Name that Fallacy! Robert Peterson on Annihilationism

In the “name that fallacy” series I showcase some examples of how not to argue; cases of either formal or informal logical fallacies. The latter of these two categories covers a significant range of possibilities, and it’s sometimes a matter of some controversy whether someone’s comments really fit into any of them – especially when they’re your comments! The intent of the series is to help people (and help people to help each other) recognise fallacious reasoning when it occurs, whether it’s used in defence of a position they share or not.

For this “name that fallacy” post, let’s step into into the territory of theology. This time the topic is hell, and our subject is one Robert Peterson. Dr Peterson is a well-known evangelical opponent of annihilationism. Annihilationism is the view that those people who are not saved, or redeemed, or counted among God’s people – or call that state what you will – will not have eternal life, and will finally die and one day be no more. The following is an excerpt from Peterson’s closing comments in an article called “Does the Bible Teach Annihilationism?” It’s important that you bear the title in mind, as it sets out what the argument is about: Whether or not the Bible teaches annihilationism. Without further ado, I give you the words of Dr Robert Peterson:

Annihilationists insist that the obliteration of the wicked is a terrible destiny when measured against the bliss of the righteous. However, it is simply not that bad to cease to exist, especially in comparison to suffering in hell forever… This leads to the final implication. If annihilationism is widely accepted by Christians, the missionary enterprise may well be hindered. True, some evangelicals such as John Stott and Michael Green have consistently shown a zeal for evangelism while holding to annihilationism. Nevertheless what would be the effect on churches and denominations that once held to eternal conscious torment, if they were to shift to annihilationism? Their missionary zeal might well wane.

NOTE: This series is called “name THAT fallacy,” but bear in mind that in some cases there may be more than one.

Have fun – name that fallacy!

Glenn Peoples

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94 thoughts on “Name that Fallacy! Robert Peterson on Annihilationism

  1. Argument from undesirable outcome. (not sure what the technical term is)

    The truth or falsity of a position is not decided by possible outcomes.

    I haven’t noticed much “missionary zeal” in churches anyway.

  2. I think the fallacy is called argumentum ad consequentiam (appeal to consequences). It concludes that a premise is true or false based on the desirability of the consequence, rather than addressing the actual truth of the premise.

    In other words, “A implies B. Robert Peterson disapproves of B. Therefore A must be wrong.”

  3. Looks like others beat me to it, but it’s an argument from adverse consequences. We should hold to the truth of a proposition because it produces a desirable outcome.

    Paul even slips into a slightly different version of one of these arguments in 1 Corinthians 15:29, “Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them?”

  4. Chris, you’re right, Paul’s argument is slightly different. His key statement is: “If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them?” I think what he’s getting at is that the behaviour of some people presupposed a future life, and (as I say elsewhere) for Paul the resurrection was the only hope of future life. Therefore their own behaviour presupposes the resurrection and denying the resurrection reduces their faith and practice to absurdity (so it’s a reducto ad absurdum).

    You’re all correct, Peterson is appealing to the sociological consequences of a belief in order to sway people on the truth of a belief. The other thing going on, more subtly, is this: It’s not quite the ad hominem fallacy (which can take several forms, most relevantly here it’s where one attacks the person in the hope of discrediting their position), but it’s close. For a Christian audience, lacking in any missionary zeal is likely to be seen as a personal flaw. Peterson notes that there are exceptions, but says here that if more Christians accept annihilationism, their missionary zeal “may well” wane. This suggests that those Christians who are already annihilationists themselves do lack missionary zeal compared with Christians who hold Peterson’s view. The evidence just doesn’t support this of course, but stated in it’s crassest form, the argument is “people who think this way are bad Christians (in one respect anyway). You don’t want to be like them.” Of course, whether they are bad Christians or not doesn’t affect the soundness of their argument.

  5. Glenn,
    I agree that’s what Paul’s doing. But I don’t think it saves his argument, which is basically, if X (resurrection) were not true, then it would be absurd for people to do Y. Since people do Y, X must be true.
    The problem, of course, is that the argument presupposes that doing Y is correct. Maybe Y is absurd.
    It’s like saying, “If astrology weren’t real, why would so many people read their horoscope?”
    If the people denying the resurrection were also being baptized for the dead, then the argument would indeed point out their inconsistency. But don’t those seem like two mutually exclusive camps?

  6. I think it’s a good argument Paul is making if he’s trying to demonstrate to people that two beliefs that they hold, denial of the resurrection and baptism of the dead, are logically inconsistent.

    If annihilationism is true then there is no point in evangelizing
    A Christian who believes that there is no point in evangelizing is a naughty Christian.
    Therefore only naughty (or illogical) Christians can believe that anihilationism is true

    That is a sound argument (though the first premise is the one most likely to be objected to).

  7. Colin,

    Well, there are big problems with point one, one is that you assume annihilationism and “hell” are mutually exclusive (they are not, annihilation is a (the correct) way to understand hell).
    Two, the idea you evangelise BECAUSE of eternal torment (another, albeit false way, to understand hell) is abhorrent. You do it from service (love) of God.
    Three, you also seem to imply that “fearing” people into belief in God is a valid method of converting them. That, I suspect, would be considering “cultish” and quite offensive to the general “thinking” populace.

    Then we could start work on premise two, but what point would there be to that?

  8. Colin, here’s the principal problem: The article claims to be about whether or not annihilationism is biblical. As an argument for that conclusion, the one you’ve outlined is irrelevant and therefore a red herring, which is a kind of informal fallacy.

    The second thing is this: If your first premise is actually true, then your second premise would only be true if annihilationism is false. So the argument you offered is begging the question, which is another informal fallacy.

    Thirdly, the argument is only sound if premise 1 is true. But what annihilationist would grant 1? So there’s more question begging going on.

    So there’s really no way to redeem this line of argument without falling into another fallacy.

  9. Geoff/Glenn, first let me say that I only stated that it was a sound argument, and I conceded already that premise 1 was a big ask. I’m not sure I believe it myself, but I can see why someone might.

    I don’t really see the problem with premise 2. It seems like this would be apparent independent of one’s view of hell. The argument goes something like: Jesus commands us to evangelize, what kind of Christian would reply “Why Jesus? There’s no point.” – answer a naughty one.

    And Glenn, you know better than this: An argument is sound regardless of the truth of its premises.

    Here’s a version of the argument that still uses the unfounded first premise, but gets you the conclusion you want:

    1. If annihilationism is true then there is no point in evangelizing
    2. The bible teaches that there is a point in evangelizing
    3. The bible is logically sound
    4. Therefore the bible teaches that anihilationism is not true

    The reason I bring up these arguments is not to try to convince anyone of the truth of the conclusion, but rather to suggest that Peterson’s ‘argument’, interpreted fairly, is not fallacious.

  10. actually, I apologise, I didnt actually read the article until after I responded to colin, and now I realise my comments area bit out of context.

    Hopefully now they are back in context. I wasnt interacting with the article at all.

  11. “However, it is simply not that bad to cease to exist, especially in comparison to suffering in hell forever…”

    Is that a different fallacy? He’s saying that ceasing to exist isn’t bad, but he’s relating it with a fictional scenario (eternal conscious torment) that hasn’t been established to be true. I don’t know what you’d call that, but it smells fishy to me. Maybe its not a fallacy but just a bad argument.

  12. Using the word “fictional” for a scenario that hasn’t been established to be untrue is fishy.

    Thanks Dave for the nice example of begging the question.

  13. Actually Colin, an argument is VALID regardless of the truth of its premises. A sound argument requires that the conclusion follow from the premises AND that the premises are true.

    According to Iron Chariots Wiki (hey, no one said this was a term paper or academic work) ;)…

    “A logical argument or syllogism is valid if true premises always lead to a true conclusion. An argument is sound if and only if the argument is valid and all of the premises are true. Thus validity refers to the structure or form of the argument and not to its contents, while soundness considers the structure and content. ”

    Even though I’m not Glenn, here’s a plug for an older blogpost, which discusses this very topic (validity and soundness, that is):

    http://www.beretta-online.com/wordpress/2010/nuts-and-bolts-009-validity-and-soundness/

    Not a big deal, though I hope this will deal with some miscommunications and show that we all have fewer disagreements than it seemed.

  14. Regarding Peterson’s argument, his argument that annihilationism reduces missionary zeal is valid as you say, though what is really fallacious is the bigger argument that he is making:

    1. If annihilationism is true, it will dampen missionary zeal.
    2. It is bad to dampen missionairy zeal
    3. Therefore, annihilationism is not true.

    THAT is the really fallacious argument, a textbook case of an argumentum ad consequentiam. Premise 3 doesn’t follow from the first two, whether or not they are true (although I think we all agree with #2, but that’s not what’s important).

