Sunday, December 4, 2016

Why not annihilation?


Another post on hell?  Will this series never end?  Never fear, dear reader.  As Elaine Benes would say, it only feels like an eternity.  We’ll get on to another topic before long.

Hell itself never ends, though.  But why not?  A critic might agree that the damned essentially choose to go to hell, and that it is just for God to inflict a punishment proportionate to this evil choice.  The critic might still wonder, though, why the punishment has to be perpetual.  Couldn’t God simply annihilate the damned person after some period of suffering?  Wouldn’t this be not only more merciful, but also more just?  

Suppose Hitler and Stalin merit millions of lifetimes worth of suffering given the number of people they killed, and that this punishment ought to be inflicted simply for the sake of retributive justice, since deterrence, rehabilitation, and protection are purposes of punishment that no longer apply after death.  Wouldn’t a punishment of many millions of years suffice?  Why would it have to go on forever?  Why not a prolonged period of great misery following by nothingness?

On reflection, however, this annihilationist position doesn’t make sense, for several reasons.  Begin with a consideration that does involve deterrence.  In The End of the Present World and the Mysteries of the Future Life, Fr. Charles Arminjon argues that if the sufferings of hell were temporary, they would be insufficient to deter at least some wrongdoing.  At least some people might judge certain sins to be so attractive that they would be willing to suffer temporarily, even if horribly and for a long time, for the sake of committing them.  They might even thumb their noses at God, knowing that however grave are the evils they commit, they will only ever have to suffer finitely for them.  They will see their eventual annihilation as a means of ultimately escaping divine justice and “getting away with” doing what they wanted to do.

Now, I think this is plausible, though it would be a mistake to take deterrence to be the fundamental consideration here.  For deterrence value is not a sufficient condition for just punishment.  An offender must in the first place deserve a certain punishment before we can go on to consider whether inflicting it would also have value as a way of deterring others.  However, given what has been said in my previous posts on this subject, it is clear that an offender can deserve everlasting punishment.  For (as I have argued, following Aquinas) those who are damned perpetually will to do what is evil, never repenting of it.  They are perpetually in a state that merits punishment, and thus God perpetually ensures that they receive the punishment they merit.  If such an offender adds to his intention to do this evil the further intention of “getting away with it” by virtue of being annihilated, that only adds to the reasons why he must be punished perpetually rather than annihilated. 

Annihilationism and this response to it take for granted, though, that the person who is damned wants to be annihilated, and as Jerry Walls argues, that is open to question.  Annihilationism also assumes that it would be good and indeed more merciful to annihilate the damned person, assumptions challenged by Jonathan Kvanvig and Eleonore Stump.  As Stump points out, from a Thomistic point of view, being and goodness are convertible, so that to keep a soul in being rather than annihilating it is as such to bring about good rather than bad.  As Kvanvig points out, just as capital punishment is a harsher penalty than life imprisonment, annihilation is plausibly, by analogy, a harsher punishment than perpetual confinement in hell.  And as Walls points out, a soul that is damned may prefer to persist forever willing the evil it has chosen, even though this involves unhappiness.

Keep in mind that, as I have suggested in earlier posts, it is a mistake to begin reflection on the subject of hell by calling to mind stereotypical and simplistic specific examples of sins and punishments.  The skeptic who starts by imagining someone being roasted over a pit and punctured with pitchforks over and over forever for the minor crime of stealing a candy bar is, naturally, going to find it hard to believe that anyone would choose to keep this sort of thing up eternally rather than being annihilated.  After all, people often choose suicide over lesser tortures than that.  But that is, again, precisely the wrong way to begin the inquiry.

The right way is to begin with the most relevant general metaphysical and moral principles, then work through concrete examples that most clearly illustrate those principles, and only after that to proceed to all the less clear and more controversial questions about whether this or that particular sin would merit eternal punishment and whether this or that particular sort of punishment would be fitting for someone to suffer eternally.  Hence in previous posts I started by setting out considerations concerning the fixed nature of the will of a disembodied soul, the nature and justification of punishment in general, and so forth.

Where the question of annihilation is concerned, among the general principles we have to keep in mind is Aquinas’s dictum that “every substance seeks the preservation of its own being, according to its nature” (Summa Theologiae I-II.94.2).  This is true even of the suicidal person, who will spontaneously duck if your throw a knife at him, struggle at least initially if you start to choke him, and so forth.  Preserving himself in being is his natural tendency.  It can be resisted (as it is when someone actually commits or attempts suicide), but self-preservation is a thing’s default position.

A second general Thomistic principle to keep in mind is that, as John Lamont emphasizes in an excellent article on Aquinas’s understanding of hell, the choice to do good or evil is (whether or not we always consciously think of it this way) fundamentally a choice for a certain kind of life – a choice for being a certain kind of person, for having a certain kind of character -- rather than merely for a certain specific action.  And a third general Thomistic principle to keep in mind is that we always choose what we take to be in some way good, even when what we choose is in fact bad and even when we know it to be in some respects bad.

So, take some way of life X that is in fact bad and leads to misery but which many people nevertheless take to be good and actively pursue even when they know it is making them miserable.  X might be a life of cruel domination over others, or of the greedy pursuit of wealth at all costs, or of the envious tearing down of others, or of sexual debauchery, or of drunkenness or drug addiction, or of immersion in endless trivial distractions, or of self-glorification.  The specific example doesn’t matter for present purposes (though it might be a salutary exercise to think in terms of whatever sin it is you personally find the most appealing or difficult to resist).  

Now, we are all familiar with the phenomenon of people who live lives of one of these sorts, and who are miserable as a result but who nevertheless stubbornly refuse to change their ways.  They love the evil to which they have become habituated more than they hate the misery it causes them.  They may also love defying those who urge them to change.  They insist that there is nothing wrong with them, that their unhappiness is due to others rather than to themselves, that it is in any case better to live on their own terms than to concede anything to those criticize them, etc.  They do not wish for death.  On the contrary, they perversely relish their unhappy lives, focusing their attention on the good they think they perceive in the end they have chosen, trying not to dwell on its bad fruits, and being firmly intent on proving wrong those who criticize them.  They manifest the sort irrationality often said to be paradigmatic of insanity, viz. doing the same foolish thing over and over and hoping for a different result. 

The right way to begin thinking about the person who is damned is, I would suggest, to imagine someone like this, but who persists in this particular kind of irrationality in perpetuity.  The damned person is the person whose will is fixed at death on the end of being a person of type X.  That is to say (to apply the general Thomistic principles referred to above), it is fixed on something taken to be good (however mistakenly), and thus on something desired; it is fixed on an overall way of life, and not merely on some momentary act; and it is fixed on being or existing as a person who lives that way of life.  What the damned person is “locked onto” at death is precisely a way of being, rather than on annihilation. 

In refraining from annihilating the person who is damned, then, God is precisely letting that person have what he wants.  As C. S. Lewis puts it, the saved are those who say to God “Thy will be done,” and the damned are those to whom God says “Thy will be done.”

But wouldn’t the damned change their minds?  Wouldn’t buyer’s remorse set in after a season in hell, leading them to say “Whoa, on second thought, I’ll go for annihilation!”  No, because, for the reasons set out in my first post in this series, the soul after death cannot change its basic orientation, cannot alter the fundamental end onto which it is locked.  And opting for annihilation would require such a change.  Hence the soul that is damned, I am suggesting, perpetually wills to exist despite being perpetually miserable.  If this seems insane, that is because it is.  But again, we are familiar with something like this kind of perverse thinking even in this life, in the example of miserable people who refuse even to try to reform but also have no desire to stop living.

Now, we often feel sorry for such people.  So wouldn’t those in heaven feel sorry for the damned – especially if some of their own loved ones are among the damned?  Wouldn’t God therefore annihilate the damned for the sake of the saved, even if not for their own sakes? 

No, and here too, as John Lamont points out in the article linked to above, we can be misled by the examples we take as our models for the damned.  In particular, we might think of that person we know who is habituated to a certain bad way of life, who is miserable as a result, but who might still reform if given enough time and who also has certain good traits.  We might imagine that this person, when in hell, would be essentially like he is now.  And we might then think: “He has such good in him too!  Wouldn’t that lead him to change his ways eventually?  And doesn’t it merit him some happiness, even if he has to be punished for his sins?”  And the problem is that in imagining this, we are, as Lamont points out, attributing to the person in hell traits which he has now but which do not and cannot exist any longer in the afterlife.  For the reason people in this life are mixtures of good and evil is that they are still embodied, and thus not absolutely fixed on either good or evil.  And after death, this is no longer the case.  (Again, see my first post in this series.) 

Hence the good that was in the evil person in this life has completely dropped away after death.  What is left in the lost soul is nothing soft, nothing kind, nothing merciful or wanting mercy, nothing that could generate in the saved the slightest sympathy.  There is only perpetual irrational malice.  If you want an image of the damned, imagine human faces on which there is written only blind, defiant, miserable rage and hatred forever and ever.  Basically, a non-stop Occupy Hell rally.  To which the saved can only shrug and say: “Whatever.  Knock yourselves out, guys.”

