William Lane Craig vs. Chris Date (Sort Of): WLC Botches the Atonement in a Question of the Week

Here at Rethinking Hell, we’ve been interacting with relevant comments by Christian philosopher William Lane Craig, and trying to enter into dialogue with him, since nearly the beginning of the ministry. In our very first episode of Rethinking Hell Live in 2019, I critique statements made by Craig in several clips. One of our oldest videos on YouTube is Glenn Peoples’s 2013 review of a clip I filmed at an Apologetics Canada conference, in which Craig mangles 2 Thessalonians 1:9. Joey Dear, in a 2020 blog article, debunks the way Craig often leverages the distinction between the Greek words bios and zōē (as I do below). As we’re both prolific debaters, I dream of debating Craig on the nature and duration of hell. I’ve personally reached out to him on several occasions—a half dozen times or so in 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019—inviting him to be interviewed, speak at conferences, and engage with us in other ways. Sadly, Craig declined each such invitation and has thus far chosen not to interact with any of our work, let alone me, specifically.

Until now.

Well, sort of. Continue reading “William Lane Craig vs. Chris Date (Sort Of): WLC Botches the Atonement in a Question of the Week”

Refuting the (Astrophysicist) Critics, Part 4: When Astrophysicists Philosophize

“Refuting the (Astrophysicist) Critics” Series Links

This article is the fourth in a series of articles addressing the case for traditionalism offered by the young-earth-creationist and astrophysicist Jason Lisle. To access other published articles in this series, use the following links:

 
Previously in this series, I’ve lamented and corrected astrophysicist Jason Lisle’s armchair psychoanalysis of annihilationists, and his mischaracterizations of what we believe; now I turn my attention to the arguments he makes for traditionalism, beginning with his philosophical ones. Laudably, Lisle does his philosophy in service to his theology; as the handmaiden to theology, philosophy can help us make sense of what we think Scripture teaches and integrate it into a larger worldview. In service, however, to mistaken theology, philosophy can compound erroneous thinking—as does Lisle’s in defense of eternal torment.

Lisle’s philosophical blunders begin with his Anselmian calculus—that is, his adaptation of the argument Saint Anselm made around the year 1100.1Anselm argues in Cur Deus Homo that only the God-man can satisfy the debt human beings owe to God, because the satisfaction of that debt requires a payment that is greater than everything God already owns. “Since unbelievers have committed high treason against the infinitely holy God, their right punishment must also be infinite.”2Jason Lisle, “The Good News About Hell,” Biblical Science Institute [blog], February 14, 2020, https://biblicalscienceinstitute.com/theology/the-good-news-about-hell/. Now, if this reasoning were sound, annihilation qualifies as the “right punishment.” Even the traditionalist Jonathan Edwards acknowledged as much:

if it be owned, that Scripture expressions denote a punishment that is properly eternal, but that it is in no other sense properly so, than as the annihilation, or state of non-existence, to which the wicked shall return, will be eternal . . . it answers the Scripture expressions as well . . . provided the annihilation be everlasting.3Jonathan Edwards, The Works of President Edwards in Ten Volumes, vol. 7 (G. & C. & H. Carvill, 1830), 401. See also Chris Date, “‘Punishment’ and the Polysemy of Deverbal Nouns,” Rethinking Hell [blog], June 19, 2012, https://rethinkinghell.com/2012/06/19/eternal-punishment-and-the-polysemy-of-deverbal-nouns/; and Glenn Peoples, “Jonathan Edwards Comes to the Aid of Annihilationism,” Right Reason [blog], August 2, 2008, http://www.rightreason.org/2008/jonathan-edwards-comes-to-the-aid-of-annihilationism/.

Of course, we conditionalists believe it is the penalty of death that will last forever, as I explained in the previous article in this series, but Edwards’ reasoning nevertheless applies. Since the punitive lifelessness inflicted upon the resurrected lost will endure for eternity, it is properly everlasting and therefore infinite, and would qualify as the infinite penalty to which Lisle’s argument concludes. However, his argument is exceedingly questionable.

Plausibly, holiness is not the kind of attribute that can be infinite. It may be like roundness, and the most perfect of circles is perfectly round, but it would be unintelligible to speak of infinite roundness. Likewise, then, perhaps it is more accurate to say God is perfectly holy, rather than infinitely so. And the conclusion that sin against God merits an infinite punishment does not logically follow from God’s perfect holiness.

