Stubborn Highlanders Revisited, and Antinomies of Pure Reason
Posted by turmarion
We’ve been discussing free will in the context of universalism. The notion put forth by defenders of the Traditional View of Hell (TVOH) in recent times has tried to defend God from charges of wantonly tossing people to damnation by asserting that the damned damn themselves. That is, those who choose against God, who choose to reject Him, voluntarily remove themselves from His presence. This removal from God’s presence is Hell. To the objection that they would surely change their minds sooner or later, the assertion is made that it is possible to reject God permanently, that is, to make an irrevocable decision from free will. For one to assert a universalist view–that all will ultimately be saved–one must argue that no such irrevocable decision, at least regarding Hell, is possible. This possibility of eternally irrevocable choices is what we’ve been looking at.
Let’s briefly sum up what we’ve decided thus far. Some argue that in the afterlife time as we know it no longer applies to saved or damned souls, and thus that their choices are not irrevocable over countless aeons, but rather made once and for all in an eternal moment. Against this, I’ve argued here and here that this can apply only to God Himself, and not to lesser beings, even immortal ones in the afterlife. Therefore, I’ve focused on whether or not a choice, can, in fact, be eternally irrevocable. I began that discussion here and elaborated here. I’ve used the whimsical idea that Connor MacCleod, eponymous hero of the Highlander movies and guest star in the series, has vowed that he will never, ever eat a broccoli fudge sundae. I’ve further specified that he is truly immortal–he will live not just for an unimaginably long time, but literally for all eternity. Can he keep this vow?
If he does keep the vow, then it seems true to say that the probability that he’ll ever eat a broccoli fudge sundae is zero. This, however, seems equivalent to saying that no circumstance will ever arise to make him change his mind; which seems equivalent to saying that he can’t change his mind (remember, zero probability); which in turn seems to imply that he lacks free will.
On the other hand, one could argue that given infinite time, every logically possible thing (that is, everything that is not a logical contradiction, such as a married bachelor) will sooner or later happen. It is certainly logically possible that Connor will eat a broccoli fudge sundae; so if this interpretation of probability is true (everything that can happen will happen), then it must be true that Connor will eventually break his vow and have the sundae. This also implies that he lacks free will, though, since he vowed not to have the sundae.
This may seem silly, but it’s vitally relevant. If an eternally irrevocable decision can be freely made by a finite creature, then it seems that one could indeed choose eternal damnation freely; and if this is so, we can’t rule out such a choice; and this makes universalism untenable. On the other hand, if a finite being cannot (not just will not but can not) choose eternal damnation, this seems to imply that there is no free will. This saves universalism, but it contradicts usual Christian belief (at least for non-Calvinists) in the freedom of the will. We seem to have hit an impasse.
I’ve given this a lot of thought over the last several months as I’ve worked on this series, and have not been able to give an answer that satisfies me. I am increasingly inclined to view the issue as an antinomy of pure reason. I’m using this word in the specific sense in which the great (and often obscure) philosopher Immanuel Kant used it. That is, an antinomy is, to quote the linked article
[T]he equally rational but contradictory results of applying to the universe of pure thought the categories or criteria of reason that are proper to the universe of sensible perception or experience (phenomena). Empirical reason cannot here play the role of establishing rational truths because it goes beyond possible experience and is applied to the sphere of that which transcends it.
For example, one cannot prove by reason alone that the universe is eternal or that it had a beginning. To use a layman’s exposition, to prove it’s eternal, we’d have to be able to trace its history back forever; but by definition we can’t do that. No matter how far back we went, we’d never know if the beginning was just a few more years back, or if there is no beginning. On the other hand, if we found a “beginning”, we’d have, by definition, no way of going past that beginning; which means that we wouldn’t know for sure that there wasn’t actually something there after all, and that the “beginning” was only apparent. Reason alone can’t decide, since the issue transcends pure reason.
I’m strongly inclined to the view that whether a finite, created being can make a truly free decision that is irrevocable–be that a decision never to eat a broccoli fudge sundae, or to remain in Hell–is an antinomy of pure reason. It seems that equally plausible arguments can be made on each side of the issue, and that neither side decisively trumps the other. Thus, neither we–nor Connor MacLeod himself–have any way of knowing if he can keep his vow or not. This is a trivial issue for Connor, but not for us in considering Hell and universalism. Perhaps we need to look at free will in a different light. We’ll discuss that next time.
Part of the series “You Pays Your Money and Takes Your Chances: Free Will“
Posted on 29/08/2014, in Christianity, ethics, metaphysics, philosophy, religion, theology and tagged Christianity, determinism, free will, Hell, Highlander, metaphysics, philosophy, pop culture, salvation, theology, universalism. Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.