Friday, September 20, 2013

Some questions on the soul, Part I


In a recent post I spoke of the soul after death as essentially the human being in a “radically diminished state.”  The Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophical reasons for this characterization were set out in an earlier post.  A reader asks how I would “answer [the] challenge that it appears the Bible suggests our souls in communion with God are better off than those of us here alive in this ‘vale of tears.’”  After all, St. Paul says that “we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord,” and Catholics pray to the saints, who are obviously in a better state than we are.  Isn’t this clearly incompatible with the claim that the soul after death is in a “radically diminished state”?  Furthermore, wouldn’t the conscious experiences that Christian doctrine attributes to the saved and the damned after death be metaphysically impossible on an Aristotelian-Thomistic conception of the soul?  Wouldn’t a Cartesian view of the soul be more in harmony with Christianity?  Do we have here a case “where Aristotelian philosophy is just at odds with revealed Christian truth”?
 
No, we don’t.  First of all, in the posts in question I did not say that the soul post-mortem is in a radically diminished state full stop, in every respect.  I was not giving a complete theology of the afterlife, but just addressing a specific metaphysical question.  What I said is that the soul is in a radically diminished state qua substance.  A human being is a single substance, and after death but prior to bodily resurrection most of its activities (walking, seeing, hearing, digesting, etc.) are no longer naturally possible for it.  Hence it is in that sense -- and obviously -- radically diminished.  However, the capacities that naturally survive are the highest ones -- intellect and will -- and divine assistance also raises the otherwise diminished soul to something it never had even when the body was present, viz. the beatific vision.   In that sense the soul is of course in a much better state.  Obviously, something can be worse off in some respects and better off in others, and indeed worse off in some respects but still better off overall.  That’s a familiar fact of life and, as it happens, a fact of the afterlife too.

Second, as to the experiences of the soul after death and prior to its reunion with the body at the resurrection, consider the suffering of the damned from hellfire.  What can the nature of this suffering be given that the senses are bodily and the body is not present?  Aquinas considers this issue in several places, including Article 21 of Disputed Questions on the Soul, from which it is worth quoting at some length:

[S]ometimes a thing is hindered in one way by its contrary as regards its very act of existing which it receives from some inhering form; and in this way something is acted upon by its contrary through alteration and corruption, as wood, for example, is consumed by fire.  Secondly, a thing is hindered by an obstacle or a contrary with respect to its inclination, just as the natural inclination of a stone is to tend downward, but it is hindered in this by some obstacle and opposing power so that it is brought to rest or is moved contrary to its nature

[I]n a being which possesses knowledge, torment and punishment are the natural effects of both kinds of suffering, although in different ways.  For the suffering [or being-acted-upon] which is the effect of change by a contrary, results in affliction and punishment by sensible pain, as when a sensible object of the greatest intensity corrupts the harmony of a sense.  Therefore when sensibilia are of too great intensity, particularly those of touch, they inflict sensible pain… However, the second kind of suffering does not inflict punishment by sensible pain, but by that sadness which arises in a man or in an animal because something is apprehended by an interior power as being repugnant to the will or to some appetite.  Hence things which are opposed to the will and to the appetite inflict punishment, and sometimes even more than those which are painful to sense…

[T]he soul cannot suffer punishment by corporeal fire according to the first kind of suffering [i.e., being acted-upon], because it is impossible for the soul to be altered and corrupted by suffering of this specific kind.  Hence the soul is not afflicted by fire in this way, namely, that it suffers sensible pain thereby.  However, the soul can suffer by corporeal fire according to the second kind of suffering, inasmuch as it is hindered from its inclination or volition by fire of this kind. This is evident.  For the soul and any incorporeal substance, inasmuch as this belongs to it by nature, is not physically confined in any place, but transcends the whole corporeal order.  Consequently it is contrary to its nature and to its natural appetite for it to be fettered to anything and be confined in a place by some necessity; and I maintain that this is the case except inasmuch as the soul is united to the body whose natural form it is, and in which there follows some perfection.

End quote.  The way in which the disembodied soul suffers from hellfire, then, is in Aquinas’s view not via sensory pain but rather by having its will frustrated.  And the way in which its will is frustrated is by being confined to something corporeal -- the fire in question -- when its natural state qua immaterial is not to be confined to anything corporeal except to the body it is the form of.  Thus there is no conflict between the Aristotelian-Thomistic view that the soul retains only its intellectual and volitional functions between death and resurrection, and the Christian teaching that the souls of the damned are tormented by hellfire.  There is torment, but it is a matter of the frustration of the will rather than of sensory pain.

It might be objected that this is not faithful enough to the relevant biblical texts.  But that this is not a good objection is clear from some remarks Aquinas makes in Summa Contra Gentiles Book IV, Chapter 90:

[T]here is no reason why even some of the things we read in Scripture about the punishments of the damned expressed in bodily terms should not be understood in spiritual terms, and, as it were, figuratively.  Such is the saying of Isaiah (66:24): “Their worm shall not die”: by worm can be understood that remorse of conscience by which the impious will also be tortured, for a bodily worm cannot eat away a spiritual substance, nor even the bodies of the damned, which will be incorruptible.  Then, too, the “weeping” and “gnashing of teeth” (Mat. 8:12) cannot be understood of spiritual substances except metaphorically, although there is no reason not to accept them in a bodily sense in the bodies of the damned after the resurrection.  For all that, this is not to understand weeping a loss of tears, for from those bodies there can be no loss, but there can be only the sorrow of the heart and the irritation of the eyes and the head which usually accompany weeping.

End quote.  Obviously a disembodied soul cannot weep or gnash its teeth, since it lacks eyes and teeth.  Nor can it be nibbled at by worms, since it has no flesh for them to eat.  If these biblical passages must be taken figuratively when applied to disembodied souls, though, so too must passages that might seem to imply that a disembodied soul experiences pain of a sensory sort.

It is worth noting that an implication of Aquinas’s view seems to be that hellfire punishes the souls of the damned (at least prior to their reunion with their bodies at the resurrection) precisely by confining them to matter in the manner in which Cartesian souls are tied to matter.  On the Aristotelian-Thomistic view, the disembodied soul is only an incomplete substance, and qua form of the living body is in its natural state only when conjoined to the matter of its body.  It is inherently suited to that particular bit of the material world, and only to that one.  On the Cartesian view, by contrast, the soul is a complete substance in its own right, so that its relation to any and all material objects is entirely contingent.  It is no more inherently tied to any particular human body than it is inherently tied to a pig’s body, or a tree, or stone, or a vacuum cleaner.  It is related to the body not as form to matter but rather more like the way a demon would have been related to one of the Gadarene swine it possessed in the famous biblical passage, or the way a poltergeist is related to the vacuum cleaner it moves around the room it is haunting.  (Hence Ryle’s “ghost in the machine” characterization of Cartesianism.) 

Aquinas’s view seems to be that a disembodied soul tormented by hellfire is essentially forced to “haunt” that hellfire (as it were), and is tormented by the fact of being confined, contrary to its will, to that particular bit of matter to which it has no natural connection.  (And perhaps the knowledge that that very fire will one day cause sensory pain to its resurrected body is part of the torment as well.)  You might say loosely that hell (prior to the resurrection) is, in effect, being forced to live like a Cartesian soul.

Be that as it may, the Aristotelian-Thomistic conception of the soul is, I submit, far more in harmony with the Bible than the Cartesian view is, not less in harmony with it.  The Cartesian view makes the biblical idea of bodily resurrection pointless, since the Cartesian soul is a complete substance all on its own, and apart from the body.  It is no accident that the Platonic view of the soul, which was the precursor of the Cartesian one, tended to see the body as a prison, as something positively unnatural and confinement to which is undesirable.  It is bound to be that if the soul is a complete substance in its own right. 

By contrast, the psychosomatic unity that the Aristotelian-Thomistic view insists upon but the Cartesian-Platonic view effectively denies is just what one sees in scripture from Genesis onward.  The resurrection is necessary precisely because without the body, we are, however otherwise better off, to that extent radically diminished, and our complete beatitude thus calls for the restoration of the body.

Of course, what Aristotle himself thought about the post-mortem soul is a matter of controversy, but it is in any event irrelevant.  What matters is not what Aristotle thought but what Aristotelianism entails and/or is compatible with.   (“Aristotle thought such-and-such; therefore Aristotelianism entails such-and-such” is a common fallacy, but a fallacy for that.)  That the Aristotelian view of human nature is in fact much more consonant with Christian teaching than the Platonic view is is precisely the reason it won out in Catholicism and why treating the soul as the “form of the body” is official Catholic teaching.  Tired anti-Thomist caricatures notwithstanding, the motivation is to do justice to the biblical conception of man, not a commitment to Aristotle ├╝ber alles.

I’ll address some other recent reader questions about the soul in a follow-up post.

124 comments:

Anonymous said...

So, on your view, is Peter a soul or a soul-body unity? Is he an incomplete substance in heaven or is he not in heaven; rather his soul is in heaven?

TB

kuartus said...

Professor Feser, is the thomist forced to regard all out of body experiences as non veridical?

Craig Payne said...

Dear Kuartus: I would say that if those experiences in fact are veridical, it is by the grace of God--even as by the grace of God we would be able to continue to exist in a blessed state after death and before resurrection. However, in both cases what occurs by God's grace is not the NATURAL state of affairs. Best, Craig

Matthew Petersen said...

I hadn't thought of it till I read this, but there also seems to be a striking similarity between the Originist conception of the soul and the Cartesian one.

In that vein, one could add St. Maximus' criticisms of the Origenist two substance view of the soul and body along with your criticisms of Descartes' here--the two criticisms seem complimentary.

Finally, it's hard to make sense of the Incarnation on the supposition that the soul is a separate substance from the body.

Daniel Smith said...

I've come to think that the torment of hell is due to the lack of God's blessings there. All that is good comes from God so, if God allows none of his blessings to reside there, (since those who are there have chosen to reject Him - and thus all that He is) then nothing good will exist in hell. So there will be no love, happiness, joy, peace, comfort, etc., but only hatred, sadness, misery, anger and so forth.

This, of course, is just my own imagination but it helps me to think of hell, not as a place of punishment, but rather as a place of man's own choosing.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps a helpful analogy for people (who like that kind of thing) is autism. Some forms of autism augment certain powers of the human mind (e.g., mathematical reasoning) but clearly autism, as a disease, diminishes the full perfection of the person. It's not a perfect analogy, but as far as analogies go, it succeeds in showing a state can be a detriment qua X without being a detriment qua Y.

TJL said...

Dr. Feser,
Could you do a post on what Aquinas said about suffering and how that suffering can be explained in light of God's love for the sufferer?

Anonymous said...

If the soul can have veridical experiences sans body (such as in the afterlife) this alone hurts the AT claim since it grants not only the possibility but also the actuality of a Cartesian concept of the soul. Because philosophy of this kind is based highly on intuition, such a concession to Cartesians is significant.

A popular analogy of dualism is to say the driver is like the mind (soul) and the car is like the body. This conveniently explains how someone's mental faculties can be diminished when the material brain is. Of course Aristotilians would disagree. But I too don't think the analogy is perfect. C.S. Lewis was on the right track when he called humans "amphibians"--both spirit and animal. And while souls are different from spirits, it makes sense to think of human beings as something more than an independent soul which happens to have a body (in fact Paul's lament of being without a body confirms as much). There is a certain unity inherent within the human form--spirit, soul, and body alike which makes us us. But unity can only occur if *different* substances come together in harmony. Take marriage. Two become one. People who wed don't lose ontic status as individual persons; marriage precisely is a union of two different persons. Or take the trinity. Three persons, one God. Unity through diversity. Why can't a human be body, soul, and spirit all? Distinct forms which have individual ontic status yet flourish when in union with one another.

PS I also think the incarnation can provide insight here. The Second Person of the trinity (through whom the world was made) has existed without frustration for eternity but took on flesh so that He could become human and die for our sins. Bodies are clearly a part of what it it to human, but they are clearly distinct from the soul.

--GW

Anonymous said...

I must say I've never heard of the implications of this for the afterlife from the Thomistic perspective.

Now, on the other hand, Thomas did believe in a literal fire following the Resurrection.

Now I don't know if Ed would leaving philosophy for overt theology here, but I would be very interested in an exposition on the Thomistic perspective on the afterlife as a whole.

ingx24 said...

I personally think (and I am certainly not alone in this) that no God that would allow *anyone* to be tormented endlessly with no hope of escape (whether in literal fire or otherwise) could be anything but absolutely, infinitely evil. I don't care what "sins" people have committed - *no one* deserves that. The fact that sophisticated theists believe that some people will be endlessly tormented with no hope of escape (either after death or after the resurrection), and yet see this as a just punishment from a God that is literally the embodiment of Good and Justice, deeply disturbs me.

Anonymous said...

Ingx24,

I would recommend you one Fr. Aidan Kimel's blog and its attendant and insightful commenters as well as Vox Nova's recent discussion of this issue.

In addition, from a Western Thomist perspective, I would recommend Eleanor Stump's essay on Dante's conception of the afterlife (whose website has been recommended by Feser himself).

Of course, maybe you've already read them in which case I would simply recommend Stump's work.

Hope this helps. Maybe Feser will write something himself on that subject.

RD Miksa said...

Dear ingx24,

Although I hope not to derail this thread, I just wanted to post a few quick comments in reply to your post concerning the injustice and evil of an eternal hell, as it seems very clear that this is a serious stumbling block for you.

First, I contend that when you look at the world--and given the things that I have personally seen in my profession--it is not the idea of hell that should surprise or worry us, but rather the idea of heaven. Indeed, it truly is the case that while all of us have sinned and thus deserve hell, there are some men who sin so willfully, gleefully, and without remorse that there really should be no other place for them but hell. And for me, the doctrine of Hell has never been the problem, for it seems a natural doctrine given what Man is; for me, the real problem, given what Man is, is the doctrine of Heaven. So, while this first point does not directly address your question, I think it should provide some perspective and context as to how we should really view the issue of heaven and hell when we honestly assess ourselves as moral agents.

Second, the issue you raise also brings out some of the beauty and justice of Catholic doctrine. Consider that it is at least logically possible that all (or most) men are saved—and given both God’s omniscience, omnipotence, and his desire for this goal to be achieved, a good case could be made for this outcome. But then consider that if God saves all men, then how is justice truly served and how is punishment properly and appropriately delivered? And here enters the doctrine of Purgatory, where sins can still be punished in a just manner, but in which ultimate salvation still awaits once a person has suffered appropriately given their unique personal state of sin. So this is at least one possibility that you might wish to consider and which would address your concerns.

Third, although not a Catholic idea, you should also remember that some Christians argue that Annihilationism is the correct doctrine concerning hell. And if this is the case, then again, your concerns are answered.

Continued…

RD Miksa said...

Continued…

Finally, my fourth and most important point is that maybe your conception of hell is incorrect. To you, perhaps it seems like God is actively punishing those in hell when it is not necessarily the case that He is. Yet even if God is not actively punishing those in hell, He could still achieve His aim of divine justice given that Hell would be a place of punishment, but it is a place where the inmates punish themselves, so to speak. And so, those in hell do suffer eternally, but this suffering is self-caused rather than made to occur by God. Let me explain (and please note that this is primarily my personal understanding of the doctrine of hell, so take it for what it’s worth).

Upon death, our desire whether to be with God or not—expressed through our obedience, actions, and repentance—ultimately decides whether we go to heaven or hell. Now, hell is a place that is as far from God as possible. But since God is the greatest good, then by choosing hell, the first torment that a person would suffer would be psychological, because he would suddenly realize that he has denied himself the greatest good. And this psychological torment would only get worse as time went on not because of anything that God did, but rather because the person chose to reject God and then, in realizing and contemplating what he had done, the pain and stupidity of his own freely made decision would wear on him more, and more, and more. He would become more and more embittered. The psychological self-loathing that he would feel would eat at him to a greater and greater extent as time went on. And yet, all this torment would be self-caused! In fact, think of it via this analogy. Say that at the age of twenty-five, you were set to marry the only girl of your dreams who would truly make you happy for the rest of your life. But because of your own selfishness, etc., you call off the wedding. But after doing so, and after the girl leaves you for good, you suddenly realize the mistake that you had made. The rest of your life is spent in regret and self-hatred at the decision you made. You become broken psychologically and are in constant torment mentally. But note that the torment you are experiencing for the rest of your life is entirely self-caused. You made the decision to leave the girl and you are the one that had to suffer the consequences. The girl is not actively punishing you, and yet you suffer for the rest of your life nonetheless.

Continued...

RD Miksa said...

Continued...

Now, although the above addresses the psychological torments of hell, what about the physical ones. Well, again, this is how I picture it. Imagine that our world was divided by a great wall. On one side of the wall there was a society governed by laws and rules that protected everyone, and everyone willingly submitted to those rules and laws and followed them. Furthermore, on this side of the wall, there was a benevolent authority that ensures that no one could break the laws or harm anyone else; no one, however, sees this benevolent authority as infringing on their freedom because they freely and willingly choose to live on this side of the wall knowing that doing so entailed a full submission to this benevolent authority. By contrast, on the other side of the wall, it is literally a free-for-all zone. There are no rules, laws, or authorities to keep order. It is like a maximum security prison would be but without any guards. Furthermore, because most of the people who wished to submit to laws and authority, and thus to live in peace, have chosen to live on the other side of the wall, then on this free-for-all side, the worst members of humanity live and exist: the unrepentant, the violent, the liars, etc. And in this free-for-all state, physical violence, hatred, verbal abuse, mockery, and the like are all common. Now, this is the difference between heaven and hell. Hell is a free-for-all zone where if you wish to harm someone, you can do so, which is why physical pain exists in hell (given a resurrected body). But notice something: none of the physical pain that exists in hell is being caused by God. Sinners are still punished, but they punish themselves for their sins, for they freely chose to live in the free-for-all hell-hole and thus must live with the consequences of that decision, which are pain, suffering, danger, and aggression from their fellow hell dwellers.

