. If he makes himself miserable in the process, that’s poetic justice. If he wrongs another wrongdoer, that’s poetic justice.

Even in this life we see men and women who dedicate their every waking moment to the pursuit of an utterly vapid, godless existence. Tallulah Bankhead comes to mind.

MacDonald then presents a syllogism with some of the following premises: “Supremely worthwhile happiness cannot...exist if there are people we know of but do not love” (15).

Yes, well, I see no Scriptural or intuitive ground for thinking that supremely worthwhile love cannot exist unless I love Attila the Hun. All MacDonald is doing here is to beg the question in favor of universalism.

“I can only know the fate of those I love and remain happy if their fate is ultimately a blessed one” (16).

But what about the fate of those I don’t love? Attila the Hun is not one of my loved ones.

“Therefore, the redeemed can only have supremly worthwhile happiness if ultimately no one they love is damned eternally” (16).

MacDonald is try to bundle two different arguments into one:

i) I can’t be happy in heaven if one (or more) of my loved ones is in hell.

ii) I can’t be happy in heaven if anyone is in hell.

But (ii) doesn’t follow from (i). I don’t feel the same way about Attila the Hun that I feel about my father or mother grandmother or best friend.

The emotional appeal of universalism is actually quite provincial. It’s limited to *my* loved ones. Selective universalism.

Now, everyone is related to someone else. Attila may have had a devoted daughter who was grief-stricken at his death. That doesn’t mean that I mourn for his death (or damnation). His death is no loss to me.

Frankly, it’s none of my business. He had his life and I have mine. I’m responsible for what I do with my life.

Of course, this doesn’t prevent me from caring about other people who are not my loved ones. But there’s no logical or psychological connection between ordinary compassion and the counterintuitive claim that I couldn’t or should be happy in heaven in the knowledge that Genghis Khan Joseph Mengele or Vlad the Impaler will spend eternity in hell.

And let’s remember that once you get to hell, all common grace is gone. In hell, everyone is just as evil as Genghis Khan or Joseph Mengele or Vlad the Impaler. Indeed, even worse.

I think MacDonald scores some valid points against Craig on 16-17. But that’s not an argument against hell. That’s just a criticism of certain rational arguments for hell. But the doctrine of hell is ultimately based on the witness of Scripture. Of God speaking to us in Scripture.

“God could stop me loving those I love at present. He could make my heart callous so that I am not tormented by their pains” (17).

One of MacDonald’s problems is a failure to distinguish between virtuous love and vicious love. Not all forms of love are virtuous. Some forms of love are sinful.

Take an adulterous couple. They love each other. Yet their love is sinful.

And they may take it a step further. Because they’re in love, they want to spend all their time together. But the spouse gets in the way. They have to conceal their affair.

So they hatch a plot to murder the inconvenient spouse. This is all done in the name of love. And the love is genuine. Passionate. All-consuming.

Suppose I were a juror at their murder trial. Would I be a “callous” juror because didn’t buy the plea that love excuses all? Would I be callous if I vote to convict them of murder?

To the contrary, I’d be callous to the murder victim if I acquitted the adulterous, murderous couple in the name of “love.”

Should we restructure heaven to create a heaven for adulterous lovers who can’t bear the thought of eternal separation from their beloved? Should we eternify adultery in the name of love?

What about the doting, ambitious mother of a cheerleader who hires a contract killer to murder a rival cheerleader so that her own daughter can become the prom queen. Her mother does it out of love. Maternal love. She loves her daughter. She’ll literally do anything for her daughter. Anything to advance her career. And that’s the problem. Love like that is immoral.

“But would the God who love his enemies (Mt 5:43-48) perform such heart-hardening surgery” (17).

Does God love his enemies? All his enemies? He loves some of his enemies—but does he love all of them? There are many passages of Scripture in which God treats his enemies in a way that seems less than loving—to say the least.

What about Mt 5:43-48?

i) Mt 5:45 doesn’t say that God loves his enemies. The passage does draw a broad analogy between the way in which God deals with his enemies, and the way in which we are to deal with our enemies. But it doesn’t turn that into a one-to-one correspondence.

ii) And when it speaks of love, this has reference, in context, to actions rather than attitudes.

iii) But, more to the point, what God actually does for his enemies in 5:45 is limited to the provision of natural resources. That’s hardly a prooftext for universal salvation. And, in fact, that doesn’t prevent God from raining down judgment on at least some of his enemies—both in this life and the life to come (e.g. Mt 10:15; 24:39; 25:41,46).

iv) Finally, why does God treat some of the wicked better than they deserve? Is it for their benefit? According to the parable of the wheat and the tares, God does it for the benefit of the wheat, not the tares.

In this age, the lives of the elect and the reprobate are intertwined. It’s not possible to judge one without harming the other (Mt 13:29). Only at the end of the age will it be possible weed the world (v30).

“If God himself does not rejoice in the death of the wicked...” (Ezk 33:11).

i) In context, this is talking about death, not damnation.

ii) Apropos (i), does MacDonald think that God can’t prevent the wicked from dying? If he takes no “pleasure” in their death, why does he allow them to die when it’s within his power to save them from the Grim Reaper? God himself is responsible for the fact that sin is a capital offense.

iii) It’s easy to come up with passages of Scripture in which God seems to be fairly enthusiastic about his judicial role (e.g. Ps 2:4-5; Is 30:27-30).

iv) In context, this isn’t talking about the wicked in general, but the Babylonian exiles. Members of the covenant community.

“...or in the pain he sometimes had to inflict (Lam 3:31-33), how could his people” (18)?

God doesn’t inflict pain for the sake of pain. The purpose is either remedial (for the elect), or retributive (for the reprobate).

He then has a section on Calvinism. “It seems to entail a denial of the claim that God’s nature is to love his creatures (as 1 Jn 4:8,16b seems to teach)” (19).

“That Christ died for all people (as 1 Jn 2:2 seems to teach)” (19).

If 1 Jn 2:2 is a prooftext for universal atonement (or universal salvation), then is 1 Jn 5:19 a prooftext for universal possession? Is every human being a demoniac?

In Johannine usage, kosmos is generally qualitative rather than quantitative. If refers to the kind of people we are. The kosmos represents the fallen world order, at enmity with God.

“And that God desires to save all (as 2 Pet 3:9, 1 Tim 2:4, and Ezk 33:11 seem to teach)” (20).

i) 2 Pet 3:9 doesn’t denote all human beings. As Bauckham points out, “God’s patience with his own people delaying the final judgment to give them the opportunity of repentance, provides at least a partial answer to the problem of eschatological delay…The author remains close to his Jewish source, for in Jewish though it was usually for the sake of the repentance of his own people that God delayed judgment,” Jude, 2 Peter, 312-13.

ii) 1 Tim 2:4 doesn’t denote all human beings. As Towner points out, “The purpose of the reference to ‘all people,’ which continues the theme of the universality in this passage, is sometimes misconstrued. The reference is made mainly with the Pauline mission to the Gentiles in mind (v7). But the reason behind Paul’s justification of this universal mission is almost certainly the false teaching, with its Torah-centered approach to life that included either an exclusivist bent or a downplaying of the Gentile mission…Paul’s focus is on building a people of God who incorporate all people regardless of ethnic, social, or economic backgrounds,” The Letters to Timothy and Titus, 177-78.

As Schreiner points out, “It may be that they [the false teachers] were consumed with genealogies because they restricted salvation along certain ethnic lines (1 Tim 1:4)…When Paul says that God desires all to be saved (1 Tim 2:4), and that Christ was the ransom for all (1 Tim 2:6), he may be responding to some who excluded Gentiles from salvation for genealogical reasons…Titus 2:11 should be interpreted along similar lines…Paul counters Jewish teachers (Tit 1:10,14-15; 3:9) who construct genealogies to exclude some from salvation,” Paul, Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ, 184-85.

Ezk 33:11 doesn’t denote all human beings. In context, it has reference to the exilic community.

“In light of the biblical emphasis on the supreme value of love, it seems plausible to think that a being that loves all is greater than a being who loves some but not others” (20).

i) But the Bible doesn’t prioritize the divine attributes in this fashion. It doesn’t say that God’s love takes precedence over his justice or holiness or wisdom, &c.

ii) Moreover, the attribute of love doesn’t imply the love of everything. If I love goodness, I hate evil. If I love virtue, I hate vice. So MacDonald’s argument undercuts his univeralism.

