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The Six Ways of Atheism: Way the Fourth

The Fourth Way of Atheism (This is Not the Best Possible World Argument) runs thus:

  1. God if he exists must be omnipotent, supremely good, and our ultimate creator.
  2. Therefore an existent God (being supremely good and competent) would have created the best possible world.
  3. As the world is inconsistent (between ages and people) it cannot all be the best possible world.
  4. Therefore as the world is not the best possible world, God cannot exist.

This would be true if not for one pesky little detail that Berg never addresses.  Let’s trace this argument from premise (1) to its conclusion to see where it goes awry.

I absolutely agree with (1).  No doubt that a being who wasn’t omnipotent, supremely good, and our ultimate creator would not be God in any sense of the term.

I agree with (2) in the sense that God did create the best possible world.  See Genesis 1:31 — creation is described as “very good” from God’s perspective.  It is doubtful that an omnipotent, perfectly good being would describe anything but the best possible world as “very good.”

(3) is true, but it skips a step — the Fall!

The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” (Gen 3:12-13, emphasis added)

After dealing with the serpent and Eve, God turns to Adam:

Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field.  By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Gen 3:17-19, emphasis added)

So now the world we see today is a punishment because of the transgression of Adam.  So this is not the best possible world; it was, now it is cursed because of the actions of humanity in defiance to God.

Once we understand that God created the best possible world, but cursed it to punish humanity, we realize that this argument doesn’t hold water.

All of the anticipated objections that Berg deals with are softball responses and so require no comment from me.  My objection, as always, is not anticipated.

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About Cory Tucholski

I'm a born-again Christian, amateur apologist and philosopher, father of 3. Want to know more? Check the "About" page!

Posted on September 20, 2012, in Apologetics, God and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 20 Comments.

  1. According to this argument I am being punished, as are you, for the non-crime of an ancient ancestor. And this is the will of a supremely good being.
    Where is the goodness in that? Where is the goodness is being assumed, and treated as if I were, guilty? Or, as better describes the human condition, being created guilty and being punished by the Creator.

    You can claim “God works in mysterious way” or that “we cannot know why God does what He does”, but so long as you argue as if that were true you could argue anything is “good”. What horrors could God not commit or allow that could not be defended with ‘mere humans cannot understand why God’s actions are good, but they definitely are’?

    • Consider premise (2):

      Therefore an existent God (being supremely good and competent) would have created the best possible world.

      This immediately raises a question: what does it mean for some possible world to be the best possible world? The claim that God would create the best possible world is not uncontroversial, in part because it’s quite unclear what would make a particular possible world “best.”

      Consider premise (3):

      As the world is inconsistent (between ages and people) it cannot all be the best possible world.

      This is quite unclear. When Berg suggests that “the world is inconsistent,” what is he referring to? And what does it mean for the world to be “inconsistent”? It seems to me that the Christian theist might suggest that the best possible world (if the concept is even coherent) contains many universes, with different creatures and developments; this premise doesn’t appear to take that possibility into consideration.

      • It is the best possible world/universe of all conceivable worlds/universes. Yet, a Christian maintains that we live in a world/universe with the fall.
        Not only do we live in a fall narrative, but that punishment is given to us before we commit any crime ourselves, by a loving Being.

        The Fall is not the best possible world. A loving/supremely good Being would not punish us (His creation) on the assumption that we will be criminals.

    • The Fall is not the best possible world.

      I’m not sure I quite understand this. I think your point (correct me if I’m wrong) is this: a universe in which human beings fall, in some way or other, is not the best possible universe. Although I think there’s some debate about what would even constitute “the best possible universe,” I’m quite willing to concede this point: our universe may not the best possible universe, but who’s to say that it is not one of many universes (some in which humans or other kinds of creatures fall, some in which they do not, and so on and so forth) which—taken together—might be part of the best possible world (if the concept is even coherent)?

      I should emphasise, by the way, that I’m not using “best possible world” synonymously with “best possible universe.” To quote William Lane Craig,

      For those who are unfamiliar with the semantics of possible worlds, let me explain that by “a possible world” I do not mean a planet or even a universe, but rather a complete description of reality, or a way reality might be. Perhaps the best way to think of a possible world is as a huge conjunction p & q & r & s . . . , whose individual conjuncts are the propositions p, q, r, s, . . . . A possible world is a conjunction that comprises every proposition or its contradictory, so that it yields a complete description of reality—nothing is left out of such a description. By negating different conjuncts in a complete description we arrive at different possible worlds:

      W1: p & q & r & s . . .

      W2: p & not-q & r & not-s . . .

      W3: not-p & not-q & r & s . . .

      W4: p & q & not-r & s . . .

      .

      .

      .

      Only one of these descriptions will be composed entirely of true propositions and so will be the way reality actually is, that is to say, the actual world.

      • The existence of a planet where one species is punished by God for the legacy of an act committed by a distant ancestor while in God-induced moral ignorance negates the ‘best possible world’ being this world.
        The fact that God makes worship the only way around this injustice (but only after death) stops this world from being the best possible world.

    • The existence of a planet where one species is punished by God for the legacy of an act committed by a distant ancestor while in God-induced moral ignorance negates the ‘best possible world’ being this world.

