Michael Murray vs. three versions of universalism


This was one of the articles mentioned by my friend Professor Victor Reppert a few weeks ago when he posted a few reasons for why he is not a universalist. I don’t know who Michael Murray is (possibly faulty memory on my part–the name seems like I ought to remember it…), but I liked his first couple of paragraphs enough to save the pdf for perusal later. The file seems kind of brief, all things considered; but that may be because he is structuring his argument from principle.

I may be able to get around to writing a reply to his paper this weekend. Until then, here’s the paper, attached as a pdf below.
Three versions of universalism.pdf (35.9 KB)


I’m looking forward to your response to this, Jason. I think your response will be a much more interesting and informative read than the paper you’re addressing. :mrgreen:


I thought it was a good paper in some ways, but obviously I do have some critiques. :wink:

I’ve been under the weather and out of pocket this weekend, so I’m far from done with the reply; but I’ve done a lot of work on it already, too.

There are some other papers I’ve gotten hold of recently that I may do followup comments on as well. But that’ll be later.


I imagined you “might” have some critiques… :mrgreen: Looking forward to it when it’s done.

You seem to be sick an awful lot. Perhaps it’s time to do some things to boost that immune system, eh?


I live in West Tennessee, home of all allergies. Where it’s harvest season now. :wink: I actually have had massive immune boosters throughout my life, for which I’m very grateful, since now I can at least function on a regular basis.

Also, chronic depression. Probably not a medical condition in my case, but nothing I can do about it either. Tends to flare up worst from Sept through Feb. Used to be I could catch a break from mid-late Sept through to mid-Nov (though Halloween can be bad), but that window has squeezed shut more tightly in recent years. And this year the window is even smaller than usual nowadays.

Also, I’m one of those people who are naturally able to lucid dream. But aside from the topics usually being stressful (if sometimes entertaining in a gamey-sorta-way), and occasionally terminally nightmarish, it’s also extremely tiring for my brain. I haven’t had a good night’s sleep per se since I was six or so. (And I’ll be 39 this year.) Being violently killed off several hundred times in my life, and at constant risk of it otherwise, doesn’t get more fun as time goes on.

(Actually, spontaneous lucid dreaming is a secondary effect of anti-depressant behavior in the brain, so in a way I probably do also have medical chronic depression. But the lucid dreaming would have always nerfed it, so I never suffered from that. On the balance, I guess I’d rather have the lucid dreaming; speaking from comparative experience, it’s better than having my lungs feel like they’re being chewed apart by weasels. :laughing: But then there are outside considerations, too, and there’s only so far that my brain chemistry can countervail it. Maybe someday I’ll be free of those. Or God will just finally kill me and be done with it–I’d be okay with that, too. :slight_smile: )

Anyway, what were we talking about…

Oh, right. Robin-ory :mrgreen: briefly addresses Michael Murray’s article in various places in TEU, by the way. (Quotes from Thomas’ reply to Michael’s article on p 121; addresses one point of concern on p 161.)

We should probably try to hunt up Thomas’ detailed reply to Michael Murray, and post a link to that. I’ll pm Thomas and see if he knows where to find it. (Or if he can legally send a doc or pdf of his reply-article now.)


Murray offers an interesting critique, esp. of Talbott’s view of universalism and human freedom. But it appears to me that evangelical philosophers (holding ECT) assume that Biblical revelation demands that God consigns people to permanent separation. This then motivates them to argue that this severity is a logical necessity because some kind of total human “freedom” and “autonomy” is an ultimate Biblical value (which it seems to me the Bible never expounds).

For Murray, this virtue of autonomy" seems concretely defined as asserting that God must not “intervene” when a person chooses to have ‘no God;’ they must be allowed to solidify that. But in the empirical world such “freedom” to do whatever we ‘choose’ is a debateable reality, and mysterious or incoherent at best. And in the Bible, the belief that we are “autonomous” beings appears to me to be considered an illusion or even a perverse confidence, much less a developed sacrosanct theory of the human condition.