    I think in some ways you and Glenn are both right about his arguments regarding dampening missionary zeal. Like I said, the argument that annihilationsim dampens missionairy seal and therefore only bad Christians believe in it is is valid (though I would definitely argue against its soundness). However, the fallacious aspect Glenn speaks of, if I understand correctly, is not that argument, but the subtle ad hominem argument that follows form it. In other words:

    1. Annihilationism dampens missionairy zeal
    2. Annihilationists have less missionairy zeal than traditionalists.
    3. It is bad to have low missionairy zeal.
    4. Therefore, annihilationists are bad Christians
    5. Because they are bad Christians, what they believe (annihilationism) is untrue.

    Though often ad hominem arguments are not totally useless, they are rightfully considered fallacious, and that is an ad hominem argument (albeit a subtle one).

  15. “Actually Colin, an argument is VALID regardless of the truth of its premises. A sound argument requires that the conclusion follow from the premises AND that the premises are true.”

    Oops. Guess I should leave this stuff up to the professionals. Sincere apologies Glenn.

    Here’s a thought though. Peterson is not addressing whether anihilationism is true or not (at least not directly), but whether the bible teaches it. Add this premise “the bible would never teach something that would cause logical Christians to be bad”, and there’s no fallacy in concluding that the bible mustn’t teach anihilationism.

  16. Interesting thought. I suppose that could be a valid argument (though given what he does and doesn’t say, I’m not sure Peterson himself thought it through that far…).

    I would also add, just in response to Peterson and a number of people who make similar arguments, couldn’t the same argument be used against Calvinism (which Peterson, as a Presbyterian, strictly adheres to)?

    If God predestines who is saved and who is not, whether or not we spread the Gospel cannot ultimately affect people’s salvation. Thus, people may be less apt to preach the Gospel. From there, the argument is exactly the same.

    I’m not saying that is a sound argument anymore than it is for annihilationists (especially since many great evangelists have been Calvinists; C.H. Spurgeon was even accused, I am told, of not really believing in Calvinism because he preached the Gospel so passionately). I would never use such an argument against Calvinism (I am still trying to work out exactly what I believe about election myself). Still, I think I have a point there.

  17. Ultimately, I think all arguments based on the effect it will have on evangelism must be rejected as being unsound.

    It is one thing to say that it is bad to have no missionairy zeal, and therefore the bible wouldn’t teach that. But here, it’s very much relative. Not even Peterson is claiming that annihilationists have no missionairy zeal, just less of it. The premise used here would be not that it is bad to have no missionairy zeal, but that it is bad to have less.

    While it is certainly bad to have less missionairy zeal, it is not true that the bible would not therefore teach something that reduces missionairy zeal in comparison to something else, which is what Peterson is saying would happen.

    Here’s an example:
    Let’s say that I believe that for every person who is saved by your preaching the Gospel to them, you can choose any unsaved person on earth, dead or alive, and they will be saved too.

    That’s a totally unbiblical idea of course. However, if some people believe it, and then someone tries to convince them that the bible doesn’t teach that, I could say “if you don’t believe this doctrine, missionairy zeal will wane.” In fact, while it is debateable what kind of effect annihilationism has on missionairy zeal, teaching such a doctrine as I have above would certainly increase missionairy zeal, at least for some (and conversely, teaching the biblical doctrine would reduce it if you had previously held the unbiblical one).

    However, nobody would ever say that, since the biblical doctrine here reduces missionairy zeal, that it must be untrue. The argument is the same:

    1. Annihilationism reduces missionairy zeal.
    2. It is bad to reduce missionairy zeal.
    3. The bible says that missionairy seal is good.
    4. The bible is logically sound.
    5. Therefore, the bible would not teach what reduces missionairy zeal.
    6. Because of #5, the bible cannot teach annihilationism.

    Point #1 can easily be replaced by “believing that you don’t get to have an unsaved person of your choice be saved for every person who is saved by your preaching to them reduces missionairy zeal.”

    Is that an extreme example? Yes. Does it prove that the bible does teach things that may reduce missionairy zeal in comparison to an unbiblical doctrine? Yes.

  18. Now Colin, I know the argument you put forth was different:

    “1. If annihilationism is true then there is no point in evangelizing
    2. The bible teaches that there is a point in evangelizing
    3. The bible is logically sound
    4. Therefore the bible teaches that anihilationism is not true”

    I don’t think that was what Peterson was saying, however. That said, since somebody ineviteably will use this argument, I’ll address it too.

    2 & 3 may be true premises. However, #1 is easy to disprove (which is why not even Robert Peterson would make that extreme of a claim). I myself am an annihilationist, and I sometimes preach the Gospel to people. I believe that there is a point to evangelizing because God said to do so in the bible (though to what extent one is to do it, I believe, varies greatly). Like you said, Jesus commands us to evangelize. Even if annihilation were a fate not at all bad enough to warrant evangelism itself, obedience to God would be a point to evangelism. Even if there were nothing besides God’s command to make us evangelize, that still would mean there was a point to evangelize. Thus, annihilationism would not mean that there is no point to evangelism.

    Secondly though annihilation may not be as bad as eternal torment (which as Glenn has pointed out, cannot be said with certainty), it is still a horrible fate compared to eternal life. Seeing God on judgment day alone will surely terrifying enough to make one wish that they had never been born, and they will never get to have life as we who follow Jesus do. I desire that all be spared from that fate and instead go to heaven. Therefore, there is a point to evangelizing even if annihilationism is not as bad as eternal torment, and #1 is again false.

  19. Yes, the same argument could be used against calvinism, in fact I think there was some famous quote in church history where a group of calvinists told a missionary “If God wants the heathen saved he can do it himself”. Sorry but my memory severely lacks the details.

    I think your extreme example makes a good point too, that it is not enough if a doctrine reduces missionary zeal, but rather to make evangelism totally pointless. And to appeal to what anihlationists actually do in practice is proof of nothing, as some anihilationists may simply fail to realize that evangelism is pointless, or they may realize it but illogically do it anyway. So the actual zeal of an actual group of anihilationists is anecdotal at best.

    “I believe that there is a point to evangelizing because God said to do so in the bible.”
    I don’t count ‘obedience to God’ as a candidate for a ‘point to evangelizing’. If God commands it, he must have a reason. If we can firmly convince ourselves that anihliationism would leave him no reason to command it, then we have a contradiction. I think the nature of theology is not to treat God as a black box.

    “Secondly though annihilation may not be as bad as eternal torment”
    I’m not sure that this statement is true, or even means anything. When we say this sort of thing usually we’re comparing subjective experiences. So we’re saying that the subjective experience of having been anihilated wouldn’t be so bad as the subjective experience of being in eternal torment. But the subjective experience of having been anihilated is an oxymoron.

  20. Indeed you bring up some good points Colin.

    I guess as far as the points to evangelism, I would say it still would be quite an extreme if one were to argue not only that the point of evangelism is not clear, but that there absolutely is no point. The fact that it was commanded, if not itself a point, would then according to your logic, presume there is a point. But the point is not always clear.

    Why did God command that the the south side of the tabernacle be 100 cubits long (Exodus 27:10)? Why not 99? There are reasons one could come up with, but we have no way to confirm them. Why did Jesus command the blind man he healed in John 9 to bath in the river? There’s no ostensible reason for it. I couldn’t tell you why. But I would never say there was no point.

    Aside from that, there is is a point to evangelism still. You are right to say that we can’t really know if annihilationism is not as bad as eternal torment – I was just granting Peterson’s argument there because it is ultimately irrelevant. Having eternal life, however, is certainly preferable to annihilation, at least while you continue to exist to know about it. Even atheists who believe you just die and that’s that would, unless they are in extreme suffering, choose earthly life over death. If we concede this much, then that alone is an ostensible point to evangelism even in annihilationism is true.*

    *This would of course assume that evangelizing can make a difference between saving someone or not. If it does not (which you’d think Peterson would believe though he clearly doesn’t), then neither eternal torment nor annihilation would serve as a point to evangelize, since whatever fate awaits the lost, they would not be saved by evangelism in the first place.

  21. “But the point is not always clear.”
    Agreed. And you provide some good examples of this. But in the case of evangelism we (perhaps naively) might think we can see the point to evangelism, and then we feel that that point is undermined by a belief like anihilationism.

    “Aside from that, there is is a point to evangelism still.”
    Agreed. Even if the annihilated people don’t care one way or another, one might evangelize because God deserves as many non-annihilated worshipers in heaven as possible.

    “This would of course assume that evangelizing can make a difference between saving someone or not.”
    You’re talking about Calvinism again? I think the Calvinists have an answer for the question “how can anything I do make a difference”, but that should probably be in a different thread.

  22. “And Glenn, you know better than this: An argument is sound regardless of the truth of its premises.”

    In light of what you now know Colin, I trust this is addressed. 🙂

  23. “In light of what you now know Colin, I trust this is addressed.”
    Yes. Joey helped to fill that gap in my education. Sincere apologies.

