Trouble in Paradise? Michael Martin on Heaven (2003)
In a sampling of his Internet publications, Prof. Michael Martin has argued that, when closely evaluated, the concept of Heaven as historically construed by Christians is found to be a veritable mare's nest of philosophical difficulties and confusions. At best, the idea is implausible; at worst, it is incoherent. Among Dr. Martin's more salient points, are his contentions that the nature of Heaven (as delineated in Scripture and taught in church tradition) is conceptually unintelligible, the utter moral perfection found in heaven conflicts with the renowned Free Will Defense, and, lastly, God's bestowal of heavenly blessings on some humans and not others is unfair. I hope to show that the very arguments in favor of Martin's conclusions are themselves based on either inaccurate or simply imagined assumptions about the Christian concept of afterlife. As such, Martin's considerations entirely fail to make implausible the biblical notion of life everlasting.
Prior to exploring the many-faceted philosophical dimensions of Heaven, however, we might profit from initially taking note of the practical issues, which simultaneously attend to this area. Undoubtedly, the subject of Heaven is brimming with practical import. If Heaven as the Bible envisions it is real, then our lives are radically different in nature than we often recognize. All of sudden, life is not primarily about the here and now but is rather bound up with eternal considerations. Not only is such an insight surprising and perplexing, it can be extraordinarily liberating. Coping with deadly disease or pain, awakening out of bed only to meet that despised job, finding a way to raise your children as upright in a world dead set against such a task. These afflictions and myriad others become, according to the Apostle Paul, a mere "momentary affliction" which is "preparing us for an eternal weight of glory" (II Corinthians 4:16-18). The beauty of Heaven, if rightly attended to, dims the hideousness of the world. Thus, we see that Heaven can be enjoyed even today and not just after we perish. Indeed Christian scholars such as Dallas Willard have written widely on how it is that a person can come to experience eternity in the present. Of such a blessed life, Willard writes:
Having overcome death [Jesus] remains among us. By relying on his word and presence we are enabled to reintegrate the little realm that makes up our life into the infinite rule of God. And that is the eternal kind of life. Caught up in his active rule, our deeds become an element in God's eternal history. They are what God and we do together, making us part of his life and him a part of ours.
There are other respects in which the reality of Heaven transforms our daily sojourns. First, if Heaven exists then we have the potential to aid others in finding this unparalleled gift. We in effect have the privilege of working as God's instruments in bringing people to an eternal life centered around God Himself. It's hard to conceive of any task as magnificent as that. Secondly, on a Christian view, our earthly deeds and actions have the potential to heighten our reward in the hereafter. The New Testament states that we have the ability to store up "an unfailing treasure...where no thief comes near nor moth destroys" (Luke 12:33). Put simplistically, the better we are on earth, the better Heaven will be for us. With this said, we might cast a suspicious eye at Dr. Martin's claims against Heaven. Surely, it would be a shame to dismiss such a wonderful doctrine without objections that were quite formidable. Unless critics like Dr. Martin can provide arguments of that sort, we might well continue to seek life everlasting, our hope left undamaged.
The Nature of Heaven
Dr. Martin leads off his critique with a look at the basic tenets of what he believes to be the traditional account of Heaven as espoused by most Christians throughout church history. He highlights four theses that are allegedly foundational to this doctrine: the permanence thesis, the antiuniversalism thesis, the individual existence thesis, and the reward thesis. I largely agree that such elements are part (or ought to be a part) of any Christian concept of afterlife and I thus see no problem in including them in the concept of Heaven I defend here.
Next, we are supplied several distinct variants of Heaven. Specifically, Dr. Martin brings up three: the immaterial soul variant (where only the immaterial self enters a nonspatial and atemporal heaven upon death), the immediate resurrection variant (the dead corpse is resurrected immediately at death and is taken to a spatial realm--wholly separate from our own--for reward), and the delayed resurrection variant (there is no heaven until the end days when all Christian corpses will be resurrected in this space-time realm and will live out eternity here).
