A Pastor and a Philosopher Walk into a Bar

Certainty, Hell, Evil, and Universalism: A Conversation with Keith DeRose

June 02, 2023 Season 3 Episode 23
Certainty, Hell, Evil, and Universalism: A Conversation with Keith DeRose
A Pastor and a Philosopher Walk into a Bar
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A Pastor and a Philosopher Walk into a Bar
Certainty, Hell, Evil, and Universalism: A Conversation with Keith DeRose
Jun 02, 2023 Season 3 Episode 23

If you heard our recent episode on hell and universalism, you may recall that Randy mentioned having Keith DeRose, a philosopher at Yale, on the show at some point to respond to some of the objections Kyle had to universalism (the idea that everyone is eventually reconciled to God). Well, we reached out to Keith and he graciously agreed to chat with us. Our conversation covers more ground than just universalism though; we also discuss certainty, the problem of evil and theodicy, and why Keith is uncomfortable at Easter and funerals. And yes, he responds to some of Kyle's worries about universalism. It's on the headier end of the spectrum for our episodes, but we like to throw those in every now and then. We hope you enjoy it.

The resources that Keith mentions in the episode can be found on this PPWB-specific page that he put up at his site. How cool is that?

In this episode, we tasted the stunning Elijah Craig Barrel Proof (B522). To skip the tasting, jump to 5:41.

You can find the transcript for this episode here.

Content note: instances of horrendous evil are discussed in this episode in the context of the problem of evil and theodicy. This is not an episode for children.


Want to support us?

The best way is to subscribe to our Patreon. Annual memberships are available for a 10% discount.

If you'd rather make a one-time donation, you can contribute through our PayPal.

Other important info:

  • Rate & review us on Apple & Spotify
  • Follow us on social media at @PPWBPodcast
  • Watch & comment on YouTube
  • Email us at pastorandphilosopher@gmail.com


Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

If you heard our recent episode on hell and universalism, you may recall that Randy mentioned having Keith DeRose, a philosopher at Yale, on the show at some point to respond to some of the objections Kyle had to universalism (the idea that everyone is eventually reconciled to God). Well, we reached out to Keith and he graciously agreed to chat with us. Our conversation covers more ground than just universalism though; we also discuss certainty, the problem of evil and theodicy, and why Keith is uncomfortable at Easter and funerals. And yes, he responds to some of Kyle's worries about universalism. It's on the headier end of the spectrum for our episodes, but we like to throw those in every now and then. We hope you enjoy it.

The resources that Keith mentions in the episode can be found on this PPWB-specific page that he put up at his site. How cool is that?

In this episode, we tasted the stunning Elijah Craig Barrel Proof (B522). To skip the tasting, jump to 5:41.

You can find the transcript for this episode here.

Content note: instances of horrendous evil are discussed in this episode in the context of the problem of evil and theodicy. This is not an episode for children.


Want to support us?

The best way is to subscribe to our Patreon. Annual memberships are available for a 10% discount.

If you'd rather make a one-time donation, you can contribute through our PayPal.

Other important info:

  • Rate & review us on Apple & Spotify
  • Follow us on social media at @PPWBPodcast
  • Watch & comment on YouTube
  • Email us at pastorandphilosopher@gmail.com


NOTE: This transcript was auto-generated by an artificial intelligence and has not been reviewed by a human. Please forgive and disregard any inaccuracies, misattributions, or misspellings.

Randy  00:06

I'm Randy, the pastor half of the podcast, and my friend Kyle is a philosopher. This podcast hosts conversations at the intersection of philosophy, theology, and spirituality.

Kyle  00:15

We also invite experts to join us, making public space that we've often enjoyed off-air around the proverbial table with a good drink in the back corner of a dark pub.

Randy  00:24

Thanks for joining us, and welcome to A Pastor and a Philosopher Walk into a Bar.

Kyle  00:37

Sunday this episode, we're talking to a philosopher named Keith de Rose, who is a professor at Yale University. And I actually met Keith, almost 10 years ago, I went to presented a paper at a philosophy conference in California, and he happened to be the keynote there. And he's been an influential voice in epistemology, which is my field, particularly for a view called contextual realism, which comes up a little bit in the interview. He's kind of known for that. But he works on several other things, too. And recently, he's been working on philosophy religion, which has been an interest of his all along I think it sounds like, and you actually mentioned him first, which is weird, because having known about him and liking his work, and having taught it, he's not someone I ever would have thought of, to invite. And so it's funny that you thought of him first. And it was in our episode on hell. And so you can kind of view this episode of the part two to that. So if you haven't heard that one, maybe stop this one and go listen to that first. And we invited him on to kind of continue that conversation a little bit, because he's a proponent of a view that you hold Randy called universalism, or as you put it, Ultimate Reconciliation. I'm not a proponent of that view. But as if you would very much like to be true. And so I was hoping that we could have somebody on who could tell me why I'm wrong. Yeah.

Randy  01:52

And I think we'll have more guests who can tell you why you're wrong at that. Yeah. Yeah. In particular, about Ultimate Reconciliation. We'll talk to Brett sureseq. Again, I love to talk to William Paul Young about it a number of others. But in this episode, we don't just talk about Ultimate Reconciliation of Christian universalism. There's also a good bit about certainty. Why Keith has a problem with Christian funerals. There's all sorts of things that are a little bit juicy tidbits. So what are we drinking today, Kyle?

Kyle  02:22

Yeah, so one of the things we'd like to do on this podcast is have a beverage before every conversation to really accentuate the bar theme of the show. And I had a really long workweek. And so I decided I'm gonna open something good. And so this is maybe I don't want to say it's my favorite bourbon, but it's probably in my top five. Not in terms of like best bourbon in the world. Crazy hard to find. But just like favorite go to. This is the Elijah Craig barrel proof. And if you're rolling your eyes thinking, illogic, Greg, it's probably because you've only had the small batch. And it's like, no, it's nothing like that. So the Elijah Craig barrel proof is it's really three times a year. So this is the b 522, which means it was released in May of 2022. And it's the second batch of the year. That's what the B means. This is 121 proof and 12 years old and freakin delicious.