247 comments:

  1. Dr Brian Moore has written a critical reflection on Dr Feser's articles on damnation: http://wp.me/pZJmO-6FW.

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  2. @ Dianelos

    Now I understand these words were written by a journalist and not by the Pope. But how probable is it that the journalist is lying in this matter? I mean given the context it can hardly be a misunderstanding. And the journalist in question, Eugenio Scalfari is by all accounts a very serious person, and the “La Republica” newspaper that published the account is the second largest in Italy. And the account was never denied by the Vatican.

    So it is very probable that Francis does not believe in hell....


    Honestly, Dianelos, you are free to convince yourself of whatever you want, if you can manage it. I think the paraphrase provides evidence that is less probative than your selective description suggests.

    ... I am bothered by the behavior of Finnis and Grisez. Christianity is about the truth as indeed is all philosophy - and I am bothered that these two Catholic philosophers instead of speaking plainly write in a diplomatic and hypocritical language.

    How is their language diplomatic and hypocritical as opposed to plain? They think the document should be read in continuity with the Magisterium, and they are observing the boundaries that imposes on its interpretation, lest we read Pope Francis as a heretic.

    After all the Amoris Laititia is plainly Francis's word, so if they disagree and feel it's their duty to speak up then they should speak like Feser does and say it clearly.

    They don't disagree with AL. They think it should be read in continuity with the Magisterium. Once again, you are assuming insincerity when it is not necessary.

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  3. Dianelos,

    Since as it happens (and perhaps contrary to how it may seem) I don't try to distort what other people say, the first thing to infer is that I am pigheaded – which I am.

    The second is to recognize how common it is for people to misunderstand each other, and consider how one should speak in a way that even the pigheaded neighbor doesn't misunderstand.


    In reverse order:

    2. "It's not my fault I robbed your house," said the thief. "You left the front door unlocked, so it's your fault you got robbed."

    1. As part of your tacit acknowledgement that you frequently distort what other people say, you claim that, contrary to how it may seem, you don't try to distort what other people say.

    Well, what are we to make of that?

    Distorting what other people say requires no effort on your part? It comes naturally to you to do so? It's the automatic fallout of an acquired habit? It just happens, and, golly gee, there's no accounting for why it does?

    Point blank: You are responsible for what you do.

    If "Repentance is the transformation of the soul in a way that raises it closer to Christ" -- Whom you have previously equated with TRUTH (my emphasis) -- then how might habitually distorting what other people say serve as an aid to repentance as so defined?

    That is, how might habitually distorting what other people say facilitate the soul's rising closer to Christ (i.e., to the TRUTH)?

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  4. @Dianelos Georgoudis
    Related to your former teaching gig, there is a Jewish joke that says there is no Heaven or Hell: we all go to the same place when we die, where Moses and Rabbi Akiva give constant and everlasting classes on the Bible and the Talmud. For the righteous this is eternal bliss, while for the wicked this is eternal suffering.

    I was trying to figure out what Jesus says about hellfire since that seems particularly relevant to degrees of torment. While Jesus does with some frequency speak of the eternal fires hell, one of the few places where he makes a reference to the damned in hell is when he says "...their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched." This in turn seems to be a reference to the last verse of Isaiah, where the wording is slightly different "...for their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh." The last phrase about flesh comes from the previous verse where God says about the new heavens and new earth "...all flesh shall come to worship before me..." which seems at odds with a general resurrection affecting the damned. Interestingly, the specific Hebrew words used in Isaiah for both worm and fire are unique to that verse in the entire Old Testament which makes me suspicious they may also have unique meanings.

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  5. “Preferences emerge from a large number of factors …” @Brandon

    Agreed.

    “In this example, of course, you've rigged it so that there is very little difference between the cases and very little information otherwise, so the most salient thing is "Do you want more or less time with almost the same pain?"

    It follows from the illustration I chose that, when compared to more intense suffering experienced over a short period of time, less intense suffering will eventually lead to greater suffering overall if its duration is long enough. As we increase the differential in intensity we need to increase the duration to maintain the relative degrees of overall suffering. Perhaps the reason you find this hard to accept is that human intuitions are tuned to the typical life span of threescore years and ten. We aren’t capable of comprehending the duration of time in an everlasting life, and so we find it hard to imagine that the cumulative suffering involved in mild pain could ever exceed that of severe pain. But if the differential in duration is long enough - perhaps quadrillions of normal lifespans - then the time will eventually come when the cumulative suffering of very mild pain will exceed that of very severe pain.

    “The things you are comparing do not even have the same units of measurement; how are you directly comparing them?”

    I’ve given you the example of the 0-10 pain scale used in emergency departments because the examples I used focused on pain which is a component of traditional notions of the suffering of the damned; i.e. the “pain of sense”.

    “.... light achiness will never surpass in suffering crucifixion or being impaled alive, no matter how long it lasts”

    If a mild pain is compensated for by greater pleasure, then I agree, but that is not what I am talking about. I’m talking about the pain itself, considered in isolation and without other compensating factors.

    We could also consider the overall situation in which a person finds themselves. The key question here would be whether, all things considered, that person’s net position involves more pain or more pleasure. Perhaps you are imagining a Hell in which there is a meagre surplus of pleasure over pain. If you are, then we may be arguing at cross-purposes. I await your response with interest.

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  6. @ John G Thomas

    As we increase the differential in intensity we need to increase the duration to maintain the relative degrees of overall suffering. Perhaps the reason you find this hard to accept is that human intuitions are tuned to the typical life span of threescore years and ten.

    The problem isn't one of imagination. It is just that you are assuming that intensity and duration of pain are fungible. One can stipulate this and try to find some principle for commensurating them (e.g. the decided preference criterion), but it isn't obvious that the assumption is forced on us just by our notion of suffering. That is contestable, and Brandon is contesting it.

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  7. About the discussion on how much suffering would one go through in Hell, and whether it might be such that the duration becomes relevant or not etc., I think this summary by an evangelical pastor Mark Driscoll points to it being the most intense and excruciating possible, and going up from there. Quoting:

    ---

    * Those in hell suffer intense and excruciating pain. This pain is likely both emotional/spiritual and physical (John 5:28–29).

    * Hell is a fate worse than being drowned in the sea (Mark 9:42).

    * It is worse than any earthly suffering—even being maimed (Matthew 5:29–30; Mark 9:43).

    * The suffering never ends (Matthew 25:41; Mark 9:48).

    * The wicked will be "burned with unquenchable fire." (Matthew 3:12)

    * Those in hell will be thrown into the fiery furnace and will experience unimaginable sorrow, regret, remorse, and pain. The fire produces the pain described as "weeping and gnashing of teeth." (Matthew 8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30)

    * The intensity of the suffering seems to be according to the wickedness of the person's behavior (Romans 2:5–8).

    * Hell is utterly fearful and dreadful (Hebrews 10:27–31).

    * This punishment is depicted as "coming misery," "eating flesh with fire," and the "day of slaughter." (James 5:1–5)

    * Those in hell will feel the full force of God's fury and wrath (Revelations 14:10).

    * They will be "tormented" with fire (14:10–11).

    * This suffering is best understood as endless since the "smoke of their torment rises forever and ever." (14:11)

    * This suffering is constant because it is said that those in hell "will have no rest day or night" (14:11) and "will be tormented day and night forever and ever." (20:10)

    ---

    The 3rd reference is particularly telling. If that's an accurate comparison, then being in Hell would be more painful than suffering multiple amputations continuously. Think being crucified for eternity, at a minimum. The Hellraiser movies come to mind.

    So it's that, aggregated over an unbounded number of aeons, with a nice topping of absolute hopelessness. And that's the baseline, applying to the "mere" Good Samaritans of all ages. For the actually wicked it'd be worse.

    Therefore, it'd seem to me that any discussion on whether Hell suffering might be of such a bearable level as to make an eternity of it not be thaaaat bad misses the point. It's the worst possible acute pain, increased even more for some, carefully converted into chronic, with any possibility of reduction also carefully withdrawn and forbidden.

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  8. It follows from the illustration I chose that, when compared to more intense suffering experienced over a short period of time, less intense suffering will eventually lead to greater suffering overall if its duration is long enough.

    No, it does not; this requires a rule for comparison of duration to intensity, which, as I have repeatedly pointed out, you have done nothing to establish.

    I’ve given you the example of the 0-10 pain scale used in emergency departments because the examples I used focused on pain which is a component of traditional notions of the suffering of the damned; i.e. the “pain of sense”.

    This is not what poena sensus means; poena sensus just means the penalty described in Scripture by the phrase 'fire'. That it is at all measurable in this way is, at best, an assumption you have not established, and, very likely, a complete fiction in your head.

    This is precisely what I've been talking about: you seem to be simply making things up as you go along, which is why you've given three logically different arguments, each with their own flaws, and failed to provide any answer at all for the essential question. I ask again, and we'll see if you fail to answer yet again:

    What is the logical argument establishing that such-and-such amount of suffering follows for a single soul that time period from the doctrine of hell, and what is the measurement by which you determine how much suffering there is in the entire universe so you can compare the two?


    I’m talking about the pain itself, considered in isolation and without other compensating factors.

    The pain itself, considered in isolation and without other compensating factors is by definition not affected by duration, which requires comparing it to a temporal measure, not in isolation, and is an extrinsic factor to the actual pain itself.