Now I must admit that upon first reading Dr. Martin's work on Heaven I was struck by his list of options here. It is not that Christians universally reject these views; a certain number do believe in them. But still, Dr. Martin's list is glaringly incomplete. For in an exceedingly strange omission, he fails to mention the model of Heaven which the prevailing majority of Christians actually advocate and which is in fact most in line with the biblical text. Allow me to set forth the view--call it the "intermediate state/future resurrection" view (ISFR, for short). Here, the human person has an immaterial self (the soul or mind) and at physical death this immaterial entity enters a heavenly intermediate state. This is an entirely nonphysical existence wherein the human self enjoys unmitigated fellowship with God. The nonbodily state is "intermediate" for it will cease in the last days when the general resurrection of believers (and nonbelievers) commences. Moreland and Habermas summarize the model and note its broad acceptance among Christian scholars:
The majority of theologians have held that at death, a person's soul becomes disembodied and it is translated into an entirely different, nonspatial mode of existence where time is still real. In this state, the person enjoys conscious fellowship with God while waiting for a reunion with a new, resurrected body.
In failing to interact with this model, Dr. Martin in effect presents us with a false dilemma: the afterlife will be spent either entirely embodied or entirely disembodied. What he doesn't understand is that most Christians today and in the past have waded between these horns in holding to something like ISFR. When applied to an eternity that includes this type of unembodied interval preceding a final, bodily resurrection, most of Dr. Martin's criticisms of the nature of Heaven become vacuous.
Clearly, the problems with the delayed and immediate resurrection theories are circumvented. The criticisms of the latter are avoided since on ISFR the final resurrection is not immediate. Thus, there will simply be no transmission of bodies to separate spatial realms. Moreover, the main problem with the delayed resurrection view is defeated, as well. He notes that on this model personal identity will be lost somewhere between death and resurrection since it will be impossible for God to reassemble humans so as to retain the numerical identity of their earthly and Heavenly bodies. But on ISFR our bodies are not necessary for preserving personal identity; the existence of the soul suffices for this. And since we never lose our souls on that model (they never go out of existence), nor do we lose our personal identity.
ISFR is also importantly dissimilar to Dr. Martin's immaterial soul variant despite the fact that ISFR includes a period of immateriality. For instance, of his own variant, Martin first wonders, "How would souls move from place to place?" Well, for proponents of the traditional model (ISFR), this query is simply malformed. For that view postulates the intermediate period to be wholly nonspatial, as are souls themselves. We need only observe that in a spaceless realm there will be no places about which to move. As for Martin's complaint that souls on his timeless immaterial soul variant will be unable to participate in essentially temporal mental activity, this does not plague the intermediate state of ISFR either, since, as Moreland and Habermas noted, that state is not without time.
Dr. Martin also ponders of his unembodied variant: "How would [the soul] recognize other souls?" Again, this may in fact be another inapt question for ISFR, as there is no clear biblical indication that such an act will take place in the disembodied portion of that account. At best, we can only be certain that there believers will engage in deep fellowship with and service to Jesus Christ; all else is guesswork. Although I am inclined to side with those holding that human interaction will go on at that time, my point is merely that if such an idea is incoherent or highly implausible, the Christian can simply discard it without much loss so as to salvage the doctrine of Heaven.
But even if we do insist that on ISFR, souls would "recognize" their counterparts, ISFR advocates can still answer Dr. Martin. One evident problem with the criticism is that it is simply a non sequitur. For from the fact (if it is a fact) that we do not comprehend how disembodied souls will be recognized it does not follow that we will therefore be without the ability to so recognize them. We could merely conclude that we do not now understand this unfamiliar process and we will discover more when we arrive in Heaven. Perhaps supporters of Martin will reply that I have overlooked the real rub, however. For it is not just that we lack insight into how we will identify immaterial souls, it is rather that doing so appears impossible. It is a necessary condition of recognizing a thing X that X has characteristics detectable by the senses so as to be recognized empirically. But this argument is really quite poor. Besides having no evidence in its favor, this view conflicts with our common experience, which is replete with the identification of wholly immaterial realities. We do this every time we refer to numbers, sets, properties, etc., all of which are outside time and space. We thus tend to have little problem picking out nonphysical things and the charge that the immateriality of souls makes it impossible for them to be identified is shown to be fanciful. Of course, critics may regroup and say that it is not immaterial realities in general, but immaterial souls in particular that generate the problem. Thus, of all nonphysical realities, souls are among the few that are inherently unrecognizable. But to single out minds or souls in this way begs the question and Dr. Martin or his supporters would have to provide a sound argument for their assertion. Unfortunately, no such argument is to be found.
