Hoping All Will Be Saved, Part 2: Complaints about Some Peculiarities of Smith’s Case Against Hope
May 7, 2011 — 15:48

Author: Keith DeRose  Category: Afterlife Hell  Tags: , ,   Comments: 30

In hope, the Church prays for ‘all men to be saved’.” — The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd. ed., entry 1821

As promised in the previous installment, we will now begin to look at the case against hoping that all people will be saved. As I’ve been asked: How can Christians possibly be against even hope on this matter? Well, as it turns out, in a post that has been noticed at, for example, The Gospel Coalition, James K.A. Smith has recently written up a case against this hope, “Can hope be wrong? On the new universalism” – which is quite interesting, given Plantinga’s recent expression of hope (that we looked at last time) and Plantinga’s very deep ties to the Calvin Philosophy, since Smith (or Jamie, as we know him) is a member of the Philosophy department at Calvin College.
Jamie recognizes how counter-intuitive his anti-hope stance will seem to some, writing this about what he calls the “‘at-least-I-hope’ strategy”:

Doesn’t it just name what all of us secretly desire? Indeed, wouldn’t we be quite inhuman if we didn’t hope in this way?

The basic type of explanation for why this hope is wrong given by the best of the no-hopers is that hoping that all will be saved betrays or constitutes an insufficient level of commitment to some view (often a theory of everlasting punishment for the lost, combined with the claim that there will indeed be some who are forever lost) contrary to universalism – and Jamie’s case against hope seems to be of this basic type. I will address this basic case (and also Jamie’s own use of it) in a later post.
Here I’ll clear the way for that by first registering a few complaints about some features of Jamie’s post that go beyond the basic strategy – in I think some unfortunate ways…


Since I’ve now found that the first two complaints I was going to raise have (closely enough) already been raised by Halden Doerge here (and this post also contains some other good points of response to Smith, so, though I don’t agree with all of what Halden writes, I highly recommend it for your consideration), I’ll try to be quick with them.
First, as we’ll see next time, Jamie claims that we need to submit our hopes to “discipline by the authority of Scripture.” And this, as Halden notes:

begs the rather gargantuan question of whether the hope for the salvation of all creation is really so obviously unbiblical.

As Jamie knows perfectly well, biblical cases for universalism have been made by many in recent years (as well as in not-so-recent years), ranging from my little on-line primer all the way to extremely serious studies. Jamie’s response? He’s not going address it. Why? Not enough time or space in the post, wants to focus on something else while referring us to someone else’s response, it’s too big a topic? No, you see, the scriptural cases (presumably all of them, including the best and the most serious [by which I don’t mean my own!]) are so easily refuted (by some means that Jamie doesn’t even motion toward) that he’s going to do those who make them a favor by ignoring them! The level of sheer bluster here seems to me to exceed Dawkins at his best (worst?). I kid you not:

The question , then, is just what compels one to be an evangelical universalist? Some resort to prooftexting, operating with a naive, selective reading of Scripture. I’m going to do the evangelical universalist a favor and ignore such a strategy, only because I think it can be so easily refuted.

“Well,” you might think, “he must here be speaking not of the serious cases that have been made, but only of naïve attempts to ‘prooftext’. He must get to the more serious cases elsewhere.” Well, look at Jamie’s whole post. For him, so much comes down to what hopes are ruled out by the clear teachings of Scripture that he really needs to consider the best cases that have been made, and this really is all he has to say against Scriptural defenses of universalism. It’s hard to know how to be charitable here, but I’m guessing he’s saying that even the best cases are examples of naïve prooftexting that are “so easily refuted” (apparently in some way he doesn’t even need to specify) that you do their proponents a favor by ignoring them. [One seems to be doing Jamie no favor by instead reading him as making a limited claim about the worse cases, while knowing that there are better cases out there.] And he seems not to be against what looks like “prooftexting” in general: toward the end of his post, he imagines wanting to hope that he will remain married to his wife in the life to come, and seems to think such a hope should be extinguished by a lightning-quick (prooftexting?) appeal to Matt. 22:30. So, it seems the real problem here is that the Scriptural case for universalism is “so easily refuted” – in a way he won’t even mention! Now that he’s set the bar so sky-high on how decisive a case we will be expecting to see, it will be interesting to see if Jamie deigns to tell us what refutation(s) he had in mind. C’mon, Jamie. Don’t do us any favors; let us have it. If it is so “easy,” it shouldn’t take up much of your time.
So, what does he do, if not address what, from his own point of view, should be the central issue? That brings us to my second complaint. He focuses on what he takes to be the motivations of his opponents: “No, the motivation for evangelical is not really a close reading of the Bible’s…” Man, I have to stop it right there. Ignore the cases evangelical universalists have actually laid out, because you see their real motivations? Nice. Thanks for that favor. No, I suppose I should give a little bit more (though of course you can click through and read Jamie’s whole piece):

No, the motivation for evangelical universalism is not really a close reading of the Bible’s claim about eternity. Instead, it seems that the macro-motivation for evangelical universalism is less a text and more a hermeneutic, a kind of “sensibility”…

Nice. Some of what Halden says about this is insightful. I’ll just say I hang around (this is on-line hanging around) a bit with some of the other evangelical universalists (as we’re often called) that I imagine Jamie must have in mind here, and I don’t recognize us in Jamie’s sketch. But I suppose people’s motivations are often hidden from them (I really do suspect that!), and are more open to the wise, discerning eyes of their opponents (that part, at least as directed at Jamie here, is sarcasm).
On to a couple more quick complaints. I think Jamie puts more weight than I do on what the Church has traditionally held. (But not to give a false impression: His test for what should discipline our hopes is “the authority of Scripture.”) And that’s cool; we can’t here settle the huge issue of how much weight should be assigned to what. But in defending a tradition-friendly approach he remarks:

I’ll confess to being a kind of theological Burkean: it’s very hard for me to imagine that I am smarter or better than Augustine or John Calvin or Jonathan Edwards. I’m not generally given to whiggish theology.