Murray concludes on page 17 that love would not intervene in a person choosing disastrous consequences, since that would remove “the real purpose of life: autonomous soul-making,” unless something like mental illness (or addiction?) was interfering with the person’s decisions. But couldn’t one Biblical interpretation be that “sin” itself is like an enslaving illness, and we need God’s intervention to be rescued (e.g. Rom. 8:19f)? In Romans 9-11, even the very condition of being “hardened” into irrational disaster is one of God’s ways of ultimately bringing deliverance. I.e., I find Murray denies that God could appropriately bring people where they need to be, based on a ‘philosophical’ formulation of the nature of free-will which has little support in science or Scripture.


Good thoughts, Bob. Those were some of the weaknesses I spotted as well.


Murray states that one of the problems with SU1 is that it makes the short life here on earth rather mundane:

“Since the earthly life appears to yield poor soteriological results, one is led to
wonder exactly what purpose it is supposed to serve in the outworking of God’s plan for
His human creatures?..It is not that the post-mortem state is qualitatively better for bringing about the
requisite change of heart in the unregenerate, it is simply that the time allotted for making
such a change in this state is without limit. But if this is right, one wonders why the earthly
life is so short. Certainly God could have made the earthly phase of our existence much
longer than it in fact is…”

Well, according to the first six chapters of Genesis, He did make it longer. Evidently that made little difference as the world required purging via the flood (perhaps people with longer life have more oppoprtunities to sin). Then after the flood, you’ll notice life got progressively shorter (perhaps from the fabled collapse of the ‘water canopy’ allowed UV rays to kill us sooner). And I think we are still suffering from the fall such so that our life span got shorter and shorter. We should be so lucky to live 80 years as the average age keeps getting higher as medical technology extend life. But just a short century or two ago, the life span was much shorter.

We are formed by our earthly life here. Everything we become is the result of genetics and environment. That diversity allows us to experience things differently. And if we experience it, then God experiences it. If we come to a saving knowledge of God, we can glory in knowing a better way to live. But having never known this in life, some will have to know it in death. But I’m convinced that God* has *been experienced by every person in some way, whether they were conscious of it or not, just by the virtue of being alive (in Whom we live and move and have our being), in conscience and in the wonder of creation (senses). And I think God cares less about our ignorance than what we DO know. I think it is intrinsic in us to learn how to love, which if we are made in the image of God, we ought to exhibit, albeit imperfectly.


Good comment, Dondi. :smiley:

And no, I haven’t forgot about critting the paper (in case anyone was wondering)! :wink: Being sick lasted longer than I thought it would; and I’ve been catching up on various things (including ‘work’ work) since then. Just haven’t gotten to catching up on this yet (or two other papers on the topic which I want to write some analytical crits on).


In reading this Murry comments: (p 11.)

Perhaps Murry doesn’t see that drawing a correct analogy or example is so easy. If people smoke it’s because there is an addiction (external control) which causes them to look past the fear of death. Now people don’t choose to become addicts, they become trapped (so it’s hardly a free choice). But more than anything, if a person knew fully that smoking the next cigarette was going to lead to being skinned alive, I got a funny feeling they wouldn’t do it.
Even if they did then there are still exceptions:

  1. they are mentally unstable (insane, masochistic)
  2. they are depressed and wish to end their life.
    I’m sure there are more reasons.

Dying is one thing, but being skinned alive (cut to pieces) with no end, that’s another.



I wrote something along that line as well. I think. Not at the office at the moment.

(Maybe I should finish critting that paper, eh? :laughing: In my defense, I’ve been distracted the past few weeks, trying to catch up on posting here on the forum (as well as with ‘work’ work.))


Dondi wrote:

So true Dondi. excellent point. Sadly, they don’t take the story into regard concerning the plan of God. To be hones I’m not sure what his point is exactly. At first glance it looks like it backfires on him.

Also Dondi, put the page so we can read the whole paragraph.



Sorry auggy.

The quoted paragraph is on page 12 of the article.

My response was reactionary to what Murray said immediately after that quote, on the same page:

“The defender of SU1 may have no answers to these questions. The lack of an
answer does not, on its own, serve to undermine the view. But the lack of answers would, I
think, imply that the earthly phase of human existence is an enigma for universalists. It
points to the fact that part of the philosophical plausibility of this non-traditional view hangs
on the advocate of SU1being able to make sense of the evident truth that God sees fit to
start off each human existence with a stint in the earthly phase. This fact is both strange
and unexplained on SU1.18”

I don’t see our existence on earth as an enigma at all. Even the short life we do have is enough to afford us an appreciation that we exist, being in a balance between life and death. I do not know if being immortal would allow us to learn how to be compassionate seeing how there would be somehow a lack of need if we all lived forever. Our mortality helps us value immortality, as something we ought not to take for granted. Otherwise, if God’s plan was for immortals wouldn’t it simply be carried out by angels?


Note: my comments presuppose that readers are familiar with MM’s classic article; so I recommend reading at least as far as his page 9 (about halfway through his paper) before continuing on. I will be often alluding to things he has written without always quoting them.

I will post up commentary on subsequent parts as I complete them; and I expect I’ll attach a collated doc file of my commentary at the end for convenience.

********************** JRP vs. Michael Murray vs. Three Versions of Universalism (Part 1: “Naive Universalism”) ******************

Michael Murray’s essay on three varieties of universalism aims at a critical assessment of the logical coherency of those varieties, attempting to show how even the second and third “sophisticated versions” in his list “fall prey to difficulties related to those facing the [first] naive view”. He acknowledges that no one appears to have endorsed the simplest version of universalism, but discusses it anyway in order to “set out some critical apparatus that will be useful later”.

Personally, I have in fact met some people who endorse (and have even argued for, with some sophistication!) what Michael calls “Naive Universalism” (hereafter NU): “the view that upon death all persons are instantly transformed by God in such a way that they fully desire communion with God and are thus fit for enjoying the beatific vision forever”. Michael reports that author Marilyn Adams at least entertains the possibility that “it may be better, all things considered, to instantaneously transform some who are unregenerate at death” (Michael’s phrasing), and provides footnote references for her work related to that suggestion.

Michael’s first objection to NU, is that (to put it briefly) if God can just poof people instantaneously into being loyal followers of His, then God could do that right now just as easily–but obviously doesn’t. God allows (if not outright requires) persons to be evil instead in this earthly life.

Michael’s actual objection is phrased in terms of evil being experienced by persons, which is something of a category jump from how he described the notion of NU that he is supposed to be criticising. Of course, evil is experienced by persons who are not loyal to God, too. But the point of NU, as he described it, is that God instantaneously makes people loyal to Him and so fit for living in heaven. This category jump introduces an immediate technical invalidity to his critique, which ought to be repaired. Until then, in order to keep topical parity, I will try to interpret Michael’s rebuttals in terms that focus on the principle of NU (as he describes them.)

So for example, his characterizations of gratuitous and nongratuitous evil may be (even!) more carefully presented as follows:

(NGE) a disloyalty to God is nongratuitous if, and only if, (a) there exists some outweighing intrinsic good (G) such that it was not within God’s power to achieve G without either permitting disloyalty to God or permitting some other evil at least as bad as disloyalty to God; and if (b) there is not some further good G*, which is both exclusive of G and greater than G, which could have been secured without permitting disloyalty to God or some other evil at least as bad as disloyalty to God.

(GE) a disloyalty to God is gratuitous if, and only if, it is not non-gratuitous.

On the NU picture (as presented in Michael’s article) all human beings end up in perfect communion with God, enjoying the beatific vision forever, due to some act of God’s power entirely independent of (and entirely in disregard of) the individual choices a person makes and the beliefs a person adopts during this earthly phase of our existence when we may possibly choose to be disloyal to God instead. “Why, one is led to wonder, would God put us through such a pointless exercise?”

NUs of my acquaintance (I am not one myself, and have argued against them on occasion) would say that this is so we can better appreciate the good of loyalty to God, by comparison with our previous life of disloyalty which results in the suffering of our evil: we suffered from our evil; other conscious entities suffered; and God (though voluntarily) also suffered. This stronger appreciation of being good and the results of being good, by contrast, is more (and better) of an appreciation than we would have otherwise had if we never had sinned, and it’s something that couldn’t have been provided otherwise without sin.

