The Christian doctrine of hell as found recorded in the Bible (much of it from the lips of Jesus himself, sorry Bill Maher) is a punishment that cannot possibly fit any crime committed by any finite human being on this earth in their short lifetime. Even the worst person who ever lived who amazingly managed to do the most evil ever simply does not deserve it. Even if humans really are totally depraved equally across the board in the most Calvinistic sense possible, the punishment still would not fit that crime (not to mention that is entrapment). They may deserve a whole lot of retribution, but there's obviously such a thing as too much. No Christian is going to argue that punishments don't have to fit the crime and so they have to figure out how to make those ends meet somehow.
There have been numerous popular attempts to justify the unjustifiable, and I'd like to rigorously show how those attempts fail. From mere assertions, to attacking the critic or some alternative worldview as though that makes Christianity coherent, to passing the buck in some way to humans, to giving humans some infinite quality they don't have, to appealing to some irrelevant quality that the Christian god is supposed to have, to misrepresenting the Bible, to misrepresenting the concepts presented in the Bible, and just arguing fallaciously all the way around, the doctrine is plainly indefensible. To that end, I've used the Compendium software to argument map all of those debates and nail all that apologetic Jell-O to the wall "once and for all" (as if that were possible).
Here is the legend to understand the map nodes (click to embiggen):
My recommendation, given the info overload factor, is to skim through the 30 objections and find the one you specifically care about and just focus on that particular tangent. I will let you know if you are bumping into other things. Start at the left of the map and follow the arrows (click to biggyfie):
I will work with anyone who will constructively work with me to improve the map. I'm sure there are Christians out there who are interested in figuring out how best to defend the doctrine and who wish to eliminate the bad arguments from their arsenal. This is a two way street, since I could always get stuff wrong. To help out, here are some suggested themes to contribute to:
Meanwhile, I'll be chasing down every lead that I know of on my own time. I've pulled from my own history of arguing with Christians and hit up the wiki of course. I will be investigating the hell views of every Christian apologist who took interest in the recent popular skeptical anthology "The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails" since they are likely to do so with John Loftus' next book. Keith Parsons' chapter on "Hell: Christianity’s Most Damnable Doctrine" in the next skeptical anthology "The End of Christianity" will be released on July 26th, 2011 and I'd like to have a final version of this by around that time. I'll be mapping whatever responses he gets to his chapter (assuming they are novel). Many of the books in the anti-new atheists book list are searchable through Amazon and so I will be lifting their responses to the many criticisms Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris have dished out.
Possibly the best part of this is the reaction from Christians to the answers other Christians give in defense of this ridiculous doctrine. And one doesn't necessarily get that kind of shock without lining all the excuses up next to each other. ;) I've only contributed one response to the argument (see the previous argument map: Could Jesus be lying about hell?) and yes, other Christians do in fact argue all the others that are found somewhere on the map. I'm not making it up. Sorry.
I was also thinking we might print the final version out on bedsheets to perhaps sell at upcoming skeptical events (like Skepticon 4). My significant other suggested that we call them "Pascal's Bedsheets." Our marketing line will be, "Rest well, knowing hell shouldn't keep you up at night anymore." I've never actually personally feared the fires of hell as a Christian or later as an atheist (since I was too intellectually embarrassed by the obvious wish fulfillment aspect of heaven, and the obvious petty hearsay threat of hell), but it is understandably a powerful influence in the lives of many believers and ex-believers. It is also a large ripe target for critics of the religion to continually harp on as Christianity looses its grip on the culture. And I think we should keep on that.
If someone would like to program an iPhone app with this map for easy on-the-go argument access, that would be awesome.