Monday, March 3, 2014

An Argument Against Annihilationism

I recently tried this argument out against the view that the ultimately unrepentant are annihilated.  I take for granted in the first premise that God in a deep sense is love and as such all of his actions must be understood as loving ones.

1. Any action of God's towards some x (who can be an object of love) must be consistent with God's loving x.
2. If y loves x (among other things) y promotes some good G for x (e.g. desires G for x/intends G for x/brings about G for x, etc).
3. One cannot promote any goods for x if x does not exist.
4. If x is annihilated then x does not exist.
5. If x does not exist, then there are no goods for x for y to promote for x.
6. Thus, annihilating x is inconsistent with loving x.
7. Thus, God would not annihilate x.

I think probably the initial reaction will be to reject 5: An action of removing your pain, suffering, or languishing is consistent with loving you and annihilating you would do the trick. Annihilation, in such a case, would be a good for me.

Reply: It is only good for me to have my pain removed if I PERSIST through the pain being removed from me.  There is no good FOR ME being promoted at time T if my pain and I both go out of existence simultaneously at T. My annihilation is not a good for me, for I cease to exist simultaneously with my being annihilated.  Just as it makes no sense to think that there are any goods for me to be promoted before I exist, so too it makes no sense to think that there are goods for me when I cease to exist.  And the annihilation of me is my ceasing to exist.  (I assume that my existence is not vague and there is no process I undergo of being annihilated.  Annihilation is an action taken such that I no longer exist, it's not a process I could "enjoy"  undergoing.)

I'm not fully satisfied with this response.  If I go out of existence, it could be argued that my legacy is something which is a good for me, and one could promote my legacy even if I went out of existence.  ("That Tully sure was a great guy!")  Further, one could honor me with a proper burial of my body, if, say, I went out of existence at death.  Still, perhaps we should think that in such cases these actions are in no way goods in my life, and one who believed I truly went out of existence should not think that these actions are really goods for me.  These actions are not actions of loving me (I don't exist), but they are actions done out of love for the memory of me.  People could no longer love me---since there is no me to love--but they could love their memory of me.  Or perhaps such actions are done out of love for my family or loved ones.  Or perhaps they are done out of love for me in one's mind, but they are not loving actions of the extra-mental me (who has ceased to exist).


  1. "I take for granted in the first premise that God in a deep sense is love and as such all of his actions must be understood as loving ones."

    Herein lies the failure and inadequacy of the argument.

    God's actions are not always a display of love toward the object that receives the action. In this particular case, the action of destroying is received in fullness by the wicked unrepentant.

    The idea that God's actions must, in essence, exemplify a love toward the wicked lost, is simply unfounded (in the biblical account).

    The Psalmist declares, "the LORD trieth the righteous: but the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth (Psalm 11:5)."

    Again, David expresses God's abhorrence of wicked men by stating, "thou hatest all workers of iniquity" (Psalm 5:5).

    We see, in the next verse, that God's hatred is the underlying inspiration of the destructive fate awaiting evil men.

    "Thou shalt destroy them that speak leasing: the LORD will abhor the bloody and deceitful man" (Verse 6).

    Those in hell are not the recipients of love, but of hate, anger, and great wrath.

  2. Hi Isaac,

    Well, one can't defend all of one's presuppositions or background beliefs in one blogpost! :)

    "The idea that God's actions must, in essence, exemplify a love toward the wicked lost, is simply unfounded (in the biblical account)."

    First, the idea (which perhaps is behind this) that the only things that can be known about God can only be known by reading the Bible is unfounded. Not only does the Bible itself not say that, it's flatly contradicted by Romans 1 (moreover if one knew nothing about God, Biblical interpretation could never get started, for in order to interpret the Bible as God's word we have to know things about who God is). But perhaps you just meant to say that the view is contradicted by Scripture (in which case, I would agree that my view would be false since whatever Scripture contradicts I take to be false). But what is said in the Bible is one thing, and what the Bible says is another (it is said in the Psalms that "there is no God" (by the fool) but the Bible is not saying that there is no God).