I am not saying I agree with this myself–for one thing the logic edges into the notion that God outright induced sin for purposes of this greater good and thus for perfecting communion with Him. (Which is hardly a position a trinitarian theist can coherently take: that the good of interpersonal common-union requires disloyalty to be experienced for purposes of appreciative comparison.) But this kind of explanation seems logically coherent within the range of Michael’s critique; and (within that range so far) I don’t think it misses satisfying Michael’s conjunct (b).

This should be distinguished from the defense next mentioned by Michael (attributed to John Hick–whom Michael does not consider a proponent of NU, by the way), regarding the purpose of allowing souls to be disloyal to God in order that those souls (by being disloyal) should thereby cultivate certain character traits which will then be kept in heaven.

The obvious difficulty here is trying to come up with any character traits per se, which are necessarily dependent on having been a disloyal rebel, but which are also not only of value in communion with God but are of more value than had the creature remained always loyal. The previous NU defense (still not considered by Michael) involved an appreciative contrast acknowledged by the loyalists compared to what they recall of how things were when disloyalty was allowed: the memories carry forward as data, but not the actual character traits unique to disloyalty. Here, though, character traits uniquely provided by and through disloyalty are what the defense requires.

I am not personally aware of any attempt by NUs to appeal to this concept; and in fact Michael doesn’t quite put things like this either (though I think his critique would have been even stronger had he done so). Rather, he assumes that the NU would in fact agree that there are no character traits uniquely dependent on disloyalty which would be valuable in a communion with God; thus, those traits will either be miraculously transformed, or those persons actually carrying forward such traits unique to disloyalty will find their existence in God’s presence tantamount to a life in hell. “Those who have cultivated self-loving characters,” for example, “will not find happiness in being forced to commune with God” while keeping that unique contribution of disloyalty to their character formation.

Michael’s next critique of NU would have been better informed, I think, had he actually managed to find some NU proponents; in effect it amounts to an Arminian appeal to the importance of creaturely freedom as an explanation for evil. Calvinistic explanations of evil, though, consider persons to be created evil from their first moment of existence, thanks to the results of original sin, and in some cases were always intended by God to be finally and hopelessly evil (even when some of them had been originally created good by God from their first moment of existence). NUs, in my experience, tend to operate on a more Calvinistic understanding of free will (where they do not outright deny free will altogether, though some of them do that, too), rather than a more Arminian understanding of all creatures being provided, by God’s grace, with the ability to choose loyalty or disloyalty to God, even under the imperfecting corruption of original sin.

Put another way, every NU I have ever corresponded with, would outright deny the “libertarian” freedom Michael presents as certainly granted in Christian theology. This might open up critiques against them in other ways, but Michael proceeds on (apparently) the premise that NUs actually accept not only libertarian freedom, and not only the good of libertarian freedom, but also the necessity of libertarian freedom for good as well as for evil–thus when NU contradicts this, the NU proponent is being logically incoherent. But if NU proponents never grant the existence of even libertarian freedom per se, much less the scope expected by Michael, then this cannot be (immediately anyway) held against them when NU involves the denial, too.

It should be noted that while libertarian freedom, or something relevantly approximate to it, may be required for any soul-making style theodicy, Michael has already shown that such a theodicy is not coherent with NU anyway. This is no great surprise if NU proponents tend to reject robustly libertarian freedom or even any kind of free-will; consequently, bringing up the soul-making theodicy attempt again is pointless. On the other hand, neither is there any point trying to set up a score against other variants of universalism by this route–which would have been better left for a later section anyway–since by definition those variants don’t feature characters being simply “summarily transformed”.

Beyond this, there is probably a counter-objection to Michael’s critique, in that everyone who accepts the law of noncontradiction must sooner or later agree in principle: a person may choose to try doing something intrinsically impossible, but that doesn’t mean in the end they will be able to obtain it. Nor is their freedom (quite literally per impossibility!) being constrained in any way by such a failure–not even in the most robust sense of libertarian freedom coherently proposable. If the NU (or any more sophisticated universalist variant) somehow establishes the intrinsic impossibility of succeeding to cultivate a permanently morally vicious character, for example, there would be no logical incoherency in noting that in the end one cannot have such a permanent character. Rather, the logical incoherency would be in insisting that such a success is possible!

