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Free-Will and the Multiverse

ImageSo in my last post I wrote about working on some stuff about free-will and the multiverse.  After doing a bit of work on it and getting some feedback after presenting that work at a couple of workshops I have decided to abandon that project for now.  It simply seemed like, to make the idea work, it would require a substantial amount of time and effort…and would essentially turn into a whole other project of its own.  I simply do not have the time or desire to go down that road right now.  I still think that the idea could have legs and hopefully I’ll get a chance to return to it and really develop it some day, but that is most likely years away.  Anyways, since I did some work I figured I’d throw it up on here.  Please just keep in mind that this is very rough and does not contain a bunch of very well thought-out ideas or research.  It is more of an idea piece, really.  Either way, here goes.

The Maximally-Good Multiverse: How the Inherent Goodness of Free-Will Entails a Multiverse

Many would agree that the possession of free-will is a good thing, but the debate arises in discussions of just how great of a good it is.  At its most extreme, it is argued by free-will theodicists that the inherent goodness of free-will is enough to justify any moral evils that may come of it.  While I will not explicitly evaluate the debate of whether or not free-will holds such strength, by the end of this paper it will be clear to which side of that argument I am sympathetic.  In this paper I will argue that the possession of free-will coupled with the ability to exercise and display that free-will, can plausibly be thought of as the greatest possible good.  Furthermore, I will go on to argue that if this is true, and we accept the notion of a perfectly-good God, then this entails the existence of an actual multiverse containing an exponentially-expanding number of universes and free agents.  Finally, I will close by presenting alternatives to free-will that, if considered as greatest possible goods, could still entail a multiverse.

                Free-will, the ability to make free and non-determined choices, is often discussed by itself as a single, independent capacity that is held by agents.[i]  It is in this sense that all other properties and attributes of free-will are discussed, but I think that this account of free-will is missing something crucial.  As I take it, free-will is something of a mental capacity.  It is a non-physical attribute of an agent, present within him, that allows him to make free choices regarding any number of things throughout his life.  In this sense, free-will is contained wholly within the agent, so what is needed to make free-will of any use or value is the ability to exercise it in the external world.  While an individual may have the mental capacity to make all of the free choices in the world, this ability would seem to be worthless[ii] were he not able to actualize at least some of these choices.  Because of that, the opportunity and ability to actualize the freely made decisions are just as important as the internally-held free-will.  Moving forward, this is what my use of the term “free-will” will entail; the ability to make free, non-determined choices as well as to have the opportunity and abilities to actualize them.

                Alvin Plantinga, in his free-will defense,[iii] argues for the inherent goodness of free-will, claiming that though the possession and exercise of free-will may lead to a great number of moral evils, it is also necessary for moral goods to exist.  These moral goods, argues Plantinga, yield a world that is on-balance good despite the amount of moral evils that may necessarily accompany them.  While the free-will defense argued by Plantinga seems primarily to be a response to the problem of evil his claims, and the claims of other similar-thinking free-will theodicists, regarding the overall goodness of free-will are still useful in this context.  While I need not use the inherent goodness of free-will to respond to a particular argument, the work done by free-will theodicists raises interesting issues about the entailments of the inherent goodness of free-will.

                The basic claim made by Plantinga is that a world with free-will is better than a world without free-will.  He explains that “[a] top-notch universe requires the existence of free, rational, and moral agents; and some of the free creatures He created went wrong.  But the universe with the free creatures it contains and the evil they commit is better than it would have been had it contained neither the free creatures nor this evil.”[iv]  Similarly, St. Augustine also argues for the presence of free-will entailing moral goods that trump any possible moral evils: “[y]ou see how much good the body lacks when it has no hands; nevertheless a man uses his hands wrongly if he does cruel or shameful acts with them.  If you saw someone without feet, you would agree that an important good was lacking to bodily perfection, and yet you would not deny that a man used his feet wrongly if he used them to harm someone or to dishonour himself.”[v]  So while there is no doubt that these two views posit that free-will is good, the question of just how good free-will is still remains.  St. Augustine claims that various goods can be distinguished and classed into groups of greatest, middle, and least valuable, but is it possible that free-will is either one of the greatest goods, or even the greatest good.[vi]