Randy  03:14

I have had it in. I will second that.

Elliot  03:19

It's funny, had a long work week. It's Thursday as we record it is

Kyle  03:23

it has been a long, long four days, man.

Randy  03:27

Well, we get to benefit from it. Yeah.

Kyle  03:33

Yeah, it has everything I love in a bourbon. It's exactly the right strength. It's exactly the right amount of barrel exactly the right amount of age, exactly the right amount of depth. There's the caramel in there that I love the sweetness, but not too much. There's, gosh, there's dark fruits. There's a tiniest bit of smoke. It's just it's just one

Randy  03:54

right spices on the end, like on the tip of my tongue actually towards the end. I really liked that. Yeah, this is I won't say this is my favorite, or perfect bourbon. But it shocked me because I was one of those people who are like Elijah Craig, what do we bottom shelfing internet and or mid shelf for me? That's Michelle. Sure. Yeah. In then all of a sudden, I tried this stuff, and I was blown away. Yeah. What are your thoughts? Elliot? This is your first time. I think that's great. You said it's

Elliot  04:19

a little smoky. I get a bunch and I love it. And the dark cherry flavors are my favorite. But I get what you're saying about the bright spices? Yeah.

Kyle  04:31

Yeah, this is it's not an easy bottle to find anymore, unfortunately, because everybody knows. But if you can find it's worth it. And it's it'll probably maybe run you 80 bucks if you find it on a shelf. But I think it's a it's a very fair price, which

Randy  04:48

I was gonna say. I don't spend $80 on bottles of alcohol. Just don't do it. But there's way more expensive stuff. That's not as good as this. Yeah, I've

Kyle  04:57

had $150 bottles that I don't like yep, nearly as well.

Randy  05:01

Yeah, so I think is, in the grand scheme of things. This is not a badly priced This is a great price bourbon actually

Kyle  05:08

actually just read, sadly, they're removing the age statements because they're running out of their stock, which was a totally foreseeable problem. And so starting this year, I think they're no longer gonna have that 12 year statement on it. So your each batch is gonna be a little bit different. We'll see if it stays as good. I don't know.

Randy  05:24

I'm guessing it will. We'll see. I hope you're smart people. So one more time. What is this?

Kyle  05:29

This is Elijah Craig barrel proof. Cheers. Yeah, to hard weeks. Let's read a review. One of the things we like to do when we get reviews is feature some of them on the show encourages you guys to leave more. This is actually an email we've gotten. So we're totally open to emails as well. So this is from Colin, Colin says, Randy, and Kyle just wanted to take a second and say a big thank you for doing this podcast. I came across it accidentally late last year and binge every episode in the course of a couple of months. It very quickly became one of my favorite podcasts. Absolutely love the open dialogue you have with people from different backgrounds and how you're able to disagree respectfully with each other on the podcast. I've been on a bit of a deconstruction journey out of independent fundamentalist Baptist circles for a couple of years now. And what you've talked through really helped me to feel more settled and uncertainty without needing an absolute answer right away. There you go. Also, thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for recommending Heaven's Door whiskey. Can't find the episode it was on but I've kept a note on anything you've drunk that interested me. I don't think I got the exact one you were drinking. But it led me to there I aged in cigar barrels. And that immediately shot to the top of my list and pretty high on my whiskey list. Keep up the great work of eagerly shared the podcast with several friends and look forward to continuing to learn with you,

Randy  06:45

Colin. Cheers, cheers.

Elliot  06:47

Where do we get some of the three?

Randy  07:06

Key throws thank you so much for joining us on a pastor and philosopher walk into a bar.

Keith  07:11

It's nice being with you guys.

Randy  07:13

Yeah, Keith, we've been excited to talk to you for a while. Can you just kind of locate yourself for our listeners? Who you are, what work you do. You're at yellow, I believe? And then also your spiritual landscape like what did you grew up with in any faith tradition? And where are you now is since we are a pastor and philosopher walk into a bar.

Keith  07:33

Yeah, so I grew up in the Dutch sub community in the south side of Chicago. The Christian Reformed Church, if you know it's the more evangelical of the two, I think it's a CRC. Yep. And the RCA, the Reformed Church in America. If you're trying to find me and my people, whenever there's a split, it just makes it harder. Right. And, and I went to Calvin College, which was, you know, even if life in general isn't all predetermined, that was

Randy  08:15

Calvin, his jokes are the best.

Keith  08:18

I wasn't there as my father before me and his father before him. Then I went to UCLA for graduate school that's kind of stumbled blindly into the place where Marilyn Adams, who Kyle's mentioned in previous product, I got to study with her and Bob, I ended up not doing philosophy for religion as my main thing. And I got my degree and once taught first at NYU, and then at Rice. And then since 1998. So a long time at Yale yell where I've worked in, I've worked mainly in epistemology, and philosophy of language, but have finally, in the last few years, gotten to some work I've been wanting to do from the beginning in philosophy of religion. So I'm writing a book and the problem of evil, I just have to solve that. I'll be done.

Randy  09:20

Dang, now I want to if I would have known that I would have had all sorts of different oh, we're gonna talk about that. Good, good. Awesome. And are you still are you still part of the Reformed Church or what's what's that for you?

Keith  09:32

Yeah, no. So when I graduated from Calvin, seniors was showing where they were going on their hand. This is how they do this. Michigan. Yeah, I think it wasn't like completely intentional, that I ended up going to UCLA so I would have to tell them, like, falling off the edge of the earth. I think I was trying to get away, culturally, religiously, socially in About in every way as far away as I could, but you know, I have family who've stayed in. And so I've stayed somewhat connected here at Yale, we just happen to go to a weird little Episcopal Church. And it's got, I think it's probably not coincidental. They have a lot of people from evangelical backgrounds, so, so I can't really get away tries. But you know, the parts of Calvinism that would be important to a philosopher, I think about as far away from that as you can get. Good news was, yeah, they had me read, of course, that Calvin, who they had misread Calvin's institutes. And I figured out later what they really needed. Since Yeah, I don't think Calvin had a philosophical bone in his body. What they really needed was to have me read Jonathan Edwards, because he was like, real philosopher. And God only knows what would have happened if they had me read him. As it happened, I got him, you know, several years later, and I realized, although I ended up about as far away from him as you can get, I guess, I'm an open theist. But I found myself like agreeing with almost all his arguments, which were basically wiping out the middle ground. And I was I was with him, you know, that that middle ground is, is no good. But he just from my point of view, then chose the wrong extreme.

