Tuesday, September 05, 2017

"An everlasting Auschwitz"

I had a brief exchange with Christian apologist and annihilationist Matt Flanagan on Facebook:

BTW, [John] Wenham double-edged sword. For instance, he says:

Unending torment speaks to me of sadism, not justice. It is a doctrine which I do not know how to preach without negating the loveliness and glory of God. From the days of Tertullian it has frequently been the emphasis of fanatics. It is a doctrine which makes the Inquisition look reasonable.

That is, of course, the classic moralistic objection to eternal punishment. In my experience, annihilationists of the Rethinking Hell stripe avoid that argument because it divulges the essentially sentimental motivation for annihilationism, which is bad PR if you're endeavoring to make an intellectually respectable case for annihilationism. 

In addition, Wenham was consistent enough to take his position to a logical extreme:

When I analyze my own thoughts, I find that (rightly or wrongly) everlastingness has virtually no place in my concept of eternal life. Everlasting harp playing or hymn singing or even contemplation is not attractive.

So he's prepared to sacrifice eternal heaven to eliminate eternal hell. Both the saints and the damned face eventual oblivion. 

"The Case For Conditional Immortality" Facing Hell: The Story of a Nobody, An Autobiography 1913 - 1996 (Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 1998), chap. 27.

I originally said:

We need to draw an elementary distinction between informed biblical scholars who happen to espouse annihilationism, and informed biblical scholars who endeavor to make a detailed case for annihilationism. Mere name-dropping is a fallacious argument from authority. So, for instance, Wenham did attempt to make a detailed case for his positions.

Matt counters by saying:

The comment is a few sentences of an article which contains 20 pages of argument which is entirely devoted to exegetical argument…So Steve its rather misleading to take that one paragraph out of context and suggest Wenham based his conclusion on sentimental emotion.

Notice Matt acts as if he's correcting my characterization, when in fact his observation is entirely consistent with my original statement that Wenham makes a detailed case for his position. 

To ignore a person’s actual arguments, and dismiss it on alleged motives is the ad hominin circumstiantal argument, and basing this fallacy on the reading a few lines omitted from there context suggests something of a straw man is being attacked.

i) It was never my aim in a Facebook discussion to present a systematic refutation of Wenham's arguments. Facebook is not an efficient medium for that kind of analysis. I have in fact engaged the exegetical arguments for annihilationism on other occasions. 

ii) As far as that goes, there's nothing inherently fallacious about ad hominin circumstantial argument. When, say, we're assessing the credibility of an expert witness or putative eyewitness, it is not invalid to take into consideration a vested interest or conflict of interest. 

iii) In addition, Wenham is not the only annihilationist who tips his hand in that regard. Take Clark Pinnock's statement that everlasting punishment 

...pictures God acting like a bloodthirsty monster who maintains an everlasting Auschwitz for his enemies whom he does not even allow to die.

Or John Stott's statement that 

I want to repudiate with all the vehemence of which I am capable the glibness, what almost appears to be the glee, the Schadenfreunde, with which some Evangelicals speak about hell. It is a horrible sickness of mind or spirit…Well, emotionally, I find the concept intolerable and do not understand how people can live with it without either cauterising their feelings or cracking under the strain.

Does that disprove annihilationism? No. But I notice that proponents at Rethinking Hell are less candid than Stott, Wenham, and Pinnock.

iv) Moreover, it's entirely consonant with motivated reasoning to make a detailed case for your position. For instance, Dale Tuggy rejects the Trinity and Incarnation because by his lights that's incompatible with the law of identity. He then proceeds to reinterpret all the prooftexts for the deity of Christ. 

Or take people who reject or reinterpret Bible passages condemning homosexuality because that offends their moral sensibilities. 

Or, to take an issue dear to Matt's heart, consider critics who reject the historicity and/or inerrancy of OT holy war commands and war narratives because that conflicts with their preconception of divine benevolence. 

In the previous sentence Wenham shows he is using the word 'everlastingness' in contrast to eternity understood as timelessness, This is confirmed by the very next sentence, omitted from your quote, where he describes eternity as involving 'deliverance from sin and the bliss of being with God in heaven, knowing that the inexorable march of death has been abolished for ever ' So, its simply misleading to suggest that Wenham here is suggesting heaven is finite in duration. You have to snip the quote carefully so the previous sentence and proceeding sentence are omitted to give that impression. What Wenham says is that, as opposed to being an existence that is everlasting in duration. Heaven is a timeless existence in which there is no death.

i) Biological immortality doesn't entail a timeless mode of subsistence. What does that even mean? Biological life necessitates biological *processes*. If the final state involves the resurrection of the body, then that can't be timeless. Processes are inherently temporal.

ii) If by "heaven", Matt means the intermediate state, then there's no death in heaven because the saints are already dead. Death is a prerequisite to enter the intermediate state. 

Put another way, the intermediate state is a discarnate state. In that condition, they can't die again because they no longer have a body. Biological death presumes biological life which presumes a physical body.

I don't know if Matt is a physicalist or substance dualist, but his claims make no sense on either position. 

iii) Moreover, this fails to address the underlying issue. Annihilationists need to offer a consistent meaning for aionios. A meaning that applies equally to promises of eschatological reward as well as threats of eschatological just desert. The dilemma is how to finesse the asymmetry in the respective fates of the saints and the damned if aionios has a consistent sense.

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