Christian theists can go still further in their rejoinder, however. For we not only have vast amounts of experience detecting immaterial things in general, but we often consider cases of alleged religious experience to be coherent. And such experiences often involve recognition of a nonphysical person or persons. The vast majority of Christians, for example, have held that they have directly experienced God at some point in their lives. But most of these are not cases of the believer recognizing God by seeing His physical features, as God is incorporeal. Rather, they knew it was God with whom they were interacting despite His being indiscernible by the senses. While Dr. Martin and other naturalists will certainly deny the veridicality of such experiences, it would appear that even most nontheistic philosophers would allow that such an experience is at least possible. If so, however, then we must allow for the possibility that humans could similarly "intuit" the presence of other spiritual beings, including fellow human souls.
I will note that on this point, Dr. Martin cannot demur with me and remain consistent. In his review of Patrick Glynn's book, God: The Evidence, he states that souls, if they exist, could very possibly be endowed with some form of ESP or telepathic powers. But then the answer to whether it could ever be possible for souls to identify other souls seems to become an unfettered 'yes.' For minds or souls could engage one another telepathically.
Lastly, we come to Dr. Martin's curiosity as to what disembodied persons would do all day, since they will be completely without sleep. I guess he believes that a failure to answer this sheds doubt on the plausibility of Heaven. But this argument is as fallacious as the above soul identity problem. The mere fact that we do not know what all of our constant, detailed activities will be in Heaven does not imply that there is no such realm. As I stated previously, while Christians are generally agreed on the content of many future affairs in the intermediate time (e.g., fellowship with Christ, worship of God), it will be conceded that probably we do not know everything that will occur. But, again, why not simply conclude that we shall learn more once we enter that reality? Dr. Martin presents no elaboration on this and the doctrine of Heaven goes unscathed.
Of course, if this is deemed unsatisfactory, then it seems we can just speculate and predict that our days in this interim state will be filled solely with the worship of the triune God and relation with Christ or similar goings on. Thus, we could claim to possibly know what does continually occur there and Dr. Martin's question is simply given a straightforward (albeit tentative) answer.
Given our above analysis, we find that Dr. Martin's considerations against the nature of Heaven create little problem for Christians and, ironically, serve merely to refine to some extent our underdetermined ideas of what that realm will include. But Dr. Martin has more misgivings. He has a second problem with Heaven: its purity or, more specifically, the purity of its inhabitants.
Dr. Martin makes this complaint: if Christian believers posit that there will be both complete moral freedom and complete moral purity in Heaven, then it is apparent that defenders of the standard logical argument from evil (most famously, Mackie) were correct that there is a world actualizable by God where all morally free creatures are morally unblemished. In short, given this traditional depiction of the Christian Heaven, the famed Free Will Defense must be abandoned--a devastating outcome for Christian apologetics.
Being a rather important claim, we do well to venture further into Dr. Martin's arguments on this point. He declares that, "If God could have actualized a world with free will in which Heaven is an essential part, it is difficult to see why He did not actualize a world with free will that is heavenly in its entirety." For Dr. Martin, then, these two statements are prima facie irreconcilable:
(I) God can actualize a world where some free creatures eventually reach a state of complete moral purity.
We can interpret Dr. Martin here in one of two ways. On one hand, he may be contending that (I) and (II) are logically incompatible in the sense that one cannot affirm them both without contradiction. Or, alternatively, he might maintain that given (I), (II) is quite improbable, in which case the plausibility of the Free Will Defense is undermined.
What if we take Dr. Martin to be asserting that the two propositions are logically in conflict? Well, the initial problem with this is that the two are not explicitly contradictory. One can consistently maintain that God cannot feasibly actualize a world that is heavenly in its entirety, while He can actualize a world that is only partly heavenly. However, Dr. Martin might go on and attempt to supply a third proposition that in conjunction with (I) and (II) will show these premises logically incompatible. That proposition can be cashed out as such:
(I*) If God can actualize a world where some free creatures ultimately attain moral purity, then He can actualize a world where all free creatures are always morally perfect.
Immediately, we see the shortcomings of such an attempt to demonstrate this incompatibility. In order for (I*) to do this, it must fulfill some rather stringent conditions. In particular, any such statement must be either necessary or essential to Christianity or a logical outcome of propositions that are. But (I*) so construed falls resoundingly short of this requirement. And those who see this are in no way intellectually deficient.
