God, Thermodynamics, and Hell

If the article is boring, just stare at this picture for a while instead

If the article is boring, just stare at this picture for a while instead

I wonder what happens if you consider the concepts of a god and the Christian religion using the most simple and straightforward logic you can.

I also wonder if it’s possible to do such a thing without using any flawed logic at all. Because logic is a tricky thing. It isn’t flawed in itself, but it’s almost impossible to use perfectly with a limited mind. A moron may present what, to him, is the most brilliantly perfect argument he’s ever heard, and a genius may look at it and immediately see an obvious gaping hole.

You have to wonder what our most intelligent arguments would look like to someone who would make the greatest human genius look like a moron.

But perhaps we don’t need such intelligence to use solid logic…perhaps we have something to learn from the moron, however flawed he may be. Perhaps the best argument is the most simple, something that a genius sees no holes in, and yet a moron can understand.

I don’t claim to have flawless logic. In fact I’ve published some rather messy articles that employed bad reasoning or didn’t explain my thought process well, and certainly didn’t provide a solid logical argument. But I will try my best in this article to consider these concepts as objectively, simply, and logically as I possibly can.

First: the existence of a god. I am arguing here for the basic existence of a supernatural being outside of our universe and not subject to the natural laws governing our universe.

I believe there is a god because of the laws of thermodynamics. Our universe exists. At least, I am assuming that it exists objectively beyond my own mind, for the sake of having a solid foundation from which to argue. And because it’s pretty darn obvious.

If the universe exists, then one of two things is true. Either it has always existed for an infinite amount of time, or it began to exist at some point in time.

The second law of thermodynamics asserts that natural processes lead toward equilibrium, especially in regard to temperature. This is why stars burn out, and perpetual motion machines are impossible.

If the universe has existed for an infinite amount of time, then we would expect it to be in a state of perfect equilibrium. Or if true equilibrium requires an infinite time to reach, we would at least be so close to it that any difference would be practically indistinguishable.

Since we are very obviously not in that state, we must conclude that the universe had a beginning.

The first law of thermodynamics asserts that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, only change forms. Since our universe had a beginning, the energy and matter in it was created. For our universe to exist, then, would require a force acting outside of the laws by which the universe functions.

This force is, by definition, supernatural. It cannot be subject to natural laws because it did something contrary to natural laws.

I find it quite reasonable at this point to assume the supernatural force is sentient and rational. After all, it created an orderly and logical universe that follows strict rules.

It may be possible to somehow argue for the existence of a random, unthinking, supernatural force that created everything with no intention, but it seems more logical that the creation reflects traits of the creator. It seems ludicrous that an orderly system would be created by a force incapable of itself being orderly.

This is, admittedly, not perfect reasoning, given that the supernatural force is not subject to the laws of our universe. Any assumptions about the nature of the force may be no more than logical conjecture. But that does not mean it has no laws governing itself, and it would be reasonable for a creator to imbue its creation with similar properties to itself, in this case logic and order.

Now we may have a small problem. How does this supernatural force exist? It must have had a beginning…or maybe not. This god is not subject to the laws of thermodynamics since it created the universe in violation of those laws. So it could, in fact, exist infinitely without decaying into a state of equilibrium.

The question of where god came from, then, may be asking for the value of a property that the thing in question does not possess.

I think that is a reasonable and logical foundation in favor of the existence of a god. So what about Christianity? Why might it be truer than any other theistic religion?

Unfortunately in this matter, logic may not help. I can’t think of a logical reason to assume that there is only one supernatural force, rather than two or three or a thousand. But for the sake of being able to consider the matter of hell using logic, let’s take a short leap and suppose that there is only one, and he is perfect and good and loving, as Christianity claims.

If you insist on the existence of such a god, and that he can do anything he wants with the universe (which logically follows from his ability to create it in the first place), we can reach some interesting conclusions.

Such a god would have a couple options for how to interact with us. Either he could give everyone clear, undeniable proof of his existence, or he could remain hidden to some extent.

In the latter case, which we know to be true, in order for him to be perfectly just, the common Christian theory of hell would have to be untrue. Why?

If hell were real, this god who has both the power and desire to save every single person would do so, unless something stopped him. The only thing that can stop him is himself, so he would need to desire something else more than saving people, and choose it over them.

We know that Christianity is all about god choosing people over his own self—or if you prefer, over his son. By choosing us over himself, he chose us over any of his other desires, proving that saving us is, in fact, his greatest desire. Thus nothing will stop him from saving everyone.

We know that god does not provide indisputable proof of his existence and he is quite uninvolved with the world. He could easily show himself physically, speak audibly, and thus give everyone a solid reason to believe in him as he supposedly desires. Remember, we are assuming that he is a god who can do anything within this universe.

We know that if he did show himself, he would by conventional Christian standards save more people. If his greatest desire is to save all people, why would he not show himself, if they must believe a certain way in order to be saved? He would have to desire something else more than saving them, to withhold evidence that would save them.

Or, perhaps, it wouldn’t actually make a difference because the idea of hell is all wrong to begin with.

This isn’t a matter of free will, by the way. If he were to show himself, it would not force anyone to believe. More people would choose to believe of their own volition, but it would still be voluntary faith.

For hell to exist, you either have to argue that somehow nobody would be converted if god were to appear and give concrete proof of who he is; or you have to argue that what you believe doesn’t actually affect your ultimate fate.