Kyle  11:42

Yeah. He probably say the same about you. So where do you land religiously now? So for we've emailed back and forth a bit before this episode. I've emailed more with you than I have any other guests on the show, which is awesome. Really good stuff. And you just you shared a bunch of stuff that you written, which was super helpful. And in one of those pieces, you describe yourself as a semi agnostic. Yeah. And so I wanted to start by asking you to explain what that means. Because it resonated with me. I don't know if I would use the label, but I like it. And I kind of want you to talk me into it.

Keith  12:14

Yeah, well, so I, I always thought agnostic has come to mean, something like someone takes themselves not to know. And I certainly count as an agnostic in that sense. I take myself not to know, even that God exists. Yeah. You know, if you get doubters in the church, the people will often send them to me, you know, doubts, too. And usually what happens is, these are folks who have like, doubts about this or that doctrine. And when they run into me, they find, like doubts about things, they weren't looking to find out something just makes it worse. Yeah. But it also seemed to me there was an important sense in which I wasn't. And I took that to be something like someone who doesn't even take a position on the issue. So and I'm not it an agnostic in that sense that I like to use instead of believe, I don't think I don't think I really believe either. But I like to use accept, yeah. And I accept that. I think that's the same position I take towards other controversial philosophical positions I take, including things I'm known for, you know, so even as I say, in some places, when people know me in the profession as a contextual list about attributions, I said, Well, I accept theism. In the same way that I accept contextual realism, when when I'm into it, it feels like something I know. It certainly feels like something I believe, you know, there's like a sincere acceptance here. But I take myself to be nowhere near to knowing and wonder about whether I really believe so I think it's best described as acceptance. And I think maybe for a lot of people who have left the church over doubts that such a position a semi agnostic in that sense, could be something that they could, you know, see their way clear to, to becoming Sure. And since I'm not in the business of trying to reel people into the church, even if they don't become it could become a point of contact I have with them. You know, I'm not really that different from you. I don't take myself to know either. I've cast my lot with this, but I don't take myself to know that I did that right wing. And so I have a lot of, of course, in my profession, and that teaching in a Christian school I like a lot of professional colleagues who are further away from belief than I am. And it's just, I think it's helpful to have a stance, which in many ways, is somewhat like theirs in some something they could see themselves adopted, even if they're not going to they can see it. So maybe it helps to relate to a lot of people. Yeah.

Randy  15:43

So you hinted at this, just now. And then you said it kind of explicitly in our communications, but your stance of semi agnosticism? You see, you said, you know, maybe maybe this is a way back in or wait for people to stay, who are struggling with their faith. I love that, you know, I really love being able to provide people with language for what's going on inside of them, while maybe not abandoning faith altogether. What's your relationship with the church? Sounds like you're pardon the pun fairly agnostic about it. But also like what's do you care that people stay engaged spiritually, or Ecclesia? Logically? Yes, I

Keith  16:21

care. But I'm, I'm hesitant to encourage. I should say, Yeah, I think I've said this, I think in communications with Kyle, if I'm remembering this was a couple of weeks ago, you know, I don't want to come off as telling people jump in the water is fine, you know, because if you're, if you're uncertain in the way I am, in various ways, church, or at least the churches I know, is really not set up for you. This comes out for me most clearly. at funerals, which seemed to me to be like certainty fits. Right? Everybody's walking around. Yeah. Well, at least we know, where were so and so is that. And like, yeah, that's my problem. I don't, you know, that's part of, it's part of why it's so sad. For all I know, they are gone forever. And I've never seen him again. And that's certainly part of why I'm so sad. This is the part where I would never stay this part. But you know, this is kind of what's going on in my head. Things turn a little nasty when when you get from the person's own uncertainty, like somebody who feels quite uncertain about religious affairs, but as in the church anyway. Well, that's one thing. But you know, things turn nasty, a little bit nastier when you get to what they must be thinking of the people around them who seem far more certain. Because it's probably not. Boy, these folks are all certain. I wish I could be. I guess that could happen. But I think it's much more likely to be kind of like, what I have where you kind of suspect the certainty of people around you is kind of phony. Yeah, it's not a nice thing to think about people. You know, and you think, yep, deep down. They're kind of worried. They seem, you know, they seem at the funeral. They seem really sad. I think if they knew what they said they knew. Now, it wouldn't be such a sad thing.

Kyle  18:43

Yeah, so it's, it's funny, you mentioned that because I was just at a funeral this week, a few days ago, and a family member. And I thought about this, because you had emailed me that just a couple of weeks ago, and I'd been thinking about it. And so I was presently thinking about and watching for signs of that kind of certainty and the kinds of language that were being used during the eulogy, and the pastor who was a pastor of a, you know, a kind of conservative evangelical denomination and whatever. And honestly, I, I came away with maybe a different read of it. I don't think it's incompatible necessarily, but I think I view it as everybody there kind of knows, maybe not in a philosophical sense of now. All right. So it's not like they could justify it or make an argument for it. But like, everybody knows that they don't know. And if they contemplated it, they'd probably acknowledge that that is a big part of why they're sad, but there they at least performatively believe that what we're doing here is a kind of exhortation. It's like convincing ourselves with the liturgy and with the language from this tradition that we all participate in, that this is true, and that we can use each other's feigned confidence as The kind of emotional and spiritual support. And I think that's what's going on whether it might be cognitively available or not. And I'm actually very much okay with this is what I discovered this week, like sitting there knowing that I didn't believe anything that was being said, I still felt very much at peace. With that being said, if that makes sense. I wanted to get your thoughts on that.

