Extreme Modal Realism, the worst of all possible worlds, and theodicy

More thoughts on the concept of God choosing to create the worst of all possible worlds. Let us suppose that my argument here (at the end) is valid, then it seems like David Lewis’ extreme modal realism could act as a theodicy. On his extreme modal realism all logically possible worlds are actual worlds (they all actually exist). Supposing God created an infinite set of worlds, each of which allowed for particular instances of ‘good’ which others could not allow for, then it would seem at first blush as though even the worst possible world would be created by God.

However, if all the worlds God creates must contain at least some good, instead of simply allow for some prospective good, then this isn’t so clearly true. One could imagine that the worst of all possible worlds contains absolutely no instances of good (or at least, no ‘good’ events – let’s ignore that things existing constitute an ontological good). Therefore, God would, even on this Theodicy of Extreme Modal Realism, not create a world fitting the description ‘worst of all possible worlds’. Even if there were a set of all worlds fitting the description of the ‘worst of all possible worlds’, this subset of all possible worlds, since they do not allow for any good, would not be created. Note that even if these worlds are excluded the set of all actual worlds could still be infinite.

I’m not entirely convinced of this argument, I’ll admit, since it seems hard for God to ensure that any world contains at least one ‘good event’ if what makes good events good is precisely their moral character, which is allowed for by libertarian free will – however, it is for this reason (among others) that I actually don’t think a theist can in principle accept that there is any more than one actual world. Granted, if God himself ensured that every world contained at least one good event by freely choosing to do it himself (for example, by dying on the cross) then perhaps this could happen, and the worst of all realized worlds would be those on which the only realized good was that event (or set of events which God likewise freely chose to actualize himself).

Happy New Years, and Happy Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God.


About tylerjourneaux

I am an aspiring Catholic theologian and philosopher, and I have a keen interest in apologetics. I am creating this blog both in order to practice and improve my writing and memory retention as I publish my thoughts, and in order to give evidence of my ability to understand and communicate thoughts on topics pertinent to Theology, Philosophy, philosophical theology, Catholic (Christian) Apologetics, philosophy of religion and textual criticism.
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4 Responses to Extreme Modal Realism, the worst of all possible worlds, and theodicy

  1. themathofgod says:

    I’m not sure I’m tracking with this particular post. I am a theist and yet I can accept the possibility of more than one world. What I can’t quite accept is that all logically possible worlds could exist. This seems to contradict the foundation of design. Having said that, I admit I’m new to the world of philosophy.

    • Thank you for sharing your thoughts. In reflection, I think I would say that it is only if God necessarily designs all worlds which he chooses to create that design is some kind of modal constraint on the worlds which God could possibly create. However, I note that it is hard (maybe impossible) for a world without any design to include any good events, and therefore if a world without some minimal measure of design existed it would qualify what what I defined above as the worst of all possible worlds.

      However, some philosophers, like Peter Kreeft, have suggested that perhaps God could have created some finite number of worlds (where the number of such worlds is greater than 1). Thomas Aquinas thought there could only be one real world. I think there are semantic difficulties, difficulties in the philosophy of language and metaphysics which would arise from admitting a number of worlds, but putting those aside, it strikes me as theologically absurd. If God created a world at all, then I take it he had a purpose in so doing. If that purpose was not fulfilled by one world, then what could a second world add to it? If the second world acted to ‘patch up’ or make up for what was lacking for the purpose of God in the first, then is it really so clear that the second world wouldn’t be similarly lacking so that a third would need be created, onward to infinity? Alternatively, if the first world satisfies God’s purpose, then the creation of a second world would be, it seems to me, redundant. Moreover, there would have to be some ‘Sufficient Reason’ why God would create two such worlds, or indeed any finite number of worlds where the number of worlds is >1

      I think God must have either created some infinite set of worlds, or else one. I do note at this point the interesting suggestion of one Philosopher named David Wood that God must have created at least two worlds, since some goods are only possibly realized in heaven, and some only possibly realized in a world relevantly similar to ours. For instance courage isn’t possible in heaven, ergo etc. Here’s a link to a debate he participated in: http://www.philvaz.com/LoftusWoodProblemEvilDebate.mp3

      However, even that suggestion constitutes what I take to be a two-tiered world, rather than more than one world.

  2. Will says:

    “One could imagine that the worst of all possible worlds contains absolutely no instances of good”

    If the worst of all possible possible worlds contained absolutely no instances of good, then that would necessarily mean there would also no good actors, thus no good people, making all instances of evil or evil acts only able to be perpetrated upon evil itself, make an admittedly brutal, but ultimately Just world.

    The WORST possible world is one in which Evil always wins, reigns, and predominates, but that also Good exists in the exact optimal proportion to maintain and perpetuate a “stable enough” society, while maximizing the greatest number of innocents suffering under the injustice of the highest amount of Evil. The morality of a world should be thus measured by its level of Injustice, rather than number of Good or Evil acts. After all, even God himself visits pain and punishment upon the Guilty.

    • Suppose that world lasts between times t0 and t1, wouldn’t it have been worse had it lasted a moment beyond t1? If you postulate a world with neither beginning nor end, even if the set of tokens of evil were infinite, wouldn’t the world postulated be ‘better’ than a world containing all but not only those tokens? Suppose you argue that any world with an infinite set of such tokens is a member of some species “the worst of all possible worlds,” isn’t there a problem here given i) the token of evil x occurs in one and not in another of these worlds, but plausibly for any world lacking x, a nearest possible world including x is worse, and ii) that we know there are different sizes of infinity (this may not be an insurmountable problem).

      My point is that I am no longer confident that the concept of the “worst possible world” or a class of “worst possible worlds” is a coherent idea. There just are no such things. Worlds are better or worse only in particular respects (with respect to our goals) but worlds are not better or worse objectively (i.e., with respect to God’s goals) even if there is a sense in which God would prefer that Sally be good rather than bad.

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