Best Possible World?

It’s odd to describe a book with a title like Life, the Universe, and Everything: An Aristotelian Philosophy for a Scientific Age as “delightful” and “charming,” but that’s what Ric Machuga’s book is. Besides “clear,” “rigorous” and “illuminating.”

Some samples from a discussion of God’s omnipotence (pp. 256-7): “Suppose an omnipotent and good Creator created a universe in which there were exactly a billion people with real freedom, yet there was no pain and suffering. Would this be the ‘best of all possible worlds’? Hardly. Presumably each of these billion people enjoys their existence So what could possibly be wrong with such a universe? Perhaps nothing. But it still does not warrant the description, ‘best of all possible worlds’ because it is quite easy to conceive of a better universe, namely, one just like this one, only it is populated with a billion and one people.”

God’s infinite power prevents him from making the best possible world: “A demigod shaping pre-existent material might run out of stuff to make the one billionth and first person, but this cannot be a problem for the omnipotent Creator who creates out of nothing. There is nothing that could prevent such a God from choosing to create this second, ‘better’ universe.”

In fact, Machuga says, God can never do “his best.”

This is inherent in the affirmation that God is omnipotent. There cannot be two omnipotents for the same reason there cannot be two “best Presidents.” God cannot create “what is best or greatest because he already holds these positions. Anything which God creates must necessarily be less-than-the-best.” Thus: “The first paradox of divine omnipotence is that while humans can occasionally do the ‘best possible job,’ God can never “do his best.’ God can create a good universe; he can even create a very good universe. But he cannot create the ‘best possible universe.’ When humans do less than their best, they may be morally culpable. But God could not be morally culpable for doing less than his best because it is logically impossible for a God who creates out of nothing to ever ‘do his best.’”

And another paradox follows: “God, unlike human parents, cannot raise his children to flourish independently on their own . . . . While the Kantian paradigm of freedom and dignity is a fully autonomous human, it is not God’s. Nor could it have been. Creating fully autonomous humans is not something he could have created, even if he had so chosen . . . . for God to create human beings that could flourish apart from him would be like creating a screwdriver that is better at cutting wood than driving screws” (258).

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