Keith  20:21

Yeah, well, that's certainly a much nicer read the situation? I mean, it could be like, we're facing different situations, but you know, it's strikes me it's more likely, we're, we're facing the same situation, and I'm having a more cynical take. And that wouldn't be out of character for me. But yeah, I have the same feeling off and like, when we when we recite the Creed for you know, I believe this, I believe that. And, you know, it sounds like very confident, very definite belief. But it strikes that strikes me is like, not such a bad thing, but it feels kind of aspirational. And, you know, I don't I guess I don't really believe that in a way it'd be nice to and yeah, yeah, I guess aspirational, is the way to put it, it seems a bit different to me, at funerals, because they're, the expressions of certainty, seem to have as their point, to comfort, you know, I'd be very comforted if I could be certain of this. The problem is I can't do and if it's a loved one of mine, someone really close to me who's died, you know, you're not gonna make me feel better by saying certain where they are. Because I'm just not, and, and to be told, you know, at least we can be certain of it when I'm not in, that's really the problem. I feel like, you know, for me, and I know, I'm unusual, and these shouldn't be designed around you. But for me, what I would most benefit from is some kind of acknowledgement that we're all, like, really sad here, in part, because we're just not sure.

Randy  22:22

Yeah, and I mean, as a pastor, and as a person who used certainty, as a tool, because really, certainty is a is a preaching mechanism that makes you come off very authoritative, very confidence, and very compelling in some ways. You know, like, when, when you when you introduce any qualifiers, it kind of loses its power a little bit, so I get the attraction have done it. I've since repented of that. And I like I would like to think that, well, we talk about certainty and faith all the time at our church. But what I'm trying to say is that there's a way to do church in a way that doesn't become a certainty fest. And I think there's even a way to do funerals in a way that aren't certainty fest. It's not, I would never, as a pastor stand up and be like, well, we all know that we don't know where where she is, you know, like that's, that would be really bad. But we can, you know, I love hearkening to the scriptures and talking about Jesus saying, I am the resurrection and the life. If anyone believes in me, they will have life eternal. Do you believe this, and then you can talk about things like hope, you know, like hope can when can fill a lot of space, that certainty usually does, but doesn't really have to. So I just want to say that there's different ways of embodying what we believe and in the church as pastors and even as congregants the way we talk, I really do think that, because I think there are some people who know that this is not certain, but they say it anyways. But I do think there's people who are completely in the dark about how faith does not equal certainty. I mean, the evidence for that is on Christian Twitter, whenever I talk about that we're not certain of this, we're, you know, this is what we believe. People just go sideways and they can't handle it. And they think that I'm a complete heretic, or they have no grid for understanding that belief does not equal certainty. So I think there is, and this is comes from the top down in the church. I think there is this complete gap between understanding reality that our faith and our beliefs are different from what we know in canto so keep up the good work, Keith.

Keith  24:34

Well, if you're telling me continue to continue with your cynical takes on what's happening.

Randy  24:41

And maybe don't don't say that a funeral perhaps but

Kyle  24:44

yeah, don't ever don't ever preach a funeral.

Keith  24:47

Yeah, I should never ever, ever be a preacher. That's, yeah, don't give any.

Randy  24:52

Yes. So switching gears off of certainty in our correspondents in by ours, I mean, yours and Kyle's and I just got to read it. Sorry if you didn't Now that I was reading it, but I was, you called yourself a good Friday, Christian. And that intrigued me a little bit. Can you tell us what you mean by good Friday, Christian and why you call yourself a good Friday, Christian?

Keith  25:12

Well, so, first of all, it's in contrast to Easter, which I also have problems with. Behind funerals, Easter is like one of my toughest days at church. And it's all the, it's all the triumphalism. You know. And there, it's, it has a lot to do with, you know, the Church's position. You know, it varies from church to church, but I think we can speak generally, the Christian Church's position, and what happens to the bulk of humankind? And it's not nice, you know, and so, I have a hard time even understanding what we can even mean by our Pauline Easter taunt, where death is now the stain. What do you mean, where's its thing? It's things like hell, you know. According to the position we take, you know, it's it. And you know, you can think, well, me and mine will be okay. But as long as you, as I say this advisedly, as long as he gives a damn about the other people, it's got a standing. I mean, what look at the Church's position, death ends the chance for salvation, some believe, are people that year that God really wanted to save. But now, death has ended their chances. You know, if I were death, I wouldn't be too hurt by that taunt. I think, where's my thing? Look right over there, that that person who God wanted to save, and I put it into that?

Randy  27:13

So you see, you're not a fan of what happens? Yes. And what gets talked about on Easter? What about Good Friday, is attractive to you.

Keith  27:21

I love good Friday services. I don't know, at this point, what exactly I sent any use. But I had a thing, I think where I wrote about this, just like on a, a Facebook note back when they had notes, but I had, I had the front cover of Maryland, Adams book, horrendous evils, and am blanking out. It's like the

Randy  27:50

most important books I've got right here and the goodness of

Keith  27:53

God in the goodness of God, that's it, I can't find out and I gotta go. And it's got, you know, a picture of some art with a gruesome price on the cross, obviously suffering horribly, you know, that I really, that's what I resonate with. And I think it's largely because I take the problem of horrific suffering to be, you know, the greatest challenge to theistic belief. And I realized that I've become, you know, strangely addicted to form of theism. If I had to give this up, I wouldn't like try to find the nearest branch of theism that didn't have this, I would just be gone. I mean, my backup position is death is the end naturalism. And that's where I'd be gone to. But the one form of theism that I can take, and that I do take is one where God has somehow managed to get themselves tortured to death. And I think that's largely because that's so central to how I think the problem of horrific suffering has to be dealt with in a Christian setting. And so, in Good Friday, when that's remembered, that's like, the annual center of, of my Christian life. So it's kind of I guess it's kind of sad out lucky. I hate Eastern I love good Fridays.

Randy  29:42

That is hilarious. And I, I enjoy it at the same time. It's a very rare take. Can I just ask one follow up question real quick, Keith. You said there's something about God, suffering a gruesome death and kind of having all this evil Elon, in violence put on God's self. What significance does that, you know? Like, why is that so significant to you? Can you flesh that out a little bit?

