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Do Christians (or at least a well-known subset of them) believe that God chose to create the "best possible world" among multiple/infinite alternatives, and therefore, that we are living in the best possible world right now?

My personal impression is that this view portrays God as a utilitarian, in the sense that God is viewed as making decisions based on a Utility or Goodness function, such that He can make comparisons of the form:

  • Goodness (possible_world1) > Goodness (possible_world2)
  • Goodness (possible_world1) < Goodness (possible_world2)
  • Goodness (possible_world1) = Goodness (possible_world2)

And that He solved an optimization problem, by actualizing one specific world (the one we are living in right now) that maximizes the Goodness function. However, I know that viewing God as a utilitarian is frowned upon by many Christians, as evidenced by some of my previous questions (Q1, Q2, Q3).

Do Christians believe that we are living in "the best of all possible worlds", as I just explained? If not, are there different conceptions of God in Christianity that still affirm that this is the "best possible world" that God could have created?

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  • I don't think this question is answerable within the framework of topics allowed; different Christian denominations may have vastly different conclusions on this topic
    – eques
    Commented Jun 10, 2023 at 17:09
  • @eques I'd be happy to scope the question to a specific sect or group under the broad umbrella of Christianity, but I don't know if such groups or sects even exist, and so I'm making that part of the question as well.
    – Mark
    Commented Jun 10, 2023 at 17:11
  • The trick is that "Christian utilitarian" would probably narrow it to the point of being uninteresting (of course utilitarians would believe God is utilitarian); yet just asking generally would run into different groups saying yes or no.
    – eques
    Commented Jun 10, 2023 at 17:17
  • This assumes that Goodness has a linear measure (as opposed to rock/paper/scissors type comparisons). Commented Jun 11, 2023 at 13:31
  • @RayButterworth Right, but in that case no "best possible world" would exist.
    – Mark
    Commented Jun 11, 2023 at 13:43

3 Answers 3

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Did God use a mathematical optimisation function? I don’t know. I don’t believe many parts of Christianity claim to know how exactly God created the world.

Did He create the best possible world?

Following Leibniz on this, if you believe, as most Christian denominations teach I think, that God is both omnipotent and all good, all love, then it would be a logical conclusion to assume that this world, this creation of His, is the best possible.

The more interesting questions remain however.

  1. What is exactly “the best”? By what criteria do you measure the goodness of creation? How would you be able to say anything sensible about that? In the book Ecclesiasticus (part of the Catholic canon of the Bible), chapter 39 you will find the words:

Non est dicere: “ Hoc illo nequius est ”: omnia enim in tempore suo comprobabuntur.

in the translation I found online ( https://www.catholic.org/bible/book.php?bible_chapter=39&id=28 ) it says

You must not say, "This is worse than that," for, sooner or later, everything proves its worth.

So, at least for catholics, there is a foundation in holy Scripture for the notion that even what we may see as “not good” in the end is “good”.

How can this be, as there evidently is evil in the world? Why would we need a Saviour if there is nothing to save us from?

You could find an indication for an answer to this riddle in the word of the Exultet, the Easter Proclamation to be sung by the deacon at the Easter Vigil. It contains the words

O felix culpa, quæ talem ac tantum méruit habére Redemptórem!

or in translation:

O happy fault that earned for us so great, so glorious a Redeemer!

What this might tell you, is that in some, maybe mysterious or strange for us simple mortals, way, even our fall to sin was better than when that hadn’t happen.

So yes, we can see evil, sin, wrong in the world. And still we may, or even should, keep faith that this is the utterly good creation of our dear Lord.

  1. What is “possible”?

If we say that God is omnipotent, surely anything is possible for Him? And if we say this world is the best possible, aren’t we saying that a better world would have been impossible? Doesn’t that lead us to the only logical conclusion that God is in fact not omnipotent?

It may look that way, but there are two ways out of this matter.

First, there is no reason to assume that God in all His might, is able to do something that is logically impossible. Can God create a stone that is too heavy for God to lift? A simple riddle that may distract a believer for a second, but soon enough one will see that the question is the problem, not the answer. The thing is that God is not limited by anything part of His own creation, so the laws of physics do not apply to Him. What we call a miracle, is just as easy for Him as anything else. But logic is not something created. Can God do what God cannot do? No. Just as simple as that. Do we know what exactly He cannot do? Maybe not. But we can assume that a better world than the world just isn’t logically possible. For if it had been, He would have created it and not this one.

Second, we must be aware of a logical mistake we make easily. If we say this is the best possible world (even if we don’t understand it and don’t understand in what way it is the best) we may assume that a better world may not be possible, but would be imaginable. That would lead to the conclusion that God was not able to create that better world, and so He is not omnipotent, as He failed to create the better world imaginable. But is that assumption valid? Could we, or at least He, imagine a better world than this one? No, we cannot. We can name different details and aspects of the world we would like to improve, but would it improve the entire creation? Are we in any position to make bold statements like that? God answered Job rather clearly when Job seemed to suggest he was:

Where were you when I laid the earth's foundations? Tell me, since you are so well-informed! Who decided its dimensions, do you know? Or who stretched the measuring line across it? (and so on, interesting read, chapter 38 of the book of Job!)

Conclusion:

I do believe one shouldn’t try to understand the position of Leibniz in such a way that God becomes a utilitarian mathematician. Rather I would suggest to understand his position as an affirmation that we can logically trust our dear Lord to have created all to be the best, as we could already trust Him based on holy Scripture and the teachings of Jesus Christ. Even if we see bad, sin, evil, we still can and must trust God. Yes, even if we see evil things happening as “acts of God”, we still can and must trust God.

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One group that this question would seem very relevant to is Molinists, as their system is based on the idea of possible worlds. A not-insignificant number of them do indeed lean towards the idea that God chose to create the best possible world, the most commonly theorized measure of "goodness" being the total number of people who are saved.

One idea often raised is that it doesn't seem implausible that God could have created a world in which no-one sinned, but due to human nature such a world would only have contained, say, 50 people.

I personally lean towards this idea, but more recently am inclined to believe that God created the possible world which would most glorify Him, which admittedly is more vague and just goes back to step 1 but at least suggests what makes a world 'good'.

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  • Interesting perspective. Could you please clarify what you mean by "glory"? What does it mean for God to be "glorified"?
    – Mark
    Commented Jun 11, 2023 at 1:30
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    @Mark as I said, it's somewhat vague and still something I'm thinking about 😅 I think it's as hard to define as what makes something "good" Commented Jun 11, 2023 at 3:53
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"Goodness" was never the criterion. Creatures (humans and angels) are incapable of making a judgment(s) regarding "good" per Jesus himself.

Mark 10:17-18

17 Now as Jesus was starting out on his way, someone ran up to him, fell on his knees, and said, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.

God's Creation (Alpha to Omega) required a vast ontological structure that satisfied the spectrum of the Creator's Essence and Attributes. What might seem to the agnostic as Eternal Mysteries, God has revealed in the panorama of redemptive spacetime and beyond.


Born 1949; Born from Beyond (John 3) 1969. My Epistemology anchors to both the objective (Written Word - Bible) and subjective encounters with the Living Word (John 1).

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    Not being good doesn't mean we can't discern what is good under any circumstances. I can't fly a helicopter but I know if I see one smoking in a tree, someone messed up. We don't always have to be able to do something perfectly ourselves to be able to say something has been done perfectly Commented Jun 11, 2023 at 3:55

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