Because if neither were true, this god would be unjust and imperfect, and totally inconsistent by not doing the thing that would result in achieving his greatest desire. If more people would be saved from hell if he showed himself, not showing himself would be antithetical to his goal, and he would be partly responsible for their demise. (The bible gives a very similar situation of responsibility through inaction, in which a person who knows his bull has gotten free and does nothing about it is held accountable if the bull kills someone.)

The argument that nobody would be converted comes from Reformed doctrine, or specifically Calvinism, which argues that god chose certain people to save, and not to save the rest. They would argue that he does not actually desire to save everyone.

If somehow this were true, he would need to have a reason for choosing some over others, if he is to be perfectly just. He would not do something illogical and arbitrary like reward certain people for absolutely nothing and punish others for being exactly the same as the people he rewarded. That would make him unjust and imperfect.

No one who believes this can give such a reason. It’s a question that cannot be answered because there is no possible answer that is consistent with their claims of god’s character. He cannot be perfect and loving and yet desire anything less than saving everyone, a feat of which he is entirely capable.

So given the essential characteristics of the Christian god, we can reasonably conclude that no one will suffer in hell for eternity. Whether those characteristics are true of god, however, is a matter of conjecture.

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4 responses to “God, Thermodynamics, and Hell

  1. “We know that Christianity is all about god choosing people over his own self—or if you prefer, over his son. By choosing us over himself, he chose us over any of his other desires, proving that saving us is, in fact, his greatest desire. Thus nothing will stop him from saving everyone.”

    Do you not think it’s possible for us, humans, to stop God from saving us? I think free will does need to come into play, and this is where it rears its ugly head. Granted, I think of salvation differently from most conventional Christians and so I will speak of it in terms of a healing process rather than a moral lifestyle. If we are to be healed fully, then we need to accept healing when it is presented to us. Of course, God could force this healing on us, but I believe he chooses not to because we would not be truly loving him in return and would not share true communion with him, which (based on my limited understanding of God) is the reason we were created in the first place.

    “For hell to exist, you either have to argue that somehow nobody would be converted if god were to appear and give concrete proof of who he is; or you have to argue that what you believe doesn’t actually affect your ultimate fate.”

    I will not say that nobody would believe if God came and gave concrete proof of who he is, but I will say that I do not think everybody would believe in God even with the most concrete and logical proof imaginable. When Christ came to earth, there were many who did not believe he was good and who accused him of blasphemy and consorting with demons because of the signs and wonders he performed that symbolized his divinity. Israel, God’s chosen people who saw his divine wonders in Egypt, started worshipping a golden calf in the dessert when Moses went up to Mt. Sinai and left them alone for a few weeks. I think that some people today would refuse to believe no matter the evidence.

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    • Well, if that’s the case with free will, why would it be taken away after death? Why would there be no possible way for people who die unbelieving to be redeemed? Undoubtedly anyone in hell would be quite ready to accept God’s gift of salvation. So why, in that case, does their free will suddenly not count anymore? If his greatest desire is to save them then why lock them in an inescapable place of torment? If our free will is so important that it would override his greatest desire, that it would be better for us to suffer for eternity than to not have free will for our very short time on earth, it doesn’t make sense that it would then be taken away.

      The main point of the second issue is that more people would believe if he came. And I’m not just talking about him coming as a man and doing miraculous things for a few to see. I’m talking about an undeniably supernatural appearance. Sure, there would always be some people who stubbornly try to explain it away. But we can’t deny that there are millions of people who are stuck in the middle, who would believe if only they had some solid evidence.

      If his greatest desire is to save everyone, and the only thing stopping him is our free will, and becoming active in the world would cause more people to believe in him of their own free will and thus be saved…well, it would get him closer to his goal. So there would be no reason not to do it.

      Ultimately, the issue is a contradiction between the idea of hell as an eternal, inescapable torment, and God’s desire to save everyone, and his lack of activity in the world. There are several ways to resolve that contradiction…maybe there is no hell like that, and everyone will go to heaven, or maybe there is a hell but people can be redeemed from it, or maybe evil people will simply be destroyed so they no longer exist.

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      • First, I do not know what happens after death. My conclusion, which I will admit is not a very solid one, is that those who die and have chosen hell want to be in hell. From my understanding, hell is more the absence of God and God’s love than a physical place of torment. I don’t know if people in hell recognize their misery and want God’s love, but from my understanding of the Bible and the Church Fathers, there is no moving back and forth from heaven and hell after death regardless of how one feels about one’s position.

        Second, I cannot comprehend God’s power. Increased activity in this world on the scale you suggest might lead to people believing in him out of fear rather than love, which is the opposite of his goal. In addition, I believe God works in this world through other people, just as he always has. Through living humans we can see, through angels, through saints, and through the Holy Spirit.

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      • There are different views of hell, yes. The one I’m addressing is specifically the “eternal torment and regret” one, since that’s the one I grew up with, and what most people I know actually believe. It’s portrayed as a place where you wish for eternity that you could be saved from, probably thanks to that parable about the rich man and Lazarus.

        But as I said, there are several ways to resolve the apparent contradiction, and some of them do involve some sort of hell.

        Regarding believing out of fear rather than love…that’s essentially what this common doctrine of hell does. It’s used by many churches to scare people into believing. If God showing himself visibly would cause people to believe out of fear, it’s no worse than “you’ll suffer for eternity if you don’t believe”.

        But I don’t think he would have to do it in a way that would frighten people. Jesus came and did miracles, and people believed because of it, and not out of fear. Even so, what of the “fear of the Lord”? What about this: “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

        Some level of fear seems to be expected.

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