Friday, April 03, 2015

Freewill and hell

A reviewer commenting on a recent book by a philosophically sophisticated freewill theist:


Our other criticism targets Timpe's defense of the traditional doctrine of hell -- or, what he considers a "minimal" version of the traditional doctrine (70). Timpe says he wants to defend the claim that once a person is in hell, it is not possible for her to escape, even on the assumption that those in hell retain their free will, and that God does not cease to offer them the grace necessary for salvation. As with his account of heaven, Timpe defends what has been called a "settled character theory of hell" (71). Following Jonathan Kvanvig (2011: ch. 6, 14), he proposes that "Presence in hell is a result of one's choices, and in the process of choosing in such a way as to end up there, one turns oneself into the kind of person for whom it is psychologically impossible to choose to leave" (71). The damned have become the kind of people who will never freely choose to stop resisting God's offer of grace (72). This seems a very unfortunate state of affairs, and one might wonder, if God truly cares about all creatures and wants what is best for them, why God doesn't overpower their will and make them into the kind of people they ought to be -- the kind of people fit for union with God in heaven. Timpe's response is that to be in union with God, one must love God; but love, he says, requires an act of free will; it cannot be imposed from the outside (81). However, this answer, while it may seem initially plausible, raises a number of difficulties.
First, Timpe's account of freedom does not commit him to the claim that love requires an act of free will. His view is consistent with the possibility that we might be causally determined to love. The proximal causes of such love would, presumably, be "within" us -- that is, arising from our own character. Our attractions, interests, desires and the like might draw us to someone whose personality or other features especially appeal to us, and this might be the basis of our love of them -- of our caring about them, wanting to be intimate with them, and so on. But then it is unclear why, for our attitude toward them to count as true love, the character grounding our love must be freely formed to begin with. So long as a person is motivated in the characteristic ways by appropriate feelings, beliefs, and desires, she would seem to be in love, no matter what the ultimate origin of these motivating states of mind. Furthermore, it seems that in fact we often are determined to love -- that is, to truly love -- other people in our lives, such as our family members (Pereboom 2001: 202-04).
Second, it's not clear that, on Timpe's characterization of the state of the damned, they really are free, even according to his account of freedom. In responding to one objection regarding the implausibility of thinking that anyone would eternally choose to reject God, Timpe discusses the "bondage of sin" that those in the fallen state are under, and quotes Raymond VanArragon (2011): "it may be possible for [a person] to freely make some choice . . . which has the consequence of rendering her forever unable to freely accept God. . . . Such a situation may be similar to that of a drug user who crosses the threshold into uncontrollable addiction" (80). But while someone could, through her own free choices, come to such a state of uncontrollable addiction, we think it's implausible that in that state the agent would still be free, contrary to what Timpe maintains (70). Indeed, the idea that she is in bondage to her addiction suggests the opposite: that she has freely brought herself into a state in which she lacks freedom. This is not to say that an agent must be able to do otherwise at the time of her action to count as acting freely, but only that one who is motivated to take heroin solely by an addiction is not truly the source of her action. The same might be said of an agent whose sin has left her in such a state that it is eternally impossible for her to appreciate divine goodness and desire union with God.
But suppose that Timpe is right, that it is possible for someone to eternally freely choose to remain in hell. A third question is: Why God couldn't simply momentarily take away her freedom, and then give it back to her after converting her? Here's an analogy: suppose someone, of her own free will, becomes addicted to heroin, and refuses to give it up. And suppose for it to be psychologically possible for her to see the good of maintaining her job, marriage, and other relationships and activities, she must give up the drug. Imagine, then, that her husband forcibly takes the drug away from her and commits her to therapy that rids her of her addiction. She then regains the freedom to choose to continue her relationships and activities, or to end them. Couldn't God do something similar with those who would otherwise be eternally damned -- wipe the slate clean, as it were, and give them a second chance at redemption?
Finally, even supposing that God could not take away and then give back people's freedom in this way, and supposing that, without freedom, they would not be able to enter a loving relationship with God, we wonder why God must consign them to hell, rather than permanently take away their freedom and put them in some other place -- a place where there is no sin or suffering. If, as Timpe admits, freedom is not an intrinsic good (84), but valuable mainly insofar as it makes possible the development of moral virtue (108) and the ability to be in union with God, then on the assumption that certain people will not use their freedom for these goods, but only for ill, what sense does it make for God to allow them to retain their freedom and be in such an unfortunate state?

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