The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Is Neuroscience making UR more attractive?

I grew up in an Arminian tradition. Which is to say we strongly rejected the doctrine of election and double predestination. We took 1 Tim. 2.4 very literally (ESV): God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

So how do people end up in hell? Well, they choose to reject God. Human choice and free will played a big part in this; free will a huge part of Arminian thinking.

Trouble was, as my psychological training progressed, I began to realize humans aren’t radically free. Change is very, very hard and slow going. More, all the advances in neuroscience were putting huge pressure on radical notions of free will.

So I began to wonder, “Clearly humans have choice, and freedom of choice. But choosing is hard and takes time, especially if you’re dealing with an impoverished upbringing, addiction, trauma, ingrained habits, chemical imbalances in the brain, and genetic predispositions. Let alone being raised in a different culture in a different religion. So how, if God wants to save everybody, is all this going to get done before we die?”

The only option I could see is that God’s love and pursuit of us must extend past the grave. That, in words of the Song of Solomon, “love is as strong as death” and that, in the words of Revelation, Jesus “holds the keys to death and Hades.”

And this, it seems to me, is the key theological move for the doctrine of universal reconciliation. Many (if not most) Christians endorse God’s universal beneficence, but many (if not most) don’t believe in God’s post-mortem salvific activity.

All that to say, a lot of universalists place a big premium on free will (as opposed to the doctrine of election). Weirdly, I don’t. It was my rejection of radical human freedom that moved me toward universalism. In fact, as neuroscience makes more and more progress I think universalism is going to be increasingly attractive to people who strongly endorse 1 Tim. 2.4.

So what do you think: Is neuroscience, of all things, making universalism more attractive to people? Might this be one reason for the increasing popularity of UR?

This is an excellent question! I, like you, don’t put a lot of stock in free will as it is very minimal in my opinion. I would classify myself as a Calvinist UR, thinking that God has made us all his elect eventually because the scripture is quite clear when it says that God gets what he wants. I never thought about it from a neuroscience point of view. I’m going to have to give it some reading and thought and get back!

I too have come to place much more emphasis upon the sovereignty of God, actually seeing our salvation as completely an act of God, accomplished by the grace and Spirit of God, not by human will. Until God turns on the lights, we walk in darkness. Until God gives us life, we are dead in our sins. Until God liberates us from bondage to death and sin, we are slaves of unrighteousness. We are not “born again” by the will of man (especially our will), but born of the Spirit by the will of God.

A few weeks ago I was having breakfast with a pastor with whom I was sharing UR and he asked me if I believed that it was possible for someone to forever reject God; to which I replied, No. He then said, “Well, you have much more faith in people than I do.” To which I replied, “No, my faith is not in people, it’s in God.”

In the scope of our lives we actually have very little choice, maybe 2%. We do not choose when, where, to whom to be born. We do not choose the culture we’ll be raised in, whether we’ll have parents, good or bad parents, close family or disfunctional famiy. We do not even choose our gifts and talents, personality type, or color of our skin. We do not choose when, where, how, or even IF we’ll be exposed to the Gospel. We do not choose…

So neuroscience would tend to affirm that we are not “free” agents, much less “free moral” agents, and thus would affirm the sovereignty of God. Most though cannot make the change to UR until they “see” that Hell is not scriptural, rational, or in line with the Character of God.

Hi Dr Beck – and welcome to this board!!
(shall we call you Dr Beck? or RB? or something else??)

The “problem” of free will really does play a cental role in how one thinks about UR, but from my experience, I’ve not discovered anyone who came to UR because of the findings of Neuro science. Usually that comes later as confirmatory/supporting/explanatory evidence.

It’s a really fascinating topic and one which is discussed here often!

For myself, I began to ponder UR only after beginning to question the actual meaning of what it meant to be “free” in the context of a good friend who tried to kill himself. (He survived, in what I find unexplainable apart from it being a miracle… long story) I became obsessed with the question, “Was this act by my friend a free one??” Knowing him well, as I did, it became sadly obvious that he was anything but free; in such bondage to his dysfunctional issues (sadly, closely related to his very strict religious upbringing) he simply had, in essense, no real choice at all. (Praise God he had a great Christian psychiatrist, and also a Christian phychologist who have helped rebuild his broken mind…)

That moved me to wonder why God would just accept as rational our so called “choice” to, in effect, commit suicide. (I was raised in the tradition of annihilationism) No one I’ve ever known believes that the proper response to someone trying to kill themselves is to shrug and say “well, it’s their choice” – and that’s exactly what is asserted when it comes to eternal salvation vs damnation!!!

But for me, by far and away the biggest barrier I’ve seen to folks accepting UR is this issue of free will. It always seems to be an all or nothing phenomenon; either robot or complete autonomy! No gradations, no nuance, just the 2 extremes! Talbott talks of “the limits of free will” and I’m very interested to hear your thoughts as we spend time together here. It’s a truly fascinating topic…

So for me, the findings of Neuro science are actually a bit of a relief – in that it opens up the valid option of a condtion less that complete autonomy and legitimizes consideration of a more subtle understanding that the stark extremes mentioned above.

Again then, welcome to our home here!! Hope you like it!


Let’s go with Richard all around.