And it should be quickly noted (in case Jamie is suggesting otherwise: I’m not sure how to read him here) that disagreeing with someone (whether a church father or a renowned theologian from centuries past, or a contemporary) doesn’t mean you’re taking yourself to be “smarter or better” than them. Presumably, Jamie doesn’t think he’s “smarter or better” than all the theologians of the past that disagree with him on this issue (or others).
Out of respect for my universalist forebears, I’d like to clear up a false impression some readers might gather from Jamie’s opening two paragraphs. Since “universalism” is used in importantly different ways, it is important to distinguish the basic types as Jamie does, so that’s good. But I worry that some readers may gather from his opening that the “Christocentric universalism” that I and others hold is a new thing. It isn’t. We like to think it’s at least as old as St. Paul, but less contentious examples appear early in the Church, and in Robin Parry’s words, it “runs like a slender thread through the history of Christian theology.” Slender, yes; new, no. And as a Christian universalist, I have always taken comfort from the fact that, while I am accepting a view that has been a minority position in the church, I am nonetheless joining with some of the Christian theologians that I most respect.
Finally, a terminological point. I’m not sure I’m reading him right on this, but Jamie at places seems to be using “new universalists” in such a way that those who merely hope for the salvation of all in a Christ-centered way, even if they don’t accept that all will be saved, are “universalists.” I think we shouldn’t take the terminology in that direction; it will cause a lot of confusion. Those of us who actually accept that Christ’s act of righteousness will lead to acquittal and life for all people tend to feel an important bond with those who only hope for that, but those mere-hopers will have to do better than that if they want to be full-fledged members of the universalist club!
(For those who don’t have sufficient background in the ways of EvengelcialLand to see it, that last bit is supposed be ironic, since in much of Evangelical Christianity, universalism doesn’t function as some exclusive club that people try hard to qualify for, but rather as something many strive hard not to be associated with.)

Comments:
  • Jon Kvanvig

    I can’t quite afford the initiation fees to be a full-fledged member of the universalist club, but I like this very much. Good point on the “smarter or better” point. The epistemology of disagreement is messy and controversial, but certainly this part is obvious: mere disagreement by itself doesn’t require concluding that the other party isn’t an epistemic peer or superior.
    There’s also the question here of how to think about what a theology is. I’d recommend thinking of it in terms of adopting a theory to account for the relevant data. If one is conservative Protestant about the data, the data might be limited to the scriptural record itself. Even then, though, theories outrun data. I mean, federal headship of Adam, and substitutionary atonement may be the best explanation of the data, but they go beyond it. Same for most any substantive doctrine. So the raw appeal to the authority of Scripture here is ham-fisted metatheology.

    May 7, 2011 — 16:42
  • Jon Kvanvig

    To be clear, I’m not a fan of either the federal headship of Adam view or of the penal substitutionary view of the atonement. My point was, rather, that even if you fully grant the superiority of this theology, it shouldn’t be confused with the data itself.
    This point should make one cautious about thinking there are simple Scriptural refutations of universalism. About the only view I think there might be a simple refutation of is that everyone will suffer forever in eternal torment. But the complexities of good theory construction should find a place in how we talk about this issue, among other issues.

    May 7, 2011 — 16:59
  • patrick

    Hi Keith,
    One thing I’m a bit unclear on concerning this discussion is what exactly the hope is here. Take a view like the one Kvanvig has, where free acceptance of grace is essential to the experience of heaven. And suppose you’re an open theist. Then you might imagine hoping that universalism is true — that everyone, in the end, and as a matter of contingent fact, freely accepts grace and becomes saved. (It’d be better to say that you hope universalism *becomes* true, I think, but set that aside.) On this sort of picture, you can even imagine *God* hoping for universalism: God too will presumably hope that no one becomes a rebel-til-the-end. I think that on a view like this, it plainly makes sense to hope for universalism, and if you have this view, you *should* hope for universalism.
    But another way you might hope universalism is true — a way that seems to be more like what’s at stake here — is something like this. You think that it is strictly up to God whether a person becomes saved, and you hope that God has decided to save everyone. (Or say we’re Molinists. Then you may think that it was strictly up to God whether to arrange the world so that everyone becomes saved, and you could hope that he has done so.) In short, you hope that God is a certain way. This raises problems that the former view doesn’t. For here your hopes about God and your beliefs about God come apart. That is, you hope that God is a certain way when, as far as you believe, he isn’t. You hope God is the sort who has decided to save everyone, but you don’t quite believe that he is. Insofar as you are disappointed when what you hope for doesn’t turn out to be true, you seem to be saying that you’ll be disappointed with God if he turns out to be a certain way, and as far as you believe, he might well be that way. That seems bad. If I would be disappointed if God turned out to be a certain way, I probably shouldn’t believe that he might turn out to be that way. Otherwise, it can seem like I believe that God *may* be disappointing, or the way he’s decided to arrange things or otherwise operate *may* be disappointing, and so forth.
    I don’t know. This is confusing, and I probably don’t have that quite right. I’m not sure where Plantinga is on this either. Is he hoping that *people* do a certain thing, or is he hoping that *God* turns out to be a certain way? There’s a big difference. Note too that the latter thing seems odd for this reason: why would you ever have to *hope* that God turns out to be a certain way? If it is best that he be that way, then he’s that way. To hope that God be a certain way can seem like a failure of trust or some such. But I’m not sure.

