Wednesday, April 29, 2015

[PHI 3000] What have I done to deserve this?

The argument known as The Problem of Hell purports to show that the traditional conceptions of an omniperfect God (i.e., an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good creator) and damnation (i.e., eternal suffering in hell as retribution for sin) are incompatible. The argument goes roughly like this:
  1. An omniperfect God would damn a person to hell only if there is a sufficient justification for doing so.
  2. There is no sufficient justification for damning a person to hell.
  3. Therefore, an omniperfect God would not damn anyone to hell.
Premise (1) is true in virtue of the divine attributes. A morally perfect God would not allow unjustified suffering. An omniscient God would know whether any suffering is justified or not. And an omnipotent God would be able to prevent unjustified suffering from occurring.

The key premise, then, is premise (2). Here is an argument for premise (2):

Argument I
  1. The punishment must fit the crime.
  2. Damnation is eternal, whereas a life of crime (or sin) is finite.
  3. Therefore, eternal damnation is not a fitting punishment for a finite life of crime (or sin).
In other words, if the punishment should be proportional to the crime committed, then damnation is clearly not a proportional punishment for a life of crime, since the former is eternal (without beginning or end; lasting forever), whereas the latter is not. An infinite quantity cannot be proportional to a finite quantity, which means that infinite suffering in hell cannot be a fitting punishment for a finite life of sin. If this is correct, then there is no sufficient justification for damning someone to hell. In other words, no one deserves to go to hell.




A similar point can be made about heaven. If heaven is supposed to be a deserved reward for a virtuous life, then no one could possibly deserve such a reward.

Argument II
  1. The reward must fit the deed.
  2. Heaven is eternal bliss, whereas a virtuous life is finite.
  3. Therefore, eternal bliss is not a fitting reward for a finite life of virtue. 
In other words, if the reward should be proportional to the deed, then heaven is clearly not a proportional reward for a virtuous life, since the former is eternal, whereas the latter is not. An infinite quantity cannot be proportional to a finite quantity, which means that infinite bliss in heaven cannot be a fitting reward for a finite life of virtue. If this is correct, then no one deserves to go to heaven.

What do you make of Arguments I and II? Are they sound?

16 comments:

  1. Marian Sato
    With the first argument, people want to believe that God is forgiving and wouldn’t send anyone to hell because it is a punishment that lasts eternity. People want to believe that that punishment is too great for any possible crime or sin they’ve committed. Since the punishment must fit the crime, there’s nothing that humans can do that is so horrible that he or she deserves that type of treatment. Looking at it from a different perspective, assuming God exists, he created humans and has a plan for each person. We weren’t asked to be created. Some people also commit crimes and sins and they genuinely don’t know that it is looked down upon because of their mental state. The way they were raised was not their fault and just because they did something so wrong doesn’t mean that it felt wrong to them. Some people just don’t know better. There really isn’t a reason for God to damn any person to hell. He should be a God who forgives sins.
    The second argument is similar to the first. But for humans, it’s easier to believe that heaven is a reachable place that they can get into since it’s a positive thing. Yes, like the hell argument, the punishment must fit the crime and the reward must fit the deed, but then there would be no heaven or hell. People don’t deserve to go to hell as much as they don’t deserve to go to heaven.

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    1. You make an interesting point about Argument I. If those who live a life of sin have no choice in the matter, since they are inevitably led to a life of sin by factors over which they have no control (e.g., genetic and environmental factors), then they cannot be held responsible for their sinful acts. If sinners cannot be held responsible for their sinful acts, then they do not deserve to be punished for such acts (let alone punished for eternity).

      I think your point may apply to Argument II as well. Just as some become sinners through no fault of their own (e.g., because they are born into a life of crime, grow up in poor neighborhoods, etc.), some people become virtuous through no fault of their own. That is, those who live a life of virtue have no choice in the matter, either, since they are inevitably led to such a life by factors (nature and nurture; genes and environment) over which they have no control. If the virtuous are not responsible for their good deeds, just as sinners are not responsible for their bad deeds, then they, too, do not deserve to be rewarded for such acts (let alone rewarded for eternity).

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  2. Kyle Degen
    For the first argument one could claim that committing sins is not what sends one to hell. One could argue that the only way to go to hell is by not believing in God. A big part of religion is forgiveness of sins. So one could commit horrible sins their entire life but as long as they believe in God and ask God to forgive them for their sins they go to heaven. Therefore saying that sinning is what gets one sent to hell is debatable.
    But if one denies God's existence then they have committed the worst crime there is to commit in God's eyes. Therefore God would claim that he is justified to send that person to hell because they did the single thing that he says is not allowed.

    A similar case could be made for the second argument. By simply believing in God (aka believing in something that sounds impossible) one has done all that God has asked them to do therefore their reward of eternal bliss is deserved in God's eyes.