    Second, things are bit more complicated than you seem to make out here. We need to understand a verse in light of its surrounding context, the surrounding context in light of the book and genre, that book of the Bible in light of the context of the entire Bible, and the Bible in light of the context of Jesus Christ and his Church (his body) which brought the various scriptures together and put them into one book--The Bible. Moreover, since the Bible does not come with a Preface explaining how to interpret it, we'll need to figure out what sort of hermeneutical methods are appropriate or best. There is nothing in the Bible which says that David had only true beliefs about God. There is nothing in the Bible that says that for the Bible to be inspired or inerrant everything David says about God should be interpreted literally, metaphorically, ironically, etc. It is one thing for someone in the Bible to express certain sentences; it is another thing entirely for God to say something to us BY MEANS OF those sentences. And what is a very important question is, what is God saying by means of those Psalms? To answer that, it won't do just to read them out loud (perhaps loudly).

    Third, since the apostles had a fuller revelation of God than did anyone in the Old Testament, we'll need to interpret the Old Testament in light of the New. And John, perhaps the closest apostles to Jesus, held a pride of place for understanding God most fundamentally in terms of love.

    1 John 4:7ff. is hard to understand if John has in mind that God is partly hateful and partly loving. He doesn't say that Christians should love and hate because God loves and hates; rather we should love because God IS love. Ephesians 3:19 says that God's love is so massive it surpasses all understanding. Haters gonna hate, but love LOVES.

    Of course, love can find itself properly expressed in myriad ways. It can be an act of love to punish one's children. Love is also consistent with anger. But it's not consistent with hatred. Christians are to hate sin and try to eradicate it (especially in ourselves!) but we are called to love everyone (an odd thing if God hates some, but perhaps you'd disagree that Christians are called to love all).

    Much more could be said and needs to be said. But I now have to go win an intramural basketball game.

  3. Here's an objection to the 2nd premise that I think you should be able to handle. It's interesting, nonetheless.

    It is not a necessary condition of loving x that the lover promote the good of x.

    Consider a soldier who leaves behind his fiance because he has been called off to war. He is gone for a considerable time, and during this time he has no interaction with her because there is simply no way for them to communicate. There is nothing he can do to promote some good for her. Does this mean he doesn't love her? Obviously not.

    Here's a response: What we meant with premise (2) was "If y loves x (among other things) y promotes some good for x if it is possible for y." In the case of God, there won't be any possible cases where He won't be able to promote some good for x, given his omnipotence.

  4. Okay Tully, I've taken your argument and developed my own. I think it is valid. Feel free to glean whatever value you can get from it.

    1. Any action of God's toward some x (who can be an object of love) must be consistent with God's loving x. (Premiss)

    2. If y loves x (among other things), y desires a right relationship with x. (Premiss)

    3. Because God is love, God loves all things that are proper objects of love (including humans). (Premiss)

    4. Thus, God desires a right relationship with all things that one can have a right relationship with. (2,3)

    5. If x is annihilated, x does not exist. (Premiss)

    6. One cannot have a relationship of any kind, much less a right relationship, with an object that does not exist. (Premiss)

    7. Thus, God cannot have a right relationship with something he annihilates. (5,6)

    8. If God cannot have a right relationship with something he annihilates, then given (2), annihilation is inconsistent with God's love. (Premiss)

    9. Thus, annihilation is inconsistent with God's love. (7,8 MP)

    10. Thus, God does not annihilate things who can be an object of love. (1)

  5. JS,

    With respect to the soldier, recall that I included a desire that x have some good in the parenthetical remark about the vague term "promotes." And the soldier can still desire that good things befall his lost loved one.

    I like the new version of the argument. It's an improvement on the original. You'll get thanked in the footnote if I publish something on the issue and use this version! :)

    I guess my only thought is that 1 and 3 are close to being redundant. But right now I'm less interested in tidying it up than thinking about how one might argue for something like 1 or 3 (beyond citing 1 John and making the quick move in 3). Perhaps there's an argument from God's perfection. I'll probably start by checking out Aquinas.

  6. I checked your comments on the argument FOR annihilationism and saw you said some things about union with God. I like talk of union with God a little better than talk of relationship with God, and I bet you could run a very similar argument to the one I run above for union with God. However, one benefit of my version is that Evangelicals like to talk about relationship with God a lot, so I think the relationship argument will be attractive to many of them. And, if that keeps evangelicals from blowing with faddish annihilationism winds of the day, I'm all for it.

    Your right about 1 and 3 being close to redundant. I'm not sure how to cut down on the redundancy, but as it stands, I use 1 in order to declare that annihilation is inconsistent with God's action in 10. In the argument's current form, I think it technically loses its validity if you get rid of 1. You need 3 to derive 4.

    One mistake I made was in premiss 8. I think it is better if it reads "given 4" instead of "given 2."