So there is no real promise in showing a logical contradiction among these tenets. Possibly, however, Dr. Martin is setting forth a mere inductive argument for the thesis that the perfect freedom in Heaven makes it probable that God could actualize a world where all free creatures are exempt from moral imperfection.
Now the inductive inference from God's ability to actualize a world containing a heavenly segment to His ability to actualize a wholly heavenly world works only if we have adequate grounds for estimating that given the ability to do one, the ability to do the other will follow. But is this estimate plausible?
It seems that in employing the assumptions found in FWD concerning God and His relation to counterfactuals of human freedom, we can show that this estimate is without warrant. (Oddly then, the resources required to overcome Martin's objection to FWD could be found in FWD itself.) Interestingly, FWD appears closely aligned with a Molinist interpretation of divine foreknowledge. A storied and oft-discussed position, Molinism derives its name from 16th century Jesuit theologian, Luis de Molina whose brilliant work in this area has gone to solve a wide range of theological conundrums.
Molinists hold that there are in fact true statements about what a person will or will not freely do in any possible circumstances he or she is in (including future circumstances). The truth-value of these counterfactuals in no way depends on God but He nonetheless knows them essentially. Take an example of such truths from Martin's own work:
(4) If Smith were offered a bribe, then he would have accepted.
Martin recognizes that on Plantinga's Molinist-like FWD, if (4) is true then it would be impossible for God to actualize the world where Smith refused the bribe. But interestingly even this small example teaches an important lesson: what worlds God can actualize will depend on what counterfactuals of freedom are true. This is especially so on Molinism since on that model, God knows all true counterfactuals even prior to His creation of the world. Thus, before His creative act, He would be forced to "work with" these facts in order to come to a feasible world. Dr. Martin's argument therefore seems to reduce to the claim that if the set of all true counterfactuals allowed God to create a world with a heavenly segment, it is probable that it would have allowed a wholly heavenly world, as well.
But now we can see the presumptuousness of Dr. Martin's inductive argument. Surely, he makes an unjustified inference, for we as mere finite knowers are in no epistemic position to make such judgments about counterfactual truths. Thus, from our limited perspective it appears just as plausible to say that the counterfactuals that God had to take into account were conducive only to allowing a Heaven preceded by a premortem existence marred by sin and evil. Perhaps there was no feasible combination of such counterfactuals that would allow a morally untainted world. Christians can simply conclude that this is perhaps the best God could do. There is no reason to go further and assert that if God found a way to actualize a world with a heavenly portion, then He could have actualized a world entirely free from moral evil. Or if there is a reason to think so, Martin never supplies it.
No doubt some will reject the Molinist view in favor of other theological perspectives. But objections to Molinism have so far been anything but convincing and its proponents have in fact shown it quite defensible. Molinism at least is coherent and not clearly implausible. It therefore remains a viable position.
Moreover, even if the treatment I give here is somehow without credence, Dr. Martin's argument is still not out of the proverbial woods. Philosopher James Sennett, for instance, has recently written an article on this very topic of Heaven's freedom, offering a retort quite distinct from my own and which in no way relies on Molinist ideas. Thus far, Sennett's treatment has not been refuted. With regard to this alleged dilemma of heavenly free will, then, we must admit that the ball is in Dr. Martin's court.
That's Not Fair
In his final offensive against Heaven, Dr. Martin tries to explain why rewarding Heaven to some humans and denying it to others is an unfair practice not befitting a perfectly good God.
To begin, he entertains the idea that God simply selects some people to allow into Heaven for no reason at all. He disdains such a selection process and finds it to be unfair. Now I rather disagree with Dr. Martin's analysis on this score since on the Christian view, Heaven is a gift from God of which no human is deserving and in fact all humans emphatically deserve to go without. If we are not owed eternal life, however, then we cannot rightly demand a chance at eternal life (even if others who are undeserving are in fact given this). Beggars cannot be choosers. With this said, there is nonetheless a problem for any Christian holding that God arbitrarily selects the denizens of Heaven. For while such an act would not be unfair on God's part, it would seem to be in conflict with His loving nature. It seems false that an infinite Being who loves His creatures equally (as the Bible claims of God) would somehow pick some over others for Heavenly reward and with no justifying reason. If any god would do this, surely it will not be the God who is love.