    May 7, 2011 — 17:44
  • Keith DeRose

    Jon: We’ll get you a special associate membership. It carries many of the privileges, such as they are, of a regular membership!
    I go into my uncertain attitude toward universalism a bit in this post from about 5 yrs ago (I don’t think much has changed on the relevant matters).

    May 7, 2011 — 22:41
  • Keith DeRose

    Patrick: Yes on certain views, what one is hoping for is that universalism will turn out to be true, rather than that it is true. That’s why the old post I link to in the comment immediately above is entitled “Hoping that Universalism Is / Will Be True.” In this series, I’ve decided to go with “Hoping that All Will Be Saved.” And, yes, issues surrounding the appropriateness of hope do seem to change significantly from one picture to the other.
    It does seem to matter whether one sees one’s hopes aligned with God’s own. I think I’ll be holding out for the appropriateness of hope in cases where one strongly suspects one’s hopes are out of line with God’s will, but it does seem much easier to make the case where there is a good alignment. The bit from the Catholic Catechism that’s quoted at the top of the post has a footnote that refers to 1 Tim. 2:4 (which the Catechism is quoting), which says that *God* “wants all people to be saved,” so the catechism seems to be viewing this as a case of the church’s hopes being in line with what God Himself wants/desires.

    May 7, 2011 — 22:59
  • @patrick,
    ..”why would you ever have to *hope* that God turns out to be a certain way? If it is best that he be that way, then he’s that way. To hope that God be a certain way can seem like a failure of trust or some such.”
    As someone who still believed God existed for several years after being repulsed by what — I was told — God’s moral nature was, I can tell you it can be as simple as hoping God isn’t the way other people say he is because one can’t love or respect such a God, only fear him like a tyrant.
    This is why I find that common argument about universalism weakening the resolve for evangelism quite odd, when I found the traditional view, yes, a motivator for evangelizing, but fatal to my love for God. Which is more dire?
    Looking forward to reading more of DeRose’s series.

    May 8, 2011 — 2:58
  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    Patrick,
    You write: “That is, you hope that God is a certain way when, as far as you believe, he isn’t. You hope God is the sort who has decided to save everyone, but you don’t quite believe that he is. Insofar as you are disappointed when what you hope for doesn’t turn out to be true, you seem to be saying that you’ll be disappointed with God if he turns out to be a certain way, and as far as you believe, he might well be that way. That seems bad.”
    It does seem bad. Now I take it it’s impossible to conceive of God as anything less the perfect, so it’s incoherent to hope that God is in some particular way, or to fear to be disappointed with God if S/He turns out to be a certain way. On the other hand, one may hope that one’s own understanding of God’s perfection is not mistaken if it entails universal salvation, or, conversely, to hope that one’s own understanding of God’s perfection is mistaken if it entails hell.
    I think in most cases though what the hopeful universalist hopes for is related to arguments for hell and/or against universal salvation. Thus, the hopeful universalist may hope that these arguments are mistaken. If these arguments come from scripture, to hope that the respective exegesis is mistaken. If these arguments come from authority, to hope that that authority is not. If these arguments come from the concept of justice, to hope that the concept of justice used is misunderstood. Etc. Or conversely to hope that the arguments for universal salvation and/or against hell are correct. Given the fallibility of our fallen nature I think it is entirely appropriate to have such hopes.
    In conclusion, I think there are many ways one may believe that universal salvation is more probably false than true, but still hope that it is true without in any way distrusting in God or fearing of being disappointed in God. Quite on the contrary, it seems to me that to hope for universal salvation, or indeed to affirm universal salvation, is a sign of trust in God. It is to put one’s hope and faith in the power of God’s love.

    May 8, 2011 — 12:00
  • The Gospel Coalition also just published this article, which “rules out” (read: “dismisses”) universalism in a single paragraph:
    http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/publications/36-1/pastoral-pensees-the-hopelessness-of-the-unevangelized

    May 8, 2011 — 13:40
  • patrick

    Hi Dianelos,
    Thanks for the comment. You write, “On the other hand, one may hope that one’s own understanding of God’s perfection is not mistaken if it entails universal salvation, or, conversely, to hope that one’s own understanding of God’s perfection is mistaken if it entails hell.”
    But why hope that you aren’t mistaken? Because, if you were, then something bad would be the case, viz. not everyone gets saved? But, on this view, if not everyone gets saved, then it *isn’t* bad that not everyone gets saved, but it’s instead good that not everyone gets saved, since God is perfect, and God always gets his way. Similarly, why hope your understanding of God’s perfection is mistaken if it entails hell? Because it would be bad if people were in hell? But, again, it wouldn’t be (all things considered, anyway) if they were.
    Maybe I can put the point like this. It is only appropriate to hope for the truth of proposition such that you think it would be (at least to some degree) bad if it were false. The problem, though, is that on these theological views, it wouldn’t be bad if universalism were false. Rather, it would instead be the case that God has good reasons for not saving everyone, such that it would actually be worse if everyone (perhaps per impossible, if God’s decisions here are necessitated by his nature) were saved. In other words, on this picture, if universalism is true, then it is good that it is, and if it is false, it is good that it is false. You can then wonder how it could be appropriate to hope that is is true. No need to hope: we’ll get the best either way. Hope seems warranted when we believe that the less desirable thing may turn out to be true. But, on this picture, there’s no chance that the less desirable thing turns out to be true. The less desirable thing may turn out to be true only if God doesn’t always get his way. But that’s what these pictures reject.
    Hi Garren,
    This is tricky, but it depends on whether we’re treating ‘God’ as a proper name (e.g. like your own name, ‘Garren’) or as a title term, i.e. (so I say) being the greatest possible person. I’m not quite sure what you were thinking here. If you are treating ‘God’ as a proper name, then it can plainly make sense to hope that some person God turns out to be a certain way, just like you could hope that Bob turns out to be a certain way. You could even hope that God turns out to be God, as it were, where the second usage here is the title term usage. Maybe for those years you didn’t quite believe that the person you were calling God was (in my sense) God. I’m not sure.

