The fate of the unlearned

Let’s see how this post goes, and if it can fly I’ll try to get theist responses to other problems atheists have with theism. This is about the ‘fate of the unlearned’ (what happens to those who die never having heard the good news of Jesus Christ) and Nathanael makes these three points. He may still want to elaborate on them as they were given in the context of a much longer comment which was not focused on this issue. Still, they are as good a place as any to begin:

1. God has made the possibility of knowing and believing in God possible through the created order and conscience (i.e. a belief in moral absolutes and a recognition that in spite of our best efforts we wilfully do what we know to be wrong either by commission or omission).

2. Anyone sincerely seeking a relationship with God and dies “not having heard the truth” would have ended up believing in God anyway while alive if presented with a fuller revelation of that God

3. Those incapable of making a rational decision on the basis on mental impairment or age will not be subject to the same standard. Do I know definitively what the boundary posts are for those conditions? No. But an all know, all loving God would.

The problems with these explanation arise because we live in a linear timeline and so believe that we can make linear explanations for the actions of god. God however exists beyond time and space, while simultaneously understanding and controlling all time and space. So:

1. As god is all-knowing then there can be no free will to willfully exercise. He already knows everything that one will ever do, and so right at this moment already knows whether that person will ever believe in him. We are meat puppets.

2. This is just a copout, but a copout that logically follows from the first point. To say one doesn’t even have to have heard the good word, just have had the certainty that if the situation had been different, then they would have believed anyway means that Jesus’s mission is redundant. No need for a crucifixion or a resurrection as god can just look at the person and decide that this person would have believed had Jesus ever come to Earth to deliver his message.

3. See 2.

19 thoughts on “The fate of the unlearned

  1. Marco

    The premise to this question – what is the fate of the unlearned? Is that there is a God, and that you need Jesus as a bridge to the goodness of The Lord. All an atheist needs to say in response is that they do not accept the premise.

    The fact that there is a tension between the omniscience and omnipotence of God, and the existence of free will is an issue for Christians to deal with, not Atheists.

    That this issue gets turned around as a reason to not believe even if the truth has been revealed to you, because the word hasn’t got out to an isolated hermit somewhere is also a cop out.

    I say “I don’t accept the premise” and move on.

    For the devoted Christian, however, the fate of the unlearned is uncertain and there is a strong imperative to reach out to those unlearned and teach them – even if they are Japanese

    Reply
    1. winstoninabox Post author

      The premise to this question – what is the fate of the unlearned? Is that there is a God, and that you need Jesus as a bridge to the goodness of The Lord. All an atheist needs to say in response is that they do not accept the premise.

      You could, but that’s the end of the discussion. And the Christian is not at all convinced that their position is an untenable one by just saying that I reject what you say from the first.

      The fact that there is a tension between the omniscience and omnipotence of God, and the existence of free will is an issue for Christians to deal with, not Atheists.

      I disagree that atheists don’t need to deal with the existence of free will. It can be central to any rebuttal of a Christian. I want to know how Christians deal with an omni-god and free will. When I know how they deal with that, then their position can be better understood and rebutted.

      That this issue gets turned around as a reason to not believe even if the truth has been revealed to you, because the word hasn’t got out to an isolated hermit somewhere is also a cop out.

      The problem is that Christians say just that: “Oh, is that THE reason why you don’t believe?” No, that’s not THE reason why I don’t believe, but if you want to start convincing me to believe you’ve got to show me that you’ve got an answer to the problems that atheists have with the Christian mythos. One of those is the fate of the unlearned.

      Even removing the problem of free will, which I probably never should have brought up because it warrants a post of its own, doesn’t get rid of my second complaint about Nathanael’s answer which is that if souls can get into heaven based on what they’re owners would’ve done had they known about Jesus, then it makes the crucifixion and resurrection redundant. The problem of learning the good news is central to the fate of the unlearned, and to just say that there was never a problem to begin with because god can admit one on fiat…….

      Reply
  2. Chris Fellows (@cfellows65536)

    I want to know how Christians deal with an omni-god and free will.

