(Book: On Guard, by William Lane Craig. Chapter 10: “Is Jesus the Only Way to God?”)
When you’ve dug yourself into a hole that you can’t climb out of, step one is to stop digging. Unfortunately, if you stop digging, people might think you’re admitting that you’ve dug yourself into a hole you can’t get out of. In theological contexts, the way to handle that dilemma is to dig yourself in deeper.
But we can push the argument a notch further. We can show positively that it’s entirely possible that God is all-powerful and all-loving and that many persons never hear the gospel and are lost.
As a good and loving God, God wants as many people as possible to be saved and as few as possible to be lost. His goal, then, is to achieve an optimal balance between these, to create no more of the lost than is necessary to attain a certain number of the saved. But it’s possible that the actual world (which includes the future as well as the present and past) has such a balance. It’s possible that in order to create this many people who will be saved, God also had to create this many people who will be lost… It’s possible that in order to achieve a multitude of saints, God had to accept a multitude of sinners.
What Craig is arguing (without realizing it) is that it’s possible that there is some greater power than God, some power that forces God to do things He would prefer not to do. There’s no logical necessity that requires one or more souls to be damned in order to save someone else’s soul, even given free will. You might think that free will would reduce the chances of everybody being saved, but there’s no logical necessity that says the salvation of one soul requires the damnation of another. (Plus, an all-loving, all-powerful deity would not leave such an important matter to mere chance.) There must be some other power, then, that forces God to do what He would not wish to do. And if there’s some greater power than God, then God by definition is not all-powerful.
And Craig is only starting to dig himself in.
What Craig is saying here is that it’s morally acceptable, and even preferable, for God to send a greater number of people to Hell in order that a greater number of people might be saved. It’s not unlike a theology of human sacrifice, except when the ancient priests took a human life in order to obtain some kind of blessing for everyone else, the life they took was only a physical life. God, however, is sacrificing not just the physical lives, but the eternal souls of most of His own children, in order to benefit a smaller number of the rest of His children.
How would we, as earthly parents, go about following this example that Craig claims God is setting for us? Well, one thing we could do is have a whole bunch of kids, and take out life insurance policies on them, and then arrange for less obedient ones to die so that we could give the insurance money to the kids who were more obedient. The more kids you have, the more insurance money there will be for the ones you don’t kill, so you’re being just as moral as God is when He sends more souls to Hell in order to get more souls in heaven.
This is human sacrifice morality, and worse, it’s not even the ostensibly noble sacrifice of Jesus voluntarily giving up his own life. This is Craig arguing that God can and should sacrifice the vast majority of His children because doing so will somehow create a blessing for the ones He manages not to kill. Pretty ugly stuff.
Craig’s argument is that it might be possible that some power outside of God’s control is preventing Him from saving all the people He would prefer to save. This is the key to his claim that there’s no inconsistency between an all-powerful, all-loving God and people going to Hell. You can’t prove that it’s not possible for some greater power to prevent God from saving everybody, therefore it might be possible that God can’t save them, therefore Hell does not contradict the claim that He is all-powerful and all-loving. So by the same reasoning, it might be possible that the same power could prevent God from saving someone who never heard the Gospel, even if they would have been saved if they had heard it. Right?
It’s reasonable to assume that many people who never hear the gospel wouldn’t have believed the gospel even if they had heard it. Suppose, then, that God in His mercy has so providentially ordered the world that all persons who never hear the gospel are precisely such people. God is too good to allow someone to be lost due to historical or geographical accident.
Procto-theology at its finest. God’s not too good to send most of His own children to Hell for eternal torment, but somehow He’s too good to allow people to be lost due to circumstances beyond their control. Craig was just arguing that God’s goodness has nothing to do with it, that people are lost because God can’t save them, due to circumstances beyond His control. If God has so much control over circumstances that He can “providentially” ensure that the gospel is preached to everyone who could benefit from it, then He can providentially ensure that nobody is born only to end up ultimately in Hell. Craig is trying to have his cake and eat it too: he’s claiming both that God’s providence is in complete control of the circumstances leading to salvation, and that He is not in complete control and is therefore helpless to prevent most of His children from going to Hell.