    May 8, 2011 — 15:26
  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    Hi Patrick,
    Thank you. I am enjoying our discussion. And learning from it.
    You write: “But why hope that you aren’t mistaken? Because, if you were, then something bad would be the case, viz. not everyone gets saved?”
    No. I don’t think what moves one to hope X is the belief that X is good in some cosmic sense. What moves one to hope X is one’s desire for X. So, for example, suppose your child falls gravely ill. It’s possible that on the cosmic scale of things it is best that your child dies. But this possibility won’t in the least decrease your hope that your child survives. Christ, in the night before the crucifixion, prayed “if possible take this cup from me” thus expressing His hope, and it’s not like Christ was doubting the goodness of God.
    “It is only appropriate to hope for the truth of proposition such that you think it would be (at least to some degree) bad if it were false.”
    I disagree. Christ hoped for the truth of the proposition “I won’t be crucified tomorrow” even though He did not think that it would be bad if that proposition were false. Again, hope is the natural expression of one’s desire. One hopes and can’t avoid hoping for the realization of what one desires. If God desires the salvation of all then God hopes that all will choose salvation.
    “God always gets his way”
    I agree, but I am a universalist. I wonder, don’t you believe that God desires the salvation of all? If you do then if universalism is false then God does not always get what God desires.
    Incidentally, the idea that God does not desire the salvation of all, and that’s why God created a world in which not all will be saved instead of a world where all would be saved – strikes me as crazy.
    “Rather, [on non-universalism] it would instead be the case that God has good reasons for not saving everyone, such that it would actually be worse if everyone (perhaps per impossible, if God’s decisions here are necessitated by his nature) were saved.”
    Right. If universalism is false then there must be good reasons why not all shall be saved. Perhaps the nature of fallen persons is such that at some point their hearts become hardened and it is not anymore possible that they will desire to be with God (that’s the best reason I can imagine). Or, perhaps, if at least some people are not delivered into eternal suffering God’s justice (in some strange sense of “justice” I must say) wont’ be satisfied. Or, perhaps, the eternal suffering of the damned in hell glorifies God (which is a reason I entirely fail to grasp). And perhaps there are other reasons we haven’t thought of.
    Now, I understand your argument is this: Either all shall be saved or not. Whichever the case, given the nature of God, the state of affairs will be as well as can possibly be. So what sense does it make to hope for one or the other scenario? As you write: “No need to hope: we’ll get the best either way.”
    Well, first of all, we won’t get the best either way. Those who will suffer for ever in hell will not get the best, and those whose loved ones will be suffering for ever in hell won’t either. Should I be in heaven, it wouldn’t be the best for me if my worse enemy should meet the destiny of for ever suffering in hell. To the degree that I understand human nature I cannot imagine the most horribly injured human desire never-ending punishment for her enemy. It seems that on non-universalism virtually nobody of us will get the best.
    Secondly, in the context we are discussing this question, what the hopeful universalist hopes for is that there be good reasons for all to be saved, or that there be no good reasons for any do be damned for ever. That was my argument in my last post.
    Thirdly, though, our discussion seems to me to be misdirected, for hope cuts much deeper than the logic we are here debating. Thus, obviously, one hopes that one oneself will be saved, correct? I mean it’s not psychologically possible for somebody to not hope that; to hope for salvation and thus being close to God is part of the way we are created. We hope that our desire for God will be fulfilled. St Paul in First Corinthians names three factors which characterize (or “remain in”) the path of Christ: love (which it the greatest of the three), faith, and hope. According to Schleiermacher hope is the central element of the religious impulse, we are religious because we are hopeful. In any case one does not need either St Paul or Schleiermacher to know how central hope is in one’s longing for God. Now, Christ’s final command is to love each other, including our worse enemies, as ourselves. Thus, we Christians ought to hope for everybody’s salvation with as much intensity as we hope for our own, because this is entailed in Christ’s final command. Indeed, if Christ hanging on the cross prayed for the forgiveness of those who had nailed them to it, then surely we should pray for the salvation of our fellow humans.
    Thus it seems to me there is no question that we should hope of the salvation of all, or, if you prefer, that we should hope for there being no reason to keep God from saving all. What I would like to understand better is why some people should feel bothered by such an obviously pious expression. I hope that Keith’s third installment will help elucidate this question.

    May 9, 2011 — 6:47
  • Some of the Eastern fathers, such as Gregory of Nyssa, were universalists, and some of my friends who are Eastern Orthodox say that it is a “very Orthodox thing” to hope for the salvation of everyone. They also have a different view of the fall, of course. (Thanks to David Bradshaw and Teena Blackburn here.)

