God pops into existence and – with his newly found omniscience – realizes he’s only thing that exists.  Since he’s omnipotent, he can create absolutely anything. Since he’s benevolent, he thinks “I’ll create the most perfect of universes!” At this point, the god will either realize that it’s not possible to create a perfect universe because universes can always be improved, or the god will realize that it is possible to create a perfect universe. Now we (the human readers) don’t know if a perfect universe is possible, so let’s split god into the PIP god (perfect is possible god) and the PIN god (perfect is not possible god). Let’s imagine that PIP and PIN can talk to one another.

PIP: I’ll create the perfect universe!

PIN: Argh, I have all of these good universes to choose between.

PIP: You’re omnipotent: why don’t you just create all of the universes that are good?

PIN: Great idea! But why are you only creating one perfect universe, why don’t you duplicate that universe a bunch of times?

PIP: You’re right, I could create infinitely many perfect universes! You should also duplicate all of the good universes a bunch of times.

PIN: Yeah, I’ll duplicate them infinitely many times. But now that I think about it, why aren’t you also creating the good universes? You could create those in addition to all of the perfect universes, right?

PIP: You know what, that’s not a bad idea, let me go ahead and do that.

So PIP and PIN both decide to create infinitely many duplicates of all the net good possible universes. Out of all of the options available to them, creating infinitely many duplicates of every net good universe seems like the best thing they can do (there might not be an upper bound on the amount of universes they can create, but let’s assume they create as many as they can).

Those observing this conversation realize that the problem of evil has been massively undermined. If PIP and PIN exist and are doing the best thing that they can do, we might expect that we should find ourselves in a good universe but not necessarily in a perfect one. And it seems way more plausible that the universe is net good than that it contains no evil at all: we could be in a suboptimal pocket of the most optimal multiverse.

A sleepy philosopher then comes along and raises a (not very good) objection to PIP.

Sleepy philosopher: PIP, why did you create the net good universes? Wouldn’t it have been better to just create all of the net perfect universes, since this set will dominate the set of both good and perfect universes?

To make the philosopher’s objection clearer, let’s line up these universes on the natural number line: the good universes are all above zero and the perfect universes are depicted with a P:

PIP’s multiverse: {1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, …. P, P, P, P, P,…}
PIN’s multiverse: {1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, ….}

The complaint against PIP is that he could have just created the perfect universes: {P, P, P, P, P, P, …} and if we line this up with all good universes, it looks like the set of perfect universes is better. But PIP has a pretty good response to this.

PIP: Sure, the set of perfect universes would dominate the set of good universes in a one-to-one contest, but you can’t just map the members of the infinite set of perfect universes and the infinite set of good universes to each other here: I’m also creating as many perfect universes as I would have if I hadn’t created the good universes (all of them, if this is possible, and however many I can if this is not) and the good universes are just a bonus. It seems better to add the good universes to the set of perfect universes, and so that’s what I did. You’re complaints are unreasonable.

But then a less sleepy ethicist and a metaphysician hear about PIN and PIP’s decision and decide to raise some objections of their own.

Ethicist: Look, I get that you both created all of the net good universes that you could, but surely you could have improved things within each of the good universe you created. For one thing, they could have avoided making people have lives that are not worth living.

(PIN and PIP occasionally respond in a unified voice, which we will call PIPPIN)

PIPPIN: I didn’t create lives not worth living unless they were necessary for universe X to exist. Take universe 987c: this universe has one agent called Bob with a crappy life in it. But the universe without Bob in it is identical to universe 999a and I already created that one. If I take Bob out of existence then universe 987c would simply cease to exist.

Metaphysician: Wait, hang on, are you saying that the identity of indiscernibles is true? Like, why can’t you just create 987c but with a better life for Bob? Even if it’s qualitatively identical to 999a it would still be a distinct universe.

PIPPIN: Yes, the identity of indiscernibles is a metaphysical truth and that I can’t change.

Metaphysician: Are you sure? We really thought that one was false.

PIPPIN: Okay you’re right, that wasn’t a very convincing response. My real response is that I didn’t create lives not worth living. Even if people have crappy lives for some period, their lives are actually always net good because I send them all to heaven.

Ethicist: But then why start off their lives in a crappy way? Why don’t you at least make all of the existing lives not involve suffering before the afterlife?

PIPPIN: Well, in order for Bob to be Bob, he has to suffer a bit. Bob without suffering is just a different guy Jeff, and we’ve already created him.

Metaphysician: We’ve been over this.

PIPPIN: Oh yeah. Okay, assume that the identity of indiscernibles is false. Then we need to split back into PIP and PIN.

PIP: So here’s my response. Since perfect universes are possible, perfect lives are also possible (if we can always improve lives then we can also always improve universes by improving the lives in them). And what kind of callous god would fail to improve net good lives to perfect ones? Not me!

Ethicist: So you’re saying everyone has a perfect life – a life that cannot be improved on, even though the identity of indiscernibles is false?

PIP: I sure am!