      I haven’t committed myself to any particular understanding of the Fall, but, aside from that, it seems to me that you may be confusing the concept of a best possible universe and a best possible world. (See my last comment.)

      The fact that God makes worship the only way around this injustice (but only after death) stops this world from being the best possible world.

      I’m not sure what you mean by God making “worship the only way around this injustice.” Could you elaborate, please?

      Thanks for the discussion so far!

      • I know what I’m talking about. Reality is less good that is conceivably could be.

      • I know what I’m talking about. Reality is less good that is conceivably could be.
        The reality most theists posit is a clear example of why: God punishes us (every understanding of the fall agrees there), and the way to freedom from that punishment is to spend your mortal time worshipping the God that is punishing you…

        (There are secular reasons why this world is less good than it conceivably could be as well)

    • Before I respond to anything else, please explain why you think what Adam and Eve did was a “non-crime.”

      • They ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. It’s not a crime. It doesn’t create a victim or endanger anyone.
        Literally, it is eating.
        Metaphorically, it is learning.

  2. In fact, (3) is supported by (Pen 1:2-4)

    The land became barren, the waters as slime, the earth was rent and much suffering ensued. “We have lost our way”, cried The Elder Ones’. “We must return to the true path”

    So the argument still stands.

  3. Allallt says:

    They ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. It’s not a crime. It doesn’t create a victim or endanger anyone.
    Literally, it is eating.
    Metaphorically, it is learning.

    I said to my daughter, “Ashleigh, don’t color on the walls.”

    My daughter colored on the wall.

    No victim. No one was endangered.

    Did my daughter do anything wrong?

    • Lowering the total value of your house, put graffiti on the walls thus lowering your overall comfort in your own home… yeah, she did.
      If her graffiti did none of this then no she didn’t do anything wrong, but you did; you stifled her creativity. I say that as a non-parent, but the eldest of 7 (by the total of 16 years)–so I’ve sort of raised kids.

      But, are you really telling me that morality is a top-down authority thing?

      • My goodness, you really ARE a waste of my time.

      • What? There are plenty of parents that prefer to encourage their child’s creativity and allow them to draw on the walls simply because they can paint over it.
        If your objection to her drawing on the walls in grounded in nothing more than “I don’t want her to”, where your want has no greater grounding (like lowering the house value, or making you feel uncomfortable in your home) then what she did is only wrong in the most nebulous sense that what you say is right.
        That is not how I recognise right and wrong.
        But I imagine how you see your house is the same way you imagine God would see the world: my commands are right, and therefore disobedience is wrong. But that’s not true, is it? If you commanded your daughter not to eat then eating would be wrong. But that is patently untrue (and I don’t imagine you would ever -actually- risk that kind of harm to your daughter).
        By asking your daughter to be obedient you are not assuming that your command rules, you are assuming your commands follow what is right (that is what stops you commanding her to starve). It is that assumption that means you are angry when she disobeys you by drawing on the walls; it’s not that disobedience is wrong, it’s that you’ve assumed your command was right.
        Without a solid reason for why your command to not draw on the walls is right, then she hasn’t done anything wrong.

      • No victim. No one was endangered.

        So it’s fine to walk into someone’s private residence without their (explicit or implicit) permission, provided no-one is endangered or harmed physically or psychologically?

      • People will be psychologically harmed by that. That’s the whole reason that it’s an issue.

        But assuming they weren’t, assuming the owners of that property were absolutely fine with it… surely that’s fine. If I knew my neighbour had no problem with me walking through their house, what would be the problem with me doing it?

      • Rabbit trail alert! Not going down this path. Stay on topic.

      • I notice that a moral imperative of “It’s wrong to damage other people’s property” never enters into your head. No, there has to be a specific, material reason or it’s not wrong.

        So I’m guessing you do NOT subscribe to deontological ethics. You appear to subscribe to some form of utilitarianism, in other words you beleive the benefit of my daughter developing artistic skill outweighs my interest in maintaining a neat and clean home with no marks on the walls.

        My daughter is encouraged to create pictures and drawings of all sorts — on paper. She can use paint, glitter, markers, crayons, whatever. Just today she made a picture with glitter and hearts for my office at work.

        But NOT on the walls because Daddy (and Mommy) said so. And YES, that’s the only reason and NO, it doesn’t stifle her creativity. There is NOTHING WRONG WITH RESTRICTIONS, even if they are arbitrary.

        To wit, that means God’s restriction on not eating a certain fruit, while it might be arbitrary, wasn’t bad. Similar to my contention that my home is my domain and I don’t want marker on the walls, while seemingly arbitrary, is still a rule and must be followed even if “Because I said so” is the only justification for it.

        This, in a nutshell, is called Divine Command Theory (DCT).

        Most opponents of DCT point out that it is arbitrary. God could command murder or oppression and those would be good by definition.

        Correct, but that’s not going to happen. Take it, William Lane Craig:

      • There is no reason here why God’s nature or character could not be something else. It’s a re-wording of the first horn of the Ethyphro dilemma, with the hope it won’t be noticed.

        What if God’s nature where different. And it can’t be different, why not? If something is good just because it is aligned with God’s nature is that not subjective and arbitrary?

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