  24. The argument is a red hearing, the question is whether the bible supports annihilationism.

    Peterson’s argument addresses a different topic, he argues there are prudential reasons for opposing annihilationism. But that’s not the question.

    Put it this way, suppose Peterson is correct, and annihilationism reduces missionary zeal. That does not show the bible does not teach it.

    If a church promises 1000 000 to anyone who signed up to be a missionary that might increase missionary zeal, it would not follow the bible teaches this.

  25. Colin, I take it that if I know a bomb is about to go off and kill everyone in your house, that means there is no point in warning you. Afterall your not going to be tortured, so it follows there is no point in warning you.

    After all is not bad to cease existing is it, thats why we are all commiting suicide, because we think non existence is no big deal and is much preferable to life….

  26. “Put it this way, suppose Peterson is correct, and annihilationism reduces missionary zeal. That does not show the bible does not teach it.”
    Unless you believed that it reduced missionary zeal to a degree that was incompatible with what the bible does teach.

    “Afterall your not going to be tortured, so it follows there is no point in warning you.”
    That doesn’t follow at all. Physical death has a lot of down-sides.

    “After all is not bad to cease existing is it”
    Well I certainly never said that. I’ve already agreed that the first premise is unjustified.

  27. Matt: “Put it this way, suppose Peterson is correct, and annihilationism reduces missionary zeal. That does not show the bible does not teach it.”

    Colin: “Unless you believed that it reduced missionary zeal to a degree that was incompatible with what the bible does teach.”

    Actually this doesn’t seem correct, Colin. It assumes that our missionary zeal should be derived from the contours our theology of hell, so that if we personally find that a view of hell reduces our own personal missionary zeal to a point that is less than the type of zeal urged by the Bible, then the problem must be that particular theology of hell.

    But what if our missionary zeal ought to be derived from something else? Perhaps we hold to a divine command view of ethics (as I do) and our missionary zeal should be derived from the fact that God calls us to preach the Gospel? What if we accept the first article in the Westminster shorter catechism (as I also do), that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever? If that were the case then our missionary zeal could be derived from this alone.

    So I don’t think the fact that a theology of hell reduces your missionary zeal to less-than-biblical proportions shows that you shouldn’t believe it or that it’s not biblical. Instead it should prompt you to re-evaluate your method of finding missionary zeal.

  28. Well said Matt! I find it alarming that tradition is clung to so tightly, especially when presented with some amazing evidence in scripture. I truly thank God for the internet, because now, no longer do I have to rely on someone who believes in eternal torment to define what an opposing viewpoint believes. I can hear straight from their own mouths and can make an informed decision that way.

    I find that people don’t believe in conditional immortality because they have never heard of it, and when it HAS been brought up, the whole annihilation idea has been so demonized (because the jehovahs witnesses use the same term) that they are afraid to even listen to the evidence.

    I am going to give away as many cd’s as I can to people so they can listen to Glenn’s 3 part series on this. It’s the best job of explaining everything and giving a defense of the idea that I have ever heard.

  29. For 15 years of my Christian life, I felt like I was obeying Jesus because I was simply afraid of going to hell. Unfortunately, that is why most people become Christians at first. And who can blame them? Do I really have a choice to choose Jesus when my only other option is to be tormented without end?

    But over the past couple of years, my view has changed. At my new church, I see the love of believers in taking care of one another and those around the world. I see a more vivid picture of what Jesus is like. I realize He IS life. Everything else is temporary and un-fulfilling in comparison. I no longer see Him as a ‘get out of hell free’ card.

    Part of that is, yes, I no longer believe in an eternal hell. But guess what? I am MORE passionate about Him now. I WANT to study his word. I’ve peeled back layers and layers of tradition and left them on the floor. I just want Jesus and I want his love to transform me so that I can show his love to others and have them come to Him as a result. So for me, missionary zeal is not decreased. Even if it was, does it matter? Aren’t we to be honest with scripture and leave the results to God? God will save who he wants to save regardless. No one can thwart God’s will. Revelation has already been written. And anyways, is God so bad to follow and love that the only way he can get people to truly love him back is to threaten them with an eternal existence being tormented? Shouldn’t it be God’s KINDNESS that draws people in?

    I’m convinced, when you remove that fear of an eternal hell from people (not to be mistaken for fearing God) you’ll see what kind of Christians they really are. I don’t need the fear of hell to keep me in line. I simply want to live a life that makes God pleased, for the simple reason of knowing his ways are best.

    Thank you Glenn, for being that final nail in the coffin on my beliefs about an eternal hell. For me, the scriptural evidence you presented (and I’ve heard their arguments too) is just too strong and there is no going back.

  30. “It assumes that our missionary zeal should be derived from the contours our theology of hell”
    I completely agree. Originally I proposed a valid argument which I considered to be a fair interpretation of Peterson’s argument, to demonstrate that there was no fallacy. I have agreed all along that the first premise was weak, but it seemed to be something Peterson believed (and not something he was trying to prove).
    As I see it, Peterson’s argument isn’t invalid, it just requires the lofty and unproven premise that:
    “If annihilationism is true then there is no point in evangelizing”

    Having a lofty and unproven premise isn’t a fallacy is it?

    “so that if we personally find that a view of hell reduces our own personal missionary zeal to a point that is less than the type of zeal urged by the Bible, then the problem must be that particular theology of hell.”
    Or to put it another way, if we presume to know why God commands evangelism, and a view of hell contradicts that, we reject the view of hell where we might (in light of compelling evidence) accept it and reject our presumed understanding of God’s motives.

    “Perhaps we hold to a divine command view of ethics”
    And yet you would strive not only to obey God but to get to know him, and presume in some areas to know why he commands certain things?

    “What if we accept the first article in the Westminster shorter catechism (as I also do), that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever? If that were the case then our missionary zeal could be derived from this alone.”
    Yes, I said the same thing in (24)

    “So I don’t think the fact that a theology of hell reduces your missionary zeal to less-than-biblical proportions shows that you shouldn’t believe it or that it’s not biblical. Instead it should prompt you to re-evaluate your method of finding missionary zeal.”
    That is assuming of course that the theology of hell has other compelling evidence.

    “I am going to give away as many cd’s as I can to people so they can listen to Glenn’s 3 part series on this.”
    Wow, I’ll have to queue that into my mp3 player, right after the 5 part series on physicalism.

  31. Two things,

    First, this is not what Peterson argues this is what he says

    “Annihilationists insist that the obliteration of the wicked is a terrible destiny when measured against the bliss of the righteous. However, it is simply not that bad to cease to exist, especially in comparison to suffering in hell forever… This leads to the final implication. If annihilationism is widely accepted by Christians, the missionary enterprise may well be hindered. True, some evangelicals such as John Stott and Michael Green have consistently shown a zeal for evangelism while holding to annihilationism. Nevertheless what would be the effect on churches and denominations that once held to eternal conscious torment, if they were to shift to annihilationism? Their missionary zeal might well wane”

    Peterson does not say that annihilationism makes evangelism pointless. He says that accepting it will hinder missionary zeal. His argument makes no reference to the bible at all. His argument is quite clearly a claim that a certain doctrine will lower peoples motivation to do a task.

    Second I am not convinced your argument is valid, 4 does not it seem to me follow from 1, 2 and 3, what 1, 2 and 3 show is that Anhilationism entails something contrary to what the bible teaches. But that’s different from saying the bible teaches anhilationism is false. You seem to have smuggled in a principle like the following

    P1. If the bible teaches A and A entails B, then the bible teaches B.

    But it’s not clear to me that this is true. Here is an example, Paul taught that God created all things, bacteria and quarks are things, therefore Paul taught that God created quarks and bacteria. This is false, Paul did not even know about bacteria or quarks and so taught nothing about them. He taught something which entails that God created these things but he did not teach that God created them.

  32. “First, this is not what Peterson argues”
    Well certainly I was paraphrasing his argument. And I was being generous to him, if only to contrast all you lot who were being so mean. It seems to me like the reason you would think anihilationism would reduce missionary zeal, is that you would think it would render evangelism pointless. As with many informally presented arguments there will always be tacit premises and implications.

    “His argument makes no reference to the bible at all.”
    Except in the stated conclusion in the title. So to be fair to him it must be in one of the implied premises too.

    “If the bible teaches A and A entails B, then the bible teaches B.”
    This seems like a dark road you’re going down. The bible teaches that it is wrong for all people to murder, it doesn’t mention me specifically, would I be wrong to say that the bible teaches that I shouldn’t murder? Most of our theology, christian teaching, doctrine etc doesn’t echo explicit statements in the bible, rather it is derived to some lesser or greater extent through reasoned inference. If we used the phrase “the bible
    teaches…” the way you suggest we certainly wouldn’t use it very often

  33. Colin, the reconstructed version of Peterson’s argument that you have offered (which differs from Peterson’s original argument) has the same problem as the original. It only works if we agree that missionary zeal rightly derives from a doctrine of hell. But since it does not do so, the argument ends up being a red herring, and this is exactly the same sort of fallacy that Peterson himself used.

