The Problem of Hell Reconsidered

by Ben Ryding

After I finished writing my own formulation of the problem of hell, I found that premise one was loaded with presuppositions.  First, one must suppose that imperfect beings need saving and one must suppose that these beings need saving from something in particular.  In Christianity, this ‘something in particular’ is hell.  Therefore I must assume, for the sake of argument, that Christianity is only wrong about eternal condemnation. Furthermore, I must assume that a place like hell exists and define it loosely as some form of separation from God and that it is a necessary result from living apart from God, which all imperfect beings necessarily do by virtue of them being imperfect.

I think this is a fine project, but I want to reconsider the formulation that does not necessarily rely on all of these presuppositions.  What I really aim to do is to dismantle our ideas of free will and justice and therefore show the absurdity of the entire religion of Christianity.  This is obviously a much bigger project.

What follows is an attempt to form a new deductive argument with these things considered.  First, note that when I use the words ‘Hell’ and ‘God’ in this argument, I am referring to traditional Christian doctrines concerning these entities.  Second, when I say ‘moral’ I am referring to a traditional realist account of morality in which moral statements are made true or false by objective features in reality.  Specifically, I am referring to an ethical non-naturalist account of morality that a Christian would no doubt hold.

  1. Hell exists only if morality exists.
  2. Morality exists only if beings have a libertarian sort of free will (they can actually choose between competing alternative actions) and features in reality correspond to moral facts.
  3. Libertarian free will does not exist in any sense.
  4. There are no features in reality that correspond to moral facts. (note the argument does not even require that both (3) and (4) are true.)
  5. Therefore morality does not exist.
  6. Therefore hell does not exist.

This formulation, I think, is much more effective at dealing with the idea of hell.  Further, it can easily be extended then to dismantle Christianity on the whole. The project has now become one of disproving moral realism and libertarian free will.  These are two topics which can be dealt with in a secular way, which is a project I wanted to take on without addressing religion at all. Happily, then, this investigation will kill two birds with one stone.

Special thanks to jeffsocrates for helping to spur on these thoughts.

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