The evidential argument from hell argues that the existence of hell (if it exists) makes God’s existence improbable.
The argument can be construed as follows:
1. If God exists, God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent
2. (Assumption) Hell exists
3. If God exists, there would be no hell unless hell is necessary in order to bring about an outweighing good
4. It is at least plausible that hell is not necessary in order to bring about an outweighing good
5. Therefore, hell does not exist.
6. Therefore, hell does exist and does not exist
Since we arrived at a logical contradiction, one of the premises must be wrong.
The theist will not want to deny premise 1, and the Christian theist will not want to deny premise 2 (at least most Christians).
Premise 3 is similar to what theists want to affirm in regards to suffering. Theists want to affirm that God will not bring about suffering unless suffering is necessary for an outweighing good. The same line of reasoning applies to this argument’s premise 3 as well.
Premise 4 will be where the real debate is. Premise 4 does NOT CLAIM that it is logically impossible that there is no outweighing good. Rather, the premise says that it is plausible that there is no such outweighing good. We need not even understand plausibility in terms of objective probability. Instead, one can just have the immediate-seeming that there is no outweighing good attached to hell.
The immediate objection to premise 4 will be to endorse what has been called skeptical theism. Skeptical theism has been applied to the evidential argument from evil. Skeptical theism says that even though we might not see a reason for God allows certain cases of evil, nevertheless, God could (for all we know) have good reasons. Why think we would be in a position to identify such goods if they did exist?
However, this objection might not even apply here because the person who finds premise 4 convincing doesn’t necessarily even have to be making an inference at all. They just have the immediate impression that there is no such outweighing good or that no good could justify the existence of hell. (In fact one might have the immediate impression that God would just not allow hell to exist!)
To sum it all up, here’s a shortened version of the argument:
1. If God exists, then God would only allow hell if hell was necessary for an outweighing good
2. It is plausible that hell is not necessary for an outweighing good
3. Therefore, it is plausible that God does not exist
Now, let’s consider two Christian hypotheses to form another evidential argument from hell. Let’s take a universalist view and an eternal conscious view of hell.
1. If the eternal conscious torment view (ECT) of hell is true, then hell exists
2. If the universalist view (UV) of hell is true, then hell does not have to exist
3. Therefore, ECT is less simple of a hypothesis of Christian theism than the hypothesis of UV (that’s because such a view adds an additional hypothesis: hell exists)
4. Therefore, all else being equal, the hypothesis of UV is more probable than the hypothesis of ECT
Now let’s consider a third and final argument with the two competing hypotheses of Christian theism and naturalism.
1. There are some people in the actual world who do not believe that hell exists
2. If naturalism is true, it is not surprising that (1) is the case
3. If Christian theism is true, it is somewhat surprising that (1) is the case
4. Therefore, the existence of some people in the actual world who do not believe that hell exists counts as evidence in favor of naturalism against Christian theism
Premise 1 should not be controversial.
Premise 2 says (1) isn’t surprising on naturalism because on naturalism there are no supernatural realities like hell. And on naturalism, there is no personal God who would be concerned about making us believe that there is a hell. Presumably, God would be interested in getting us to believe that hell exists in order for us to be genuinely concerned about people going there, (whereas on naturalism, nature would not care about our beliefs in hell) and this is the main support for premise 3. In order for someone to be genuinely concerned about something, nothing less than belief will do. For instance, I need to actually believe that zombies exist in order to be concerned about them. Now, we know that zombies don’t actually exist, but the point is that it is hard for someone to be concerned about them if they don’t believe that they exist. It’s also hard to be genuinely concerned about hell if one does not believe that hell exists. One might be terrified at the concept of hell just like one might be terrified at the concept of zombies, but unless you believe these things actually exist it’s hard to care.