Does Universal Reconciliation Destroy Free Will?

Last summer, we talked about how the claim, “If universal reconciliation (like through purgatorial hell) were certain, then free will would be destroyed,” reveals the incoherence of libertarian notions of free will.

At that time, I gave brief support to a direct rebuttal. That wasn’t really the primary thesis, though; the primary thesis was that “this whole thing” served as a good red flag “alert” that libertarian free will is just a logical wildcard (useful in rhetoric and conceptually-evocative, but mostly incoherent and ultimately confusing).

It turns out, however, that this rebuttal wasn’t very well-crafted, and I needed to do a better job of showing clearly why that original claim is false.

Hopefully I can do that irrespective of what kind of “free will” we’re talking about or in which we believe.

Lonely Patricia

In this thought experiment, we’re going to pretend that Patricia is the only human being. God created Patricia and called it done. Patricia is the whole of the human race.

Patricia sins and undergoes the Fall, and is in need of reconciliation. To accept God’s offer of reconciliation, she must exert her “free will,” whatever that might mean. But she hasn’t done it yet.

God turns to an angel and declares, “Patricia will eventually be reconciled.”

One of the following must be true:

  • God’s has knowledge of Patricia’s eventual reconciliation, and this has destroyed her “free will.”
  • God’s has knowledge of Patricia’s eventual reconciliation, and this has not destroyed her “free will.”
  • God doesn’t have knowledge of Patricia’s eventual reconciliation; he’s just guessing or hoping.

I think most Christians (who aren’t Open Theists) would bank on option #2: God’s knowledge of Patricia’s eventual reconciliation has no effect on her freedom or lack thereof.

Add Patrick

In this next thought experiment, we’ll pretend that Patricia and Patrick are the only human beings. They Fall, they need reconciliation, and they must exert their “free wills” to accept it.

God turns to an angel and declares, “Both Patricia and Patrick will eventually be reconciled.”

Again, one of the following must be true:

  • God’s has knowledge of the eventual reconciliation of both Patricia and Patrick, and this has destroyed their “free will.”
  • God’s has knowledge of the eventual reconciliation of both Patricia and Patrick, and this has not destroyed their “free will.”
  • God doesn’t have knowledge of their eventual reconciliation; he’s just guessing or hoping.

That Christian from the previous thought experiment, who banked on option #2, has no justifiable reason to change his mind here. Adding a second individual changes nothing.

The trick, of course, is that God’s statements were statements of universal reconciliation in both thought experiments.

And we can just keep adding people to the thought experiment — adding Adam, Eve, Tatum, Steve, Theresa, Bree, you, me — until we arrive at the total real population of human souls.

Thus, if you’re the sort of Christian who believes that God’s knowledge of the eventual reconciliation of a particular individual does not destroy “free will,” then you’re burdened to also believe that God’s knowledge of the eventual reconciliation of everyone — if he had such knowledge — would likewise not destroy “free will.”

This argument should work no matter what you mean by “free will,” as long as you’re a “Green Christian.”

Even Vague Promises are Promises

But what if you’re not a “Green Christian?” What if you’re an “Orange Christian?”

(In this case, you’d probably be an Open Theist; you deny God’s certainty of future will-contingent events.)

Let’s revisit the second thought experiment, the one with both Patricia and Patrick.

This time, though, God turns to an angel and declares, “One of these two will eventually be reconciled; the other will never be reconciled.”

In this case, where no specific declaration is made about the destination of any particular individual, the options mutate slightly. We find that one of the following must be true:

  • God’s has knowledge of the eventual reconciliation of at least one person, and this has destroyed the “free will” of both Patricia and Patrick.
  • God’s has knowledge of the eventual reconciliation of at least one person, and this has not destroyed the “free will” of both Patricia and Patrick.
  • God doesn’t have knowledge of the eventual reconciliation of at least one person; he’s just guessing or hoping.

Option #3 doesn’t seem so bad with only Patricia and Patrick in play.

But when we add the rest of humanity into the thought experiment — Adam, Eve, Tatum, Steve, Theresa, Bree, you, me — option #3 remains annoyingly unchanged.

In other words, for “Orange Christians,” God isn’t sure that even one person will be reconciled. It may be that, in the end, literally everybody will (in exercise of their “free will”) spurn God at the last moment.