And when we thus understand that the punishments of hell do exist, and yet they are not actively caused by God, then the problem concerning the eternality of the suffering of hell is negated. For God, in his love, is doing exactly the same thing with the unrepentant sinner as He is with the saved individual: giving them a place to exist eternally which is in accordance with their freely chosen desires. However, the unavoidable consequence of this for the unrepentant sinner is that his place to exist eternally will be one of pain, yet it will be a pain that is entirely self-caused and self-chosen. God will in no way actively cause it to occur.

So, when hell is understood in this way, I contend that it is easy to reconcile the idea of an eternal hell with God’s justice (for sinners will suffer for their sins, but at the same time, God is being just by ultimately offering the same thing to both the just and the unjust: an eternal place to reside that is in accordance with their desires), and God’s love (for God is not causing the eternal suffering to occur, but rather, in His love, is just giving the unrepentant sinner what he desires: a place to live without God; what follows from that choice is not God’s fault, but the sinners).

Anyway, just a few thoughts. Take care,

RD Miksa

rank sophist said...

I don't care what "sins" people have committed - *no one* deserves that. The fact that sophisticated theists believe that some people will be endlessly tormented with no hope of escape (either after death or after the resurrection), and yet see this as a just punishment from a God that is literally the embodiment of Good and Justice, deeply disturbs me.

God punishes no one. As Pope Benedict taught:

The depths we call hell man can only give to himself. Indeed, we must put it more pointedly: Hell consists in man's being unwilling to receive anything, in his desire to be self-sufficient. It is the expression of enclosure in one's own being alone. These depths accordingly consist by nature of just this: that man will not accept, will not take anything, but wants to stand entirely on his own feet, to be sufficient unto himself. If this becomes utterly radical, then man has become the untouchable, the solitary, the reject. Hell is wanting only to be oneself; what happens when man barricades himself up in himself.

God cannot save these people because they have rejected love out of their own free will, and to save them would be to override free will.

Brandon said...

I personally think (and I am certainly not alone in this) that no God that would allow *anyone* to be tormented endlessly with no hope of escape (whether in literal fire or otherwise) could be anything but absolutely, infinitely evil. I don't care what "sins" people have committed - *no one* deserves that.

To add to rank sophist's point, since the torments of hell are contritionlessness and the penalties intrinsic to it (not repenting involves its own punishments) and appropriate to it (as following directly from it given the circumstances in which the unrepentant find themselves), what this really ends up being equivalent to is saying that God will force all people to repent somehow. If we wanted to bandy rhetoric back and forth, one could very well say that what you are suggesting is that God will brainwash everyone, which hardly sounds so very embodiment-of-Good-and-Justice at all.

This is, of course, the problem: sure, you can find some rhetorical description that makes it sound bad; but you will not find any alternative that can't be put under a tendentious and bad-sounding rhetorical description. In general, universalists tend to look at the question backwards from the way the rest of people do. The universalist starts with asking, "Will God be merciful to all?" and obviously the answer will be Yes. But that's not the question with which the doctrine of hell itself is concerned. That question is, "What do we do in response to God's mercy?" Because the only responses that actually result in heaven and no penalty are repentance and sanctification, which are going to have to happen one way or another; short of establishing this, you aren't arguing for no penalties, but just for Hell Lite.

Kirill Nielson said...

Rank, this is all nice, but there is an obvious problem - the only one who can reject God with full knowledge and realization is Satan. And it is traditional understanding that he fell because he valued autonomy more than anything. But we don't have his knowledge. In order for us to reject God forever, we need to undergo something beyond corporeal death. We need proof beyond reasonable doubt that God exists and the exhaustive explanation of what he is.

Until then, God's honoring of our free will is like a father's honoring of his 3-year-old child's decision to pour gasoline all over himself and set it on fire.

But even after that there is a problem - As a rational being, at some point I may decide that I was wrong and ask God to allow me to return. Maybe through some trials and long corrective procedures, but I expect God, as loving as he is, to allow me that. Will he? Apparently not, on your view.

ingx24 said...

First, I contend that when you look at the world--and given the things that I have personally seen in my profession--it is not the idea of hell that should surprise or worry us, but rather the idea of heaven. Indeed, it truly is the case that while all of us have sinned and thus deserve hell, there are some men who sin so willfully, gleefully, and without remorse that there really should be no other place for them but hell. And for me, the doctrine of Hell has never been the problem, for it seems a natural doctrine given what Man is; for me, the real problem, given what Man is, is the doctrine of Heaven. So, while this first point does not directly address your question, I think it should provide some perspective and context as to how we should really view the issue of heaven and hell when we honestly assess ourselves as moral agents.

This really makes things a lot worse for me. Are you honestly saying that you believe that people are so awful, evil, despicable, disgusting, and worthless that they deserve to be subjected to unimaginable pain and misery for the rest of eternity with no hope of escape no matter what they do? And that the only reason we *don't* all get that outcome is because God is so merciful and forgiving? I don't think *anything* that *anyone* could ever do would be enough to warrant endless torment in hell. An infinite/endless punishment requires that an infinite crime be committed, and I would contend that the only "infinite crime" would be to force someone to suffer forever - in which case, ironically, the only agent who deserves endless torment would be a God who would subject others to endless torment.

Second, the issue you raise also brings out some of the beauty and justice of Catholic doctrine. Consider that it is at least logically possible that all (or most) men are saved—and given both God’s omniscience, omnipotence, and his desire for this goal to be achieved, a good case could be made for this outcome. But then consider that if God saves all men, then how is justice truly served and how is punishment properly and appropriately delivered? And here enters the doctrine of Purgatory, where sins can still be punished in a just manner, but in which ultimate salvation still awaits once a person has suffered appropriately given their unique personal state of sin. So this is at least one possibility that you might wish to consider and which would address your concerns.

Purgatory is honestly an idea that I can easily get on board with. My contention is that the worst anyone deserves is Purgatory: an everlasting hell (at least in the sense of eternal torment with no hope of escape or redemption - I see that others have proposed alternative conceptions of what hell is) is going too far.

ingx24 said...

Upon death, our desire whether to be with God or not—expressed through our obedience, actions, and repentance—ultimately decides whether we go to heaven or hell. Now, hell is a place that is as far from God as possible. But since God is the greatest good, then by choosing hell, the first torment that a person would suffer would be psychological, because he would suddenly realize that he has denied himself the greatest good. And this psychological torment would only get worse as time went on not because of anything that God did, but rather because the person chose to reject God and then, in realizing and contemplating what he had done, the pain and stupidity of his own freely made decision would wear on him more, and more, and more. He would become more and more embittered. The psychological self-loathing that he would feel would eat at him to a greater and greater extent as time went on.

This, again, only makes things worse. Any God that would allow someone to put themselves in that situation - and then just let them live in regret and self-loathing forever instead of giving them a second chance, or at least giving them some way to end their misery - couldn't possibly be infinitely good and loving. Such a God would simply be cold and uncaring. The analogy you gave - a man blowing off the girl of his dreams and then only realizing his mistake when it's too late - doesn't really hold up, because the girl in question is only human and isn't defined as having the characteristics of omniscience (in this case, having complete knowledge of the pain and regret her lover is in) and infinite love/mercy.

Anyway, I don't really want to get too deep into this conversation - I mainly brought it up because Ed's post seemed to imply the eternal torment of the damned in a pit of fire after the Resurrection, and I was commenting on how cruel the idea of hell is in general from my perspective.

RD Miksa said...

Dear K. Nielson:

You said:

“In order for us to reject God forever, we need to undergo something beyond corporeal death. We need proof beyond reasonable doubt that God exists and the exhaustive explanation of what he is.”

I have to disagree here. First, it is possible to desire God and communion with him, and then act as if God exists, even if we do not know that He does. For example, a woman can desire a child (or not) and prepare to be a mother even if she does not know whether she can have children or not. Furthermore, one does not need an exhaustive explanation of what God is before wishing to be in communion with Him; I did not have an exhaustive understanding of my wife before marrying her, yet marry her I did and wanted to do.


You said:

“Until then, God's honoring of our free will is like a father's honoring of his 3-year-old child's decision to pour gasoline all over himself and set it on fire.”

Not at all. My 3-year-old does not really understand what gasoline is, how much fire will hurt, and what the consequences of lighting himself on fire will be. By contrast, I understand the idea of neverendingness of hell, the pains that would be associated with such a place, and the consequences of choosing such a place over heaven.


You said:

“But even after that there is a problem - As a rational being, at some point I may decide that I was wrong and ask God to allow me to return. Maybe through some trials and long corrective procedures, but I expect God, as loving as he is, to allow me that. Will he? Apparently not, on your view.”

Perhaps it not feasible for God to allow you to return—much like it is not feasible for God to make you always chose the good and yet for you to truly be free. At the same time, some decisions just are permanent. If you get married, then you will never return to a state of “never having been unmarried.”

Just some thoughts.

Take care,

RD Miksa

Matthew Petersen said...

Just to clear up something Anon. said regarding the Incarnation, which was perhaps motivated by my comparison:

The point isn't that the Incarnation sheds light on the unity of Body and Soul, but that if we are a Cartesian "unity" of body and soul, the classical analogy of soul and body united in one person, so divinity and humanity united in the one Person, becomes either Nestorian, or Apolinarian, depending on the emphasis.

RD Miksa said...

Dear ingx24,

You said:

“This really makes things a lot worse for me. Are you honestly saying that you believe that people are so awful, evil, despicable, disgusting, and worthless that they deserve to be subjected to unimaginable pain and misery for the rest of eternity with no hope of escape no matter what they do?”

Not really. My initial point was simply to make it clear that some people truly are evil, and thus that the concept of hell should not necessarily be that hard to comprehend given what some people are. Furthermore, all people are evil and immoral to a great extent, once again making it clear that the idea of a place of punishment should not be so hard to comprehend.


You said:

“And that the only reason we *don't* all get that outcome is because God is so merciful and forgiving? I don't think *anything* that *anyone* could ever do would be enough to warrant endless torment in hell.”

Well, let me just ask you this question: what should be the duration of punishment for an utterly sane man who, for example, places a newborn child in a microwave and cooks it to the point that its blood boils and its brain explodes (this has happened in reality, by the way)? Now, I use such a graphic example for a clear reason: to make the case that such evils are utterly serious, and cannot be easily dismissed, nor can the case that such evils, if not repented of, plausibly do deserve something like infinite punishment. Could any finite punishment be sufficient to account for such a crime?


You said:

“An infinite/endless punishment requires that an infinite crime be committed…”

Not necessarily, for why could not an infinite/endless punishment be enacted because a person continues to sin infinitely and endlessly, thus deserving infinite and endless punishment for finite crimes which are nevertheless committed for a potentially infinite continuity. Indeed, in my description of hell, this is exactly what happens. People, in their unmitigated freedom, continue to sin indefinitely, thus leading to their remaining in hell indefinitely.

More to follow.

RD Miksa

RD Miksa said...

Dear ingx24:

You said:

“Purgatory is honestly an idea that I can easily get on board with. My contention is that the worst anyone deserves is Purgatory: an everlasting hell (at least in the sense of eternal torment with no hope of escape or redemption - I see that others have proposed alternative conceptions of what hell is) is going too far.”

Let me be frank: my preference is for the truth of this idea—a type of potential universalism where punishment is exacted through purgatory—as well. And I prefer this idea based on arguments from reason alone: if God is omniscience, omnipotent, omnibenevolent, and desires all people to be saved, then it seems very difficult to think of a reason for why God could not cause such a state of affairs to come about—potential universalism with punishment in Purgatory—given his attributes and desires. This does not deny the eternality of hell, but it does argue that God could potentially prevent any human from going there.

So please understand that this is at least one option that you could hold to in order to overcome your concerns about hell.

More to follow.

RD Miksa

rank sophist said...

Kirill,

Rank, this is all nice, but there is an obvious problem - the only one who can reject God with full knowledge and realization is Satan.

It isn't a matter of rejecting God. It's about rejecting love, which indirectly is a rejection of God. Someone who rejects love in favor of autonomy is already living hell on earth.

As a rational being, at some point I may decide that I was wrong and ask God to allow me to return. Maybe through some trials and long corrective procedures, but I expect God, as loving as he is, to allow me that.

Hell is the state in which love has been totally rejected. If you die like that on earth, then you'll live in it forever. You'll never "change your mind".

RD Miksa said...

Dear ingx24,

You said:

“This, again, only makes things worse. Any God that would allow someone to put themselves in that situation - and then just let them live in regret and self-loathing forever instead of giving them a second chance, or at least giving them some way to end their misery - couldn't possibly be infinitely good and loving. Such a God would simply be cold and uncaring.”

I think you are conflating a number of issues here. First, someone might live in regret and self-loathing and yet continue to desire to reject God and hate Him; there is no logical incompatibility there. Furthermore, such a person might prefer life in pain and self-loathing then no life at all. Would God then need to somehow rescue a person who did not want to be rescued by God, and actively rejected such rescue, regardless of how much the person needed it? As Peter Kreeft says, God is a lover not a rapist. For God to forcibly rescue someone that does not want it seems like rape, not love. At the same time, such God end the suffering of someone that prefers life in suffering than annihilation? I argue that not. Finally, please note that my personal contention is that God cannot annihilate his creations, because for Him to do this would be to murder his creations, and since God cannot do an evil act, then He cannot annihilate His creations.

And as a last analogy, just think of someone like Christopher Hitchens who often identified himself as a anti-theist (not just an atheist). If C. Hitchens truly never, ever wished to be in God’s presence, and if Hitchens preferred to be alive but in the pains of hell (absence of God) rather than just annihilated, then would not God be merciful and loving in fulfilling C. Hitchens’ desire for this? And if you answer affirmatively, then understand that this is what hell is? So the Chris Hitchens example shows that there could be cases where God is being loving and merciful and yet if required to keep people in hell for eternity.


You said:

“Anyway, I don't really want to get too deep into this conversation…”

No worries at all. Take care.

RD Miksa

Kirill Nielson said...

Rank, it continues to be problematic. God is love. So by rejecting love, you reject him, and vise versa. And you do so by virtue of your free will, which you are supposed to retain after your corporeal death. So, why can you reject him willingly, but not accept him back willingly? What changes? Miksa here says that there are things that you just can't change. I don't see why it has to be the case. Especially when it comes to free will.

It gets worse when you consider existence of psychopaths who are clinically incapable of loving. Don't believe me, read it up. That's the official diagnosis. What are you going to do with them? It is their nature. So God is to blame? The only way to remedy that is to give them some options in life, which does not seem to happen, or after death.

Again, here's the crux of my contention - we are way too limited in our knowledge and understanding in order to make an unchangeable decision about rejecting love. In order to satisfy that criterion we need some heavy weight personal revelation from God.

ingx24 said...

Well, let me just ask you this question: what should be the duration of punishment for an utterly sane man who, for example, places a newborn child in a microwave and cooks it to the point that its blood boils and its brain explodes (this has happened in reality, by the way)? Now, I use such a graphic example for a clear reason: to make the case that such evils are utterly serious, and cannot be easily dismissed, nor can the case that such evils, if not repented of, plausibly do deserve something like infinite punishment. Could any finite punishment be sufficient to account for such a crime?

Don't get me wrong: such a crime is heinous and deserves severe punishment. But does it deserve an eternity in unbearable, unimaginable pain and agony that will never ever stop no matter what? I would hope that any sane person would say no.

And when you say "if not repented of", do you mean "not repented of before the due date (i.e. death)"? Because that's what bugs me the most: on most conceptions of hell, if you haven't repented before the due date, you don't have another chance - you'll spend eternity in unimaginable pain and agony, and nothing you ever say or do will ever make it stop. It's too late.

If such a conception of hell is true, then God is the embodiment of evil, and the universe should have never been created.

Brandon said...

Kirill,

So I take it you would equally oppose the impeccability of the saints in heaven? After all, they continue to have free will, too, and the saints are as limited in knowledge and understanding as anyone else, so if that's a problem they can't make an unchangeable decision, either -- after all, as one might say, "why can you accept him willingly but not then reject him willingly?" Is it that they get a super-adequate revelation? But their revelation is heaven itself, which requires already having repented and accepted God.

Is there some intermediate "heavy weight personal revelation" that could possibly do more for them than reason and revelation given on earth? But to be any more than possibly-inconsistent speculation, it would have to be specified, particularly since your previous comment about Satan directly implies that there is no possible revelation that can logically rule out outright rejection; and so what are we left with? I'm reminded of the parable of the rich man in Gehenna who begged Abraham to send Lazarus to his brothers; to which Abraham replies that if they won't even listen to Moses and the Prophets, they won't listen even if someone rises from the dead. Nobody seems ever to deny that we have all the information we need for an unchangeable decision in favor of heaven, despite the fact that the actual deciding would seem to have to be the very same decision; where does the asymmetry enter into the picture?

Kirill Nielson said...

Brandon,
EDITED.

No, I am perfectly fine if some of the saints have received their revalation and fully realized God. I am also fine if some people, like dead infants, could undergo moral growth after death in some ways. That is of course, not allowed by the Bible, where if you die, that's it, you lost your chance.