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  9. I suppose I should add:

    Poena in Latin indicates a penalty. It used to be more or less exactly translated by the English word 'pain', but the meaning of the latter has narrowed. (The older meaning still survives, though, in expressions like 'on pain of' or 'it pains me to say it but', both of which indicate that something involves a penalty.) Thus poena sensus, which is the penalty associated with excessive attachment to sensible goods (and is, as noted above, taken to be that which Scripture describes by 'fire'), can include pain in our sense, but need not.

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  10. @Brandon, and @Greg, I disagree and will respond to your points, but first I need to understand your position better. How unpleasant do you think Hell is for the least bad person in it? Is it mildly unpleasant or is it extremely unpleasant?

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  11. How unpleasant do you think Hell is for the least bad person in it? Is it mildly unpleasant or is it extremely unpleasant?

    How would I know? I'm not there. You're the one who keeps making specific claims about the suffering of hell, so you tell me how you know it.

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  12. @Brandon Does it involve more misery than happiness? More pain than pleasure?

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  13. And, what about you @Greg? Do you think that there is a preponderance of suffering over happiness in the experience of the damned?

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  14. Does it involve more misery than happiness? More pain than pleasure?

    As I already said, how would I possibly know? (And, noticeably, you have again evaded the question of how you know the claims you have been making.) For all I know, the least bad in hell might have regular refrigeria (as in some medieval legends), or the least bad person in hell might still live a happier life than anyone on earth (as the doctrine of limbo at least allows as a possibility), or any number of things neither you or I can possibly imagine or understand. Anything that can be said for sure, or even with definite probability on the matter is derivative from basic Scriptural imagery and more fundamental doctrinal commitments; I know of nothing in them that gives precise answers to these questions. Hell is by definition a punishment, and thus is inconsistent with certain objective goods (like the Beatific Vision), but how in the world could I know how the penalty feels to the damned?

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  15. @Brandon Thanks for that explanation. I will respond again to the points you keep repeating, but first, for us not to be talking at cross-purposes, do you believe that an omnibenevolent and omnipotent God (I presume you believe that God is these things?) would permit conscious beings to exist in a perpetual state with a preponderance suffering over non-suffering?

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  16. do you believe that an omnibenevolent and omnipotent God (I presume you believe that God is these things?) would permit conscious beings to exist in a perpetual state with a preponderance suffering over non-suffering?

    'Omnibenevolence' is a made-up term that means nothing definite. Ever since Hugh MacColl first used it to talk about the argument from evil in the early twentieth century it has been used in very different arguments in very different, and indeed, mutually exclusive ways. It conveys no definite meaning.

    Even setting that aside, however, your question again requires knowledge without explaining how it is to be known. We know nothing about what God, whatever His attributes, would permit or not except to the extent and in the precise way we have causal reasoning establishing it.

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  17. @Brandon, you use an ambiguity in the word “suffering” to try to avoid the conclusion that suffering accumulates and becomes greater as its duration increases. The word “suffering” can refer to an undesirable state of consciousness in the moment, but it can also refer to the cumulative effect of an undesirable state of consciousness that persists for a period of time. Both uses follow legitimate linguistic conventions in English. Where useful, I’ve differentiated these two senses of “suffering” in this comment by referring to the first kind of suffering as “suffering in the moment” and the second kind of suffering as “suffering overall”.

    You say “omnibenevolent” is a “made up word” that “means nothing definite”, so instead of using that “made up” word, I’ll use another made up word - “good”.

    If you believe that God is good, then it should not be hard for you to reason that an all powerful God who is good would not perpetrate eternal punishment or permit the never ending suffering of conscious beings. Even Hitler, Stalin, Timur - pick your villain - caused suffering that came to an end, unlike your misimagined God who doesn’t know when enough is enough.

    You and others like @MrGreen and @Greg attempt to dodge the unpleasant implications of Hell as it is traditionally understood by scholastic philosophers and by @EdwardFeser. @MrGreen imagines an ingenious form of Hell that avoids the infinite depravity of traditional notions of Hell because suffering accumulates along a convergent series that never exceeds the suffering overall of a mild headache experienced for two minutes. (I hope @MrGreen doesn’t mind me populating his thought bubble with a mild headache to give it some substance.) One can imagine someone who just failed to make the grade at judgement day after far more than a centillion supereons in Hell thinking, “Is that the tiniest hint of a headache I feel coming on!?” One wonders why a merciful God wouldn’t think, “What the heck! It’s no big deal. Forget the headache. Come and join the party!”

    I am attacking the idea that Hell is a place of eternal ongoing punishment without compensation; i.e. a Hell in which there is a preponderance of misery over happiness moment to moment that continues to accumulate like 1 + 1 + 1 + ... . If you don’t believe that Hell has perpetual net suffering like this, then you may still hold an untenable belief in Hell, but your Hell is not my target here. If you simply don’t know what Hell is like or whether it exists (a reasonable position), then I am arguing that, if you believe that God is good, then you can confidently dismiss the particular Hell I am critiquing. You can avoid my critique if you believe in annihilation, purgatory, an empty Hell, universal redemption, no afterlife, or some other conception of Hell that does not involve never ending cumulative suffering in the moment as I’ve just described.

    One problem with the perpetual suffering I’ve described above is that it is disproportionate as punishment for sins that cause suffering that comes to an end. The fact that there will be no "point at which the damned will have suffered for infinite duration" does not avoid this problem because the suffering will never end, and so its duration is infinite. This is infinite punishment. The suffering of each and every one of the damned, which never ends and so accumulates forever, surpasses all the suffering ever experienced in this universe, which does end and eventually ceases to accumulate.

    (Continued below …)

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  18. (... Continued from above.)

    @Brandon, you suggest that “degrees are intensive measures” and that “extensive measures do not simply of themselves affect intensive measures because they are not the same kind of thing in the first place.” This doesn’t solve your problem. Someone who experienced a short five second electric shock that is extremely painful on Monday and a still painful but milder electric shock that lasted all of Tuesday experiences pain of different intensities and different durations each day. That doesn’t stop her making the perfectly intelligible statement, “I suffered much more on Tuesday.” This is not analogous to her saying that “days with high temperature are hotter if there are more of them, or that a car moving slowly for a day is faster than a car moving quickly for an hour.” She is saying that her suffering on Tuesday was worse than her suffering on Monday.

    You suggest that we can’t compare the different kinds of experience suffering involves because such they “do not even have the same units of measurement.” You ask “how are you directly comparing them?” Just as we don’t need precise measurements to know that suffering increases incrementally as its duration increases, and that mild suffering over a long period of time can result in greater overall suffering than intense suffering over a shorter period of time, we do not need to precisely quantify the differences in degree of suffering across the different forms it can take. The loss of a much loved wife and the pain of a bruised thumb may be very different in nature, but that doesn’t prevent us from understanding that one involves substantially more suffering than the other.

    “Suffering”, understood as “the state of undergoing pain, distress, or hardship”, takes many forms and ranges from mild to intense and long to short. It is worse when it is intense, and it is worse when it is long. To deny that duration is a fundamental consideration in the extent of suffering is to deny the obvious and involves confusing suffering in the moment with suffering overall.

    “We know nothing about what God, whatever His attributes, would permit or not except to the extent and in the precise way we have causal reasoning establishing it.”

    From the words I’ve just quoted, it seems that you don’t claim to know God’s attributes, but I’ve taken the liberty of assuming that you believe goodness is one of them. You’ve acknowledged that you don’t know about the experience of the damned. Maybe Hell is not such a bad place after all. It’s wise of you not to lead with your chin and start telling us what Hell is like for the damned. Maybe it’s a never ending party. Maybe it’s not. Maybe it doesn’t exist. God knows.

    But I’m not attacking the vague notions of Hell that you’ve hinted at in your replies to me because there’s no point in attacking something that’s so poorly defined. Instead, I am attacking the traditional notion of Hell as a place where perpetual suffering is not mitigated by compensatory happiness. Our lives in this world involve a mix of suffering and happiness, but most people find that their lives are worth living - that there is more good than bad in them. The damned can put up with never ending pinpricks if they are sufficiently distracted by their enjoyment of the party going on around them. But if it’s perpetual pinpricks and nothing else, then @DianelosGeorgoudis is right. It’s an unimaginable horror. It’s worse still if it’s the kind of Hell outlined by @AlexanderGieg above - a Hell that, unfortunately, many Christians believe in.

    To permit conscious beings to exist in a perpetual state of suffering in the moment and to have a clear headed understanding of what this entails, and then to worship the misimagined perpetrator of such evil, is unforgivable. The scholastics weren’t clear headed about this, perhaps because they lived at a time when people could be burned alive for expressing doctrinal differences that today are debated in seminaries and theology departments with not even a punch being thrown.

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  19. I first deal with your jibberishy second half, and then return to the very poor leavings all this verbal diarrhea has left dealing with the actual question at hand.

    As to the rest of your jibberishy argument, since you are apparently following the structure of even the elementary argument so far, I will break it down and spoonfeed it to you so that you will stop making a fool of yourself:

    (1) We are not talking about my doctrine of hell. You only just even asked about it and, absurdly, your argument attempted to pre-establish my view of hell. My views of hell are not at all relevant to the question at hand, but even if they were, they would not be based on questions of experience, because questions about punishment are not reducible to questions about experience, as anyone who has actually studied the moral theory of punishment knows.
    (2) Nobody else's doctrine of hell is relevant to the current point in dispute, either, but I already pointed out explicitly that a traditional -- the traditional, in fact, at least in much of the West for most of the last eight hundred years -- account of hell does not regard suffering as essential to hell. That you are ignorant of the topic was already signaled by your failure to grasp that poena sensus meant any kind of penalty associated with the lower faculties, not merely sensible pain. If you cannot be bothered to study the topic you are spouting off about, you have nothing of value to say about it.
    (3) What is the actual point of dispute? Your argument, which was based on a direct conclusion about suffering from questions of duration, and this, precisely, has been what has been criticized. When pressed about the underlying rational account, however, you kept changing your argument -- first relying on the infinite/finite distinction , then on comparative size of finites but without providing a rational principle of comparison, then on ceteris paribus principles. As I've already noted, all of these are different arguments entirely -- and you still have not argued any of what such arguments actually require in order to be supported, despite the fact that their lack of support has repeatedly been pointed out to you.
    (3) I've repeatedly pointed out that you cannot conflate measures of duration and severity, and you have repeatedly tried to handwave this away. Nor is this a minor issue. As I have already pointed out (apparently you need to be told things multiple times), the mistake you are making here is not even usually made by utilitarians, who would be the standard philosophical position making arguments most similar to yours. It's not as if it's a surprising thing, either; utilitarians have been carefully formulating their claims to avoid the problem, or to provide solutions to it, since at least Sidgwick's Methods of Ethics.
    (4) The question of divine attributes is utterly irrelevant to any of the questions that have actually been in dispute here, which have been, specifically and explicitly, your specific claims about how duration affects evaluation of suffering. However, even if you were too stupid to grasp this from the structure of the argument, the claim, "We know nothing about what God, whatever His attributes, would permit or not except to the extent and in the precise way we have causal reasoning establishing it" quite clearly and explicitly points out that divine attributes are irrelevant to the question.

    If you are unable to stick to the point like an intelligent person capable of figuring out what an argument logically requires, you should not pretend to have anything of value to contribute to this question; your rambling stupidities are irrelevant here.

    Now, on to the actual question in dispute, and I trust you will stop wasting my time and actually deal with it rather than spouting off your theological opinions on everything in the vicinity.

    to be continued

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  20. The word “suffering” can refer to an undesirable state of consciousness in the moment, but it can also refer to the cumulative effect of an undesirable state of consciousness that persists for a period of time.

    A cumulative effect by definition requires a principle of accumulation. Anyone who actually works with cumulative effects knows that the relation between the accumulation and duration simply depends on what we are talking about; if you wish to argue for a cumulative effect, you must establish (which, needless to say, you have lazily not bothered to establish) that suffering accumulates in the way you are suggesting through the entire period being discussed.

    In fact, we know that suffering does not accumulate in any straightforward way; people get used to pains; we top out and grow numb; accumulation is limited by memory which fades; and any number of other things depending on the exact situation.

    The loss of a much loved wife and the pain of a bruised thumb may be very different in nature, but that doesn’t prevent us from understanding that one involves substantially more suffering than the other.

    But your claim is that the pain of a bruised thumb, if it lasts long enough, will outweigh the pain from the loss of a much loved wife, which obviously much be established, not assumed.

    omeone who experienced a short five second electric shock that is extremely painful on Monday and a still painful but milder electric shock that lasted all of Tuesday experiences pain of different intensities and different durations each day. That doesn’t stop her making the perfectly intelligible statement, “I suffered much more on Tuesday.”

    This has been dealt with explicitly before; 'suffering more' can mean 'suffering more intensely' (the usual meaning) or 'suffering for longer'. Conflating the two is illegitimate. Likewise, with your later comment, 'suffering worse' is an ambiguous term that can mean either 'having worse suffering' or 'having more suffering'; the two are distinguishable and conflating them is an equivocation.

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  21. @Brandon, here is my response to your numbered points:

    (1) We had already established that you didn’t want to make yourself a target and express your own views about Hell. But I’m not tackling your indeterminate opinions about Hell. I’m targeting the traditional notion of Hell as a place of eternal torment.

    (2) You are mistaken yet again. There is a long tradition of understanding Hell as a place of terrible never-ending suffering involving real fire. Most theologians took Biblical references to fire as literal, though today these references are mostly understood as metaphorical. It is disingenuous of you to deny this. The Catholic Encyclopedia (1907-1912) expresses the conventional Catholic view of the first part of the 20th century. It reads as follows: “The poena sensus, or pain of sense, consists in the torment of fire so frequently mentioned in the Holy Bible. According to the greater number of theologians the term fire denotes a material fire, and so a real fire. We hold to this teaching as absolutely true and correct.”

    (3)a There are multiple points of dispute. You’ll spot them if you re-read the thread.

    (3)b It is unreasonable to deny (a) that the amount of suffering increases as its duration increases, and (b) that less intense suffering can result in greater suffering overall if the differential in duration is sufficient. My example of the victim of electric shocks on Monday and Tuesday illustrates this.

    (4) The question of divine attributes is central to this debate. If God was evil, then belief in Hell as eternal torment would make sense, but since God is good, it makes no sense.

    BTW, you have Sidgwick backwards. In The Methods of Ethics, he repeatedly makes the same point I’ve been repeatedly making in this thread. Here is the first example on page 124 of the 1907 edition. “... the intensity of a pleasure (or pain) can be balanced by Duration: for if we conceive of one pleasure, finite in duration, to be intensively greater than another in some definite ratio, it seems to be implied in this conception that the latter if continuously increased in extent - without change in its intensity - would at a certain point just balance the former in amount.”

    (Comment continued below.)

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  22. (Comment continued from above.)

    ”A cumulative effect by definition requires a principle of accumulation.”

    I’ve already illustrated multiple times with examples why overall suffering increases as duration increases. (This is a point on which I agree with Sidgwick, the most thorough of the 19th century utilitarians.) It’s the fact that suffering accumulates that explains why the person experiencing a severe but short electric shock on Monday says she suffers more when she receives a less severe but longer electric shock on Tuesday. It is precisely the cumulative effect of her prolonged pain that leads her to that assessment. Her claim would not make sense without it. The fact that punishment accumulates is also one of the reasons why criminals are more likely to receive longer sentences for murder and shorter sentences for theft. In an earlier reply you argued that longer sentences are not necessarily harsher sentences, but that is not the point. The point is that longer sentences usually are harsher sentences precisely because they are longer. Judges deliver longer sentences to those guilty of more serious crimes because such sentences act as a greater deterrent to the offender and to other potential offenders within society.

    “... we know that suffering does not accumulate in any straightforward way; people get used to pains; we top out and grow numb; accumulation is limited by memory which fades; and any number of other things depending on the exact situation.”

    Someone who is tortured tomorrow not knowing that they were tortured yesterday still suffers twice as much as someone who is tortured today but was not tortured yesterday. Regardless of whether the damned become increasingly numbed, increasingly forgetful or increasingly disturbed, it is the never ending duration of the punishment of Hell that makes it disproportionate to any suffering their sins caused in this life.

    Conflating the two is illegitimate.

    I’m not the one who is conflating. As I explained in my previous comment, you use one sense of the word “suffering” to try to avoid the conclusion that the amount of suffering increases as its duration increases. As Sidgwick points out, suffering involves both intensity and duration. You want to deny the importance of duration, perhaps because the thought of never ending punishment disturbs you. That would be to your credit. Thinking carefully about it should disturb you.

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  23. (1) ’m targeting the traditional notion of Hell as a place of eternal torment.

    What you are targeting is, again, irrelevant to the point of the dispute, which is on suffering.

    (2) No, it is you who are mistaken, and showing your ignorance again. The Catholic Encyclopedia article is in that context explicitly considering poena sensus -- not all the damned have poena sensus on the traditional conception -- and it says what I explicitly said before about poena sensus, that it refers to the punishment described as 'fire'. The materiality of fire is irrelevant here; the fire is not fire in our sense, nor can it burn as we would think of it because the damned are incorruptible, nor can one automatically assume that it feels like being burned. If you are going to talk on a subject, at least do everyone the courtesy of doing intelligent and proper research rather than this dimwitted quick-search-the-internet-and-misread-passages junk.

    (3) There are multiple points of dispute.

    No, there are not. There is one point of dispute, the role of duration in your argument, and everything I have said, beyond answering the questions which you insisted I answer before you actually addressed the problem I raised (which you still haven't addressed), has been on that subject. In other point of dispute is a fiction in your head.

    (4) It is unreasonable to deny (a) that the amount of suffering increases as its duration increases, and (b) that less intense suffering can result in greater suffering overall if the differential in duration is sufficient. My example of the victim of electric shocks on Monday and Tuesday illustrates this.

    It is unreasonable to hold (a) and (b), both of which are blatant nonsense. I have already addressed your electric shocks example, which is based on a commensuration of duration and intensity you have not justified. If your best argument is one that has already been shown to require equivocation, you don't have much.

    BTW, you have Sidgwick backwards. In The Methods of Ethics, he repeatedly makes the same point I’ve been repeatedly making in this thread.

