Is God Obligated to Create the Best Possible World? Disputed Questions Article One

Whether God is obligated to create the best possible world?

Objection 1: It seems that God is obligated to create the best possible world, for Richard Swinburne defines God as “a person without a body (i.e. a spirit) who necessarily is eternal, perfectly free, omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly good, and the creator of all things.” Now perfect goodness implies that one ought, when it is reasonably within one’s power, to choose a better good over a lesser good, especially if in so doing one prevents many foreseeable evils. But all possible worlds are within God’s power to create. Therefore, God ought to create the best possible world.

Objection 2: Further, Saint Anselm defines God as “that than which nothing greater can be conceived.” But a God that chooses to create the best possible world is greater than a God that chooses to create a lesser world. Hence, if God chose to create a lesser world, something greater than Him could be conceived of, namely, a God that chooses to create the best possible world. But this is absurd. Therefore, God must create the best possible world.

Objection 3:¬†Further, the Prophet Isaiah, quoting the word of the Lord, says: “I the Lord love justice, I hate robbery and wrong.” Now he who hates something wishes to abolish it so far as possible; and he who loves something wishes to acquire and sustain it so far as possible. Hence, if God loves justice and hates wrong, He should acquire more of the former and abolish more of the latter, which He could do by creating a world with more justice and less evil. Therefore, God should have created a better world than the actual world.

Objection 4: Further, God’s purpose in creating is to manifest His own Goodness. Now a world with less evil and more good would better fulfill this purpose; and hence, on the supposition of this purpose, God ought to have created a world with less evil and more good. 

On the contrary: Saint Thomas Aquinas says that “God could make other things, or add something to the present creation; and then there would be another and a better universe” (ST I, 25, 6.)

  I answer: There are at least two ways to understand this question. The first is to understand it as asking whether God ought to make this universe better than it is. The second is to understand it as asking whether God ought to make a universe better than this one. Now with regards to the former, it must be said that God cannot make this universe better than it is. For any individual change to the order of things would make a different universe; and hence it is the case that this universe cannot be made any better while remaining this universe. With regards to the latter sense, it must be said that it is possible for God to create a different universe better than this one; and this for at least two reasons. First, because God could add to this universe any number of good things which it currently lacks. Second, because since the goodness of God is infinite, but the goodness of even the best of creatures only finite, we must admit that there is an infinite distance between God and the highest creatures. Because this distance is infinite, there is always a higher, better creature that God could create, closer to Himself than lower creatures but still always infinitely distant. From this it follows that there is not a single best possible world which God could create. 

But it is still left to answer whether God is obligated to create a better universe than this. And to this we must answer that absolutely in no way is God obligated to create a universe better than the actual universe. This can be shown in several ways. First, the only thing which the Divine Will wills necessarily is the Divine Goodness, as the Doctor writes: “For the divine will has a necessary relation to the divine goodness, since that is its proper object. Hence God wills His own goodness necessarily . . . . But God wills things apart from Himself in so far as they are ordered to His own goodness as their end . . . . Hence, since the goodness of God is perfect, and can exist without other things inasmuch as no perfection can accrue to Him from them, it follows that His willing things apart from Himself is not absolutely necessary” (ST I, 19, 3). As such, it must be said that the Divine Will has no necessary relation to any possible world, such that the Divine Will must choose that possible world. For a thing is desirable insofar as it is good, but nothing other than the Divine Essence is so perfectly good as to compel the Divine Will to desire it.

A second reason why God is not obligated to create a universe better than this one follows from a proper understanding of obligation. For an obligation is something owed to another on account of a binding law. Now God is not bound to any law other than His own wisdom, understood by His own intellect. The Divine Intellect perceives and understands the Divine Essence, which is Goodness Itself; and this is the only proper end which the Divine Will desires. Whatever the Divine Will chooses, apart from the Divine Goodness, is chosen for the sake of the Divine Goodness; not so as to complete it, since the Divine Goodness is in itself infinitely perfect, but so as to manifest and share it with others. When the Divine Intellect understands that some created being or order of beings will manifest the Divine Goodness, it is proper for the Divine Will to create such, not as necessitated but as freely chosen. And this is in accordance with the Divine Wisdom, which knows what is suppositionally necessary in order to direct created things to their proper end of manifesting the Divine Goodness; and this is the only “law” that can be said to bind the Divine Will. When God creates a finite thing, it is “owed” to that creature to bring it to its proper perfection; not as though God were in debt to a creature, but because the perfection of the creature is the manifestation of God’s Goodness, and this is due to God. Insofar, then, as this present universe manifests the Divine Goodness in its ordering, the Divine Wisdom in no way binds the Divine Will to choose some other or better universe, though in its freedom it could have.

Reply to Objection 1: It is not necessary to the notion of perfect goodness that one ought always to choose a better good over a lesser good, even if in so doing one would prevent many foreseeable evils. For, as we have said, “ought” implies a law to which one is bound, and the only law to which God is bound is His own Wisdom. Now the Divine Wisdom consists in ordering all things to the Divine Goodness; so insofar as any created thing manifests the Divine Goodness, it is in accordance with the Divine Wisdom and hence is proper for the Divine Will to choose. 

Reply to Objection 2: As the Doctor demonstrates, there is no real relation to creatures in God; God is always the same in Himself no matter what He creates, and He can never be altered nor affected by anything external to Himself. Hence, God is the same whether He chooses to create or not to create, or whether He chooses to create this world or a better world. For a being that is absolute and simple in itself, is greater than a being that is dependent upon others in any way.

Reply to Objection 3: Again the Doctor writes that “nor is anything an object of hate except as opposed to the object of love” (ST I, 20, 1). Now the object of the Divine Love is the Divine Goodness, as has been said; and so God loves all things in as much as they participate in the Divine Goodness. But evil is a privation in things of their proper goodness, and thus of their participation in the Divine Goodness; and so it must be said that God hates evil. But God allows evil to befall specific things for the sake of preserving the overall order of the whole universe; for sometimes it is necessary for the good of a whole that a defect befall some of its parts. And since it is the order and perfection of the whole universe that God primarily wills as the manifestation of His own Goodness, it is not contrary to Divine Wisdom that God allow evil to persist within the universe. Nor can it be said that He is obligated to create a universe with less evil, since no universe so perfectly manifests His Goodness that His Will is necessitated to desire it. As we have said, it is in accordance with Divine Wisdom to choose to create any universe insofar as it manifests Divine Goodness; and there is not so much evil in the present universe that it fails to manifest Divine Goodness.

Reply to Objection 4: The answer to this objection is clear from what has been said already. For it is true that God wills to manifest His Goodness, but no other universe so perfectly manifests it that God is obligated to choose it; and this universe is not so evil that God is obligated to choose a better universe over it [*].

[*]. For more on this point, see here: http://www.aquinasonline.com/Topics/boapw.html    

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