I'm a hopeful universalist, believe that hell's continuity must accord with a person's individual choice. In other words,your eternal hell can be logically possible only if you eternally choose it.

To say, "Once you've decided so, there is no way back" goes again my basic moral intuitions. And if the Bible contradicts them, so much worse for the Bible.

Brian said...

I sympathize with the skeptics, here, but I think they miss the point. The question of authority is more fundamental and primary than their particular difficulties with the doctrine of hell. Which religion is the bearer and guardian of supernatural revelation? And what does that religion teach about hell? That is really all that matters. Your particular arguments about the doctrine of hell do not amount to anything if supernatural revelation contradicts them.

So the true starting point is religious apologetics, imo.

As a Catholic, I rest in the knowledge that the Church is that bearer and guardian, so I trust what the Church teaches about hell with the assent of faith. Further, I know through reason and through that same faith that God is good and just, so the doctrine of hell must square with that truth somehow, even if I cannot see it now or ever. I have not studied the issue much, and I suspect the Church got this, as always.

ingx24 said...

Well, to me, the argument goes this way:

(1) Some allegedly supernatural revelation from God teaches that some people will suffer endlessly with no hope of escape after death.
(2) God, being all-good, would not allow anyone to suffer endlessly with no hope of escape.
-----------------------------------
(3) The alleged supernatural revelation cannot truly be from God.

Most Christians, in denying (3), deny (2), holding that God does indeed allow people to be tortured forever with no hope of escape, and is (somehow) still all-good. Others deny (1), holding that divine revelation does not actually teach that some people will be tortured forever. I hold (2) to be self-evident, so either (1) is false or (3) is true. That's how I see things, anyway.

Brandon said...

I am also fine if some people, like dead infants, could undergo moral growth after death in some ways. That is of course, not allowed by the Bible, where if you die, that's it, you lost your chance.

Actually, as it has traditionally been read, there is nothing whatsoever impossible about dead infants undergoing moral growth in some sense -- that was the whole point of limbo, for instance. Hell is not having heaven; obviously it's logically possible to have moral growth while not having heaven, because we do it. The most basic punishment in hell, as traditionally understood, is never possibly being happier than human beings can naturally be happy (everything beyond that is just what we bring with nonrepentance). And human natural happiness involves moral growth of a sort.

To be a "hopeful universalist" is not to be a universalist at all; there is no way to be sort-of universalist. I don't think it's anything but a misleading way to characterize the position, which is really just a rejection of universalism accompanied by a "But who knows what God might do?" shrug. That's not universalism by any means.

I notice, though, that you don't actually answer my question: "Once you've decided so, there is no way back" is traditionally true of the saints in heaven -- indeed, the traditional terms in which it is put for the saints in heaven are even stronger than that. So you seem again to be committed to saying that the saints in heaven are not impeccable, and that they could start the whole thing over again by falling from grace.

Brandon said...

ingx24,

This way of phrasing fundamentally makes it not about hell at all; it turns out to be a plain problem of evil argument, about why God would create a universe in which people can sin, which is the fundamental character of hell -- the ongoing sin of nonrepentance.

(I would note that your argument as stated needs modification, because it's guilty of the fallacy of four middle terms. No Christian holds that "God does indeed allow people to be tortured forever with no hope of escape" because their whole point is that God has given everyone a means of escape -- it's just one that you have to accept before you're too far gone. So the bulk of Christians you're talking about accept both (1) and (2) as you've stated them, because you've switched middle terms from (1) to (2) -- in (1) it's about no escape after death, and in (2) it's about no escape. The real point of dispute is about what you presumably meant to say but didn't: why should Christians not merely accept (2) but also a much stronger version of it in which we take it to be self-evident that no matter what choices we make God will always keep giving means of escape, and what is more, that there is never any point in one's choices at which one can have ruled out any further possible viable means of escape.)

Step2 said...

After all, they continue to have free will, too, and the saints are as limited in knowledge and understanding as anyone else, so if that's a problem they can't make an unchangeable decision, either -- after all, as one might say, "why can you accept him willingly but not then reject him willingly?"

That wasn’t Dante’s version of Heaven. As Piccarda puts it in Paradiso: “Brother, the power of love subdues our will so that we long for only what we have and thirst for nothing else. If we desired to be more exalted, our desires would be discordant with His will, which assigns us to this place…No, it is the very essence of this blessed state that we remain within the will of God, so that our wills combine in unity.”

...there is nothing whatsoever impossible about dead infants undergoing moral growth in some sense -- that was the whole point of limbo, for instance.

Given that Christ could not personally rescue them, I would be skeptical about that theory.

Jeremy Taylor said...

It is my understanding the Greek word in the NT that is often translated as eternal actually means perpetual, or more usually meant this at the time.

I think that salvation in hell is possible. No one is beyond God's mercy. Hell, however, is clearly an incomparable obstacle to salvation. We must cherish this life, therefore, and not squander it. Even the Eastern religions teach that our current lives are so precious and so hard to come by that it is almost the case that squandering them is squandering one's hope for salvation.

Overall, post-mortem states are best left to God. Just know that our current lives are infinitely precious.

Jeremy Taylor said...

I think some of the problem here is an ackward Christian tendency to cover in too much literal detail what is best spoken of analogously. We did this with the doctrines of the Trinity and Incarnation as well.

Brandon said...

Step2,

You're making the common mistake of confusing 'impeccability', which Dante is explicitly affirming, with 'having no free will', which Dante is explicitly denying.

Likewise, you are making the common mistake of assuming that moral growth automatically gives heaven, which is denied by pretty much every major Christian theologian (including Aquinas). Aquinas is quite clear that those in limbo have only poena damni -- i.e., exactly what I said, that they have the penalty of never attaining to heaven, which no human being can deserve by their own efforts. It doesn't matter how much they grow morally; moral growth is natural growth for human beings, and no natural growth can ever deserve supernatural glory.

Brandon said...

I think I should add, on a comment on all my comments above, and not just on the previous one, that when dealing with universalists, I can never help but get the sense that what we're really getting is a lot of earnest and vehement insistence that everyone deserves the opportunity to have something very like Limbo; to which my response is, well, sure, why not. But that's not at all what Christianity is claiming to put on the table; it is explicitly offering an opportunity beyond anything we deserve to a reward beyond anything we deserve, which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, beyond what can be imagined. That is Heaven; anything less than that is what Christians call Hell.

Kirill Nielson said...

Brandon,

I'm debating over that issue. On one hand, there is soul-making theodicy, by which people develop strong inclination not to sin. So they become contingently impeccable. On the other hand, I've always liked the revolving door solution. But that is as far from mainstream Christianity as it gets.

And yes, I realize that if I don't object to the soul-making theodicy, then I shouldn't object to soul-corrupting theodicy. Meaning, that if one can develop immunity to sin, he could also develop immunity to love. All through free will.

But that is beside the point. In this earthly life we are in no position to go down that far.

RD Miksa said...

Dear ingx24,

You said:

“Don't get me wrong: such a crime is heinous and deserves severe punishment. But does it deserve an eternity in unbearable, unimaginable pain and agony that will never ever stop no matter what? I would hope that any sane person would say no.”

First, I contend that when it is understood that the pain and suffering is self-caused rather than directly caused by God, this changes the context to a substantial degree. Second, notice that you are just asserting your above claim, not arguing for it. In fact, I contend that it is not as clear as you make it out to be that such a crime should not be punished for an infinite duration. I would argue that, given such a crime, a sane person could argue the case either way and that one position is in no way clearly more moral than another.


You said:

“And when you say "if not repented of", do you mean "not repented of before the due date (i.e. death)"? Because that's what bugs me the most: on most conceptions of hell, if you haven't repented before the due date, you don't have another chance - you'll spend eternity in unimaginable pain and agony, and nothing you ever say or do will ever make it stop. It's too late. If such a conception of hell is true, then God is the embodiment of evil, and the universe should have never been created.”

But as I gave with my Christopher Hitchens example, someone could, logically speaking, never repent, and never wish to be in God’s presence, and yet still desire an eternal life filled with suffering over straight annihilation. Given this logically possible scenario, God, in his love and respect for such a person’s autonomy, would thus show His love most fully by keeping the person alive and yet still eternally out of His presence. And what would such a place be but hell?

And maybe this is what hell is. Maybe it is logically possible for someone in hell to change their mind and ask for repentance, but perhaps in actuality this never has happened or will happen. And thus hell is filled with people who all prefer an eternal life of suffering to annihilation, and who could, logically, ask for repentance, but never actually do in actuality. And this would be a way to reconcile the existence of an eternal hell with God’s love.

Take care,

RD Miksa

RD Miksa said...

“God is love. So by rejecting love, you reject him, and vise versa. And you do so by virtue of your free will, which you are supposed to retain after your corporeal death. So, why can you reject him willingly, but not accept him back willingly? What changes? Miksa here says that there are things that you just can't change. I don't see why it has to be the case. Especially when it comes to free will.”

I think that this issue brings up another important issue in the discussion around hell. On Christian theism, and in order to be granted entry into heaven, a person most love God and desire to be with Him for the sake of love. But then this gives an important point about hell. Perhaps, upon entry into hell, a person may indeed be willing repent, but only in an attempt to avoid the pain of hell, not for the love of God. And thus such a repentance would never be valid and worthy of heaven, and so no one in hell, could come to the point that they ever repent and love God in the necessary way to escape hell, even if the logically might do so.

Take care,

RD Miksa

Step2 said...

Brandon,
I would say I was pointing out a difference based upon location in the afterlife. As far as I can discern there isn't any limit on free will in hell (or purgatory) but in heaven it is subdued. Not absent, merely subdued. Otherwise how could you have impeccability in heaven? It would be Eden all over again.

The Summa link wasn't about their own efforts; it was about the supernatural possibility to save them after death. The answer heavily depends upon their natural moral growth since it was their lack of free will due to age that prevents them from having faith.

Brandon said...

Step2,

On the Summa link, then I'm not sure what you were intending by it; the part you quoted from my comment was about moral growth, which Aquinas in that very link is quite clear (at the end, about grace) would be insufficient to guarantee the supernatural possibility -- what they require are the supernatural virtues of faith and love, which on Aquinas's view they had no chance to get because they died before any act of free will on which God makes them available.

I'm not sure what you mean by Dante thinking that wills in hell are not subdued but more free than in heaven; it seems to me that he thinks that they are not only subdued, but enslaved. Further, this is precisely related to the point with regard to the circle of the moon: the inconstant in the circle of moon have, in achieving Heaven, had their wills subdued by the virtue of charity -- which like any virtue requires the exercise of free will -- in the sense that out of love they love what God loves (and thus, for instance, accept their lower place in Heaven without any resentment, which is the immediate context for Piccarda's comment). They've lost the inconstancy of their wills, which was a deficiency of freedom, in which their choices were not wholly in their power; whereas the damned in hell have lost the power ever to rise above such deficiencies, so that they are often just playing out their sins over and over again by rote. I've always thought the Francesca scene is particularly poignant in this regard: beautiful poetry, but on closer look, what Francesca is really doing is plagiarizing love poems in order to insist that it's not her fault -- which is itself a reflection of her sin, which was an exercise of lust in which she literally just copied what was in a book. The level in which she seems to exhibit any free will is pretty minimal -- and what free will we actually see her exert in the poem itself is wholly to insist that she had no free will in the matter: it was the book that showed it, it was Paolo who did it, it was Irresistible Love which made her go along with it.

Jeremy Taylor said...

RD Miksa,

I do not think that the example of Christopher Hitchens is particularly useful. He was hardly a man who saw things as they are. His antipathy to God, so far as it was not pure affectation, was twisted, perverse, and literally diabolical. I do not think such a will can have any path beyond death except the literally diabolic. Certainly, there is no place for such a person to have a calm and content rejection of God.

I think that Gods infinite love and mercy preclude that salvation from hell is impossible. God is always there for us. But those who reject God in this life have an imcomparably harder path to God in the hereafter. This is a position, incidentally, no Ecumenical Council rejected, although the Second Council of Constantinople, under the influence of Justinian, did reject automatic universal salvation.

Anonymous said...

Notice this:
You are not the one who wakes, or dreams, or sleeps.

You ARE the the actionless and formless mere Witness of the three common states of waking, dreaming, and sleeping, and of all the apparent contents and experiences associated with these three common states.

You are not the body, or the doer of action, or the doer of even any of the body's actions or functions.

You are not the soul, the mind or the thinker, or the doer of even Any of the actions or functions of mind or of body-mind.

No matter what arises, whether as or in the state of waking, or of dreaming, or of sleeping, or in the after death states, you Are the actionless, and formless, and thought-free mere Witness of attention itself, and of every apparent object of attention, and of any and every state of experience, and of the entirety of whatever and All that arises.

George LeSauvage said...

One problem runs through this whole discussion, the assumption that we will continue our temporal lives in the hereafter much as we do in this life. It ain't necessarily so. It is well to keep this in mind, along with another point.

That is that freedom of the will lies in the ability to choose one good over another. And that choice is based on our judging what we choose as better than that which we reject. Those in heaven, because they see God, cannot choose otherwise, not because they are unfree, but because there is now no possible good which can seduce them from the ultimate end.

Those in hell, contrariwise, are those who rejected, eternally, the beatific vision. They don't reject it because they are damned; they are damned because they reject it, unwilling to part from some subordinate good which they prefer. And all hell comes down to, on this view, is God giving them what they want.

I must also point out that, if one accepts the doctrine that evil is a privation, it would seem to follow that the pains of hell are less of a positive thing than they are portrayed here. Yes, it is necessary for us to picture them that way, but that doesn't mean the descriptions are themselves not another case of analogy. In fact, it's hard to see that it wouldn't be.

Will Dunkirk said...

@ ingx24

So according to your belief I can murder, cheat you, rob you, torture you and your children fun, slaughter innocents, amass power and become a horrid tyrrant and enslave the whole human race to my whims, rape whomever I please, etc., and do all of this with a huge smile on my face because the truth is that for all of that God would never cause me to suffer for it except only temporarily? And what's a finite amount of time and suffering compared to eternity?

Now that is indeed good news - if you are a psychopath.

Alypius said...

@George

Those in hell, contrariwise, are those who rejected, eternally, the beatific vision. They don't reject it because they are damned; they are damned because they reject it, unwilling to part from some subordinate good which they prefer. And all hell comes down to, on this view, is God giving them what they want.

I must also point out that, if one accepts the doctrine that evil is a privation, it would seem to follow that the pains of hell are less of a positive thing than they are portrayed here. Yes, it is necessary for us to picture them that way, but that doesn't mean the descriptions are themselves not another case of analogy. In fact, it's hard to see that it wouldn't be.



Well said. And on a related note, given that Existence itself is an unalloyed good, isn't there even a sense here in which we can say the existence of the soul (even while in hell) remains good? This fact doesn't of course diminish the real anguish present in hell (which, as you correctly state is a situation chosen by the soul itself, not imposed upon it from outside), but makes clear that God is only responsible for Goodness itself. We, as free agents, are responsible for the privations that we choose.

Alypius said...

On a completely unrelated note, and I don't want to derail this thread but I don't know where else to put this (I'd love to see Prof. Feser comment!): Anyone know (or wager a guess at) what Pope Francis was referring to in last week's famous interview when he mentioned "decadent or largely bankrupt Thomism"? With the praise he heaped on Aquinas in his preceding sentence it clearly wasn't a condemnation of Thomism, per se.

rank sophist said...

Alypius,

Anyone know (or wager a guess at) what Pope Francis was referring to in last week's famous interview when he mentioned "decadent or largely bankrupt Thomism"?

I really loved that part, and I too wondered what this blog's regulars would think. I'd say it's pretty clear what he's referring to: the numerous, benighted commentators on Aquinas, like Suarez, Banez, Cajetan and Molina. Plus, he's taking an indirect swipe at their Neo-Scholastic heirs, who corrupted the Catholic church with legalism in the 19th and 20th centuries. I'm glad that Pope Francis can understand the difference between Aquinas's works and the largely bankrupt commentaries they inspired.

BenYachov said...

QUOTE“Humans are in search of themselves, and, of course, in this search they can also make mistakes. The church has experienced times of brilliance, like that of Thomas Aquinas. But the church has lived also times of decline in its ability to think. For example, we must not confuse the genius of Thomas Aquinas with the age of decadent Thomist commentaries. Unfortunately, I studied philosophy from textbooks that came from decadent or largely bankrupt Thomism. In thinking of the human being, therefore, the church should strive for genius and not for decadence."END QUOTE

He could mean anything.

BenYachov said...

@ingx24

You are channeling objections to a Theistic Personalist "deity" based on Theistic Personalist assumptions nobody here believes in in the first place.

Dude you should know better.

Banshee said...

If you want a picture image of the relationship between the soul and the body after death and before the Resurrection, maybe you're better off reading Prudentius' funeral hymn instead of Aquinas.

And for a picture of the relationship between Hell, Heaven, and Purgatory, I gotta say that I like St. Macrina the Younger's picture of God as the Biblical "consuming fire" of love, that burns away everything in the soul that is not like God and full of love. The saints feel nothing but pleasure in the fire of His love, because they are also all love. The normal person suffers "loss as through fire" of the bad parts of himself, but then feels nothing but the love. And the truly evil, truly unrepentant person has pretty much no love and thus gets pretty much all burned up, except that he still exists because that's the good part of him that is like God.

All this stuff is approximation, of course. If the images don't help you, you should probably forget them.

