Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Eternal nagging, endless second chances and hell

Jabba the Hutt asks for a passionate kiss. You really don't want to do it and you don't. So he asks you again the next day. And again the day after. And so on. Each time Jabba asks you, there is some small chance you'll agree. Let's say that that chance is always at least one in a googolplex. Now suppose you and Jabba live forever. He asks you every day. Then by the Law of Large Numbers, it is nearly certain (i.e., has probability one or one minus an infinitesimal) that one day you will agree, no matter how disgusted you are by him.

The practical inevitability of the kiss means there is a sense in which your agreeing has been forced out of you by Jabba's eternal nagging, even though you were free on the particular occasion when you agreed to the kiss. We might say that you were quite free not to kiss on day n, where n is the day you actually kissed Jabba, but you were not really free never to kiss him. Yuck! How is it freedom when you are guaranteed to kiss a disgusting giant slug?

Now the two best alternatives to the traditional Christian doctrine that those who after a set deadline (death, say) opt against God are excluded from heavenly union with God are:

  • Imposition: God imposes moral transformation on those who do not freely opt to love him.
  • Endless Second Chances: God ensures that those who refuse him nonetheless always have another chance.
Here I take for granted Jerry Walls' argument that for a sinner moral transformation is metaphysically necessary for heavenly bliss, as heavenly bliss is constituted by a love relationship with God.

It's pretty plausible (pace compatibilists) that in Imposition, God takes away the agent's freedom to refuse him. But if the eternal nagging argument works, then in Endless Chances it looks like God all but takes away the agent's freedom, making it all but inevitable that the agent will eventually agree.

It is offensive to compare God to Jabba the Hutt. Yet for the person who is opposed to God, eternal union with God is subjectively rather like kissing Jabba the Hutt. Nor would it make the story more palatable if Jabba were to promise to make you enjoy the kiss, say by exuding pheromones or changing your preferences, as soon as you say "yes" to him. Of course, objectively God is infinitely lovable--but those have rejected him have set their hearts against that truth.

Objection: God could set up a version of Endless Second Chances on which it is not inevitable that the agent will agree by allowing each of the agent's refusals to affect the agent's character by even further lowering the chance of subsequent acceptance of God's offer. If the subsequent chances decrease sufficiently (say, by a half each time), the overall probability of eventually accepting might be significantly different from one.

Response: Yes, but this loses out on what I take to be one of the main merits of hell, that hell stops the agent's moral deterioration. On this picture, there is a significantly non-zero chance that the agent will continue morally deteriorating for eternity. And that's unfitting.


entirelyuseless said...

This is not Jabba's fault -- the same thing will follow even if he has a small chance each day of deciding to ask for the kiss, even if ordinarily he does not want it and does not ask. So there is no question of imposing anything. It is just a question of what follows from the assumption that you are going to live forever.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Jabba can't stop asking, because he's morally flawed. But a morally perfect Hutt could promise never to impose his presence on you ever again, and would keep that promise.

Michael Gonzalez said...

As with many of these sorts of scenarios, the problem comes at "assume you and Jabba live forever" (well... usually the "Jabba" part is conspicuously absent). You never actually do live forever. You don't even get any closer to living forever than you were millions of years ago. You literally make zero progress toward "forever". I think that answers all of these issues with infinites and transfinites. They just aren't possible to instantiate in the real world.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Surely the Christian doctrine of eternal life is logically coherent. It surely is possible that after every day there will be another day. That's all that's needed to get the argument off the ground.

In fact, little hangs on infinity here. It is so near to certainty that within 10^googolplex years you will have kissed Jabba as one needs for any practical purposes to say that it's inevitable.

Michael Gonzalez said...

The Christian doctrine of eternal life is exactly as coherent on an open view of the future as it is on any other view. There will never be a day when you are not alive. That doesn't mean you ever actually reach infinity by successive additions of finites. There are too many reasons to think that that is logically incoherent, and nothing in the doctrine that requires it to be otherwise, so far as I can see...

Fair enough. Super long lives will eventually lead to coercion. It is an interesting puzzle. It's not relevant on my view, since the Bible seems to me to teach that recalcitrant, incorrigible sinners will simply be wiped from existence. God does not owe them more than a chance at the life Adam and Adam's offspring were meant to have. If they reject that then, just like Adam, they become dust again.

Alexander R Pruss said...

That there will never be a day when you are not alive does not imply that you have eternal life. Suppose time comes to end at midnight today, along with everything in existence. Then there will never be a day when you are not alive, but you will be far from having eternal life.

Michael Gonzalez said...

I'm with William Lane Craig on this one: Time cannot come to an end. As a reductio: If it did come to an end, it would always be true that time DID exist, which is a tensed truth and therefore time STILL exists.

But, in any case, I could modify my statement and say eternal life means that the statement, "then Alex ceased to live" will never become true. If time ceased, then you would cease, and so that will never happen.

Do you really believe that eternal life implies actually completing an infinite succession of finites??

Alexander R Pruss said...
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Alexander R Pruss said...

Eternal life implies that for every positive integer n, there will be an nth day in your life. This certainly does not require that there will be a day on which you will have had an infinite number of days of life, if that's what you mean by "actually completing an infinite succession of finites".

Actually, it's false to say that if time ceased, then "Alex ceased to live" would become true. For without time, there would be no becoming, and hence no becoming true.

The argument you offer that time cannot come to an end is just like Aristotle's argument that time cannot have a beginning, and suffers from the same flaw. For it to be true that time will have an end all it's enough that there be a time at which it is false that there is any later time. It is not needed that there be a time after time came to an end. And it makes no sense to say that "then" there would be no more time, for the hypothesis is precisely that there is no "then".

Michael Gonzalez said...

1) If you never actually have an infinite number of days of life, then no scenario that includes, "if you live forever" can have the robust mathematical meaning that such scenarios usually require. Mathematics about actual infinities or transfinites never cohere to actual events, even if the person in question has eternal life, because, at any given moment, that person has only yet lived a finite life.

2) I think Craig's point is that, if God were to abolish time and resume timeless existence, it would tenselessly/timelessly be true that time HAD existed... which is a tensed truth, and so such a situation is logically incoherent.

3) If eternal life includes that God will never abolish time, and will never abolish you, that still doesn't mean you ever actually live long enough for mathematics of the transfinite or infinite to apply.

William said...

There is little reason to think that someone would gain an arbitrarily large capacity memory just because I they were in a sheol or hell, so perhaps the second chance hell scenario should be conditioned by the premise that one who is in such a scenario repeats the same refusal with essentially the same past memory after a while. At that point, perhaps the chance of accepting "a kiss" remains small despite the repetition. So, if the memory incapacity allows what amounts to a modular arithmetic in the probability of the refusal, the loop within the modulus might never allow an acceptance.