An argument proposed by atheist philosopher Sobel. He outlines this argument as follows.
- P1. This is not the best possible world.
- P2. That the world is not the best possible world is incompatible with a perfect being.
- C. There does not exist a perfect being.
I would like to focus on Premise 2 of this argument because it is also an important part of standard formulations of the Problem of Evil.
Is a Perfect World a Coherent Concept?
Let’s start with a thought experiment. Imagine there is a perfect baker who can create any cake that is good and no cake that is bad. He has been tasked with creating cakes to commemorate several different events in a single day. The first event is a wedding, the second is a birthday, the third is a graduation and the fourth is a funeral.
If there were a single, perfect cake, then the baker could create a single cake that would perfectly satisfy all attendees. But is this conceivable? Isn’t part of what makes a cake valuable to the celebrants the uniqueness of the cake, the cake being specific and personalized. Does the existence of a cake that is not perfect for their occasion but perfect for another mean that the baker is imperfect (he did, after all, create an imperfect cake with respect to the preferences of 3/4 parties)?
It seems to me that the perfect baker would create cakes that are appropriate for each occasion. But we can take this even further…
Is the Perfection of which Sobel Speaks an Objective or Subjective Perfection?
Imagine again the perfect baker. Today he is tasked with merely creating a single cake for a wedding. Is it reasonable to think that the perfect baker can create a cake that satisfies to perfection the appetites of all of the attendees?
It seems that this request is reasonable iff the preferences of all attendees is compatible. I have a friend from college who simply cannot stand anything sweet. His existence would seem to undermine the perfect baker’s attempts time and time again.
Of course, the baker could make him a special, savory cake. But everyone else would perceive that cake as inferior, as imperfect, as he would consider the original sweet cake to be inferior and imperfect.
But this leads to an important consideration…
Why Would the Baker Limit Himself to Only Perfect Creations?
Extending the perfect baker analogy, imagine there are two weddings going on simultaneously. In one wedding, the preferences of all are aligned. The baker creates a perfect cake that satisfies all of the attendees. In attendance at the other wedding is my friend who does not like sweets. Should the perfect baker not create a cake or cakes for this wedding because doing so would require either that he create a single cake that does not satisfy all or multiple cakes that cause others to think the baker creates inferior cakes as well as perfect cakes? Why should the second wedding party not enjoy a cake because a handful of attendees have preferences not in line with the “perfect cake”.
It seems to me silly that a perfect baker would only create a single perfect cake. The baker would create all cakes that are, on the whole, good. From the scriptures, we know that creation was imperfect but good. Satan existed in the garden and God described his creation as Good, not “Best Possible” or “Perfect”.
Perhaps the atheist might say, “why doesn’t God create people with all the same preferences?”, thereby allowing him to create a single perfect World. Well, is uniformity perfection? From a moral perspective, it seems like uniformity would be morally neutral (no person would ever have conflict to overcome). In the same way that the person who dislikes sweets can show grace and understanding to the couple on their wedding day (and the couple show gratitude for his attendance despite no cake option) would be an exemplification of moral behavior and growth, a world of different preferences gives us opportunity to achieve real moral progress.
Upon deeper reflection, it seems to me that a perfect being would likely create all worlds that are, on the whole, good. We could imagine an array of possible worlds (some which approach perfection and others which are barely good). Why should God choose to not create the world that is mostly good? Why should the souls that find redemption in that mostly good world be refused at the chance of redemption… because some people will have a less than perfect existence?
Altogether, the position that the best possible world (and nothing else) is somehow required of a perfect creator seems to be wholly unsubstantiated and likely false.