Brandon said...

Alypius,

He explicitly applies the phrase to philosophy textbooks, so it would have to be something that was used as a textbook in a Jesuit seminary in the late 50s; thus it's almost certainly a swipe at the manualists. Around the mid-twentieth century there was a widespread movement among the Jesuits to move from basing their curriculum on manualist textbooks to basing it on original sources, and it sounds very much like the Pope is talking about something similar. And it is a common criticism; one finds it in one form or other in practically every Catholic theologian or philosopher who lived through the fifties and sixties. The late manual tradition in practice quite literally consisted (in many places, although not all) of seminarians being forced to memorize the textbook formulas; "decadent or largely bankrupt" and "decline in the ability to think" certainly describes at least the worst cases, and the Pope would hardly be the first person to argue that -- indeed, it's not exactly uncommon to find Thomists making similar remarks about the late manualist tradition, following Gilson and others.

RS's suggestion that the Pope just happened to be attacking all the commentators RS is on record as not liking is extraordinarily unlikely, particularly since RS's list of Baddies manages to hit two of the three fathers of the Hispanic social justice tradition (Suarez, Molina, and Vitoria), which it is highly unlikely the Pope is entirely dismissing as decadent and, in other words he uses, having lost sight of the human.

BenYachov said...

Banshee you have just give us a great picture of Hell from the Eastern Christian perspective.

Good on you.

JesseM said...

@rank sophist:
God cannot save these people because they have rejected love out of their own free will, and to save them would be to override free will.

It's not entirely clear that they "rejected love out of their own free will", since many presumably just didn't have an intellectual belief in the sort of God you believe in. In any case, don't you think living people can reject God's love at one point in their lives, then accept it later in life? Presumably it would be in God's power to grant people the same changeable nature after resurrecting them (wouldn't a Christian think it plausible that Lazarus had this sort of changeable nature after Jesus resurrected him?), so God is foreclosing the possibility of their ever ending their suffering even though it's within His power and wouldn't conflict in any obvious way with free will.

BenYachov said...

>It's not entirely clear that they "rejected love out of their own free will", since many presumably just didn't have an intellectual belief in the sort of God you believe in.

Off topic. There are non-believers by negation(i.e. persons whom threw no fault of their own fail to believe & their non-belief is not held against them as mortal sin) who might follow some extra-ordinary grace given them & be saved as taught by Justin Martyr, & Popes Alexander VIII, Pius IX, St Pius X, Pius XII, Paul VI , JP2 etc....

Then there are non-believers by opposition who are morally culpable because their non-belief is born of obstinate malice toward submiting to truth.

When talking about the damned we are talking about unambiguous mortal sinners.

>Presumably it would be in God's power to grant people the same changeable nature after resurrecting them (wouldn't a Christian think it plausible that Lazarus had this sort of changeable nature after Jesus resurrected him?),

He could but he is not obligated to do so since before their eventual damnation He already gave them sufficient grace for conversion. Just as He was not obligated to give the opportunity for Heaven in the first place & can only give us the opportunity for the mere natural happyness of Limbo.


>so God is foreclosing the possibility of their ever ending their suffering even though it's within His power and wouldn't conflict in any obvious way with free will.

You are presupposing a Theistic Personalist "god" who has moral obligations or any type of obligations to us.

No such deity exists & I a Catholic am a strong Atheist against the existence of such a useless tit of a "deity".

CJ Wolfe said...

G.E. Anscombe sketched out a fascinating way to bypass these questions about the soul after death. She argued that it was possible for the Christian view of souls to be true without Aristotle's view of the soul being true whatsoever. It's her article "The Immortality of the Soul," in "Faith in a Hard Ground"

BenYachov said...

>(wouldn't a Christian think it plausible that Lazarus had this sort of changeable nature after Jesus resurrected him?),

Lazarus was technically brought back to life to his previous state not resurrected in the endtimes sense nor the Christ's resurrection sense.

In the case of Christ and people at the endtimes they are given new transformed bodies. Their old bodies become something new. Those who died in a state of grace get glorious bodies to reflect their souls eternal state. Those of the damned get corrupt bodies to reflect their corrupt souls and wills.

JesseM said...

@BenYachov:
You are presupposing a Theistic Personalist "god" who has moral obligations or any type of obligations to us.

I made no mention of moral obligations, my point was that this notion of God having the power to give people a chance to escape damnation of their own free will (which would not be incompatible with the need for justice), but not giving people that chance, seems incompatible with the notion of a supremely "loving" God. Classical theists still describe God in such terms, and in this post Dr. Feser specifically says "God loves us in the sense of willing what is good for us, which He does changelessly". Isn't it more "good for us" to have a change of heart that allows us to avoid eternal torture in Hell? And wouldn't God have the power to resurrect people in a changeable state that would allow them to have such a change of heart? I suppose a Molinist might argue that God only allows people to die in an unsaved state if He knows there is no possible world where they would have had a change of heart had they been allowed to live longer. But if you don't specifically assume that, the notion of God having the power to give people a chance to change of their own free will, but not giving it to them and instead letting them suffer eternally in hell in an unchanging state, seems incompatible with the notion of a supremely loving God who wills what is best for everyone.

BenYachov said...

>I made no mention of moral obligations, my point was that this notion of God having the power to give people a chance to escape damnation of their own free will (which would not be incompatible with the need for justice), but not giving people that chance, seems incompatible with the notion of a supremely "loving" God.

But He has given us this change by virtue of the brute fact He give all men sufficient grace for salvation. So he gives everyone a chance so too speak. You are talking about a second chance which God has no obligation to give & you may not have explicitly brought up obligations but anyone can see your objections imply obligations! After all if God is not obligated to A then God can't be blamed for not giving A. Also God not giving A doesn't even remotely imply God is not loving. My Mother loves me but there are a few things in life she is not obligated to do for me but it does not translate into "She doesn't love me in either the human or classic sense".

>Classical theists still describe God in such terms, and in this post Dr. Feser specifically says "God loves us in the sense of willing what is good for us, which He does changelessly". Isn't it more "good for us" to have a change of heart that allows us to avoid eternal torture in Hell?

Again this clearly implies a "god" that is obligated to give up the maximum Good. God is not required to give us any good since He need not have created us in the first place. All God's good actions toward us are gratuetous. He gives the damned soul truely sufficient grace to be saved (which he freely rejects). He need not have created him in the first place much less give a chance of Heaven in the second place and sufficient grace in the third place to obtain heaven. He could give a second chance(which the asshole in question can still blow) which would be lovely but he is not obligated too. The fact He still allows the damned to have the goodness of existence and being shows he still loves the loveless obstinate twat.


>And wouldn't God have the power to resurrect people in a changeable state that would allow them to have such a change of heart? I suppose a Molinist might argue that God only allows people to die in an unsaved state if He knows there is no possible world where they would have had a change of heart had they been allowed to live longer. But if you don't specifically assume that, the notion of God having the power to give people a chance to change of their own free will, but not giving it to them and instead letting them suffer eternally in hell in an unchanging state, seems incompatible with the notion of a supremely loving God who wills what is best for everyone.

Sorry there is no way for your objection here to even make sense unless it assumes a "god" who has obligations too us. You need to admit you are giving us a Theistic Personalist "god" who has obligations to his creation & is concieved of as something that can have obligations instead of something that cannot coherently be seen to have obligations. God is Love Itself not a being alongside other beings with the attribute of love to the maximum degree.

Sorry you are not giving us Classic Theism. You are giving us Theodicy which a Classic Theistic God needs like a fish needs a Ferrari.

BenYachov said...

JesseM

You can take the argument as to why there is no "best of all possible worlds" and apply it to God allowing the existence of souls who will choose damnation.

http://www.aquinasonline.com/Topics/boapw.html

JesseM said...

@BenYachov:
Again this clearly implies a "god" that is obligated to give up the maximum Good.

No, it's just an inference about what a property attributed to God should logically imply about how He will in fact behave, it has nothing to do with "obligation" in the moral sense. I think most classical theists would agree that God will never lie to people, but this isn't because He has a moral obligation not to lie to us, just that God's own nature, which we can describe in our limited way with analogies to human attributes like justice, goodness etc. (though according to the doctrine of divine simplicity these are not really separate properties of God), implies that He will never in fact lie, because lying would be contrary to that nature. If someone came along with a different religion, and they described God with all the same attributes that classical theism used to describe Him, but their holy texts told of God lying to people, I assume a Christian apologist would use this to argue that there is some internal incompatibility in their doctrines. Likewise if they described God as omniscient, but their holy texts recorded examples of God being confused about certain facts and having to be straightened out by humans. What I am doing here is in the same vein--I'm saying the idea of a God who is all-powerful and maximally loving appears to be manifestly incompatible with the idea that God could do more to help people avoid eternal punishment (in a way that doesn't violate their free will, and isn't incompatible with other divine attributes like justice), but doesn't bother.

You are talking about a second chance which God has no obligation to give

Not a "second" chance, since for a changeable being, every new day (every new conscious moment, really) is a new chance to have a change of heart if they were in a state of rejecting God's love the previous day. A person who dies at age 90 has gotten far more chances to accept God than a person who dies at age 17, no? If God resurrected a dead 17-year-old in a Lazarus-like changeable state and allowed him to live until a second death at age 90, that person wouldn't have gotten any more "chances" than a person who just naturally lived to age 90.

You can take the argument as to why there is no "best of all possible worlds" and apply it to God allowing the existence of souls who will choose damnation.

I don't think so, the idea that God could ensure that our world will be the "best of all possible worlds", despite our own free choices, only makes sense if you are a Molinist who believes that God has middle knowledge" of what choices people would have made in other possible worlds where their external circumstances were different.

BenYachov said...

@JesseM

Dude you just don’t get it. No Theodicy has any place here thus no criticism of any Theodicy has any meaning here either.

>No, it's just an inference about what a property attributed to God should logically imply about how He will in fact behave, it has nothing to do with "obligation" in the moral sense.

Behavior can’t coherently be applied to God. Behavior implies pattern of consistent actions in an entity or phenomena which is an anthropomorphic quality & that can’t cohernently be applied to an immutable God who acts all at once from eternity. God’s Goodness in no way compels Him to do any particular good like create or give some idiot a second chance he doesn’t deserve for blowing the first chance he still didn’t deserve or even infinite chances to change his mind back and forth with no closer.

So no matter how you slice it you are smuggling obligation in the back door. God has no obligations either morally or in nature.

You can’t throw a sheet over this Theistic Personalist twit “god” that has “Classic Theist” spray painted on it & expect us not to notice.

>I think most classical theists would agree that God will never lie to people, but this isn't because He has a moral obligation not to lie to us, just that God's own nature, which we can describe in our limited way with analogies to human attributes like justice, goodness etc.

But He doesn’t have to tell us every truth nor is He obligated prevent us from misunderstanding the truth since he has no obligation to do so. He can’t lie because if He says A then A comes to pass.


> (though according to the doctrine of divine simplicity

Off topic.

>Likewise if they described God as omniscient, but their holy texts recorded examples of God being confused about certain facts and having to be straightened out by humans.

Catholics are not Protestants we don’t believe in a perspicacious Scripture or other such Martin Luther nonsense. Still off topic.

>What I am doing here is in the same vein--I'm saying the idea of a God who is all-powerful and maximally loving

How is this not Theistic Personalism? God is simply Love Itself & thus the source for all love in created things. To speak of him as “maximally loving” is to treat of him having a seperate attribute of love and not as love itself.

> appears to be manifestly incompatible with the idea that God could do more to help

God can do more good then He has done. But He is not obligated to & that doesn’t make Him any less Pure Act, Being, Love Itself or Good in the Classic Sense.

>Not a "second" chance, since for a changeable being, every new day (every new conscious moment, really) is a new chance to have a change of heart if they were in a state of rejecting God's love the previous day.

That is not how he made us. He could have made different creatures that are eternally mutable without any final form but they wouldn’t be either humans or us.

>I don't think so, the idea that God could ensure that our world will be the "best of all possible worlds", despite our own free choices, only makes sense if you are a Molinist who believes that God has middle knowledge" of what choices people would have made in other possible worlds where their external circumstances were different.

You don’t get it & didn’t read the link. There is no such thing as “the best of all possible worlds”. No such thing can exist. God could create a better world but he doesn’t have too.

George LeSauvage said...

The problem is that the question is too much termed as if the next world will be just like this, a sequence of decisions running through time. At a minimum, we will all be much more nearly confronted with, not yesterday, today, and tomorrow, but God's eternal now. He knows, better than we, all our choices, and just how freely they are taken, and He even knows excuses we haven't thought of. Those who were invincibly ignorant do not thereby sin. But He also understands our ultimate choice.

This matters because it is at the core of the state of damnation and salvation. The damned are not so because of something they did a long time ago, like an old debt, but because they are -- right now -- rejecting God. They are, today, not with Him in heaven, but with the soldiers on Calvary, driving in nails.

And seen that way, it is hard to see how God could keep from damning those who choose damnation, without violating their free will. (And the "best of all possible worlds" argument strikes me as pointless. How would we ever be able to decide that, given our limitations?)

The real nature of the objections raised to the orthodox view are, I think, ill put. They really come down to the Grand Inquisitor's argument, blaming God for giving man the choice of accepting or rejecting Him. That is, it is man's free will in the matter which is seen as the source of the evil attributed to God, and He ought not to have so burdened us. The trouble is that, put that way, it is not so appealing as its usual formulation.

Another point is that it is unclear that finite suffering -- which is what we are speaking of here -- is enough to justify the claim of infinite evil. We all feel that way at times, but that is hardly an argument.

JesseM said...

@BenYachov:
No Theodicy has any place here thus no criticism of any Theodicy has any meaning here either.

The subject of hell being incompatible with God's nature was raised by ingx24, and other posters like rank sophist responded with counterarguments, I'm just adding my own comments to that line of discussion. It's often the case that discussions in comments threads can go in directions only tangentially related to the original post, I don't think this is a violation of internet etiquette unless the blog owner specifically requests that people hew closely to the original subject.

Behavior can’t coherently be applied to God. Behavior implies pattern of consistent actions in an entity or phenomena which is an anthropomorphic quality & that can’t cohernently be applied to an immutable God who acts all at once from eternity.

The word "behavior" doesn't always imply being time-bound or mutable or the product of an anthropomorphic being. Mathematicians often talk about the "behavior" of various mathematical functions, for example. In a traditional theistic framework where finite beings have their own free will and God never violates that, I think that how God "behaves" can be taken to mean any contingent aspect of created reality that was not determined by the free choice of a finite being.

God’s Goodness in no way compels Him to do any particular good

Would you also say that no aspect of God's nature compels him to avoid lying about any particular subject? If not, what makes the two cases different?

But He doesn’t have to tell us every truth nor is He obligated prevent us from misunderstanding the truth since he has no obligation to do so.

I didn't say anything about those subjects, and I don't see the relevance of these examples to my point, which is that in the case of lying it seems you accept God's nature does prevent him from doing certain things. My argument is just that God's love and power should logically prevent him from allowing people to suffer eternally in hell when it might have been possible to avoid this. I don't see that there is any corresponding argument that God should logically be prevented from allowing us to fall into misunderstandings of the truth, so there is no analogy.

He can’t lie because if He says A then A comes to pass.

And how do you deduce that? Isn't it by referring to some aspects of God's nature? If we don't consider God's nature, certainly there is nothing logically impossible about a world where God creates a flaming message in the sky saying "I am God, and I tell you that there will be rain tomorrow", and then tomorrow there is no rain; the flaming message in the sky and the weather the next day are two separate events.

Catholics are not Protestants we don’t believe in a perspicacious Scripture or other such Martin Luther nonsense. Still off topic.

But I was referring to how you would address another religion, not Catholicism. In any case, the argument would be no different if I imagined a theistic religion that had a God with all the same attributes as classical theism, but whose church tradition and authority told of God lying on occasion, and who held that their church tradition and authority was divinely guided in the same manner as Catholicism.

JesseM said...

reply to BenYachov, continued:
How is this not Theistic Personalism? God is simply Love Itself & thus the source for all love in created things. To speak of him as “maximally loving” is to treat of him having a seperate attribute of love and not as love itself.

Apologies if I don't know the precise terminology, but I'm just talking about the equivalent for love of other perfections, like God being omniscient (maximally knowing) or omnipotent (maximally powerful).

That is not how he made us. He could have made different creatures that are eternally mutable without any final form but they wouldn’t be either humans or us.

Was Lazarus not a human? I don't see why miraculously resurrecting us from death in a still-changeable form, or miraculously saving us from instances in which we might otherwise die, would constitute a change in our nature, since both are different from making us naturally immortal.

You don’t get it & didn’t read the link. There is no such thing as “the best of all possible worlds”. No such thing can exist. God could create a better world but he doesn’t have too.

It may be that I don't get it, but it's pretty rude to accuse someone of not reading a link when you haven't even asked if they did. I did in fact read it, and it doesn't seem to say that "there is no such thing as the best of all possible worlds" as you claim, I think it just says that God isn't obligated to create such a world (for example, the article says "Aquinas, in dealing with the issue God's freedom in the Summa, grounds his assertion that this is not the best of all possible worlds in divine freedom, and indeed he explains divine freedom with a reference to this principle", which seems to imply that the "best of all possible worlds" is at least meaningful concept). My argument is not that God's goodness and power obligate him to realize the "best of all possible worlds" (at least not unless you assume Molinism is correct), just that they should logically imply that He would avoid allowing people to be damned eternally if it's within his power to help them avoid such a fate. And please keep in mind the analogy to lying before you repeat the accusation that I am placing moral obligations on God, since you seem to accept that God's nature can logically imply He will never lie to us without that being a matter of moral obligation.

