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#35 Bradley on Hell

December 17, 2007

Dear Dr Craig,

Thank you for your friendly welcome to your wonderful website. Let me first congratulate you on your site; it’s an excellent resource and has taught me a number of things already! Also, thank you for your value apologetics, philosophical and evangelising work, and I hope God continues to bless you and strengthen you in your endeavours. Living in Australia, we (Australian Christians) rarely get the opportunity to come across sophisticated and scholarly apologetics and, as a Roman Catholic, this is an even rarer occurrence for me. So your work and publishings on the internet are of vital importance in educating Christians and Western culture generally about the truth claims of Christianity.

I’ve just finished listening to your debate with Ray Bradley on the question: Can a loving God send people to Hell? I was impressed with the logic Bradley argued with at times - a far cry from many other debaters I’ve heard - but like you, I found his logic flawed on a number of important points. I also found his focus very emotive, which I think was his strongest tool of persuasion.

I’d love to hear your response on these points I found problematic in what Bradley was arguing:

1. Bradley states: “But now consider heaven. Clearly the concept of heaven is a coherent one. That is to say, in technical terms, heaven is a possible world. If it weren’t, not even God or the saved could exist there. Moreover, Dr. Craig takes it to be one that is populated solely by believers who freely acknowledge Christ.” He goes on to argue that heaven, being a logically possible world, indeed an actual world, where beings freely worship and obey God, is in contradiction to your fourth proposition that: “There is no possible world inhabited by creatures with free will in which all persons freely receive Christ.”

At first glance, I thought this was a very strong point. But when I began to consider the valid application of it, I saw some problems. Namely:

The difference between how an actual world and a possible world are affected by free will. It is true that any actual world is also a possible world, but not any possible world is an actual world. Heaven, being an actual world continues to be a possible world. However, whereas in a purely theoretical possible world, one could posit that every creature will freely receive Christ, in any actual world the arbitrary quality of free will makes any possible world where creatures freely receive Christ also a possible world where some do not. Therefore, a possible world, once actualised, cannot be so predetermined with a variable quality such as free will.

2. Bradley states: “...that God’s foreknowledge of what the unsaved would do, together with the His perverse determination to create them nevertheless, makes Him what lawyers call an “accessory before the fact,” and therefore responsible at least in part for the outcome.” The implication being that God, through his foreknowledge, aware that a created being will be damned, is not demonstrating love by not “uncreating” that being in the first place.

I’ve got lots of problems with this argument:

It misunderstands the nature of God’s foreknowledge. Going from an Augustinian view, God’s foreknowledge is possible because He exists in all times and places in the eternal present, so that past, present and future are all present to Him. For God to know that one of His creatures would reject Him in life and be damned, it necessitates that God would have actually had to create this creature (or else the idea of this creature and its potential salvation or damnation would be mere possibility, and with arbitrary free will involved, possibility could not result in a definite foreknowledge). God would “foreknow” the damnation of the creature because, being in the eternal present, He would already be present at the creature’s judgement (in the creature’s own personal future life). Therefore, it follows that for God to “foreknow” whether the creature was saved or damned, He would have already judged the creature. But this then raises what I think is a contradiction in what Bradley is suggesting: that a loving God would “uncreate” a damned creature when its damnation could only be “foreknown” by its judgement in the eternal present of God, and thus the creature’s creation and judgment become necessary criteria for its “uncreation”. (I say “necessary criteria” because its life has to become an actuality, not just a possibility, to know how it will use its free will.) Therefore, I don’t think that God is an “accessory to the fact” at all - rather, He is doing the only thing logically possible once an actual creation has taken place.

Anyway, Dr Craig, thank you again for everything you’re doing. If you ever intend on coming to Australia to lecture or debate, please let me know!

All the best,


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Dr. craig’s response


These questions bring back good memories of my debate with Ray Bradley! Though he is a fine logician, the argument he presented seemed to me to rest on fundamental mistakes concerning possible worlds. Basically, a possible world is a maximal description of the way reality might be; nothing is left out of the description. A sentence is possibly true if it is true in at least one possible world, and it is necessarily true if it is true in every possible world.

So, Jonathan, consider the first argument you mention. It’s immediately evident, contrary to Bradley, that heaven is not a possible world! For heaven is not maximal; it’s a part of a world, namely that part in which people are blessed for their pre-mortem response to the Gospel. Thus, heaven entails that there was a life prior to death. Now someone might say, “All right; but still God could just create a sort of heavenly existence having the same people in it without any pre-mortem life.” Let’s concede the point. But then we’re dealing with a brand new possible world, and it may not be the case that all of those people would freely believe in God if they were created in such a state. As I explained in answering the question “Why Does God Permit Suffering to Continue?” with respect to the wheat and the tares, God can’t just pluck people out of a possible world (like this one) and guarantee that they will all be believers in that different world.