    Your zeal for fairness to Peterson is admirable, but his argument really is beyond redemption. The fallacy cannot be shaken off. I’d also suggest that you revisit your comments about the “dark road” you think Matt is on. You’ll find that your murder example is quite wrong.

  34. “which differs from Peterson’s original argument”
    Granted. At least in the way that an informal argument differs from a formal one. Without reading Peterson’s mind, I think my argument might capture the intent of his.

    “It only works if we agree that missionary zeal rightly derives from a doctrine of hell.”
    Or to put it another way, as I did in my first premise, back in comment 11 it relies on this premise
    1. If annihilationism is true then there is no point in evangelizing

    “But since it does not do so”
    Some would disagree. Since you admit that the discussion boils down to this point, aren’t you begging the question?

    “this is exactly the same sort of fallacy that Peterson himself used.”
    But my version of the argument is valid. It doesn’t have a fallacy. Or if it does please point it out to me.

    “his argument really is beyond redemption.”
    Well that’s what you’re trying to prove isn’t it?

    “I’d also suggest that you revisit your comments about the “dark road” you think Matt is on. You’ll find that your murder example is quite wrong.”
    In what way?
    Curiously I just noticed that Matt switched ‘the bible teaches’ for ‘Paul taught’. Is what the bible teaches us today limited to the original understanding of its human writers?
    To put it another way, Matt seemed reluctant to concede me the premise:
    P1. If the bible teaches A and A entails B, then the bible teaches B.
    But without the premise, how do I get from
    1. the bible teaches that all people should not murder
    2. I am a person
    3. Therefore the bible teaches that I should not murder

    It seems to me as though not allowing Matt’s premise would be defining the phrase ‘the bible teaches…’ in a very narrow way. If you insist to define it that way, then I freely admit I don’t have an argument for the conclusion “the bible teaches that anihilationism is wrong”. But that would be a hollow victory for you.

  35. Colin, I’m not begging the question. When I said “it does not do so,” I was referring back to my statement that “It only works if we agree that missionary zeal rightly derives from a doctrine of hell.”

    The emphasis is on “rightly,” and I do not think that even Robert Peterson would say that our missionary zeal is rightly derived from our theology of hell. So there’s no question begging.

    “But my version of the argument is valid. It doesn’t have a fallacy. Or if it does please point it out to me.”

    I just did (comment 36), and it doesn’t matter that your argument is valid, because this doesn’t stop you from committing a fallacy.

    “Well that’s what you’re trying to prove isn’t it?”

    I’ve pretty much exhausted the ways of doing so!

    “In what way?”

    I was seriously hoping that you would go back and read Matt’s comment and your answer yourself, as I was sure that you would see the mistake right away. But OK, here goes:

    “The bible teaches that it is wrong for all people to murder, it doesn’t mention me specifically, would I be wrong to say that the bible teaches that I shouldn’t murder?”

    No. Here’s what you said:

    “If the bible teaches A and A entails B, then the bible teaches B.”

    Matt showed that this has some implausible implications. However, Matt’s comments do not imply that just because you yourself are not specifically mentioned in a biblical command against murder, you are thereby excluded from it. After all, that you should not commit murder is properly inferred from the biblical command that nobody should murder.

    Historically, this is the way that sola scriptura has been understood: Not everything needs to be taught in Scripture. As long as something can be inferred from Scripture, that is good enough. For example, here’s Chapter 1, article 6 from the Westminster Confession of Faith:

    The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men.

    All this talk about things being “narrowly” defined is misguided. Nobody is defining things “narrowly” as you seem to think. The point is a very modest one: You can’t show that the Bible teaches that annihilationism is false by laying out an argument that makes no reference to what the Bible teaches. None at all! Remember that Peterson’s argument drew on no biblical material.

    This is not a hollow victory of any sort. I can show you that the Bible teaches that eternal torment is false, using a definition of “biblical teaching” just as narrow as the one Matt has used. I can show that the Bible teaches that annihilationism is true. But none of that is the point here. The point has simply been that Robert Peterson used a range of distracting tactics that, while they may have an emotive pull on the reader, actually do nothing to address the issue of what Scripture teaches, and therein lies the fallacy.

  36. “and I do not think that even Robert Peterson would say that our missionary zeal is rightly derived from our theology of hell.”
    I think he would say that missionary zeal is derived at least partially from one’s doctrine of hell. In fact that’s more or less what he said in the original quotation?

    “and it doesn’t matter that your argument is valid, because this doesn’t stop you from committing a fallacy.”
    A valid argument can also be a fallacy? I thought a valid argument was one devoid of fallacies.

    “You are thereby excluded from it”
    To be clear, I wasn’t arguing whether or not I was permitted to murder. Maybe that was the source of confusion. I was arguing whether I had the right to say “the bible teaches that I shouldn’t murder”. By Matt’s definition I can’t say that. That’s why I thought Matt’s definition was narrow.

    “You can’t show that the Bible teaches that annihilationism is false by laying out an argument that makes no reference to what the Bible teaches.”
    Ok, well this is a different point. The argument that I proposed did have a reference to what the bible teaches. So Peterson’s argument might have had an unstated premise?

    “This is not a hollow victory of any sort. I can show you that the Bible teaches that eternal torment is false”
    I certainly intend to listen to your pod-casts on the subject. It’s a question I’ve often wondered about myself.

    “The point has simply been that Robert Peterson used a range of distracting tactics that, while they may have an emotive pull on the reader, actually do nothing to address the issue of what Scripture teaches, and therein lies the fallacy.”
    So to put it another way, there’s no other acceptable way to argue that the bible teaches something, other than to demonstrate the bible actually teaching that thing?

  37. Hi folks,

    “This leads to the final implication. If annihilationism is widely accepted by Christians, the missionary enterprise may well be hindered.”
    ~Dr. Peterson

    I’m wondering. Dr. Peterson’s quip about the lack of missionary zeal as a result of believing in annihilationism is that such a result “may” happen. He does NOT say that it will most certainly INDEED happen.

    Question: is this still a fallacy? Isn’t it true that for a fallacy to occur here that Dr. Peterson must appeal to a most certain (not probable) outcome?

    Thanks,
    Chris

  38. “In fact that’s more or less what he said in the original quotation?”

    I assume that wasn’t meant to be a question mark. And no, it doesn’t look like he claimed that missionary zeal rightly derives from a theology of hell. What I quoted is a consequentialist argument from Peterson where he said nothing at all about how we should rightly derive missionary zeal.

    “A valid argument can also be a fallacy? I thought a valid argument was one devoid of fallacies.”

    No, not at all. A valid argument is merely one where the conclusion follows from the premises (i.e. if the premises are true then the conclusion will be true). But the argument might still be fallacious. Take a circular argument, for example:

    1) X is P
    2) Therefore X is P

    That’s valid, but also fallacious, since it’s begging the question (the conclusion is being presupposed in the premise). So an argument’s validity is not proof that there are no fallacies.

    “I was arguing whether I had the right to say “the bible teaches that I shouldn’t murder”. By Matt’s definition I can’t say that. That’s why I thought Matt’s definition was narrow.”

    Yes, I understood you. And the Bible doesn’t teach that colin should not murder. You can correctly infer this from what the Bible teaches, however. But as soon as we start making extrapolations from what we think the biblical teaching implies, and then then we say that that extrapolation is itself taught in the Bible, we go awry. What we can say is that colin should not murder, and we can base this on biblical teaching.

    “So to put it another way, there’s no other acceptable way to argue that the bible teaches something, other than to demonstrate the bible actually teaching that thing?”

    That’s it. 🙂

  39. “I assume that wasn’t meant to be a question mark.”
    Yeah it was. You make me question everything!

    “No, not at all.”
    Fair enough.

    “and then then we say that that extrapolation is itself taught in the Bible, we go awry.”
    I agree in principle. Not sure that this works entirely in practice.

    “That’s it. :)”
    OK, then you win. Peterson you’re on your own.

  40. Colin, actually if Paul taught that all people should not murder, he made a statement about the class of all people.

    But Paul may not have been aware of the implications of this, because he does not know subsidary facts such as “Colin is a person”.

    The divine author of course does know these subsidary facts, but this does not mean these implications or facts are part of the original statement or teaching. The implication of a statement is not the same as the meaning of a statement.

    Of course none of this means that one can “murder”, if I accept A is true and A entails B, when conjoined with other facts, I can infer that B is the case and then I am commited to accepting B. But thats not to confuse implication and application with meaning.

  41. Got it. You’re using the phrase “the bible teaches…” in a rigorous way to refer only to things that are actually stated in the text of the bible, and not to things that can be inferred from the bible.