Moreover, Lisle’s calculus is a double-edged sword. To the extent that a victim’s status determines the severity with which a criminal ought to be punished, it is to that same extent that the maturity, acuity, and sanity of the criminal ought to do so. Just as a grown man is punished more harshly for assaulting a government official than for striking a dog, so assaulting a government official is punished more severely when the perpetrator is a grown man than when he is a young child, someone who is cognitively disabled, or someone who is insane. And human beings are immeasurably less intelligent, wise, and lucid than God, so the hypothetical argument that God should punish them very little would be no less reasonable than Lisle’s argument that they should be punished infinitely. The fact that the same argument can reason to mutually exclusive conclusions casts doubt on its soundness.

The shortcomings of Lisle’s philosophy continue with his treatment of freedom. He claims that hell, understood as eternal torment, “is good news because it shows that God respects human freedom,” in that he “allows [those who hate him] to reap the consequences of their actions.”4Lisle, “The Good News About Hell.” But this is true in annihilationism, too, with the consequences of sin consisting of death, rather than endless life in torment. Lisle adds that “since God is not a cosmic rapist, He will not force His love on those who hate Him,” and that “hell is simply God giving people exactly what they want: existence apart from Him.”5Ibid. Yet, Lisle’s belief implies that if the immortally embodied wicked in hell wanted to die and cease to be—if they were to plead with God to be annihilated, thinking it preferable to eternal torment—God would reject their plea and “force [continued conscious existence] on those who hate Him.” It seems, then, that Lisle’s reasoning here does him no service.

One further example of flawed reasoning on Lisle’s part is found in his philosophy of punishment. “Punishment by definition,” he writes, “involves suffering or pain; it is an imposed unpleasantness that serves as retribution.”6Jason Lisle, “Denying Eternity,” Biblical Science Institute [blog], January 2, 2023, https://biblicalscienceinstitute.com/theology/denying-eternity/. But this is simply untrue. Privative punishments—those which deprive the offender of something desirable and once possessed—are not inflicted under the assumption that the criminal will suffer pain or anything unpleasant at all. A billionaire fined a mere $100 for speeding, for example, is thereby punished, even though the privation of that money likely won’t cause him any distress. Likewise, governments all around the world inflict the death penalty without assuming capital offenders will suffer after their deaths; indeed, governments often provide such offenders with chaplain services that may include a last opportunity to repent and be spared punitive consequences in the afterlife. Capital punishment therefore does not consist of “an imposed unpleasantness”; it consists of the privation of life once possessed. Lisle may be right in saying, “Those who do not exist cannot experience suffering, pain, or unpleasantness, and therefore cannot be punished.”7Ibid. However, a living and conscious person can be punished with the loss and everlasting privation of one’s life, even if one will no longer experience anything after it is taken. Once again, Lisle’s philosophy is fatally flawed.

There are challenging philosophical arguments in favor of each of three Christian views of hell, to be sure; those Lisle offers in defense of eternal torment, however, are not among them. Annihilation qualifies as an infinite penalty if one is required of someone who sins against an infinitely holy God, but the premises in Lisle’s Anselmian argument are dubious at best. Threatening impenitent sinners with eternal torment, and then carrying out that penalty, honors human freedom no more than threatening them with capital punishment, and then putting them to death. And punishment does not definitionally involve suffering, pain, or unpleasantness; it can instead deprive someone of something previously possessed, whether its privation produces pain or not. Lisle practices science with the best of them, but when he steps outside of his wheelhouse to engage in philosophy, his reasoning leaves much to be desired.