There is probably another similar counter-objection to this objection from Michael: he complains that, “on the universalist picture” (presumably only the overly simple NU variant?–or all universalism?) “you are welcome to do whatever you like, but with God, you have it His way.” If this is a weakness for NU, or for any universalism, it is also a weakness for any supernaturalistic theism at all! Even if the result is that when (using Michael’s illustrative analogy) we order fries we receive fries from God instead of a hamburger, the result we receive must be the will of God. It happens because that is His way. There is no escape from this if we happen to receive what we asked for instead of something else; and if receiving something from God other than what we happen to seek is supposed to be evidence of intrinsic logical incoherency, then any of us ought to be an atheist (or else deny that God has anything to do with our system of Nature at all, which amounts to practically the same thing) the very first time we pray for something, or even try to accomplish anything, and it doesn’t happen exactly the way we wanted it to.

Michael’s objection, then, goes too far in principle, without sufficient qualification: the “free choosing that is without autonomy” that “may go on in the universalist’s world”, is the same free choosing that goes on in Michael’s world, too, for better or for worse. For better or for worse, we don’t have God’s degree of autonomy in any case.

Here I should add that the rebuttal of Thomas Talbott, that it is better to have our autonomy ‘violated’ than to be given a permanent hell if we seek it, is not really to the point. (Not least because he isn’t actually a Naive Universalist, whom Michael is supposed to be arguing against here, remember.) We never had and never could have God’s absolute autonomy anyway. The relevant questions are whether some lesser autonomy of ours would be violated by the insta-poof NU method of salvation from sin–which seems obviously true, too–and whether this ‘violation’ really would be a bad thing (as the term ‘violation’ tends to imply. i.e., should we be calling such an action by God a violation?) The answer to the latter must be heavily dependent upon what goodness and evil means. But if goodness only means the personal loyalty to God of derivative creatures (as Michael represents the NUs believing, and as he has not tried to challenge the conception of yet), then actually it would be good of God to do whatever it took, up to and including instapoofing our minds and characters, to bring us into loyal submission to Him. It isn’t mind-rape if he or she enjoys it, right!?

I would agree with those theists (univeralist and otherwise) who reject such an act by God as an ethical violation of even a sinner. (No, it is still in fact rape if the soul enjoys it so much that she is forced to reactively comply.) But then, I don’t consider the ultimate ground and expression of good to merely be subordinate loyalty to God by derivative creatures. I am doubtful that every real NU proponent does either; but the point is that, insofar as Michael hypothetically grants such a notion of goodness without challenging it, an NU proponent who does agree with this being the most basic notion of goodness, will not be vulnerable to Michael’s attempted criticism here.

Despite these weaknesses to Michael’s most recent critiques, he does at least have a point (due to its similarity in principle to another critique of NU) that if our choices in regard to good or evil are simply overwritten by God in heaven post facto with psychological hardwiring so that only our choices for good are ‘freely’ made (any choices for evil being transformed to some nullity until a ‘free’ choice for good is made), then God could just as easily do so now before heaven. Which clearly doesn’t happen, leaving difficulty in explaining why we should expect it to happen in heaven: a difficulty not removed, by the way, for some non-universalistic notions of comparative human behavior in contrasting then to now. Arms and Calvs are at least as likely, in my experience, to try to propose this kind of behaviorial guarantee in heaven compared to our earthly lives; although I don’t consider this proposal to be intrinsic to either of their positions, any more than I consider it intrinsic to universalism.

(Ironically, when a non-universalist proponent of this idea of behavior modification tries proposing it, he is likely to be met by a rejoinder from the other non-universalist side that if this behavior guarantee was true then there would be no reason for universalism not to be true!–and since universalism isn’t true, than that’s one reason the idea is preposterous, etc.)

Next up, comments on Michael’s discussion of “Sophisticated Universalism (Part I)”.


“Naive Universalism” just sounds so…unsophisticated :slight_smile: I prefer the somewhat more flattering label, “Ultra Universalism.” At least, that’s what the view has historically been called:

www25.uua.org/uuhs/duub/articles … allou.html

www25.uua.org/uuhs/duub/articles … onist.html

This is essentially my position as well. I understand salvation from evil to be a greater good than any good that might be experienced apart from a prior experience of evil.