Keith  30:09

Yeah, that's that's like really hard to flesh out. But that's really behind. The stuff I am writing now is like getting toward the end of the book on the problem of horrific suffering. But I think I'm far from alone in having from the beginning of my Christian life, just being most moved by the end of the, of the Gospels. And, you know, that's, if anything can be picked out of the crowd, as you know, what was the strongest draw to the faith for me, you know, it's, it's just the accounts of Christ's suffering and death. So in the end, and that's so important, because although I have not undergone any horrific suffering, I worry a lot about all the horrific suffering that has been happening. And I'm thinking, you know, some kind of identification with the suffering of Christ is got to be part of the story about why, why God allows it to happen. Not that not that you can fill out that story in any, or at least not that I can fill out that story in any very convincing way. But I think I can see that without that, there just is no story to tell for my money. And you know, you just give up the game at that point. So, however, however good or bad it is, at saving the game, the game is lost without it.

Randy  32:07

It reminds me of the quote, I think it's from Night by Elie Weisel. Talking about a young boy in a concentration camp being hung, and watching this dead boy for like a half hour after he died in the members of the constant concentration camp, and one of them says, Where is God Where the f is God right now? And someone says, Where is he he's here. He's here hanging in the gallows. It kind of reminds me of that spirits. But let me change change gears a little bit. Keith, one, one of the main reasons that you came onto my radar, or the main reason you came onto my radar is that of, I don't know, a couple of months ago, I told my church that I believe in Christian universalism that I've gotten to the point, you know, I've been on a journey about what I think about hell, what I think about people's eternal destinies, all that business. And I've come to a point because of the scriptures because of church fathers, because of my, my experience as a dad, all sorts of things, to a point where I think that all people will wind up saved. And as I said that to my church, one person in particular, was a little bit disturbed and had some questions for me, they were really great questions. But then he did, what I wish every church person would do is he went home and did some research on his own. And he emailed me back at about four o'clock that same Sunday and said, Hey, I want to tell you, I did some research. And I found that this is not such a crazy aberrant view, and that there was lots of Scripture. And then he forwarded me a link to an article by some yield philosopher who explained why he's a Christian Universalist, and it turns out to be you. So he found your article, and it was super helpful for him. So I want to say thank you. Can you tell us I mean, you grew up saying for

Keith  33:50

four hours? Yeah, I did. I did. Yeah.

Randy  33:56

You started out in the Dutch Reformed Church, which obviously is not Christian universalism. And now you are writing articles and you know, saying that you're a Christian Universalist. How did you get there? And, yeah, just what brought you to that place where you would identify if you would identify as a Christian Universalist

Keith  34:13

when I got to UCLA. So this was first year graduate school. I guess 22 Just having finished Calvin College, and Maryland and Bob and two Christian philosophers who were teaching in the UCLA philosophy department, that they were running a Bible study at their house, I believe it and we remember, on Sunday evenings, and they were going through the book of Romans, and I remember when I started going, that I was, I guess, a Universalist at the time, but I thought that I just couldn't see being a Christian without that, but I thought, you know, it was pretty clear The against what was in, in the New Testament. And it was the Adams is and some others in that Bibles as to maybe it was providential. They were going through Romans when I came in, started to, you know, convince me that, you know, at least it wasn't so clear that that this was against scripture and actually started bringing me around to see. And it seems like probably the best take available on Scripture. You know, at least Pauline letters. And so I guess I reconstruct from that, then, by the time I was done at college, I was a Universalist of sorts, at least, I think, you know, I was just basically feeling that the version of the faith I grew up in there was something really wrong. Not knowing exactly what kind of alternative there could be. But, you know, part of my thinking that it was so wrong was the doctrine of hell, which is six really nasty in itself. But when you combine it with predestination was the result is a noxious brew, far nastier than the sum of the nastiness of the arts. So yeah, I think worries about hell were very central to my feeling that there was something wrong with the, with the religious position, I was brought up. You know, this wasn't so much my parents, I don't think that they talked much about health, but you know, it's, you're in the church, I'm in the car, and not only going to a CRC church, but CRC schools, all the way up through grade school, middle school, high school, and then to Calvin College. And, yeah, so I think I was, I was ready for UCLA at that point. There I am, the Chicago kids coming out of Grand Rapids. And I'm living in a place with palm trees. And going to Bible study, where most of the people thought the bulk of humankind wasn't going to suffer horrifically forever. It was all a nice change.

Kyle  37:49

So you must have Did you study philosophy at Calvin? Yes, I was a philosophy major. So surely there were faculty there at the time that were at least friendly to the idea are open to the idea?

Keith  38:02

Well, you know, I since became colleagues with one of my teachers. So he pretty much admitted to me. And yet, I think even all these years after leaving, Calvin still couldn't even speaking, just to me couldn't say, Well, I think I'm with you. I think you're right. I don't think I don't believe the doctor. And he I don't think he could do that. I mean, he wasn't like worries. But you know, people at Calvin teaching at Calvin, you can't say stuff like that, no matter how much particular student might need to hear it. Because you know, you lose your job. Yeah. And this and this philosopher, who, I guess anybody can go online and find out who would be who would have been a teacher at Calvin yell Kali? Sure, but I guess it's okay. It's been, like gone for years, I think. And it wasn't like, worries about like, losing his job or anything is like, I think it's just like some kind of institutional loyalty. Yeah. To, to the denomination. And it's like, you just can't come out and clearly say stuff that's, you know, so, sure. So set against the accepted doctrine.

Kyle  39:40

Yeah. So let's, so the main, you know, the main thing we wanted to talk to you about was this Christian universalism and hell and you've heard our episode where you came up and at the end of it and so this is, in some ways, a kind of a part two to that and kind of what I wanted to focus on a little bit as why I'm not with you You heard the reasons and get your get your rebuttals. So some

Keith  40:06

I took it from that. So that's specifically what I was bringing being. You're here to excuse

Kyle  40:15

me. Yeah. And I'll be happy to be refuted about this more than more than any other philosophical position I hold. So yeah, so my main reasons for holding out as I said in that episode are kind of three things. And in some ways, there may be one or two things. There's freewill. So I want to talk a little bit about that. What is the role of freewill visa vie universalism, in your view? There's what I called habituation, which is this idea that you can so solidify your character in a contrary direction from God that there's it's simply impossible to get out of it, even with an endless amount of time and opportunity to do so. And then there's, there's evil there's the problem of evil and theodicy, which tries to answer the problem of evil. And my view is that Christian universalism, I don't know if I would say it exacerbates the problem of evil, but I don't think it helps. And in some ways, I think it is a form of theodicy, and therefore suffers the fate in my view of all theocracies, which is that they don't work. So those are kind of my reasons for holding out. And also, I just kind of see in myself, the tendencies toward that habituation thing. And so it's really easy for me to believe that there are people who would have their own volition reject God forever. So it's not that I think God couldn't save everybody. If everybody was willing to be saved, or that God doesn't want to, it's that I think people just don't want to be some of them at least. And so for that reason, I'm a holdout. I'm a skeptic. And so I'm hoping you can convince me otherwise. So pick, you know, pick wherever you want to start there.

Keith  41:55

Well, so on the habituation point, and certainly just want to agree that I take this to be, like, one of the main points that CS Lewis was driving at, and particularly in the novel, The Great divorce. And I certainly agree that there is there a successful account of how somebody remaining psychologically continuous with the way we are in this life, could get themselves worked into a position where they would have think of it as like, being stuck in some horrible rut, where you've got yourself, and what's the Lewis phrase is something like choosing against joy or something. And certainly, someone could get into that position. And that's a coherent account of how it could happen, that somebody could freely choose to remain forever separated from God, even with, you know, maybe coming to have full knowledge of what they're choosing against, or at least this full knowledge, as it's possible for us to have. Yeah, but I just don't see why that should make us think anybody's ever going to be in that position. You know, because, I guess I just see, the purpose of this life, you know, if you think that there is an afterlife, and that for many people, it will be an afterlife of never ending joy, that sky to a set thing out pretty, pretty radically, your view of what this life must be for. And if you think the life to come is going to be is not going to have, like horrific or what's the John Hicks term for our DIS teleological suffering? are apparently pointless. Um, won't have any of that. Yeah. Then, you know, I think you'd have to view this earthly life. You know, part of the main point of it's got to be from, from a theistic perspective of that time has got to be to allow us to, to realize the values that can only be realized in the face of horrific evil. Yeah, I think such a person should think so. A person who believes in an afterlife, where at least many people will enjoy unending joy with God, then you should think that what this world is like, should lead to the conclusion that there is no God, if given the assumption which you don't make, that this life is the is all there is. And given all that, for me, the only chance to make sense I put it that way for us to make sense of God's allowing the horrific suffering is going to involve, I think, not just an afterlife where many people enjoy such unending joy. But pretty much it's got to be where everybody does. And, and I think you should think in that, in that sense, that how God would arrange, you know, the basic structure of our earthly life isn't to be radically different. It's this is a preamble to, to something greater that's to come, as opposed to this being this being the whole show. Right. And if you think it is just a preamble to what's to come, you should think it won't make sense as being the whole show, the problem of horrific suffering should be a theism killer. If you can add to it that this life is all there is. That's what you should think, you know, if you're, if you're a theist who believes in heaven, basically, and then you'll think, you know, I think this like should be unsurprising. You really need the afterlife, and you need pretty much everybody getting there in order to make sense of people being put through this life. Yeah, I want to agree, though, with Kyle, that, you know, if your thought is something like universalism must be true, because God is good. And that's like, the only way for things to go, that can make sense of there being a good gut, I agree with Kyle, that you should really be kind of stopped in your tracks and made to be quite uncertain of that inference by the fact that there's such horrific evil in this life, because you should admit, I want to have thought I would have thought a good guy would allow that. And I'm certainly turned out to be wrong about that. So I should be quite uncertain about any inferences, I want to draw about what must what must happen after we die? Because that's how God would have to do it. Because, you know, it's certainly true that the horrific evils of this world show us all that God doesn't have operate in the way we would we would expect a good being to operate in terms of what he allows. Sure.

Kyle  48:19

So would you would you say that universalism is a kind of theodicy, or does it have a theodicy yes to it?

Keith  48:29

Yeah, so um, I noted in what you were saying, on the, on the earlier Hill episode of your podcast, you know, that there's certainly I don't know if you're getting it from the literature of use your habit independently. But there's, there is like this kind of anti theodicy movement. People in certain circles, it's like 30, I want to, I wanted to say fashionable, but that would be like, I don't know. I shouldn't put it that way. But whatever the