However, none of this need long distract the Christian theist, as typically Christians hold that God specifically places into Heaven those who trust in Christ as Messiah. It is the remainder that is excluded. And such a selection is far from arbitrary.
But, undaunted, Dr. Martin deems this last practice likewise unethical for alternative reasons. He ponders, what about those who have never been exposed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ? After all, "Millions of people through no fault of their own have never heard of Jesus...These people's failure to believe is hardly grounds for punishment, that is lack of reward.'' In response, notice the unwarranted supposition contained in the criticism: Why should we believe that these persons' failing to hear the Gospel is of no fault of their own? Of course, most of them, being unaware of Christianity in the first place, have not explicitly or deliberately avoided Christian teaching per se. But explicitly doing so is seemingly unnecessary. In order for Christians to undercut Martin's argument, they can hold that, possibly, those who never come across the Gospel are people who, if provided the Gospel message, would eschew it anyway. God then may not find it important for such persons to hear the Gospel. Thus, it would be their disposition towards rejecting God that ultimately brings about their own ignorance of God and His message of saving faith. In essence, the inclination towards wickedness and ungodliness ultimately drives their separation from Him. It would not be shocking, then, if they finally attain permanentseparation from God, or Hell.
Let us put aside, then, those who are ignorant of the Christian faith. What about those who have been exposed to the evidence for and against Christianity and have found Christianity wanting? The evidence after all, declares Dr. Martin, is not in Christianity's favor. And, at any rate, even if the evidence for Christianity is compelling, multitudes may inadvertently misevaluate the evidence and thereby miss the truth of Christian theism. But why would God punish people for simply not having proper insight into the relevant issues?
There is at least one major shortcoming in this sort of argument: namely, biblical Christians simply reject the idea that some people are never given sufficient evidence for Christian theism. Even if this evidence is not available in the form of philosophic or scientific data, this won't much matter, as the most valuable confirmation of God's reality is not found in these places, anyway. Instead, the Bible instructs us that the most telling indicator of God's existence is provided in the personal testimony of the Holy Spirit with the human spirit. Paul K. Moser has emphasized in recent work just how this interaction with God's Spirit can ultimately become the most robust of Christian evidences. Moreover, it cannot be complained that some people never have a chance at gaining this evidence, since according to Scripture, the Holy Spirit offers its testimony to us all and it is only through willful rejection that we fail to obtain His assurance.
Of course, Dr. Martin will have none of this. He anticipates this appeal to the Holy Spirit and explains that he has refuted it in his Infidels essay on William Lane Craig's "Holy Spirit epistemology." I, for one, find this claim erroneous since even if Dr. Martin has overturned Dr. Craig's work in this area that hardly shows biblical statements on the role of the Holy Spirit false or unwarranted. The literature is full of work concerning the Holy Spirit and His role and refuting merely one scholar's take does not nullify the rest. In any case, we might well wonder whether Dr. Martin has offered unassailable criticisms of Dr. Craig here. In taking Dr. Martin's criticisms one at a time, I fail to see that he has. Allow me to review his points:
(i) The nature of the experience is unspecified -- This objection just seems factually mistaken as Craig and other commentators do in fact describe at least partially the nature of this experience. For instance, Craig notes that the experience is one wherein the subject is provided deep assurance of the truths of his faith and the apprehension of such facts as "I am a child of God." Moreover, since Craig follows closely the New Testament details regarding such an experience, we can understand the nature of the experience through a reading a of the relevant New Testament passages. Nevertheless, even if the objection is true, it does nothing to disprove the claim that the Holy Spirit testifies to all human persons. The Christian could just maintain that if one has the experience and attends to it appropriately, then one will inevitably know that one has experienced God. This follows from the fact that the experience will be unmistakable and indubitable. Thus one will know it is God in back of the experience regardless of whether or not one knows in advance what the content of the experience will be. That the nature of the experience is unspecified beforehand is therefore unimportant.
[Craig] assumes not only that disbelief in Christianity is an action rather than something beyond our control, but that it involves the actor knowingly and irrationally rejecting what will bring about his or her ultimate salvation.
