HPG (Heaven is the Presence of God) takes most of the axioms that Ted Chiang’s HAG (Hell is the Absence of God) does: the existence of God and the possibility of ending up in Hell or in Heaven. Religious faith lies on believing that for which there is no evidence. But since in the worlds of HAG and HPG, God has been proved to exist, the matter of believing in God is not relevant anymore.
Ted Chiang’s focus was that the obstacle in loving God was the problem of evil. The main character struggled till the end to love God and he only did once he got a glimpse of God. HPG’s point is that even in a world where everyone loves God and the problem of evil does not exist, the possibility of not ending up in Heaven is still no better than in the world of HAG.
The matter of fact is that religions seem to mostly state that the only way to God (i.e. in our case: the only proper way to love God) is by following a particular religion. This makes religious claims mutually exclusive. And because of this, one assumes that there is only one true religion and the rest are false.
Now, there have been numerous religions in the history of humankind all of them with similar claims about exclusivity. And even within religions, there is an array of different schools of thought or branches which are also mutually exclusive. If one gives each of these different variations across all religions an equal probability of being true, then most followers have a really tiny probability of getting into Heaven. This is taking into account all the religions that have existed so far. If we look at the number of religions that will possibly be (assuming humankind has consumed half of its lifespan, the number of total religions increases and the probability of following the true religion decreases. If we now take a more throughout look at it, the number of religions created during the lifespan of humankind is likely to be literally infinitely lower than the total number of possible religions. Because the number of possible religions is literally infinite. Therefore, the probability of being in the right religion would be represented by an infinitely decreasing number. Now, taking a more mathematical look at it, we assume that “r” is “one portion of a cake” and “n” is “the total number of portions” and we assume that “n” is an infinite number (i.e. a growing number). An easier way to look at it:
There is a cake and at least a portion (r) of it is yours. So we have a special machine that divides the cake. But this machine is making an infinite number of portions (n) which means that each portion (including yours) becomes increasingly small.
In mathematics they express it as a “limit”. If we take the cake and divide by increasingly smaller portions, your portion of cake will get closer and closer to 0. For inhabitants of HAG and HPG, this means that their chances of getting to Heaven are infinitely small. Assuming the axioms I mentioned above, this conclusion is inevitable. Now, the reply one would expect from religion would be:
- That’s precisely where faith comes in. With enough faith on God, anything becomes possible. So proving that the probability of having chosen the right religion is infinitely low is irrelevant, because if we have enough faith on God, anything becomes possible.
This brings us back to Ted Chiang’s HAG, as he focused on faith while HPG simply assumed it. But for the sake of argument, the assumption will be broken. Let us *assume that A is true.
A = If we have enough faith on God anything becomes possible
If A is true, then the issues talked about in HPG and HAG instantly vanish. There is no more struggle. No doubts. Only certainty. Let us assume that A is true. We assume that “if we have enough faith anything becomes possible”. But, how do you know that you have enough faith on God? It is one thing to have faith on God, and a very different thing to have enough faith on God. One can wholeheartedly believe that if he has enough faith on God anything (including getting to Heaven) becomes possible, but not necessarily believe B.
B = It is the case that one has enough faith on God
Believing A does not imply believing B. So how do we know if B is true for a particular individual? I feel B can be questioned because I am yet to hear from any religion that believes C is true.
C = It is the case that everyone has enough faith on God
Not believing that C is true implies that one believes that there exist some people who don’t have enough faith on God. How do you know that you are not one of these people? And assuming that faith is breakable (i.e. you might lose your faith on God) and its amount variable (i.e. you can now have enough faith but at the later stages of your life, you might not have enough faith), how do you know that D and E are true for you?
D = It is the case that one’s faith is not broken
E = It is the case that B and it is the case that B will be true for the rest of one’s life
At this point, I would expect a single answer that would try to address everything I said in a single statement:
- You just have to have enough faith on God
The above answer is not an actual answer but a mere re-statement of axiom A ( If we have enough faith on God anything becomes possible). So technically, the truth values of statements B, D and E remained undecidable. All one can do is re-state A to no avail.
This is meant to show that in a way, uncertainty and religious faith can be seen as two ends of the same continuum. And in another way, that uncertainty is pervasive at every level of faith. One might reply that it is also true that faith can be pervasive at every level of uncertainty. The idea is that you counter uncertainty with faith which is then automatically counter-countered with uncertainty which can then be counter-counter-countered with faith which is then automatically counter-counter-counter-countered with uncertainty and so on ad infinitum. Assuming that one’s faith is literally infinite (i.e. it literally lacks any uncertainty), one might be able to claim A but, whether a person with such amount of faith exists or can exist is highly questionable.
However, for the sake of argument, it might be worth to be even more **lenient and forget that technically one’s faith would need to be fully uncertainty-proof to get around the points raised above. The main focus of HAG and HPG is statement A. Let us assume that this statement and all statements whose truth value derives from statement A are true in Situation 1.
There is an individual I follower of Religion R for whom statements E, D, B and A are true. This is the prototype of individual that is supposed to go to Heaven (as described by Religion R) without any uncertainty.
Now let us say that such an individual is identified. I claim A-1:
A-1 = Given any individual for whom A and all its derived statements are true, a set of operations can be performed that will prove that A is not true for that individual
In other words, for any individual for whom A is true, it can be shown that A-1 is true as well. If A-1 is true, this shows that regardless of the strength and length of your faith, it can be either broken or bent in such a way that A is not true for that individual anymore. In other words, the probability of someone’s going to Heaven can be affected by other people if they wish to do so. Now the question is, what type of operations could be performed in an individual so as to cause all this? The question can be brought down to determinism.
Every state is determined by prior states
Determinism, in its strong version, makes the idea of free will impossible. And in its softer version, it takes most of the freedom implied in “free will”. For the sake of argument, I will take the softer version of determinism and assume that this mystical thing called “free will” exists and all humans are endowed with it. Also, I am assuming that for the time being that no theistic religion accepts causal determinism. This means that every act by an individual is considered to be an act of his free will.
A will that is not so free
The idea here is that the behaviour/actions of any individual are caused and determined by prior states. Faith is viewed as a behaviour. The claim made here is that an individual can be made to behave in such a way that it will cause him to lose his place in Heaven. How do you make someone do things he would not otherwise do? You put him in situations that he would not otherwise be. Needless to say, none of these situations would be ethical but it is worth noting that they are physically and practically possible and the only reason they are not done is because no one wishes to do so. I don’t think there needs to be any detailed explanation of the sort of situations in which a person’s will can be bent and do what is wanted without directly forcing the individual to do so (hence making it an act of free will).
The conclusion of all this is that, even if one was to take the theistic assumptions made here as unquestionable truths, just by having enough faith on God is not possible to get in Heaven. This is the point of HPG.
- Just by having enough faith on God is not possible to get in Heaven
- Uncertainty is pervasive at every level of faith
- Full certainty is not possible
- You literally need infinite willpower to have a full strong faith
- The probability of being in the right religion (assuming all the theistic claims) can be represented by a number infinitely decreasing
*first act of leniency
**second act of leniency
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