    I didn't give an interpretation of Sidgwick, although this misreading I'll give you, due to concision of the comment. I said utilitarians have been formulating their positions with care to avoid the worry or solve it since Sidgwick. This is a matter of regular concern; your pretense that you can handwave it away is absurd, and, again, even most utilitarians do not make the stupid mistake you've been making.

    to be continued

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  24. I’ve already illustrated multiple times with examples why overall suffering increases as duration increases.

    No, you have not. You keep giving arguments that assume it without justifying the principle in question.

    It’s the fact that suffering accumulates that explains why the person experiencing a severe but short electric shock on Monday says she suffers more when she receives a less severe but longer electric shock on Tuesday.

    No, it's because it was longer. This is not rocket science. The sufferer in question doesn't have to calculate a cumulative effect, which is an extremely difficult thing to do if you don't have a rate of accumulation; she's just saying that it was longer, which it was.

    Someone who is tortured tomorrow not knowing that they were tortured yesterday still suffers twice as much as someone who is tortured today but was not tortured yesterday.

    If by 'twice as much' you mean 'as measured by days', yes, as I have already said multiple times before. But (1) this is not a cumulative effect, which you were just scolding me for equivocating about; and (2) there is no commensuration between days and degrees of suffering; and (3) there is no way to tell, without further information and a principle of aggregation, how much suffering there is that makes use of both intensity and duration (much less across different people, as your actual argument requires).

    As Sidgwick points out, suffering involves both intensity and duration.

    This is not in dispute. I have said it many, many times. Involving both does not mean that both are commensurable. Your argument requires commensurability.

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  25. “What you are targeting is, again, irrelevant …” @Brandon

    If I wasn’t targeting the traditional notion of Hell as never ending punishment, then I wouldn’t bother engaging in this thread. But it is a repulsive notion, so here I am, explaining that to people.

    “... not all the damned have poena sensus on the traditional conception ...”

    I quoted the Catholic Encyclopedia because you wrote, “I already pointed out explicitly that a traditional -- the traditional, in fact, at least in much of the West for most of the last eight hundred years -- account of hell does not regard suffering as essential to hell.” If suffering isn’t “essential to hell”, then what is it? A well documented feature?

    Here is the Catholic Encyclopedia on the pain of loss, written well within “the last eight hundred years”:

    ”... a most intense positive pain. … causes the reprobate immeasurable anguish. ... and depresses them beyond measure. The desire for happiness inherent in their very nature, wholly unsatisfied and no longer able to find any compensation for the loss of God in delusive pleasure, renders them utterly miserable.”

    Do you think anyone of the damned suffering like this for eternity would have had time in their short lives to inflict anything remotely approaching comparable suffering on others? If God is just and merciful, then one would think that the suffering He inflicts or permits inflicted on the damned would not exceed the suffering the sins of the damned caused by many orders of magnitude. If the suffering God inflicts is proportional to the sins committed, then the intensity of the suffering moment to moment must approach imperceptibility given the infinite length of time over which such suffering must be spread.

    (Continued below.)

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  26. (Continued from above.)

    You are keen to avoid the logical consequences that flow from intuitively plausible assumptions I’ve based my argument on in this thread. By reversing my claims, which you deny, we can see the positive claims you are yet to make a serious attempt to substantiate.

    Here are the peculiar claims for which you bear a burden of proof.
    (a) The amount of suffering does not increase as its duration increases.
    (b) Less intense suffering does not result in greater suffering overall even if it is experienced for a much greater period of time than more intense suffering.
    (c) Different kinds of suffering cannot be compared and measured against one another.
    (d) Suffering is not multiplied as people, each experiencing a similar amount of suffering, are multiplied. (I assume this because you wrote that “we don't add the sentence of one person with twenty years and the sentence of another person with twenty years and say the punishment is twice as severe." If you deny that you hold (d), then that’s good news to me.)

    None of these claims make any sense for the reasons I’ve outlined immediately below, so you’ll need to provide some good arguments in support if you are going to make them seem plausible.

    (a) is mistaken because, even if suffering does not increase uniformly in a neat 1+1+1 series, it still increases the longer it goes on. If you slap someone’s face twice you inflict twice as much pain as if you slap them once. Each slap will have roughly the same intensity, but the distress increases when the second slap arrives. People prefer to be slapped once than twice.

    (b) is mistaken because people prefer intense pain for a short period over less intense pain for a very much longer period. Suffering caused by less intense pain increases as its duration increases and eventually it can reach a point where it balances (or surpasses) more intense suffering experienced over a shorter period of time. This is the point Sidgwick made in the quote I gave you above.

    (c) is mistaken because people often judge one form of suffering worse than another despite it being very different in nature. If I suffer a first degree burn on my finger from touching a stove hotplate it will cause me suffering. If a neighbor kills my dog Oscar by running him over in her car it will cause me suffering. The nature of the suffering is different, but I can still compare it. I know that the loss of Oscar will cause me much more suffering than a burn on my finger. But if I had to choose between losing Oscar and my neighbor inflicting first degree burns on my fingers daily for the next ten years, assuming, of course, that I was powerless to stop her, then I’m sorry Oscar. I hope you are run over quickly and don’t suffer too much pain. As you should be able to see, it is not only possible to compare the suffering involved in very different types of experience, but duration can also change our assessment of the degree of suffering involved.

    (d) is mistaken because whether one person is slapped in the face twice or two people are slapped in the face once, the same amount of suffering occurs. It is a perfectly conventional use of English to say that there was more suffering caused by the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 than by the Solomon Islands tsunami of 2007.

    Can you at least begin to satisfy your burden of proof and establish points (a) to (d) as defensible? They are reverse images of the claims I have made that you have denied. I’ve provided arguments in support of each one of my claims. Can you produce some arguments of your own and not do what you have done through most of this thread and offer mere contradiction?

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  27. If I wasn’t targeting the traditional notion of Hell as never ending punishment, then I wouldn’t bother engaging in this thread. But it is a repulsive notion, so here I am, explaining that to people.

    Both what you are targeting and your motivations are, again, irrelevant. The question at hand are your claims about suffering.

    If suffering isn’t “essential to hell”, then what is it? A well documented feature?

    Something can be occasionally attributed to a thing without being essential to it; if you are not able to grasp such an elementary logical point, it does not bode well for this discussion. I've already pointed out, explicitly, the traditional doctrine that has this effect; if you are too stupid to focus on that and its implications for your assumptions about hell, then that is your problem. One would think, commenting on a Thomistic blog, that you would have bothered at least to look at Thomas Aquinas's account, in which case you might have discovered that Aquinas is famous for thinking that in hell some people can have full natural happiness, but again your research skills are apparently less than stellar.

    You are keen to avoid the logical consequences that flow from intuitively plausible assumptions I’ve based my argument on in this thread.

    I have already pointed out that the 'intuitive plausibility' of them as your argument requires them relies on an equivocation about different ways in which we can measure suffering; that you have established no means of commensuration that would actually allow you to draw conclusions about overall suffering directly from duration; and that this is a stupid error that intelligent people, like utilitarians who actually know how to make this general sort of argument, consistently avoid.

    Thus it is genuinely hilariously funny that you want to raise burden of proof, the standard stalling tactic of those who have no actual argument. (1) This is not a court of law; burdens of proof have to be established relative to the conditions of the discussion -- in this case, your failure to provide proof of your essential claims -- not simply imposed by John G Thomas's fiat. (2) You have consistently refused to fulfill any burden of proof at all; you have not given any argument for commensuration -- even your equivocation-based examples have assumed, not established it, as I have explicitly pointed out, and you repeatedly have tried to handwave this point by vague appeals to intuitive plausibility that do not actually address the issue or the arguments I have already made. Thus you would have no standing to raise burden of proof at all even if this were a court of law.

    Your response to (a), by the way, assumes commensuration, which is the point in dispute; your response to (b) assumes commensuration, which is the point in dispute; your response to (c) assumes falsely that I think different kinds of suffering can't be compared, which is very definitely wrong -- I have explicitly pointed out that different kinds of suffering can be compared by multiple measures but these seem to be noncommensurable because the measures literally use different units of different kinds, and you have not established, as your argument logically requires, that this is false; and your response to (d) assumes commensuration, which is the point in dispute. If you are incapable of mustering the basic logical acumen of addressing the actual point in dispute, shut up about burden of proof and admit that you have no argument at all for your central claims but have simply been wasting everyone's time with a poorly reasoned argument you were unwilling actually to defend. What is your principle of commensuration, so that you can build your comparison argument?

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  28. “The question at hand are your claims about suffering.” @Brandon

    The question at hand is the immorality of traditional notions of Hell as never ending suffering.

    “Both what you are targeting and your motivations are, again, irrelevant.”

    This is imposed by Brandon's fiat, is it?

    “Something can be occasionally attributed to a thing without being essential to it …”

    We agree that suffering is “occasionally attributed” to Hell. It is the suffering that I am criticising. You can take it as read that I am not criticising the idea that there are happy people in Hell who experience no suffering.

    “One would think, commenting on a Thomistic blog, that you would have bothered at least to look at Thomas Aquinas's account in which case you might have discovered that Aquinas is famous for thinking that in hell some people can have full natural happiness ...”

