DiaBlogue: On Hell, eh? No!

Today’s palindromic title is a response (on several levels) to the latest post/attempt at wordplay from my friend Bucky (aka Alan Lund, aka “Physical Plant”). He is “concerned about getting mired down in philosophical hair-splitting”, and wants me to address what he sees as his “most important problem.”

So I would really like to hear Ernie’s point of view here. Does he believe in hell? Does God send people to hell, and if so, based on what criteria? Is eternal torture ever justifiable? If so, how? Is rational disbelief in God possible, even if rational belief is also possible?

I’m tempted to reply that he was the one who dragged both epistemology (“how do we know”) and ethics (“is it justified”) into the discussion, and that it is impossible to even know what his question means without *some* philosophy. Still, I can appreciate that he doesn’t understand my concerns, and that I’ve done a poor job of addressing his.

To help break that logjam, I propose using a literary device I call a “Brickman.” A Brickman is like a Strawman, except that rather than belittling a critic’s viewpoint it instead tries to present it in the strongest terms possible. In other words, my “Brickman<Bucky>” is my attempt to rigorously present a comprehensive account of Bucky’s beliefs and logic. I may not get it right, but the idea is to iterate on the language and concepts until we reach a shared understanding of the question. At that point, I can actually hope to provide a meaningful answer, rather than simply talking past each other.

Click [Read More] to see how it works.

[Update: Read Alan’s revised Draft 2 on his site].

[Note: the following does not represent what I believe, nor necessarily what Alan believes. However, it does represent what I currently believe Alan believes. I could well be wrong; this isn’t meant as a statement, but rather as a question — in the hopes that it will enable him to articulate his views in a form easier for me to understand and respond to. I look forward to his clarification and refinement.]

From Brickman<Bucky>:
Draft 1, 11/14/2005

Dear Ernie,

While I appreciate your sincere efforts to explain your viewpoint, I fear you are making things needlessly complex and missing the essential points. In particular, I don’t think you’ve really confronted the core issues underlying my objections to Christianity. As far as I can tell, every strain of fundamentalist, evangelical, or orthodox Christianity makes the same hard claim: each individual must accept Jesus Christ in order to get to heaven. Do you believe that is true, or don’t you? If you don’t, then I would argue you really don’t have anything in common with traditional Christianity, and this whole discussion is moot.

Conversely, if you do share that belief, then that would imply you must also believe that everyone who does not choose to accept Christ is going to hell, i.e. eternal damnation — otherwise, the point about heaven is meaningless, right?

This brings me to the crux of my argument. I believe that it is only rational to hold people accountable for what they know, or could plausibly know. Therefore, I would assert that in order for God to be just in condemning people to hell, one of the following must be true:

a. it is manifestly obvious to everyone that Jesus is God; or
b. there are obvious traces of divine activity in nature; or
c. it is possible to scientifically ascertain that the Bible is reliable

Otherwise, how in the world could God justly judge anyone?

Yet, the first two are clearly false by simple observation. The third, as I’ve shown in my research, is demonstrably false. Thus, we are left with a contradiction:

1. any God who condemns people to hell, as the Bible claims, is obviously unjust.
2. the Bible asserts that God is infinitely merciful and just.

Given the presence of this manifest contradiction, the Bible is clearly an unreliable source of information about God (just like it is about everything else). Further, from the absence of (a) and (b) above, there is no other useful source of information about God. Therefore, there is no rational reason to have any faith in the God of the Bible, or any God whatsoever. In fact, this provides a strong rationale for considering the entire Bible a series of inconsistent, made-up stories with no particular basis in reality.

This seems a simple, ironclad argument without any need for fancy philosophical justifications, so I fail to see the point of any of your digressions. Would you dispute any of my facts, or claim errors in my logic?

Yours truly,