Nevertheless, that’s Craig’s answer and he’s sticking to it. As far as he’s concerned, there’s no such thing as a person who would respond to the Gospel, and who ends up in Hell because they never got a chance to hear it. The Gospel wasn’t even available until 33AD, so that means that Craig must believe that everybody who was born in Old Testament times would have to be a person who would either be saved without needing the Gospel, or else would reject it even if they heard it. Somehow the notion of free will doesn’t get in the way of God’s providence (except when Craig finds it convenient to make it an obstacle). God is magically able to ensure that no “damned saint” ever existed prior to 33AD, and yet He’s mysteriously unable to ensure that damned sinners don’t exist. Funny, that.
Craig’s Fortress of Rationalization, then, is this:
Thus, it’s possible that… God has created a world that has an optimal balance between saved and lost, and those who never hear the gospel and are lost would not have believed in it even if they had heard it.
In short, Craig is retreating into pure fantasy. He can imagine a world in which the optimal balance between saved and lost is significantly less than the theoretical optimum of 100% saved and 0% lost. And yet, in this world that God created and that He is mysteriously powerless to change, He is still “all-powerful” in some sense. And even though He is powerless to bring this world closer to the optimum balance of 100% saved and 0% lost, He somehow still has the power to providentially ensure that no one who needs to hear the Gospel is ever born in any time or place where the Gospel is not preached. He can’t prevent the birth of the damned, due to free will, but He can prevent the birth of those who need to hear the gospel, and somehow that’s not a problem.
And because Craig can imagine this, and can somehow overlook all the internal contradictions and inconsistencies, it somehow proves that there’s no inconsistency between God’s beloved children ending up in Hell, and the idea that God is all-powerful and all-loving. How he can twist his brain around like that and not feel physical pain, I don’t know. If you could apply chiropractic to the minds of apologists, you could make a fortune.
I may be beating a dead horse here, but let’s look at one more way his argument contradicts itself. Craig has already given us the definition of an all-loving God: if God is all loving, then He wants the maximum number of people to be saved, and the minimum number of people to be lost. The theoretical limit for these proportions is 100% saved and 0% lost, so that’s the goal an all-loving God must be shooting for.
Now, Craig’s defense of Hell is that it might be necessary for God to send most souls to Hell in order to get a certain number of souls into heaven. If that’s true, it means that a world containing Evil—i.e. sin and suffering and death and Hell—has a greater potential to achieve good than a world that does not contain Evil. God would be the same in both worlds, so God’s capacity to do good would be the same whether Evil existed or not. If the Evil world has greater potential to achieve good than the world with God alone, then Evil would have to possess some additional power for good that God Himself does not have. Otherwise, the potential for good would be the same in both worlds, and it would be possible for God to achieve the optimal salvation ratio of 100% saved and 0% lost, in the absence of any Evil at all.
By definition, an all-powerful God is one that possesses all power, i.e. there is no good power that God does not have. By saying that Evil is necessary in order to obtain some minimal/optimal quantity of good, Craig is saying that God is not all-powerful, since at least some of the required power must reside in Evil itself, outside of God. Evil is necessary, according to Craig, in order for God to bring about at least some good which He cannot accomplish on His own. God therefore does not possess all power. Craig’s denials notwithstanding, there’s no escaping the contradiction between Hell and the notion of an all-powerful, all-loving God. He’s just blinding himself to it.
His final argument is to ask whether it’s implausible to suggest that nobody who needs to hear the Gospel is ever born in a time or place where the Gospel is not preached. His first argument was just that it’s not impossible, but now he’s arguing for its plausibility as well, on the grounds that God isn’t just leaving things to chance. God is making sure (claims Craig) that no one who needs to hear the Gospel is born under such circumstances, as though God somehow has the power to do that. But again, Craig shoots himself in the foot, because if that’s the case, and if God can do that without violating anyone’s free will or whatever, then He can use the same providence to ensure that no one would ever be born who would reject the gospel, thus enabling the optimum salvation rate of 100% saved and 0% damned, even with free will.
God’s providence can’t keep people from going to Hell, but at least it makes sure that everyone goes to Heaven if they’re supposed to be there. Having thus proven that Christian missions is totally irrelevant to the number of people who will ultimately be saved, Craig ends his book with a typically paradoxical call to Christian missions. If you’re a Christian, he wants you to get out there and convert the people God has predestined for salvation. And he hopes that his book will help you bullshit people more convincingly than you’d be able to otherwise. All for the glory of God (plus royalties).
Aannnnd we’re done. Next week, we’ll have to pick on someone else.