    1) Foreknowledge does not imply predestination (i.e., meat puppetdom). St Augustine says it all in ‘City of God’ and if you want to know a good answer to this question you can find it there.

    2) I said ‘a good answer’ and not ‘the answer’, because this has been a major point of argument within Christianity which has been answered in many different ways. It has also been a major point of argument within Islam. Atheistic philosophers have also argued about determinism vs. free will ad nauseam. I bet you have yourself.

    …problems that atheists have with the Christian mythos.

    This ‘fate of the unlearned’ is also a problem I have with the Christian mythos, and probably the main reason I do not identify as Christian anymore. I need to stand with the peasant hunched over in the rice paddy in Heathenstan, not the Cardinal in his palace or the NBA player with the diamond-studded cross around his neck. To quote myself: Let’s say we grant that the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ was a vitally important and necessary part of God reaching out to man that has transformed the relation between us and made it possible for us to reach God. Does this mean we have to know the name of Jesus? Or pay any attention to him at all? I think, no. No, in direct proportion to how worthy God is actually worthy of our worship. If He is outside of time and space, if He is omnibenevolent and omniscient with respect to the universe, He will make it possible for us to reach out to Him wherever and whoever we are. God’s reaching out to us is a fait accompli: what matters now is our reaching out to God.

    Reply
  3. Marco

    I disagree that atheists don’t need to deal with the existence of free will. It can be central to any rebuttal of a Christian. I want to know how Christians deal with an omni-god and free will. When I know how they deal with that, then their position can be better understood and rebutted.

    From an agnostic perspective this “rebuttal” looks a lot like evangelism ie. convincing someone to their own point of view by rebutting the prevailing counter view. Understanding and empathising with a view only so that you can reject it ever more convincingly.

    All I got out of it was that you reject the premise. I switch off when you go on with something that doesn’t really add information.

    Reply
    1. winstoninabox Post author

      From an agnostic perspective this “rebuttal” looks a lot like evangelism ie. convincing someone to their own point of view by rebutting the prevailing counter view. Understanding and empathising with a view only so that you can reject it ever more convincingly.

      You caught me out. If I can steer one more soul away from heaven in this calendar month I’ll get a free set of steak knives from the Secret Atheist Conspiracy (SAC) that’s silently undermining your family values…

      Reply
      1. Marco

        It’s not quite like that. If it gives me even the slightest appearance of that kind of thing, I zone out. Mainly because it is lost on me. I see no need to rebut something I can more simply disbelieve. By all means discuss the premise with me as a separate argument, but I’m only in this thread to give you more value for your $100 :-).

        Reply
        1. winstoninabox Post author

          I’m right this moment slogging through the evolution section of “God’s Undertaker”. I’m insure what to do. I find it interesting researching all the things he writes about, but I know I’m not going to know enough to refute what he’s written. I was thinking of just posting some links to others who’d refuted him scientifically, but then I don’t know if their correct and so I’d just look more foolish than I normally do…

          At least I’m pretty sure I’m now further through the book than last time I tried to read it.

          Reply
  4. Marco

    Don’t try to refute what he’s saying – I’m sure Chris or I will put our take on it. Just put in some bits that were either interesting, or research about it was interesting.

    Reply
      1. Marco

        I don’t think Nathanael has any case to answer. The fate of the unlearned has nothing to do with anyone who has been exposed to the argument about the fate of the unlearned. As you have to have heard about the good news to think about those who have not. The unlearned isn’t even someone we know and care about, because if it was we should feel compelled to tell them, and if we do not, we should not really blame anyone else.

        Reply
        1. winstoninabox Post author

          But I thought you wanted to talk about beliefs? How can we talk about beliefs if we don’t accept the other’s premise. We’ve got to have something to talk about.

