Another thing I have been waiting on for a long time is an outline and defence of the orthodox Islamo-Christian doctrine of ‘Hell’. I had gone on at length in the very early days of the Accidental Blog about how, as I understood it, this was a pernicious doctrine that led logically to the conclusion that the human race should be exterminated. This was because of the introduction of an ‘infinite’ amount of suffering into any calculation of the consequences of our actions throws the whole thing out of whack. More generally, how can an ‘infinite’ amount of punishment be logically applied to a finite creature?
Infinity is the problem.So long as the sufferings of Hell can be understood in such a way as to be finite, there is no intrinsic reason why the existence of Hell cannot be reconciled with a perfectly just and merciful God. Like so:
Justice is served if the sum total of the punishment of the finite creature is exactly as much as it deserves.
Mercy is served in that the finite creature is given exactly what it most truly desires – separation from God – and is not punished one jot or tittle more than is just.
I have realised that the answer was there all the time in C. S. Lewis’s ‘The Great Divorce’. The denizens of the ‘suburbs of Hell’ in this book are finite creatures who are insubstantial phantoms. The appear to be evaporating away, fading, over the course of the story. Why can’t they do this forever? Shrink away, but never reach pure nothingness. If they do this, than their total suffering will be finite, although they are infinitely extended in time.
This will make more sense with an equation. Take this one, which I came across the other day while deriving the Equipartition Theorem:
The area under this function, from x = 0 to infinity, is not infinite, just π1/2/4. So we can get any finite amount of suffering that is necessary out of the infinitely-prolonged existence of a finite creature.
So we have not really introduced infinities into the moral equation.
And it does not logically follow that a belief in Hell implies the human race should be destroyed.
Which is good.