JesseM said...

@George LeSauvage:
The problem is that the question is too much termed as if the next world will be just like this, a sequence of decisions running through time

Even if the "next world" is inherently timeless, my point is that it would be possible for God to resurrect the unsaved in this world (or one like it), where time exists and people can have changes of heart, so that they would have a continued opportunity to avoid eternal damnation of their own free will.

And seen that way, it is hard to see how God could keep from damning those who choose damnation, without violating their free will.

Why would it violate their free will to extend their mortal life?

George LeSauvage said...

@JesseM:

1. You're still thinking in too temporal terms. After death, not just we, as we are then, are present, but we, as we are now; our whole lives, which will appear more like a mathematical function, on a graph, than like the movie they seem to resemble. What you seem to be asking is that He keep bringing us back until we give the right answer, no matter how many times we say "NO!"

The thing is, it is pointless; as the decision is really something transtemporal. The series of changes in our lives, as we see it, isn't necessarily how it really is. The question is just how guilty one is in denying Him. And I can think of only one person who can judge that. (And yes, I do think something akin to Molina is entailed here: God knows we won't change our minds.)

2. On the other point, your disagreement with BengYachov, I'm not convinced you are guilty of theistic personalism here. There is a difference between being wrong (as he thinks you) in your theology, and being actually committed to something you are not. If he is correct, then perhaps your view, like anyone else's, might contain errors which could lead to TP, without your actually reaching it.

BenYachov said...

@JesseM

Chill dude. I am not out to get you & if I am being too harsh I show my role right now.

>It may be that I don't get it, but it's pretty rude to accuse someone of not reading a link when you haven't even asked if they did. I did in fact read it, and it doesn't seem to say that "there is no such thing as the best of all possible worlds" as you claim,

The very last two sentences say"Divine freedom is such that no possible world needs to be chosen to exist, and none are so bad that they are not a participation of the divine goodness. The answer to the question of whether this is the best of all possible worlds is that there is no best, even though some are better than others.

You need to re-read the link. I answer the rest later.

Cheers.

BenYachov said...

>My argument is just that God's love and power should logically prevent him from allowing people to suffer eternally in hell.....\

Again go back and re-read my link. God only wills by necessity his own Good. Loving someone is willing the Good.

To put it in Thomistic terms you are trying to argue God's Love by necessity prevents creatures from falling into evil.

It doesn't. God's nature makes it possible to create & give us the opportunity for salvation but doesn't in compel him in either case.

More later.

Scott said...

@JesseM:

"I did in fact read it, and it doesn't seem to say that 'there is no such thing as the best of all possible worlds' as you claim[.]

I see that Ben Yachov posted this information as I was composing my own post, but I'll repeat it anyway: the last sentence of the essay says (emphasis mine): "The answer to the question of whether this is the best of all possible worlds is that there is no best, even though some are better than others."

"I think it just says that God isn't obligated to create such a world[.]"

I don't see any reference to obligation anywhere in the piece. The argument is rather that God can choose to create any logically possible world, and that any such world is "a possible participation in divine goodness from the mere fact that it is conceived by the divine intellect"; thus there's no such thing as a world so bad that God couldn't choose to create it.

BenYachov said...

God must will his own good by necessity but He doesn't will any Good for you by necessity thus there is nothing in His nature that would compel him to will no soul may be lost. He could will that gratuitously if He wanted to but there is no necessity in His Nature to make Him.

That is not what we mean by God being all loving and Love Itself.

Not even close.

BenYachov said...

Thus God wills His Own Good by necessity.

God wills our Good graciously.

Thus His Good Nature doesn't compel him to will anything for us by necessity which would include being created, having sufficient Grace to be saved from sin & or the Beatific Vision as our final end.

Thus there is nothing in God's Goodness that compels Him to make sure nobody abuses their free will to choose final evil or more precisely a less good for all eternity instead of Goodness Itself. Since neither of these is a case of God willing His own Goodness which he must do by Necessity.

BenYachov said...

Should say "God wills Our good gratuitously".

BenYachov said...

>Would you also say that no aspect of God's nature compels him to avoid lying about any particular subject?

I would say it is incoherent to talk of God in the Classic sense as any sort of being who can choose to state as true what He knows not to be true.

God saying something is the same as willing it. So if I am alone on a planet & God says "Jim there is a woman next to you" well the moment He tells me that a woman will appear either created there ex-nilo or teleported from somewhere else.

>If not, what makes the two cases different?

Give the classic understanding of God Nature speaking of Him being able to lie is incoherent.

Like talking about the Divine Nature riding a bike. The Divine Nature can't coherently ride a bike but that doesn't mean God isn't omnipotent.

Tony said...

(for example, the article says "Aquinas, in dealing with the issue God's freedom in the Summa, grounds his assertion that this is not the best of all possible worlds in divine freedom, and indeed he explains divine freedom with a reference to this principle", which seems to imply that the "best of all possible worlds" is at least meaningful concept).

Well not really. Aquinas says elsewhere that there is an infinite gulf between created good, inherently finite, and the Uncreated God, who is inherently infinite. Thus no matter what created world is made, there will always remain still a gulf between God and that world, and thus room for a STILL BETTER world to have been. Asking for a "best possible world" is like asking for the "highest possible finite integer." The concept may look coherent initially, but it isn't really.

Which does not - by itself - disprove your thesis that God is obligated to create a world without eternal damnation of humans. (Don't quite know why the point is always restricted to humans, why not for Satan too?) Other truths need to be elicited in order for the foregoing to develop into a proof. That's where we get into theodicies and, really the "problem of evil" in its core.

Why can God create a world with ANY evil in it? That is, even a merely physical evil? Supposedly he could create a world in which the entirety of created being is good only with no form of evil whatsoever? Say, angels only, all the angels choose God, there is no physical evil because there is no physical reality at all?

Well, apparently God was willing for there to be physical beings like plants and animals because those are GOOD THINGS, even though their natures are of such a sort as to corrupt, which means death of living things, which are physical evils. Most people who object to a universe that includes eternal damnation have no problem with animals and plants that die.

BUT THEY SHOULD have a problem with those. Given a possible universe without even physical evils, what justifies God making a universe with physical evils? Well, the answer overall is clear even if we lose sight of the details. A universe that displays God's goodness in the additional ways plants and animals display his goodness is a good universe, in SPITE of there being physical evils in it. As long as the sum total of all the goods are good truly - including the evils themselves providing the wherewithal of other new goods (like new plants and animals) - having physical evils is compatible with a universe good in its totality.

But of course, the exact same arguments apply to a universe with moral evils. And the same resulting conclusion applies: if the sum total of good - including moral goods such as men choosing God over other goods - is truly good, that is a kind of a universe that is a good universe, worthy of being created.

Unfortunately, some moral evils are of such a sort as to merit unending punishment - as, for instance, an unending repudiation of God. But grave sin is just that: by its own nature it is without end, because a person cannot without a supernatural gift undo the definitive choice to place a created good as his "last end". Therefore, for a universe - a GOOD universe in its totality but with moral evils - a grave moral evil furnishing the wherewithal of other new goods such as showing forth justice, and overcoming temptation, will have unending punishment, precisely as part of the overall goodness of the universe.

Any argument that tries to show that such a universe is incompatible with God would also prove that a universe with mortal plants, animals, and men and their deaths (physical evils) is also unworthy of God. It's just another version of the problem of evil.

BenYachov said...

The Divine Nature in the Classic Sense cannot lie or ride a bike.


God Incarnate could ride a bike but bike riding is such a thing & the Divine Nature is such a thing that it doesn't describe of anything coherent to speak of the Divine Nature riding a bike. Just like it doesn't speak of anything coherent to write 2+2=5 or the proverbial rock so heavy God cannot move it.

Bike riding involves a physical being with limbs sitting on it, balancing it and using it's limbs to push the peddles to move it from point A to B.

Divinity is not a physical being & doesn't have limbs so talking about Him riding a bike is as meaningful as saying 2+2=5. It's not that God really can't do anything it's that both adding the product of two "2's" to get a result of five and divine nature bike riding doesn't really describe anything.

You might say "Well Jesus can ride a bike & He is God". He has a physical body. God is riding the bike threw the facilities of the human nature he assumed from the Incarnation. But the divine nature as the divine nature by itself is not riding the bike.

You might then come back and say can't the Divine Nature supernaturally move the bike as if it was being ridden? Of course but God won't really be "ridding it" he would merely be supernaturally moving it "without a ridder". It's not the same thing.

God is the source of all truth by virtue of being Truth itself. A lie is a privation of truth and unreality. How can reality itself cease to be real? God must will his own Good by necessity & thus God cannot lie. But God's love and Goodness for us is gratuitous & not by necessity. So God is not required to immediately rebuke us if we lie or prevent us from lying or prevent someone from being descieved by a lie.

Nor does He by necessity must refrain from creating a being who will freely choose evil and he is not required either morally or by necessity of nature to rescue said being who does.


BenYachov said...

I 100% endorce Tony's post September 24, 2013 at 5:14 PM

He Says it better than I could.

ingx24 said...

Tony,

There is a crucial difference between physical death of plants, animals, humans, etc. and eternal damnation. In eternal damnation, as commonly conceived, a person is engulfed in an unimaginable, infinite amount of physical and mental agony. It never stops, and is unbearable for even an instant. And no matter how much you scream, cry, beg, plead, and repent for whatever wrong you have done, it will NEVER stop. EVER. If there is even a SINGLE PERSON in this situation, existence should never have been created. I don't give a shit what "sins" such a person has committed - NO crime, no matter how heinous, is enough to warrant such an unimaginably cruel treatment. It is my firm belief that most Christians who espouse belief in hell don't actually believe in it as commonly conceived, and if they were forced to really think it through and imagine themselves in that situation, they would probably reconsider their beliefs about it (unless they were sociopaths). Read up on what Christians throughout history have said about hell - the doctrine is the most horrifying, vile, cruel, and psychotic thing that has ever been conceived. And the fact that Christians believe it while still seeing God as "perfectly good" or even "Goodness itself" makes me lose faith in the goodness of humanity as a whole.

BenYachov said...

To build on what Tony said for God to "create" the "best of all possible worlds" would mean He creates an Uncreated Universe which in Nature is Divine like Him.

Now I am not talking about a created Universe without a formal beginning which we all know Aquinas says is in theory possible. Since with such a universe God would have created it from all eternity and it would exist because God is causing it to exist from all eternity without a formal beginning. Assuming as Aquinas does the idea of an infinite past is possible & a universe that always existed but still has God as it's eternal cause.

No I am talking about God causing a Universe that in Nature is Uncaused like Him. Which is an absurd contradiction. An infinite past eternal universe can in Thomistic terms still be a caused Universe.

But a caused universe that is also uncaused is a contradiction. But to make the best of all possible Universes God would have make another God/Universe. Which is a contradiction. God cannot create another God.

So God cannot make "the best of all possible world" but He could always make a better one by any he could make He could still alway make a better one.

BenYachov said...


>In eternal damnation, as commonly conceived, a person is engulfed in an unimaginable, infinite amount of physical and mental agony.

Dude! We had this discussion over at Dangerous Minds.
You have to stop imagining Hell is some type of weird Clive Barker movie.

Hell is not that bad even thought paradoxically it is quite worse then your Cosmic Torture chamber meme.

Feeling the loss of the Beatific Vision. Knowing with full knowledge you could have avoided your fate & having no ability to will otherwise or accept God's love is the real pain in Hell.

Pinhead ripping your skin off with hooks and spouting sado-masochistic mishigoss forever and ever would be paradise in comparison to the above.

BenYachov said...

>I don't give a shit what "sins" such a person has committed - NO crime, no matter how heinous, is enough to warrant such an unimaginably cruel treatment.

Another pain is the fact the condemned soul will be fully cognitive of the fact what is happening to him/her is 100% just & that they deserve it.

It will make as much sense to protest against God over it as it would be for a man who seals his nose and mouth with wick to complain that Oxygen is no longer getting into his lungs and he is suffocating.

I still maintain a soul by nature is immortal & a damned soul in Hell cannot choose annihilation even if offered the choice since that would mean losing the last bit of good it has left. Having being and being actual.

JesseM said...

@George LeSauvage:
You're still thinking in too temporal terms. After death, not just we, as we are then, are present, but we, as we are now; our whole lives, which will appear more like a mathematical function, on a graph, than like the movie they seem to resemble.

But are you certain that this timeless vision is seen even by those who God returns to ordinary life, like Lazarus? In any case, the issue of experiencing death can be side-stepped by noting that it would also be in God's power to make sure that no one who is in an unsaved state ever dies, whether this involves miraculous healing or being transported to another planet at the moment before death (or the soul being transported to a new body with its memories wiped, as in reincarnation) or just seeming coincidences that save people from death whenever they are in mortal danger.

What you seem to be asking is that He keep bringing us back until we give the right answer, no matter how many times we say "NO!"

But different people don't even get the same number of opportunities to change their mind from no to yes--picture an example of two unsaved friends who get into a car accident, one dies at age 16 and goes to hell, another survives and finally becomes saved at age 88. If a shard of glass had been displaced just a little to the side, it might have been the first one who survived and later got saved, and the second who was killed young and as a consequence suffered eternally in hell. Why would a loving God who willed the best for all people allow people's eternal fate to be determined in such a whimsical manner?

And yes, I do think something akin to Molina is entailed here: God knows we won't change our minds.

Well, giving God knowledge of the choices that would be made in other possible worlds, and suggesting that no one is damned unless God knows that there is no possible world where they would be saved, is one way out of the problem I brought up. But I think this solution carries with it its own set of extremely implausible consequences--for example, why should it be true that humanity would divide up neatly into two radically different classes, one who can come to accept God within the span of a human life (never much more than a century as far as we know), and others who would never accept God no matter how long they lived, not even with a lifespan of a trillion years, and not in any of the near-infinite possible external circumstances they could experience?

JesseM said...

@BenYachov:The very last two sentences say"Divine freedom is such that no possible world needs to be chosen to exist, and none are so bad that they are not a participation of the divine goodness. The answer to the question of whether this is the best of all possible worlds is that there is no best, even though some are better than others.

OK, I admit I must not have read carefully enough, I did read through it quickly the first time. But even after reading it again more carefully, I don't see how the conclusion in the last paragraph that there is no "best of all possible worlds" follows from any of the argument in earlier paragraphs, which seem to just be arguing that there is no restriction on God's power such that His nature forbids him to create certain logically possible worlds because they are "too bad" ("it is false that any other world is insufficiently good to be created by God ... the only possible world that is so bad that it cannot be willed by the divine will is one that cannot be conceived by the divine intellect. Thus, it is false that any possible world could be so bad that God could not choose it.")

Consider the basic structure of his argument as he outlines it:

For the sake of argument, let us suppose that this is the best of all possible worlds, and that the evil in it is necessary; that is, the evil could not have been avoided unless God had not created at all. Let us also suppose that God always acts for the best, i.e. he always chooses the best of the possibilities available to him. If this is the best possible world, then any other world would be worse. And if it is true that God always acts for the best, God could not make another, i.e. a worse, world than this one, for then he would make something worse than the best. Thus, I am claiming that, given our initial assumptions (namely, if this is the best of all possible worlds and God always produces the best possible) then it would follow that any other world would not be sufficiently good to be created by an all good God. I hope to show the antecedent of the conditional is false by showing on thomistic grounds that its consequent is false and invoking the logical rule of modus tollens.

Even if he shows "the antecedent of the conditional" is false, that antecedent actually contains multiple assumptions--both the assumption that "this is the best of all possible worlds" and the separate assumption that "that God always acts for the best, God could not make another, i.e. a worse, world than this one, for then he would make something worse than the best." So even if he argues that the consequent is false (according to Thomist philosophy) and therefore by modus tollens the antecedent of the conditional is false, why couldn't the false part that "God always produces the best possible"? That would actually seem to be more in line with the later argument about divine freedom involving the capability to do absolutely anything that isn't logically impossible ("That is, so long as all its elements are compossible, i.e. do not entail a contradiction, the possible world is a possible participation in divine goodness from the mere fact that it is conceived by the divine intellect. So the only possible world that is so bad that it cannot be willed by the divine will is one that cannot be conceived by the divine intellect.") Indeed it seems to me that according to this argument, there is nothing to rule out the possibility that there is a worst of all possible worlds, and that this would be exactly the world God would choose to create!

JesseM said...

reply to BenYachov, continued:

Also, it seems to me the same argument could be used to show that God can "lie" in the sense of giving humans some sort of message which turns out to be false. There would be nothing logically impossible about a world where God miraculously causes Noah to hear a booming voice telling him to build an ark because the Earth will be consumed in a flood, and telling him that it is the voice of God, but in which no flood in fact occurs. Likewise there seems to be nothing logically impossible about a world where Adam and Eve never sinned in any way, but God caused them to die and then suffer in Hell eternally. So anyone who says we can be confident that God wouldn't do certain logically possible things would seem to be in disagreement with the argument on that page.

God saying something is the same as willing it.

Why should that be so? In the above example, the event of Noah hearing the booming voice seems to be a different event than a later flood, would you in fact say it's logically impossible to have a world where the event of Noah hearing the voice occurs but the flood does not? Or would you say such a world is logically possible but God's nature forbids Him from creating such a world?

Tony said...

