The Craig-Bradley Debate:
Can a Loving God Send People to Hell?

Dr. Bradley's Opening Arguments

Don Reddick:

Thank you, Dr. Craig. We will now turn things over to Dr. Bradley for his opening remarks. Dr. Bradley. [applause]

Dr. Bradley:

Dr. Craig likes to talk about hell in such soothing terms as everlasting separation from God. This a favorite dodge of Christians. It makes our question sound rather like "Can a loving God send some of His children to Hawaii?" Think about it like this, and the answer seems obvious. Why not, if that is where some of them choose to go?

Now some Christians do in fact think of the question euphemistically in these terms, and some like to go further and think that when the children find that Hawaii's a little bit like hell because it's a bit too hot and the permanent locals are giving them a hard time, Father will relent and welcome them to His mansions on high. Such Christians are known as universalists. They believe that a time will come when God will actualize a perfect world, known as heaven, in which all of us will live with God in a state of joyous freedom and eternal happiness.

Now I see nothing logically impossible about this idea of heaven, and presumably neither does Dr. Craig. Yet Dr. Craig rejects the universalist's doctrine because the Bible tells us that the majority of God's children will be excluded from heaven and be sentenced then to hell. And here he is right. The Bible, we both agree, is exclusivist, not universalist.

Keeping Dr. Craig's biblical conservatism in mind, then, let's ask "How should we think of God's sending people to hell?" Not like Stalin sending people to exile in Siberia. It ought not even to be thought of as like Hitler sending people to the gas chambers of Auschwitz. For both of these are tame in comparison with the horror of being sent to hell. At least Auschwitz, Belsen, and the rest were death camps, finite in duration both for those who died and for those who survived. Hell, however, offers no such finality to those of us who are to fill its chambers. None will emerge from its torment, and its tortures will continue forever and ever.

You may think I am exaggerating. But let me then quote from what the "Good Book" has to say about the fate of those who will be eternally separated from God. I quote from Revelation: "He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the Holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up forever and ever" (Rev. 14.10-11). Note that the so-called Lamb who features so prominently in these divine spectator sports is Jesus himself. He plays much the same sort of role as that of the subsequently sainted Pope Pius V in this illustration, torturing a dissenting priest. [displays drawing of a priest being tortured] Note, too, that Jesus himself is reported as having similar views of hell. No fuzzy talk of eternal separation from him! On a quick count I found 20 or so passages in the gospel of Matthew alone in which Jesus threatens unbelievers with what he calls fiery hell, that is, with eternal punishment, in an eternal fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

What should Christians say about such passages? They are faced with a devastating trilemma. To renounce them as untrue, because patently malevolent, would be to suppose that God or Jesus was either mistaken or misreported. But if Jesus was mistaken, he can't be divine. And if Jesus was misreported, then the Bible can't be the true word of God. The believer has no option, then, but to accept the doctrine of hell-fire in all its obscenities.

Now let's ask who will escape the tortures of hell? Saint Paul tells us that only those who have been sanctified and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus will be saved. He was, of course, only echoing Jesus himself, who repeatedly tells us that only those who believe in him will go the heaven. Neither good works nor generous donations will get you there. The legions of the damned, according to Jesus, include all those who don't have the right belief, the belief that he, Jesus, is Lord and Savior. In short, those who will be sent to hell include all those who, as the evangelicals put it, have not been born again. Dr Craig is commendably firm on this. There is no other name, he says, whereby we may be saved. On his view, even the most saintly believers of other religions are lost and dying without Christ. Dr. Craig, like Jesus, is an exclusivist.

But isn't the real problem here simply the necessary condition of believing in the name of Jesus that you both heard his name and understood its significance? No one can be saved from hell if they haven't been evangelized. What, then, of those who have lived in times or places in which the name of Jesus is unknown or ill-understood? Are we then to suppose that a loving God will send to hell all those who can't believe either because they have never heard or because, like me, they have heard but still find it impossible to believe?

Once more, Dr. Craig bites the bullet. Yes, he says, that's the way it is. The gate of salvation, he likes to remind us, quoting Jesus, is narrow, and the way is hard, and those who find it are few (Mt. 7.14). The exclusion of most human beings on the grounds that they don't believe in Jesus is a simple consequence of the fact that most of them haven't even heard of him.