But this attack is simply centered on a misconception, for as we saw above, Craig's views on the Holy Spirit in no way presume a strong doxastic voluntarism. Thus, contrary to Dr. Martin's assumptions, we are not speaking of a case where a person knows he is experiencing the Holy Spirit and that his salvation hangs in the balance and nonetheless simply says, "I don't want that." Rather, it is closer to a scenario where a person is implicitly opposed to a position and in his rigidity simply blinds himself to the abundant evidence for that very position. As I noted, we see this, for instance, when a biased parent fails to see her child's blatant mischievousness. Maybe Dr. Martin will follow up by saying that this brings about a new absurdity: it presumes that most humans are implicitly opposed to fellowship with God through salvation. But what part of this is absurd? It is hard to specify anything. Even more, as we just highlighted, according to even Dr. Martin, humans are profoundly out of touch with God's purposes. But then the idea that humans are disposed to rejecting God is not only not absurd but in fact seems quite justified by the sociological evidence.
Dr. Martin goes on to extend this line of criticism to the "temporal and geographical distribution of Christian belief." On the historical side, he states that "before the rise of Christianity everyone was inexplicably irrational in that they had an experience of the Christian God but irrationally decided not to believe." Besides the fact that it again relies on unjustified assumptions about the human condition, as well as the Christian view of belief formation, one obvious problem with this objection is that Christians reject the idea that pre-Christian peoples were uniformly unsaved. As if Christians believe that Moses or Abraham are in Hell? Not at all; on a Christian theology, sincere Jews of the ages before Christ were saved. But then we find that those living in eras prior to Christ were in the same situation as us today: some accepted the Holy Spirit's draw and others did not. As we saw earlier, there is nothing problematic about this idea.
Martin also writes that, "if Craig is correct, everyone has had an experience of the Holy Spirit. One has to assume, then, that people in certain geographical regions are more irrational than people in other regions" and he finds this implausible. Now in a sense the assertion that non-Christians are irrational in rejecting the Holy Spirit is misleading. For rejecting God and Heaven is not irrational for someone who in fact doesn't prefer God or Heaven. And I have noted repeatedly that the disposition of most human persons is in fact in conflict with the type of attitude that prefers God. But still this does not answer the other question as to why Christian belief has the sort of geographical spread that it does. Well, in reply to that issue, I again allude to God's providence. What if in coming to the optimal number of saved and damned humans, God had to providentially order the world such that the patterns of belief we find resulted? In effect, it appears to me that Dr. Martin might have the order of explanation reversed: he seems to presume that a person's rejection or acceptance of Christian faith will depend largely on where he or she lives or is raised. But what if the tables are turned? Maybe God places people in specific places based upon what their reaction to Him would be. This in fact is the biblical view (Acts 17:24-27). Thus, it may be that grouping people in this way was the most economic way for God to achieve His goals. There seems to be nothing obviously wrong about this view. At any rate, it seems no less plausible than Dr. Martin's unsupported assumption that salvific belief will be evenly distributed globally if God exists.
We thus find that Dr. Martin's objections to this kind of Christian epistemology are largely mistaken. As such, Christians can justifiably hold that even if the scientific or philosophical or historical evidence for Christianity is unimpressive or nonexistent, this still does not mean that people have an excuse for rejecting the truth of the Gospel. For if the Holy Spirit works in the way the New Testament teaches, then there is in fact enough evidence for Christian theism on offer for all people, even if it is not propositional in nature.
But notice that even the strict Christian evidentialist who demands historical or philosophic evidence (rather than experiential evidence like that of the Holy Spirit) to justify Christian belief can escape Dr. Martin's criticisms here. For one can simply hold that God has provided a sort of evidential data that, while exhibited in the natural and moral realms accessible to us all, stands out only for those devoid of specific biases or modes of thought set against God Himself. Indeed, that God would provide this type of general revelation (if He were to provide general revelation at all) is precisely what Christian thinkers have taught for centuries. The comments of Christian philosopher C. Stephen Evans are typical when he writes:
In the case of religion, the personal condition of the knower has a great impact on the knowledge to be gained. The person who wants to know can find evidence; the person who wants to be ignorant of God can be successful as well.
If theists are correct in this regard, then it will be true that, as the New Testament states, one must have the "eyes to see" God and His work before one will have any real chance to find evidence for God. Again, the simple fact is that, most people seemingly do not have these sorts of inclinations. It is no surprise then that many people do not see powerful evidence for God's reality. Not only does this account work as an undercutting defeater of Dr. Martin's argument, but there is also good reason to find this view of the nature of theistic evidence true. It explains rather well how two people of virtually equal intellectual stature and educational background in these areas can come to vastly different conclusions on these issues. This happens all the time in academic disputes. As an example, Dr. Martin finds that all of the evidence favors atheism whereas many fine theistic philosophers have found precisely the opposite. What else could explain this better than the differing psychological or subterranean factors of the subjects involved?