And Jason, I’d be really interested in meeting some of the NUs with whom you’re acquainted, since they seem to be somewhat of a rare breed these days. As far as I know, Todd and I (and RanRan?) are the only ones active on this forum.

But perhaps it’s only the case for finite beings?


Quite so! (Great comment, btw. :smiley: )

Even though I don’t agree with Ultra-U, I wanted to point out that Michael’s critiques of it often miss the mark (sometimes spectacularly).

And I wrote that before meeting either of you, I’m pretty sure!

Hrm… who else here is ultra-u… John goes pretty far toward that, but I think we figured out recently that he actually does acknowledge some kind of resurrection to judgment (instead of immediately to zoe eonian). Have you done a search for the term? (Wait, never mind, I just tried. Our forum search engine is too pitiable. I’ll have to wait till I get to the office tomorrow to try Google searching the site. Don’t feel comfortable doing that at the house… Force of habit mostly.) I’m nearly certain we had several threads with some Ultra-Us here, early on.

For some reason I keep thinking Craig might be, but I might also be mixing that up with preterist debates (which I very much want to get back to soon): Ultra-Us tend to be preterist (though not necessarily so in principle; and certainly preterists don’t have to be any kind of universalists. :wink: )

There might be some defense along that line, but I would want to see it spelled out in principle. The general position being discussed there is certainly classical enough among many Christian theologians: that our final redeemed condition will be more blessed than we would have otherwise been had we not fallen, the principle being that God must be able to bring more good out of the evil that has happened so that evil will not be considered to be on a par with goodness.

I’m far from unsympathetic to the notion, but the explanation will have to be put in such a way that it doesn’t conflict with the beatitude of God’s own self-existent perfection (especially as the ground of all reality.) Worth its own thread of discussion, I’d say, if you care to set it up. :smiley:


This is why In was trying set up a place where we can share our beliefs in this thread, but their has been very little response. could we move thread to a more apparent location?


We’ve been kind of busy dealing with other mod/admin issues… :wink: Sorry. I’ll see what I can do about that.


I don’t know that I could rightly consider myself ultra-u at this point, as I still have some doubts; but I will say that I definitely have strong leanings in that direction. I find myself agreeing with Aaron and Todd much more often than not.
I think the ultra-u position relies rather heavily on the notions of both what and when the lake of fire and Gehenna are.
I agree that the preterist postion does lend itself quite nicely to ultra-u, although it is not necessary for it.


Part 2 of my commentary!

Next up, Michael Murray addresses what he claims is the kind of universalism defended in the recent literature (at the time he wrote his paper) by Marylin Adams and Thomas Talbott.

As a sidenote, Michael doesn’t (or didn’t) clearly know what Marylin Adams’ view amounts to, as it seems to start off this way but in later work seems to move back in the direction of NU (or Ultra-Universalism, as its proponents prefer to call it). Or possibly not. So he stays with the version of universalism he finds in Thomas’ articles, such as “The Doctrine of Everlasting Punishment” in the seventh issue of the 1990 edition of the journal Faith and Philosophy. It seems to me that Thomas has later allowed that God has carte blanche to override free will in a Ultra-U fashion, if that is the last remaining option to secure salvation; but at the time Michael wrote this article this may not have been a position Thomas granted.

Anyway, Michael understood Professor Talbott’s view to mean (and this seems accurate enough) that God will progressively make clear to the person that being and doing evil is not ultimately in the person’s true self-interest.

As Michael is aware, Thomas’ position is a little more detailed than this, as it also involves God altering a person’s inherited nature such that “bondage to desire” is removed; i.e., the person no longer has desires so overwhelming that they causally necessitate one’s choice of the object of desire.

Michael’s first problem is with what it means for an agent to be “fully informed”. Does it only mean that one knows all the facts relevant to the topic and holding no false beliefs relevant to that topic? Or does it also mean ascribing the proper weight to the facts that are known?

Michael thinks the latter would also be properly necessary for a fully informed decision to surely result in choosing rather than rejecting God; but that such an ascription of proper weight can only occur if one has already structured one’s desires so that they properly reflect the importance of what is known.