Kyle  49:09

the opposite position for mine is always the Fashionable,

Keith  49:15

fashionable one. Bravely standing against the current fashions. Now that, you know that there's something really wrong with Project theodicy. And that it's, it's to the point that, you know, it's it can be seen as like, almost disgusting, and failing to take seriously how horrible you know, some of the evils of this world are, and if you think you can get up there and give reasons why. Sure, God might allow it. You're just failing to take it seriously. And it's it's like a disgusting effort that really makes things worse. I mean, the paper I associate with this, this movement is by Oh, it's, it's it looks like a great guy because his name is Nick caucus. And I noticed in your hell episode, that was some issue about the pronunciation of the Greek doctrine somehow, that you got to remember I'm listening to this on my iPod in the gym, but get tight somehow to the name of the Greek Milwaukee Bucks basketball player. Calm Paul. Yeah, I'm thinking maybe lay theologians and certainly those in Milwaukee might might just take two doing what basketball fans do with that hard to pronounce Greek name for the Doctrine and just call it what Giannis but but nature caucus is paper was theodicy, Colin, the solution to the problem of evil or part of the problem. And so that's, that's, uh, you know, and, you know, I certainly I understand the hesitation. But I think when when you think about what, what theodicy would be, and you think about just how compelling the argument against God's existence from the argument from horrific suffering, just how compelling that argument can be, I think is, is distasteful tasteful isn't like saying, it looks like, you know, we really need it. Some something that could be called the Odyssey, because the argument as it stands, I think is like a killer argument with with no response. And basically a theocracy can be seen as, like, some kind of response to the problem of evil to the argument from me. And I think part of recognizing that argument as a killer argument, if there's no response is basically to say that we'd better have something that could be called at the Odyssey. Or else we're just good, we should give up. Yep. And, and so, you know, part of the other half of this is though, and I recall, the other previous episode of yours I listened to with Brad juror Zack, am I saying his name, right? Yep. Yep. I've seen it often. I've just heard. He was also, you know, speaking out, you know, pretty strongly against the Odyssey. But at a certain point, I think he even noted that this was happening, you know, that he and he couldn't help but turn to some account of God allowed it and I think at some point even said, like, am I giving a theodicy here? And we'll maybe that's, you know, what I'm writing through right now is, Rowan Williams has an old paper that he wrote, largely against Maryland Adams. I forget the full title. But Williams its paper had redeeming sorrows in its title. I think that was like the key phrase in the title. I'm trying to explain how it can happen, that even horrific evils are defeated, in a certain sense, not just on a global scale, but within the life of the individual who suffers the horrific evil. If you can give an account of how that can have how that might be defeated, you know, Maryland herself. She first wrote a paper called horrendous evils in the goodness of God and then later the book of the same title. And in the paper, she was coming off as very anti theodicy herself. She says, Yeah, we can't even come up not only do we not know why God allows it, we can't even come up with possible starts of explanations, something like that. And I was arguing with her, and you know, I'm her students. I'm seeing this, you know, as she's working the book. Now, I made one of one of the arguments I'm most proud of it was a fairly simple one. I made it to her, that she was like rewriting stuff for the book was that, you know, when you explain how God might not only overbalance the horrific sufferings somebody undergoes and overbalanced would be yo, give them a great afterlife that's more joyful than the suffering was horrible and lasts forever. And you just frown it out. Yeah, it's not just that it's defeat is where the greater good takes, takes the evil into it. And in a way, makes the overall good better for containing that. Yeah. And if that can be done, set, that's far more relieving, like if you're worried about the problem of evil, if you can explain not only how God might over balance it for somebody, which, which in a way is just really easy if you've got an afterlife that lasts forever to work with. But if you can also account for how the evil can be taken up into the greater good in such a way that the person themselves wouldn't wish it away. The reason that's more satisfying than just over balancing and this was my argument, is because that really does speak to the why God would allow it over balancing doesn't how God might over balance, it doesn't help at all. But still, why did he go evil, it doesn't begin to really address that. But if he can give an account of how it could not only be overbalanced but defeated. And I think that that helps precisely because it does begin to address the why God would allow it. Question, right.

Kyle  56:53

Universalism comes into this, I assume, in the sense that God has to defeat it for everybody, or the problem of evil is still devastating.

Keith  57:03

Yeah, well, again, you went in a couple of different ways you wouldn't need like full universalism, I suppose you would just need, at least for this problem, all you would need is heaven for everybody who suffers perfect, horrific evil in this life. But I think once you're once you're into that, and I think we should just count ourselves all as being likely sufferers of horrific evil. Because we know whether or not you've suffered any, it's probably in your future. I've been, I've had friends killed me that I should try to sell this to Hallmark. But you know, whatever. What I always say is, if you ever feel guilty, because you haven't had your share of life's worst problems, then just remember, someday, you will have a problem that gets so bad that it literally kills you. Yeah. And yeah, I think maybe death itself should just be thought of as a horrendous evil, even if it isn't particularly painful.

Kyle  58:21

I think so too. Yes, we're sad. So maybe we're all

Keith  58:25

going to be in that class of people who suffer, some are under this evil. Anyway, the other way in which full universalism isn't needed, and this goes to some of the issues you have Kyle with free will, is that, you know, I am perfectly ready to accept that position, which God's goal is for all to be saved. And I think we should then conclude, God will almost certainly reach that goal. But you know, if you have some people who, through some, some really weird exercise of free will, and resisting forever, or maybe resisting to the point where it makes sense for God to give up, but God, you know, alethic God's goals for everyone to be saved, and he almost certainly will hit that goal. And you can say, well, if there are a few holdouts that might not be, that might not count against God's perfect goodness, you know, if, if he's got the beasts saved, and he thought they almost certainly would be. That was kind of for their safe that he took the chance and it didn't work out. That's all you know. That's for me. I would like to still call that universalism because you think it's overwhelming. we'd likely that everyone be saved. And that should be good enough. But I think there's a point somebody could make a good terminological objection that, you know, there's a difference between the possibility that I'm wrong about universalism, because, you know, theology is hard, and I'm not so bright. I could get anything wrong, certainly that that's to be distinguished from your having a position on which, you know, there's some kind of not just epistemic, but like, objective chance, not even God. You know, yeah. If you think freewill implies that I'm open to such thoughts. pretty robust view of freedom and what it entails. And I think, I guess, I'm very open to thinking, Well, if it really depends on free choices, then no matter how likely it is that all will be saved, even the smallest, objective, and not just epistemic, but objective chance that our won't be saved might be enough to make it not true to say, Oh, sure. I'm fine with that. It's, yeah. I could call it close enough to universalism.

Kyle  1:01:21

Sure. Yeah. I'm not interested in splitting those hairs necessarily. Unfortunately, we're not going to solve the problem of evil tonight. But I do want to disappoint you, I know, right? to proffer, one to one objection to something that you've said, and this is related to what we're calling the Hitler types, right, the kind of person who really most embodies and exemplifies the kind of habituated character I'm talking about, which is someone who becomes so I don't know if you if addicted is the right word, they just become so set in one kind of one train of choices that the good choices are not tempting to them. That's something Aristotle talks about way back and so that when the good is offered to them, even in kind of piecemeal fashion, it doesn't seem as good to them and so they're never going to choose it. And in one of the, I think, was one of the blogs that you sent, which, incidentally, is a blog I used to read. So back in college, I read the press blowgun it was called, which is a hilarious for anybody that's into St. Anselm.

Keith  1:02:35

Yeah, enjoy, just because how ridiculous. It was.