                It would seem to me that if, as Plantinga and St. Augustine have argued, free-will is so inherently good that its mere existence is enough to justify all of the evils that it entails, then free-will is certainly something that ought to be considered as one of the greatest possible goods, if not the greatest possible good.  Plantinga and Augustine do not discuss free-will in any sort of quantitative sense, failing to address any sort of claims about how many morally-good acts are required to justify a certain morally-evil act, or other queries of that sort.  I think that it they are correct in not addressing this.  It seems that, in this sense, the existence of free-will in itself, regardless of how many instantiations of morally-good actions it yields, is the good that justifies the potential and actual moral-evils that it brings.  There is no mathematical formula that will determine how many good acts it takes to justify a bad act, rather the simple fact that free-will allowed a person to act, even though it may be a morally-evil act, is still enough to render the act on-balance good.  Again, this can be seen through Augustine, who says that “[a]s a runaway horse is better than a stone with does not run away because it lacks self-movement and sense perception, so the creature is more excellent which sins by free will than that which does not sin because it has no free will.”[vii]  A property, characteristic, attribute, or whatever we would like to refer to it as, that renders any evil act that comes from it to be justified or on-balance good purely as a result of the act coming from the attribute has surely got to be the greatest possible good.  There are simply no other goods that can make such a claim.  Life, perhaps?  But it has already been shown that a life without free-will is inferior to life that does not have free-will, so that cannot be greater.  Charity?  Acts of charity simply seem to be reducible to exercising the free-will to act in ways that are charitable.  And it certainly cannot be said that all morally-evil acts arose out of and can be justified by charitable motivations.  With this, free-will appears to be the strongest and most inclusive good, allowing it to have the scope to be relevant and responsible in all acts, and the strength to be able to provide a substantial amount of redemption to even the most morally-evil acts.  A good with such characteristics has surely got to be plausibly considered as the greatest possible good.



The aim of this section is to put forth that if we accept that free-will is the greatest possible good, then it ultimately leads us to the conclusion that God has created, and we are part of, an actual multiverse.  Because of space and time constraints I will not argue for some of the claims that I will make in this section, rather I will just take them for granted.  The first such claim is that God is an all-good and perfectly-loving being.  The debate regarding this divine attribute of the classical theistic God surrounds the interpretation and scope of just what exactly it means for God to be perfectly-good and all-loving.  For our purposes here I have interpreted this to mean something rather simple: that God is required to create a maximal amount of goodness.[viii]  Of course, this is quite a simplistic definition, but hopefully it will come to be seen what is meant by this and what exactly it entails.

                If, as I have argued, it is plausible that free-will is the greatest possible good, and God is all-loving and perfectly good, then it seems that God would be required to maximize the amount of free-will in the universe.  Since free-will is not something that can be measured qualitatively, since my free-will cannot be better than your free-will, it must be measured quantitatively.  That is to say, for God to maximize the amount of free-will in the universe, He must quantitatively maximize the amount of instances that free agents exercise their free-will.  Imagine that each free-choice made by each individual in our universe counts as one unit of good.  So, me choosing to have granola for breakfast is one unit of good, me choosing to put strawberry yogurt on that granola is a unit of good, me choosing to eat my granola and yogurt from a particular bowl is a unit of good.  Similarly, I could have chosen to have oatmeal for breakfast, I could have chosen to put brown sugar on my oatmeal, and I could have chosen to eat it straight from the pot in which I made it.  Supposing that each of these two different breakfast scenarios are mutually exclusive and the only options available, I could have only actualized 3 of 6 decisions, and thus only garnered 3 units of good while leaving 3 units of good untouched.  In order to create a maximally good universe, however, God must have it so that no units of good are left untouched.  For this to happen, another universe in which I decide to eat brown sugar oatmeal out of a pot for breakfast must be actualized somewhere.  For this particular example, the existence of these two universes would exhaust the amount of free-choices available, thus maximizing the amount of units of good that are enjoyed between the two, which creates a maximally good multiverse.

                Of course, the example just presented is extremely simplistic and limited in scope, but is simply done to illustrate how this multiverse model works at its most basic level.  We could imagine a similar situation in which eating Froot Loops, eating a bagel, and not eating breakfast at all are all available free choices and that for each one of these options there is an actual universe where it is actualized.  Similarly, this process would be carried for each free choice made throughout the lifetime of each individual, and so too would each possible collective conjunction of free choices between other free agents.  This would result in an enormously large number of distinct universes that ultimately exhaust every possible free choice and combination of free choices, leading to a multiverse with the greatest possible amount of units of good.  A multiverse that contains every potential unit of good is a maximally good universe, one that a perfectly-good and all-loving God would be required to create.    

                Some may argue that even if God is required to create a maximally good universe, and that free-will is the greatest possible good that we need not appeal to a multiverse model to reconcile the two.  We could simply imagine one universe in which there are enough free agents actualizing enough free choices in order to exhaust and gain all possible units of good.  Surely this would create a maximally good universe without the use of a multiverse.  In response to an objection such as this, while there is no doubt that a universe model such as this would yield a good universe, perhaps one that satisfies proponents of a “threshold” model of greatest possible worlds, I am after a maximally good worldview, and a single universe simply cannot satisfy that.

                Another reason that a single-universe model would not satisfy the kind of maximal good that I am after is that no matter how good a particular universe may be, enjoying an enormously large amount of agents who make a variety of free choices, such a universe could always be improved upon with the addition of one more agent.  The addition of one more agent would result in, minimally, one more free choice being made by that agent, increasing the overall goodness of that universe.  For any single-universe model, no matter how many agents there are, there could always be one more added to increase the goodness of that universe, and yet even with that addition of any arbitrary number of agents there would still be a multitude of unclaimed units of good because of the inability to actualize each possible free choice.  The same cannot be said of the multiverse model outlined above since, by its very nature, exhausts all possibilities of free choices as well as all possible combinations of free choices.  So, yes, for any individual universe within the multiverse one more agent could be added to create a universe with more good in it, but such a universe already exists elsewhere in the multiverse.  Having the existence of such a universe (with that added agent in it) means that the goodness is merely realized in another universe, yet still within the same multiverse, which is the scope on which the maximal goodness of concern ought to be measured.


Alternatives to Those Opposed to Free-Will as the Greatest Possible Good

For those who find it difficult to maintain that free-will is the greatest possible good there are still several possible alternatives that could yield the existence of a multiverse.  In the first alternative it seems that we can substitute something such as happiness, joy, or pleasure for free-will, and the multiverse account may still remain the same.  Surely we can agree that there are different types of happiness, and failing that, there are at least different ways of attaining happiness.[ix]  This being the case there would seem to be different kinds of happiness that are incompatible with each other, such as the happiness felt from being in a life-long relationship with a partner that you love, and the happiness felt from getting over a breakup with a partner that you once loved.  Assuming that the relationships that we are talking about involve the same two people then it seems that enjoying both of these kinds of happiness is not possible since one cannot both be happy that he is in a loving relationship and happy that he has gotten over that same relationship. Returning to the old terminology of “units of good”, with each kind of happiness equating to one unit of good, then in this case only one unit of good could be recognized while the other is left as potential.  In order to recognize both units of good and create a maximally-good universe, a second universe would be needed so that both kinds of happiness can be instantiated.

                The same principle would follow for a wide range of other goods such as, for example, justice, existence, life, and so on.  For each different good it seems that within it there are different variations of that good that may not be compatible with each other, thus requiring a multiverse is order to realize all of them.  While I will not go on in detail to provide examples, as I have done with free-will and happiness, it stands that such an account is at least plausible, and that for any good that is argued to be the greatest possible good a multiverse will be entailed by it.

                Secondly, for those who do not want to maintain that there is a single greatest possible good, rather that there are a variety of inherent goods that are on-par with one another or that there is a greater goodness held in a variety of goods rather than a flood of one greatest possible good, this too could entail a multiverse.  In this case it is not altogether clear that there is a single instantiation of a variety of goods is any better than any other instantiation, and given the principle of plentitude, it still seems that God would create a multiverse in order to realize all possible combinations of goods.  For example, it is not clear that a universe whose maximal goodness is composed of 50% happiness, 30% justice and 20% free-will is any better than a universe whose maximal goodness is composed of 40% life, 25% pleasure and 35% honesty.  Whether one universe is better than the other or not, it seems that God would be obliged to create both of these universes, and a whole host more, since they are all on-balance good, and more of a good thing is a better thing.  The universes that God would create would be ones that exhaust every possible composition of every inherent good that yields an on-balance good universe, thus resulting in a maximally-good multiverse.  Again, while the individual universes themselves will not yield maximal-goodness, they comprise a multiverse that is maximally-good.




[i] By agent I simply mean an individual creature who possesses free-will.  I will not discuss whether this is unique to humans, or whether it includes some animals, all animals, etc.

[ii] Or at least a significantly diminished value.

[iii] Plantinga, Alvin (1977). God, Freedom, and Evil.  Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s.

[iv] Sennett, James F. (1998).  The Analytic Theist: an Alvin Plantinga Reader.  Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s. pp. 25.

[v] St. Augustine.  The Problem of Free Choice.  Translated and annotated by Dom Mark Pontifex.  Vol 22 of Ancient Christian Writers, (Westmiinster: Md: The Newman Press, 1955), bk 2, pp. 130.

[vi] St. Augustine, 1955, pp. 134-5.

[vii] Sennett, 1998, pp. 24.

[viii] For those who do not like the idea that God has any requirements placed on Him, the term “is required” can be replaced by “desires,” “aims,” “wills,” etc.

[ix] For the sake of simplicity, I will refer to each of these as simply being a different “kind” of happiness.


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March 21, 2014 · 6:09 am