    So most of our doctrine and theology would probably also fail to qualify as taught by the bible?

    That’s all fine and good, but I don’t know if it aligns with how that phrase is used colloquially?

  42. “So most of our doctrine and theology would probably also fail to qualify as taught by the bible?”

    Colin, do you actually mean that? Most of our theology? Can you think of a few important pieces of theology you believe that aren’t actually mentioned in the text of the Bible?

  43. Wouldn’t the Trinity be the most obvious example of that? Not directly stated, but rather inferred from what it does state?

  44. I don’t want to add to the current discussion, but more comment on the quote from Peterson in the original post. I find it rather sad that, as a Christian, he settles for the more confrontational and, frankly, scare tactic of using an image of the awfulness of eternal torture to persuade people about a loving God (and he’s not alone for sure). This totally negates any compunction to demonstrate the awesome beauty of Jesus, and a life submitted to him, as a vastly more attractive option to annihilation. Peterson (as have preachers down the years) plays on humanistic fears to create evangelistic weight. Perhaps if the church expressed a better grip of eternal life versus eternal death, we’d be on more solid ground.

  45. Couldn’t agree more James. But then the church in general would have to start being truly loving towards everyone, and that is not a step they want to take. It’s MUCH easier to preach eternal torture at people and have people come to Jesus out of fear than to do what Jesus did and preach the gospel by living a life of love that people are attracted to. I guess any way that brings people to Jesus is good in their eyes (and their may be some truth to that) BUT I think that in the process, we now have millions of believers who have a relationship with God simply based on fear. And they spread that around, like a disease. I know I did for a while.

    The only problem is some people WILL only come to Jesus if an eternal hell IS taught. I think they are right about that, but on the flipside, atheism has become a much stronger movement and taken away so many BECAUSE of that teaching. So it cuts both ways. The way *I* look at it now is, I simply want life and Jesus offers it. I don’t want to fall under his wrath even if it DOES lead to my eternal destruction.

  46. James, how can you tell from the quote that was posted, that the guy preaches exclusively about hell-fire? I think an accurate picture of the nature of hell (however you understand it) would reasonably be part of the whole picture you should give someone when presenting the gospel. But don’t take my word for it, Jesus talked about hell all the time. Hell should be a part of the message we present, just not the whole message. Is it a scare tactic? Maybe some things are genuinely scary, but should be talked about anyway?

    “But then the church in general would have to start being truly loving towards everyone, and that is not a step they want to take.”
    I don’t know what church you’re referring to, but the church I belong to certainly wants to take (and is taking) this step, even though we also believe in and talk about hell.

  47. “Can you think of a few important pieces of theology you believe that aren’t actually mentioned in the text of the Bible?”
    Trinity (thanks CPE Gaebler)
    Hypostatic Union
    Theodicy
    Original Sin
    Eschatology
    Biblical Inerrancy

    To be fair, to say ‘the bible teaches’ something you would have to have more than a ‘mention’ in the bible. In fact you’d have to have a pretty clear statement of fact, free of apparent contradiction or cultural bias.

    It seems to me that the whole point of systematic theology is to attempt to infer fundamental truths from what is plainly taught in the bible.

    And the fact that respectable theologians down the ages, have disagreed on many important points of theology, seems to be strong evidence that these aren’t plainly settled in the bible. If it were obvious, for example, that “the bible teaches” Calvinism, wouldn’t the Armenians have packed up and gone home by now?

  48. “I don’t know what church you’re referring to, but the church I belong to certainly wants to take (and is taking) this step, even though we also believe in and talk about hell.”

    I had said church, in general. I can say our church shows love to people too. The funny thing about the church though… EVERYONE thinks THEIR church is fine or else they wouldn’t be going to it. So you have everyone thinking their church is fine and loving, while the world around looks on and wants nothing to do with it. Church attendance is DROPPING every year. NOT because they hate Jesus. But, in general, because of our hypocrisy and lack of genuine love towards those on the outside. It doesn’t paint Jesus in a good light when we claim to represent him and are the most unloving people. And I don’t really think we recognize the lack of love until you can see from an outside perspective. When you are in the church bubble, it’s easy to miss. Again, I’m not making a blanket statement about every single church, but this represents churches, in general.

  49. “I had said church, in general.”
    I think we should be careful before we vilify the ‘church in general’. You know what they say: All generalizations are false.

    “EVERYONE thinks THEIR church is fine or else they wouldn’t be going to it.”
    That’s true to some extent, though many people aren’t looking for the right things when they choose a church. Rather than ask “does my church love others” they’re asking “does my church offer me fun programs and enjoyable music”.

    “Church attendance is DROPPING every year. NOT because they hate Jesus. But, in general, because of our hypocrisy and lack of genuine love towards those on the outside.”
    I’m sure that the reasons why people don’t attend church are many and varied.

  50. Mike, you are right in your observations on the broader church and the way it’s perceived across Europe/USA particularly. Just briefly, I would suggest that the general way church (the organisation) meets is scripturally off whack and so cannot represent Christ as he originally intended. No doubt there are churches (bodies of believers) who do truly present Jesus in all his glory, but they are few and far between in my experience.

    Back to your comment Colin – ”how can you tell from the quote that was posted, that the guy preaches exclusively about hell-fire?”, it is true that he doesn’t express his view of hell in succinct terms, but he appears to undermine the case for annihilation. It is a reasonable inference that this is because he wishes to reinforce the traditional hell fire model. That is, unless he is a universalist (Love Wins).

    I would also challenge you to back up lines like: ”Jesus talked about hell all the time.”

  51. “but he appears to undermine the case for annihilation.”
    That only implies that he considers his view of hell to be significant to evangelism.

    Here’s a parable for you:
    You go up to your mechanic, and take away his 7/16 wrench
    He exclaims “Give that back, or else I won’t be able to fix your car”.
    You infer that the only thing he uses to fix cars is a 7/16 wrench, and conclude that he’s a bad mechanic.

    “I would also challenge you to back up lines like: ”Jesus talked about hell all the time.””
    OK, off the top of my head, without research:
    the parable of the rich man and Lazarus
    the speech about ‘if your eye causes you to sin’
    the story of the sheep and the goats.
    I’m sure there’s plenty more.

  52. Also remember if you think or call someone a bad name out of unrighteous anger, you go to hell too. Funny that is never talked about in church. But I digress…that wasn’t the point.

    I just want to ask that we stop using the rich man and Lazarus in all discussions about this issue. It is a parable and has nothing to do with the Lake of fire, which is the real hell anyway. Hades is not hell. And if it is, than hell is NOT eternal because it is destroyed at the end. The issue we want to stick with is the lake of fire. This parable says nothing of the eternality of that.

    Besides, the Rich man says “Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment” and Abraham replies “they have moses and the prophets.. let them listen to them.” Yet, I don’t see one place in the OT that warns people about an eternal tormenting hell that you go to when you die. Moses & the Prophets certainly didn’t teach that or warn anyone of it, so if this parable is true, and it’s really trying to point out that there is a real place called hell that both Moses & the Prophets warned people about, than Abraham was lying.

  53. Whoa there Mike, you appear to have got off track.

    All I was pointing out was that Jesus talked about hell-related matters a lot. The point is that we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about it too. It is an acceptable part of evangelism.

    I certainly agree that the nature of hell, who goes there, for how long, and why, isn’t precisely laid out in the bible, but I don’t think this particular blog entry is the place to get into it.

  54. Besides, the Rich man says “Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment” and Abraham replies “they have moses and the prophets.. let them listen to them.” Yet, I don’t see one place in the OT that warns people about an eternal tormenting hell that you go to when you die.

    The point was that they needed to be warned to care for the poor, which Moses and the prophets certainly did tell them!

    Besides which, a person is side stepping a lot of reading if they just pick up that story and assume that it gives us a biblical theology of hell. Most commentators, even those who believe the traditional view, don’t believe that’s what that story is meant to be.

  55. Colin, 10 secs of Googling verify Peterson’s stance. His book ‘Hell on Trial: The Case for Eternal Punishment’ would be pretty clear evidence besides inferences from the quote above. As to your provision of scripture to back up the claim that Jesus spoke about hell all the time, the Lazarus parable is not a vision of the after life, and things kind of dried up.

    I did a wee bit of research and: ‘From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the KINGDOM of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). “And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the KINGDOM” (Matthew 4:23). “And he said unto them, I must preach the KINGDOM of God to other cities also: for therefore am I sent” (Luke 4:43). Our Lord commissioned the apostles, “Preach, saying, the KINGDOM of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 10:7).

    The direction Jesus pointed was always upwards not towards hell. When you add up all the references directly and indirectly mentioning heaven, they outnumber hell, gehenna etc many times over.

  56. Running through the Apostle’s Creed in my head, I can’t think of anything that isn’t explicitly stated in the Bible? So certainly not “most” of what we believe.