    May 9, 2011 — 7:14
  • One can imagine someone with a position like this: “Scripture and Tradition seem to clearly and definitively rule out universalism. I hope that this seeming is mistaken and that everyone is saved.” This kind of attitude is psychologically possible no matter how strong the Scriptural and Traditional arguments against universalism. One might see each step of the proof of Arrow’s Theorem as clearly correct, but still hope that there is an error somewhere and that someone will invent a voting system for three or more candidates that satisfies all the desiderata.
    (I am not endorsing such an attitude, just noting its possibility.)

    May 9, 2011 — 11:01
  • Keith:
    I continue to think that in contexts like 1 Tim. 2:4 (and the Catechism’s quote) one needs to distinguish between:
    1. God desires (and the Church hopes) that: (x)(x is saved)
    2. (x)(God desires (and the Church hopes) that x is saved).
    I think both the English and the Greek is open to both readings.
    From (2), it follows that God desires me to be saved. From (1), this does not follow (at least not without some questionable closure principle) that God desires me to be saved, though he does desire something whose fulfillment would require my being saved.
    I prefer (2) as a reading because it expresses something that is a more important consequence of divine love. Love is primarily focused on each beloved individual, and desires the good particularly for her, rather than desiring the obtaining of some quantified proposition about the beloved individuals, such as that they all obtain a good.
    I think interpretation (2) also fits somewhat better with the context of 1 Tim. 2:1-4, which starts with a call to pray for everyone, specifically including kings and civil authorities, and then backs this up with the remark that God desires all to be saved. I think that remark may be supposed to tell us that God even wants people like Caesar to be saved. But that fits better with the distributive reading (2), since from God’s desiring that all be saved it doesn’t follow that God desires Caesar to be saved.

    May 9, 2011 — 15:46
  • Keith DeRose

    I think it’s very tricky when locutions like “S hopes that all the Fs G” are in order, Alex. Often at least, when your 2-reading is true but your 1-reading is false, those sentences in ordinary English just seem wrong.
    I hope that Ann will take the advanced paper option in my class. She’s in a very large introductory class I’m teaching, where the grading is all done by TAs, with this exception: for their papers, students can take the “advanced paper” option, in which case they write a longer paper on a more advanced topic than the other students, and when a student writes an advanced paper, I grade it. Since this option is very challenging, very few students ever take it. I wish more of them would. Of course, if too many of them took this option, that would be very bad for me, as I’ve committed to grading all the advanced papers that are written, and these papers are quite long, and there would in that case be very many of them. But the chances of all of them taking the option are close to zero, and even the chances that more of them than I would like take the option are too low to worry about. Of course, then, there are circumstances (namely, the extremely unlikely ones where too many of her classmates also take the option) under which I would prefer Ann to not write the advanced paper. But that’s so wrt to almost everything we want/desire/hope for. I hope to eat some ice cream when I get home — but not of course if doing so will cause me to immediately drop dead. It seems true that, yes, I hope that Ann writes the advanced paper.
    But not because of anything special about Ann. I feel exactly the same way about Ben, and Chris, and David…. In fact, for every student in the class, one can truly say that, for example, “I hope that Zena writes the advanced paper.”
    But it just seems wrong, doesn’t it, for me to say “I hope that all the students write the advanced paper”?
    It seems a lot depends on the exact wording. There are of course ways in ordinary English of expressing things like 1 w/o committing to 2.
    There’s the possibility that in some situations, the 1-w/o-2 reading is possible-but-strained.
    Alex, do you know the status of the English version of the catechism? I imagine it’s available in many languages, and I’m wondering whether the English version is itself authorized or whatever, or whether it’s somehow a lower-level-of-officialness translation of the “real deal,” which is in some other language?

    May 10, 2011 — 10:09
  • Wes Morriston

    Alex: I don’t think your reason for preferring interpretation 2 holds up. It’s perfectly possible that God desires that ALL (understood collectively) be saved partly because he desires of EACH that s/he be saved.
    Here’s a quick analogy. A good parent wants ALL (collective “all”) her children to get a good education. But that had better be at least partly because she wants what’s best for EACH of them.
    Bearing this in mind, 1 Tim. 2:4 can easily be read in such a way that it bears both of the meanings you have rightly distinguished.

    May 10, 2011 — 12:43
  • Wes Morriston

    Alex: Here’s another related thought.
    Suppose each person is such that God wants that person to be saved, but that God wants it not to be the case that ALL (understood collectively) persons are saved. Why would that be? Why would God be disappointed if everybody accepted his offer of salvation?
    We could also put the question this way. Why would God want it to be the case that some people or other are damned?

    May 10, 2011 — 12:58
  • Keith DeRose

    Well, you can’t assume that if God does not want something, He must want the opposite. But I’m with Wes in thinking it’s puzzling why God would fail to want ALL-col to be saved if he does want for each person that she be saved. (It’s easier in the case of a person who thinks it’s been revealed to him that there will be damned people and he doesn’t want to be hoping for something he’s been clearly told won’t happen.)
    I suppose there’s this oldie (I think), which will be appealing to some of certain “old school” sensibilities: So that God’s justice (in addition to God’s mercy) can be displayed. For that it might be held (given some view of justice that I apparently don’t subscribe to) that you need some vessel of wrath or other.

    May 10, 2011 — 14:17
  • Keith DeRose

    “But Dad, last night you said you were hoping that all the bushes would be trimmed today. And then this morning you even told me that you were praying for all the bushes to be trimmed today.”
    “Damn it, son! All I meant was that for every bush, I was hoping for it to be trimmed. I never wanted ALL the bushes COLLECTIVELY to be trimmed! I needed some bushes or other to remain untrimmed to show the new owner what they’re like.”
    “Sorry, Dad.”

