The other day I listened to Justin Schieber’s lecture “The Problem of Non-God Objects.” You can listen to it here.
In his presentation Schieber argues that a perfect God could not create a universe. Since the universe exists, it follows that God doesn’t.
The Argument Briefly Summarized
What is the basis for this argument? It starts with the assumption that a perfect God would, of the necessity of his nature, actualize only a perfect possible world (where a possible world is a maximal state of affairs). However, only God is perfect while every created thing is a derivation from perfection. Consequently, the only perfect world is one in which God exists but no other thing exists. Since God would necessarily actualize this possible world by refraining from creating anything other than God, it follows that God doesn’t exist because something other than God does exist.
(Justin presents the argument in seven steps in his talk. You should listen to it there if you want the full meal deal.)
Two Responses to the Argument
I’ll give two responses, the first an indirect rebuttal and the second a direct rebuttal.
First, the indirect rebuttal. Here let me begin with an analogy. If you’re like most people you believe that human mental states like “I will raise my arm” have the ability to affect the material world (e.g. by causing one’s arm to rise). But what if you should hear an argument to the end that it is impossible for mental states to affect the physical world? (Perhaps the argument seeks to establish the truth of epiphenomenalism.) Do you think it would be more reasonable to accept the conclusion that mental states cannot affect the physical world? Or would it be more reasonable to conclude that there is likely something wrong with the argument? While there may be some people who would opt for the former (especially those who have already imbibed unholy amounts of materialist Kool-Aid), most people would stick with their commitment to the causal power of the mind on the natural world. And they’d be perfectly reasonable to do so, because it is more likely that there is something wrong with the argument (even if one is not sure what it is) than it is likely that the mind can’t really affect the physical world.
Similarly, many people believe that God is the creator of the world. And they likely have many reasons to believe this, including philosophical arguments and personal experiences. Would it be more reasonable to conclude, upon hearing this argument, that it is in fact impossible for God to create a non-God object? Or would it be more reasonable to continue to believe that he can and thus that there must be something wrong with this argument? Again, unless you’ve already imbibed unholy amounts of materialist Kool-Aid, surely the latter is the more reasonable response.
This means that Justin’s argument should only be persuasive to those who are already conditioned to accept its conclusion. Admittedly, if it were part of a much broader cumulative case argument it might have more force for theists. But as it stands it is fit only to persuade the convinced.
This leads me to the direct rebuttal. If I’m right in this criticism then the argument isn’t even good as part of a cumulative case.
Here I must say that I do not find the claim at all compelling that a possible world with God alone is greater than a possible world with God + non-God objects (i.e. a creation). To illustrate the reason for my skepticism, imagine two automobile museums devoted to the muscle car. Each museum has a perfect model of every muscle car ever built from the 1964 GTO straight up to the 2013 Shelby Mustang. However, the second muscle car museum also has an unrestored, rusty 1970 Camaro in the backlot. Which is the greater muscle car museum?
Frankly, my intuitions would suggest neither. Both museums are perfect and the addition of one unrestored, rusty 1970 Camaro on the backlot of one of those museums is not sufficient to change that.
In the analogy the first muscle car museum represents a possible world in which God alone exists. In the second analogy the museum represents the possible world in which God + creation exists. Both seem perfectly fine to me since each includes a perfect set of muscle cars.
(By the way, just so we’re clear on how the analogy is functioning, the muscle car museums each = a possible world, the perfect set of muscle cars in each museum = God, the rusty 1970 Camaro in the second museum = a non-God object.)
While this seems intuitively right, where exactly is it that Schieber’s argument goes askew? The problem, I would suggest, is in his chosen language of perfect possible worlds rather than fitting possible worlds. In other words, while God himself is perfect, as a perfect being he is free to actualize any possible world that is fitting where a fitting possible world is one in which either God exists or God + a creation that is on balance good exists.
And that means that God is able to create an infinite subset of the total set of logically possible worlds which are fitting, including the actual world.