“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…
Perhaps spurred on by the release of and subsequent discussion of Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins, there seem to have been from Christian sources a lot of recent expressions of hope that all people will be saved. In case you missed it, one example of such an expression (though one quite independent from the Love Wins brouhaha) that will be of interest to many readers of this blog came from Alvin Plantinga, in this interview. Money quote:
That’s called universalism. And I don’t myself quite believe it, but I don’t disbelieve it either. I think it’s something that a Christian should at least hope for.
As far as what he thinks is true, Plantinga seems here to be leaning toward universalism. At least that’s how I’m inclined to read the above bit, given the “quite” in the “I don’t myself quite believe it,” and the absence of such a “quite” in what comes next. And the rest of what Plantinga says also inclines me to such a understanding. (He discusses universalism at 2:10 – 4:45 of the video.) But the endorsement of hope in the last sentence of the above is equally interesting.
But also in the air these days are reactions against such hope. In a blog post that is itself an enthusiastic endorsement of hope on this matter (but also a denial that more than hope is called for – and the post also seems to me to contain a little lapse in modal logic), Paul Griffiths notes:
Bell has been excoriated, scarified, and cast into the outer darkness by some in the evangelical world for defending such a hope. They are the ones who are quite sure that universalism can’t be true, and that to affirm it is to reject orthodoxy.
As I know from recent facebook discussions, some Christians (as well as interested non-Christians) are dumbfounded that any Christians would reject even hope on this matter. In subsequent posts, I hope (!) to address what might be thought to be wrong with such a hope, answer such worries, and discuss the role of hope in the Christian life a bit.
Here I just want to set up that discussion by making an important preliminary point. In many Christian churches, communities, and institutions, one can get into trouble for being a universalist, and this drives a lot of Christian universalism (and openness to universalism) underground (as I discussed a bit several years ago here). And this may cause suspicion that some of those who express hope, but not belief or acceptance, that all will be saved may really believe or accept universalism, and are expressing mere hope here in order to avoid trouble. And I have little doubt that that’s so in at least some cases. But certainly not in all cases — and I would certainly think, for example, not in the case of Plantinga. Many seem to genuinely hope that all will be saved, while quite genuinely finding the reasons for thinking that hope will be realized to fall short of justifying acceptance of universalism. The hope-without-acceptance position may constitute an effective shelter for underground universalists from the heretic hunters (in some segments of Christianity), but it does so in part because it’s a reasonable position to more genuinely occupy – and a position that many reasonable Christians genuinely do occupy. At any rate, I will be discussing the hope-without-acceptance position as a genuine stance a Christian might take, and not as position to publicly adopt while more privately holding something else.
I’d like to congratulate my wonderful colleague Bob Roberts on becoming the next Plantinga fellow at the Center for Philosophy of Religion at Notre Dame, directed by Mike Rea.
Bob is an excellent choice and we are thrilled for him. Bob does really interesting work on emotions and especially their connection to normativity. I believe he’ll be completing a book project on emotions while there.
I’m especially glad he got it, as I’ll be there as well on a skeptical theism fellowship as part of a really exciting project they are working on with help from the Templeton Foundation.
Consider a valid (given S5) ontological argument, for instance the Plantinga one:
1. Possibly, there is a maximally great being (or: God).
2. Necessarily, if x is a maximally great being (or: God), then x is maximally excellent in all worlds.
3. Therefore, there actually is a being that is maximally excellent in all worlds.
A standard approach to arguing against ontological arguments is to come up with a parody like “necessarily existing chimera” or a “maximally great island”. However, I think that a lot of such parodies achieve little because the parodic concept they operate with (a) seems much less natural than that of a maximally great being (or a positive property, in the Goedelian arguments), and (b) is not in common use.
Both of these points are relevant. The more natural a concept seems, the more likely it is that the concept is of something possible. It is easy to stipulate unnatural impossible concepts. And the more a concept is in common use, the more revisionary it is to claim that the concept is of something impossible. So when it comes to a competition between the possibility of a necessarily existing devil and the possibility of a maximally great being, the latter wins out. I think this point is applicable to all three major forms of the ontological argument: Plantinga, Goedel and Anselm.
Specifically in regard to the Plantinga argument, it is sometimes forgotten that decent ontological arguments do not start with stipulative premises. The Plantinga argument does not stipulate a maximally great being as maximally excellent in all worlds. Rather, it starts with the intuitive, fairly natural and commonly used (e.g., in monotheistic devotion) concept of a maximally great being, and offers a substantive philosophical claim about that concept, namely that anything that falls under that concept has maximal excellence in all worlds. This substantive claim may be justified directly by intuition or by an argument, but it is not stipulative.
