Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Limiting Possible Evils

1. Multiverse Theodicies

Why would God, assumed to be omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent, create a world which is suffused with gratuitous suffering? There are many responses given by theists, but I’ve thought the most persuasive one was an appeal to a theistic multiverse. I was reminded of this strategy by reading Bradley Monton’s draft paper titled “Against Multiverse Theodicies” (warning – Word document). It was a helpful paper to review because in it he describes various approaches that have been taken in the literature, on his way to formulating an argument against them. There are many variants, but a typical version of the theodicy says that God maximizes total value by creating infinite universes, not just the one we observe, and all we need to accept about our own world is that it is minimally worth creating by the deity -- perhaps the good it embodies just barely outweighs the bad. Then can imagine that the countless superior worlds of which we can conceive also exist. Terrible worlds unrelieved by sufficient good would not be created.

Now, Monton’s paper argues the strategy doesn’t work: The key to his argument has to do with God’s ability to create duplicate and near duplicate universes (without end). To greatly simplify, he says that instead of creating a world with a given amount of suffering, God could create duplicates of better worlds and create more aggregate good. (A counterargument, he says, would have to involve a successful defense of Leibniz’ principle of the Identity of indiscernibles).

I recommend the paper, although I’m not going to engage his argument here. Rather I bring this up because, while I’m not a theist, the issues raised in this discussion bear on concerns I have about my own views.

2. The Modal Realist’s “Problem” of Evil
Modal realism is the view that possibilities share in reality alongside the actual. In David Lewis’ conception of modal realism, possibilities are accounted for by a collection of static concrete worlds (“actual” refers to things in our local world). If this picture is true, and assuming metaphysical possibility is as broad as logical possibility, then reality includes countless worlds WORSE than our own: the totality of suffering boggles the mind.

I’ve endorsed a bit different type of modal realism. I think actual events arise from a background web of possibilities through an ongoing creative process (actualization). We don’t live in a static space-time block world, rather the “world” is a causal nexus of actualization events (events are the basic unit here, not worlds). Unlike Lewis, then, I don’t think everything in modal space is concrete. The unactualized possibilities may be thought of as abstract. On the other hand, I don’t see a way to know how extensive the concrete realm is. As long as the space of metaphysical possibilities includes countless instances of terrible things, they might be realized as concrete in the absence of a reason to the contrary. The end result could be little different than Lewis’ when it comes to the existence of a plenitude of terrible events.

So while modal realism doesn’t generate a logical or evidential “Problem of Evil” in the manner of theism, I’m simply troubled by its potential inclusion of infinite gratuitous suffering. Or, to put it another way, I’m motivated to see if there are principled arguments for a modified model that would include a reduced amount of suffering.

3. How might evil be restricted without God?

In the multiverse theodicies mentioned above, we assume God is good, and this is how we know creation is (on balance) good as well. If there is no traditional deity, and reality consists of the sum of all possibilies {plus} an impersonal creative actualization process, is there any reason to think evil could be limited relative to good? It appears such a limitation would have to result from either restricting the scope of metaphysical possibility itself, or having the creative process include a bias toward the good.

On the first strategy, perhaps one could reason from the existence of the moral facts of our world, including our own moral impulses, to a view that the metaphysical multiverse is skewed to the good. On the second strategy, creation is considered a positive force which leads to an ultimate bias toward good. I’d note that John Leslie, in his model of pantheism, inverted this equation by invoking the Platonic idea of the Good as a creative principle. I have to say, however, I didn’t find his arguments to be compelling upon first encountering them.

I’ll be continuing to work on this.


Allen said...

I find it somewhat comforting to think that if every possibility does exist, then for every Allen who is being tortured, is in excruciating pain, and hates it...there is an Allen who is being tortured, is in excruciating pain, and loves it.

For every normal Allen who is suffering, there is a Masochist Allen in that same awful situation who loves it.

Conversely, for every Allen in Paradise who loves it...there is a Masochist Allen in an identical paradise who hates it.

SO...over-all there has to be the exactly the same amount of pain and pleasure in the modal multiverse.

It all sums to zero.


Steve said...

I'll accept your premise (although I had no idea masochism was so common!)

If there is equal amounts of pain and pleasure, then there is an immense amount of both. They don't "cancel". So, still lot's of bad stuff.