Ethicist: How on earth can you claim that? Look at this child suffering from disease: are you saying you cannot improve their life?

PIP: Look, I told you I send everyone to heaven, so that child has a life that is infinitely good.

Ethicist: Hang on, you can’t fool me that easily. Let’s look at the sequence of happiness in this child’s life. If I believe you then it’s something like {-3, -3, -3, +1, +1, +1, +1,…} i.e. a finite period of suffering followed by an infinite period of happiness. Even I, a lowly ethicist, can make that life better. Just make the first three locations +1, +1, +1 instead of -3, -3, -3!

PIP: Yeah, but both sequences are infinitely good…

Ethicist: That doesn’t mean you can’t improve them! There’s no reason to look at the sum of the sequence rather than the differences between the sequences. I’ve just made the child’s life better at the first three locations, so I’ve improved it. Why couldn’t you have done that?

PIP: Um, I really thought that the only way to make things better was to make the total larger. That’s about as far as I got.

Ethicist: Aren’t you supposed to be omniscient?

PIP: *vanishes in a puff of logic*

At this point, all attention is turned to PIN.

PIN: Look, I made all of the net good lives. And yes I can improve them without making them not exist (*metaphysician nods*) but because there aren’t perfect lives I can always improve them. There’s just no end to the life improvements I can make, so I had to stop at some point.

Ethicist: Okay, PIN. You say you had to stop at some point. Here is my question: why did you make people suffer at all? Even if you can’t make perfect lives, you can at least make lives that only contain good experiences. We might find your existence more plausible if everyone only had positive experiences, but we don’t – we often have very bad experiences. So why didn’t you just create all net good experiences? That seems like an obvious lower bound on what it was right for you to do.

PIN: I guess I could have done that.

Ethicist: Aren’t you supposed to be omnipotent?

PIN: *vanishes in a puff of logic*

… no time whatsoever goes by …

In a blinding light PIN and PIP are resurrected. Each has more to say in their own defense.

PIPPIN*: I know that I said that the identity of indiscernibles was false, but I’ve just realized (though I’m omniscient, so I actually always knew) that isn’t what I needed in order to justify my decision to create lives with suffering in them. Here’s my defense: suppose that Bob is just the sum of his qulitative parts. So Bob plus some extra happiness is a different guy: call him Bob+. Surely I should create as many distinct net good lives as I can. If this is the case and if Bob is not the same person as Bob+ then it would be better for me to create Bob than to fail to do so. (I’ll also create Bob+, but the point is that I will create Bob).

Ethicist: Okay, I’ll grant you that. But why not only create all lives with positive life experiences?

PIPPIN**: I’m glad you asked . Let me ask you something in turn: do you think you’d have a complaint if Bob had the happiness stream {+1, +1, +1, +1,…}?

Ethicist: No, I suppose not. In that case Bob would have a life with no suffering. It might be better to create Bob with happiness stream {+2, +2, +2, +2,…} but I understand that when it comes to the net good lives you can always create better ones.

PIPPIN: So you think that{+2, +2, +2, +2,…} is permissible. What about {-1, +3, +3, +3,…}?

Ethicist: No, that life has some negative experiences.

PIPPIN: But isn’t a life at  {-1, +3, +3, +3,…} better than a life at {+2, +2, +2, +2,…}? 

Ethicist: I suppose…

PIPPIN: So how can it be permissible for me to create the second but not the first, if the first is better?

Ethicist: I guess I can’t say that the second is permissible but the first is not, unless I commit to the idea that it’s life-segments and not whole lives that are the things we should care about. If it’s life segments that we care about then you would have done something wrong by bringing into existence a life segment that was bad.

PIPPIN: Perhaps, although only if that negative life segment wasn’t essential to some positive life segments, correct?

Ethicist: I’ll grant that for now since my head is starting to hurt.

PIPPIN: Well let’s set that thought aside. The important point is that if it’s permissible for me to create lives at {+2, +2, +2, +2,…} then it must be permissible for me to create lives at {-1, +3, +3, +3,…}.

Ethicist: I suppose….

PIPPIN: And if the best thing for me to do is create all possible net good lives and I can’t change a life from {-1, +3, +3, +3,…} to {+3, +3, +3, +3,…} without changing who is experiencing the life, then I should create both lifes if I can. In other words, it’s better for me to also create the first agent.

Ethicist: I suppose…

PIPPIN: Well then what do you have to complain about? You could perhaps claim that I’ve created some lives that are net negative on the whole, but I’m obviously going to tell you that these lives were necessary for the existence of some poisitive lives, or that all lives are net good because I send people to heaven.

Ethicist: Yes, I had foreseen that.

PIPPIN: So have I solved your little problem of evil?

Ethicist: *vanishes in a puff of frustration*



* Thanks to David Mathers to pointing out that we just need anti-haecceitism and not the identity of indiscernibles here.
** Thanks to Dustin Crummett for pointing this out. For any life stream of continuous positive value, we could construct a life stream with some negative value that seems better.