Now Dr. Craig, as we will see in a bit, knows and appreciates his logic. I do wonder, however, whether he takes the same view of children who die before they understand what all this Jesus talk amounts to. Will they too, as Saint Augustine believed, be excluded? Infants, he'd have to admit, are just as tarnished with original sin as are others who are in no position to believe. So if, like him, we think God justified in sending the unevangelized to hell on the grounds that He knew from all eternity that they would have rejected Christ even if they'd heard His name, why shouldn't he think God justified in condemning non-believing infants on precisely the same grounds? Will he have the courage to tell that to grieving parents?

Now I can understand how those who believe in the God of the Old Testament might see no problem about that God condemning people to hell, for that God is often depicted as unjust. For example, He punishes not only sinners but their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. He is often depicted as unloving and unrighteous. For example, He gave Moses' soldiers 32,000 captured virgins for themselves while ordering the slaughter of their mothers and brothers, who were also prisoners of war (Num. 31.15-18; 32-35).

Summing it up, God even says of Himself in the book of Isaiah that He creates evil (Is. 45.7). Here's our problem of inconsistency. The God in whom Dr. Craig believes is supposed to have more desirable properties than the God of the Old Testament. He's supposed to have the properties stated in 1.

Proposition 1. God is omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly good, just, righteous, merciful, and loving.

At this point our question emerges into sharp focus from the fog of euphemistic verbiage: How could this God send the majority of human race to eternal torture in the fires of hell? The problem is that the proposition (1), when analyzed, seems logically inconsistent with 2.

Proposition 2. God will torture the majority of humans eternally in hell for the sin of unbelief, even though most of them have never even heard Jesus' name.

Now Dr. Craig and I both agree that this is a question of applied logic. But think for a moment and just test your intuitions about (1) and (2). If it would be inconsistent to suppose that Hitler was acting lovingly while sending the majority of German Jews to the gas chambers for lacking the right parentage, wouldn't it be equally inconsistent to claim that God is acting lovingly while sending the majority of the human race to roast in hell for lacking the right belief? Before proving (1) and (2) are indeed inconsistent, as I think they are, I'm first going to have to refute a logical argument by means of which Dr. Craig thinks he can prove that they aren't.

In his published works on this issue, Dr. Craig claims that there's a third proposition, which he mentioned today. And it's roughly 3.

Proposition 3. God has actualized a world containing an optimal balance between saved and unsaved, and those who are unsaved He will send to hell.

And he says that this is both consistent with (1) and together with (1) implies (2). Therefore, he claims that (1) is consistent with (2).

Now I agree that if proposition (3) had both of these features, then it would, indeed, follow by a well-known theorem of logic that (1) is consistent with (2). But the problem is that (3) isn't consistent with (1), since, as I'll show, (3) implies a proposition within which (1) is inconsistent.

Just think about it: in talking about an optimal world, Dr. Craig is talking about the most desirable world that God could have created, given that He wanted to create a world in which people have free will and can exercise it by deciding whether or not to accept Christ. But this means that, as he himself has acknowledged, (3) wouldn't be true unless it were also true that 4.

Proposition 4. There is no possible world inhabited by creatures with free will in which all persons freely receive Christ.

In other words, as he acknowledges, (3) implies (4).

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. That is to say, he and conservative Christians are committed to asserting the denial of (4), namely 5.

Proposition 5. There is a possible a world which is inhabited by creatures with free will, all of whom freely receive Christ.

But this spells trouble for Dr. Craig. If (5) is true, then both (4) and (3) are false, since a world in which some people go to heaven and others are sent to hell is by no means an optimal one. God can't be let off the hook, as it were, by saying that He couldn't have done any better without depriving His creatures of free choice.

The worst is to come. For since (5) merely asserts a logical possibility, it is one of those propositions which, if true, is necessarily true. It then follows that, in accordance with a few more theorems of logic which I will state later if necessary, the denial of (5), namely (4), is necessarily false, and that (3), which implies (4), is also necessarily false and therefore is inconsistent with (1). The mere possibility of heaven shows his free will defense to be a logical fraud.