    Since I’m not critiquing the idea that Hell has happy residents, let’s take a look at parts of Aquinas’ account of Hell that involve suffering that would make its residents unhappy.

    ”The disposition of hell will be such as to be adapted to the utmost unhappiness of the damned.”

    ”The damned will pass from the most intense heat to the most intense cold without this giving them any respite …”

    Those examples are enough for our purposes. A clear headed person will see the problem. Belief in a good God is incompatible with belief in a God who perpetrates such never ending cruelty.

    I expect that you are intelligent enough to experience some cognitive dissonance as you persist with the muddle headed rationalisation that suffering does not accumulate. You want to believe that, when people say that suffering accumulates, they are making a mistake analogous to saying that speed accumulates or that temperature accumulates. But speed and temperature involve the notion of intensity, not the notion of duration. Speed and temperature do not increase with duration. A better analogy for suffering is rainfall that accumulates in puddles on the ground. Heavy rain for two minutes can result in less rainfall than light rain for an hour. The more rain, the larger the puddles. Rainfall, like suffering, involves the notions of intensity and duration. The longer the duration, the more it accumulates.

    In claiming that suffering does not accumulate you are neglecting the role of duration in suffering. You would like to restrict suffering to intensity because then it doesn’t matter how long it goes on for. That would be convenient for someone who wants to justify the shameful notion of eternal torment for his fellow human beings, but it doesn’t work. Punishment is not like temperature. It is like rainfall because both intensity and duration are fundamental to its severity.

    ”I have explicitly pointed out that different kinds of suffering can be compared by multiple measures but these seem to be noncommensurable because the measures literally use different units of different kinds.”

    If you reread my last reply with the example of burning my finger and losing my dog, you’ll see that we don’t need “units of measures” or “units of different kinds” to figure out which among different scenarios involving “different kinds of suffering” is worse. Such judgements are often very easy. The fact that they are sometimes difficult does not establish that there is no truth to the matter.

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  29. The question at hand is the immorality of traditional notions of Hell as never ending suffering.

    No, the question at hand is a specific claim you made in the course of your argument for this, which has to do with the relation of suffering and duration. This is an elementary logical issue: what is being criticized is a particular premise in your argument, and the grounds on which it is being criticized has nothing to do with morality or hell. Thus the latter are irrelevant, and not the question at hand. I mean, seriously, even my freshmen undergraduates can figure out issues of logical structure like this.

    You want to believe that, when people say that suffering accumulates, they are making a mistake analogous to saying that speed accumulates or that temperature accumulates.

    (1) Unless you're a Buddhist, almost nobody says "suffering accumulates", and always when they do, they mean that it intensifies because of an actual causal process of accumulation -- like memory giving extra force to current suffering, or (in the case of Buddhists) karma. You are the only idiot I've ever come across treating it as if it accumulated magically on its own. It's not a mistake to say that an effect of an accumulating process is cumulative; it's a sign of stupidity to think that you get a cumulative effect without an actual cumulative process.

    (2) Suffering is not a physical substance like rain. Rain accumulates because it can neither be created or destroyed, but must continue to exist unless it is transformed into something else, and so adding more. This is not how experiences of any kind work.

    (3) Raining can be intense and endure but the intensity and duration of rainfall are not commensurable. What is commensurable is physical volume of water. In order to talk about how intensity and duration relate to the cumulative effect, they have to be translated, by means of empirically discovered generalizations allowing the translation, into units of volumes of water so that they can be commensurated.

    (to be continued)

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  30. If you reread my last reply with the example of burning my finger and losing my dog, you’ll see that we don’t need “units of measures” or “units of different kinds” to figure out which among different scenarios involving “different kinds of suffering” is worse.

    This is an extraordinarily dimwitted thing to say, because it is literally logically impossible. You cannot measure 'worse', even crudely, approximately, or by estimation without there being a measure of worse; to allow greater or lesser there have to be units, even if only rule-of-thumb units; so suffering being worse requires that there be units of measure in terms of which this can coherently be said. If, as in the scenario in question, we are starting with duration alone as our original kind of measure, our original measure is duration; unless 'suffering being worse' reduces to nothing more than saying it lasts longer, there must be some way of moving from duration-units to worse-suffering-units. If there is not, it is a logical fallacy, and it does not matter if people do it, any more than with any other fallacy.

    The same goes with comparing intensity and duration. Since intensity and duration do not use commensurable units, they must be translated, using relevant methods and additional information, into some kinds of units that are commensurable. If there is no coherent and identifiable principle of commensuration, the move is a logical fallacy, and it is dimwitted nonsense to appeal to intuitive plausibility to justify it, just as it is nonsense to appeal intuitive plausibility in the dimwitted attempt to justify any other fallacious reasoning.

    The claim that has been questioned is your claim that by duration alone the suffering of each damned soul would eventually outweigh all of the suffering of all of the conscious beings in the entire history of the entire universe. (Actually we've had three logically different claims, one based on the infinite/finite distinction, which I pointed out made an error about the infinite; then the comparison between finites; then the comparison between finites involving ceteris paribus principles, which, as I pointed out, require that one actually prove that other things are equal before they can legitimately be used to prove anything. This is the second one, which is the version involving the least logical bungling. But all three involve commensurability issues. Incidentally, the 'each' is the one point at which your stupendous ignorance about the topic of hell, despite your dogmatic claims about it, is relevant: you have already had to qualify it.) This quite clearly requires commensuration between duration and the units of measure by which one would measure the collective suffering of all conscious being throughout the entire history of the entire universe.

    Thus you require a principle of commensuration. What is it? What is your reasoning for it? How does it make your comparison claim work?

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  31. @ Brandon:

    You cannot measure 'worse', even crudely, approximately, or by estimation without there being a measure of worse; to allow greater or lesser there have to be units, even if only rule-of-thumb units

    Not at all. There's a hidden premise in your argument that any discussion of these matters must involve cardinal units. That isn't necessarily the case. One can take a subjective approach and treat a "utility function" as generating an ordinal scale of preferences without any resort or need for a cardinal translation. How the function works internally may be exceedingly difficult to determine, but its "output" given such and such "inputs" can be easily "recorded" and taken at face value.

    John G Thomas is taking that approach when he discusses one burn vs. losing his dog vs. a sequence of burns. One can dig deeper into his answers to the point of determining exactly how many burns are worth the life of his dog given the many different ways the dog could die, and even plot a multiple axis chart based on the table. That table would be completely real insofar as, for John, that's the precise way in which he himself values his finger and his dog.

    Extending this approach one can most definitely identify, in practice, a (dis)utility suffering function 'f' in which f(Hell) > f(x) for any 'x' other than Hell (including x = "all the suffering of all the being in the entire history of the universe"), which incidentally is precisely what the Bible says Hell is, and take this as a premise for any further reasoning without any difficulty whatsoever.

    Therefore, your explicit exigence for a cardinal (dis)utility function as a necessary pre-requisite is something that requires justification itself. Why is it that you think an ordinal (dis)utility function cannot be used?

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  32. One can take a subjective approach and treat a "utility function" as generating an ordinal scale of preferences without any resort or need for a cardinal translation.

    This doesn't affect the matter; subjective preferences are not commensurable with units of duration, either, and therefore one cannot begin with units of duration and draw from them conclusions about subjective preferences without further information. Indeed, moving from objective to subjective just compounds the problem, because we then need a specific subjective measuring process -- subjective measures don't exist independently of particular psychological facts the way units of duration can, and one would need to specify the psychological facts involved and establish that they actually yield the function assumed.

    Units of measurement do not require a cardinal scale; ordinal scale units of measurement are ranks, which simply are different kinds of units. It's thus important to grasp that ordinal measurements are not in this respect fundamentally different from cardinal measurements -- like cardinal measurements, they require common measure. It would be a sign of stupidity, for instance, to move directly from a cardinal unit measurement of some mineral property to the Mohs scale, which is an ordinal measure; the two will not be commensurable, and further information would be required to get from one to the other.

    The basic point is that commensurability is required for measurement, period; you can't get around this by switching kinds of scale -- in fact, it compounds the problem.

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  33. I should add, incidentally, that if we are talking about an ordinal ranking of subjective preferences, it creates another problem that doesn't exist in John G Thomas's assumption that suffering is analogous to rainfall: it becomes a question how you get a measure of suffering for the totality of conscious beings through the totality of the history of the totality of the universe; this is not an entity with identifiable subjective preferences, so one would need principles of aggregation to get a unified measure from an extraordinarily large (and when we are considering all conscious beings, extraordinarily diverse) set of different measures. This is a distinct issue from the previous one, but related; measures you end up with cannot appear out of nowhere, but must come from something, and if you move from some measure to another measure, you have to have some identifiable means of doing so, or you have reasoned fallaciously.

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  34. @ John G Thomas

    Someone who is tortured tomorrow not knowing that they were tortured yesterday still suffers twice as much as someone who is tortured today but was not tortured yesterday.

    Even if you had a principle of accumulation, this cavalier treatment of memory would undermine the purported connection between accumulated suffering and rational preference, since that people would prefer to suffer for two days, with their memory of the first day's suffering erased after the first day, than to suffer for two days continuously.

