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Thursday, October 15, 2009


Mark Brumley

It seems to me that the more difficult problem with hell is that God would have created certain beings with full knowledge that they will go to hell. Not that he predestinates people to hell in such a way that they have no choice or freedom in the matter. No, anyone who goes to hell does so because he chooses to reject God. In that sense, he gets what he deserves and on a deep, fundamental level, he gets what he wants--or at least what he prefers over the option of loving God. We might even suppose that God knows that the damned would even prefer damnation to nonexistence--if that is meaningful.

But there is still the issue of God having created a being that God, in his omniscience, knows will freely choose to reject him.

Now some people will argue, based on the "free will defense", that one of the goods otherwise unobtainable without the existence of evil is freedom itself. In other words, in order for a creature to have freedom, it must be possible for him to abuse that freedom by choosing against God. When one finally and definitively chooses against God, the choice is experienced as hell, since God is goodness, joy, peace, etc., and one has elected to reject God and therefore those things, in preference to self.

An objection to the free will defense put forth by theologians and philosophers in the Thomist tradition is that God is capable of moving the human will in such a way that man can freely embrace the good and reject evil. It is not, therefore, necessary for evil to exist in order for free choice to exist. God, on this account, could move everyone freely to embrace him, but he chooses not to do so. It may be necessary that evil be permitted in order for certain goods in addition to freedom to exist, but the existence of free creatures is consistent with the nonexistence of evil, on the Thomist view. Therefore, the free will defense, on this view, doesn't work--or at least it needs to be significantly qualified.

If the Thomists are correct, then one must account for why God does not move everyone freely to embrace good and reject evil. Why does he allow some freely to choose to reject him and wind up damned, when he could have, on this account, have moved them freely to embrace him?

The Thomist answer is that God's willing here is mysterious. If one accepts the Thomistic premise that God can move people freely to choose good and to avoid evil, then one must suppose that his not moving some people freely to choose the good involves his bringing about some otherwise unattainable good out of the evil he permits. In other words, he creates beings who will freely choose and deservedly obtain the "miserific vision" (to use C.S. Lewis' term) because those beings in one way or another will contribute to bringing about some good that would otherwise not exist. One classic example is the passion and death of Christ himself, who would not have died out of love for sinful man had man not been allowed freely to choose to sin.

If you and I wind up in heaven, it will be as a result of God allowing others to choose evil, even though he could, on the Thomistic account, have freely moved them to choose the good. For you and I exist and make the choices we make in part due to the existence of evil in the world. In a world without evil, you and I wouldn't exist--somewhere along the line in our ancestry an evil choice was made without which we wouldn't be here. Other human beings might exist, but you and I surely would not. Why God has chosen this order of things--the one that includes you and me--is a mystery. But if the Thomists are right about God and human willing, and if we rightly appreciate our existence, then we have to be thankful, not for the existence of evil as such, but for God's permitting it and therefore for his permitting a necessary condition for you and me to exist.


The Nature of Love is that it is not coercive, which is why we have free will, to begin with. That being said, Thank God for Purgatory, which , without His Love and Mercy, would not exist. At the end of the day, it is still a Great Mystery.

Dan Deeny

Mark Brumley says: "If you and I wind up in heaven, it will be as a result of God allowing others to choose evil..." I don't follow this, and I'm not sure Mark does either. Must be a case of imprecise, or hurried, writing. Perhaps Mark can explain?

Mark Brumley

Well, the obvious example is God's allowing others to choose to crucify Jesus. Had that not happened, we would not be able to go to heaven.

But we can give another more ancestral example: the fact that your great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandfather was not so great because he fornicated with your great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandmother and their offspring, your great, great, great, great, great, great grandmother, was conceived out of wedlock. God allowed your ancestors to choose the evil of fornication and as a result, one of your ancestors was conceived.

Your great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandmother, conceived out of wedlock, grew up and proceeded to marry your great, great, great, great, great, great grandfather, thus making your eventual conception possible. However, you would not have been conceived had not your great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandmother married a second time, following the murder of her first husband. It was because God allowed someone to choose to murder the spouse of one of your ancestors that she wound up marrying another of your ancestors, thus making your eventual conception possible.

Then there was that business of the civil war, which killed off the man one of your ancestors would have married. Had she married the other man, you would not, of course, be here. So God's permitting people to choose the evils associated with the civil war allowed for a variety of effects to occur, including your eventual conception.

And so on.

Dan Deeny

Mark made a contribution at 01:27PM. If that is his explanation to my request, then I will attribute it to his youth and inexperience.
His response, if that is what it was, pushed me to go back and examine more closely his last paragraph. Amazing! Is what he says Catholic theology and doctrine? Or is he just having a bad day?

Mark Brumley

I'm sorry, Dan. I don't think I can help you. I thought the examples were clear ones of the principle of God allowing evil choices. I hope you didn't take the example personally. I used the rhetorical "your". But if you really don't see my point, I'm not sure how to get the point across.

Mark Brumley

How about this:

1. My existence is contingent on prior decisions of human beings. Some of those prior decisions were choices to do evil. Therefore: my existence is contingent upon the evil choices of others.

Doesn't the conclusion follow from the premises? And aren't the premises true?

2. If God did not allow any evil choices, then those evil choices upon which my existence is contingent would not have occurred. Since my existence is contingent upon them, their nonoccurance would mean I would not now exist. Since I do exist, God must have allowed to occur those evil choices upon which my existence is contingent.

Doesn't the conclusion follow from the premises? And aren't the premises true?

It seems to me that para. 2 is true, regardless of whether the Thomists are correct about God moving men's wills freely to choose the good or the proponents of the Free Will Defense are correct that freedom requires God to tolerate evil choices as a consequence of God willing that man possess freedom.

I am happy to be corrected on any of the points above, Dan.

Matt F

Here's a question to betray my ignorance.

Why can't I just be the "next" to be born. The next person launched into existence? Where is it written that I have to born "Son of Bill and Rita" and if Bill dies I don't get to be born. I'll buy that my gender is part of me but as long as I have my soul I just figured I'd be born (created)one way or another.

Sounds like your saying that I could only be conceived before breakfast and not after dinner.

Mark Brumley

Except you are a body/soul unity, not just a soul. And you get your body from your parents. You wouldn't be you with different biological parents.

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