References
1 Anselm argues in Cur Deus Homo that only the God-man can satisfy the debt human beings owe to God, because the satisfaction of that debt requires a payment that is greater than everything God already owns.
2 Jason Lisle, “The Good News About Hell,” Biblical Science Institute [blog], February 14, 2020, https://biblicalscienceinstitute.com/theology/the-good-news-about-hell/.
3 Jonathan Edwards, The Works of President Edwards in Ten Volumes, vol. 7 (G. & C. & H. Carvill, 1830), 401. See also Chris Date, “‘Punishment’ and the Polysemy of Deverbal Nouns,” Rethinking Hell [blog], June 19, 2012, https://rethinkinghell.com/2012/06/19/eternal-punishment-and-the-polysemy-of-deverbal-nouns/; and Glenn Peoples, “Jonathan Edwards Comes to the Aid of Annihilationism,” Right Reason [blog], August 2, 2008, http://www.rightreason.org/2008/jonathan-edwards-comes-to-the-aid-of-annihilationism/.
4 Lisle, “The Good News About Hell.”
5 Ibid.
6 Jason Lisle, “Denying Eternity,” Biblical Science Institute [blog], January 2, 2023, https://biblicalscienceinstitute.com/theology/denying-eternity/.
7 Ibid.

Refuting the (Astrophysicist) Critics, Part 3: When Astrophysicists Mischaracterize

“Refuting the (Astrophysicist) Critics” Series Links

This article is the third in a series of articles addressing the case for traditionalism offered by the young-earth-creationist and astrophysicist Jason Lisle. To access other published articles in this series, use the following links:

 
If defenders of traditionalism are guilty of anything as often as they are guilty of psychologizing the targets of their criticism, it’s mischaracterizing them—and sadly, Jason Lisle is no exception. Annihilationists, he avers, believe “the unbeliever [will be] punished in hell, but only for a finite time,” and after “his penalty is paid,” he “will simply cease to exist.”1Jason Lisle, “The Good News About Hell,” Biblical Science Institute [blog], February 14, 2020, https://biblicalscienceinstitute.com/theology/the-good-news-about-hell/; emphasis added. He says they think that the finally impenitent will be annihilated “after serving their finite sentence,” and that “the duration of punishment in hell” is “finite.”2Ibid.; emphasis added. As a hint, however, that perhaps he experiences cognitive dissonance, Lisle implies that conditionalists think the risen wicked will be “instantly annihilated” (which contradicts his claim that we believe they will suffer finitely in hell first).3Jason Lisle, “Denying Eternity,” Biblical Science Institute [blog], January 2, 2023, https://biblicalscienceinstitute.com/theology/denying-eternity/. Either way, he suggests we believe “lack of eternal life” means “lack of conscious existence.”4Jason Lisle, “Has the Word ‘Eternal’ Been Correctly Translated?” Biblical Science Institute [blog], January 27, 2023, https://biblicalscienceinstitute.com/apologetics/has-the-word-eternal-been-correctly-translated/. Such characterizations, however, are only true of some annihilationists; most prominent ones think quite differently.

It’s important, first, that one correctly understands what the doctrine of eternal torment really entails, at least in its truly traditional form: bodily immortality and everlasting physical life for the resurrected, forever embodied lost. This is clear in the earliest Christian affirmations of eternal torment, the late-second-century writings of Tatian of Adiabene and Athenagoras of Athens. After death, Tatian writes, humans “receive the immortal with enjoyment or the painful with immortality”;5Tatian, “Address to the Greeks” 14. and Athenagoras (perversely) applies Paul’s language of resurrected immortality in 1 Corinthians 15:54 to the saved and unsaved alike.6Athenagoras, “On the Resurrection of the Dead” 18. Augustine of Hippo says the bodies of the resurrected lost will exhibit the same quality of immortality that human souls do.7Augustine, City of God 21.3.2. So, too, does Thomas Aquinas.8Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica I.97. John Calvin denies that the risen wicked will ever die.9John Calvin, Institutes III.xxv.9. Jonathan Edwards does likewise.10Jonathan Edwards, “The Salvation of All Men Strictly Examined,” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 1 (John P. Jewett & Co., 1854), 229–30. To this day, traditionalists from C. S. Lewis to Wayne Grudem all teach that the resurrected lost will “live forever” in hell.11C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (Harper-Collins, 1972), 74; Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, 2nd ed. (Zondervan Academic, 2020), 803. See also John MacArthur Jr., Revelation 12–22, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Moody, 2000), 274; and Robert Peterson, “A Traditionalist Response to John Stott’s Arguments for Annihilationism,” Journal for the Evangelical Theological Society 37, no. 4 (1994), 566.