Notice, too, that I did not say, “There is no possible world inhabited by creatures with free will in which all persons freely receive Christ.” There is indeed such a possible world. What I said was that such a world may not be FEASIBLE for God to create. For the existence of such a world doesn’t depend just on God’s will; it also depends crucially on the free will of the persons in it. And it cannot be guaranteed that they will co-operate. If God were to try to actualize such a world, it may be that the persons in it wouldn’t go along and would abort God’s intention by freely choosing to disbelieve.

This is the distinction you’re getting at when you differentiate between a possible world and an actual world. What you mean by “actual” is really “feasible.” In the terminology of possible worlds semantics, there is only one actual world, namely, the world we experience, the real world. The other worlds are possible but not actual. What you want to say is that not every possible world is a feasible world for God to create. So whereas in a purely theoretical possible world, one could posit that every creature will freely receive Christ, it may well be that the quality of free will makes any feasible world where creatures freely receive Christ also a feasible world where some do not.

Now as to the second argument you mention, Jonathan, we need to distinguish between God’s foreknowledge and His middle knowledge. Foreknowledge is knowledge of what will be. Middle knowledge is knowledge of what would be under such-and-such circumstances. A great illustration of the difference between these, especially appropriate at Christmas time, concerns the revelations made to Scrooge by the Spirit of Christmas yet to come in Dickens’ The Christmas Carol. Scrooge demands to know of the Spirit if these are shadows of things that will be or shadows of things that would be if Scrooge were to remain unrepentant. As you rightly note, if it’s foreknowldge that is at stake, then it’s “too late,” so to speak, for Scrooge to do anything about it. You can’t “uncreate” the future, as you say, because then it wasn’t really the future at all! But if it’s middle knowledge that’s at stake, then Scrooge can still avert his fate by repenting and so changing the circumstances.

Now although Bradley refers (incorrectly) to God’s foreknowledge, what he’s really talking about is God’s middle knowledge, for he speaks of God’s knowing “what the unsaved would do” [note not what they will do]. So your answer won’t work in this case. God via His middle knowledge can survey the range of worlds feasible for Him to create and then decide which one He wants when none of them is as yet actual. But finding no worlds of universal salvation without overriding deficits, God, no doubt with some sadness, settles on this world in which some people, contrary to His will for them and His every effort to save them, spurn His grace, separate themselves irrevocably from Him, and so damn themselves forever. God can hardly be called an accessory to their crimes, since He tried to prevent their freely chosen path of self-destruction, but they would not heed Him.

Now that brings us to the six propositions mentioned by you, Charles. Almost none of these strikes me as evidently true.

P1 In order for a descriptive concept to have any significant application, there must be possible circumstances in which it doesn’t apply. This seems obviously false. Take propositions that are true in every possible world, e.g., “The angles of a Euclidean triangle add up to 180 degrees.” There are no possible circumstances in which that description doesn’t apply, but would Bradley say that Euclidean geometry has no significant applications? Of course not!

P2: A perfectly good being would not torture anyone for any period whatever, however brief. The word “torture” is pejorative; the question is whether a perfectly good being would punish someone for any period of time. The answer is, of course, he would! Otherwise he wouldn’t be perfectly good, for he would not be perfectly just.

P3 A just being wouldn’t punish someone eternally for the sins committed during a brief lifetime but would proportion the punishment to the offense. I answered this in the debate itself. The brevity of time it took to commit the crime is irrelevant; it’s the seriousness of the crime that matters. Punishment should be apportioned to the seriousness of the crime. I suggested that even if God does allot a finite punishment for every sin, still, since the denizens of hell continue to hate and reject God, they continue to sin and so accrue to themselves more punishment, so that both sinning and the punishment go on forever. Alternatively, the sin of rejecting God Himself is a sin of infinite gravity and proportion and so plausibly merits an infinite punishment.

P4 A righteous being would not punish someone eternally for unavoidable lack of belief. I agree; but unbelief is always avoidable. God has given a general revelation of Himself in the world, and by His Holy Spirit He seeks to draw all persons to salvation. He judges people based on their response to the light that they have. The Bible says that all men are without excuse for not believing in a Creator God, since unbelief is not due to lack of information but to a perverse will which suppresses the truth (Romans 1.19-21).

P5 A merciful being would not be eternally unforgiving to those who have offended it. Suppose pardon is offered but refused. Where does the fault lie? The offended party has a forgiving attitude but the perpetrator refuses reconciliation. Even the inhabitants of hell persist in their hatred and rejection of God. So God is forgiving, but His pardon is null and void if rejected. If people reject Christ’s payment for their sins, the only person left to pay the penalty for sin is oneself.

P6 A loving being would not bring about and perpetuate the suffering of those it loves. This is obviously false. Do parents hate their children when they inflict painful discipline on them? Do judges and juries hate the defendants when they pronounce them guilty and sentence them to prison and even to death? That is absurd. Of course one can love the guilty party deserving of punishment!

It’s so painfully evident from these propositions and the arguments based upon them that Bradley has no real understanding of the Gospel. How it grieves me to see people reject the God who loves them based on such tawdry caricatures! How much more does it grieve God Himself!

- William Lane Craig