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The Philosophical Case for Conditionalism 2 – The Main Arguments4 min read

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This post is part of a series.

In Part 1, I introduced the idea that, in addition to scriptural arguments in support of Conditional Immortality (CI), we must also secondarily, but importantly, evaluate CI from a philosophic point of view. Here’s an overview.

The Three Major Biblical Arguments

In summarizing the exegetical (not philosophical) case for Conditionalism, Dr. Glen Peoples lists the following three doctrines:

  • The Biblical Question of Immortality – the argument that man is NOT inherently immortal, but can only live on by iheriting immortality by faith in Christ. Therefore, there is no natural reason why human spirits or souls must exist for eternity in either heaven or hell.
  • The Biblical Vision of Eternity – the argument that the Biblical description of the life to come lacks any vestiges of the fallen world, and all is renewed – sinners suffering in hell, and perhaps continuing to sin, are not part of the total ‘restoration of all things’ (Acts 3:21).
  • The Biblical Language of Destruction – the argument that the overwhelming majority of the passages on the judgement to come use words and phrases like death, destruction, destroyed, burned up, and consumed, and comparatively few talk of eternal torment. The latter can also be explained as visions or idioms used, not to describe ongoing torment, but permanent destruction.

However, this biblical outline can’t be transformed directly into a philosophical one, though they share some overlap.

The Antagonistic Philosophic Arguments

BUENTING JKT(240x159)CMYKBrown and Walls wrote a chapter in the 2013 book The Problem of Hell entitled Annihlationism: A Philosphical Dead End? They remark that no full philosophic defense of CI has been written (hence my series), and they attempt, somewhat unsucessfully in my view, to build what they think is the philosophic argument for CI. In their pessimistic piece, these two traditionalist philosophers outline the philosophic arguments surrounding CI as:

  • The Privation Argument – the idea that CI proponents appeal to a type of Thomistic privation of good argument that goes like this – if evil is merely the absence of good (it has no substance of its own), then eventually, an evil person will cease to exist, since goodness is equated with being, and evil with non-being.
  • The Corruption Argument – the idea that sin corrupts the faculties so much that a person ceases to be a person when their mind, will, and emotions are so dehumanized by sin that they are merely an unthinking beast.
  • God’s Moral Perfection – the idea that annihilation is morally superior to ECT, and is therefore somehow correct. This of course is not a positive argument, just a comparative one.

If I have faithfully summarized their view, you will right away notice the characteristics of a straw man – arguments that seem weak on their face (they are), however well grounded they are in philosophic traditions.

The Main Positive Philosophic Arguments for CI

Digesting both lists above, and considering other philosphic arguments, we can come up with a decent positive case for CI. You’ll notice that my third point is the same as Brown and Walls’ above – however, my definition and reasoning are very different. The main arguments are:

  • Inherent Mortality – a philosophic point nearly identical to Peoples’ first theological point can be made – that absent a supernatural intervention, no man could live forever, and there is no philosophic reason why we should think souls are immortal, but rather, mortal. Especially if we subscribe to a physicalist view (reductive or not).
  • Proportional, Finite Justice – can any non-redemptive punishment be endless and be considered proportionate, and not torture?
  • God’s Moral Perfection – a morally perfect being must include free agency of some degree, punishment for transgressions of moral law, and in a morally perfect, restored creation, any sin or suffering could not logically exist.

Next, we will explore each, including counter arguments from the Traditional and Universalist Views.