Infinity and the problem of evil
8 min read

Infinity and the problem of evil

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 [1]: 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 [2]: 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

[1] Thanks to David Mathers to pointing out that we only need anti-haecceitism and not the identity of indiscernibles here.

[2] 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.