“Thus, it seems plausible, from a Christian perspective, to see the Calvinist solution to the problem of hell as requiring a diminished view of God’s greatness, and a diminished view of God’s greatness is the last thing a Calvinist wants to do” (20).

This argument is cute rather than acute. For it equivocates on how we define God’s greatness. Obviously a Calvinist doesn’t define it the same way as a univeralist, so MacDonald is merely begging the question—something he does on a regular basis.

“A God who loves all seems more worthy of worship than a God who does not” (20).

A God who loves Satan doesn’t seem more worshipful to me than a God who damns Satan.

In fact, you can tell a lot about a person by who or what he loves. If I went into someone’s home and saw a swastika over the fireplace, that one thing would reveal a lot about the homeowner—and the revelation wouldn’t be flattering.

What does it mean to love both the Nazi and the Jew? Aren’t there situations in which you have to choose? What if a Nazi prison guard is about to execute a Jewish child, and you’re in a position to prevent it by killing the Nazi. What’s the loving thing to do? Who lives and who dies? Whom do you save?

Like so many critics of Calvinism, MacDonald never appreciated just how counterintuitive and even scandalous is the love of God for sinners. That God loves anyone who’s wicked is not something we should take for granted. Not something that seems to come naturally to God. Just the opposite.

“The Calvinist may say that by saving some and not others God is making clear that salvation is of grace and thus undeserved. God did not have to save anyone. That he chooses some is wonderful. That he does not choose all is not unjust” (20).

Well put.

“In reply, let me note, first, that it is unclear why the ‘grace not works’ aspect of salvation requires any be damned” (20).

i) It doesn’t. But notice how MacDonald is inverting the issue from whether God is required to save anyone to whether he is required to damn anyone. Even if God is not required to damn anyone (which is a straw man argument), this doesn’t mean he’s required to save anyone, much less that he’s required to save everyone.

ii) And notice another bait-and-switch. He originally framed the issue in terms of God making clear the gratuity of grace by saving some rather than all. He then switches to the question of whether salvation by grace alone requires God to damn anyone. But that’s a different question. And that doesn’t negate the other question.

Even if it isn’t necessary for God to damn anyone for salvation to *be* gracious, it might be necessary for God to damn some to *demonstrate* (“make clear”) that salvation is gracious.

“Surely we could all be recipients of such grace without it becoming less gracious” (20).

That depends. One thing that makes saving grace gratuitous is that it’s merciful. And mercy is not obligatory. Mercy is not automatic. Mercy is not a uniform property. Mercy is optional—discretionary.

“We could also all realize that we are saved by grace apart from works without anyone being eternally damned” (20).

i) Even if that were true, God is still entitled to withhold his mercy. The wicked don’t deserve forgiveness. They deserve retribution.

ii) MacDonald may say in the abstract that we could all realize the gratuity of grace even if no one were damned, but it’s quite clear, as a practical matter, that MacDonald doesn’t realize that at all. There are fundamental elements of law and gospel that have never penetrated into his theology. At the end of the day, he thinks that God wouldn’t be good unless God saves every evildoer. That betrays a perverse and subversive notion of divine goodness.

“Second, the scenario seems frighteningly close to the following analogy: imagine a man whose sons suffer from a disease that makes them constantly disobey him (original sin)” (20).

i) MacDonald is treating original sin as if it were an extenuating or even exculpatory circumstance. That original sin puts us in a state of diminished responsibility—or even excuses our conduct (like the temporary insanity defense). But Scripture never treats original sin as a mitigating factor. If anything, original sin is an aggravating factor.

Of course, we could get into a debate over whether or not this is fair, but it shouldn’t be necessary, in an intramural debate between professing believers, to defend revealed truths.

ii) Does MacDonald believe in original sin? If so, he must think it’s just. Otherwise, God would wrong us by afflicting us with original sin. If not, then why does he introduce the subject?

