Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Could God Create The Best Of All Possible Worlds?

Let me run a popular argument against god through you and a common assessment and response that Christians will often give:

The argument:
If God is all-good he would choose to create the best possible world. So we could argue: 
(A) if God is omniscient, omnipotent and all-good, he would have created the best of all possible worlds, but... 
(B) it is unlikely or improbable that the actual world is the best of all possible worlds,  
so from (A) and (B) it follows that is unlikely or improbable that there is an omnipotent, omniscient and all-good God.
The theist assessment:
The first premise of this argument seems to presuppose that there is such a thing is the best of all possible worlds and we've already seen that this supposition is suspect just as there is no greatest prime number, so perhaps there is no best of all possible worlds. Perhaps for any world you mention replete with dancing girls and happy creatures, there's an even better world with even more dancing girls and even happier creatures.
If so, it seems reasonable to think the second possible world is better than the first, but then it follows that for any possible world W, there's an even better world W', in which case there just isn't any such thing as the best of all possible worlds. So this argument is not satisfactory.

My assessment:

I would agree that there might not be such a thing as a best of all possible worlds since it's possible that any given world could always be better and determining what "best" is might be an impossible task. But then I wonder why heaven isn't considered a candidate for the best possible world. If heaven exists, then isn't it a best possible world? If not, then the theist is admitting heaven could be better, in which case god created a sub-optimal heaven. So if heaven is the best possible world, then why wouldn't god just create heaven? Well, some might say that god's plan is to create a world with free creatures who must to get into heaven on faith in god through their own free will, and that to only create heaven would defeat that whole purpose. But think of it this way: If god is truly omniscient and knows the future and he knows who would get into heaven by creating world W, then why couldn't god have just created a world that is identical to the heaven of world W populated by those people who would have freely made it into heaven in world W, without having created all the other people who god knew were destined to hell?

You could imagine a scenario where this heaven-only world, called world H, is all that exists. Instead of creating world W and allowing humans to evolve where some will make it to heaven and others to hell, god (whose omniscience allows him to know what would happen if he created world W) refrains from creating world W altogether and just creates world H. World H is the heaven that existed for world W, populated by those who would have freely made it to heaven in world W. All those who would have made it into hell in world W are simply never created because world W is never actually created. God simply refrained from creating them and world W out of mercy and compassion. The people in world H would awake in a heaven and they would all have freely came there through world W.

It's logically possible for god to have only created world H, and it could be the best of all possible worlds in that only heaven would exist populated by beings that freely wanted to be there and no suffering of any kind would have been endured by any human or animal. But why does god insist that world W be created knowing that there will be billions and billions destined to a hell - a hell that god also creates? Wouldn't an all-loving being want to prevent billions from going to hell, either by changing the rules on hell, eliminating hell altogether, or perhaps by preventing those destined to hell from being born? I would think so. Some might say that god's sense of justice would be compromised by only creating world H, but I disagree because his justice plays out in the hypothetical world W.

This is not even to mention why an omniscient and all-good god would use a process like evolution (given how it requires suffering) to create humans in the first place for no logically necessary reason, but that's another story. If heaven is the best possible world, as I think most Christians and Muslims would agree, then a best of all possible worlds is logically possible. And if that is so, then an all-loving god could have just created heaven and forgone all the other worlds that he knew would result in massive amounts of suffering and death. So it is not clear that this argument isn't satisfactory and further debate on these points I've raised is needed.


  1. This is an iron clad argument to anyone not indoctrinated to deny it for the sake of denying it. My only criticism is by going with the abbreviation World H, it sounds like either heaven or hell...they both begin with H. :-)

    People in heaven can't have free will or heaven can't be guaranteed to be an all good place, but it occurs to me that people in hell can't have free will either. In order for God to be considered forgiving, those eternally tortured can never rehabilitate...seems like a sadistic and needless system.

  2. Thanks Grundy. I really want to see challenges to this argument I'm making. I think that if heaven could exist, to the Christian or Muslim, that world of heaven would be the best possible world. So I don't think they can claim a best possible world is impossible. But, I'd really like to see a theist debate me on this. Maybe they will concede and say heaven is a good world but not the best possible world. That is the only way I can think of that a theist can get out of this problem. Otherwise they have to admit that a best possible world is logically possible and then they're on the hook for this argument.

