Monday, May 08, 2006

Godless Worlds

This Missouri post poses an interesting dilemma:
Suppose there’s a perfect God. If so, then he wouldn’t create any subpar worlds. For example, if there’s a world in which all creatures endure nothing but undeserved horrible suffering, then God wouldn’t create that world. But, since God exists in ALL possible worlds, it would be impossible for there to be a possible world such as I described because God would also exist and God’s existence would be incompatible with that world.

There clearly are sub-par possible worlds, or worlds which contain "gratuitous evil" (there's nothing incoherent about the concept). So I take this to show that God does not exist in all possible worlds.

Justin adds in comments:
This might get to the distinction between logical possibility and metaphysical possibility that I’ve heard folks in PR talk about (doesn’t Plantinga make the distinction?). It’s not logically impossible for gratuitous evil to exist, but it’s metaphysically impossible. Anybody else know much about how this distinction’s supposed to work? Would that solve the problem?

The distinction is explained in my post Misusing Kripke; Misdescribing Worlds. The present case would be a clear misapplication of the Kripkean semantic distinction, since we would require a different space of worlds, and not merely a different way of describing them. (See linked post for full explanation.)

But perhaps we could employ the more radical distinction that I've previously raised, i.e. the distinction between possible worlds generally (a content-based specification requiring mere coherence), and those that really could have been actualized (an irreducibly modal property).

[This may be what other philosophers have in mind with the conceptual/metaphysical possibility distinction. But that one is too often defended by a misguided appeal to Kripke/Putnam cases that merely support a semantic distinction. I will use a different terminology in order to clarify the difference, and distance myself from such misguided defences.]

A theist might think that there is an important sense in which God couldn't have failed to exist. But his non-existence isn't logically incoherent, so there is a "possible world" (in the standard sense of the term) representing this state of affairs. Now, if the only way for a possible world to be actualized is through God's acts of Creation,* then these possible worlds are ones that couldn't (really) possibly be actualized. (I assume the theist holds that God cannot cease to exist, and so cannot create a world in which He doesn't exist.) So it may be misleading to call them "possible worlds". However, that seems the standard practice of contemporary philosophers. So long as we keep clear on the different kinds of possibility we're talking about here, it hopefully won't cause too many problems.

Armed with my distinction, then, a theist can allow that a Godless world containing gratuitous evil is a coherent possibility, one that cannot be ruled out a priori even on ideal reflection and when described in semantically neutral terms (which rules out Kripkean a posteriori necessities). Nevertheless, they might hold God's existence to be what Chalmers calls a "strong necessity" (see sections 7-10 of the linked paper. Note that Chalmers argues against such a view).

* = [But why think that the only way for a possible world to be actualized is through God's acts of Creation? Perhaps a world could obtain through brute fact, as many atheists (myself tentatively included) believe is actually the case. It may be difficult to see why a world might obtain. But we could just as well ask: why not?]

10 comments:

  1. > it would be impossible for there to be a possible world such as I described

    One could argue either the sub par world somehow allows other worlds to not be sub par (I've never been particularly convinced by this argument as it is meant)
    OR
    Possible worlds have no moral importance (I am inclined against this - except I note that we almost all seem to apply this principle in practice!)

    BTW I don’t know what you are proving in the last part of the post – maybe
    “a multiverse god might not exist is a defendable position”. If so then thats a pretty robust position.

    I guess if you take it all the way… IF all “possible” (taking very little for granted) worlds exist some must have god and some must not have god.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Timothy J Scriven7:39 am, May 08, 2006

    Actually I've always taken that argument to prove that if there is a God there is only one possible world, ours. I think that disproves the existence of God since the result is absurd.

    ReplyDelete
  3. 'Possible worlds' in the sense usually meant today are not actualized by acts of creation, but by something's actually existing; if God exists, some possible world is actualized simply in virtue of that. The only senses of 'possible worlds' in which they would be actualized by acts of creation are the earlier and original Molinist and Leibnizian senses of 'possible worlds'.

    As Genius notes in the above comment, the original argument depends crucially on the dubious claim that it is impossible for God to exist in a sub-par world.

    Perhaps I'm missing something, but I don't see what the point is of talking about a priori vs a posteriori necessities here; apriority and aposteriority are epistemic, not metaphysical. Or, to put it somewhat roughly into other terms: They don't indicate facts about possible worlds but facts about how facts about possible worlds are known or determined. Likewise, the notion of a strong necessity is simply the notion of a necessity whose contradictory is conceivable; this does not mean that there is any possible world in which the contradictory obtains, only that there are conceivable worlds that are not possible worlds. (Unless we are misusing the term 'possible world' to mean simply 'conceivable world'.) But again, I might be missing something.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Timothy J Scriven7:50 am, May 08, 2006

    Well not exactly that argument but reasoning like that, let me explain.

