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William Lane Craig, Raymond Bradley and the Problem of Hell Part One

June 21st, 2008 by Matt

During the Q & A at the recent Auckland Cooke – Craig debate, Professor Raymond Bradley (Bradley), Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at Auckland University, offered an argument, which he has laid out in more detail in his article A Moral Argument for Atheism, as follows:

Christians accept that:

[1] Any act that God commits, causes, commands or condones is morally permissible;
[2] It is morally wrong to torture people endlessly for their beliefs;
[3] The bible teaches that God will torture people endlessly for their beliefs;

From this he inferred that:

[4] God does not exist.

Dr William Lane Craig (Craig) responded that the conclusion does not follow from the premises unless one assumes that the Bible is infallible. [1] and [2] entail that God will not endlessly torture people for their beliefs. However, [3] entails the negation of this only if one adds the further premise, that whatever the bible teaches about God is true. If one does not grant this assumption, the fact that the bible records that God will do something does not entail that he actually will do this. Hence, even if Bradley’s argument is sound it is really an argument against theism conjoined with biblical infallibility, not against theism per se.

In his article, Bradley argues that this option is unavailable to the Christian theist. He writes:

this would be to be to abandon the chief foundation of religious and moral epistemology (ways of obtaining religious and moral knowledge) … the question arises as to how we are supposed to know of God’s existence let alone look to him for moral guidance. After all, it is a distinguishing feature of theism, as opposed to deism, to hold that God reveals himself to us and, from time to time, intervenes in human history. And the Bible, according to theists, is the principal record of his revelatory interventions. If the Bible, with its stories of Moses and Jesus, is not his revealed and presumptively true word, then how are we to know of him? If God doesn’t reveal himself through the Old Testament Moses and the New Testament Jesus, then through whom does he reveal himself? To be sure, a theist could well claim that God also reveals himself through other channels in addition to the Bible: reason, tradition, and religious experience all being cases in point. But to deny that the Bible is his main mode of communication would be to deny that the principal figures in Judaism and Christianity can really be known at all. Apart from the scriptural records, we would know little, if anything, of Moses or Jesus, it being doubtful that secular history has anything reliable to say about either. Apart from the scriptural records we would know nothing of the so-called Ten Commandments that God supposedly delivered to Moses, or of the ethical principles that Jesus supposedly delivered in his sermons and parables.

Bradley is mistaken. He confuses the claim (i) that scripture is reliable, with the claim (ii) that scripture is infallible. In order for the Bible to give us reliable, trust-worthy information about God, (i) needs to be the case. However, (i) is compatible with admitting that on some issues scripture is mistaken.

Therefore, Bradley’s argument does not have the bite he (and some members of the audience on Tuesday) thought it did. Nether-the-less as an evangelical, Craig is committed to some form of scriptural infallibility and I share this commitment with him. So it is best to see if another line of attack is available.

Craig’s second point alluded to an ambiguity in [2]. [2] states it is wrong to endlessly torture people for their beliefs. However, this could be interpreted two possible ways, it could be interpreted as:

[2a] It is wrong for human persons to endlessly torture people for their beliefs;
[2b] It is wrong for any person including God to endlessly torture people for their beliefs.

Now in order for Bradley’s argument to follow, [2b] needs to be the case. It needs to be the case that God is engaging in wrongdoing if he tortures people for their beliefs. However, in the article Bradley cites in support of this argument, he provides reasons only for [2a]. He argues that to deny principles such as do not torture people endlessly for their beliefs,

… would be to ally oneself with moral monsters like Ghenghis Khan, Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot. It would be to abandon all pretense to a belief in objective moral values. Indeed, if it is permissible to violate the above principles, then it isn’t easy to see what sorts of acts would not be permissible. .. [It] would be tantamount to an embrace of moral nihilism. And no theist who believes in the Ten Commandments or the Sermon on the Mount could assent to that.

What Bradley fails to appreciate is that these absurd consequences follow from the rejection of (2a) and not from the rejection of (2b). Moreover, as Craig noted there are good reasons for thinking that it is (2a) and not (2b) that is true. This is because (2b) assumes that God has duties. Both, Craig and I believe in a meta-ethical view known as the Divine Command Theory (DCT). According to this position, it is wrong for a person to perform an action, if and only if, God commands them to not perform this action. It follows from a DCT that God has duties only if he issues commands to himself. Given he does not issue commands to himself, it follows that God cannot have duties.

God does issue commands to human beings. One command is to not torture people for their beliefs. It follows that (2a) is true and (2a) prevents us allying ourselves with moral monsters such as Pol Pot, Stalin, Hitler, etc.

Craig’s response, then, is correct. I am inclined to think, however, that Bradley’s argument can be recast without presupposing that God has duties. It is essential to theism and to the defensibility of a divine command theory to maintain that:

[1’] God is good (where good is referred to in terms of virtues as opposed to (duties).

And a person, following Bradley’s lead, could argue that:

[2’] A good person does not torture people for their beliefs.
[3] The bible teaches that God will torture people endlessly for their beliefs.

And [1’], [2’] and [3’], when conjoined to a commitment to biblical infallibility, entail a contradiction.

The best response to Bradley is to attack [3]. Now note that [3] asserts at least two things; first: (a) scripture states that God will torture people forever; second, (b) God does so because of what such people believe. The crucial question then is what reasons Bradley offers for the truth of (a) and (b)? In my next post William Lane Craig, Raymond Bradley and the Problem of Hell Part Two I will examine some of these reasons and argue that they are mistaken.

RELATED POSTS:
William Lane Craig, Raymond Bradley and the Problem of Hell Part Two
The Battle of the Bill’s: A Review of the Craig – Cooke Debate

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5 responses so far ↓

  • Interesting post. I am far from your skill-level in this Matt, but I guess I would ask :

    (i) Where is the Scriptural evidence that God will in fact torture people forever? Torture seems to imply an active rather than passive method for dealing with those in hell. While Jesus says they are “cast into hell”, a quick look at the ESV mentions torture only once, and in another context altogether.

    (ii) Given the nature of God, hell seems necessary since a crime against a holy God (God’s intrinsic nature) is like mathematically dividing infinity (God’s perfection) by a finite number (any sin, however small). Thus an infinite punishment is required, whatever than means in practice.

    (iii) Even if we do not have a good understanding the doctrine of hell, “will not the judge of the Earth do what is right?”. It seems that our meagre understanding and comprehension of God’s real nature may be a problem not for God, but for us. It’s not as if the Bible gives us floor plans and room numbers for hell, but instead a lot of metaphors.

  • Interesting post. I am far from your skill-level in this Matt, but I guess I would ask :

    (i) Where is the Scriptural evidence that God will in fact torture people forever? Torture seems to imply an active rather than passive method for dealing with those in hell. While Jesus says they are “cast into hell”, a quick look at the ESV mentions torture only once, and in another context altogether.

    (ii) Given the nature of God, hell seems necessary since a crime against a holy God (God’s intrinsic nature) is like mathematically dividing infinity (God’s perfection) by a finite number (any sin, however small). Thus an infinite punishment is required, whatever than means in practice.

    (iii) Even if we do not have a good understanding the doctrine of hell, “will not the judge of the Earth do what is right?”. It seems that our meagre understanding and comprehension of God’s real nature may be a problem not for God, but for us. It’s not as if the Bible gives us floor plans and room numbers for hell, but instead a lot of metaphors.

  • […] M and M have updated their blog. I did a wee hunt and found their articles on hell […]

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