Indeed, there’s something ironic about sinners who rail against the debilitating effects of original sin. Evidently, the noetic effects of sin haven’t kept them from railing against the noetic effects of sin. So that’s one effect it doesn’t have. They’re sufficiently conscious of their condition to complain about it. So either they’re better off than they thought they were, or else they’re self-deluded.

iii) In addition, a human father/son relationship is not identical with a Creator/creature relationship. God and I are not two of a kind.

In general, fathers are supposed to protect their children. Yet even at a human level, different men have different social roles. A judge doesn’t have the same role as a father. And God is (to some) as well as a father (to others).

For that matter, there are moral restraints on parental love. Consider a rich, powerful father who pulls every string so that his son can commit various crimes with impunity. That kind of love is evil.

“One day, as a result of this, the sons fall through the ice on the pond their father had warned them not to walk on. They begin to drown. They have brought their fate upon themselves. Being afflicted with the disease, they are too stupid to even respond to their father’s calls to grasp the safety ring he ahs thrown in (the gospel). The man has the solution: a ray gun he has will cure his sons of their disobedience and enable them to grasp the ring (irresistible grace). He could, thus, save both; but, to make the point that he does not have to, he only saves one...We would think that if the father could save both and loved both then he would save both” (20).

i) Ironically, his illustration proves the very thing he’s trying to disprove. MacDonald treats sin as if it were a stroke of bad luck—like leukemia. No one blames you for getting leukemia. And if we could cure you, we would. But sin isn’t a synonym for misfortune. Because he doesn’t understand sin, he doesn’t understand mercy or justice or grace.

ii) As a rule, a human father has an obligation to look out for his children. And if he had a grown child who was retarded, that obligation would remain.

iii) However, MacDonald is treating original sin as a disease rather than a culpable condition. His vignette is persuasive to the extent that you buy into his assumptions, and—of course—his vignette is tailor-made to illustrate his tendentious assumptions. But it’s easy to come up with vignettes that trigger a very different intuitive response.

A pedophile kidnaps a child and locks him in the basement. The father of the child breaks into the home, confronts the pedophile, shoots him, then rescues his five-year-old son.

The father could save both of them. If the pedophile received medical care, he would recover. But the father let him to bleed to death. The father doesn’t trust the system of justice to do the right thing. This is a repeat offender. And, in any case, the father is happy to see the man die. He didn’t intend to kill him. He shot him in self-defense. But he didn’t intend to spare him either. He doesn’t love the pedophile. He loves his five-year-old son. And because he loves his son, he hates the man who abducted his son.

“Is God the Father like that? Even if they deserve what they get, how could a loving father let them die when it is in his power to help” (20)?

i) It comes down to storytelling. Who’s a better storyteller. And it all depends on who the characters are. If you want to make a case for universalism, you tell a familial tearjerker about a loving father or mother or son.

But there are stories to illustrate any position you please. We shouldn’t begin with stories. We should begin with the truth.

It isn’t my obligation to be loving to everyone. Here’s another story. Suppose a suicide bomber enters an elementary school. Suppose a policeman has a clear shot. Should the policeman try to talk him out of killing all those children? Or should he shoot him in the head? Should he put hundreds of children at risk for sake of maybe, just maybe, convincing the suicide bomber to reconsider his murderous intentions? I don’t think so. Do you?

We should let some people die. In fact, we should help some people die. We should help a suicide bomber die before he has a chance to take anyone else with him.

ii) Moreover, if MacDonald is going to press the paternal analogy, then there are lots of things a human father would do for his child that God fails to do for his.

If you knew that a natural disaster was going to strike a populated area in a few days, wouldn’t you warn the inhabitants? But God doesn’t do that. How does a universalist explain the discrepancy?

If you knew that your daughter would be sexually assaulted today when she went somewhere, wouldn’t you warn her not to go there? Indeed, wouldn’t you forcibly restrain her from going there? But God doesn’t do that. How does a universalist explain the discrepancy?

It’s child’s play to compile a long list of things that God allows to happen which a human father would do something to avert. Consider all the girls sold into child prostitution. Would you turn your young daughter over to the sex trade? Look at all the orphaned street kids in Rio de Janeiro. If you were omnipotent, what would you do about that situation?

To put it bluntly, if you were God, and you were a universalist, is this the sort of world that you would design?

