Tom's "Heaven & Hell" in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy


Well, I thought of an answer to my own question: Could one say that God always loves the damned in hell but lacks the power and wisdom to offer salvation to the damned in hell?

This forces me to my revise challenge to Arminians:

Tom, I would appreciate any thoughts that you have on this.


My sister argues that many people are pretty-much zombies, “sons of the devil”, hated by God, actors made to create challenges etc for the sanctification of real people, the “children of God”.

I can see her point. As an author, I have created many characters for whom I have no love, characters I intended from the outset to destroy. What’s more, I can command my good characters to love the bad characters, without contradiction. If, by some technological magic, I manage to meet my good characters in the real world, and they lament the loss of their loved (but bad) companions, I can comfort them by saying those bad characters never really existed. It’s hard to mourn a figment of someone’s imagination.

Creating bad characters (and destroying them forever) doesn’t make me a bad person. Nor would doing the same reflect badly on God.

Just some thoughts.


I guarantee you that the bad characters are indeed real people. I know and love too many of them, but I suppose you could argue that at some point perhaps they’ll turn out to be elect, and so they can’t be counted as non-people. :unamused: Nah – not buying it. (Not that I think for a moment that YOU’RE buying it either.) :wink:


I know someone who last I heard from her was going this route, too, as a newly converted Calvinist (from Arminianism), although she swore she didn’t believe it: the non-elect are only cigarette people (as she called them). Philosophers would call them zombies: soulless machines, biological or otherwise, which only appear by all possible external human tests to be real persons. (Not to be confused with horror undead zombies, who typically couldn’t possibly be mistaken for real people. :wink: )

Of course in that case, Christian universalism is technically true, not Calvinism! :sunglasses: The non-elect don’t really exist and there’s no reason to punish them, they can just be annihilated like any other particles, or have their particles completely shuffled around for other purposes, no big deal, except insofar as we may have mistakenly loved them ourselves (like loving an irascable teddy bear).

This makes a total hash of everything in the scriptures about impenitent sinners being punished; but then again one could suggest that most of those references are to real people who will be saved from their sins after all (per Christian universalism), with the occasional references to apparent annihilation referring to the zombie non-persons who are filling in the narrative gaps of the story.

As an author I would never have the stomach to suggest such a thing myself about my own characters (in case anyone wonders if I’m going that way with my novels), but I suppose it’s technically possible from a metaphysical standpoint. I rather strongly doubt the scriptural testimony adds up that way overall, though.


I have to agree. Such a thought is too, too horrifying, and abominable beyond measure.


Well it would be horrifying in regard to the ‘real’ people in my story who came to love ‘fictional’ characters even though they were wholly impenitent sinners.

I suppose it wouldn’t be horrifying to have fictional pseudo-people who were so evil nobody ever loved them, and so who were never dismayed to find out they weren’t real people and so wouldn’t be saved from their sins into righteousness. People would only be relieved such monsters were finally removed from play.

Although then their depredations against real people become fully my responsibility, not as systemic accidents which might happen in a neutral system of reality to affect fallen creatures (like asteroids or tornadoes), but as entities behaving ‘rationally’ because I myself am the rational entity intentionally driving them around.

So yeah, horrifying even then. Never mind. :slight_smile:


In order to defend a certain theology, my sister’s willing to sacrifice most people’s existence… :confused:

The problem with all the “brain in a vat” theories is that they’re unprovable either way. Given this, the only sensible thing to do is to laugh, and get on with life.

But maybe we can do better…

Suppose I accept (like a skeptical philosopher) that Frank might be a zombie. My love for Frank will be influenced by this uncertainty, and have a certain quality.

Suppose I accept (like a child) that Frank is most certainly real. My love for Frank will be influenced by this certainty, and have a certain quality.

Who can doubt that the quality of the naive child’s love would be very much better than the skeptical philosopher’s?

Since God wants us to learn to love well, populating the world with zombies (and allowing us to suspect this) would work against this goal, even making it impossible. Therefore, the world is not populated with zombies.


Very good! – I may use this on the Cadre Journal soon!

Now, that argument proceeds from having already established on prior grounds that God exists and has certain characteristics such that we can be consequentially sure no human zombies (in the philosophical sense) exist. A Calvinist proceeding from subtly but crucially different characteristics of God might come to another conclusion; so it would be better to connect the conclusion back to the nominally shared agreement of trinitarian theism (or something like that).

On the other hand, arriving at God’s existence from a route starting with a version of the Argument from Reason (so far as the question of theism vs. atheism goes – I’d start the argument much farther back for paring off as many metaphysical proposals as possible before then), requires presuming for the sake of any argument that I am not a philosophical zombie; and any presumption that my audience exists as real people whom I expect to rationally appeal to (instead of only causing them to react automatically with a mental fluorescence or something like that) extends that concept. In other words, to have an argument we must presume that not everyone is a philosophical zombie, but that isn’t the same as presuming no one is a philosophical zombie.

Consequently, if I conclude that there are no philosophical zombies, then I am not arguing in a circle, because I didn’t presume from the outset that there are no philosophical zombies, only that I must necessarily presume there are at least one or two non-zombies for any argument to be ‘an argument’ at all.

In other words: Golden Presumption (you and I can act, i.e. you and I are not philozombies) leads to concluding theism and not-atheism; theism plus other factors evidently in the account leads eventually to concluding supernaturalistic trinitarian theism; trinitarian theism leads to concluding no philozombies at all (in this Nature, perhaps also by principle extension none in any actual or possible Nature).


Yes, well said, Allan and Jason.

