The Problem of Evil and the Multiverse

by Max Andrews

If God has a sufficient reason for permitting evil in some possible world then he has a sufficient reason in all possible worlds. Given simplicity, God is perfectly similar in every possible world we can conceive.  He never wills differently, he never acts differently, he never knows differently, and he never loves differently.  If modal realism is true and evil exists then the probability overall or on balance for justice is precisely 1.[1]  Thus, the problem of evil is an insufficient objection given whatever God’s interaction is in this world. It would be morally equivalent to his actions in other worlds with evil.  If God is absolutely similar in all possible worlds and if he has a morally sufficient reason to permit evil in some possible world then he is morally justified in permitting evil in all possible worlds (even if some worlds are more bad than good because God would be acting towards the same telos).  The following is a modified version of Alvin Plantinga’s ontological argument.[2]  In it I include the necessary entailment of a morally sufficient reason for permitting evil.

P1. The property of being maximally great is exemplified in some possible world.
P2. The property of being maximally great is equivalent, by definition, to the property of being maximally excellent in every possible world.
P3. The property of being maximally excellent entails the properties of omniscience and moral perfection.
P4. The property of moral perfection necessarily entails a morally sufficient reason for permitting states of affairs that are overall more evil than good.
P5. A universal property is one that is exemplified in every possible world or none.
P6. Any property that is equivalent to some property that holds in every possible world is a universal property.
C1. There exists a being that is essentially omniscient and morally perfect.
C2. There exists a being that has essentially morally sufficient reasons for permitting states of affairs that are overall more evil than good.

[1] This will function in the same way the ontological argument works.  If it is possible for God to exist in some world then he exists in all worlds.  Similarly, if God is simple and absolutely similar in all worlds then if he has a morally sufficient reason for allowing evil in some possible world then he has a morally sufficient reason for allowing it in all possible worlds.

[2] Robert E. Maydole, “The Ontological Argument” in The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology eds. William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland (Oxford: Blackwell, 2009), 573.

One Comment to “The Problem of Evil and the Multiverse”

  1. Plantinga assumes God merely “permits” evil. But how can one prove that assumption is true? Maybe God conceived it, designed it, even encourages it, for reasons we don’t know about, or would rather not think about? Reminiscent of how Calvin viewed God’s “horrible decree.”

    And please define “maximal greatness.” Below are four attempts I suppose, to define “maximal greatness,” if you know of more, please let me know:

    Four Theodicies

    1) Free Will Theodicies. God wants creatures to love him freely, so he gives us the power to do both good and evil freely.

    Rebuttal: What’s the point of being given free will if God adds, “If you don’t freely love me, you will suffer for all eternity.” That’s like saying, “Choose whatever you want to eat for dinner, just keep in mind that the egg salad has salmonella and will kill you.” Isn’t that like God trying to bend our free will, coerce us, via heavy mental whips, chains, manacles (threats of eternal suffering)?

    Does free will exist? There does not appear to be a way to experimentally demonstrate the existence of libertarian free will since we cannot place ourselves in the same exact time, place, and mental state in which we first made each of our “free” decisions to see if we might choose otherwise. And even if we could return to the exact previous state and choose otherwise, wouldn’t that prove that we had unpredictable wills, and hence our decision-making reliability would be called into question. It’s more to the point to be able to make “well-informed decisions” than “free” ones. To make the latter one must continue to collect and analyze input, like a computer. Therefore, building a machine that collects ever-widening amounts of data and subjects them to comparative analysis seems more valuable than creating a machine or human that is arriving at decisions “freely.” (Unfortunately for the Christian world view, it seems to contain a far greater number of questionable assertions than universally recognized data/evidence.)

    If “free will” is of such grand importance to God, will there be free will in heaven such that people could still experience temptation there and even sin there? If not, then what types of external circumstances has God set up to ensure that heaven’s inhabitants will always be more tempted to choose good rather than evil? And why didn’t he set up those circumstances right from the start?

    2) “Greater Good” Theodicies. God has a cunning plan that cannot fail, so even if we can’t figure it out who are we to lack faith in it, or in Him?

    Rebuttal: This is not a theodicy, it’s to proclaim one’s ignorance and claim that it’s best to not think about such matters but to blindly accept the spectrum of suffering “for some greater good,” from minor suffering and loses to major ones like mass deaths of animals and people. Furthermore, training yourself to believe God has a hidden plan behind it all is like training yourself to think like an abused spouse whose mate tells her “You’re NOTHING without me,” “If you even THINK about leaving me. . . ” “You don’t DESERVE me.” “You’ll never find ANYONE as good as me.” “YOU brought this upon yourself.” “I know best.” “You’re a TERRIBLE person and you need ME to be better.” “You’re not WORTHY of my love.” “I’m only doing this because I LOVE you.” “Don’t listen to ANYONE who doesn’t understand what we have.”