          Reply
      2. Chris Fellows (@cfellows65536)

        Re-reading Nathanael’s three points, they seem to be rational and logical ones by someone who was kept awake at night by this problem. (Though they also open the door to the universalist trap winstoninabox outlines in his response to point 2, a trap I have fallen into myself.) I would be content to say in response to winstoninabox’s objections: “Foreknowledge does not deny free will (see Augustine). Next question.” But I don’t know exactly where Nathanael’s worldview falls on the free will/predestination continuum, and would be interested to know.

        Reply
        1. winstoninabox Post author

          Re-reading Nathanael’s three points, they seem to be rational and logical ones by someone who was kept awake at night by this problem.

          And about the point 2 the interesting part for me is finding out which compromise the theist, in this case Christian, makes to their claims.
          Do you say that knowledge of Jesus’ message isn’t integral to salvation, or do you say it is and accept that like so much in the bible life is unfair and you can be damned just for being born in the wrong place at the wrong time. I’m really surprised that more Christians don’t feel tension between believing in a god that can do anything and believing that the rules given to us to live by by that god have any influence on salvation.

          Reply
      3. Nathanael Small

        Perhaps the simplest extension I can make to Chris’s thinking is to say that to the degree you are continuing to seek to follow the way, the truth and the life as presented in Jesus, whether you have heard / seen the good news in all its fullness or not, is the basis on which you will experience qualitatively abundant life now and eternal life later.
        Truth and knowledge in the Hebraic world view is both propositional and relational.
        So whether you’re inside the camp or not is based on how you are thinking and relating to the revelation you have received up until you die.
        Happy to take supplementary questions if that lacks clarity – can’t guarantee a same day (or sometimes week) response.

        Reply
        1. winstoninabox Post author

          Perhaps the simplest extension I can make to Chris’s thinking is to say that to the degree you are continuing to seek to follow the way, the truth and the life as presented in Jesus, whether you have heard / seen the good news in all its fullness or not, is the basis on which you will experience qualitatively abundant life now and eternal life later.

          Nathanael, it’s impossible ‘to follow the way, the truth and the life as presented in Jesus’ if you have never heard the good news. If one has never heard the good news, however acts in all ways similar to Jesus’s teachings, Jesus doesn’t get the credit for it. Jesus and his teachings don’t hold sway over the totality of living a good life.

          And the ‘experience qualitatively abundant life now’ can’t possibly be a guarantee. I suppose the ‘qualitatively’ is subjective on the person’s outlook, but there are plenty of people living perfectly abundant lives without Jesus, be they followers of another faith or no faith at all.

          Truth and knowledge in the Hebraic world view is both propositional and relational.
          So whether you’re inside the camp or not is based on how you are thinking and relating to the revelation you have received up until you die.

          It sounds very much like you hold to the idea of ‘good works’ being enough to be considered for admittance to heaven. So you agree that you don’t need to hear the good news to go to heaven, that hearing the good news is optional for the outcome of going to heaven. God can decide by whatever criteria he likes to admit or not whomever he likes, and we are not privy to his criteria.

          So when you’re evangelizing do you tell people that Jesus’s message is optional? That god will decide our fate based on criteria we can never know? And if not, why not? Is this the view of the Baptist church, or have you formulated it on your own?

          Happy to take supplementary questions if that lacks clarity – can’t guarantee a same day (or sometimes week) response.

          Anytime.

          Reply
      4. Nathanael Small

        Will reply on a PC as ipones&pads are too limiting.
        “Common Grace” is the direction I’ll be going.
        And yes, I arrived at the conclusions on my own in dialogue with many other because baptists hold to independent congregational governance and independent freedom on conscience.
        In the evangelical Protestant world you’ll find roughly 85% agreement on the core doctrines, with 10% of differences being more to do with orthopraxis than orthodoxy.
        The 5% of complete disagreement is where all the messy stuff that sadly consumes 95% of people’s headspace and media attention is able to be dealt with as lovingly agreeing to disagree.
        Back later.

        Reply
    1. winstoninabox Post author

      An early April Fools? The title of the piece “The Shroud is not a fake” must of been written by someone who’d never read the article, being as the article is about how nobody can work out how the Shroud was made. And in that it was an interesting read.

      Reply

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