So for example, someone can be fully aware of the factuality that various behaviors are extremely dangerous and yet still choose freely to engage in the practices. But perhaps they would surely not, if they not only acknowledged the facts of the case but also acknowledged the proper importance of the facts of the case. Yet how could this apprehension of the proper importance surely lead to the desired result (i.e. the agent chooses to act in accord with what is truly good for the agent) unless the felt weight of the importance compels them to do so?

And so such a universalist is back to compulsed behavior. Compulsed by what or by whom? In order to avoid the ‘benevolent rape’ of Ultra-U (or NU as Michael calls it), the compulsion must be a result of the agent herself setting her desires to the proper intensity. But what guarantee is there that the agent will surely do this?

Thus the SU1 proponent is led to an infinite explanatory regression in order to avoid collapsing back into NU.

Michael calls this portion of his paper “A False Presupposition”, but he is not entirely clear, to me anyway, what this presupposition of the SU1 proponent is. Possibly he means that SU1 proponents falsely presuppose that a sure result of salvation acceptance doesn’t require the acknowledgment by the agent, of the proper importance of the relevant facts; but it seems to me that strictly speaking the ‘proper importance’ of the relevant facts would be part of the total set of accurate facts relevant to the decision to accept or reject salvation, and so is at least tacitly assumed by the SU1 proponent anyway. Michael’s own criticism quickly identifies the reliance on this point as being a necessary part of the total position. But in any case his criticism doesn’t rely on the SU1 proponent making a false presupposition; rather, his criticism attempts to show that the SU1’s expected conclusion does not in fact follow but some other conclusion instead. Be that as it may.

Curiously, Michael tries to claim that his argument is not a proof that SU1 (as he has described it) collapses after all into NU. I am not sure from his presentation why he thinks this is not such a proof. He says, “It seems epistemically possible that all free persons would eventually turn to God in some finite amount of time after becoming fully informed (in the first sense described above) [my emphasis] about their good.” But Michael’s argument is precisely that for the certainty the SU1 proponent seeks assurance about, the first and less complete sense of “fully informed” must be inadequate. The SU1 proponent, in Michael’s understanding, is not claiming that God may possibly save all persons from sin, but that God shall certainly succeed in doing so. Michael may have only been trying to be charitable to his opposition here; but if so, his attempt leads him to the even more peculiar (and in my estimation rather weakly vague) rebuttal that the Church’s near unanimity of the “traditional doctrine of hell” “is no small evidence for the Christian that this epistemic possibility is not in fact a reality.” Perhaps Michael is trying to say that the possibility is excluded, or most probably so, by exegetical weight and/or infallible revelation to ecclesial authority.

But, “leaving that aside”, Michael has a second difficulty with SU1, which he realizes “is by no means a demonstrative refutation”: in short, if God could set up such infallible conditions, why didn’t He do so in the first place? (A difficulty he can and does aim at NU as well.)

Michael thinks SU1 (and NU) proponents have no answer to this question–other than, as he acknowledges in a footnote, ‘tu quoque’: it’s a non-universalist problem, too! I think this question, including the ‘tu quoque’, is important enough to save for addressing at the end of my counter-critique, however; so I will move on to Michael’s third difficulty (in this paper) with SU1.

His third difficulty is closely related to his first difficulty, and involves the SU1 proponent attempting to appeal to the persistence of God to lead the sinner to choose to self-order her desires properly rather than properly ordering her desires for her. Put shortly, Michael’s objection is that the SU1 still cannot get a guarantee out of this without at least some rewiring (to neutral desires)–which he seems to allow wouldn’t be exactly coercive (or not enough for him to cavil at it) since the agent would be free from that point to order her desires wrongly again–plus what he calls an arbitrary stopping point to the process once the person has chosen rightly; thus guaranteeing persistance of the achieved result rather than that the person should fail again.

This objection is important enough that I will save addressing it for later, too.

I expected at this point that Michael’s SU2 would involve God persistently acting to save all sinners from sin, with a technical possibility of continuing always to fail at that result in regard to at least one sinner (Satan perhaps?) but with a revelation, from God’s eternal vantage of omniscience, that God will indeed succeed after all.

Oddly, though, this isn’t what Michael moves to at all for SU2!–though that would seem the logical extension of SU1.

But I will comment on his presentation of SU2, and his critiques of it, in my next entry.