Kyle  1:02:39

It was great. So I used to read that. So I probably read some of your some of your blog posts before I knew who you were. But and one of them when you're talking about that topic that Hitler types? If I read you correctly, your general reply to that is that it's kind of based on evidence of this life. Right? Yeah. The, the way that evil people were putting in seems to be based on the observation that they sometimes repent here. And so why not after death, maybe even more so after death, because after death, God has like infinite opportunity to convince them in all kinds of creative ways that God might not have had here. And I'm just not convinced by that. In fact, I think it kind of undermines itself, because maybe I'm just more of an evidential list than you are maybe an evidential list in different way, I don't know. But it seems to me that the evidence available to any of us strongly predicts that most people won't repent. Because it's extremely rare even in this life. And in many cases, when it does happen, it's seemingly a random Confluence events that leads to it that no one could possibly have predicted or hoped for. I remember I remember hearing a story of a guy who was a militant, violent white supremacist, and self described Nazi in fact, and had a swastika tattooed on the top of one of his hands. And he would sometimes just pick fights with African Americans, just for being African Americans, extremely violent person had been to prison many times, and went to McDonald's one time to get some food as was his his, his norm. And for whatever reason, there was a, you know, an older African American woman at the register, and was being kind to everyone in line in front of him. And he just felt this compulsion when he and he's, again, the type of person who would just walk up to African Americans and pick fights with them, but felt the compulsion took for this woman for some reason to hide the tattoo. But she'd already seen it. And so she just looks him in the face and says, You're better than that. And it completely unraveled his life. It took a long time in many years, but then he became a kind of equally militant, if you want to use that metaphor, crusader against white supremacy. And that's the kind of encounter like almost a situational encounter that no one could have predicted or hoped for. Right? And it's extraordinarily rare in this life. And so I just you know, even granting that God has an infinite amount of time to construct as many such extraordinary, you know that that's logically possible God could give all the possible opportunities that there could be, I still, at the end of the day have to say, and yet what is the evidence on the ground? And to me it is, it's extraordinarily rare. And the evidence tells me that it may happen a few times, but nowhere near universally. And so yeah, I just wanted to get your take to that. And my other part of the response to that is, hasn't God already been giving everyone every opportunity? And haven't they already been acting in the ways that they are in light of that fact? And if God hasn't been doing that, what does that say about the character of God? And if God has been doing that, why do we think it'll go different in the future? So just want to get your thoughts about that kind of counter argument? Yeah, so

Keith  1:05:51

um, I should start by saying the book I'm writing, I just call it three h, because it's horrific suffering, divine hiddenness. And hell. And then it's like the place of freewill in a world governed by God. And, and here, we're getting into the middle age, the hiddenness. You know, and it basically, I think, we have to see this life as one where, you know, insofar as it comes to helping people to make the right decisions, that God's really in a way falling down on the job, I mean, they must have good reason to be as hidden as he is in this life. But he really is. And, you know, if you think of this as a, think of it, it's God's job to convince, this probably isn't the way God thinks of it. But you know, if you think part of his job is to convince people to take up this offer, man, it's really an extraordinary story. We're trying to get people to, to buy into God paid this huge price, and wants everybody to be saved, and but just can't give it away. I mean, and it's just an incredible story, if you think God's doing God's best, you know, because, frankly, I could do a better job, you know, given some, given a fraction of God's power, you know, so, of course, that can't be it. So it's just God is, insofar as the goal of bringing people around, in into acceptance of God, God must be pursuing other goals, because, or at least his pursuit of other goals, is limiting the extent to which he's seeking this could you know, if he wanted to do his best, just to get wider acceptance without violating people's freedom? Surely you can do a lot better than this. So yeah, I'm thinking of this life has been one way out, you can think of the gods efforts on this front is being set down, like level one or two, then you know, this, this machine goes up to 11. You know, and so what do you think's gonna happen when the thing is set to 11? And is allowed to run forever, you know, even so, God, part of what God's doing apparently is working largely through us, which seems like a really bad plan. A plan of very limited effect and expected effectiveness. And even some of us are pretty good at bringing you around some people who are like really stuck in some horrible ruts. Imagine god, yeah, I think you should, like adapt the point of view in which it becomes almost incredible to suppose that God couldn't and won't bring everyone around while while I'm respecting their freedom.

Kyle  1:09:24

Yes, yeah. Well, you know, you're much more hopeful on that score than me. But but I sincerely hope that you're right. And I'm wrong. Unfortunately, I think we're at the end of our time, there are many, many more things that I would like to pick your brain about. But I think this has been helpful and might maybe give some people some some further reading to dig into to get it a different, different take than mine because they just hear me all the time and that's not good. So So Thanks for Thanks for coming on and helping to think through some of this stuff with us and I look forward to it. Getting some more of the stuff that you sent? Because I didn't get through it all.

Keith  1:10:02

Oh, well, thank you. I could put up on my yellow page, I can put up a thing of

Kyle  1:10:07

links. That would be amazing. Yes. So you have a yellow page, where can people find you if they want to read the book you're writing or if they want to read some of the other stuff that that you're doing where?

Keith  1:10:17

So I will have it set up at Campus press. That yale.edu/keith duros all one word, slash p p WB about that. Just have links to the various just basically the links to the things I sent you guys before, but he's interested in like breathing and some of them are just like blog posts from long ago or Facebook notes and stuff. A couple of them are like real papers.

Randy  1:10:55

Excellent. Awesome. Thanks so much, Keith. Thanks for your time.

Keith  1:10:58

Thank you. It was fun.

Kyle  1:11:02

Well, that's it for this episode of A Pastor and a Philosopher Walk into a Bar. We hope you're enjoying the show as much as we are. Help us continue to create compelling content and reach a wider audience by supporting us at patreon.com/apastorandaphilosopher, where you can get bonus content, extra perks, and a general feeling of being a good person.

Randy  1:11:21

Also, please rate and review the show on Apple Podcasts, iTunes, and Spotify. These help new people discover the show, and we may even read your review in a future episode. If it's good enough.

Kyle  1:11:33

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Randy  1:11:43

Catch all of our hot takes on Twitter at @PPWBPodcast, @RandyKnie, and @robertkwhitaker, and find transcripts and links to all of our episodes at pastorandphilosopher.buzzsprout.com. See you next time.

Kyle  1:11:57


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