He can play the odds, of course. “What are the chances,” a future-uncertain God might ask, “that everyone will duck out at the last moment? Pretty slim!”

But it remains possible under that paradigm. The final apocalyptic expectation may be a disaster. The New Jerusalem may be empty of citizenry.

Put simply, under option #3, God supplied us with vivid promises, and there’s a possibility that he may be proven a liar.

Either Bail Out…

That “liar possibility” is a reductio ad absurdum against option #3.

If we don’t think there’s any chance that the City will be empty — if our confidence in God’s revelatory imagery is more than just “he’s pretty dang sure some folks will make it” — then option #3 must be rejected (in favor of, say, option #2).

And if option #2 is accepted, then one is burdened to admit that God’s knowledge of the eventual reconciliation of everyone — if he had such knowledge — would not destroy “free will.”

… Or Bite the Bullet

If a person does not “bail out” of option #3, then they must bite the bullet on the possibility of a complete eschatological failure of God’s plan.

“But that’s so implausible as to be silly,” such a person might say.

Indeed!

But now the trap is sprung; any “probability against” this silly result can be employed as “probability against” a failure of universal reconciliation (by, say, an Open Theist who believes in universal reconciliation).

Put another way, under Open Theism, the contradictory force of universal reconciliation vs. “free will” is equal to the contradictory force of “at least somebody will be reconciled” vs. “free will.”

That is, “an infinitesimally insignificant amount of contradictory force.”

Conclusion

If you’re a person who asserts option #1, then there’s no “free will” regardless of whether universal reconciliation is true. As such, universal reconciliation represents no “additional invalidating power” against “free will.”

Otherwise, you’re left with either option #2 or option #3. Whichever of these other routes you take, a confidence in universal reconciliation can coexist with “free will” — regardless of how you define “free will.”

  • For those of us who believe God knows the future with certainty, that confidence can be a complete confidence, and “free will” remains undestroyed.
  • Under Open Theism, that confidence can be a near-complete confidence — akin to the confidence one has that at least somebody will be reconciled — and “free will” remains undestroyed.

  • We can use Compatibilism — through the “heterophroneo” — to reconcile Scripture’s statements on sovereignty and freedom.
  • For a big primer on purgatorialism, see the Purgatorial Hell FAQ. Included is additional discussion of free will, and how incoherent views of free will can allow “modal scope fallacies” to emerge.

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About stanrock

Husband, father. Professional game developer, software engineer, & social product analyst. Armchair theology debugger. Fun theology exercises and games at http://StanRock.net

One response to “Does Universal Reconciliation Destroy Free Will?”

  1. Craig says :

    Hi Stan,

    The whole problem is based on the option to choose evil. The argument against UR presumes that a person might want to choose evil, and if everyone is eventually reconciled, God must be overriding the will of that person who wishes to choose against God.

    We certainly have biblical evidence of God hardening hearts and blinding to the truth, so we know that at least we have an “influenced will”.

    The problem with the “no free will” argument is that if this is true, why is God so sadistic as to put us through all of this? If he will eventually infuse an understanding of the truth to every person, why doesn’t he just do this to start with? The only answer can be because there is some purpose, some good that comes from this experience. I think it is obvious that the whole process of life with sin is BECAUSE we have free will!

    You need to have free will to have meaning, learning, growth, understanding of Good and Evil, (yes, that was the purpose!), in this life and cosmos.

    The truth, which the “no free will” UR’s have missed is that God is SO AWESOME that he can give us free will, AND reconcile us to him.

    The only ones who will choose anything other than God are those who:
    1) Do not know God
    2) Are not of sound mind
    3) Are under the influence of another

    With God’s purpose through the ages He reveals His character, provides examples of the futility of any other system of government, (law), and eventually reveals His true character to all of creation, who will eventually all be of sound mind and free of the influence of another… resulting in a FREE choice, (with full knowledge of good and evil), to choose God.

    All of the above presumes and all powerful God. The other alternative is a God who is castrated by his justice… a kind of “love eunuch”… Christians who believe this way have God wanting to save all, but he is made impotent by his sense of justice and therefore can’t pull it off!!! The absurdity of this becomes apparent to anyone who will actually examine the attributes necessary for a God who wishes to save all but can’t!

    I’ve enjoyed your article!

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