Of course, a universalist will say this is offset by the eschatological payoff. But, of course, that compensation is only necessary given all the pain and suffering here below. It doesn’t begin to explain, on universalistic grounds, why all that pain and suffering is necessary in the first place.

“There is a specific problem for the Calvinist connected to the psychological possibility of worship: Talbott again: ‘I cannot both love my daughter as myself and love (or worship wholeheartedly) a God whom I believe to have done less than he could to save her from a life of misery and torment. For necessarily, if I truly love my daughter, then I will disapprove of any God whom I believe to have done less than his best for her, less than I would have done if I should have the power; and necessarily, if I disapprove of God, then I do not truly love him” (21n28).

i) As a biographical admission, I don’t take issue with this claim. There are, indeed, people like MacDonald and Talbott who, if given a choice, would choose family over God.

Talbott words this as if he were daring God to either save both of them or damn both of them. That’s an empty threat, for God has nothing to lose. God can get along very nicely without Talbott’s company. Talbott’s salvation or damnation has no affect on God’s beatitude. God doesn’t need us. He doesn’t love the elect because he needs them. His love is truly disinterested. And there’s something refreshing about that.

ii) This is a coercive appeal rather than a principled argument. Indeed, it’s quite cynical. This is not about my love for all of humanity. Rather, it’s like standoff in which kidnappers do a hostage release in exchange for a prisoner release. We don’t release the prisoners because we love them and wish them well. We release the prisoners because that’s the only way to secure the release of our kidnapped friends and family members.

Talbott puts a gun to the head of your loved one and says: If you want you kid brother sprung from hell, then Vlad the Impaler is part of the bargain. It’s a twofer.

iii) This draws attention to a fundamental tension in MacDonald’s argument for universalism. For he’s attempting to combine two different lines of argument. One is an appeal to his universalistic prooftexts. The other is a sentimental appeal to our natural desire to see our loved ones saved. But these tug in opposing directions.

Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that his prooftexts establish God’s universal and efficacious saving will. The problem this introduces into his argument is that, even if God loves everyone, and wants everyone to be saved, the scope of human love is far from paralleling the scope of divine love.

In most societies and subcultures, there’s a distinction between in-group attitudes and out-group attitudes. You love your own. Your kin. Your clan. Your countrymen.

At a minimum, you don’t love everyone with the same intensity as you love your in-group. And oftentimes, the test of love for your own is group-solidarity at the expense of the outsider. Love and loyalty are synonymous. To love the outsider is an act of betrayal.

Now, at the moment, I’m not evaluating this attitude. I’m just describing the way in which, as a matter of fact, human beings feel about other human beings. It’s not distinguished by uniform benevolence.

And it won’t do for the universalist to criticize this attitude, for people either feel a certain way or they don’t. An emotive argument doesn’t evaluate emotion, but appeal to emotion. As soon as you evaluate emotion, the emotive argument loses any independent value. You’re judging it by other criteria. It ceases to be a criterion in its own right.

“God has to be just, they [Calvinists] maintain, but he does not have to be merciful. He has to punish unforgiven sin, but he does not have to forgive sin” (21).

Sounds good to me.

“This is a common view among theologians, but it ought to be seen as problematic for a Christian view of God. To subordinate divine love to divine justice so that God has to be just but does not have to love is odd for a Christian who confesses that God is love” (21-22).

i) How is that any odder than “subordinating” divine justice to divine love? They are both divine attributes. Coequal attributes.

ii) I wouldn’t say that we’re “subordinating” one attribute to another. We’re talking about God’s economic role. His relationship to the world. Certain attributes, and corresponding economic roles, are more suitable to a given situation than others. For example, God is inherently just, but the expression of justice depends on the existence of sin.

iii) Omnipotence is a divine attribute, but this doesn’t mean that God must do whatever God can do.

Suppose we apply MacDonald’s logic to omnipotence. It’s of the essence of God to be omnipotence. That’s his nature. Therefore, whatever he can do, he does. God can damn everyone; therefore, he does.

iv) Notice that MacDonald is equivocating. Love and mercy are not synonymous. The Son loves the Father. Does this mean the Son is merciful to the Father? No. That would be nonsensical.

Mercy presupposes ill-desert. Love does not.

“It could be that it is in God’s nature that he desires to show mercy to all. After all, Christians claim that God is love and that he loves his enemies” (22).