Free Will is not an obstacle to universalism. Deterministic universalism can completely keep free-will intact. Why? Nobody chooses to be separated from God and their actions are based on a partial understanding with limited knowledge and power to make an initial first choice anyways but once they are free of the flesh that blinds them; every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord and pledge their allegiance to the Father, out of willful volition.

i come from a Calvminian tradition. ie, you choose your salvation, but once you do, you become predestined (because God knew you’d make that choice) and once saved always saved.

i agree with what Bob says, in many views there seems to be an extreme leaning towards free will or determinism, no shades of grey. i think that yes we do have a LOT of choice, and that our choices CAN affect the world for good or evil, but also i recognise there is a limit to this. they speak of spheres of influence, and that seems right to me. i can choose my job, place of living, girlfriend, hobbies…i can choose today to follow Christ (to the best of my meagre ability), i can choose to go out and sin (in the classic sense, ie gamble or drink), i can choose what to believe (despite evidence and even inclination!)…
i can choose to act rudely to someone and set off a possible chain of events (where that person takes it out on the next, etc), though that chain can again be broken by choice.

however, i cannot choose my time of birth, and i cannot choose my time of death under normal circumstances. i cannot change myself, though i can modify my behaviour.

others can influence me, based on a number of factors in my makeup over which i have little control. this is in reference to those neuroscientific advances…we know that alot of things are beyond our power to change, and they are key parts of our makeup.

but God’s sovereignty must over-ride my will. He is God, i am not. His are unlimited power and wisdom, my power and wisdom are not even close.

i can see (at least subjectively) that God’s hand has been in my life since i was small. it is through Him that i lay claim to any faith in Him. if i didn’t feel it burning in me most of the time, and if i didn’t see some strange events coming together to make me what i am in the place i am today, i’d be willfully blinding myself, and it would do nothing to change things anyway, so my blindness would be ineffectual.

i think these ideas that many factors of ourselves we have no power over…they are in our very natures, and we can’t change that…this is a supportive piece of evidence for UR for me, though the thrust of the Bible plus my own revelation were the deciding things for me.

One of the things I’d like to clarify is my real concern in all this.

Specifically, I don’t know if the free will vs. determinism debate is worthwhile or even tractable. My concerns in all this, as I hinted at in the top of the thread, have to do with time. That’s the key issue, time. Not free will but time. It takes X amount of time to come to God and that movement from A to B varies widely depending upon a host of internal and external factors. Given that, will God give everyone enough time? That’s the critical issue for me.

very good question!
given that during some notable atheists entire lives, they never once had a real revelation of God, it seems unlikely to me that the Good Shepherd would give up on them at any time…

Of course it could also be because they were right :wink:

an excellent point, what what!
i don’t believe they are, but given the subjectivity of beliefs, i admit they might be!

Hi Richard,

Welcome to the EU Forum : -)

First, you may post new threads in your featured corner.

Second, I hold to conditional election and God never giving up on anybody. For example, my blog article “The Kings of the Earth in Heaven”

Hi Richard,

Welcome to the forum. In the past few days I’ve read some of your blog posts and comments and found them to be wonderfully rich! I shall continue to follow your blog.

Some thoughts / questions related to this thread:

The current topic seems related to this Why I am a Universalist, Part 5: Salvation in a Post-Cartesian World

I’m not sure I get the neuroscience aspect but I think you are saying the “ghost in the machine” concept is becoming obsolete. Our brain is our soul and when the brain dies so does our soul. In other words, this is NOT true : our soul exists in some other dimension and our brain is merely the radio picking up the signal.

If this is the case (and I’ve understood the neuroscience proposition), then what part of us would God be appealing to in His post-mortem salvific activity? Do I always have to be connected to my brain? Is salvation merely having my brain tinkered with such that it believes something unto salvation?

My own thoughts:

It seems like our individual consciousness extends past whatever may be in or of our brains. For example intuition, premonition, and shared experiences between people at the same time that are separated by distance.

So, I feel the need to believe there is some part of me that is the ghost part whether or not this is my soul doesn’t matter to me, and it’s this ghost part that God via salvation is drawing back to Himself.

A couple more thoughts…

Is my free will determined by my brain (or soul)?

Suppose I have extremely limited perception and ability to make choices as a result of a severe stroke. Now suppose I receive a drug that reverses the stroke’s effects and I gain more perception and therefore more ability to make choices. Does this mean because of my improved brain that I have more free will?

If upon death we suddenly get super brains (or souls?) with greatly expanded powers of perception would it then follow that we would also have more free will?

Maybe an increase in perception always leads to an increase in free will?

Maybe an increase in perception also always leads to a more rational choice and more freedom to make it?

So maybe free will is actually more deterministic towards goodness?

Einstein physics says that time is relative, but more importantly many streams of quantum mechanics would disagree with your statement concerning time because it doesn’t actually exist.

That is why there is a resurrection of both the ‘righteous’ and the ‘wicked’ (relative terms I believe). Understanding the Resurrection of the Dead was one of the first things that I learned was essential to accepting UR.

For me it’s not a question of time, but of God’s intent. ie. If God intends to save us, he’ll make the time and the space to do so.

My grandfather’s great-grandfather was given a large parcel of land in Tasmania for services rendered to the King in the Napoleonic Wars. (The Tasmanian Museum now stands on his original potato patch.) This virgin land was worked by convicts, the dregs scraped from the slums of London and transported to the colonies. But here’s the thing. In this new land, with fresh air, room to move, meaningful work and hope for the future, many of these convicts transformed into model citizens.

I love that bit from Gregory of Nyssa. “Being good, God entertains pity for fallen man. Being wise, he is not ignorant of the cure.”

Looking at God, at His heart . . . the things He commanded us to do, the love He’s given us for our children . . . how can He not pursue and pursue as the Hound of Heaven until His beloved yields to that for which she or he has desired all along, but didn’t realize was only to be had in the arms of the Father?

If He doesn’t do this for everyone and especially for those I love, then I wish that He might never have created me. I hope that’s not disrespectful to say, but having caught a glimpse of how very good He is, I don’t think I can go back to “conditionally good.”

I didn’t even know I had my own featured corner. I’m a bit new to all this. Thanks for the head’s up.

No worries, I’ve moved it there :slight_smile: