Swinburnes Hell and Hicks Universalism

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					   Ars Disputandi
  Volume 4 (2004)
  : 1566–5399

    Jerry L. Walls    Swinburne’s Hell and Hick’s
 
     ,     Universalism
                      By Lindsey Hall

                      Aldershot: Ashgate, 2003; 244 pp.; hb. $ 84.95, £ 47.50 :

                    Eschatology has been receiving renewed attention from Christian philoso-
        phers as a natural development of the revival of interest in philosophy of religion.
        The discussion has moved beyond issues related to generic theism and now
        engages distinctively Christian claims and doctrines, matters previously left to
        systematic theologians. Interest in hell and universalism is closely connected to
        some of the most central of Christian doctrines, in particular, the doctrine of salva-
        tion. Traditionally, most Christian theologians have rejected the idea of universal
        salvation. That is, they have held that some will be eternally damned, separated
        forever from the love of God and left to the misery of their sins.
                    The doctrine of eternal hell so understood is of interest to philosophers
        because of its connection to another large issue, namely, the problem of evil.
        Indeed, the doctrine of eternal hell is arguably the most severe aspect of the
        problem of evil, since by definition it is evil that is never redeemed. Consequently,
        those engaged in the project of theodicy have had to account for the doctrine of
        hell in their efforts to defend the perfect goodness of God in the face of evil.
        This has typically taken the form of trying to show that eternal hell is not in fact
        incompatible with God’s perfect character and can be defended against moral
        objections that commonly arise. In current philosophical literature, a number of
        writers have appealed to libertarian freedom to make moral sense of the doctrine.
        In particular, it is argued that we have the freedom to reject God’s love so the
        misery of hell is the natural consequence of being separated from him. God does
        not send people to hell on this account, but he will not override the freedom of
        those who choose to be separated from him.
                     More recently a number of philosophers and theologians have been
        advancing a different solution to this problem. In short, they deny that hell
        is eternal and affirm that all will be saved. Thus, in the end there will be no
        unredeemed evil.
                     The author of this book lends support to the growing trend toward
        universalism. Not insignificantly, the subtitle of the book is ‘Are We Free to Reject
        God?’ As Hall recognizes, how one understands the nature of freedom will have
        crucial consequences for how one conceives of hell. Not surprisingly, as we shall
        see, Hall rejects a libertarian understanding of freedom.

         c March 30, 2009, Ars Disputandi. If you would like to cite this article, please do so as follows:
        Jerry L. Walls, ‘Review of Swinburne’s Hell and Hick’s Universalism,’ Ars Disputandi [http://www.ArsDisputandi.
        org] 4 (2004), paragraph number.
                         Jerry L. Walls: Review of Swinburne’s Hell and Hick’s Universalism

           As the title of the book indicates, Hall discusses these issues by examining
the works of two major figures in contemporary philosophy of religion, namely,
Richard Swinburne and John Hick. Although hell has not been a major emphasis
in his work, Swinburne has defended a version of the doctrine in connection
with his larger project in philosophical theology. Hick, by contrast, has devoted
considerable attention to a defense of universalism over the years. The bulk of
Hall’s book is devoted to first expounding and then criticizing the views of these
authors on these respective subjects.
           Swinburne’s defense of hell depends heavily on his commitment to a
strong view of libertarian freedom. On his view, God gives us the freedom to
form our character either for good or for evil. Once our character is formed, we
no longer have the ability to make certain kinds of choices. If a person forms his
character for evil, God will not override his freely chosen character, and he can
no longer be saved. At this point Hall contends, there is little difference between
the compatibilist and the libertarian positions for both maintain that character
determines choice. ‘Thus the inner freedom required by the libertarian can only
be initial freedom to form character, and this is not substantially different from
the freedom required by the compatibilist’ (p 93).
            When Hall turns to Hick, she stipulates that she will focus only on
Hick’s writings up to 1983. The reason for this is that Hick’s later writings are
increasingly agnostic to the point that they even deny the premises of his earlier
argument for universalism. In short, his later agnosticism is at odds with his
universalism. But even within the scope of his earlier writings, Hall finds much
to criticize. She points out that Hick wavers between contingent and necessary
universalism. The former holds that in the actual world all persons will in fact
finally be saved, although it possible that some could be lost, while the latter view
maintains that it is not even possible that some will be lost.
            Moreover, Hall points out that Hick needs a stronger view of divine
foreknowledge than he affirms to be confident of his universalism. As his posi-
tion stands, all that Hick can be sure of is that none will go to eternal hell, but he
cannot rule out the possibility that some may forever remain in a sort of perpetual
purgatory and never make a decisive choice for God. Hick’s position rests cru-
cially on his view that all persons have a predilection for God, but he leaves open
the possibility that some may never respond positively to God’s love and grace.
           In the final chapter, Hall proposes a defense of universalism that aims
to avoid the deficiencies in Hick’s view. She rejects both what she calls hard
universalism, the view that God will override freedom if necessary to save all
persons, as well as necessary universalism. In place of these, Hall proposes
what she calls firm universalism, the view that God will insure through middle
knowledge that all persons will in fact respond positively to his love and grace.
However, Hall’s defense of universalism does not depend only on an appeal
to middle knowledge. She also holds that all persons will have a face to face
encounter with God after death in which they will for the first time see God as
he really is. In this encounter all will recognize that they do indeed have a deep
yearning for God. Hall’s view then, in short, is that all persons have a predilection

                                   Ars Disputandi 4 (2004), http://www.ArsDisputandi.org
                         Jerry L. Walls: Review of Swinburne’s Hell and Hick’s Universalism

for God and that all will come to realize this and act on it after death if not before.
In this life, Hall agrees with Hick that we are at an epistemic distance from God
and freely develop our own wills. But God can through his middle knowledge
know that all persons would freely respond positively to him in a face to face
encounter, and he can arrange things so all persons have this experience and
respond in this fashion.
            Hall’s defense of universalism is an interesting attempt to deploy var-
ious distinct concepts and lines of thought in a creative synthesis that renders
it rationally certain that all will finally be saved, without denying the reality of
human freedom. My questions about her case mostly revolve around her account
of human freedom.
            Although Hall affirms a compatibilist or soft determinist view of free-
dom, her account of this has a distinctly libertarian flavor. She writes that ‘soft
determinists simply assert that there is a reason why we make particular deci-
sions’ (p. 182). This is striking because those who affirm a libertarian view of
freedom often argue that reasons explain our actions but do not determine them.
Reasons may incline one to act in a certain way, but other reasons may also be
present that incline one to act in another way. One could choose either way, and
reasons would be present to explain either action. So long as reasons only incline
but do not determine, it is not clear that one is affirming a compatibilist view. The
same point could be made about the idea that we are created with a predilection
for God. So long as this predilection does not determine that we will inevitably
choose God, it is not sufficient to underwrite a compatibilist view of freedom.
            Since Hall stops short of saying that reasons and inclinations determine
our actions, it is doubtful that her view is really a compatibilist one.
            A similar ambiguity is evident in the fact that Hall appeals to middle
knowledge to assure his universalism. If our God given nature determines that we
will inevitably choose God either in this life or in an after death encounter which
will make clear our yearning for him, then middle knowledge is unnecessary to
assure universalism.
             Middle knowledge, according to Molina, pertains to free choices that
God does not determine. If this is so, then it is possible that there are persons
that would never respond positively to God in any circumstances he might create.
Hall attempts to circumvent this problem as follows: ‘Although the truth of
counterfactuals of freedom are not controlled by God, it is not the case that God
is simply left to make the best of what he finds. It is after all, God who makes
human as they are’ (p. 218). But here is the question. Are the persons God knows
about through middle knowledge free in such a way that they could reject him,
as Molina believed? If so, then middle knowledge pertains to the choices they
actually would make in various circumstances and states of affairs, although they
could in fact choose other than they do.
             Now Hall seems to be suggesting that God, in making humans as he
does, makes them in such a way that they will inevitably choose God. Perhaps
they can resist him for an indefinite period of time, but in the end must admit
their yearning for him and be united with him. In that case, middle knowledge

                                   Ars Disputandi 4 (2004), http://www.ArsDisputandi.org
                        Jerry L. Walls: Review of Swinburne’s Hell and Hick’s Universalism

would not be needed to know that all will be saved. Middle knowledge might
be helpful in knowing just when and under what circumstances people would
finally respond positively to God. But it would not be needed to underwrite the
basic claim that all will certainly do so at the end of the day.
            Moreover, it might be possible to defend a version of firm universalism
by appealing to middle knowledge while assuming a strongly libertarian view
of freedom. This version would hold that God’s perfect goodness requires uni-
versalism, so God would not create us with libertarian freedom unless he knew
through middle knowledge that he could so arrange the world that all would
eventually freely accept his offer of love.
            In short, there are ways to defend certain universalism using only
middle knowledge and there are ways that employ only soft determinism (both
assuming of course certain claims about what perfect goodness requires). But
Hall’s effort to deploy both of these indicates an ambiguous commitment to each
of them.
            Still, this is a significant discussion of crucial issues that moves the
discussion in some new directions. It provides an informative and critical review
not only of Swinburne and Hick but also an insightful assessment of several other
writers who have recently addressed the topics of hell and universalism.

                                  Ars Disputandi 4 (2004), http://www.ArsDisputandi.org