The official blog of University of Missouri Skeptics, Atheists, Secular Humanists, & Agnostics

Hella Evidence

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I’m Seth Kurtenbach.  This is a post about why any reasonable skeptic, upon dying and winding up in Hell, would quickly adjust his/her beliefs accordingly.  This Christian apologist doesn’t understand.

The Parrot; Mascot of Christian Apologetics.

Wouldn’t everyone repent when faced with hell?
Would God let out people who repented?

One argument against hell is this: No person in his right mind would choose eternal punishment in hell over heaven. Therefore everyone would repent when sent to hell. If God lets the repentant leave, hell will be empty (and therefore can be disregarded). If God doesn’t let the repentant leave, God is unjust for continuing to punish them after they’ve repented.

The trouble with this line of reasoning is that repentance is not simply a matter of one saying, “Okay, I’ll say whatever you want me to, just get me out of here!” Repentance involves acknowledging one’s guilt, feeling remorse and the desire to change one’s behavior, accepting Christ’s sacrifice as substitutionary punishment for one’s wrongs and agreeing to love and obey God (including Christ as God the Son). This includes by definition acceptance of eternal punishment in hell as just punishment for one’s sins; while the skeptic may still object that continued punishment of the repentant is unjust, the repentant will respond that their continued punishment is deserved and could only end through God’s mercy.

However, in reality people in hell won’t repent, in particular not any skeptic who makes the above argument. If one thinks God is unjust for punishing people in hell, actually going there isn’t going to make one suddenly decide that God is just and deserves one’s love and worship after all. People are given their entire lives on Earth as an opportunity to repent and accept God; if they refuse each day of their lives to repent and believe they’re justified in doing so, it’s hardly conceivable that punishment in hell would change their minds.

Since hell is comprised of those who would never repent, the second question is only a hypothetical one; it could be argued either way. In practice, someone who would repent in hell would be given the opportunity to repent on Earth and would presumably repent before they died, not after.

This is a perfect example of how the consideration of evidence plays almost no role in the apologist’s reasoning process.  For most skeptics, disbelief in the christian god is due to the absence of evidence.  All the fun we have poking holes in the bronze age theological puzzles about justice and hell is really just icing on the cake.  Even if the bronze age mythmakers cooked up a god whose notions of justice and punishment matched our current notions, there still would be no evidence to believe the fables.  Thus, were a skeptic to go to hell, he or she would suddenly have fantastic evidence in support of the supernatural claims made by the evangelists.  Because a skeptic, unlike an evangelist christian apologist, holds beliefs proportional to evidence, he or she would realize that hell is real.  But, would the skeptic repent?  For what sins?  Following the evidence, and doubting claims that lack evidence?  The only difference between all skeptics and all ‘true’ christians is that skeptics don’t believe god is real and jesus saves.  Repenting involves believing god is real, accepting that jesus died for your sins, and accepting his gift of salvation.  So, when faced with the all but indubitable evidence of hell, would a skeptic admit that the evangelical christians were right, god is real, and jesus saves?  Yes, because then the skeptic would have evidence that those claims are true, and that’s how skeptics form beliefs.

The Apologist says, “if they refuse each day of their lives to repent and believe they’re justified in doing so, it’s hardly conceivable that punishment in hell would change their minds.”  Is it so hard to conceive?  Each day of our lives we are unjustified in so repenting, because we have insufficient evidence (none).  If, as you assert, we do receive punishment in hell upon dying, then we would have sufficient evidence.  Thus, we would be justified in changing our minds.  Was that so hard to conceive?  Yes, for the Apologist, because he doesn’t conceive of any relation between evidence and a belief’s justification.



About Seth Kurtenbach

Philosophy grad student who wandered into a computer science PhD program with a backpack full of modal logic and decision theory.

2 comments on “Hella Evidence

  1. Christian Huls
    September 2, 2011

    Seth, I am a Christian and an apologist, thought not professional. I was raised Roman Catholic and then became atheist (from 13-17). I phased through agnostic, deist, new age, and then Christian. For me it was the evidence and arguments that convinced me to believe. I didn’t want to. I say that not to necessarily argue the evidence with you (I have shared with you before some of what it took to convince me–and I totally understand if that isn’t enough for you), and I see your point about this apologist, but I wanted to comment on a dogmatic statement that you made which I believe is unfair and unjustified.

    “Because a skeptic, unlike an evangelist christian apologist, holds beliefs proportional to evidence…” This is the first dogmatic and untrue statement. As demonstrated by my own personal experience. Even if I weren’t one example, and I personally know many others like me, you still couldn’t make such a claim honestly. You are assuming that there is no evidence. If God does exist, then you either haven’t found the evidence yet, or the evidence that has been presented wasn’t sufficient enough to convince you. And you can’t know everything. Nor can you necessarily know what every born again Christian knows, has seen, or has experienced.

    Humans are funny, flawed creatures. I have seen instances when someone looked at the evidence for something (not necessarily as weighty an issue as the existence of God) and still refused to believe it. People don’t believe things for all sorts of reasons some times. Lack of evidence is only the reason SOME of the time.

    Also, you stated that the only difference between skeptics and Christians is belief in the existence of God, almost as if to say that the only reason God would condemn you to an eternal hell is because of lack of evidence or unbelief. That is only partially true… which is really not true. The only reason that God condemns anyone, according to the Christian worldview (which you are arguing against specifically) is because of sin. This is not to say that Christians are not sinners, but that their sins have been atoned for. Repentance involves not just intellectual belief or acknowledgement that it is all true, though that is part of it, but it also involves surrendering to Jesus as Lord of your life, agreeing with Him that you are a sinner, and trusting His sacrifice for your salvation. Sin is not just skeptical unbelief. In fact, I don’t think God minds skepticism. It’s healthy. There are many things I am still skeptical about in my life. When I am convinced of something that I was skeptical about, it strengthens my belief all the more. But sin is breaking any of God’s laws, or falling short of absolute moral perfection in any aspect of our lives.

    • Seth Kurtenbach
      September 2, 2011

      Thanks for your thoughts, Christian. I should clarify that by “evidence” I mean objectively verifiable points of data. I do not consider subjective feelings of revelation, personal conviction, or bronze age scribblings to constitute evidence for claims about heaven, hell, or god.

      You’re right, I also should have specified that a skeptic in hell would also be justified in surrendering to jesus. Suppose a non-dead christian surrenders to jesus for fear of eternal damnation, i.e., to avoid eternal damnation. Assuming she meets whatever your criteria are for “surrendering to jesus”, is this sufficient for her to be saved? Suppose a skeptic goes to hell and then has the similar desire to avoid eternal damnation, and “surrenders to jesus” by whatever your criteria are. What’s the relevant moral difference?

      Consider: you claim that your belief is due to evidence. So, your belief is not merely a matter of faith. You claim to have sufficient evidence for your standards, and given this evidence, you believe there is a hell and seek to avoid it. What is wrong with a skeptic having a higher standard of evidence, and upon having it met, surrendering to jesus? The requirement that this happen prior to death cannot be justified by appealing to some intrinsic value of faith, because you claim to have been swayed by evidence, not merely faith. If it is faith alone that saves, then whatever alleged evidence there may be is irrelevant, because that is not how to form a soul-saving belief (again, if faith alone saves.) So, if you think that there is something intrinsically valuable and soul-saving about surrendering to jesus due to faith alone, and your conversion was the result of convincing evidence, then I guess I’ll see you in hell? 🙂

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This entry was posted on September 2, 2011 by in Author: Seth Kurtenbach, Web Links & Videos and tagged , , .
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