Does God love all his enemies? Does he love the damned? In fact, one of MacDonald’s arguments against damnation is that damnation is incompatible with the love of God. So his argument is viciously circular.

“For God to be love, it would seem to be the case that he has to love all his creatures.”

And for God to be holy, it would seem to be the case that he must judge his unholy creatures. Notice how utterly lopsided MacDonald is in his appeal to the divine attribute of love, as if God had only one attribute.

“This is because if it is God’s very essence to love, then God cannot but love, in the same way that if God’s essence is to hate evil, then he cannot but hate evil” (22).

Except that MacDonald has now backed himself into a conundrum. If it’s God’s nature or essence to hate evil, such that he cannot exercise any personal discretion in the matter, then God can never love an evildoer. Far from constructing an argument for universal salvation, MacDonald has now given us a logically compelling argument for universal damnation—if you concede the premise.

“And if God loves all he has created, then he will want to show saving mercy to all his creatures” (22).

Isn’t that rather tardy? If he loves all his creatures, why does he wait so long to show them mercy? Why not start by showing them mercy here and now? Mercy doesn’t have to be “saving” mercy to be merciful. Why not make life more bearable here-below so that he doesn’t have to compensate for all their earthly misery by saving them in the hereafter?

If it’s God’s “very essence” to be loving and merciful, then it’s not just a question of loving everyone, but loving everyone all the time. Sooner as well as later.

Suppose, to tell the sort of story MacDonald is fond of inventing, a father shows no affection for his son for the first 15 years of his life. Then when his son turns 16, the father showers him with affection.

Does MacDonald think that deferred version of love would be an adequate model of parenting? Would postponing your paternal affection for your own son, then overcompensating at a later date, somehow make up for your neglect for the first 15 years of his life?

On pp23-32, MacDonald scores some excellent points against freewill theism, open theism, and Molinism respectively. Moving along:

“A deep worry about the traditional Christian views on hell is that the implication of them is that very many people who suffer terrible injustices in this life, indeed perhaps most of them, will not actually have those wrongs righted in the life to come” (157).

I’d merely observe that his worry isn’t a Biblical worry. In Scripture, the reversal of fortunes concerns itself with vindication of the righteous and the judgment of the wicked. It’s the unjust suffering of the righteous, the suffering of God’s people, that’s a theodicean issue in Scripture—and not the suffering of the wicked.

“On traditional modes of thinking, her suffering and death take away from her any further opportunities for salvation. If the mother says that God allowed her daughter to die because it was the key to her turning to the Lord, it looks very much like God is not treating her daughter as a person valuable in her own right, but merely as a means to someone else’s good” (157-58).

i) What about the virtue of altruism? What about a soldier who throws himself on a grenade to save his comrades?

ii) As usual, MacDonald speaks of “persons” in the abstract rather than sinners. But to be a sinner is to forfeit certain rights and immunities.

“Such [horrendous] evils, which seem to rip the heart of meaning from a life, provide reason to doubt God’s goodness towards any individual whom he allows to experience them. It may be that one could argue that by allowing such evils, God does create a better world overall and that those who suffer horrendous evils may be a necessary sacrifice for the benefit of the whole system. However, Adams responds: ‘I contend that God could be said to value human personhood in general, and to love individual human persons in particular, only if God were good to each and every human persona God created. And Divine goodness to created persons involves the distribution of harms and benefits, not merely globally, but also within the context of the individual person’s life. At a minimum, God’s goodness to human individuals would require that God guarantee each a life that was a great good to him/her on the whole by balancing off serious evils’...Sacrificing some individuals for the benefit of the system is not the action of a God who values individuals. If God values individual persons, he will act with goodness towards them; and this requires, first, that he brings about, a better balance of good over evil for every individual and, further, that any horrendous evils experienced by an individual would have to be defeated” (158-59).

i) Notice the purely stipulative character of the reasoning. Adams and MacDonald posit that God must do thus-and-so. But why should anyone believe them? Do they speak for God? No.

ii) Absent revelation, we can only judge by experience—by the experience of life on this side of the grave. And that sets an ominous precedent for such an optimistic eschatology.

iii) And there’s the continual moral blindness of framing the issue in terms of abstract “individuals” rather than sinners.

iv) Universalism likes to speak in generic terms about eschatological compensations, but how, in particular, does universalism offset various deprivations we suffered in this life?

