The problem of no best world

Latest post in my blog on popular science:

The problem of no best world


Well said again, Manuel. My mother used to say (she died in 2006) that freedom to choose meant freedom to choose wrongly. I resist any notion which robs human beings of their moral agency. This is why, even though I teach it, the term “social determinants” of health and disease is inaccurate and irritates me no end. I tell my students it would be better to say “social influence” or even “social variables” but to use the word “determinant” communicates a causality which has not been demonstrated. But our textbooks and anyone involved in public health or related fields are going to say “social determinants” like a mantra or incantation.

Human free will is a mystery but to try to rob anyone of free will is to dehumanize them. This is why MacDonald writes, “However bad I may be, I am the child of God, and therein lies my blame. Ah, I would not lose my blame! In my blame lies my hope.” (#121 in Lewis’s Anthology of MacDonald.)

In well intentioned efforts “not to blame the victim,” something much worse may be done to the victim: making him or her an object and not a subject, a determined thing and not an agent, the image of God ripped away from what then is just another animal.

No one can really judge whether this is the best of all possible worlds without first standing at Golgotha and looking at the figure of God tortured to death by human beings to whom He had given the power to do so. And still loving them and interceding for their forgiveness.



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Well said, Ruby! Bravo!


“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Love does not demand its own way. Love is not irritable, and it keeps no record of when it has been wronged. It is never glad about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. Love will last forever.” (1 Corinthians 13: 4-8)

At the risk of repetition…beautifully stated, Ruby! As we have come to expect from you. Yes, allow blame which sees a person as capable of making right and wrong choices. Grant them the dignity of responsibility. I think Lewis makes a similar point in his essay on Capital Punishment…not sure it is there. I think the context was the use of the insanity defense which moves judgment into the hands of doctors rather than peers. I have probably waded into deep waters, and with permission, will paddle out now.


Thank you, Ruby and Lois. True, as Ernest Schumacher wrote in “Small is beautiful”:

The denial of freedom, of course, is a denial of responsibility: there are no acts, but only events; everything simply happens; no-one is responsible.

The fight against human freedom and the denial of God’s existence is nothing but an attempt to evade responsibility. As the well-known atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel wrote somewhere:

It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I am right in my belief. It’s that I hope that there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.

What he means, of course, is that, if God exists, we are responsible for our acts before Him.

The reference you wanted is to Lewis’s article “The humanitarian theory of punishment” in “God in the Dock” Part III,where he says:

…when we cease to consider what the criminal deserves and consider only what will cure him or deter others, we have tacitly removed him from the sphere of justice altogether; instead of a person, a subject of rights, we now have a mere object, a patient, a ‘case’.


It is curious that, in response to this argument, some philosophers who are believers (such as Klaas Kraay and others) have tried to refute it using the theories of the multiverse ,

That is curious indeed–it seems to me the much more effective refutation would to negate the minor premise:

But given a universe, it is always possible to devise a better world,

…which assumes that the person stating this is a valid judge of what constitutes a good world, which I don’t believe to be a valid assumption. It further assumes that there is a single agreed definition of such a world, which is also an invalid assumption–both of which you address in your piece.

The God of Christianity is completely different. The main thing is that He is love ,

I don’t think even this is the main thing, which also touches on the previous two. The main thing is that He is holy, and He will be glorified. He created to bring glory to Himself. He chose to save a people for the same reason. He will bring judgment on the wicked for the same reason. His love and mercy are shown in His redemption of some, and His power and justice are shown in His wrath on others.

The atheist will of course say that such a god is an egomaniac, but working for one’s own glory is only problematic when that glory is undeserved. And, of course, in God’s case, it is perfectly deserved.

David Powlison, IIRC, addressed this (among many other issues) in Seeing With New Eyes, though more from a mental and behavioral perspective. His discussion, as best I remember it, went like this: We may see a woman who was sexually abused as a child, and has become promiscuous as a teenager and young adult, and conclude that this behavior was caused by the abuse. We may see another woman who was sexually abused as a child, and now has significant fear or aversion to sex, and conclude that this behavior was caused by the abuse. Both conclusions seem facially reasonable, but stimulus X cannot “cause” two opposite responses. At most, it can be an influence.

And Lewis himself, of course, addresses determinism as the inevitable result of materialism, I believe in Mere Christianity.

The problem here is that there are people who do have serious mental disorders, to the extent that they fail to understand what they’re doing and/or why it’s wrong (and I’m trying to resist drawing a comparison to the nationwide riots in the US right now). To the extent this is the case–which, I’m sure, is considerably less often that’s it’s claimed–it’s unjust to punish such a person. It’s rather like with a small child–we don’t punish a baby when it cries, or makes a mess of its diaper, or spits up. It has neither the physical nor mental capacity to do otherwise.

But there are (at least) two ways in which this is problematic. The first, as you said, is that judgment moves from peers to doctors. The second is that the defendant is then placed into a psychiatric prison/hospital until (if ever) he recovers, which places him at what Lewis described as the worst kind of tyranny, that exercised for his own good.