    I can’t think of a whole lot of other important bits of theology that are mainly inferred, either. Even the ones Colin mentioned aren’t necessarily inferred – some eschatologies are more “inferred” than others, to be certain!

  57. I agree that there is a lot about the Lazarus story that doesn’t fit in with most peoples’ views on hell. And sure that’s not the point. The point was that Jesus was ‘using fear tactics’ to get people to care for the poor. But if you have a problem with that story, what about the other ones I mentioned. Certainly Jesus talked about heaven a lot too, but this statement is blatantly false:
    “The direction Jesus pointed was [always] upwards not towards hell”

    James. I’m not trying to call to question what Peterson believes about hell, or even how emphatically he believes it. What I am trying to say is that it is unfair to assume from this that he uses this belief exclusively while evangelizing. For all we know, when actually sharing the gospel with his friends, he might be all sugar and sweetness.

    Glenn, wouldn’t you agree that the very existence of ‘systematic theology’ might be evidence that the theology that is plainly stated, free of apparent contradiction, in the bible is ‘unsystematic’? I think we’re underplaying the importance of reason and inference in determining christian belief.

  58. Sorry guys, I think i was misunderstood. I’m not the best writer 🙂 I was trying to point out that the Rich Man and Lazarus is simply a parable and has nothing to do with the real afterlife, so has nothing to do with the issue at hand. I was then trying to argue that even if the traditionalist interpretation of the Rich man and Lazarus IS true (which many assume it is here in America), it still does not speak to the eternity of punishment. But really it is just a parable that has nothing to do with the issue at hand (annihilation). Yet, I hear people all the time treat it as if it proves there is a hell, what its like, and the duration of it. Maybe in New Zealand it is different. Unfortunately here it is used as one of those passages you use to scare people into believing in Jesus… and I cringe every time I hear it used that way.

  59. “it is used as one of those passages you use to scare people into believing in Jesus”

    And yet Jesus told the story originally to scare people into helping the poor. Presumably if we use the passage for the same purpose, we wouldn’t be overstepping?

  60. I don’t see Jesus using the story to scare people into helping the poor either. If it is, than Jesus is saying that if you help the poor or are poor, you go to Abraham’s bosom (or heaven, perhaps). If you are rich or or do not help the poor, you go to hell. I think every Christian would disagree with that, as we know salvation is not based on being poor or helping the poor. It is good to help the poor but has nothing to do with salvation or no salvation.

    It was simply a parable to the Jews to illustrate how salvation was coming to the “helpless” Gentiles. It is speaking of Christ’s resurrection from the dead as the way he would save these helpless gentiles. Moses & the prophets foretold this. So no, it was not a fear based parable at all.

  61. You’re stretching it a bit to infer what you think the ‘true meaning’ of the parable was. What you’re proposing certainly isn’t what “the bible teaches”.

    Next you’ll find some convenient way to explain away the sheep and the goats parable – because every christian knows that you don’t get to heaven by being charitable.

  62. Sorry Colin, I’m not looking to debate parables on this blog. The sheep and the goats are about the lake of fire while this parable isn’t. So the 2 don’t relate at all. You can always listen to Glenn’s podcast on hell concerning this parable. I believe it’s in the 2nd or 3rd one he did.

    I am trying to stick with the topic, which is that it doesn’t teach eternal torment, no matter how you interpret it, so there is no point in bringing it up. If you want to believe it’s a parable about feeding the poor, you are free to. That surely can’t hurt if that’s how you interpret it. But I really would encourage you to dig into it and get some bible studies on it so you can see what the other meaning of it is. If you think that Jesus just happens to mention things like the rich man’s 5 brothers (Judah had 5 brothers), that he was dressed in purple (that was the color of royalty for the Jews), that he had moses and the prophets to listen to (only Jewish people really listened to them), and that he called him Father Abraham (only Jews did that) than you can ignore those and simply focus on the man being in torment for not feeding Lazarus. But again, in my opinion, you are missing the absolute beauty of the parable if you do so.

  63. “I’m not looking to debate parables on this blog.”
    You started it. The only reason I put it in the list is that it was an example of Jesus talking about hell-like places, to counter the claim that he only ever talked about heaven, rainbows and cotton candy.

    “You can always listen to Glenn’s podcast on hell”
    I certainly intend to listen to all three.

    “which is that it doesn’t teach eternal torment, no matter how you interpret it, so there is no point in bringing it up.”
    Again, I wasn’t trying to advocate one view of hell or another, I was countering the claim that Jesus never talked about hell.

  64. Glenn,

    Fallacies aside I think what concerns me here is how you represent Peterson’s words. These are closing comments, as you say of a “consequentialist” nature. He’s making an aside here, a mere observation of possible consequences. Peterson makes very clear in the words you cite that he’s dealing with possibilities and not certainties. This is not a part of his main argumentation for the historical doctrine of hell. And yet, from the comments I’ve read (I haven’t had time to read them all) it seems as if many take this as grounds for dismissing his position without reading his actual arguments and the way he deals with the biblical text. If I were to judge you on observations and asides how easy might it be to deride and dismiss many of your views. Very easy.

    I love you brother, but having read more of Peterson’s published work, including an article where I believe he bested you in print, it seems to me that you are painting an unfair, decontextualised portrait of your opponent’s position.

  65. Hey Travis,
    Can you briefly summarize where you think Peterson has bested Glenn’s position? Glenn made a very strong case in his hell podcast series and I’m curious where you think Peterson’s replies to Glenn’s series bested him. Thanks!

  66. Travis, I’ve dealt with Peterson’s arguments for the traditional view of hell a number of times, so I’m certainly not one to ignore them. My only issue in this particular post is whether his closing argument is a good one or whether it’s fallacious. I take the latter view, which I think is justified.

    I suppose any time I deal with just one of a person’s arguments I’m “decontextualising” by ignoring all the others. Still, each argument should be weighed on its individual merits in my view.

    As for whether or not Peterson “bested” my arguments, I’m sure I’m as biased as the next guy, but I’m also fairly certain that the thought that he “bested” the case I set out would not be a majority perception. Those who are interested can check out my article and Peterson’s reply, together with my thoughts about how effective that reply was, here: http://rightreason.org/articles/

    I’m happy for people to decide for themselves the answer to that.

  67. Glenn, wouldn’t you agree that the very existence of ‘systematic theology’ might be evidence that the theology that is plainly stated, free of apparent contradiction, in the bible is ‘unsystematic’? I think we’re underplaying the importance of reason and inference in determining christian belief.

    While it’s true that the Bible generally doesn’t present theology as systematised, that’s not the same as leaving the doctrines out. It does present them, just not in a systematic way.

  68. Mike,
    Peterson has not to my knowledge responded to Glenn’s podcast. The rebuttal I’m referring to is a JETS article in reply to an JETS article critical of Peterson’s position. I believe one of Glenn’s arguments there is what he alludes in this post, to which Peterson replies. By “bested” I simply mean that Peterson aptly, and I think graciously, deals with Glenn’s criticisms showing them to be either false or irrelevant.

    Glenn has these articles and his reply to the reply posted somewhere on the blog so you can read them yourself and form your own opinion. Either way, the conclusions people have about who has a better argument in those articles (or this whole subject in general) was not the concern of my comment. Rather, it’s the way in which Peterson’s words our used in an acontextual if not decontextual way to make him appear to putting forth what he thinks is a solid argument when he clearly is making an aside about possible implications and is not resting his argument for traditionalism on such implications.

  69. Glenn,

    In a sense you’ve highlighted my concern exactly – You’re calling something an argument which clearly isn’t and then ungraciously implying things about the whole position based on your debunking of the non-argument. Since you put the link up I’ll let Peterson speak for himself here:

    Because I wrote that I fear annihilationism will lead sinners to underestimate their fate and that it may hinder
    the Christian mission, I am accused of falsehood, of arguing in an ad hominem fashion, and of using emotionally driven and irrelevant arguments. First of all, note that, in the article cited, I do not argue for traditionalism when I communicate my fears concerning the effects of annihilationist teaching. I specifically precede my discussion of these matters by saying: “Some important implications follow.”1g Concerning the charge of falsehood, I continue to hold that some sinners may well think that ceasing to exist is not so bad and that holding to annihilationist beliefs may hinder them from coming to Christ. How do I know that suffering eternal pain is worse than cessation of existence? I regard it as intuitive and a matter of common sense. To suffer eternal conscious torment is far worse than to be exterminated so that one no longer feels pain or anything else. To exist in agony is worse than not existing. I simply assert this
    because it is obviously true. Concerning the charge of arguing in an ad hominem manner, I repeat that
    I did not express my concerns as arguments but as possible implications. I guarded myself against such an accusation by crediting such annihilationists as John Stott and Michael Green with evangelistic zeal. I do not imply that they or any other annihilationists do not care about evangelism. But I continue to be concerned about the possible detrimental effects of annihilationism on missions-and I am not alone in my concern.20
    Regarding the charge of using emotionally driven and irrelevant arguments, I repeat again that I carefully labelled my concerns not “arguments” but “implications.” I respect the right of annihilationists to teach what they believe is biblical and to express their concerns about the possible detrimental effects of traditionalism. I would simply ask them to grant traditionalists the same right.

