Overview:

Some arguments suggest that this must be the best possible world given God's all-lovingness. Others suggest there can be no such thing.

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One of the arguments in my most recent book 30 Arguments Against the Existence of “God” concerns OmniGod creating this world, and that this world must be the best of all possible worlds. This is because OmniGod is constrained by his characteristic of being all-loving. In being omnibenevolent, God’s actions must always conform to this ideal. Therefore, it seems, this world creation of his must be the next creation possible either right now, or it must be the best journey toward an optimal state.

Anything suboptimal renders God a suboptimal designer and creator. If God is all-loving (infinitely so, even), then this must be the most loving creation that he could possibly muster.

From every stubbed toe to ever genocide, from every black hole to every case of Ebola and malaria, this is the best possible world, in some manner of speaking. There cannot be one fewer black hole or stubbed toe, one fewer case of malaria, or one less (or more) Hitler-type.

But does this world or this universe really feel that way?

Introducing Joe Schmid

That said and asked, I recently interviewed the brilliant, young philosopher Joe Schmid of Majesty of Reason and he challenged me on this point. Check it out here in its entirety:

YouTube video

Schmid is an agnostic and one who is exceptionally honest with his philosophy, robustly challenging both sides of the argument. He challenged me that a best possible world is not possible to define or calculate.

The idea is that there are many ways to calculate “lovingness” or the value of a created universe, and there are many points of view from which this calculation can be worked out. Indeed, such a calculation—working out a single best possible world out of a vast (or infinite) array of possible worlds—is an impossible task.

Naturalistic atheism has, for me at any rate, a thoroughly attractive simplicity.

The most loving world might be great for humans but not for capybara, or for this group of humans, but not that group of humans. And is this only to be seen in terms of pain and pleasure, or in terms of love, or union with God, or any other one of countless value currencies? Or perhaps it is a combination, a plurality, of such currencies.

Indeed, “maximal lovingness” might just be an incoherent or meaningless concept.

Perhaps an analogy might help to express a further issue. Imagine a big number contest, one where contestants have to come up with the biggest number possible. But there can be no greatest number creator because there is no greatest number. You can always imagine a bigger number. If there is no biggest number, there is no biggest number creator.

This was brought up by Mathew at Deliberation Under Ideal Conditions in his own discussion with Schmid, timestamped here for the entirely relevant part:

YouTube video

Mathew states here that “If there is no best world, then there can’t be a best being.”

Schmid counters, as he did with me, that “As long as God creates a good enough world, one where there is lots of virtue and goodness and there is a profusion and diversity of values and goods, so long as it is sufficiently good, he is perfectly well within in his moral rights to actualize such a world, even if there were greater worlds available to him.”

Mathew claimed that if you could imagine two otherwise identical beings, but one of which could produce a world that was (a billion times) better, then this being would be the greater being.

Listening to this interchange was precisely why I wanted to talk to Schmid, to discuss this problem.

Schnimd’s case in more detail

Schmid sees the theist as having two options:

  1. Incommensurability. There simply is no best world.
  2. There is no best world. So God couldn’t have actualized the best world, and so he is permitted to actualize a less than best possible world.

Let’s take the first point (both are pretty similar and connected). As I mentioned above, it might be that there is no common metric by which one can compare worlds. It’s like comparing apples and bricks for intrinsic value. It is not clear how one could compare one world to another.

Indeed, “maximal lovingness” might just be an incoherent or meaningless concept.

To exemplify, compare GodWorld, where God exists (perfectly) alone. “If you compare the elegance and simplicity and the moral and aesthetic purity of the alone-world where God chooses to exist alone,” Schmid tells me, “versus this kind of dramatic, complex, morally rich, unfolding of a cosmic story or drama…it’s just not clear which of those is going to better or worse just because they instantiate such different values and the different kinds of values. Both seem pretty valuable but it’s just not clear how we even could compare them.”

The position is that you could just have an incommensurability of a whole array of reasonably good worlds that couldn’t be ranked against each other.

My issue with this position is twofold. First, it renders the whole notion of omnibenevolence pretty meaningless. What does it mean to say God is omnibenevolent when it appears impossible to apply it pragmatically to any creation?

Broadly speaking, I think both of Schmid’s points run into the same problem: The biggest issue is that this argument does involve comparability, because it is saying some worlds are sufficient where others are not. Schmid is claiming (or, more accurately, communicating the claims of others) that as long as an array of worlds reach a certain level of “sufficiency,” then they are good to be created, but that one cannot compare such worlds with each other after they have reached the sufficiency threshold because it is incoherent or impossible to do so, even though one is able to compare all of those worlds with those that are not sufficient to qualify.

Comparability works only so far, up to some arguably arbitrary level, after which God sort of gives up because they are then not comparable. A bare minimum of decency is reached, and then the measuring tool just breaks.

Schmid observes that the theist here could say that this minimum level of sufficiency up to which worlds are comparable is just a necessary fact about reality. There is no explanation for it: it’s axiomatic.

Is this reasonable? Of course, as with any attempts to either justify or explain, we are met with the Munchhausen Trilemma: It’s either justified in a circle, an infinite regress, or a brute fact axiom. Here above, the theist is claiming the brute fact axiom.

We continued discussing this, as hopefully you will watch above, playing with ideas of the theist’s hypothesis here being less attractive due to the extra add-ons and complexity. One such complexity is the necessity for the afterlife in order to justify any suffering to any sentient being. Furthermore, this afterlife must include all sentient creatures having their life being made worth living such that it endorses its life. To understand this, check the video here and then here.

What is apparent to me is that in order for the theist to justify a claim, they invariably have to bring a whole bunch of other argument and baggage to the party. The God hypothesis, then, becomes a cumbersome commitment to a whole system of inter-related and co-dependent ideas and add-ons. Naturalistic atheism has, for me at any rate, a thoroughly attractive simplicity.

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Jonathan MS Pearce

A TIPPLING PHILOSOPHER Jonathan MS Pearce is a philosopher, author, columnist, and public speaker with an interest in writing about almost anything, from skepticism to science, politics, and morality,...