    And you can contrive cases in which people would prefer the option with far more accumulated suffering, if they won't remember some large chunk of it. Is it obvious that someone would choose two days of continuous suffering over four days of suffering, only one day of which they will remember?

    @ Alexander Gieg

    One can dig deeper into his answers to the point of determining exactly how many burns are worth the life of his dog given the many different ways the dog could die, and even plot a multiple axis chart based on the table.

    As I suggested earlier, one could attempt to commensurate intensities and durations of suffering using the decided preference criterion. It is important to recognize that this does not furnish relative values of 'the accumulated suffering' of losing one's dog and 'the accumulated suffering' of being burned. You can make claims about your tipping point: the number of burns you will endure before you choose to give up on your dog.

    But it doesn't follow that the loss of your dog is 'worth' that many burns, for it doesn't follow that the ratio yielded by this method has any sort of general applicability. One might consult one's preferences to discover that one prefers equally a month of excruciating pain in the hospital and a year of less painful convalescence in the home. It doesn't follow that one would likewise prefer equally two months of excruciating pain in the hospital and two years of less painful convalescence in the home.

    It should also be emphasized, as you recognize, that this is a mere catalogue of an individual's preferences. Every individual will have a different preference function, and none of them will satisfy uncontroversial criteria of rationality like transitivity. As I've noted, it can't be assumed that if someone prefers X for t to Y for t, then he will prefer X for n*t to Y for n*t. So this approach cannot be used to make non-question-begging claims about "the amount of suffering in the universe."

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  35. As I suggested earlier, one could attempt to commensurate intensities and durations of suffering using the decided preference criterion

    The decided preference criterion, though, is not a principle of commensuration; it is one element of what could be one. To apply it in practice, you need to have decided preferences, which requires empirically discovered facts about preferring entites when their preferences are decided. To do an actual comparison requires this information; without this information, there is no commensuration. (But this is not really a disagreement with your comment, just that I would not say your first sentence the same way.)

    Preferences in any case are somewhat tricky if we are talking about hell; hell by definition is a punishment of the unrepentant, so by definition, the unrepentant decidedly prefer punishment to the repentance from their wrongdoing that would end their punishment. This needn't be an insuperable problem, but it does raise tricky questions about how preferences are serving as a measurement of suffering here.

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  36. @Greg

    I agree that remembering our past punishment and knowing our future punishment would make the psychological suffering involved in present punishment worse, but it wouldn't affect the physical pain we felt. The same person would feel the same amount of physical pain all the way along. Everyone experiencing never ending suffering would prefer to forget their past suffering and knowledge of their future suffering if they were given the choice in advance. (Memory also raises interesting questions about personal identity, but that would take us further off track.)

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  37. “... the unrepentant decidedly prefer punishment to the repentance from their wrongdoing that would end their punishment.” @Brandon

    So you do know something about Hell after all! And not even having been there!

    I find it puzzling why people would prefer to remain in a place Aquinas says is “adapted” to their “utmost unhappiness”, and why they would wish to continue to “pass from the most intense heat to the most intense cold without this giving them any respite ...” But I bow to your greater expertise on the matter. :P

    Still, I’m curious. How do you know these things? Aquinas’ authority? Divine revelation?

    You’ve given no reasons to doubt the intrinsically plausible assumptions that suffering increases as its duration increases, that less intense suffering over a longer period of time can be worse than more intense suffering over a shorter period of time, and that it is possible to make a reasonable judgement about which is worse among different kinds of suffering. I provided examples for you, but you’ve not provided any counter examples yourself other than your unsubstantiated claim that “suffering mild discomfort for a long time, however long, does not equal the pain of a crucifixion.” Do you have some “principle of aggregation” or some notion of “commensurability” that helped you determine that? You followed up by immediately contradicting yourself, but more in tune with your other comments, stating “they are not even the right kinds of things to be compared”. That suggests that you have a principle of incommensurability hiding somewhere. Why don’t you bring it out and attempt to substantiate it?

    It’s ironic that you fuss about my use of rainfall as an analogy for suffering after you attempted to use speed and temperature. As I explained, speed and temperature are poor analogies for suffering because they do not increase in line with their duration, but rainfall, a better analogy, like suffering, does increase in line with its duration. No analogy is perfect, but rainfall is a much better analogy for suffering than speed or temperature.

    In response to me noting that I know which is worse, burning my finger or losing my pet dog Oscar, you claimed that I “cannot measure “worse”; even crudely, approximately, or by estimation without there being a measure of worse; to allow greater or lesser there have to be units, even if only rule-of-thumb units.”

    When I lose my dog I don’t need to attach units of measurement to my suffering to know that it is worse than burning my finger. My preference tells me which is better and which is worse. I have sufficient measure in my preference for a burnt finger over a dead Oscar, just as I have sufficient measure in my preference for a dead Oscar over ten years of burnt fingers. Economists can gauge people’s preferences in the market with reasonable accuracy by taking account of such things as buying habits relative to product pricing and product availability. But we know ourselves whether we prefer apples to apricots without looking at the numbers. An all-knowing God, unlike economists, would know with perfect precision the nature of people’s preferences. And people often work things out for themselves with never a thought for units of measure. We don’t need to take precise measurements using numerical values to know that a long spell in prison is worse than a short one. We can measure the sentence in months or years, but experience itself, not the numbers, will tell the prisoner most reliably just how much suffering is involved in sentences of different lengths.

    Some things are easily determined, some things are difficult to determine, and God knows the rest. If William Paley is right and “God Almighty wills and wishes the happiness of His creatures”, then He will know precisely our measure of happiness and our measure of suffering. And, being good, He won’t torture anyone forever.

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  38. So you do know something about Hell after all!

    Don't be an idiot child. As was explicitly pointed out, this is how hell is traditionally defined (including Aquinas, so bringing him up simply shows that you again don't know anything about the topic you are jawing incessantly about); and, notably, it doesn't require knowing anything about what it is like to experience it, which only an idiot would base conclusions about the doctrine on, since nobody would know except those who had actually been there. In any case, it's not so particularly surprising a claim; we've just gone through a ridiculous comments thread in which you have tap-danced to amazing lengths just to avoid correcting a basic mistake, no matter how much of a fool you had to be to do it. People will endure a great deal to avoid having to change their ways.

    As for the rest:

    You’ve given no reasons to doubt the intrinsically plausible assumptions...

    (1) They are not "intrinsically plausible"; plausibility is an extrinsic measure depending on context. It is also a notorious unreliable one.
    (2) Your attempts to defend the notion that suffering increases with duration have (a) made the logical error of directly inferring conclusions about one measure from a claim about a measure not commensurable with it; (b) involved an apparent equivocation on what it is to suffer more that you have not justified; and (c) required the comparison of suffering to a physical substance. None of this is anything but junk.
    (3) As previously noted, intuition does not adequately answer any of the logical criticisms raised against you. Only kooks and snake oil salesman play as fast and loose with commensurability as you do.

    When I lose my dog I don’t need to attach units of measurement to my suffering to know that it is worse than burning my finger.

    Of course you do; otherwise you literally don't know what you are talking about and have no reasons for drawing the conclusion you do. If you cannot answer the question "Worse in what way?", which at least establishes the measurement dimensions, then your claim that it is worse means nothing: it's just a statement with nothing to justify it and nothing substantially to analyze it into. If you cannot specify, at least roughly, how it is worse, so as to establish at least roughly the kind of units of measurement, you cannot compare it with anything else. This is all extremely elementary.

    In any case, it's become quite clear that you have no actual argument of any note to back up your claim and that you are indeed committing the logical fallacies previously noted.

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  39. @Greg

    Sorry for responding so late; I was sidetracked and only now did I think about your latest criticism to my anti-hell argument. You write:

    ”You misunderstand the point of the example. I'm not claiming that these statistics are true. I'm showing why the inference from (8) and (9) to (10) is invalid.”

    Yes you are right. The hypothetical statistical model you suggest proves that that inference is invalid. Interesting. I learned that when using probabilities in one's propositional logic one should be more careful and use explicit numbers or at least explicit inequalities.

    In any case I feel quite confident I can fix this problem, and I might also strengthen (2). I will try when I have a little more time. Thanks very much for your feedback. If you'd like to send me a note to my email dianelos@gmail.com I could contact you directly with my improved version.

    We disagree on many things, but I am sure we agree that God is truth, and thus that whoever serves theological truth also serves God.

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  40. @ John G Thomas

    ”Still, I’m curious. How do you know these things? Aquinas’ authority? Divine revelation?”

    This question is not addressed to me, but I'd like to offer what I believe is the charitable answer.

    Theology is hard. Thus it is certainly a reasonable to trust in 2.000 years of Christian tradition being right, especially given the huge body of intellectual work that has gone into it. So many Christians of perfect reasonableness and good will believe in hellism. Even professional philosophers, such as Feser here. A few years back I had the chance to discuss hellism with William Lane Craig and I can testify he very strongly believes in hellism.