I was just thinking this … maybe I’m a zombie … maybe nothing I do really matters … maybe my kids are zombies and my efforts to raise them well and teach and discipline them mean nothing …

Sounds like those things they had on Star Trek – “holodecks” I think?

I hope that’s not the case! :mrgreen:


Fortunately, a philosophical zombie wouldn’t be capable of being conscious about anything, it would only look conscious to other persons.

From a formal perspective you can’t use that to argue you’re rationally active (and thus not a zombie) because you’d be tacitly presuming your rationality in order to make the argument (although you can subsequently argue to conclusions about what would be true if you weren’t rationally active). From an experiential perspective, though, you can be sure you aren’t a philozombie. :slight_smile: (Because you’re experientially conscious of things.)


I think; therefore I am. :wink:


I’ve no doubts about my mind’s existence at this precise moment, but many doubts about everything else. Philosophical doubts, not practical. I don’t ponder the reality of my chair. I simply sit in it.

If God is good, I can expect there to be a correlation between my inner perception and the outer world. Sanity would be one of God’s good gifts. I would perceive a green tree in my mind because there actually exists a green tree in my garden.

However, if God is bad or non-existent, I no longer have a reason to believe my own eyes.

A bad God might deceive me capriciously for his own amusement.

A non-existent God is no better. As Plantinga points out, evolution adapts the body to the environment. It doesn’t adapt my inner perceptions to objective reality. It doesn’t matter what a frog believes it’s doing when it catches a fly, so long as its body automatically does what’s needed to survive. In the same way, so long as my (unknowable) body automatically does what’s needed to exist in its actual (but unknowable) environment, it doesn’t matter what I believe I’m doing. If there is no God, I may in fact be a clever slug with delusions of grandeur.


Ironically, that’s kind of the reverse of how Descartes approached the topic, but yep. :slight_smile:

(He started with the question of whether there was a proposition immune to the solvency of utter scepticism and fetched up there. I prefer to go about it from the more positive direction, to detect what is most fundamentally needed for any argument to be an argument. You may recall my second Section in SttH being about that. :slight_smile: )


A scene in heaven:

‘God, is my son here too?’
‘No, he was just a zombie. Had to annihilate him, I’m afraid.’
‘But I loved him.’


And there’s the rub. God wants us to learn to love truly. How can we truly love zombies?


As I noted earlier, it’s theoretically possible that God could create philozombies who behaved in such a way that nobody ever loved them and so no one would be heartbroken to discover such creatures were never actually persons.

But aside from the critical problem of God then being sole direct author of evil (since those creatures are behaving rationally with God’s direct rationality, the way I would be the one behaving evilly if I created an evil sock puppet to go troll message boards as a technically parallel example thus being unjust to real people with my fictional pseudo-person) {inhale!} – I agree that that’s another problem, too. We may accidentally come to love impersonal objects (like teddy bears or turtles), but God never intended those objects to be mistaken for and treated as persons. (Although a corollary to this position would be that, since no love is ever lost, I suspect God will bring those items to personal life in the world to come!–as I strongly suspect He invests and wakens spiritual souls in animals with a high enough design to accommodate those souls when other people love them, even in this life. Perhaps even blood pythons, CL! :slight_smile: That might even be a duty of ours in this life; I’m sure it will be a duty of ours in the resurrection!)

An evil philozombie, however, would on this theory be intended by God to be mistaken for a real person; and that principally undermines the concept that God expects us to love even our worst enemies (at least with saving love if we can manage nothing more under the circumstances and due to our weaknesses!)

Edited to add: ALL HAIL ALEX FOR FIXING THE FORUM ENGINE!! (Editing function also now tested. And smilies. :sunglasses: And image posting. Now testing tag alerts, [tag]Alex Smith[/tag]… Quote function now tested, too.)


Would a zombie have to be created directly by God? One couldn’t evolve, nor be concieved by normal parents without God violating freewill or removing natural love or something … The only way I could see God creating zombie-humans is by direct creation/manufacture …

I often have to check myself from falling into a teenage, ego-centric solipsism that eradicates the problem of evil by recourse to a matrix-style brain in a vat - but the temptation doesn’t last long. Still, it’s a more preferable solution than positing either a God who wills evil or atheism (IMHO). But I prefer a good God who doesn’t create zombies + universalism.


I’m inclined to say that natural selection of accidental mutations alone (standard biological evolutionary theory) or any development of mere automatic reactions and counterreactions would practically by definition only produce philosophical zombies at best. God doesn’t have to remove anything, He has to add something to the normal natural processes.

But He set up the natural processes and under normal circumstances (at least since the beginning of human history) non-zombie humans occur on a regular basis. Regardless of how that comes about (although I infer that some kind of miracle is involved to shift the categories of behavior over), standard operating procedure results in a situation where we’re expected, logically and morally (as part of loving our neighbors as ourselves), to regard other human animals as NOT being zombies. (Or as not being Socratic cabbages, to borrow another related idea from the history of philosophy. :wink: )

That situation could not have come about without God’s intention, one way or another, so it is reasonable to infer that He intentionally expects us to regard human animals (aside from clearly evident special circumstances) as more than philosophical zombies.

Consequently, God would be acting against His own intentions to set up secret philosophical zombies, even if He set up one who behaved in ways that no other human could love (thus preventing us from being brokenhearted about its revelation as only being a technical ‘zombie’ or ‘cabbage’.)

Btw, since we’ve run rather far afield of the actual discussion, I intend to port these posts over to their own thread in the philosophical category (leaving a link in the original thread). I’m just waiting till the forum seems less hiccupish. :slight_smile: