• Is this the Best Possible World and does God have Free Will?

    I wrote this some time ago at Debunking Christianity

    Let us assume the triple properties of the classical approach to God: that he is omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent. In terms of the classic Problem of Evil argument, if there is too much evil in the world, God knows what to do about it, is powerful enough to do it, and is loving enough to want to do something about it. This argument has been around since the days of Epicurus and still remains one of the most hotly debated theological issues in modern times, causing many believers to leave the fold due to its evidential power.

    However, logically, the theist can still defend their belief in God and the accusation that either God does not exist, or God does not possess one, two or any of those properties. They do this, more often than not, by employing the ubiquitous ‘God moves in mysterious ways’ or ‘You cannot know the mind of God’. What this equates to, is the a priori claim that God does have those three characteristics, and that, therefore, all the pain and suffering in the world is not gratuitous but part of the grander plan and vision of an all-loving, all-knowing and all-powerful Superbeing.

    Although it is very difficult to logically disprove this defence, it does have some rather serious ramifications for the Christian theist. Because God is claimed as being all-loving it means that any decision that God makes, any actualisation of events and matter and so forth, must be the most loving that can be. It means that every decision made must be the most caring or loving decision that could possibly be made in terms of some criteria, or some outcome.

    Since God is omniscient, and given the possibility of Middle Knowledge or any other mechanism for divine foreknowledge, God knows every possible outcome for every actualisation of every possible world. And God, evidently, chose this one.

    First of all, the ramifications are fairly clear for God’s own free will. Since he must do what is maximally loving at all times, he cannot do otherwise. One could argue, then, that God does not have free will himself. Without the ability to act contrary to his omnibenevolence, he has only one course of action that he can possibly take, or courses of action that contain equal quantities of ‘lovingness’ (for want of a better term). A theist could argue that God could do otherwise but chooses not to. This is akin to the taxman analogy. This goes as follows. A taxman assesses your business. He says you have a tax bill for $25,000. He gives you the choice of paying it or not paying it. The free choice is yours. However, by not paying it, you will go to prison (or to make the analogy more powerful, you will be sentenced to death). Thus you have a free choice where you can exercise your free will, but one choice will result in your imminent imprisonment or death. What will it be? You can argue, perhaps, that you have free will, but you can also argue that this is an effective denial of free will

    In the same way, God could choose in a way that was not maximally loving, but he never would because it is against his all-loving nature. This is a grey area of free will. There is a debate here as to whether God does not have omnipotence, or whether omnipotence can be a potentiality. If it is a potentiality that can never be made real and existent, then does this equate to it not existing?

    However, the main point to be made here is as follows. It seems, then, that if God is to keep his omnibenevolent characteristic, then this world must be the maximally perfect and loving world that there can be. If God is perfect, then this must be his most perfect creation. A perfect God could not create something that fell short of perfection, and an all-loving God could not create something that did not fulfil the criterion of being the most-loving creation.

    The slightly worrying outcome this is that a world where 250,000 people and millions of animals are killed in a tsunami, where anywhere between 20% and 75% of foetuses are naturally aborted (depending on the source), where cancer and malaria are rife, where a global flood killed all the population of earth bar 8 (and all the animals bar some), where forest fires kill baby deer, is a world where these events that are perhaps even necessary for it to be the most loving world.

    Moreover, the Westboro Baptist Church may have some kind of twisted logic in celebrating the death of every soldier, in celebrating the outcome of pretty much anything as being the righteous judgement of an all-loving God. They realise that this judgement by God to actualise this particular world must be supremely wise and must result in the most loving world. This includes every piece of suffering and death experienced by every animal and plant in the history of the world.

    If this is where logic takes a Christian, then they can keep their God in all his maximal perfection. And while they’re at it, they can package up all the pain and suffering and send it return post to the pearly gates. Not needed here, thanks.

    Category: God's CharacteristicsPhilosophical Argument Against GodPhilosophy of Religion


    Article by: Jonathan MS Pearce