Epistemological Requirements for Hell

by Ben Ryding

I decided that I do want to continue the discussion based off my first post on the problem of hell, or at least one part of the post in particular.  In that post I briefly outlined the following common defense used by the Christian apologist to justify hell:

Hell allows people to freely reject God and live apart from Him.  It is the ultimate form of respect for human freedom.

There is a lot of philosophical baggage packed into this defense.  First, I’d like to turn your attention to the words, ‘freely reject’.  What would it mean for a being to freely reject God?  (Henceforth, when I use the term ‘God’, I will be referring to the common definition of the Christian God which I have outlined in other posts.  Further, I will also be assuming that free will exists as any non-insane-Calvinist Christian no doubt believes).

Epistemic Requirements for Freedom — The Real Question

I want to argue that freedom has a certain reasonably high epistemic requirement; further I assert that freedom is essential to our common notion of justice.  I think that the sort of justice Hell doles out is particularly extreme, and thus has an even higher requirement for freedom, which in turn, produces an even greater epistemic requirement.  I will argue that human beings are incapable of possessing the appropriate level of knowledge required for hell to be a legitimate form of justice.

Consider a five-year-old who does something we find particularly evil, such as murdering a family member using a knife they find in the house.  Under our standard notion of justice, despite the incredibly tragic nature of the event, we do not punish the child as we would an adult; we do not send the child to the electric chair or to life in prison. The reason for this is that we believe the child lacks certain knowledge about morality, consequences, and reality in general, that would justify a harsh punishment.  We cannot blame the child for taking a moral action when she perhaps does not know about the fragile nature of the human body or the consequences of using a knife in the way that she did.

From this analogy, it appears obvious that epistemology is crucial when deciding upon the appropriate measures of justice for a given act made by a moral being.  You might notice that this appears to be somewhat out of line with my first assertions in the argument.  I have established that knowledge is essential for justice, not that knowledge is essential for freedom.  We are therefore missing a transitive step.  What I really want to argue is that knowledge is essential to freedom, and freedom essential to justice.  Therefore the root problem with the five-year-old seems to be that her lack of knowledge makes her actions lack freedom in a robust and genuine sense.  My next post will be devoted to substantiating this claim.