Monday, November 20, 2017

Salvation for all

i) I'd like to revisit an exchange I had with Jerry Walls a while back. According to what's become a stock objection to Calvinism, the Calvinist God is (allegedly) able but unwilling to save everyone.

ii) Now that's only a problem on two assumption, one being: the God of freewill theism is willing, but unable to save everyone. However, that claim isn't obviously true. For instance, some freewill theists are universalists. They believe God will wear down the resistance of unbelievers. He's got all the time in the world. Eventually, they will see the light. So critics like Jerry have to show that freewill theism doesn't suffer from the same problem it ascribes to Calvinism.

iii) In addition, the objection only has teeth if you think God is less than good unless he saved everyone he could. But that doesn't chime with my moral intuitions. Irrespective of Calvinism, it's by no means obvious to me that God isn't good in case he damns Pablo Escobar, Charles Manson, Genghis Khan, Joseph Stalin, Josef Mengele, Ted Bundy et al. Pick your villain. Even if I wasn't a Calvinist, freewill theism hardly entails that God can't be good unless he saves ISIS thugs who burn people alive and vivisect children with chainsaws–assuming he was able to do so. 

iv) So the point of this exercise is to respond to the freewill theist on his own grounds. I'm not conceding his standards. But the question is whether there are limitations on what even a Calvinist God can do in that regard. 

v) As I pointed out to Jerry, the statement is ambiguous. Who's the everyone that God can save? Suppose God regenerated "everyone" in the womb. Would that save everyone?

It would save everyone in that timeline. But regenerating "everyone" in the womb will produce a different world history than a world in which God doesn't regenerate everyone. Some people who are born into a world where everyone isn't regenerate won't be born into a world where everyone is regenerate. As a result, some people are heavenbound in a world where everyone isn't regenerate from the womb who won't be heavenbound in a world where everyone is regenerate from the womb, because they won't exist in that alternate timeline. So even in deterministic universalism, there still are losers. People who miss out on heaven. 

vi) To that, Jerry responded two different ways. One response was to play the Epicurean card. There are, however, serious philosophers like John Martin Fisher who argue that nonexistence, be it prenatal or postmortem, is a deprivation. Cf. J. Fischer, ed. The Metaphysics of Death (Stanford 1993); J. Fisher, Our Stories: Essays on Life, Death, and Free Will (Oxford 2009). 

Let's take a comparison. Suppose I'm a teenager. There's a classmate who's competing with me for the affections of a pretty cheerleader. But I have a time machine. If I go back in time, I can erase him from the space-time continuum. My action will replace the current timeline with a new timeline that has a very similar past, only he doesn't exist. Instead, on the alternate timeline, his parents had conjugal relations a half hour later, conceiving a different son. 

I suspect many people would say that's tantamount to murder. Yet my rival classmate never existed in the new timeline. He has no idea what he's missing. From Jerry's Epicurean perspective, is there anything wrong with a time-traveler who scrubs people from the timeline who happen to cramp his style? 

vii) Another response was to invoke postmortem salvation. Jerry said the Calvinist God could regenerate unbelievers after they die. That wouldn't change world history in this life. So there'd be no losers, only winners. 

What about that? One stock objection to Calvinism is that God's choice of who's elect and reprobate is (allegedly) arbitrary. Let's grant that objection for the sake of argument. 

But by that logic, it's still arbitrary that only the folks in one world history are saved. Even if everyone in that world history will ultimately be saved, what about all the folks who still miss out on heaven because God didn't instantiate an alternate timeline in which different people exist and go to heaven? 

So for Jerry's argument to go through, it requires the Calvinist God not merely to instantiate a world history in which everyone is saved, but to instantiate a multiverse in which every conceivable person in infinitely many world histories is saved. 

Jerry could duck that by playing the Epicurean card, but I just discussed problems with that. Or he might try to dodge it by withdrawing the charge of arbitrariness, yet that's one of the primary objections that freewill theists level against Calvinism. 

viii) Yet a universalistic multiverse may still be arbitrary, inasmuch as there's no logical cutoff regarding how many possible persons to create. Is there any upper limit on the number of conceivable persons? 

And these alternate timelines will generate scenarios in which, say, someone who wasn't tortured in one world history will be tortured in another world history. Likewise, there will need to be an indefinite number of Incarnations to redeem the lost. Even hypothetically, there seem to be limitations on what even the Calvinist God can do in that regard. 

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