February 24, 2013
Does Creation Imply Moral Improvement?
Hello, Dr. Craig. I am an agnostic, former Christian and militant atheist who's been in an unceasing existential crisis for a long time. I read as much as I am able and evaluate the arguments for and against Christianity and the existence of God as much as I can. I have been familiar with your ministry and academic work for several years, and in no small measure I owe my abandonment of Richard Dawkins-type atheism to your work and the intellectual firepower you bring to a defense of Christian theism. I thank you for that, though I won't hide that I remain on the fence and incline against your views. I am no philosopher. I never even graduated from highschool, but I do have a sincere question about God and evil from an angle I have not heard addressed before.
God as classically conceived is the greatest conceivable being, and that includes his moral goodness, i.e., he is the greatest good, by definition. In my understanding this would mean there isn't any state of affairs that in conjunction with God's goodness could yield a morally better state of affairs. No reality could be better than God's very existence as a standalone, brute fact. But you and other theists contend that God allows evil because he has morally sufficient reasons to do. These reasons are such that allowing evil brings about a morally better state of affairs, e.g., it is better for humans to have free will to choose between good and evil than it would be if we were causally determined to choose the good. But then why would God create humans with the capacity for choosing evil in the first place? What moral purpose does this serve if God's own existence is as morally good as it gets? Would not evil be gratuitous by definition? Afterall, human beings with free will to choose evil doesn't add anything to reality in a way that is better than God's own existence, so it seems to me there is no morally sufficient reason to allow evil at all. If God's existence was all reality comprised, this would be 'good enough', because God's nature is maximal, unsurpassable moral goodness and perfection. No moral purpose is served by creating beings with free will to choose evil that is not already fulfilled by God's goodness alone. So why did God create us?
I’m so pleased, Eric, that your antagonism toward your former faith is waning. It’s so unnecessary. It seems that many ex-Christians have been raised in environments that were dysfunctional, anti-intellectual, and even emotionally abusive. Not only does the historic Christian faith have so much more to offer than that, but the contemporary renaissance in Christian philosophy affords an opportunity for believers to drink deeply from the well of serious Christian thought.
You have correctly characterized classical Christian theism as holding that God is a maximally great being. Since God is a morally perfect being, I’m inclined to agree with you that the addition of states of finite goodness cannot increase the overall goodness of reality. Adding quantities of goodness to God’s goodness is rather like adding finite quantities to the actual infinite: for any natural number n, ℵ0 + n = ℵ0. The infinite just swallows up any finite number added to it, leaving us with just infinity. So the state of affairs consisting of (God + creatures) is no morally better than the state of affairs consisting of just (God).
Notice that this does not imply that we cannot compare finite states of affairs with each other in terms of their moral goodness. Just as we can compare natural numbers in terms of their quantity, so we can compare finite states of affairs in terms of their moral goodness. So it is unproblematic for theists to say that “God allows evil because he has morally sufficient reasons to do. These reasons are such that allowing evil brings about a morally better state of affairs, e.g., it is better for humans to have free will to choose between good and evil than it would be if we were causally determined to choose the good.” Here the contrast is between two finite states of affairs in terms of their moral goodness. It is better for human beings to be endowed with freedom of the will and, hence, to be moral agents than to be mere puppets or machines.
What does follow from what we have said, I think, is that God’s motive for creation cannot be to morally improve the overall state of reality. But it is no part of Christian theism to say that God’s motivation for creation was to make reality morally better. Rather, as I have explained elsewhere (e.g., QoW #172), it is plausible that God’s motive for creation is to bestow inestimable benefit upon creatures, namely, the benefit of knowing God, Who is Goodness itself. This is not to say that a world in which God creates creatures is overall morally better than a world in which He refrains from creation. Not at all; given God’s perfect goodness such a world is not morally better than a world in which God remains alone. That’s why God is not morally compelled to create such a world. Rather creation, like salvation, is simply by grace.
You say, “No moral purpose is served by creating beings with free will to choose evil that is not already fulfilled by God's goodness alone.” I’m not sure what you mean by “moral purpose.” Denying that God’s purpose in creation is to morally improve the overall state of reality does not imply that God does not act with moral purposes. For example, it is morally better for there to be persons with the freedom to choose evil than for there to be mere brutes. That seems to be a moral purpose for creating such persons rather than brutes. We might even affirm that it is morally better that creatures with free will exist than that no such creatures exist. That would provide a moral purpose for creating them. What remains correct, however, is that the purpose of creation cannot be to morally improve the overall state of reality. But since I do not think that that is the purpose of creation, such a conclusion is inconsequential.
So God created you and me, Eric, in order that we might experience the wonder and joy of knowing Him forever, the source of infinite goodness and love. That is a wonderful prospect!