This point also shows why it is mistaken to say that the Plantinga argument begs the question in its possibility premise (1), as it is often alleged to. The possibility premise in the Plantinga argument does not by itself justify the conclusion. It justifies the conclusion in conjunction with the substantive philosophical analysis yielding (2). Granted, premise (2) is less controversial than (1), but it is a substantive premise as can be seen from the fact that even some theistic philosophers (e.g., Swinburne) deny it.
Anyway, all of this shows that a good parody of an ontological argument would start with a concept that is natural and in common use and that has the property that its instantiation is incompatible with the existence of God. The best version of a parody argument I know is the argument given of Gale and others that possibly there is a gratuitous evil, and hence there is no God, since if God exists, there is no gratuitous evil in any world. The concept of a gratuitous evil does have a certain naturalness to it. It is a substantive point that gratuitous evils are incompatible with the existence of God–van Inwagen, for instance, denies the point–and hence the argument involves substantive non-logical analysis. But I think this argument still loses out to the ontological argument because the concept of a gratuitous evil is to a lesser extent in common use than the concept of God or a maximally great being. Working theists as Gale notes sometimes do worry that a particular evil might be gratuitous, but I think the compound concept–a gratuitous evil–is not in as common use as the concept of God.
On Plantinga’s *Felix Culpa* theodicy God’s primary intention is to actualize a highly eligible world. A highly eligible world is one in which there exist the towering goods of incarnation and atonement. According to this view, God intentionally instantiates individual essences and intentionally places them in circumstances where they will suffer severely, as a means to actualizing a highly eligible world. The theodical conclusion is that the total amount of suffering, evil and sin in the world is justified by the great good of the incarnation and atonement.
But, as Plantinga admits, there is something peculiar about the idea of God intentionally instantiating just those essences that will go very wrong, and just those essences that will have to endure suffering, in order that God might save them. It is peculiar even under the false assumption that the instantiated essences consent to suffering terribly for the sake of the incarnation and atonement.
Isn’t this a scenario for a cosmic Munchhausen syndrome by proxy? Isn’t it too much like a father throws his child into the river so that he can then heroically rescue them, or a doctor who spreads a horrifying disease so that he can then display enormous virtue in fighting it in enormous disregard of his own safety and fatigue? Could we really think God would behave in this way? How could it be in character for God to riffle through the whole range of possible creatures he could create and the circumstances in which he could create them, to find some who would freely sin, and then create them so that he could display his great love by saving them? How could he be so manipulative?
But the main problem displayed here is not the manipulation of God’s creatures. The main problem is that, on Plantinga’s view, God is intentionally (and unnecessarily) actualizing a bad world for the purpose of redeeming it. Certainly God is not permitted to intend that something intrinsically bad occur as a means of producing something good, even something extremely good.
Suppose God instantiates Smith in circumstances where he intends that Smith throw Jones into the path of a runaway trolley. It is wrong for God to do so even to keep the trolley from hitting five people on the track ahead. It is wrong for God to do so even as a means to actualizing the towering goods of incarnation and atonement. God would be intending to harm someone, or intending to have someone harmed, as a means to realizing a highly eligible world.
The main problem with Plantinga’s *Felix Culpa* theodicy is not God’s manipulation of his creatures. The main problem, as illustrated above, is God’s obvious violation of the *principle of double effect*. In the *Felix Culpa* theodicy God *directly intends* to actualize evil states of affairs– he directly intends to actualize states of affairs in which many suffer terribly. These are *intended as a means* to actualizing a world with the towering goods of incarnation and atonement. The *Felix Culpa* theodicy fails not because it includes God’s violation of Kantian prohibitions against using others as a mere means. The *Felix Culpa* theodicy fails because it includes God’s violation of the doctrine of double effect.
Regarding religious epistemology, I’m much more well-versed in Plantinga’s work than Alston’s. I’m starting to fix this. I just read his 1986 JPhil paper “Perceiving God” (I taught it for my class) and was quite impressed. He was arguing for an epistemic parity between cases of belief based on sense perception and belief based on religious experience, and he takes on about eight objections which argue for a disparity. Alston responds either that the objections either make use of a double standard (e.g., both require epistemic circularity to justify themselves as sources of belief) or do not point out an epistemic disparity. I hope to read the book Perceiving God some day soon.
Here’s the point of this post. I was wondering if readers of this blog knew some of the key works in philosophy that critically respond to Alston’s claims to parity. I’m also interested in knowing what the best critical responses to Alston’s religious epistemology work are in general. I know that for any well known book, there are your little articles here and there, but I’m most interested in the ones that have actually been influential. Thanks!