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December 5, 2012

Hell and Supertasks

Filed under: Christian Doctrine,Philosophy of Religion — camcintosh @ 6:18 pm

SupertasksA common objection to the traditional view of Hell, according to which some persons will be eternally separated from God, is that such a punishment does not fit the crime. Whereas the crime (i.e., sinning) is finite, the punishment is infinite, which is unjust (so says the objector). A common reply to this common objection is that rejecting God’s infinite mercy, or affronting an infinite being, is a sin of infinite gravity. Another common reply is that the objection assumes that the denizens of Hell do not continue to sin for eternity; i.e., commit an infinite number of sins.

Common to both the common objection and the common responses is equivocation on the terms “infinite” and “eternal.” There are both qualitative and quantitative elements involved. Setting aside this equivocation for the moment, both replies to the objection are no good. This is because one (a universalist, say) could grant the replies but still reject the traditional view by maintaining that some persons justly receive (qualitatively and quantitatively) infinite punishment in Hell.

How could a universalist maintain this? First, they could maintain, with equal plausibility, that experiencing life separated from God is suffering, and hence punishment, of infinite gravity. Second, they could maintain that an infinite number of sins can be committed and punished in a finite duration of time (see supertasks).

Suppose the traditionalist responds by saying that “eternity” implies “an infinite duration of time.” In that case, the universalist could simply distinguish two different kinds of time—psychological from physical, or physical from metaphysical, or whatever—and say an infinite duration of one kind of time can be traversed in a finite duration of another kind.

Ok, ok, this is all great in the realm of highfalutin metaphysics. But how seriously can we entertain such possibilities? The answer is how seriously we can entertain the possibility of someone being eternally separated from God, in the traditionalist’s sense.

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2 Comments »

  1. >>This is because one (a universalist, say) could grant the replies but still reject the traditional view by maintaining that some persons justly receive (qualitatively and quantitatively) infinite punishment in Hell.

    How could a universalist maintain this? First, they could maintain, with equal plausibility, that experiencing life separated from God is suffering, and hence punishment, of infinite gravity. Second, they could maintain that an infinite number of sins can be committed and punished in a finite duration of time (see supertasks).*<<

    Well, aside from the fact that supertasks are hotly contested, and even where they're admitted to be *logically* possible, they're not *actually* possible, for reasons similar to Craig offers against actual infinities being logically possible but not actually, and better answers than Craig gives too . . .

    Hell, on traditionalism, is *everlasting*, having "no end." So no position that claims there is "an end" to the punishment is consistent with traditionalism.

    Second, the reply assumes that sinners don't sin *in response to* punishment, gnashing their teeth at God's holiness. Thus you could never "end" with a punishment.

    Third, why couldn't someone use this argument to depopulate heaven? Those in heaven can have an infinite number of days with God, and reap an infinite amount of eternal awards, all in a finite time.

    Fourth, how does the *guilt* go away? Guilt doesn't go away merely from serving time, or through punishment. And traditional Christianity has considered guilt of sin disqualifying of heaven.

    Finally, apropos (4), this doesn't help the universalist vis-a-vis the traditionalist, for even if we grant the reprobate could be punished for *all* his sins, that's *still* not enough to get them into heaven. *At best* it's get them into some state where they're not punished but not in heaven.

    Comment by Paul — December 7, 2012 @ 10:36 pm | Reply

  2. Btw, interestingly, this argument’s already been given on behalf of traditionalism! ;)

    James Cain, “On the problem of hell,” Religious Studies 38, 355–362

    Comment by Paul — December 8, 2012 @ 12:35 am | Reply


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