It never stops, and is unbearable for even an instant. And no matter how much you scream, cry, beg, plead, and repent for whatever wrong you have done, it will NEVER stop.

To return to my point about Satan: most people who object to eternal punishment for humans have little objection to eternal punishment for Satan. Why?

The main reason, of course, is that Satan persists in his repudiation and disobedience to God. You can't "forgive and forget" someone who doesn't want to be forgiven and won't stop offending.

Now we humans, in this life, get used to the idea that we always have another opportunity to change our minds, repent, and be forgiven. But that's IN THIS LIFE. In the next, it ain't necessarily so. According to Aquinas, angels can't change their minds about their final end, once they have chosen that is immutably fixed. Well, apparently one of the fundamental differences between this life and the next is that for us humans too, in the next life there is no moral room for changing our minds. This life is all the space we get for trying to get it right, the very character of moral life in the next life is fixed and immutable: once you have chosen your final end, you cannot revise that choice. Those who have rejected God definitively keep on in the state of permanent rejection of him. They persist in having their wills fixed and determined on themselves rather than on God.

Considered by itself, then, their condition of loss of God (which is the natural meaning of rejection of God) cannot have an end until they repent, and they cannot want to repent. By their own wills being determined against God they continue to suffer loss of God, and the loss must last as long as their wills remain in that condition.

Although a common view of Hell is like being in fire permanently, Christian Fathers and Doctors include within Hell infinitely many variations of degree of suffering, including suffering whose ONLY pain is the lack of not having the Beatific Vision, no sensible suffering.

Anonymous said...

I forget where someone said it, but someone had said hell was the worst mental invention ever conceived in Christianity.

However, I think it ought to be noted hell is not a uniquely Christian belief nor were Christians, Jews, and Muslims the only ones to use fear of hell as a preaching method. It is quite common for those religions which posit some kind of reward-based eschatology.

If you seen paintings of Buddhist and Hindu hells, they're just as terrifying as any Icon of the Last Judgment. The Buddha himself used fear as analogy to wake people up from their maya - saying that for the vast majority of people their houses were on fire and they never saw it. In effect, he was calling on them to "save their souls."

Granted, Buddhist and Hindu hells are cyclic.

I won't mention Tartarus, however, because I don't think we would count the Greek gods as having to uphold morality. However, I will recommend an essay entitled "Funerary Practices and Afterlife Expectations in Ancient Israel," by Stephen Cook, which compares African and pre-Monarchic Israelite afterlife belief. In both cases, something we would classify as hell-like exists as lacking the covenantal bonds with one's community and respective deities - being adrift with Sheol (cf. the Evil Forest in Chinua Achebe's "Things Fall Apart"). Since memory and the invocation of their name sustains the dead in the world of the living, being an unremembered or uninvoked soul was a dishonorable fate (also recall how the ancient Egyptians defaced the names on tombs as hostile magic against the deceased).

Actually, ancient Egypt also provides another example of hell - namely, the consumption of a dishonorable soul by Ammit, the Devourer. Granted, this is almost annihilationism, but I really have no sympathy for annihilationism since non-existence seems worse than existence in my opinion.

Also, the Zoroastrians believed in a hell which at least lasted for a very, very long time with some very horrific descriptions. By the way, I am not convinced that Zoroastrianism influenced Jewish religion and would recommend L.J. Greenspoon's "Origin of the Idea of Resurrection" on this point.

Brandon said...

In eternal damnation, as commonly conceived, a person is engulfed in an unimaginable, infinite amount of physical and mental agony. It never stops, and is unbearable for even an instant. And no matter how much you scream, cry, beg, plead, and repent for whatever wrong you have done, it will NEVER stop. EVER.

I'm very skeptical of the claim that any significant number of people believe any such thing, enough that I'm fairly sure that it's not the common view but simply a common myth about what the common view is; I'm not unfamiliar with outright fundamentalists who talk about hell, having some in my family and having had a fair number in my acquaintance, and I have not to my knowledge ever met anybody who believes that hell involves torment in the sense of "an unimaginable, infinite amount of physical and mental agony". No doubt there are people out there who do, but I am very wary of taking anything as "commonly conceived" on this subject without definite proof that it really is commonly conceived.

ingx24 said...

Brandon,

I'm not sure if it's an "infinite" amount of pain and suffering, but it's certainly pretty bad (being burned alive obviously hurts *a lot*). And it never ends, no matter what. Under some conceptions, it actually gets *worse* as time goes on so that you never get used to it.

Brandon said...

ingx4,

"Very bad and doesn't end" is vague enough to cover any number of things. So, again, it seems so vague as to be useless for this sort of discussion or it needs to be filled out by specifics that are actually tied to real people by evidence to avoid being just what some people imagine other people think.

We see this with the "burned alive" comment. Which people think people are literally "burned alive" in hell, and why are they being taken as the standard for "the common view"? It's not difficult to find people who take it to be metaphorical (even Jonathan Edwards in "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" took it to be a metaphor for internal sins), and those who take it as literal don't take it to be the same as burning alive in the sense we would usually mean. So -- and it is worth remembering that we are not actually talking about abstract ideas but also people who have these ideas -- who are the people with these ideas?

ingx24 said...

Well, first of all, Ed seems to take Hell to be a place of people being eternally burned alive in agony forever (at least after the Resurrection), as does Aquinas. Then there are the people quoted here:

http://www.tentmaker.org/books/TheBibleHell.html#TheChristianIdea

George LeSauvage said...

@ingx24.

"And the fact that Christians believe it while still seeing God as "perfectly good" or even "Goodness itself" makes me lose faith in the goodness of humanity as a whole."

I'd say that being in doubt about "the goodness of humanity as a whole" is probably a good place to be. Setting oneself up as sufficiently wise and good to judge others, as you seem to, well, that's not so good. It is, quite literally, what "self righteous" means.

The problem is that you really present no arguments, just your attitudes. Unless you actually engage with opposing ideas, you will get nowhere. Sorry to be harsh, but there it is.

George LeSauvage said...

@JesseM:
1. I don't see it as you describe, "that this timeless vision is seen even by those who God returns to ordinary life, like Lazarus?" I don't see what Lazarus (a one-off miracle) really has to do with it. But the timeless nature of eternity is key here. While we use words like "everlasting", that's a product of our experience.

2. The real point, though, is that I don't see what the number of chances has to do with it. It may take some longer than others, to reach their fixed position, that's all. I don't see a problem here.

Along that point, your suggested "right" way for God to do it, sounds a lot like those people who really want you to like something you don't, and nag forever to get you to say you do. (Except you can't fake God.) He's not a pest; when He knows you mean it, you get what you want.

3. "Why should it be true that humanity would divide up neatly into two radically different classes..."

Because some say to God, "Thy will be done", while to others He has to accept saying "Thy will be done." I don't see this as hard.

4. The real problem with this argument, here as elsewhere, is that people who attack the orthodox teaching seem to have the wrong end of the stick. They are making the argument backwards.

That people deserve damnation is pretty obvious, unless you have a grossly inflated view of mankind. The really tough point -- the hard part -- is the teaching that some are saved. Now if you want to question that, then there is some basis. It is a tough one. But then,, it is beyond the reach of Natural Theology to answer it.

5. It is also well to remember that everyone here who defends orthodoxy will insist that the punishment is not, and cannot be, infinite. This is because it remains true that one still exists, and to that extent, one is not removed utterly from God. That much (given the premise) Nat Theology can say.

But Christian revelation raises that. We remain, as created beings, united with God, through the incarnation, in an unimaginable way, so great is that miracle.* Further, as human, we are and must remain united with Him more closely than any other created beings. (Remember too that He also was punished, and more severely than we can ever be, as he knew fully just what we did. That one is tortured to death by one's beloved children will get just a part of His sacrifice.)

*Here is one point where I feel Aquinas may be wrong (although he is not vehement about it). I cannot help but think the world was created for the sake of the Incarnation, rather than the latter happening for what occurred in creation. It's just too big a miracle for just us. But of course, I may be wrong.

Brandon said...

Well, first of all, Ed seems to take Hell to be a place of people being eternally burned alive in agony forever (at least after the Resurrection), as does Aquinas.

Actually, no; Aquinas takes hell to involve being bound to fire. It's impossible for the damned to burn -- they are as immune to burning as the blessed -- and the punishment of being bound to fire in Aquinas's view is not the punishment of being burned but (as Ed notes above) the punishment of not being able to do as you please, of having your will subordinated to something that doesn't even reason.

Your link clearly just makes the problem worse: Aquinas is understandable, but it is overwhelmingly clear that whoever made that website has no clue what figurative language is. I really don't see that Christians should get saddled with the fact that there are those who don't understand that people are capable of using figures of speech. Again, it seems very much like we're dealing with a position that consists entirely of what some people (who don't grasp figurative language very well) think Christians commonly think, rather than with any definite evidence that this is what Christians in reality commonly think.

Glenn said...

1. Brandon inquires, ...why are they being taken as the standard for "the common view"?

As Scott once said (Maxwell Scott, that is (in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance)), "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."

2. On the page linked to by ingx24, the section entitled The Christian Idea Of Hell begins as follows:

has sometimes been, may be seen by quoting the following testimonies.

As this does not fit well with my (possibly skewed) idea of a complete sentence, I entertained the notion that there might be a larger context within which "has sometimes been, may be seen by quoting the following testimonies" might make some sense to me. Entertaining this notion, I scrolled up the page just a bit.

Well, I was amply rewarded for my efforts, for I did find a larger context within which that which initially made no sense to me, does make some sense to me following investigation. Here is (the straightened-out version of) what I found:

How near these superstitious horrors--these heathen inventions--The Christian Idea Of Hell has sometimes been, may be seen by quoting the following testimonies.

This, as already indicated, does makes some sense to me. But it would make more sense to me were it to be put less sensationalistically and more accurately like this: "That the ideas of some Christians have been tainted by these superstitious horrors may be seen from the following testimonies."

And though that would make more sense to me, there is something else which would remain unclear to me:

Why does Tentmaker Ministries (apparently interested in 'feeding' hungry truth-seekers (see its About Us)) seems not to mind that readers of its website may be left with the impression that the tainted ideas respecting hell, which have been or are held by some Christians, properly constitute the Christian idea of hell?

Reader said...

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White liberals, ghetto religion, and evolution

http://occamsrazormag.wordpress.com/2013/09/25/as-christianity-becomes-a-ghetto-religion/



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Anonymous said...

Brandon,

I don't question your explanation. I think it's very reasonable based on what Ed has said.

Yet once the General Resurrection occurs, would not the resurrected body invariably suffer sensibly in the fires of Hell in addition to being bound to it like a misplaced wraith stuck in a haunted house (which I think resonates well with Christmas Carol, Faustus, and the rest from a literary perspective)?

Thank you.

JesseM said...

@Brandon:
Actually, no; Aquinas takes hell to involve being bound to fire. It's impossible for the damned to burn -- they are as immune to burning as the blessed -- and the punishment of being bound to fire in Aquinas's view is not the punishment of being burned but (as Ed notes above) the punishment of not being able to do as you please, of having your will subordinated to something that doesn't even reason.

But Dr. Feser said he was specifically talking about their punishment before the resurrection ("as to the experiences of the soul after death and prior to its reunion with the body at the resurrection, consider the suffering of the damned from hellfire"). After the resurrection, even if it's true according to the standard doctrine that their bodies can't be "burned" in the sense of being damaged, they could still feel the same physical pain that we feel when we touch a hot stove, a sensation rooted in signals that our sensory nerves start sending to our brain even before our flesh has had time to be significantly damaged. And doing some googling on Aquinas' writings it seems he thought a new form of bodily suffering (which I would assume was meant to be physical pain) would begin after the resurrection. In his Summa Contra Gentiles I found the following in Book 4, Chapter 96:

"From the foregoing it is clear, then, that there is a twofold retribution for what a man does in life: one for the soul—and this he receives as soon as the soul has been separated from the body, but there will be another retribution when the bodies are assumed again—and some will receive bodies which are incapable of suffering and glorious; but others, bodies capable of suffering and ignoble."

Likewise, in the Supplement section of Summa Theologica, Question 97, Article 5 he writes "whatever we may say of the fire that torments the separated souls, we must admit that the fire which will torment the bodies of the damned after the resurrection is corporeal, since one cannot fittingly apply a punishment to a body unless that punishment itself be bodily" and "Augustine, as quoted in the text of Sentent. iv, D, 44, clearly admits (De Civ. Dei xxi, 10) that the fire by which the bodies are tormented is corporeal." What could "bodies are tormented" refer to except physical pain?

Of course a Catholic need not assume Aquinas was right about everything, he was a philosopher who arrived at his conclusions through reasoning rather than divine revelation, but I think Aquinas' views on hell did indeed become the traditional ones for Catholics.

Anonymous said...

To be honest, I'd be hard-pressed to find a pre-20th century theologian, East or West, who didn't propose in some way a physical element, whether we're talking about the actual energies of God unveiled (East) or a creation of God's (West).

JesseM said...

@George LeSauvage:
1. I don't see it as you describe, "that this timeless vision is seen even by those who God returns to ordinary life, like Lazarus?" I don't see what Lazarus (a one-off miracle) really has to do with it.

Because my argument is about the contrast between what God actually does (according to traditional Christian doctrine) and what He could do. Even though according to traditional Christian beliefs it's true that Lazarus was a one-off miracle, if you believe that after his resurrection Lazarus remained in a changeable state (he hadn't been given any timeless vision that froze his choice for eternity), then God could resurrect everyone who dies unsaved in the same way. And keep in mind that this argument is really directed at non-Molinists, who don't believe God knows for certain that a person who dies unsaved could never have become saved if he were allowed to live a bit longer. I have some separate objections to the Molinist scenario which I'll discuss further below, but I'd also be curious if you agree that this issue of God having the power to give people further chances to avoid damnation but not doing it is at least somewhat problematic for non-Molinists, and would thus be a good argument for the plausibility of Molinism.

2. The real point, though, is that I don't see what the number of chances has to do with it. It may take some longer than others, to reach their fixed position, that's all. I don't see a problem here.

As I said, the problem is for non-Molinists. If it takes some longer, and the non-Molinist says God doesn't know one way or another whether a person who dies unsaved might have reached a different "fixed position" had they lived a bit longer, then why wouldn't God give these people further chances to change their position, if He is really infinitely loving and wants what is best for us all?

3. "Why should it be true that humanity would divide up neatly into two radically different classes..."

Because some say to God, "Thy will be done", while to others He has to accept saying "Thy will be done." I don't see this as hard.


But people can change what they "say to God" over the course of their life, no? Why should it be that there are plenty of people who go from rejecting God's will to accepting it at age 50 or 60 or 70, but not one person who would only switch their decision in possible worlds where they lived to a greater age like 200 or 5000?

Another issue with Molinism: all possible souls should fall into one of two categories, the first consisting of those would reject God in all possible worlds, the second consisting of those who would accept Him in at least some possible world. Your Molinist position is that God ensures that the actual world is one where every soul he creates in the second category actually does accept Him before death, right? So wouldn't it be more loving for God to ensure that the actual world is one containing only souls of the second kind, rather than one in which He creates souls in both categories? Why create souls that He knows are unsaveable and thus will be damned to suffer eternal torment, if it would be in His power to create a world populated solely by souls that can be saved?

JesseM said...

reply to George LeSauvage, continued:

That people deserve damnation is pretty obvious, unless you have a grossly inflated view of mankind. The really tough point -- the hard part -- is the teaching that some are saved.

Again, the issue that it seems logical that a perfectly loving God would desire that no one suffer the fate of eternal damnation, if they can be saved from it in a way that's compatible with other aspects of God like his perfect justice. For a non-Molinist there seems to be something He could do which might save more people (as a result of their free choices, so the need for justice isn't violated), namely give people who die unsaved (or are in immediate danger of dying) more life in a changeable state. For a Molinist, there is the issue above that He could actualize a possible world where the only people who exist are the ones whose choices result in them being saved in some possible worlds, including that one.

Brandon said...

(1) You are quite right about Ed; but ingx24 was specifically referring to Aquinas as Ed presented him in this post.

(2) You say, "What could "bodies are tormented" refer to except physical pain?" To which the answer is that it could mean what the actual Latin means, and the Latin is broader. The Latin can mean torment or torture; it can also mean 'made subject to grief', or can even sometimes just mean 'forced to bear a severe trial against one's will'. It's the same word for being crucified, and that's almost certainly deliberate: those who would not willingly bear their cross while alive, like the blessed, will in some sense bear it while they are dead.

Further, we should keep in mind that Aquinas is using the word because it's in his authorities. And this is particularly significant given that we're talking about a question in the Supplement -- questions in the Supplement were not written by Aquinas for the Summa, they are abridgements by others of questions from the Commentary on the Sentences, one major point of which is to show facility in the handling of authorities.

(3) It's still the case that on Aquinas's account the damned are not perpetually burned alive: burning is a corruption and their bodies are incorruptible. They are immune to burning. And even when Aquinas explains the fire (in article 1), he says that it makes sense for it to be fire because fire is most afflictivus, which means 'buffeting' or 'vexing' or 'oppressive' or even 'humiliating'. The fire is a punishment for Aquinas not by burning but by being a burden, a vexation.