For example, what if I didn’t get to marry my high school sweetheart? She was the love of my life. She’s the only woman I ever wanted to share my life with. How does universalism make up for that emotional hole in my life? Does it send me back to high school? Do I get to start all over again? Have kids by her? Celebrate our golden anniversary?

Suppose I was an only child. I always wanted to have a brother. But my parents didn’t give me one. So I went through childhood and adolescence without a brother by my side. How does univeralism make up for that emotional hole in my life? I can’t repeat the life cycle, can I?

Just saving someone from hell doesn’t, of itself, explain how you’re going to compensate for all the pain or deprivation he underwent here-below. You’re sparing him additional pain or deprivation in the world to come. But that doesn’t go any distance in explaining how heavenly joys will outweigh earthly sorrows. At this point, universalism must retreat into mystery. Step out on faith.

To say that God will “balance it off” issues a voucher in lieu of an explanation. It’s not as if universalism offers a better explanation. It doesn’t.

MacDonald quotes some more Adams: “God’s becoming a blasphemy and a curse for us will enable human perpetrators of horrors to accept and forgive themselves” (160).

You know, whether Josef Mengele is able to accept and forgive himself isn’t all that high on my priority list. And I also don’t find that urgent concern in the pages of Scripture.

And if Marilyn Adams had a five-year-old daughter who was the subject of Mengele’s experimentation, I rather doubt she’d be so broken up about his infernal fate.

“Clearly punishing the perpetrators of horrendous evils in hell forever and ever is not going to overcome horrendous evils in the lives of the victims” (160).

Have you ever noticed that the folks who pen morally condescending books on universalism aren’t survivors of the Holocaust? You have pampered prigs like Adams and Talbott and MacDonald who presume to speak on behalf of the victims. They don’t allow the victims to speak for themselves. How did Simon Wiesenthal spend his remaining years? Was he trying to track down Nazis so that he could convince them to accept themselves and forgive themselves? To value themselves as individuals.

In my observation, victims often want retribution. They find that morally and emotionally satisfying. Who is MacDonald to deny them their due? Even Job got his day in court.

“And it would certainly not be a display of God’s goodness to the criminals” (160).

MacDonald is equivocating. If we define goodness as mercy, then damnation is not an act of mercy. But justice is another one of God’s defining attributes. A good God is a just God.

“Eternal conscious torment contributes nothing to God’s purposes of redeeming creation. In fact, it would ‘only multiply evil’s victories’” (160).

To the contrary, righting the scales of justice represents the triumph of good and the vindication of the righteous—who persevered in faith in the face of adversity.

“One constantly danger that a tradition doctrine of hell generates is that God’s nature is divided up and set in an internal conflict. The theology goes as follows: God loves humanity and wants to save them but at the same time is holy and cannot stand human sin. Being just, he cannot leave such sin unpunished. So God has an internal dilemma; he wants to save us because he is loving, but he also wants to punish us because he is just. God’s love and his justice are set in opposition. This analysis produces a conception of divine justice that has no integral link with divine love and a conception of divine love that is disconnected with divine justice. The joy of the redeemed in the new creation is the result of God’s love and mercy, whilst the torment of the damned is the result of God’s justice (not his love)” (163).

There is, indeed, a genuine tension in standard evangelical theology. On the one hand, God wants to save everyone, and pursuant to that end he makes provision for everyone’s salvation (universal atonement, sufficient prevenient grace). On the other hand, his salvific intentions are thwarted by human freedom.

But there’s no dilemma or disconnect in Calvinism—especially the supralapsarian variant. God, out of sheer generosity, intends to share his beatitude with a race of rational creatures. Knowing God is the greatest good since God is the greatest good. But an existential knowledge of God’s justice and mercy is unobtainable apart from evil. So God foreordains the fall and redeems the elect. The reprobate are justly damned, and their damnation reinforces the gratuity of grace.