    I agree with Leibniz that if God exists then this is the best of all possible worlds as god is obligated to make the best of all possible worlds and being all good will hence make it. But if God is a neccessary being then the previous reasoning in conjunction with this implies that if God exists then this is the only possible world!

    Philosophy and science alike would both be threatened by this state of affairs as the epistemic usefulness of counterfactuals would start to look a bit leery.

    Did that make sense?

    ReplyDelete
  5. Brandon, yeah, I'm basically just using the term 'possible world' to mean 'conceptually possible world'. That's what I meant by describing them as grounded in a "content-based specification". The space of possible worlds is determined by (or reflected in) what would be found coherent on ideal rational reflection. Complications arise because of Kripkean cases like "Hesperus is not Phosphorus", which is false in all possible worlds despite being conceptually coherent. But that's because the terms involved aren't semantically neutral. Such apparent counterexamples to the link between apriority and necessity can thus be accommodated within the 2-D framework.

    "the original argument depends crucially on the dubious claim that it is impossible for God to exist in a sub-par world."

    That's an odd way to put it. I'd say instead that the argument crucially depends on the claim that if God exists then he has the power to determine which possible world is actual. That doesn't seem so dubious, given his supposed omnipotence and all. And if it's in his nature (benevolence) to never settle for a sub-par world, then the incompatibility of God's existence in a sub-par world would seem to straightforwardly follow?

    Timothy - yup, similar arguments were made in the linked Missouri post. A commenter responded that there's no best possible world, but rather an ever-improving infinity of them, which seems right to me.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Tim,
    You’re trying to have your cake and eat it there.
    If there are by definition all possible worlds then the only relevant question is this the best of all possible multiverses, and since that all universes exist seems to be a basic assumption then yes it is (Congratulations on solving the problem of evil!).

    Or you can say "this is the only possible world" from a certain perspective but that is rather like Richard’s previous discussion of determinism - in a sense it isn’t really disempowering at all because it appears from all other perspectives to be a variable determined by various factors.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Timothy J Scriven10:53 am, May 08, 2006

    If we accept the view that there is no best of all possible worlds the idea of mixing omnipotence with Omnibenevolence starts to look a little odd. It becomes difficult to pin God down with an obligation to do anything, making his omnibenevolence look a little vacuous.

    ReplyDelete
  8. from a god's eye view most things look unfamiliar.

    Also, I would suggest most theists if asked "what is more fundimental "god" or "the definition of good" you would get the answer "god" (or that they are the same) If not they open the door to rules ruling god and he (I see an exception but in general) gets neutrered by benevolence and omnipotence to being the pawn of some origional cause.

    ReplyDelete
  9. That's an odd way to put it. I'd say instead that the argument crucially depends on the claim that if God exists then he has the power to determine which possible world is actual. That doesn't seem so dubious, given his supposed omnipotence and all. And if it's in his nature (benevolence) to never settle for a sub-par world, then the incompatibility of God's existence in a sub-par world would seem to straightforwardly follow?

    I don't think omnipotence really plays any role in the argument; the key point of the argument is that God cannot exist in a sub-par world -- which doesn't naturally follow from divine omnipotence or power to determine possible worlds. It can only follow from the assumption you note -- that it is inconsistent with God's benevolence, or perfection, or some such, to exist in a sub-par possible world. That's a very controvertible claim; even Leibniz doesn't hold it, if we are claiming that it is logically inconsistent -- Leibniz is very clear that the impossibility here is moral, not metaphysical, and does not rule out the pure possibility of God's determination of sub-par worlds. (On Leibniz's view determining what is the best possible world presupposes that God has identified infinitely many worlds God could make exist, compared them, and decided which one had the best reasons for existing.) So no one, as far as I know holds that there is a conceptual inconsistency in God's existing in a sub-par world. Even the strongest position on this, Leibniz's, holds the inconsistency to be one that presupposes the conceptual consistency of God's existing in a sub-par world -- it just denies that there is any reason for God actually to do so.

    ReplyDelete
  10. If you want to define a set of posible worlds you require a set of rules above the world that define what is possiblewhich are not varied (otherwise the whole concept is ill defined). If you declare that thing to be god problem solved.
    If you declare it to be somthing else good on you, but why?

    ReplyDelete

Visitors: check my comments policy first.
Non-Blogger users: If the comment form isn't working for you, email me your comment and I can post it on your behalf. (If your comment is too long, first try breaking it into two parts.)