  70. “ungraciously implying things about the whole position based on your debunking of the non-argument.”

    Travis, this seems clearly unfair. I never implied anything about the whole position (namely the traditional view of hell or the view that annihilationism is false) based on my view that there is a fallacious appeal at work here. I don’t believe I said anything to this effect, either directly or by implication. This is a misrepresentation.

    I believe – as I have tried to demonstrate on a number of occasions – that Person’s position is “debunked” (if you want to put it that way) by patient exegesis of a wide range of biblical texts, and an examination of all the arguments that he uses. That there is a fallacy used in these comments of his obviously doesn’t mean that his position is false, nor would I say otherwise.

    As you’ve quoted Peterson’s reply to this point of mine, here’s what I had to say about Peterson’s comment that you quoted:

    Lastly, in my comments about emotional appeals and ad hominem arguments, I raised concerns about Peterson’s suggestion that annihilationism might cause sinners to underestimate their fate, and that it might undermine evangelistic zeal. In raising concerns about the consequences of teaching annihilationism, Dr Peterson asks us to note that he didn’t call those appeals “arguments,” he only called them “implications.”

    This, in my view, does not wash. They were, as far as I can tell, quite plainly serving the role of arguments, effectively saying “if we don’t teach eternal torment, and if we teach annihilationism, then these things might happen,” the net result being a reason to teach eternal torment and not annihilation. My reply (although not stated in these terms) is that annihilationists are not utilitarians. They teach annihilationism because they think it is biblical, not because of what they think the consequences of this teaching will be. Moreover, I noted that there is no evidence that the doctrine does undermine evangelistic zeal. Now, Peterson replied that he still thinks that some sinners really might underestimate the seriousness of their fate if we tell them that annihilationism were true. How does this change anything? That is not the way to persuade us not to teach annihilationism, since we should care about the truth of the matter. In regard to his comments about evangelism, he adds now that “I continue to be concerned about the possible detrimental effects of annihilationism on missions-and I am not alone in my concern.” To prove that he is not alone in this concern, he footnotes Don Carson, who, apparently shares this concern. But how does this in any way answer the case? Not only is there no evidence that holding an annihilationist view weakens one’s missionary zeal, but even if there were some evidence to this effect, the answer is not to deny annihilationism just so that our missionary zeal will be strengthened, surely!

    Dr Peterson closes by asking me to respect the right of traditionalists “to teach what they believe is biblical and to express their concerns about the possible detrimental effects” of annihilationism. Were it not for that right, of course, there would be nothing for me to respond to, since his material would never have been published. And of course I respect that right for traditionalists as much as for anyone else. But respecting a person’s right to say something is a far cry from refusing to speak up when what someone says is mistaken, all the more so when, so far as I can tell, what is being misrepresented is the character, justice and word of God. Although Dr Peterson disagrees with my assessment that it is he, rather than I, who is misrepresenting these things, I am sure he, like I, appreciates the importance of responding, just as he has done so often.

    This is hardly the “ungracious” approach that you seem to be seeing in me.

    Now, it’s possible that I’m a bit thick, and that I see an attempt at an argument where there is none. I still do see an argument here, and a fallacious one at that. It’s not his main argument of course, and not even one of his major arguments. That was never the claim, and I have addressed other more important arguments that Dr Peterson uses. There’s no claim on my part that his position can be falsified on the basis of this one concern, and I definitely do not accept that merely raising the concern as a concern in its own right is ungracious. You may well disagree with me, but I don’t think that’s cause for this sort of reaction.

  71. Glenn,

    I apologise if I’ve unfairly judged your comments. I was originally commenting on the general tone of many of the comments which stemmed from your original comments about these closing words of Peterson. By “ungracious” I guess I’m primarily getting at what you seem to be inferring about Peterson’s motives for his words,
    “The evidence just doesn’t support this of course, but stated in it’s crassest form, the argument is “people
    who think this way are bad Christians (in one respect anyway). You don’t want to be like them.”
    Is he really saying Stott and Green are bad Christians? I happen to know he has a great deal of respect for these men and values them as Christian brothers. Aren’t you using the same type of “argument” you criticise him for when you use a phrase like “bad Christians” to describe what you see as the implications of his argument? How does the phrase colour and sway people’s understanding of what he’s saying. I’d say it’s also a bit ungracious to say “Oh look at this fallacious argument” when the person has clearly stated that they were not presenting it as an actual argument but as an aside of concern about possible implications. I’d be fine if you were saying that he should not have included personal asides and separate concerns about possible implications in an article arguing that the Bible doesn’t teach annihilationism. No problem there.

    Again though, I apologise if I’ve been ungracious myself in the way I’ve raised my concern. The next time we’re in the same town I’ll by you a beer to make it up to you.

  72. Travis, I said bad “in one respect.” Specifically, the people who think less of evangelism on account of their lesser view of hell – certainly not people like Stott but people who do indeed succumb to the tendency that Peterson is worried about – are ‘bad Christians’ in the respect of the way they approach evangelism (since lacking zeal for evangelism will be seen as a flaw). And I think Peterson holds this view. In fact, I also think that this would be a flaw and so Christians who give into this tendency are “bad” Christians in this respect (again, crassly stated). In that comment of mine that you quoted, I agreed that Peterson does indeed note specific exceptions, annihilationists who do not do what their position implies that they might (according to Peterson), and he does see Stott as an exception.

    As I noted in that comment, I stated that very crassly and simplistically when responding to Chris just to get the idea out in a more blatant way, much more blatantly than Peterson himself stated it, for the purpose of showing just where the point of the argument might be. We don’t normally refer to Christians who fail to live up to our expectations (in this case in evangelism) as “bad Christians,” but simply stated, that’s what they are in one regard (if we are correct about what those standards should be).

    It’s my view that Peterson distanced himself from my accusation by drawing the distinction between making an “argument” and identifying an “implication,” but I see no reason why a person can’t suggest an argument by raising concerns over implications, and that’s what Peterson did.

    Honestly, I didn’t expect this blog post to generate anywhere near this much discussion, but it’s nice that it has!

  73. “While it’s true that the Bible geenrally doesn’t present theology as systematised, that’s not the same as leaving the doctrines out.”

    Right, but to get from the doctrine as it is plainly stated in the bible, to the theology that we actually believe, typically requires inference and rational thought. You don’t get much out of the bible without thinking about it.

  74. Colin, I really do want to see the extent of the issue as you think it stands. You said that “most” of out theology is not directly referred to in the Bible, which certainly doesn’t gel with the way I see my theology. So I’d like you to offer four major doctrines you believe that are not directly referred to in the Bible.

    I think that getting you to do that is the best way to show you that it’s not really true.

  75. “I’d like you to offer four major doctrines you believe that are not directly referred to in the Bible.”
    Let’s be sure we agree about the rules before we start:
    1. ‘Referred’ is too weak a word. You’re going to prove to me that these doctrines are actually taught by the bible. A passing reference doesn’t cut it, agreed?
    2. If one passage of the bible teaches a doctrine, but then other passages contradict it, then the doctrine isn’t taught by the bible, agreed?
    3. Inference is not allowed.

    Here’s my list. (from comment 50)
    Trinity
    Hypostatic Union
    Theodicy
    Original Sin
    Biblical Inerrancy

    I removed eschatology from the list, because I think it is more of a category of beliefs. But in that regard there are many categories of belief where Christians differ, some of which those Christians consider to be “major doctrines”. The fact that intelligent, bible believing Christians differ on these points seems to suggest that one position probably isn’t “taught by the bible” in the above sense?

  76. No, “referred” is fine. Remember, all we were talking about is whether things are actually in the Bible, or whether they can only be inferred from the Bible. But if you insist, fine, because I think if a doctrine is referred to in any affirmative sense, that counts as “teaching” it.

    “If one passage of the bible teaches a doctrine, but then other passages contradict it, then the doctrine isn’t taught by the bible, agreed?” No, of course not agreed. The issue is whether or not you can find the doctrine in the Bible, or whether you have to make an extra inference to get to the idea. It is not a condition of being taught in the Bible that there are no passages that make a doctrine hard to accept. That would be a purely ad hoc condition. If the Bible directly supports something, then it does so even if other passages need to be explained.

    OK, now to your list:

    * Theodicy is not a doctrine at all but a technique where people might use a number of doctrines together, so that’s gone from the list.
    * Original sin is referred to in the Bible, so that’s off the list.
    * Inerrancy is something I don’t accept as either biblical or correct, so that’s off the list. However if you mean nothing more than the authority of Scripture, then that is taught in the Bible. Either way, it’s off the list.

