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Jerry Walls: Hell: The Logic of Damnation

Molinism – the view that God arranges the world as He wills in the light of His ‘middle knowledge’3 – is not without its difficulties either. On this account of God’s foreknowledge, the future is absolutely certain and our choices are free. But, whilst God does not intend everything he foreknows, He is responsible for creating people in certain circumstances, and it seems plausible to think that the world might have been better arranged so that more people found themselves situated in circumstances more conducive to the free reception of God’s grace – and consequently ‘a world… in which fewer, or perhaps none, are damned’. So the way is still left open for God’s goodness to be challenged (and Walls will take up that challenge later). Furthermore, Molinism ‘is less adequate in providing an intelligible account of how God has foreknowledge’, and there are difficulties in grounding the truth of counterfactuals of human freedom. But these difficulties are not unlike those facing the attempt to find a basis for the truth of simple propositions about future free choices, and it is at this point that Walls moves on to consider some more fuzzy views of the future.

There are various ways of cashing out the claim that the future is not knowable by God, and Walls considers several different attempts. Typically God’s foreknowledge is restricted to what He determines; infallible knowledge of human choices is not included. The relevant implication of these accounts, for Walls’ thesis, is that ‘God did not know who precisely would be damned’. As Swinburne points out, ‘it is possible for a being who knows all the circumstances to predict human behaviour correctly most of the time, but always with the possibility that men may falsify those predictions’. This appears to thwart Mill’s libel that God created with the intention of damning. But if God does not have infallible middle knowledge, it seems He must take real risks if He makes free creatures. Might not a similar sort of objection pop up? Walls considers the analogy of a director who, in the first instance, starts a risky skyscraper project fully aware that it will likely cost a number of people their lives, and, in the second instance, begins the project knowing exactly which men will die. The second case would strike most of us as an outrage, but perhaps not the first (it is quite commonplace). If this assessment is accurate, it seems to support ‘the suggestion that those views which hold that God has only general foreknowledge accord better with our moral intuitions’. But then again, Walls wonders why we assess the two cases differently. ‘Perhaps the moral superiority of [this] view… is merely illusory’. Moreover, if God is risking, not just death, but eternal suffering, it might well be argued that there is no real moral difference between the two cases of specific and general foreknowledge. In short, ‘it is not at all clear’ that the one is ‘better situated’ than the other ‘to block Mill’s inference that in creating our world God intended for some to be damned’.

Among his other cogitations on this subject, Walls points out that one cannot sustain certain views of hell ‘unless one holds that God’s foreknowledge of the future is both specific and infallible’. If, on the basis of revelation, we believe that some will never be saved, we must assume it. If, on the other hand, we accept universalism, we must also believe it in order to maintain that God created in the knowledge that everyone would eventually receive His saving grace, of their own free will.


3. Hell and Divine Power

A necessary part of the Christian faith is that God is almighty, and an oft-repeated argument against the doctrine of hell is that ‘if God is all powerful, he can save anyone he will; if God is perfectly good, he will want to save all persons; therefore, all will be saved’5. One of Walls’ purposes in this book is to examine this argument carefully, including its appeal to divine power.

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Category: Fall 2016, In Depth

About the Author: W. Simpson, PhD (University of St. Andrews, Scotland), is a physicist and writer with an interest in theology, currently engaged in scientific research in the middle-east.

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