2 thoughts on “Infinity and the Problem of Evil

  1. I like the way this ties back to the Utilitarians and disability activists post. Bob is in a wheelchair, the path dependent identity/meaning building of his life means that you can’t wave a magic wand and improve his life by restoring his legs. Because that person wouldn’t be Bob anymore. Simulating all possible life paths that are net good would seem to imply that at any given moment many counterfactual you branches are being transported to heaven realms though. So if you don’t have a smoothly accelerating eudamonic procession of days it just means you’re drawing the short straw continuously amongst your branches :p

  2. Hi Amanda,

    Interesting argument, but I’d like to introduce a sleepy (due to actually sleeping only four hours last night, unfortunately) non-philosopher who thinks the ethicist is vanishing way too quickly.

    PIPPIN:…Here’s my defense: suppose that Bob is just the sum of his qualitative parts. So Bob plus some extra happiness is a different guy: call him Bob+. Surely I should create as many distinct net good lives as I can. If this is the case and if Bob is not the same person as Bob+ then it would be better for me to create Bob than to fail to do so. (I’ll also create Bob+, but the point is that I will create Bob).

    SNP: Hold on. Suppose Bob is suffering horribly. Let’s say that he’s being eaten alive by wolves, and is horrified as he dies slowly. Are you suggesting it would be better for you not to save him, because you have also created Bob-2, whom isn’t eaten alive by wolves, and because if you save Bob, then the resulting person will not be Bob?

    PIPPIN: There is the condition that Bob’s life has to be net good.

    SNP: Okay, but for any actual case – and things like a person being eaten alive by wolves have happened – you say it is net good, allegedly because you send that person to heaven. So, you seem to be actually implying that in actual cases, it’s better for you not to save him from the wolves.

    PIPPIN: Is that all you disagree with?

    SNP: No; I actually have a good number of further objections, but I aim at brevity for now (remember, I’m sleepy), I have to say, the fact that you created (I’ll grant for the sake of the argument) some other guy who isn’t eaten alive by wolves doesn’t in any way make it better for you not to save this one. And surely, Bob would not become some other person if you were to save him. He’s still Bob.

    PIPPIN: So, if you think I’m in error, where do you think my error lies?

    SNP: Well, my assessment that you’re in error is based on an intuitive moral assessment, namely that it’s not better for you not to rescue Bob from the wolves that are about to eat him alive. I could speculate as to where your error lies, but I’m no philosopher. Besides, you’re omniscient, so you know where your “error” lies – and I say “error” because you’re omniscient, so you are actually just messing with us, right?

    PIPPIN:: But I would like you to speculate.

    SNP: Okay, but I think the moral assessment is stronger than the speculative bits, so if my speculative hypothesis is mistaken, I would still hold that it’s not better for you not to save Bob.
    So, I have the impression that you’re implicitly saying that if you saved Bob, that would be a different person. But that’s not how identity seems to work. For example, if I had decided not to write this post yet (because, say, something caught my attention and I decided to check it out), I would still exist. It’s not that some other person would exist. That’s not because you created some other guy who decided not to write this post. Even assuming that you didn’t, and in fact that there is no actual counterpart of me who decided not to write this post, I would still exist if I had decided not to write this post and check out whatever caught my attention. I would be slightly different as a result, since my experiences would be slightly different, but it’s still proper to say that I would exist.

    PIPPIN:: So, that’s your theory of why I’m on the wrong?

    SNP: That’s a tentative hypothesis about one thing I think you got “wrong”. But then again, I’m even less confident about the relevance of that “error”, since I also have the impression that that’s probably not a crucial point. It seems intuitively clear to me it’s not better for you not to rescue Bob from the wolves, regardless of any philosophical subtleties about identity. Still, let me try to make the identity argument more clearly; let’s consider the following exchange between Bob-4 (who lives in another one of your universes) and Jack.

    Bob-4: Hi, Jack.
    Jack: Hi, Bob. Here’s a punch. [Jack punches Bob in the gut].
    Bob-4 [in pain, on the ground]: You evil &%$&”!…[needs some time to breathe]. Why did you do that?
    Jack: Hold on, Bob. Your life will be net good, anyway, because God will eventually send you to heaven. Moreover, you would not exist if I hadn’t punched you in the gut.
    Bob-4 [somewhat better now]: What? I mean, I do realize that God will send me to heaven, so my life will be net good. But how come I wouldn’t exist if you hadn’t punched me in the gut?
    Jack: That’s because you are the sum of your qualitative experiences. If I had not punched you, you would not exist. Maybe a counterpart of yours would exist in some other universe – someone who would have been punched -, but not you. You owe me your existence. You’re welcome.
    Bob-4: Fair enough. Thanks for making me exist! I owe you my existence [now recovered, Bob punches Jack in the face] Now we’re even…

    PIPPIN: But Jack did not create another Bob-5 who is not punched! (though I did).
    SNP: Right, but I’m making the point about identity, even though I suspect it’s not crucial.

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