And we also have to keep in mind that when Aquinas thinks 'fire' he thinks not primarily what we usually think of fire, which for Aquinas would only be a very impure kind of fire, but rather 'Aristotelian element of fire', which in its pure form does not necessarily work in the same way we think of fire as working. And it's notable that the primary characteristics of fire as an element are (1) that it can be considered the noblest of the elements and (2) that it is the element that is least likely to deviate from its end regardless of the obstacles. It's an interesting irony, actually: those who refused to achieve their ends as rational creatures are bound to the nonrational creature that rarely deviates from achieving its ends; they who refused to do their job rationally are subjected to what always does its job even without reason.

(4) We get a similar issue with your SCG reference; 'capable of suffering' here is passibilia which means being of a sort that has to undergo things, 'suffering' in the old sense of 'having to endure something', not necessarily suffering in our sense. This is a problem that we have elsewhere for other reasons; poena is usually translated pain, because 'pain' used to be that broad, but it's a broader term than 'pain' usually is today -- anything that punishes in any way is a poena. So when Aquinas says that the damned and the souls in purgatory have poena sensus, usually translated by 'pain of sense', there's no way to determine just from that whether it's even pain in our sense of the word -- it just means something that positively penalizes in some way.

Now, there are passages you can find in Aquinas that can be read as arguing that the damned experience pain in our sense -- there's a passage in which he describes it as being like always dying but never dead, but they are always quite vague, and usually are at base just allusions to the original images (weeping, darkness, fire, death) in which the doctrine of hell is formulated. And I think that's not surprising: when there is a new heaven and a new earth, things will work differently.

Brandon said...

I missed Anonymous's question, but it's partly covered by my response to JesseM. In a nutshell: we don't really know in any detail what it will be like for the damned. Aquinas thinks there is good reason to think that the damned, both out of body and in body, will be punished by being bound to real, physical fire; the fire will penalize both soul and body in the way appropriate to each; they have some kind of poena sensus, an awareness of positively being penalized, and this penalty will certainly not be pleasant, but while the bodies of the damned, unlike the bodies of the blessed, can be forced to endure things, the bodies of the damned are, like the bodies of the blessed, incorruptible and inalterable; this penalty is not the worst penalty of hell. So how much will it really be pain in our sense? We don't really know. Possibly one could squeeze more out of Aquinas than this, but it would require very close exegesis of the texts in question, which are often more vague in the Latin than the English translations sometimes make them sound.

BenYachov said...

@JesseM

>>God saying something is the same as willing it.

>Why should that be so?

The doctrine of the Divine Simplicity. God is identical with His attributes. God isn't a being with the separate attribute of being truthful but God is Truth Itself thus God's Word is Truth. Truth by definition can't be both true and a lie otherwise it wouldn't be truth. Thus to speak of God as lying is more incoherent thus logically not possible much like 2+2=5 is logically impossible.

> In the above example, the event of Noah hearing the booming voice seems to be a different event than a later flood, would you in fact say it's logically impossible to have a world where the event of Noah hearing the voice occurs but the flood does not? Or would you say such a world is logically possible but God's nature forbids Him from creating such a world?

You seem to be channeling your inner Hume. You are trying to imagine some preternatural disembodied entity lying to Noah but if you do so then the entity you are imagining cannot coherently be God in the Classic Sense but some other "god" concept that is not Classical.

God cannot lie but God can create a being with free will that can choose to lie & as long as that being participates in being it is good and thus not so evil as for God to not create it.

>OK, I admit I must not have read carefully enough, I did read through it quickly the first time.

It is laudable you own your mistakes. But as I read your response I think you need to do some more reading & try a little harder not to equivocate between the Classic view of God vs the Theistic Personalist view.

>But even after reading it again more carefully, I don't see how the conclusion in the last paragraph that there is no "best of all possible worlds" follows from any of the argument in earlier paragraphs, which seem to just be arguing that there is no restriction on God's power such that His nature forbids him to create certain logically possible worlds because they are "too bad" ("it is false that any other world is insufficiently good to be created by God ... the only possible world that is so bad that it cannot be willed by the divine will is one that cannot be conceived by the divine intellect. Thus, it is false that any possible world could be so bad that God could not choose it.")

Accept the essay says by definition all potential creation is "imperfect". As Tony pointed out talking about a "best of all possible worlds" is like talking about the largest finite integer. It's not possible since even the number googolplex which is psychotically huge can be made larger by a mere addition of +1. Creation is imperfect thus there cannot be the "best" thought there can always be better.


BenYachov said...

>Even if he shows "the antecedent of the conditional" is false, that antecedent actually contains multiple assumptions--both the assumption that "this is the best of all possible worlds" and the separate assumption that "that God always acts for the best,

Well the essay links to the various arguments made by Aquinas for his views in the Summa & maybe you should read them as well? Still in a essay on a Thomist website that makes Thomistic Assumptions. Reject those assumption if you wish but the brute fact a Thomist doesn't believe there is such a thing as "the best of all possible worlds" is possible remains.

>God could not make another, i.e. a worse, world than this one, for then he would make something worse than the best."

This flows from the principle that God wills his own good and must do His own Good by necessity(which is another reason why God can't lie. Since lying is against His good. If I lie His Good is undiminished). If this is the best of all possible worlds then God cannot create any world other then this and also he must create it & cannot freely choose not to create it. The principle that God's act of creation is a free act is then undermined.

The act of creation on the part of God becomes necessity.

> So even if he argues that the consequent is false (according to Thomist philosophy) and therefore by modus tollens the antecedent of the conditional is false, why couldn't the false part that "God always produces the best possible"?

Because creation is by definition is imperfect. All created thing by definition have a distinct existence and essence & can never be perfect like God having His essence and existence identical and only notionally distinct.



>That would actually seem to be more in line with the later argument about divine freedom involving the capability to do absolutely anything that isn't logically impossible.

Except a "perfect creation" that is perfect like God is perfect is not logically possible thus it can't be the best just as there is no highest finite number since no matter how high you get you can still add one.. God cannot create another classic theistic God & He cannot create the best of all possible worlds. He can only create a better world then the one he made & yes he could have created worst one but as long as it participates in being it is good.



>Indeed it seems to me that according to this argument, there is nothing to rule out the possibility that there is a worst of all possible worlds, and that this would be exactly the world God would choose to create!

Except you need to read the essay more closely. God must will & do His own Good by necessity but creating isn't something that causes God's good by necessity. Thought the act of creating is good never the less it isn't necessary for God. God would still be God even if he never created. OTOH in a sense you can have a "worst" of all possible worlds. To use the number analogy if our world is a 5,000 on the sliding scale of goodness from 1 to potential infinity then God could alway make a world that is rated "1", What would such world be like? Oh I don't know maybe an empty black void & nothing else. OTOH maybe there isn't a "worst" of all possible worlds either since you can't actually get to zero by dividing by half. You can get to one over one googolplex but you can also get one over one googolplex +1.

Cheers.

Donald said...

Ingx24--

I have the same difficulties you do, but in my case I don't know what the answer is. The thing to remember is that God is far more compassionate than we are. If there's a Hell, there's some reason why it's the best God could do for the those who end there. (I doubt eternal torture is part of it.) And another thing to remember is that no matter how vile a position may be, you can always find an intellectual of some sort somewhere who will defend it. You see this in secular politics and it's also something to be observed in religion. All one has to say is "God wills it" or "the Party wills it" or "National security demands it" and there will be a flock of intellectuals falling over themselves justifying "it", no matter what "it" is.

On a related note, I think the torture chamber view of hell is probably behind the notion that Christians long had that heresy should be punished. It makes sense in its own way--what crime could be worse than teaching people ideas that could drag them down to Hell? Of course this isn't exactly an original observation on my part.

BenYachov said...

Of course for purposes of argument when I am taking about God's Word I am talking neither of Scripture nor the Second Person of the Trinity but of God speaking.

Since God's essence is identical with His essence then God is His attributes. If God has the attribute of Truth then God is Truth. So God being Truth can't lie because then He wouldn't be Truth.

JesseM said...

@BenYachov:
The doctrine of the Divine Simplicity. God is identical with His attributes. God isn't a being with the separate attribute of being truthful but God is Truth Itself thus God's Word is Truth. Truth by definition can't be both true and a lie otherwise it wouldn't be truth. Thus to speak of God as lying is more incoherent thus logically not possible much like 2+2=5 is logically impossible.

Is this meant to be a rigorous argument or is there meant to be some element of poetry or mystery to it? If it's meant to be rigorous I think you would have to specify more clearly how you are defining "truth" since you don't seem to be using that word in the same way that anyone who doesn't subscribe to divine simplicity would use it. Ordinarily "truth" is understood as a property of certain statements, and a property can't be said to be the cause of any events in the world (like a person receiving a divinely-inspired message) any more than it would make sense to say that "loudness" is the cause of my hearing a particular loud sound.

There is also the issue that even most people who believe every precisely-defined meaningful statement must be unambiguously "true" or "false" would still probably admit there is some ambiguity in whether a particular communication is "truthful" or not, since for example people can make statements that are technically true but are intentionally misleading, with the wording being subject to multiple interpretations and the statement being false under the most obvious or "natural" interpretation.

You seem to be channeling your inner Hume. You are trying to imagine some preternatural disembodied entity lying to Noah but if you do so then the entity you are imagining cannot coherently be God in the Classic Sense but some other "god" concept that is not Classical.

The classical God can still communicate messages to people, no? Let me rephrase the scenario so it deals only with events in the contingent universe, like the message itself, saying nothing about the nature of the God that created a universe where that message is heard. Do you think it there is a logically possible world where both of the following happen?

1. Noah suddenly hears a voice telling him that it is the voice of God (though I'm not assuming anything about whether that's true at the moment, since I'm only discussing facts about the universe), and that he needs to build an ark because a great flood is coming. Assume the voice is not a hallucination, that it comes from real physical sound waves, but the sound waves suddenly appeared with no physical cause. Also assume that no finite intelligent being such as a devil caused this to occur.

2. Despite the voice, no great flood actually occurs.

This does not seem logically impossible to me, so I would say there is a logically possible world where both of these happen. Do you agree or disagree? Obviously, if you agree it's logically possible, then my follow-up question will be about whether God can cause this possible world to exist, but the first question does not presuppose anything about God, it's just about the contingent universe. The argument at the link you pointed me to seemed to say that God's nature cannot forbid him from creating any logically possible universe:

"For Aquinas, the only restriction on God's omnipotence is what cannot be because it involves a contradiction … so long as all its elements are compossible, i.e. do not entail a contradiction, the possible world is a possible participation in divine goodness from the mere fact that it is conceived by the divine intellect. So the only possible world that is so bad that it cannot be willed by the divine will is one that cannot be conceived by the divine intellect. Thus, it is false that any possible world could be so bad that God could not choose it."

JesseM said...

reply to BenYachov continued:

Do you agree that the author is saying in the quote above that the only type of world God cannot create is one that involves a logical contradiction? I suppose one could argue that certain exhaustive collections of facts about a contingent universe might not contradict one another in any way, but it might still be logically contradictory to assume that the classical theist God had created a universe where all those facts hold true. Such a world could be said to be "internally possible" (in that there is no internal contradiction between any of the facts about this putative world) but not "actually possible" (in that there is a contradiction between God's nature and the notion that God would cause such a world to exist). If this fits with your conception of why it's impossible God would create a world like the one I described above where people receive false messages, please clarify. But if you use this type of argument to explain why God can't create an internally possible world like the one I described above, then I could equally well turn it around and say God should not be able to create a world where people go to hell who might have been saved if God prevented their death, since my argument is that this contradicts the idea that God is perfectly loving and powerful.

Accept the essay says by definition all potential creation is "imperfect".

What statement in the essay are you referring to? If you're referring to the last short paragraph where the author writes "there is no best, even though some are better than others", my point was that this was a non sequitur given the argument earlier in the essay. It would be equally consistent with the previous argument if he had said "there might be a best of all possible worlds, but even if so God is not constrained to actualize that one, because omnipotence requires that God be free to actualize any logically possible world." If you think there is anything in the arguments of the essay prior to the last two sentences that would contradict that alternate conclusion, please quote the part that you think contradicts it.

As Tony pointed out talking about a "best of all possible worlds" is like talking about the largest finite integer. It's not possible since even the number googolplex which is psychotically huge can be made larger by a mere addition of +1. Creation is imperfect thus there cannot be the "best" thought there can always be better.

That's a good argument, but it isn't the one made in the essay. Even this argument isn't perfect, because it might be "best" for the span of time between creation and doomsday to be less than some finite amount, and best for the number of created entities (material or spiritual) to be below some finite amount too, in which case there might only be a finite number of possible worlds satisfying these requirements.

I admit that speculation doesn't sound very plausible, but keep in mind that my argument about Hell was never about God choosing the "best of all possible worlds" in the first place. What I was doing was more like dividing the collection of all possible worlds into two categories, one category consisting of worlds where God allows people to die unsaved and be transformed into an unchangeable state where their choice is frozen for eternity, another category consisting of worlds where God either prevents people from dying if they are in danger of doing so in an unsaved state, or anyone who dies unsaved gets resurrected in a still-changeable state (as I think Christians would say was likely true of Lazarus after Jesus resurrected him). My argument is that any world in the second category is better than any world in the first category, even though there may be no single "best" world in the second category.

JesseM said...

reply to BenYachov, part 3:
Well the essay links to the various arguments made by Aquinas for his views in the Summa & maybe you should read them as well? Still in a essay on a Thomist website that makes Thomistic Assumptions. Reject those assumption if you wish but the brute fact a Thomist doesn't believe there is such a thing as "the best of all possible worlds" is possible remains.

I thought the essay was using Aquinas' assumptions about the nature of God's omnipotence (that His nature can't prevent him from realizing any logically possible world) to come to a novel conclusion about their implications, namely that there can be no "best of all possible worlds". If not, why would he explain the logical structure of his argument as "I hope to show the antecedent of the conditional is false by showing on thomistic grounds that its consequent is false and invoking the logical rule of modus tollens"? He seems to be saying that "thomistic grounds" lead to the conclusion that the consequent is false, and his modus tollens argument shows that therefore the antecedent of the conditional must be false too. And he had earlier said "In what remains of this paper, I want to attempt a defence of the conclusion that this is not the best of all possible worlds"…"I want to attempt a defense" again sounds like he is making a somewhat original argument, not merely recounting Aquinas' view, although he does make use of Aquinas' views as one component of the argument.

If you say that Aquinas himself clearly stated that there could be no such thing as a "best of all possible worlds" (as opposed to just saying that God is not constrained to create a best world), can you point to a specific passage where he says this?

Scott said...

@JesseM:

"If you say that Aquinas himself clearly stated that there could be no such thing as a 'best of all possible worlds' (as opposed to just saying that God is not constrained to create a best world), can you point to a specific passage where he says this?"

For whatever it's worth, he comes pretty close here when he states that, for anything God has made, there's always something better He could have made instead.

BenYachov said...

I'll answer some of JesseM's particulars later. Anyway thank you Scott.


>>Accept the essay says by definition all potential creation is "imperfect".

>What statement in the essay are you referring to?


QUOTE" "...That God does not will necessarily some of the things that he wills does not result from defect in the divine will, but from a defect belonging to the nature of the thing willed... and such defect accompanies all created good."( Summa Theologiae Ia, 19, 3 ad 4)

Aquinas, in dealing with the issue God's freedom in the Summa, grounds his assertion that this is not the best of all possible worlds in divine freedom, and indeed he explains divine freedom with a reference to this principle. "Since then God necessarily wills His own goodness, but other things not necessarily, as was shown above, He has free choice with respect to what he does not necessarily will." ((S.T. Ia, 19, 10) The only thing that God must will is his own nature. However, no possible world is so good that God must choose it.

For the divine will has a necessary relation to the divine goodness, since that is its proper object. Hence God wills His own goodness, necessarily.... Hence, since the goodness of God is perfect, and can exist without other things since no perfection can accrue to Him from them, it follows that His willing things apart from Himself is not absolutely necessary. (S.T. Ia 19, 4)

This claim constitutes a defence of divine freedom that in no way implies God's imperfection, but rather places the imperfection on the side of the object, i.e. the world."END QUOTE

Scott said...

I also just happened across a related passage in Bernard Boedder's Natural Theology. The important bit is in section 87 at the bottom of p. 124 (to which I've linked), but the preceding pages set it up.

By the way, for anyone who may be interested: quite a few of these old neo-Scholastic manuals (listed by Ed some time ago in his "Scholastic's bookshelf" posts, which you can find by searching this site for that phrase) are now available in inexpensive print versions from a few of the publication houses that specialize in public-domain material. Over the last year or so I've managed to purchase (and read) a fair number of them. They're quite good. (I certainly hope they're not what Pope Francis meant when he said he had "[u]nfortunately . . . studied philosophy from textbooks that came from decadent or largely bankrupt Thomism"!)

BenYachov said...

@JesseM

>Is this meant to be a rigorous argument or is there meant to be some element of poetry or mystery to it? If it's meant to be rigorous I think you would have to specify more clearly how you are defining "truth" since you don't seem to be using that word in the same way that anyone who doesn't subscribe to divine simplicity would use it. Ordinarily "truth" is understood as a property of certain statements, and a property can't be said to be the cause of any events in the world (like a person receiving a divinely-inspired message) any more than it would make sense to say that "loudness" is the cause of my hearing a particular loud sound.


Briefly I am merely taking everything I know & learned about Classic Theism & Catholic Natural Theology and judging your criticism and claims by it. The fact you understand "truth" to be a mere property tells me that you are not assuming an Aristotelian/Thomistic metaphysics when you think of "god". Thus my original charge your critique best fits a Theistic Personalist deity rather than a Classic view obtains. Truth is more than a property it is what is real vs what is not real. Lies are statements told as truth but known to the teller to be unreal. God is Truth Itself thus God cannot tell us directly something that is not true. He has no moral obligation to prevent others from telling us untruth. Nor does his Nature compel him to do so since it does not pertain to his own Good which he must Will by Necessity. Nor does he have an obligation in either case by Nature or Morality to prevent human minds from making mistakes. That is just the way it is.