  3. Don't forget about super-heaven :)

    Seriously though, this seems like a really good argument to me, I'd be curious how a christian would counter it.

  4. I like your argument. Some thoughts that tend to work against the meaningfulness of a best possible world:

    We don't really know the domain of all possible worlds. It could be that there is something inherent in world construction that necessitates things that some creatures living in it (or after-living in it) are going to regard as "not best". (Who else is the judge of "not best"? "Not best" for what?) Even in heaven as preachers describe it, heaven-dwellers may have to watch their offspring go to hell. At minimum it seems they'll believe they're in hell, by their extended absence in heaven.

    Or it could be that the "best" world doesn't actually exist, but we can get arbitrarily closer to the goal, by taking smaller and smaller steps. At what point does the next smaller step not matter enough to take it? Logically, never. But in human context, there's a point beyond which we just don't care to take the next step, even if all it costs is the time to take it. We cannot feel infinite time.

    And, while there many not be a maximum to "best", your argument is like the idea that there is a minimum size to "worst". It's unclear whether a world can reach that minimum (nothing "bad"). It seems that each next "best" world would have to either have nothing bad in it, or the net good (good minus bad) would have to improve. It's unclear how to calculate "good minus bad", but you can compare values if the steps taken change only the good, or only the bad. If they are not independent, and change together, that presents a problem...

    I think the main thing I convinced myself of is that without an idea of what sort of possible worlds there are, I'm not likely to be impressed by an argument that claims we can just keep supposing meaningfully better and better worlds, endlessly, as in the theist's assessment in the post. I would modify (A) as
    "if God is omniscient, omnipotent and all-good, he would have created a world such that any better world W', as measured by inhabitants of W, is not so much better that they would notice or care even with full knowledge of it."

  5. Best possible worlds are tricky, but I suppose the closest thing we can get to it would be a heaven-only world populated by beings that wanted to be there. In such a world there would be no bad, but the good would be maximized because the good is relative to what you think is good. If you think being in god's presence is the ultimate good (if that's what you like at least) then a heaven only world populated by beings that wanted to be there I suppose would be the best possible world.

  6. Ignoring the straight to heaven notion, just on taking subsets of people in any given world who come to freely love god and only creating them...

    What do you make of Craig's defence that this is unfeasible? And the idea, even, that unfeasible is differentiatable from logically impossible?

    In other words, Craig says of your case that if in World W, H come to freely love God, then why not just take H (and not the hellers)?

    Craig claims that if you just took H, and put them in, say, W1, then this new circumstance might mean that at least one of them might end up in hell. So this gives H1, the new, slightly smaller subset of people who freely love God. So if you took H1 and put them in a new world, W2, then this new circumstance might make at least one reject God. etc ad infinitum.

    Craig claims that this might seem logically possible to create the freely loving people only, but it could be unfeasible such there is no possible world where ALL would freely love God.


    My thoughts would be that unfeasible is a crappy notion. If it is logically possible, God could do it, and there is nothing to suggest that a world with only people who would freely love God is impossible (despite its low probability).

    And then you could just create heaven anyway. Given divine foreknowledge, he knows all the people who will in the future come to freely love him, and will get into heaven. So just create them in heaven without the test which will condemn the majority (knowingly) to hell!

    So simple!

    1. My argument is totally immune to Craig's notion that some people might reject god. In my response to this argument, World W doesn't even get created, it exists only in god's infinite knowledge. He know who would come to heaven (World H) IF he created World W, so he only creates the heaven that would exist for world W.

      So according to this all god needs is a world in which some people "freely" choose god. That's it. The ad infinitum scenario is negated, So my argument doesn't hinge on the being a world in which everyone free chooses god.

      But on the feasibility of a possible world in which everyone chooses god, I certainly think it's logically possible. It might only have a few thousand people but it's possible. I don't see how Craig can defend the notion that it is logically impossible, or unfeasible that god cannot create a world only populated freely by Christians.



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