In sum, Dr. Martin's conclusion does not follow from his premises. That many people do not see good evidence for theism is no indicator that there really is no good evidence for theism. Indeed, if lack of belief in a position is indicative of that position's lack of evidence then Dr. Martin's naturalism should be labeled evidentially deficient, as the great majority of mankind has rejected naturalism as false.
So we find that in his third assault on the Christian Heaven, Dr. Martin does not succeed in demonstrating the unethical nature of salvation. There is no reason to think that God has somehow shortchanged some all the while placating others. Heaven is a divine gift finally given to those who accept God's gracious self-sacrifice and forgiveness shown on the Cross. And it may well be the case that all of us are given ample opportunity to find this road to eternity. The real question is, Will we take the road that God has provided?
At the outset, I noted that if Heaven exists, then our lives are radically better than most of us would have imagined. Indeed if that realm is factual, our often dreary lives could as a result become flooded with joy and hope. Despite his efforts to the contrary, I do not see that Dr. Martin has given any good reason to abandon hope that Heaven might exist.
He writes that Heaven is problematic conceptually, but his arguments are aimed largely at conceptions of Heaven that the vast majority of the Christian community would reject. And even those that are relevant are less than impressive.
His claim that the perfect moral freedom found in Heaven intensifies the problem of evil is based on epistemic assumptions that no finite thinker can plausibly make. Given a Molinist viewpoint on divine foreknowledge, it may be the case that a world containing a premortem state of sin preceding a beatific realm of bliss was the most feasible for God to actualize.
Finally, Dr. Martin, in arguing that the route to Heaven is favorable only to those in certain regions, times, or circumstances fails to understand the Christian view of the evidence for God. The best evidence could very well be available to all in the form of the Holy Spirit's testimony. Dr. Martin's considerations against this claim are refutable. Moreover, on Christian theism, even the propositional evidence for God is not subject to Martin's arguments. For one can hold that such revelation (if it exists at all) will be ambiguous or in fact seemingly nonexistent for the insincere seeker. We have noted that most humans (as implied by even Dr. Martin) are insincere in this respect.
To summarize, if Dr. Martin wishes to uphold his thesis that Heaven is without philosophical merit, he needs to revamp his arguments--for, to date, none of them work.
 Michael Martin, "Problems With Heaven," 1997 (www.infidels.org/library/modern/michael_martin/heaven.html).
[S]ome parts of the New Testament assume that the purpose of heaven is not to reward people whose earthly lives and behavior warrants it; rather heaven is a gift of God's love for their faith in Jesus that is completely unmerited. In this view whether or not one ends up in heaven may have little to do with whether one has fulfilled one's moral obligations according to Christian theism. If such a view became widespread it would certainly undermine the motivational force of belief in divine punishment or rewards. [Atheism, Meaning, and Morality (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 2002), 178.]
This inference is mistaken. The Bible implies that Heaven is rewarded to us primarily based upon our faith in Christ (rather than through good works), but that our moral deeds help determine the eventual richness of that reward. But then the doctrine of salvation by faith clearly does not take away from Heaven's moral motivational force, as the prospect of heightened treasures in Heaven could just as easily ground our striving for upright behavior.
...it might be an unembodied existence consisting of the contemplation of God or of the beatific vision of Christ. Such an enraptured, changeless state would be a state of supreme blessedness and so hardly inferior to our transitory, temporal existence and the finite goods made available through it. [Craig, "Response to Critics," in God & Time: Four Views ed. Gregory Ganssle (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001) p. 176]
Here we might say that the human person simply does not engage in thought over time, but timelessly attends to the reality and vision of Christ. The absence of our typical mental workings would not conflict with our personhood since it seems that actually taking part in these kinds of mental activities is not necessary for being a person. Rather what seems necessary (and sufficient) is the capacity to engage in them. This is why those who are comatose or unconscious remain persons even though they do not actually engage in most mental processes. Since a timeless being can have such capacities, it follows that a timeless being could be personal.
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