    May 10, 2011 — 16:06
  • Keith:
    “I’m with Wes in thinking it’s puzzling why God would fail to want ALL-col to be saved if he does want for each person that she be saved.”
    My point did not depend on the problematic idea that God might want it to be the case that some are damned.
    I simply like the idea (which I got from Mark Murphy in a different context) that desires should not be multiplied beyond necessity. I desire that my son arrive at school in the morning and I desire that my daughter arrive school in the morning. There is no need to suppose a third desire that they both arrive at school in order to explain my driving them to school, just as I shouldn’t suppose a desire that a prime number of my children should arrive at school. 🙂
    Here is one scenario on which it wouldn’t be the case that God desires that all be saved, but God would desire for each that she be saved. Suppose, as Thomistic metaphysics suggests, that the only goods are the flourishings of particular substances (I find myself pulled towards this by some considerations and away from it by others). Now, God desires goods and only goods. He does desire for each that that one be saved. But he does not desire that they all be saved, because the state of affairs of them all being saved is not a good since it is not a flourishing of an individual.
    Here’s a crude way of seeing how such a view might work. Suppose that God saves everyone one by one in some sort of order. Each time he saves a person, the value of the world goes up. I am the last one. Finally, God comes to saving me. In saving me, the value of the world goes up. What does it go up by? Two options: (a) it goes up precisely by the value of my being saved; (b) it goes up by the value of my being saved and additionally by the value of no one being unsaved. On the scenario I sketched in the previous paragraph, the right answer is (a).
    That said, I do have the intuition that there would be a special value to its being the case that everyone is saved, a value over and beyond the values of the salvation of the individuals. But even if there is, and even if God desires this special value (and alas does not attain it–just as there are some individuals whose salvation he desires but does not attain), I am not convinced that the text in question says so.
    As for the Catechism and the English, yes the translation is approved, but it has a lower weight than the Latin. I do wonder if you may not be biased by the quotation marks in the Catechism passage which appear to group the “all men to be saved” into a single state of affairs? Take it without quotation marks: In hope, the Church prays for all men to be saved. I think the distributive reading is quite natural. It is like: “Sam knit pairs of mittens for all his grandchildren”–for each, he knit a pair of mittens. We might even add “to be warm.” Now add the quotation marks. They’re not there for grouping–they don’t change the meaning–but they simply show where the words come from.

    May 10, 2011 — 21:55
  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    Scott,
    In Eastern Orthodoxy one finds an idea related to Hell which I think is little known in the West: In turns out that in Eastern Orthodox understanding there is no limit to the power of prayer in Christ’s spirit. So there are stories of saints who by their unceasing prayer have actually pulled somebody out of hell, indeed somebody who in their Earthly life had hurt them.
    If this belief is true then it has an interesting theological implication: God will send those who in the Earthly life failed to follow Christ to never-ending torment in Hell because that is required by justice (in a sense of justice I don’t myself understand). But through prayer the love of the saved will slowly empty Hell of its inhabitants and pull them to heaven, thus realizing God’s wish that everybody be saved. The idea in other words is that those who by their failing to follow Christ deserve and will get damnation after their deaths, will ultimately deserve and get salvation by the value of the prayer of those who did follow Christ. Salvation, on this picture, becomes a communal enterprise.

    May 10, 2011 — 23:35
  • Keith DeRose

    Now I think I understand where you’re at better, Alex. But I see this v differently. When you desire that your son will arrive & you desire that your daughter will arrive, I would think that typically you do desire that they both-col will arrive. I don’t see that as a problematic positing of a new entity in your mind. When we consider complex contents like both of your children arriving, it wd seem to me in the typical case to make more sense to posit a desire wrt it rather than a failure to desire it, which is what to me wd seem to want some special explanation. In this regard, I see desires working somewhat like beliefs (though maybe you’re stingy about those, too): when someone believes that p and they believe that q, typically they’ll believe the conjunction of p and q. If they don’t, I want to know why (and sometimes there is a good explanation for why they would believe each of the conjuncts w/o believing the conjunction).

    May 11, 2011 — 9:41
  • Keith:
    Yes, you’ve hit the nail on the head with regard to our disagreement.
    First, some questions as to clarification:
    1. How far do you want to take this on the belief side? If I believe p and I believe q, do I also believe p and q and p and p and q?
    2. How far do you want to take this on the desire side? If you have sixteen students, and you want each to get an A, there are 65535 non-empty subsets of the set of students. Which of these subsets correspond to a desire on your part that such-and-such students should all get an A? Do you desire that all the short students with more than two vowels in their last name get an A?
    More seriously, I mainly want to avoid worries about desire overlap generating spurious reasons/motives. Suppose I deliver my first kid to school, and then am about to deliver the second. I don’t want to say that now I have two motives to deliver the second–a motive that the second child should arrive, and a motive that both children should arrive?
    I am not up on the desire literature, and I assume there is some other solution to the overlap problem. For instance, I can imagine someone saying there are grounding relations between desires, and when desire that p is grounded in the desires that p1, that p2, …, then the desire that p does not contribute any additional motive beyond those of the grounding desires. But then one needs a story about the grounding relation (I assume this isn’t just metaphysical grounding). It seems neater simply to remove the overlapping desires.