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    1. I am not sure I see the difference between saying that hell is supposed to be punishment for sin and saying that “the only way to go to hell is by not believing in God.” Wouldn’t not believing in God be just another sin, then? (Or perhaps even the only sin.) If so, premise 2 of Argument I would still be true. That is, it would still be the case that hell (i.e., eternal suffering) is supposed to be an infinite punishment for a finite sin (i.e., not believing in God).

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    2. Late to the party! Not sure where I got this idea (Augustine?), but you could say that not believing in God doesn't get you punished, it just keeps you from getting into God's house, er, heaven, or residing in God's presence, or whatever.

      If you take the hints God sends your way, and accept God/believe, you forever have God in your life. And if you ignore the hints, and don't accept God/believe, then you miss out on something great that you could have had.

      So hell isn't a place full torment as such. It's just the knowledge that "I screwed up" in a very unfortunate way. A person isn't being punished, as such. They just didn't walk through the door that God left open for them before the door closed.

      Is this a kind of punishment? The eventual door closing? It reminds me of this old joke:

      A man is on his roof, trying to avoid a rising flood. His neighbor paddles up in a boat: "jump in!"

      "No," the man says, "God will rescue me." The neighbor paddles away and the water continues to rise.

      Another neighbor comes along a bit later in a boat: "jump in!"

      "No," the man says, "God will rescue me." The neighbor paddles away and the water continues to rise.

      A third neighbor paddles up: "jump in!"

      "No," the man says, "God will rescue me." The neighbor paddles away.

      The flood reaches the top of the house and the man dies.

      In heaven, the man confronts God: "I always prayed to you. Why didn't you rescue me?"

      God says, "but I sent three boats!"

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  3. Argument 1 is a valid argument but is unsound. Even though the premises guarantee the conclusion. I believe the premises aren't completely true. I say this because even though it makes sense that a finite life with sin should not lead to eternal damnation, it can be argued based on faith. Every religion has varied beliefs in regards to sins. A specific sin in a specific religion can lead to eternal damnation and in another religion the same sin would not. The same thing applies to Argument 2. Certain deeds can result in eternal rewards while others wouldn't. The only difference between the two is that one discusses transgressions and punishment and other talks about good deeds and reward.

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    1. If you agree that "a finite life of sin should not lead to eternal damnation," then it follows that no one deserves to go to hell. That is, Argument I aims to show that, if there is an omniperfect God, then that God would not punish in ways that are not proportional to the crime. Since an infinite punishment is not a proportional punishment for a finite crime, it follows that hell (i.e., eternal suffering) is not a fitting punishment for a finite crime (e.g., a life of sin). In other words, hell would be a disproportionate punishment, and thus the sort of punishment an omniperfect God would not give to anyone.

      Of course, different religious traditions have different views about heaven and hell. And some people might believe that certain sins merit eternal damnation. If Argument I is sound, however, then such beliefs cannot be true. For the point of Argument I is that the concept of an omniperfect God and the concept of hell are inconsistent. Similarly, the point of Argument II is that the concept of an omniperfect God and the concept of heaven are inconsistent.

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  4. The discord between hell and the presence of God illustrates the issue with hell. While Premise I in the argument describing an omnipotent God is true by definition, Premise II is arguable. Argument I continues to prove the validity of this second premise. However, Argument I contains a discord in that the conclusion does not necessarily follow the premises. By that, I mean that whether eternal damnation is a fitting punishment for a finite life of sin or not is not necessarily within our discretion, as that is a judgment, which according to this argument, is made by God. Argument II also makes the same assumption, whether eternal bliss is fitting for a finite virtue of life or not can be arguable because while we as humans may see it as fitting or not, the view of God may be different, and He is the one that by definition, is all-knowing.
    While I understand the basis of this argument, and I realize that many have an issue with God and the concept of hell because of similar reasoning as that from this argument, personally I view God and hell in a different manner. While this varies from religion to religion, as a Christian, I have always learned that hell isn’t necessarily a punishment for sin in this life, but rather is the lack of accepting God. We believe that God is all loving and loves us with agape, eternal love, but the reason souls are sent to hell is because some reject God, and do not accept His love or forgiveness. Thus, from that perspective, the three arguments presented here do not apply, as heaven is not necessarily the reward for a good life, nor is hell the punishment for a sinful one.

    --Laura Money

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    1. What is the difference between saying that hell is eternal suffering as retribution for sin and saying that “souls are sent to hell is because some reject God”? The latter sounds like saying that rejecting God is the sin for which hell is the punishment. In that case, the question remains whether eternal suffering is a fitting punishment for a finite sin (namely, rejecting God). According to Argument I, it cannot be a fitting punishment, since a finite quantity (in this case, a finite life of non-belief in God) cannot be proportional to an infinite quantity (in this case, eternal suffering).

