The Argument From Neutral Pleasure

This was one of my first novel arguments for the existence of God. It occurred to me that most people think that our Universe is better than neutral, and by no small amount. It doesn't deny suffering, but it asks the question why should we expect a world with as much good as it has?

  1. The universe is, on the whole, good relative to pain and pleasure. 
  2. This is either due to chance, necessity, or design.
  3. It is not plausibly due to chance or necessity.
  4. The universe is designed.

Now, defense of the premises is essential in this one, but if you are familiar with the FTA, I wanted to go ahead and point out and important feature of the argument.

Premise #1 of this argument entails Premise #1 of the Fine Tuning Argument. That is to say, in order for there to even be pain and pleasure, there must be conscious creatures. The entire thrust of the Fine Tuning Argument serves as a foundation of this argument. This argument builds upon the FTA, saying that there is another feature of our Universe (pleasure) which also needs to be explained. We could have a Universe that is fine tuned for life but is miserable. At one point, I called this my “But Wait, There’s More” argument because it could be run like this…

  1. The universe is fine tuned for sentient life 
  2. This is either due to chance, necessity, or design.
  3. It is not plausibly due to chance or necessity.
  4. But wait there’s more, the universe is on the whole more pleasurable than painful.
  5. This is either due to chance, necessity, or design.
  6. It is not plausibly due to chance or necessity
  7. The universe is designed

Now, the crux of the Argument from Neutrality is Premise 1. My goal in defending it is not to convince a person the universe is, on the whole, more pleasurable than painful, but to demonstrate to them that they already believe that it is. The defense goes something like this…

Measuring whether the universe is, on the whole, more pleasurable or painful is a seemingly difficult task. How would we go about this? We might imagine a line where on one end is the worst possible universe in terms of pain and pleasure and on the other end is the best possible universe in terms of pain and pleasure. But how would we situate ourselves on this line? It seems like we could always add 1 more person who is happy or 1 more person who is sad to the ends of the line, all the way to infinity. But if there are infinitely many better universes and infinitely many worse universes, then it appears our universe would be in the middle – but so would any other universe, as there would always be infinitely more in each direction. Perhaps there is another way. Can we imagine what a truly neutral universe would be like? We could try to imagine a universe in which the number of pleasurable things and painful things are identical. Perhaps a man pops into existence, eats an ice cream cone, gets a counterbalancing brain freeze, and pops out of existence. This seems like a difficult task if we are trying to find a neutral universe that is comparable in complexity to ours.

What we can do is borrow a technique from the Philosophy of Mind. What if our universe was comprised of philosophical zombies but only in relation to pain and pleasure. They are still conscious, but they don’t have either pain or pleasure. There will still be tsunamis and earthquakes that kill countless people, but no one cares. There will still be birthdays, but no one will celebrate. A child born into this world will never know pain or pleasure.

So, what of this “neutral” universe? Which would you prefer, the universe we have or this neutral universe? I have never had someone say they prefer the neutral universe except out of curiosity. Truth be told, if you think the neutral universe is better than ours, then my argument has no purchase with you. Assuming that we would all prefer this universe over the neutral one, we can then begin the task of examining exactly HOW MUCH better this universe is neutral.

For this, I propose a thought experiment. Imagine a mad scientist comes up to you with a device that has a button and a dial on it. He tells you the button is a simple toggle that, when pressed, will rewind history and replace the world with the neutral one we discussed before. The dial, when turned, painfully kills a random person at some point in the timeline of this universe (maybe in the future, maybe in the past, maybe in the present). The higher the dial goes, the more innocent people die painfully. How high would the mad scientist need to turn the dial up before you would hit the button to switch to a neutral universe? How much worse would things have to get – 100 random dead, 10,000, a million? a billion? before you would press the button. For me, the number would have to be very high, essentially bringing civilization to its knees, but every person is a little different. However, whatever that number is (ie: number of lives lost) represents how much better you think this world is than a neutral one.
We can then proceed as follows…

  1. “The universe is, on the whole, good relative to pain and pleasure: so good in fact that X number of people would have to die painfully for me to prefer a neutral one”
  2. This is either due to chance, necessity, or design.
  3. It is not plausibly due to chance or necessity.
  4. The universe is designed

This thought experiment also works as a non-skeptical rebuttal to the PoE. We can show the interlocutor that they already believe the world is on the whole better than not.

Potential Objections

Objection 1: “Pain and Pleasure are not an appropriate measure of the goodness of our universe”

If the interlocutor wants to raise this objection, he or she must also give up the stance the Pain is an appropriate measure in the PoE. You can’t argue on one hand that pain shows God doesn’t exist, but pleasure doesn’t show God does.

Objection 2: “We can’t really know the balance of pain and pleasure, it is pure speculation”

If the interlocutor wants to raise this objection, he or she must also admit we are in no position to make claims about how much pain there is when lodging the PoE. You can’t say “we dont know how much pain” there is in this argument, and say we do know in the PoE.

Objection 3: “We are biologically inclined to find this world pleasurable so we want to stay alive and procreate”

This is speculative. One could also say “We are biologically inclined to be pessimistic about this world so we are driven to make it better for ourselves and don’t become lazy and content”. I don’t think this objection presents a serious concern for the argument.

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