A first move on a theory of annihilation

-This is probably the first time theologians have been asked to develop a theory of annihilation. Before now there was a vague sense that annihilation is possible but that, for whatever reason, it would not happen. But we run into a conflict even here: the “would not” includes all times, and what will not happen in all time is also not possible. “All time” negates the possibility of another time, but what is not the case can only be possible at another time.

-The demand for a closer look at annihilation arises from one version of the problem of evil. Why allow eternal punishment if annihilation is possible?

-The traditional doctrine of annihilation was developed as a corollary to the contingency of created things: material things were intrinsically contingent, finite immaterial things were extrinsically contingent on the divine power, and this extrinsic contingency was nothing but the possibility of annihilation. Again, whatever did not have its act of existence distinct from its essence is (at least) extrinsically contingent, and this contingency is nothing but the possibility of annihilation. As the contingency is real, the possibility of annihilation is real.

-The act of creation gives us being and so what cannot not be. If you don’t agree, I’ll restrict the discussion to souls, which most agree have no intrinsic possibility of non-existence. But if we say that X has no intrinsic possibility of being otherwise but only an extrinsic possibility, it seems that X is most comparable to a logical abstraction, say a syllogistic form or a mathematical theorem. It is here that we find no intrinsic possibility of what is the case being otherwise, even though these things are, by definition, abstractions and so have an extrinsic dependence on an abstractive (and therefore human) mind.

-So, presumably it is being willed that makes the extrinsic contingency of the universe allow for the possibility of annihilation. While the objectivity of our abstractions is contingent only on the existence of finite minds and not on their choices, the objective existence of the created world is contingent not just on God’s existence but his willing. This act of will is not necessary, and so annihilation is possible. That said, we’ve gone to a place where the conceptual air is pretty thin, and we don’t know exactly what to think. Who can make sense of a math theorem that we could will to be otherwise? If that’s what creation as such is most comparable to, what are we supposed to think about it?





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