Universalism and supralapsarian Calvinism both deploy a greater good defense, but universalism cannot explain why there would be an underlying situation that called for this solution in the first place. Calvinism can. Universalism lacks a coherent theodicy. Calvinism has explanatory power at the very point where universalism is empty-handed.

“How could tormenting sinners forever and ever be seen as a loving action” (164)?

It isn’t a loving action. It isn’t meant to be. It’s an act of retribution. Retributive justice. A God who allows evil to go unpunished is an evil God.

And MacDonald has never shown that God is “tormenting” the damned. He’s punishing the damned.

“Consider the case of a Christian mother at the funeral of a beloved son who had rejected his Christian upbringing and turned away from the Lord. What hope can Christian faith offer her?...traditional theology can offer virtually no hope at all, for it is more or less certain that her son will be condemned to hell with no hope of redemption” (172).

This is the high card of universalism. This is where it where it taps into something profoundly and undeniably appealing. What are we to say?

i) Let’s take a different example. Consider the case of a mother whose daughter was murdered by a serial rapist. Not only is the mother grief-stricken, but vengeful. She wants to see the rapist suffer for what he did. She wants to see him burn in hell.

But her pastor is a tenderhearted universalist. He tells her that her vindictive feelings are unchristian. God will undoubtedly save the man who murdered her daughter. They will all spend eternity together. She must learn to love him and forgive him.

Universalism sounds nice as long as you’re talking about nice people. Saving all the nice guys. The little old ladies who hand out boxes of chocolates. It instantly loses its sentimental charm when we turn to hateful men and women.

ii) Let’s go back to the case of the Christian mother. What can an orthodox pastor tell the grieving mother? He can hand her Bible and tell her to read Rev 21:4 aloud. He can then tell her to memorize that verse and recite it to herself every day.

That’s the hope he can give her. The promise contained in that verse.

I don’t know how God intends to keep that promise. That’s something we must take on faith. But that’s a promise to live by.

iii) Feelings are mercurial. What about that guy who falls madly in love with a woman (or vice versa). She occupies his every waking thought. He can’t imagine life without her. He’s sure he can’t go on without her.

Yet, five years later, that may all have changed. He doesn’t know what he ever saw in her (or vice versa). What was he thinking?

There are couples who sincerely think they that can’t live without each other. They can’t bear the thought of spending a few days apart.

But after spending a few years in each other’s company, they can’t stand to be in the same room. They can’t bear the thought of spending their lives together. Physical proximity is unendurable. Their honeymoon was heaven on earth, while their marriage is hell on earth.

There are kids who can’t wait to leave home. They find their parents insufferable. They want nothing more to do with them. They hope to put as much distance between themselves as their parents as humanly possible.

Some high school buddies who would die for each other. Fiercely loyal. Inseparable. But then they have a falling out. Maybe they fall in love with the same girl. Friendship turns to bitter betrayal and mutual hatred.

Some brothers and sisters love each other from the moment they’re born to the moment they die. If one were to die prematurely, the sense of loss would be inconsolable. Other siblings hate each other until the day they die.

These are the paradigm-cases of human love. Of our loved ones. And in each case, it cuts both ways.

I’m not evaluating any of this. My point is simply that the emotional argument for universalism is a double-edged sword.

iv) Finally, Christians tend to emphasize the deity of Christ because that’s what makes him unique. All of us are human, but how many of us are God Incarnate? That’s sui generis.

Yet, as we also know, Jesus had a human side. Human emotions.

There are lots of domestic details that didn’t make into the Gospels. They focus on his public ministry. But he had many relatives. Jewish culture was a tribal culture. Big families. Extended families. Kin and clan.

So he had loved ones, too. Aunts and uncles. Grandparents. Cousins, second-cousins, nieces, nephews, and siblings (by his step-dad).

And he had childhood friends. Don’t assume that when he called the fishermen to be his disciples, they never met him before. They fished in the Sea of Galilee. He grew up in Galilee. I’m sure he went hiking and swimming with the local kids as a boy.

Jesus had loved ones, just like us. Felt the same way about them that we do. Were they all pious, God-fearing individuals? No reason to think so.

That doesn’t keep Jesus from preaching on hell. More than that, Jesus is the judge of the living and the dead. He puts them there. If, humanly speaking, Jesus can cope with that, then who am I to protest?