See, the traditional view anticipates the eternal torment of resurrected immortals, not disembodied, immortal souls. This sometimes comes as a surprise to modern Christians, but it strikes many traditionalists as perfectly obvious, especially historically, given the Bible’s teaching that both the saved and the lost will be raised from the dead (e.g., John 5:28; Acts 24:15). If the wicked arise unto “shame and everlasting contempt” (Dan 12:2), for example, and if one understands “contempt” to be what they eternally experience (an interpretation I will rebut in part 5 of this series), then it stands to reason they will never return to the dust thereafter.

Whereas traditionalists thus believe the wicked will rise physically immortal and live forever in hell, conditionalists instead believe the resurrected lost will literally die a second time. Notwithstanding Lisle’s mischaracterization, it’s not that we think “lack of eternal life” means “lack of conscious existence”; rather, we think that someone who rejects God’s offer of eternal life will not live forever (imagine that!). Instead, after being raised to face judgment, such a one will be subsequently destroyed—killed, slain, executed—or, in the thinking of some annihilationists, die as a result of God more passively letting the person unplug him or herself from the only source of life. The debate between these two views of hell, then, is not fundamentally over the final scope of human existence, but of human life.

It’s true that conditionalists believe the unsaved will cease to consciously exist as a result of their destruction in hell, but this is because Jesus indicates that the fate awaiting the resurrected bodies of the lost—death, meaning the cessation and ongoing privation of life—also awaits their souls (Matt 10:28).12Here I assume a substance-dualist reading of the text. Everyone knows and can see what it means for a body to die: it’s rendered lifeless, inanimate, inert, and inactive. Therefore, if the human soul just is one’s substantive consciousness, and if what happens to the body in the first death happens to both body and soul in the second death, then the soul, too, will be rendered lifeless, inanimate, inert, and inactive—which can only mean an end to consciousness altogether.

With all of this in mind, many or most annihilationists believe the punishment awaiting the lost is death, meaning the privation of their lives, not the cessation of existence; and their lives will be deprived forever, making it an eternal punishment, not a finite one. As Edward Fudge explains, “Some say everlasting extinction would not be ‘forever,’” but we “measure capital punishment by its permanency, not by the time required for its execution.”13Edward William Fudge, The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment, 3rd ed. (Cascade, 2011), 371. Indeed, Augustine recognized this nearly two thousand years ago, observing that society does not “reckon the punishment to consist in the brief moment in which death is inflicted,” but in “that the offender is eternally banished from the society of the living.”14Augustine, City of God 21.11.1. Imagine that a convicted capital offender is subjected to the electric chair, and after receiving a jolt of electricity, his pulse stops and he’s pronounced dead. If he suddenly gasps moments later, having spontaneously come back to life (this is called autoresuscitation or “Lazarus Syndrome”), the state doesn’t let him go free; rather, the switch is flipped again until the criminal remains dead, because the punishment isn’t dying, it’s being dead. Consequently, Lisle’s article titled “Has the Word ‘Eternal’ Been Correctly Translated?” is largely a waste of time: most of us annihilationists simply agree with him that the duration of final punishment is eternal or everlasting.

If the risen wicked suffer before they breathe their last, their pain does not constitute the “finite sentence” preceding their destruction; rather, their pain is part of the destructive process by which their eternal capital punishment is inflicted. This doesn’t mean their pain is a punishment in and of itself. As Fudge puts it, some “passages seemingly imply some degree of conscious pain in the process,” but “the ‘eternal punishment’ itself is the capital execution, the deprivation of an eternal life of joy and blessing.”15Fudge, The Fire That Consumes, 143; emphasis added. Thus, the experience of being burned to death at the stake is longer and more excruciatingly painful than that of being killed by firing squad, but both methods of execution inflict the same penalty: death. And the same is true of what we annihilationists have called the “cosmic death penalty.”16Rethinking Hell, Statement on Evangelical Conditionalism, http://www.rethinkinghell.com/Rethinking-Hell_Statement-on-Evangelical-Conditionalism.pdf.