Having demolished his defense, I'm now going to prove the inconsistency of (1) and (2). First, I want to point out that there's a problem about God's foreknowledge of our free acts. It's not that I think God's omniscience and consequent foreknowledge imply His predetermining what our acts will be, despite the fact that the Bible says the two go hand in hand. The trouble lies elsewhere, in the fact 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. After all, it is up to God whether to create free creatures or not. Just as we must bear responsibility for the consequences our freely chosen actions, so must He. The New Testament God, every bit as much as the Old Testament one, creates us as sinners in an evil world, knowing well what the consequences would be for some of us, namely the worst evil of all, hell. At the very least, therefore, He shares responsibility for these evils.

Further proof that (1) and (2) are inconsistent: I can demonstrate the inconsistency of (1) and (2) by appeal to the following logical semantic principle, broadly logical principle, if you like: P.

Proposition P. In order for a descriptive concept to have any significant application, there must be possible circumstances in which it doesn't apply--possible circumstances, that is, in which some logically opposed concept does apply.

Now it follows from this principle that if we were to describe a person as perfectly good, then we commit ourselves to saying that he or she doesn't act in the kind of ways that evil people do. Fair enough? It follows further that if we were to describe someone such as Hitler as perfectly good despite all his evil doings, we'd be playing word games which are intellectually dishonest as they are morally pernicious. Needless to say, this principle applies just as much when describing God as it does when describing Hitler. And when it is applied to the descriptions of God given in (1), it yields the following truths:

P1. A perfectly good being would not torture anyone for any period whatever, however brief.

P2. A just being wouldn't punish someone eternally for the sins committed during a brief lifetime but would proportion the punishment to the offense.

P3. A righteous being would not punish someone eternally for unavoidable lack of belief.

P4. A merciful being would not be eternally unforgiving to those who have offended it.

P5. A loving being would not bring about and perpetuate the suffering of those that it loves.

But now the logical inconsistency between (1) and (2) becomes obvious on several scores all at once. For (1) in conjunction with (P1) through (P5) implies that the Christian God won't do the very things that (2) says He will do. The answer to our original question is that for purely logical reasons, God cannot send people to hell. Dr. Craig's concept of a loving God's sending people to hell is logically absurd. I've just shown, as I see it, that we have compelling reasons for not believing in Dr. Craig's sort of God.

But, finally, let me alert you to something deeply important. All this talk about what God can and cannot do can easily trap us into accepting the underlying presupposition that a God actually exists. But are there any reasons to suppose that the Christian God does in fact exist? Or that He loves us?

I'd say "no" for a host of reasons, the most important being that, as we've just seen, the Christian concept of God who sends people to hell is inconsistent. We have the best of all possible reasons, therefore, to be atheists. As to whether some other God exists, I'm inclined to be an agnostic. In my view, there's as little reason to believe in the existence of any God as there is to believe in Santa or the Tooth Fairy. The fact that we can talk about Gods, build them temples, make sacrifices on their behalf, etc. shows only that some of us suffer from what Bertrand Russell called "the cruel thirst to worship." We like to take flights of fantasy into worlds of fiction.

But not all fictions are on a par. Stories about Santa or the Tooth Fairy are fairly innocuous. But the Christian fiction, with its story of evils and an afterworld, demonstrably isn't. Belief in it has been responsible for some of the most horrendous evils of this world: the evils of witch hunts, religious wars, persecution, evils such as those in which the conquistadors first baptized Indian infants, thus saving their souls, then dashed out their brains so as to ensure that they couldn't become heretics; evils such as those in which the Inquisition cast non-conforming thinkers into temporal fires so that their souls, thus purified, might escape the fires of eternity. If there were an omniscient God, He would have known from the very beginning that all these atrocities and many more would result from believing in Him. He therefore bears as much responsibility for such evils as that other creature of Christian mythology, the devil.

Beware of such beliefs! I hope that you will come to see, as I once reluctantly did, that they can be hazardous to your health, not just physically, but intellectually and morally as well.

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