    On the other hand there is clearly a tension between hellism and our sense of the divine. Just by looking we see that the greatest being we can conceive would not send a sentient being to never-ending suffering. It is interesting to observe how people deal with this tension. One idea, which I believe forms part of the CC teaching, is that the damned are in hell on their own free will which God respects. (It seems to me that it's one thing to say that by sinning people choose to go to hell and another altogether to say that people who find themselves in hell choose to stay there – but the difference is not always made explicit.) Another idea in the neighborhood is annihilationism (and there is some indirect evidence that this is Pope Francis's personal belief). Another is that the suffering in hell only represents the judgment of the people in heaven, and that in fact people in hell live in the world they chose for themselves and feel quite comfortable in. Another that there is never-ending punishment in hell, but of such a nature that the total sum is not infinite.

    Personally I find that the mere fact that people see the tension and try to find a solution is a healthy sign. So, to answer the question, I think it's not like anybody “knows” the solution. Rather when they find a solution which limits the tension they figure it must be true on this account alone.

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  41. ”it's not so particularly surprising a claim.” @Brandon

    I’d use “ridiculous” in preference to “surprising”.

    “you have tap-danced to amazing lengths just to avoid correcting a basic mistake, no matter how much of a fool you had to be to do it.”

    Unlike you, I have not contradicted myself, and I am not denying assumptions that any reasonable person would accept. You’ve done nothing to establish the plausibility of the counter-intuitive premises you must maintain in order to defend your position.

    “plausibility is an extrinsic measure depending on context. It is also a notorious unreliable one.”

    You keep trying to escape the logical conclusion of my argument by insisting that its premises are disputable. You’ll need to do better than that. I agree that my premises can be disputed, but you can dispute anything. Some philosophers argue about the law of noncontradiction. I hope you don’t try to escape down that route.

    Here are some of my key premises again:
    (1) Suffering increases as its duration increases; i.e. the longer it continues the worse it gets. (There is no logical error here. The severity of punishment depends both on its intensity and its duration.)
    (2) Suffering increases as the number of people experiencing it increases.
    (3) Different kinds of suffering can be compared and judged better or worse. (No numbers needed.)
    (4) Milder suffering experienced for a longer period can exceed intense suffering experienced for a shorter period.

    I’ve provided concrete examples in support to each of these premises, and all you’ve done is gainsay them.

    Given my example of preferring a burnt finger to the death of my pet, it’s clear that we often use our preferences to determine for ourselves which, among very different kinds of suffering, is worse. My immediate subjective preference for my dog to live over burning my finger supports my third premise that different forms of suffering can be compared against each other, and, despite your claim to the contrary, we do not need to put numbers on these relations. Our preferences about what will involve greater or lesser suffering may turn out to be mistaken, but that in itself supports the my premise. There will be a truth to the matter. And the practical difficulties we face in determining these things are not a problem for an all-knowing God. He knows what we will prefer better than we do ourselves.

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  42. ”Personally I find that the mere fact that people see the tension and try to find a solution is a healthy sign. So, to answer the question, I think it's not like anybody “knows” the solution. Rather when they find a solution which limits the tension they figure it must be true on this account alone.” @DianelosGeorgoudis

    Yes, I agree that the tension is a sign that people are troubled by the thought of never ending punishment, and one of the popular rationalisations used is that the damned want to be damned. If people believe that hell isn’t so bad after all because “the damned are in hell on their own free will which God respects” and that the negative judgement of “hell only represents the judgment of the people in heaven, and that in fact people in hell live in the world they chose for themselves and feel quite comfortable in”, then my particular critique in this thread doesn’t apply.

    But if Hell is as Aquinas describes it, then it’s not a place like that. You can cherry pick Aquinas to paint his views in a better light, but taken as a whole, his writing on hell contains views that can only be described as abhorrent.

    Aquinas makes the explicit claim that hell is tailored to maximize the unhappiness of its residence. In this life, even when we feel terribly miserable, it is always possible to imagine ways we could feel even more miserable. But, if we are to take Aquinas at his word, then in the next life God will find those ways to make us more miserable.

    This turns God into a villain of unequaled proportions. Along both dimensions, duration and intensity, the suffering of the damned is worse than all the suffering and sin that has ever or will ever occur throughout the lifespan of this universe.

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  43. Modern Thomists tend to cherry pick Aquinas in an attempt to civilize his conception of Hell. That’s an admirable endeavor, given Aquinas’ horrific words:

    “the unhappiness of the damned surpasses all unhappiness of this world.”

    “The disposition of hell will be such as to be adapted to the utmost unhappiness of the damned.”

    “there will be nothing in the damned but what is a matter and cause of sorrow; nor will anything that can pertain to sorrow be lacking, so that their unhappiness is consummate.”

    “the unhappiness of the wicked after reunion with their bodies will be greater than before, since they will be punished not only in the soul but also in the body.”

    “The damned will pass from the most intense heat to the most intense cold without this giving them any respite:” (Isn’t it extraordinary how much Aquinas thought he knew about hell and the suffering of the damned!)

    And none more infamous than this line:

    “In order that the happiness of the saints may be more delightful to them and that they may render more copious thanks to God for it, they are allowed to see perfectly the sufferings of the damned. . .So that they may be urged the more to praise God. . .The saints in heaven know distinctly all that happens. . .to the damned.”

    But the worst line is where Aquinas says that hell is “adapted to the utmost unhappiness” of the damned. In this life we may experience terrible suffering, but, as I noted above, there is always room for more. It could be more intense or it could last longer. But in hell, if we are to believe Aquinas’, God ensures that the damned experience the “utmost unhappiness” so that their suffering is worse along both the dimensions of duration and intensity than any suffering and sin that will have occurred during the entire lifespan of this universe. There is no justice, let alone mercy, in such infinitely disproportionate cruelty, and so it is nonsense to suggest that a good God would perpetrate such evil.

    Aquinas argues that punishment must be commensurate to the crime. “Since punishment is measured in two ways, namely according to the degree of its severity, and according to its length of time, the measure of punishment corresponds to the measure of fault, as regards the degree of severity, so that the more grievously a person sins the more grievously is he punished:” This implies that the degree of punishment should be commensurate to a given degree of suffering, and that, if God is just, the degree of suffering inflicted on the damned will not vastly exceed the degree of suffering commensurate to the suffering caused by the sins of the damned themselves. But, taking Aquinas at his word, while God may vary the severity of punishment along the dimension of intensity, he will apply uniform duration that ensures the delivery of infinitely disproportionate punishment.

    But what if the damned keep on sinning throughout eternity (a popular rationalization)? It’s hard to imagine why they would given the adaption of their environment to their “utmost unhappiness”. They’d have to be mad, in which case they deserve our sympathy and God’s help, not His condemnation. The least a good God would do would be to put them out of their misery.

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  44. @Dianelos Georgoudis

    You admit that your Orthodox Church, like my Catholic Church, holds to and teaches a hellist position. Here's a question I have for you:

    How does this position square with the Scripture which states that the Church is the "pillar and ground of truth?" The Church, according to this Scripture, can only teach truth, therefore, to oppose the Church is to oppose truth (and be called a heretic for your trouble). In addition, if we question the absolute of the Church teaching the truth, then where is the truth? The search for the truth becomes a Protestant Wild West Show, with everyone claiming that their beliefs are "THE truth."

    How would you respond to this problem?

    Thanks!

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  45. "imagine human faces on which there is written only blind, defiant, miserable rage and hatred forever and ever."

    Yeah, sounds plausible for Hitler or even someone who has made his mission to mock God like these internet atheists....
    But how your neighbor or a family member who you know has never come close to exhibiting any of those attributes in her real life.... Then it doesn't sound so great.

    The problem is we all know the people who drill holes in people's knee caps, rape women or even a detestable girl who never has a kind word for anyone, deserve punishment but the lost, unless there is a hidden prophetic doctrine not yet revealed, are going to be mostly these just average neighbors & family members who were half way, or more, decent people. So it just doesn't track.

    ****The other thing is the deterrent models holds no water because virtually no one who rejects Christ actually believes hell is real and for good reason because then people would be turning to God through coercion.

    Ultimately this is, as with many doctrines and open questions relating to God's plan, a matter of Faith that God does not make mistakes and does what is right even if we cannot comprehend it and I think the mistake many of us thinkers make is not accepting that. Instead we must data mine every passage and idea so we can cover every conceivable aspect of the Lord's counsel. We make this our Christianity. This our works.

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  46. I know I'm late to the party but boy, you just don't have any idea what you're talking about. Seems like your bias has infected your knowledge and reasoning.

    I have first person experience with this, but it would have taken you a few seconds to prove yourself wrong if you actually cared about the truth instead of just lashing out.

    Chronic pain has virtually ZERO and I mean ZERO comparison to short acute pain. It is a suffering that encompasses the entirely of your being, with no relief to heal the mind it's akin to sleep deprivation.

    Not a single patient I have ever encountered would not trade it for acute pain.

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  47. The view of hell, as put forth by Fathers such as St. Isaac the Syrian, is that the pain of hell is the scourging of God's love, leading to remediation of the soul. The eschaton view of the East is bound up in the healing of the sick soul, whereas the view of the West appears to be, since Anselm and Aquinas took Augustine's ideas of a depraved anthropology and ran with them, God seeking only retribution.

    I wonder just how much influence Roman society, with its extreme emphasis on the law had on the development of Western theological thinking. Seeing how it is vastly different from Eastern thought, I would imagine it to be quite a lot.

    I would still like to know how Dr. Feeder or anyone knows for sure that the soul is fixed at death. Private revelation or speculation?

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