(Read Part 1: “The Problem of Pain” and Part 2: “Possible, Painful Worlds”)
In response to the question of evil and the existence of possible worlds, a number of possibilities have been proposed.
First, would it have been better for God not to have created this world? If He knew that evil would be present, perhaps He should not have created anything; in fact, He may have been morally obligated not to create this world if He knew there would be pain and suffering.
In response, theists have noted the idea of making a moral comparison between No World and Any World at all is nonsensical. Norman Geisler says this is a category mistake, because “nothing” and “something” have nothing in common. Comparing a morally bad world and no world at all is like comparing rotten apples with non-existent oranges.
C.S. Lewis believed comparing being and non-being was just a word game, an argument that carryied no weight or significance. To Lewis, the more important issue was the reconciliation of the world as it is with the character and nature of God.
A second possibility is that God could have created a world where people freely choose to do good every time they have a choice. Given all possible worlds, there must be at least one world where every person freely chooses to do right every time; hence, this world is not the best. A crucial aspect of this debate is the theory of middle knowledge. This is the idea that God knows every choice in every situation of every possible free creature. The Jesuits called this “middle knowledge” because it is somewhere between God’s knowledge of the possible and the actual.
The Jesuit priest Luis Molina separated God’s knowledge into three categories: natural knowledge, free knowledge, and middle knowledge. Building from Molina, proponents of the “middle knowledge” theory argue that God knows what a free creature could do (natural knowledge) and will do (middle knowledge) in any given situation, not because He creates circumstances that causally determine what the free creature will do, but because he knows how the creature will freely choose.
God knows that Agent X, placed in circumstance Y, will freely perform action Z. (References in the Bible that appear to support this theory include 1 Samuel 23:6-13 and Matthew 11:20-24, where God provides information about what would have happened had a given situation occurred.)
The atheodicist can use this argument as well. Using this theory as a base, why not argue that God, through middle knowledge, could have brought about people he knew would always choose good? And since He didn’t, well, we are back to our original critique.
Alvin Plantinga addresses this issue by submitting his theory concerning transworld depravity. If there is middle knowledge, God may have known in advance is that significantly free people would always commit at least one wrong action, no matter their world or circumstance.
God could have created a world where no one chooses to do moral evil, but then that would not be a world with free people. Perhaps God has even actualized a world populated by people who, in spite of the horrors that have been committed, make the fewest possible wrong choices in any possible world which contains free will. Hitler committed some of the world’s most horrible atrocities; is it possible that in every other world Hitler would have committed at least the same amount of evil? And even if Hitler had not, perhaps someone else would have brought about the same horrors, if not more horrific ones.
Robert Adams – who believes universal transworld depravity is implausible – agrees with Plantinga that perhaps God could not create free creatures who would always choose to do moral good. He also does not believe that God exercises middle knowledge, which adds an element of guesswork into God’s’ creation. However, Adams still believes that the existence of free will, which requires possibilities from which to choose, suggest the implausibility of a possible world of human perfection.
In fact, the idea of God creating only people who always freely choose good may in essence take away the idea of freedom.
In a world with true freedom of choice, God cannot actualize a scenario in which free people always will choose good any more than He could actualize a square circle; it is logically impossible. If free will is true and genuine, God cannot make a world that forces a freely chosen decision in a contradictory direction. So once again, while this world seems to be theoretically desirable, there is much doubt that it could be actualized. Continue Reading…