    In regard to eschatological points of view, you misunderstand. My view is not that if people disagree over what the Bible teaches then none of them should claim that the Bible teaches their view. My only point is that in fact they do maintain that the Bible teaches their view, and they believe that specific claims in the Bible specifically teach certain things. I never said people were infallible. What we’re talking about is sources of theology. You made what I take to be a fairly strong claim, that most of what we believe, we do not believe is actually taught in the Bible directly, but we believe that we get there via a chain of inferences. I think this is wrong, and that while we do make such inferences, most of our theology we do in fact believe is found in the Bible itself. Just consider the doctrines involved:

    The existence of God
    The sovereignty of God
    The fact that we are sinners
    The miracle of the virgin birth
    The fact that Jesus died and rose again
    The fact that God calls us to repent and trust Christ
    The fact that Christ will return
    The future resurrection of the dead

    These are all taught in the Bible, right Chris? Add to this your view of the world to come, which I am sure you believe is taught in the Bible as well, and we’re covering the most important issues, right?

    So I see two and only two things so far that you’ve correctly listed. Now that you’ve started listing things do you still stand by your claim, Chris, that most of the doctrines you believe are not directly referred to in Scripture but only known via inference?

  77. “all we were talking about is whether things are actually in the Bible…”
    You seem to make no distinction between things being in the bible, and being taught by the bible. There is a lot that is in the bible that I wouldn’t consider the teachings of the bible, because of context, or in light of other scripture. For example in Ecclesiastes it says that there’s no point to life other than to eat, drink and be merry.

    “It is not a condition of being taught in the Bible that there are no passages that make a doctrine hard to accept.”
    But for you, passage A is the one that’s teaching something, and B is one that’s making it ‘hard to accept, whereas for me they might be the opposite. So what the bible teaches is purely subjective?

    “My view is not that if people disagree over what the Bible teaches then none of them should claim that the Bible teaches their view.”
    I think that’s actually my view. Or to put it another way, in the A and B situation above, it seems presumptuous for you to claim with certainty which scriptures are the proof texts and which are the problem texts

    “but we believe that we get there via a chain of inferences.”
    Not so much a chain of inference as a general application of reason and context.

    “These are all taught in the Bible, right Chris?”
    I don’t know what Chris thinks, but yes, I’ll agree those are undisputed bible teachings.

    “Add to this your view of the world to come, which I am sure you believe is taught in the Bible as well”
    On matters that aren’t clearly presented by the bible as a whole, I don’t think it’s right to presume to know what the bible truly teaches. One just does one’s best, glass darkly etc.

    “do you still stand by your claim, Chris, that most of the doctrines you believe are not directly referred to in Scripture but only known via inference?”
    I suppose that I might be convinced to retreat from that statement somewhat. But there are levels of inference too. For example it is an inference of one kind to take a letter that was written to someone else, and apply it to one’s own life. Or that things Jesus said to Jews can be applicable to me.

  78. “You seem to make no distinction between things being in the bible, and being taught by the bible.”

    This, together with your comment about things being “subjective” is way out of the ball park. Of course I make a distinction, but it is clear that when I talked about doctrines being referred to in the Bible, I meant referred to in an affirmative manner. And no, nothing I have said commits to the view that what the Bible teaches is purely subjective. I merely noted the rather obvious fact that even when the Bible does directly teach something, that is no guarantee that there will be no other passages that appear to suggest something else.

    I’m not sure how I got you confused with Chris, colin. My bad.

  79. Greetings, Glenn, et al

    ‘Taking a shot @ OP –

    Annihilationists insist that the obliteration of the wicked is a terrible destiny when measured against the bliss of the righteous. However, it is simply not that bad to cease to exist, especially in comparison to suffering in hell forever… This leads to the final implication. If annihilationism is widely accepted by Christians, the missionary enterprise may well be hindered. True, some evangelicals such as John Stott and Michael Green have consistently shown a zeal for evangelism while holding to annihilationism. Nevertheless what would be the effect on churches and denominations that once held to eternal conscious torment, if they were to shift to annihilationism? Their missionary zeal might well wane.

    PROPOSITION:
    The belief that the wicked will cease to exist, rather than suffer in hell forever, might cause a loss of missionary zeal and negatively effect the missionary enterprise.

    SUPPORTING ARGUMENTS:
    A. Christians who believe the obliteration of the wicked is a terrible destiny when measured against the bliss of the righteous might lose missionary zeal.

    B. Christians who do not believe the wicked will suffer forever in hell have not lost missionary zeal.

    C. It follows that the missionary enterprise might well be hindered.

    CONCLUSION:
    Therefore, the proposition that the obliteration of the wicked is a terrible destiny when measured against the bliss of the righteous is false.

    LOGICAL FALLACIES

    Argumentum ad populum “arguing according to the majority”
    Stating that the belief that the wicked will cease to exist, rather than suffer in hell forever, might cause a loss of missionary zeal and negatively effect the missionary enterprise is irrelevant to the truth claim that: “The obliteration of the wicked is a terrible destiny when measured against the bliss of the righteous.”

    Non-Sequitor “it does not follow that”
    Contradictions in Supporting Arguments (nonsensical).
    The Proposition and Conclusion are completely unrelated.
    Thus, the Conclusion is false.
    =================

    So how did I do, Brother Pplz?
    (I hope you’re doing well)!

  80. “Of course I make a distinction, but it is clear that when I talked about doctrines being referred to in the Bible, I meant referred to in an affirmative manner.”
    OK good, it seemed, when you abandoned the phrase “taught by” in favor of “referred to in”, you were trying to make it easier on yourself. But I see now that you define those to mean the same thing.

    “And no, nothing I have said commits to the view that what the Bible teaches is purely subjective. I merely noted the rather obvious fact that even when the Bible does directly teach something, that is no guarantee that there will be no other passages that appear to suggest something else.”

    Well there’s two things, what the bible truly teaches, and what any one person might think it teaches. Now that it’s clear that we’re talking about the former, in those cases where it isn’t cut-and-dry, the mature Christan’s approach should reflect his uncertainty.

    “I’m not sure how I got you confused with Chris, colin. My bad.”
    No problem Greg, I do it all the time.

  81. “Well there’s two things, what the bible truly teaches, and what any one person might think it teaches”

    Yes, that’s true, but I’m not talking about correct doctrine, I’m just talking about theological method. As far as method goes, anyone who fits under the broadly evangelical banner should be able to point to Scripture to show where their doctrine is affirmed (even if they’re getting the conclusion wrong). If they honestly start seeing that most of it is created only by inference, they need to have a re-think.

  82. Rick – pretty good. Although I would hasten to note: None of this shows that the conclusion is false. It only shows that conclusion is not supported by the premises.

    And while I don’t know that the premises contain “contradictions,” it looks pretty clearly like premises A and B as you understand them are lacking in evidence.

  83. “I’m just talking about theological method. As far as method goes, anyone who fits under the broadly evangelical banner should be able to point to Scripture to show where their doctrine is affirmed”

    OK, if we’re just talking about method then the same person should equally be able to admit and identify the biblical weaknesses of their position, and in cases where those weaknesses exist, should not presume to assert that their belief is “what is taught by the bible”.

    That is unless their motive is other than trying to encourage the search for truth.

    “If they honestly start seeing that most of it is created only by inference, they need to have a re-think.”
    Agreed. If I come to you with a theology based only on inference, and you present an alternative that is plainly taught by the bible, I should abandon mine in favor of yours.

  84. Hi Glenn

    Rick – pretty good. Although I would hasten to note: None of this shows that the conclusion is false. It only shows that conclusion is not supported by the premises.

    And while I don’t know that the premises contain “contradictions,” it looks pretty clearly like premises A and B as you understand them are lacking in evidence.

    Thanks for the reply!

    My doctor has me on steroids for a while. So my reasoning/philosophizing skills may be a tad “off” (I’m kinda stoned)!

    Qs:
    1) Is there just one (primary) fallacy you want us to identify?
    2) If there is, and no one “gets” it, how long do we have to be mystified? LOL

    Off-topic Q: Is Rob Bell’s new book, “Love Wins” generating much controversy in NZ (as it is here, hugely!)? Not to distract from this discussion….

    Take care

  85. Colin – Yes, I do now (duh, thanks). Firefox 4 Update has me all turned around: I had to change the Theme, am just learning how to ‘navigate’, etc.

    (I saw where Glenn had) –

    You’re all correct, Peterson is appealing to the sociological consequences of a belief in order to sway people on the truth of a belief. The other thing going on, more subtly, is this: It’s not quite the ad hominem fallacy (which can take several forms, most relevantly here it’s where one attacks the person in the hope of discrediting their position), but it’s close….

    Etc., etc. Right. OK. All set. Thanks much.

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