Let me just say as a disclaimer I don't doubt your sincerity & that you are trying to the best of your ability to adapt your general theistic critiques to Classic Theism. But to be blunt I don't think you are succeeding. Your efforts thus far to use the following analogy are like something trying to cast doubt on a Pantheistic concept of God by refuting Cosmological arguments. The thing is Cosmological arguments presuppose some sort of creator deity. A Pantheistic Deity is identical to creation & not a creator deity thus refuting CO are not relevant. God in the Classic Sense is not a being alongside other beings & is completely unlike us.

BenYachov said...

>The classical God can still communicate messages to people, no? Let me rephrase the scenario so it deals only with events in the contingent universe, like the message itself, saying nothing about the nature of the God that created a universe where that message is heard.

I'm sorry but your revised example still suffers from the same problem. You have some sort of mysterious voice bullshiting Noah & you are just labeling it "Classic Theist God". Logically and coherently it cannot be.

>Do you think it there is a logically possible world where both of the following happen?

Since Classic God is Truth Itself then logically there is no possible world that could be created that wouldn't be created by Truth Itself & as thus True Itself cannot lie to Noah & coherently still be truth.

The voice that claims to be "god" that is bullshiting Noah here which I will call "Bullshit Voice" can either be caused by Supernatural origin(i.e. God). Preternatural origin(some spiritual creature made by God) or natural origin or it might even be Uncaused and Uncreated itself.

Well we can eliminate God since he is Truth itself. You claim it's not insanity or any preternatural cause like the Devil. That either leaves some other natural cause such as this particular universe has some weird feature where it's fabric might randomly record spoken words and play some of them back and it's by mere consequence that they arranged themselves in a patter that told Noah there was a flood. OTOH if they are Uncaused and Uncreated well logically Classic God cannot create something that is uncreated since that would be a contradiction and also only God can be uncreated as is argued by Aquinas.

So when mapped out it seems to me mostly logically impossible or at best an unknown natural phenomena but logically no possible world created by the God of Abraham & Aquinas could be created by anything other then Truth Itself which can't directly lie because that would be failing to will His own good.

>I thought the essay was using Aquinas' assumptions about the nature of God's omnipotence (that His nature can't prevent him from realizing any logically possible world) ….

But it's pretty much using all of Aquinas assumptions across the board you are using one that you are qualifying in a peculiar way that I don't recognize.

Cheers anyway. I give you an A for effort but that is only because I just came from confession and don't want to muck it up being my usual jerk self.

Cheers.

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Syphax said...

In such discussions I think one stumbling block to understanding the doctrine of Hell might be that it is hard to envision "what it is like" to be and make decisions as someone else.

To put it more concretely through a cliched example, let's say that Hitler will perpetually choose damnation through all Eternity.

Now if I try to put my head inside his head, I would say, why would he do that? At some point, after suffering for a bajillion years, obviously Hitler would repent and come to God. Hitler would obviously be racked with remorse and reflect on the suffering he caused, and would turn and repent.

But that's not what Hitler would necessarily do - that's what *I* would do if my mind were somehow simultaneously inside Hitler. We are simply incapable of knowing for sure what another person would choose given that we're not them. It's more like we can sort of just project ourselves onto everyone else and assume they'd made decisions like us.

But as a graduate student in psychology I've found over countless experiments that sometimes the decisions made by others are a complete mystery. That's just *not* what I'd do given that situation.

So while I'm sympathetic to universalism I have to remain agnostic about what other people may or may not do/want given a set of circumstances. I'm just not them. The doctrine of Hell seems to indicate (if true) that indeed there are some people out there who would permanently reject God. How do I know there aren't people out there who wouldn't? I have no idea.

Now maybe this would be too much of a Cartesian "I think therefore I am" sort of agnosticism about other minds for the Thomists here. But I'm not quite a Thomist (yet, anyway).

JesseM said...

Thanks for the quotes, Ben and Scott. Addressing Ben's first:
>>Accept the essay says by definition all potential creation is "imperfect".
>What statement in the essay are you referring to?
QUOTE" "...That God does not will necessarily some of the things that he wills does not result from defect in the divine will, but from a defect belonging to the nature of the thing willed... and such defect accompanies all created good."( Summa Theologiae Ia, 19, 3 ad 4)

This does say all potential creation is imperfect, but it seems to me that this alone doesn't necessarily imply that there cannot be a best of all possible worlds, though, if "best" just means "better than (or at least as good as) any of the alternative possible worlds" rather than "perfect". The remainder of the quote Ben posted in that same comment seems to be saying that God's divine freedom means he must be able to create any logically possible world, no matter how imperfect it is, which also need not be inconsistent with the idea that there could be a "best of all possible worlds".
The quote posted by Scott is more unambiguous, though. In the linked section Aquinas says that God "can always make something else better than each individual thing" and also that "God could make other things, or add something to the present creation; and then there would be another and a better universe." It seems to me that Aquinas just asserts this rather than arguing it though; even if one accepts that for any individual created thing God could make a better thing, why couldn't the universe contain an infinite ascending chain of better and better things? Or couldn't a universe be a bit like a work of art, in that part of its beauty is in how it achieves its desired effects in a relatively austere way, without adding more than is necessary? Even if the writer of the essay that Ben linked to was aware of this passage where Aquinas asserts there is no best of all possible world, it may be that he wanted to supply his own argument for it since Aquinas' reasons for making this assertion aren't sufficiently obvious. As I said to Ben, I think it is clear that the author is trying to make an original argument rather than simply recount Aquinas' views, since he says "I want to attempt a defence of the conclusion that this is not the best of all possible worlds on the basis of divine omnipotence, or the limits thereof. In doing so, I will have to make a claim similar to one that Aquinas made about the nature of the divine will, namely that its freedom in creation is grounded in the imperfection of creation." And then he goes on to describe the logical structure of his argument (its use of modus tollens) and says "I hope to show that, while this argument is not Aquinas', it is thomistic in being drawn from thomistic principles."

Finally, I want to emphasize again that my own argument about hell wasn't saying that God must create the best of all possible worlds, we just got into this discussion after Ben linked to the author's argument as a way of trying to refute my argument (I originally assumed Ben was linking to it because of the argument how God's divine freedom necessitates that he be free to create any logically possible world, so that's the aspect to the essay I mostly focused on in my replies, but given some later replies I'm not actually sure how the essay was intended to relate to my argument).

JesseM said...

@BenYachov:
Briefly I am merely taking everything I know & learned about Classic Theism & Catholic Natural Theology and judging your criticism and claims by it. The fact you understand "truth" to be a mere property tells me that you are not assuming an Aristotelian/Thomistic metaphysics when you think of "god".

I didn't say that the A-T philosophy couldn't redefine "truth" to mean something different than a mere property--words often are given different definitions from their common ones in specific intellectual fields, including philosophy. So Im fine with adopting a different definition than the more common one for the sake of discussion, as long as the definition is sufficiently clear. My point was just that "truth" has always been understood as a property of statements and beliefs by pretty much everyone who is not a believer in divine simplicity (which I think would include Aristotle himself), so if the A-T philosopher wants to use a different definition and use it to prove that God cannot lie, they need to make explicit what the new definition actually is, such that we can make sense of both statements like "God is truth" and ones like "the statement 'the sky is blue' is true". Ideally the definition should be clear enough that one could use it to construct a logical syllogism showing that, given the premises of the definition, God can never be the cause of verbal statements (like the voice in my example) that are not true. Now, if you don't know of any place where Aquinas or another A-T philosopher has provided such a detailed definition, it would be asking too much for you to come up with one yourself for the sake of a casual discussion on a comments thread, I'm not doing that. I'm just noting that the argument seems questionable to me as stated.

Thus my original charge your critique best fits a Theistic Personalist deity rather than a Classic view obtains.

This is a total non-sequitur. You think that because I don't assume the logical rigor of the A-T notion that God is"truth" and therefore unable to lie (nor did I assert it is definitely logically incoherent, I just expressed some doubt), that somehow shows that my argument about hell shows that I am assuming a "theistic personalist deity"? How is the second part supposed to follow from the first, exactly? My argument about hell had nothing to do with the question of whether God being "truth" makes logical sense, I was just noting as a side-point that this would need some careful definitions if it is to be a rigorous argument. And obviously I don't have to be a personal believer in the A-T philosophy to note that some of its own premises about God don't seem to fit very well with its premises about hell.

I'm sorry but your revised example still suffers from the same problem. You have some sort of mysterious voice bullshiting Noah & you are just labeling it "Classic Theist God". Logically and coherently it cannot be.

I did no such thing, my question was just whether a world where Noah hears this voice (not caused by any finite being), and its prophecy fails to come true, was logically possible, and/or whether God has the power to create such a world. I never said that the answer must be "yes", I just asked for your answer one way or another.

JesseM said...

reply to BenYachov continued:
Since Classic God is Truth Itself then logically there is no possible world that could be created that wouldn't be created by Truth Itself & as thus True Itself cannot lie to Noah & coherently still be truth.
The voice that claims to be "god" that is bullshiting Noah here which I will call "Bullshit Voice" can either be caused by Supernatural origin(i.e. God). Preternatural origin(some spiritual creature made by God) or natural origin or it might even be Uncaused and Uncreated itself.


Doesn't the A-T philosophy deny that contingent events can ever be truly uncaused? Otherwise the cosmological argument couldn't work, it seems. And I specified as part of the premise that it isn't caused by any creature made by God. So are you therefore saying that, given these premises, this is not a "logically possible world"?

If you do indeed say it's logically impossible for God to create such a world, then would you say there are any similar examples of worlds that are logically impossible for God to create, not because they contradict "God is Truth", but because they contradict "God is justice" or "God is goodness" or "God is love"? Here are some examples, I'm not really asking you to address them individually, just to tell me whether you think any of them are logically impossible for God to create:

1. A world where Adam and Eve never sinned, but God caused them to die and suffer eternal damnation anyway.

2. A world just like ours up through Jesus' death and resurrection, but where some who went to heaven in our world, and whose thoughts and feelings and lives in this world are exactly identical to the thoughts/feelings/lives of their counterparts in our world (including accepting Jesus' sacrifice and God's will, sincerely repenting their sins, etc.), were nevertheless sent to hell.

3. A world just like ours up through Jesus' death and resurrection, but where God miraculously caused everyone who ever knew of Jesus or his teachings to forget him completely, so no one could know of and accept his sacrifice, and every single person subsequently went to hell.

4. A world where God gets people to heaven by taking away their freedom of will, compelling them to love Him.

5. A world where even completely unrepentant sinners and rejectors of God are accepted into heaven.

If you do say that some worlds can be deemed logically impossible on the grounds of inconsistency with God's love/goodness/justice, then it seems to me that for humans there must always be an element of moral intuition in judging which worlds are "too bad" to be compatible with God's nature, unless anyone can propose some clearly-defined rules that would give an unambiguous answer about any such world. It's these sorts of moral intuitions I'm appealing to when I say it seems incompatible with God's nature to suggest he might let people be eternally damned even if He didn't know whether they might have been save-able if they were allowed to exist in a changeable state for a longer time. So it's not a proof, just an argument that if you think any worlds like the ones described above can be deemed logically impossible, there's an analogous case against the traditional Christian idea of how damnation works.

BenYachov said...

@JesseM

First let me say even thought I modestly brought to everyone's attention you misreading the essay in parts(& you where pretty cool about owning up to it) I want to apologize if I in turn misread you or failed to acknowledge statements or assumptions you have made & clearly stated here in this thread

For example:

>You think that because I don't assume the logical rigor of the A-T notion that God is"truth" and therefore unable to lie (nor did I assert it is definitely logically incoherent, I just expressed some doubt), that somehow shows that my argument about hell shows that I am assuming a "theistic personalist deity"?

I will acknowledge you are not intending to assume a "theistic personalist deity".

I will amend my objection to the following "Whatever the deity you are criticizing your objection cannot in principle apply coherently to a Classic View of the Deity not without equivocating in a major way.

Also let me deal with some of the easy stuff. God cannot create a logically impossible world which means he cannot make real anything that clearly violates the Principle of Contradiction. God cannot make "A" and at the same time and in the same sense make "Not A". With that in mind let us look at your argument.

>I did no such thing, my question was just whether a world where Noah hears this voice (not caused by any finite being), and its prophecy fails to come true, was logically possible, and/or whether God has the power to create such a world. I never said that the answer must be "yes", I just asked for your answer one way or another.

The question is not coherent if it is missing necessary content & thus cannot be determined to be logically possible or not. For one thing we need a metaphysical account for Bullshit Voice. If we merely negatively say it's not of natural origin, preternatural origin, uncreated origin & say it can't be of supernatural origin since God being Truth Itself cannot lie then we aren't saying anything when we ask can God logically create a world containing Bullshit Voice which is neither natural, preternatural, supernatural or uncaused.

It's like asking is it logically possible for A to equal B if we know what A is but don't know what B is only what it is not? Well maybe? But we need to know what A is….

>Doesn't the A-T philosophy deny that contingent events can ever be truly uncaused?

Of course but your example of "Bullshit Voice" has no positive formal content just some negative content(it's not the Devil, has no physical cause & Noah is not nuts etc) so how can I answer the question if it is a logically possible world or not? So I filled in the blanks. No world where Bullshit Voice is Uncaused or Supernatural is logically possible to be made to exist by Classic Theist God.

The issue here is the Principle of Contradiction & with that, not our moral intuitions, we analyze your examples.

>If you do indeed say it's logically impossible for God to create such a world, then would you say there are any similar examples of worlds that are logically impossible for God to create, not because they contradict "God is Truth", but because they contradict "God is justice" or "God is goodness" or "God is love"?

Given the Divine Simplicity all these things are the same & the Principle of Contradiction still applies.

>1. A world where Adam and Eve never sinned, but God caused them to die and suffer eternal damnation anyway.

Violates the POC. God created Adam & Eve with Original Justice & as such they had Divine Grace. So you are in effect saying they had Grace and yet didn't have Grace at the same time and in the same sense. They didn't loose grace"they never sinned" yet they lost Grace "suffer eternal damnation". This is as meaningful a statement as 2+2=5.

Violates the POC ergo it's logically impossible.

BenYachov said...

>2. A world just like ours...etc (including accepting Jesus' sacrifice and God's will, sincerely repenting their sins, etc.), were nevertheless sent to hell.

Another logical contradiction, This is like saying in one world 1 is added to 2 and we get 3 but in a world just like ours 1 is added to 2 and we get "Not 3". That is not coherent.

>3. A world just like ours>3...but where God miraculously caused everyone who ever knew of Jesus or his teachings to forget him completely, so no one could know of and accept his sacrifice, and every single person subsequently went to hell.

I already told you Catholics believe God can save the invincibly ignorant so this is not coherent, If it is just like our world except God didn't allow knowledge of the sacrifice of Jesus that sacrifice would still objectively provide sufficient grace for all men to be saved.

>4 4. A world where God gets people to heaven by taking away their freedom of will, compelling them to love Him.

Many of your examples are equivocations. God does save Baptised Infants even thought their will isn't sufficiently developed to make an act of faith & of course they can't will to mortally sin either. So under certain logical conditions God doesn't need your act of will to save you & God need not create beings who freely will to love him. He could create other beings who can't help but love him but of course by definition they wouldn't be either Humans or Angels.

>5. A world where even completely unrepentant sinners and rejectors of God are accepted into heaven.

Heaven is the soul seeing God in the Beatific Vision. It's not some Cosmic resort for good little boys and girls. It's incoherent to try to conceive of God forcing the beatific vision on souls who have rejected grace and without grace nobody can have the beatific vision by their mere natural powers.

>If you do say that some worlds can be deemed logically impossible on the grounds of inconsistency with God's love/goodness/justice, then it seems to me that for humans there must always be an element of moral intuition in judging which worlds are "too bad" to be compatible with God's nature,

This is where you are misunderstanding the concept of "logically possible worlds". & what is inconsistent with God's Nature.

Most of your example are of you trying to say God can create A and at the same time and in the same sense not create A & there is a lot of argument by equivocation, There is no such thing as Grace Filled Damnation otherwise the terms Grace and Damnation have no objective content anymore there there is such a thing as 2+2=Absolutely Not 4.

There is a lot of meat in your posts to answer but I don't have the patience.

>It seems to me that Aquinas just asserts this rather than arguing it though; even if one accepts that for any individual created thing God could make a better thing, why couldn't the universe contain an infinite ascending chain of better and better things? Or couldn't a universe be a bit like a work of art, in that part of its beauty is in how it achieves its desired effects in a relatively austere way, without adding more than is necessary?

I think He could create a Universe with an Infinite ascending chain of better and better things but by definition no act of creation is necessary & no logically possible world is so good He must create it or so bad he must refrain as long as it partakes of His Goodness.

Anyway I may stop and give you JesseM the last word because well to be blunt I have a short attention span & I've reached 50th Level Jedi Knight in the Star Wars:The Old Republic MMORPG. I have to Kill the Dark Emperor & I want to make 51st level before I make the attempt.

Maybe Scott or others will take up the slack?

Any final questions or points JesseM before I punk out on you?

BenYachov said...

BTW JesseM you have been a great discussion partner.