    Also, given headaches, backaches, toothaches, strains, scrapes, breaks, cuts, rashes, burns, bruises, PMS, fatigue, hunger, odors, molds, colds, yeast, parasites, viruses, cancers, genetic defects, blindness, deafness, paralysis, mental illness, ugliness, ignorance, miscommunications, embarrassments, unrequited love, dashed hopes, boredom, hard labor, repetitious labor, accidents, wars, PTSD, old age, senility, fires, floods, earthquakes, typhoons, tornadoes, hurricanes and volcanoes, I have difficulty seeing how anyone, after they are dead, deserves “eternal punishment” as well.

    3) “Soul Making” Theodicies. God is using evil like an oyster uses a grain of sand, to create a pearl.

    Rebuttal: Soul making? What about all the things in this life and world that harden people’s hearts or destroy people’s souls? I mentioned some of them above. At best one could argue that this world appears just as good at destroying (or damning souls) as making (or saving) them. This world is practically a net in which Jehovah catches souls for hell with its ignorance, confusion, fears, endless holy writings and endless bickering over their interpretation, and with all of the other things mentioned above, the suffering and pains, with humans tossed on seas of emotion and cultural prejudice as well.

    And I left something out of my list above, namely religions that claim you must believe (or be damned) even though you can’t see what you’re supposed to believe in. You can’t hear or touch it. We don’t get to see what Adam saw when he allegedly walked with God in the garden, or get to see what doubting Thomas saw when Jesus made a special trip back to the apostles just to prove his resurrection to that one doubter. We don’t get to see heaven or hell either. Or Mohammed riding his horse to heaven. Or Joseph Smith’s alleged golden plates. And not seeing is proclaimed a virtue in the Gospel of John. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Virtue for some maybe, but certainly a curse for those with inquiring minds.

    4) Natural Law Theodicies God can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs. And he can’t build a planet that circulates important minerals without also creating earthquakes. And he can’t circulate the air and distribute heat in the atmosphere without creating tornadoes and hurricanes. An endless list of things God can’t do without creatures suffering or dying, sometimes in mass extinctions, sometimes in plagues, sometimes after a lifetime of suffering.

    Rebuttal: According to the Bible God can create heaven, apparently a place with no earthquakes where souls can supposedly grow and flourish forever. He can also create a Garden of Eden with a tree of eternal life in its midst that seemed safe and peaceful enough. But according to “natural law theodicies” God HAD to create an earth and cosmos like this one in which we “flourish” only on the trembling skin of one tiny planet, a third of whose surface areas is comprised of deserts or parched lands: See also this parody, a list of reasons Why We Believe in a Designer:


    No one knows what happened before the Big Bang, nor does anyone know what will happen to this cosmos in the furthest future (the Great Rip is only one such hypothesis, replacing the formerly common hypothesis of Heat Death, but there are others). Nor can our telescopes probe beyond the regions they currently can see. So, to sum up, we don’t know what came before our cosmos, what came after, or even what might lay outside the regions we can presently see.

    And if everything arose directly and solely from the mind of a Being of infinite Goodness, Love, Wisdom, then how could anything less have ever arisen?

    Which reminds me of a joke. A man was having a pair of pants made by a Jewish tailor. But the man grew impatient over how long it was taking the tailor to finish them. The man complained, “It only took God six days to make the world, but it’s taken you over a month to make the pair of pants I ordered.” The tailor held out the man’s pair of pants with pride and said: “Dat may be so, but take a look at the world . . . den take a look at dees pants!”

    Which reminds me of another joke. A preacher was visiting a farm and said to the farmer, “God’s been mighty good to your fields, Mr. Farmer.” “Yes,” the Farmer replied, “But you should have seen how He treated them when I wasn’t around.”

    Did God design the sawtoothed grain beetle, angoumois grain moths, Mediterranean flour moths, scale insects, cabbage worms, corn earworms, corn rootworms, cutworms, tomato fruitworms, etc., that destroy 30% of U.S. food crops by devouring leaves, fruits, grain, and also by spreading fungal and bacterial plant rots as well? Are we supposed to praise the Lord for designing such insects whose proliferation leads to human starvation?

    Did God design the bacteria that infect the food we eat? Even prayed over leftovers from Thanksgiving Day? Microgram for microgram, the poisons produced by some bacteria in our food are more potent than all other known poisons on earth. It is estimated that one tenth of an ounce of the toxin produced by bacteria causing botulism would be more than enough to kill everyone in the city of New York; and a 12-ounce glassful would be enough to kill all 5.9 billion human beings on the face of the Earth. (The same goes for the toxin that causes tetanus.) Is that God’s handiwork?

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