When some annihilationists argue that the biblical language of destruction suggests the risen wicked will cease to exist, they don’t mean that the very atoms constituting their bodies will instantaneously vanish into the proverbial ether, violating the first law of thermodynamics. Lisle’s readers wouldn’t get that from his articles, though; after claiming the Greek word apollymi means “to ruin” (among other things), for example, he observes that “when a city is ruined, it no longer functions as a dwelling place for people. But its atoms continue to exist.”17Jason Lisle, “Interpreting the Bible’s Teaching on the Eternal State,” Biblical Science Institute [blog], January 20, 2023, https://biblicalscienceinstitute.com/theology/interpreting-the-bibles-teaching-on-the-eternal-state/. This is true, but so what? The atoms that compose a log still exist after it’s burned up in a bonfire, but the log no longer exists. Likewise, though the atoms making up a city’s buildings still exist after they are destroyed, the city itself is no more. A pile of rubble does not a building make. Notwithstanding Lisle’s mischaracterizations, conditionalists simply mean that, after being slain and destroyed in hell—in body and soul—the finally impenitent will no longer be conscious beings, whatever remains of their, well, remains.

Lisle thus does a great job burning up straw men, but he substantially fails to critique annihilationism as it is actually believed and promoted. We conditionalists believe in eternal and therefore infinite punishment, not finite punishment. We believe that this eternal punishment is the death penalty, the everlasting privation of life once enjoyed, even if the means by which it’s meted out inflicts pain as part of the process. And we believe that when the risen wicked literally die a second time, they will also cease to consciously exist—not because that’s what death is, but because their souls will die along with their bodies. If Lisle wishes to meaningfully rebut our view, he would do well to start characterizing it accurately.

References
1 Jason Lisle, “The Good News About Hell,” Biblical Science Institute [blog], February 14, 2020, https://biblicalscienceinstitute.com/theology/the-good-news-about-hell/; emphasis added.
2 Ibid.; emphasis added.
3 Jason Lisle, “Denying Eternity,” Biblical Science Institute [blog], January 2, 2023, https://biblicalscienceinstitute.com/theology/denying-eternity/.
4 Jason Lisle, “Has the Word ‘Eternal’ Been Correctly Translated?” Biblical Science Institute [blog], January 27, 2023, https://biblicalscienceinstitute.com/apologetics/has-the-word-eternal-been-correctly-translated/.
5 Tatian, “Address to the Greeks” 14.
6 Athenagoras, “On the Resurrection of the Dead” 18.
7 Augustine, City of God 21.3.2.
8 Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica I.97.
9 John Calvin, Institutes III.xxv.9.
10 Jonathan Edwards, “The Salvation of All Men Strictly Examined,” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 1 (John P. Jewett & Co., 1854), 229–30.
11 C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (Harper-Collins, 1972), 74; Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, 2nd ed. (Zondervan Academic, 2020), 803. See also John MacArthur Jr., Revelation 12–22, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Moody, 2000), 274; and Robert Peterson, “A Traditionalist Response to John Stott’s Arguments for Annihilationism,” Journal for the Evangelical Theological Society 37, no. 4 (1994), 566.
12 Here I assume a substance-dualist reading of the text.
13 Edward William Fudge, The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment, 3rd ed. (Cascade, 2011), 371.
14 Augustine, City of God 21.11.1.
15 Fudge, The Fire That Consumes, 143; emphasis added.
16 Rethinking Hell, Statement on Evangelical Conditionalism, http://www.rethinkinghell.com/Rethinking-Hell_Statement-on-Evangelical-Conditionalism.pdf.
17 Jason Lisle, “Interpreting the Bible’s Teaching on the Eternal State,” Biblical Science Institute [blog], January 20, 2023, https://biblicalscienceinstitute.com/theology/interpreting-the-bibles-teaching-on-the-eternal-state/.

Episode 155: Keep CARM and Carry On: Responding to Matt Slick and CARM.org (Part 6)–The Straw Men of “Soul Sleep” and Intermediate State

Rethinking Hell contributors Peter Grice and Chris Date join Darren Clark to continue a series of podcast episodes responding to Matt Slick of CARM.org. In this sixth episode of the series, Darren, Peter, and Chris continue discussing how Slick insists upon conflating physicalism and “soul sleep” with conditional immortality and annihilationism to erect a straw man easily burned down, as they began to do in the previous episode.

Continue reading “Episode 155: Keep CARM and Carry On: Responding to Matt Slick and CARM.org (Part 6)–The Straw Men of “Soul Sleep” and Intermediate State”