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  5. For argument I and II, I believe that they are unsound. There are people who choose to lead a life of sin and there are also people who choose to lead a life of bliss. If there was no punishment for people who commit sin, then more people would sin simply
    because the types of things that are considered to be sin are things that seem to be more saisfying to humans. Moreover, leading a life of bliss is a harder life to lead because there are so many rules to adhere to whereas leading a
    life of sin, by definition, is to live life by not adhering to the rules in place. Therefore, a reward should be given to those people who challenge themselves to lead a blissful type of life and a punishment should be given
    to those people who lead a life of sin. However, the only way to judge whether these people should be punished or rewarded is to base it off the actions they choose based off of their finite lives.
    Therefore, the conclusions for both arguments are not true and are therefore unsound.

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    1. The conclusion of Argument I is NOT that no one deserves to be punished for a life of crime/sin. Rather, the conclusion is that no one deserves to be punished *for eternity* for a life of crime/sin. In other words, even if one should be punished for a life of crime/sin, an eternal punishment is not fitting, for an infinite quantity (in this case, of suffering) cannot be proportional to a finite quantity (in this case, of crime/sin).

      Similarly, the conclusion of Argument II is NOT that no one deserves to be rewarded for a life of virtue. Rather, the conclusion is that no one deserves to be rewarded *for eternity* for a life of virtue. In other words, even if one should be rewarded for a life of virtue, an eternal reward is not fitting, for an infinite quantity (in this case, of bliss) cannot be proportional to a finite quantity (in this case, of virtue).

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  6. Andre Coburn
    The second argument would definitely put a hole in the concept of heaven, only when assuming that heaven is a reward. However, heaven can be seen as a gift from God given to us lowly humans. We did nothing to earn our existence, yet we still exist. We do not necessarily earn heaven, but it is given to us anyway, similar to how a parent buys gifts for an infant child.The argument that I cannot explain or wrap my head around is the first argument. There does not seem to be any possible way to commit a crime or sin worthy of eternal damnation when thinking of the issue logically. The only excuse I could possibly conjure up is that there exists a hell, but merely as an empty threat meant to encourage people to be moral.

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    1. Even if heaven is a gift from God, wouldn't God still have to decide who gets to go to heaven and who doesn't? If so, then there would still need to be some criterion for bestowing the gift of heaven on some but not others.

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  7. Byasha JahangirMay 5, 2015 at 9:55 PM

    The soundness of both Argument I and II are debatable. I think that the soundness of the first premise in both arguments is debatable, because it can be argued that the reward/punishment doesn’t have to be proportional to the deed/crime in order to be a fitting consequence. One can say that perhaps a fitting consequence for an action is not one that lasts the same amount of time as it took to commit it, and justice is only served when the reward/punishment lasts longer than the deed/crime. For example, a murderer can be sentenced to life in prison even if his crime only took seconds to commit, and this is seen as just by many. Using this logic, one can argue that it is fair for God to sentence one to eternal punishment for a relatively short life of sin. The same logic can be used with reward for a good deed, arguing that a reward for a good deed should last longer than how long it took to commit the good deed itself. Believers can also argue that because we were warned by God through revelation about the inevitable consequence of eternal bliss or damnation in heaven or hell after death, and told exactly how to behave, God is just in rewarding or punishing us accordingly. The main point of dispute in determining whether eternal bliss/damnation is a fitting reward/punishment is whether the consequence of an action (reward or punishment) is only fitting if it is proportional to the deed. If one believes so, then God is not just in sentencing eternal bliss/damnation for a relatively short life of good deeds/sins. If one believes that the consequence of a good or bad action is just if it lasts longer than the action itself, then God is just in sentencing eternal damnation or bliss.

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    1. This is a very interesting observation. But I am not sure that the proportion, or rather the lack of proportion, is supposed to be between infinite time and finite time. Rather, as far as Argument II goes, what is not proportional is the quantity of bliss in heaven (which is infinite) versus the quantity of goodness in this life (which is finite). In other words, even if one lives a life of virtue that brings about a lot of good to oneself and others, it is still an insignificant amount of good compared to eternal happiness in heaven.

      Similarly, as far as Argument I goes, what is not proportional is the quantity of suffering in hell (which is infinite) versus the quantity of evil in this life (which is finite). In other words, even if one lives a life of sin that brings about a lot of misery to oneself and others, it is still an insignificant amount of misery compared to eternal suffering in hell.

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  8. Maybe the assumption that our life is finite is inaccurate. God is eternal; it follows that God's creations are eternal. All matters, including us are made of energy/atoms that cannot be created or destroyed as the law of matters stated; e.g., no beginning and no ending.
    As to whether a just God would even invent "hell" to condemn unbelievers, I do not believe that God is so insecure that he would condemn us to hell for our unbelief.

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