The Problem of the Not-Great World
December 1, 2011 — 12:28

Author: Trent Dougherty  Category: Existence of God Problem of Evil Religious Belief  Tags:   Comments: 2

Some responses to the Problem of Evil involve defending the proposition that it is on balance a good thing that the world was created. I want to propose a Problem of Mediocrity or Problem of the Just-Good-Enough or more broadly the Problem of the Not-Great world. As I envision it, it’s disconfirmation of theism is compatible with the world being on balance good. It goes like this:
(1) Being the kind of Being God is, we expect greatness in everything He does.
(2) The world is not great.
(3) Hence, theism is disconfirmed.
I’ll refine it a bit below and raise an objection below the fold

A. The first problem with the original formulation is concern about the referent of “the world” in (2). If it refers to the current time-slice, then the filled out version of (1)–We expect the world to be great–is dubious. For it is dubious that we expect each time-slice to be great itself. I do think it’s not *wholly* implausible, for consider the following argument.
(1) Being the kind of Being God is, we expect greatness in everything He does.
(4) Every time-slice of Creation is an act of God.
(5) Hence, we expect greatness in every time-slice of Creation.
That’s not wholly implausible. However, it is still dubious because it’s probable that many great goods include bads.
So we need to fatten “the world” up a bit. But if we let it refer to the 4D block from the initial singularity to present, I don’t think the argument has moved the ball forward even a yard (maybe a few inches, but probably not even a foot). For it is probable on theism that the thickness of Creation taken as a whole makes any finite segment look like a slice in the end.
This is not a “Skeptical Theist” kind of move, or at least it doesn’t have to be. It can be a Moore Shift move for anyone who accepts the conjunction (I have strong evidence for theism and theism makes highly probable that the duration of Creation is at least Aleph-naught. But if it is a skeptical theist move, it is so on the expanded model I’m advocating (along with Alex Pruss) according to which skeptical theism includes things like “Just so” stories in science.
The direct route to a reply to the Problem of the Not-Great world is to offer something like Plantinga’s “Oh Felix Culpa” theodicy according to which all the best world contain the Drama of Salvation, including the Hypostatic Union. Then this world *is* a great world. It is of the greatest kind in fact (at least the greatest kind of feasible world).
I think this line of reply also works for a refocusing of the argument as the Problem of Not-Great Lives, though that version has more “oomph” for me.
I don’t think the story ends here. I think it leads to more discussion of issues like the role of auxiliary hypotheses in replying to objections (consider Shellenberg’s reply to the paper Ted Poston and I did on Divine Hiddenness (available at, the significance of our this-worldy life (the reply makes it seem trivial, but supposedly our eternal destinies are determined here), and the value of infused virtue (and whether and how the *display* of virtue is so much more valuable than the *existence* of (dispositional) virtue. These are matters I think need more attention.

  • Andrew Moon

    Hello there Trent,
    Just to get clear, did you mean by your capitalized ‘Creation’ the same thing as you meant by ‘the world’?

    December 3, 2011 — 9:56
  • Trent Dougherty

    Basically. Let’s say Yes and see what happens.

    December 5, 2011 — 20:00