Main   Terms   People   Interviews   Resources   Events

The Best of All Universes

If there exist hugely or infinitely many universes, then we could not expect our universe to be the very best of them. All the same, theologians might appear to face a severe difficulty in the fact that ours is a universe containing forest fires which burn animals alive, earthquakes which destroy buildings and the humans inside them, plagues, and so forth. Some people have concluded that anybody who had designed it could be interested only in producing intelligent life and not in good states of affairs. However, I suspect that a deity aiming to achieve good ends would not necessarily be in the business of saving living beings from all disasters. A universe designed by an all - powerful and benevolent being might still include many evils, for various reasons.

One possible reason is that it might, as the poet Keats suggested, be a universe designed not for its own goodness but as a “vale of soul-making”. It might be a gymnasium for building up moral strength through often painful efforts. In the absence of strong moral fibre, heavenly bliss would not be deserved or perhaps could not even be had: the idea here is that only good souls would get pleasure from life in heaven. But a difficulty with Keats’s theory is that it is not at all clear why God would not simply create souls complete with strong moral fibre. Would creating beings with pleasant personalities be dictatorial interference with freedom of the will? I cannot see that it would.

A better suggestion, I suspect, would be that any complex universe would be bound to include disasters if it obeyed causal laws. Think, here, of how it might well be impossible to create a universe in which every single coin of all the billions ever tossed was a coin which landed Heads - assuming, that is to say, that the coins were governed by causal laws, not by magic. Now, it is not at all obvious that a universe designed for its own goodness would be better if it ran by magic, all such events as earthquakes being banned.

Note that a universe designed as a home for intelligent life would not necessarily include such life from its earliest moments. We need not picture God as forced to exist in solitary splendour until intelligent living beings had evolved in our universe. He could have created up to infinitely many earlier universes. What is more, those who agree with Einstein’s views about time would say that even at our universe’s earliest moments it was true that lives were being lived in it at later moments: moments “further along the fourth dimension”. [Einstein tried to comfort the wife of a dead friend by writing to her that her husband continued to be alive at earlier times. Many philosophers think this makes sense. They compare existing in the past or in the future to existing on the left, or existing to the south.]

Contributed by: Dr. John Leslie

Cosmic Questions

Was the Universe Designed? Topic Index
The Meaning of Design

The Best of All Universes

The Argument from Design
Design and Living Beings
Fine Tuning
Design and Divine Conservation
Fine Tuning and the Laws of Nature
Anthropic Principles
Design and Human Survival
A Platonic Approach
Spinoza's Compromise


John Leslie

Related Media:

The Anthropic Principle
A Beginningless Universe?
Did the Universe Have a Beginning?
Was the Universe Designed?
Are we Alone?
Interview Index
Hubble Deep Field Animation
  Media Index

Other Resources:

Big Bang Cosmology and Theology
Glossary Terms
Bonus Material Home...