Allen said...

There's a lot of bad stuff, but (thanks to the masochists) an equal amount of good stuff.

I would tend to think that this 50/50 split makes the modal multiverse as a whole a happier place than our particular universe alone.

Probably we're pulling down the overall average here in our possible world, due to the relatively miserable living conditions and the scarcity of masochists.

Crude said...

I'll add this to the mix, because I loved the example when I originally heard it.

World A contains an infinite number of people in hell. But every second, 1000 of them are transported to heaven, where they shall stay all the rest of their days.

World B contains an infinite number of people in heaven. But every second, 1000 of them are transported to hell, where they shall stay all the rest of their days.

So answer me this: Which world is the better world?

Steve said...

?? This stuff is annoyingly hard.

But I'd say that if the infinity of seconds has the same cardinality as the number of people (and 1000x an infinity of a given type leaves the same result), then both scenarios are the same.

But whether you can say anything about the balance of good and bad moments in either scenario is unclear to me.

Crude said...

The point I take away from it is that it's difficult to quantify these things, and trying to give them a purely mathematical treatment seems wrongheaded.

A simpler way to look at it: Is a world with a billion tormented people and nothing else in it a good world? Evil world? Well, that depends on if they ever change situation, doesn't it?

But that's where these sorts of questions really seem to go off the rails: Factoring in the future, rather than just the moment.

Crude said...

Yet another way to look at it, using my example.

Where would you want to spend 2 years? World A or B?

My math-ignorant self seems to suggest World B. There's an infinite number of people in heaven there at any given time, so the odds favor I'd be spending 2 years in heaven.

Where would you want to live infinite days?

That seems like World A. Eventually your number's going to be up and you'll spend vastly more time in heaven than hell, though you may need some therapy at first.

World B's a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there.

Peter said...

I don't think the objection really works. For one thing I think Leibniz's Law is unassailable. Indiscernibly identical copies make no difference to anything, and so fall to Occam's Razor. You have to bear in mind that the law requires that all properties are shared: the duplicates have to be created in the same way, same place, same time, same act of God's will, and so on. They literally don't count: if you could count them, they wouldn't be indiscernible. So the idea of totalling up across the copies fails.

(Actually, if it didn't, the evil would be totalled up too, so unless there was a perfect universe, we'd still end up with infinite good and infinite evil - wouldn't we?)

But putting that aside: so God creates an infinite number of copies of some really good universe. That doesn't mean the total goodness isn't enhanced if he also creates an infinite number of copies of other 'good' worlds.

It has to be worth adding infinite good to infinite good, because God is infinitely good to begin with, and doesn't need to create anything to achieve that.

Hope that makes sense of some kind.

Steve said...

Thanks Peter. I'm inclined to agree with you on the PII.

My own view would be that the manifold of possibilities has a prior existence, and it's not coherently in the nature of a possibility space to include duplicates. As a process of actualization/creation unfolds, it blazes a path through the duplicate-free possibility space.

On your second point, his argument as I understand it is that if PII doesn't work and more copies can always be created, then it undermines the multiverse theodicy in the following way. The endless potential for additional duplicates means you can never "stabilize" the situation and conclude the best multiverse has indeed been created (as it should be by a perfect deity).

I'm not saying I buy it, but wanted to try to clarify.

Louis said...

When defining "good" and "bad" in terms of how comfortable someone is in a given Universe, how can one say, without external perspective, which worlds are "good" or "bad". To the inhabitants of the world, the minimal advantage of good over evil or vice versa is constant, and they therefore view the situation as neutral, with canceling degrees of good and bad.

Our "neutral" therefore might be different then someone else's.

Because of this, one could argue that all possibilities exist, and each one is neutral with respect to the inhabitants. The mental perception of these same inhabitants makes this even more difficult, as some (as pointed out earlier) have a different perception of pain than others.

From the standpoint of a deity, the inhabitants of each world are given an equal opportunity to be "happy" relative to others, and therefore all worlds are fair.

Steve said...

Hi Louis. Thanks for your comment.

I know that using one's imagination and intuition to think about possible worlds might not be reliable. But...

If I conceive of two worlds which are identical in all respects, except that in one of them a single (non-masochist!) person experiences more pain, can't I say the one with more pain is worse than the other?