    May 11, 2011 — 10:57
  • Keith DeRose

    “My point did not depend on the problematic idea that God might want it to be the case that some are damned.” OK, but you offer a reading (2) of the likes of “S hopes that all Fs G” that can be satisfied by an S that positively hopes that some Fs or other don’t G. As I said, I do think there are good ways in ordinary English of expressing (2) w/o committing to (1), and *maybe* the wording used in the I Tim passage and in the catechism might do this, but I have my worries about that (esp. given that reading 2 is weak enough to be satisfied by someone who positively desires that some Fs or other don’t G).
    We should posit more complex objects of desire & belief because of what they explain in our behavior, reactions, and dispositions to behave & react in various ways. True, we don’t need to posit a desire that both your children arrive at school to explain your driving: the desire that your son arrive and the desire that daughter arrive are up to the task. And we can explain why the teacher who, unlike me, wanted as many of her students as possible to write the advanced essay is happy when they all do just by appealing to her desire that a do it, her desire that b do it, etc. But attributing to her in addition to that a desire that they all write the advanced essay explains how her state differs from that of someone like me who also desires of each of his students that they write the advanced essay, but does *not* desire that they all do it. Those who believe two propositions typically also believe their conjunction, but not always, and those who believe not only the conjuncts but also the conjunction are disposed to certain behaviors that those who only believe the individual conjuncts are not disposed toward. (They’ll take certain bets that the others won’t, for instance — or will claim in the preface to their book that it contains no mistakes.)

    May 12, 2011 — 0:07
  • “Those who believe two propositions typically also believe their conjunction”
    I don’t see that. I will simplify by supposing that conjunctions are unordered: p&q and q&p express the same proposition. The argument works even if you drop this assumption.
    Plausibly, there are is a finite number of propositions that you believe. Let’s say that number is n. Suppose that for at least half of the unordered pairs of distinct propositions, you also believe their conjunctions. The number of unordered pairs is n(n-1)/2. So, you believe at least n(n-1)/4 propositions that are conjunctions of other propositions you believe. But the number of propositions you believe is n, and not all the propositions you believe can be conjunctions of other propositions you believe. So: n(n-1)/4<n. It turns out that this inequality only holds if if n<5.
    So, if you believe five or more propositions, but only finitely many propositions, then most of the unordered distinct pairs of your beliefs do not have a conjunction you believe. And this is true for all normal adults, since all normal adults believe at least five propositions (Pyrrhonian sceptics aren’t normal). So if “typically” implies “at least half the time”, I don’t see how your claim can be true on the assumption that we have only finitely many beliefs.
    Of course, you might want to say that we have infinitely many beliefs, because we don’t need to store each belief separately, but can compress them using a generative algorithm (say, that if p and q are beliefs, then so is a conjunction of them). I worry that then, our beliefs will end up closed under FOL provability except when there is a defeater of some sort.
    Another problem, and this one applies even if we have infinitely many beliefs, is that probabilities go down as we conjoin, and so once we’ve conjoined a lot of beliefs, we don’t believe the conjunction. Now, suppose we start with a finite base of beliefs, and then extend algorithmically, using the algorithm that we get to conjoin any pair of distinct beliefs unless for some special reason the conjunction is not believed. And suppose that typically no such special reason obtains.
    Now, then, let’s say say we start with n beliefs that are not conjunctively complex. In the next step, we add about n(n-1)/4 new beliefs, if typically the algorithm lets us conjoin pairs. So now we have about n(n-1)/4 + n beliefs, and the vast majority of them are conjunctions assuming n is large (as for most adults it will be). Let n1 = n(n-1)/4 + n. Again, apply the algorithm. We will then add at least n1(n1-1)/4 beliefs, and the vast majority of these are conjunctions of pairs, each member of each pair being a conjunction of a pair of initial beliefs. Repeat. Eventually, the conjunctions will be getting so large that fewer and fewer conjunctions will be believable. And since most beliefs end up being these nasty conjunctive ones, in most cases the rule that we can conjoin beliefs to get a new belief fails.

    May 12, 2011 — 9:03
  • Keith DeRose

    Ah, yes, there is that problem with my “typically” claim! I need restrictions on what the p’s & q’s can be. There are of course all sorts of issues about where to draw the lines around what we believe once we get into cases of beliefs that are in various ways “implicit.” For me, the details are very open to negotiation, and I’ll actually think it a virtue of a final account that it allows for some grey areas (this is based on thoughts about how our concept of belief works — or, often, doesn’t work!), but the basic approach I tend toward (on how to draw these lines, to the extent we should; and this shd also give an indication of the kind of restrictions on the p’s & q’s I’ll tend to go for) is that we should posit beliefs where the subjects have the right sorts of dispositions. And if in the relevant cases I’d have to sit down and do some involved calculations that I might or might not do right, before the relevant belief-revealing behavior wd result, then I don’t now have that belief. But if I can be counted on in the relevant situations to fairly reliably and fairly immediately respond in the belief-revealing way, then (skipping some details), I now do believe the proposition in question. Those “fairly”s provide hope that this kind of account can do well by my “leave grey areas” desideratum.

    May 12, 2011 — 9:49
  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    Alex,
    You write: “So, if you believe five or more propositions, but only finitely many propositions, then most of the unordered distinct pairs of your beliefs do not have a conjunction you believe.”
    This doesn’t seem to be right. Suppose I believe 3 propositions A, B, and C, and also believe all their possible conjunctions, namely in AB, AC, BC, and ABC. Thus the total number of propositions I believe (elementary plus conjunctions) is 7. (The general relationship is that if I believe n propositions and also all their possible conjunctions, then the total number of propositions I believe is 2^n -1.) So it can be the case that one believes in all possible conjunctions of the beliefs one has.
    Perhaps the misunderstanding is found in something you wrote previously: “If I believe p and I believe q, do I also believe p and q and p and p and q?” But belief (p and q and p and p and q) is identical to belief (p and q), so I don’t see the point in the syntactic complication.
    “probabilities go down as we conjoin”
    If I understand correctly how you mean this, that’s only the case if one’s confidence in the truth of one’s beliefs is less than 1. So, for example, if A and B are independent beliefs and I believe both A and B with confidence 0.7 each, then my confidence in their conjunction AB is 0.49, which implies that I believe that AB is more probably false than true. Now, this discussion started with God, and given God’s perfection God can never be wrong in any belief S/He holds, and thus this effect does not apply. If God holds beliefs A1, A2, .. An then God also believes in their conjunction A1*A2*..*An, no matter how large n may be.

    May 12, 2011 — 17:12
  • Dianelos:
    Believing p and q and p and p and q is not the same as believing p and q. Imagine an authority tells me “p and q and p and p and q”. Accept what she says, and believe it, but it’s logically pretty complicated. I have to actually engage in some steps of inference to get to “p and q”.
    That said, you’re right that God can believe all conjunctions of his beliefs, and no doubt does.
    You also made me think that my dwindling probability argument isn’t good as it stands, because it doesn’t take into account that probability might not go down with overlapping conjunctions. The probability of p and q and p is the same as the probability of p and q. (I say “might not” because one might have some uncertainty as to logic, and hence lower probabilities slightly whenever an inference occurs.)

    May 13, 2011 — 10:25
  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    Alex,
    Perhaps our difference is semantic. For me a belief is characterized by its meaning independently of its syntactic representation. Thus for me A=(This ice-cream costs 2.5 Euros), B=(This ice-cream costs 5/2 Euros), and C=(Este helado cuesta 2.5 Euros) represent or refer to the same belief. Thus if a person believes A and another person believes B and another person believes C then all three believe the same thing.
    Now this discussion started with universalism, and I think the perfection of God simplifies matters, since, for example, God is not subject to our shaky kind of desiring or believing. So, I’d like to claim that (1) if God desires the salvation of all human persons (as 1 Timothy 2.3-4 says) then God desires the salvation of each single human person, and vice versa. Further I’d like to claim that (2) if God desires S then S will obtain.

    May 14, 2011 — 17:09
  • Dianelos:
    I agree that belief is independent of syntactic representation.
    “I’d like to claim that (1) if God desires the salvation of all human persons (as 1 Timothy 2.3-4 says) then God desires the salvation of each single human person, and vice versa.”
    I don’t see that at all.
    Here’s a way to see that there is a difference between (a) desiring that all humans be saved and (b) desiring that Socrates be saved, desiring that Hitler be saved, desiring that I be saved, desiring that you be saved, and so on on. Desire (a) would be satisfied in a world where no one exists. It would be weird to say that desire (a) is grounded in God’s love for us, given that desire (a) could be satisfied without our existence. On the other hand, desire (b) cannot be satisfied without you and me existing.
    Observe that the object of (a) can also be put in the following logically equivalent form: that there not exist any unsaved humans.
    That said, the premise that whatever God desires obtains yields universalism whether or not (a) or (b) is God’s desire. However, it cannot be true without further distinction that whatever God desires obtains, since God desires me not to sin and I still do, may he have mercy on my soul.

    May 16, 2011 — 8:42
  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    Alex,
    I agree there is the conceptual difference you mention between (a) and (b), on the other hand this difference becomes irrelevant if we agree that all propositions (including those in scripture) apply to the actual world, unless they expressively say otherwise.
    You write: “God desires me not to sin and I still do”
    Right. Similarly, one could point out that God desires us to be perfect, yet we are not.
    Now my original claim was “If God desires S then S *will* obtain”. We humans are such as to have many individual desires, some greater, some lesser, and some which may conflict. I wonder if it is not perhaps wrong to project that same existential reality to God. I think it is closer to truth to think that God desires one coherent thing, namely the most valuable kind of creation. Perhaps the world that God desires is one where created persons freely arrive to virtuous perfection and atonement by way of a previous sinful imperfection and alienation. If that is so, can one say that God desires sin? No, but one can say that what God most values and thus desires is atonement and self-transcendent love – and this final eternal state entails a previous temporal state of alienation and sinful egoism. Here’s another idea in the same neighborhood: Consider a possible creation in which all people are sinless; in such a creation God’s love for them would be less valuable than God’s love for us, wretched sinners we are. There is not much worth in loving what deserves one’s love, and thus our world where we don’t deserve God’s love, and where it is possible to appear that God does not deserve ours, is a world where a greater kind of love can obtain. What I am saying is that evil and sin, while destructive and debasing by themselves, appear to be necessary for grounding an eternal future of unsurpassable beauty. Which I think nicely explains the apparent imperfections of creation. Felix culpa indeed.
    A final consideration. If it is literally true that in atonement our sins will be washed away, then our sins, from God’s point of view do not have the kind of reality they have from ours. It is difficult to know how God experiences time, but it is safe to think that God is not subject to time the way we are. Thus God’s experience of time must have an eternal dimension, in the sense that in some way the future is experienced by God now. If that future includes universal atonement and the universal “washing away” of sin, then sin from God’s point of view becomes a secondary, in a state of disappearance, kind of existent. One of the things I find most attractive in universalism is that it entails the utter and absolute defeat of evil and of decay, a victory so utter and absolute that it will be as if they had never existed. The story of creation, it seems to me, is the story of a greater perfection being born from imperfection.
    One way or the other and even if I am wrong in all of the above, I cannot conceive of the greatest conceivable being not realizing what it desires.

    May 17, 2011 — 18:52