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The Argument from the Existence of Nondeities



This paper defends the argument that if the traditional theistic God were to exist, then there are strong reasons to think that there would exist only deities. I call this “The Argument from the Existence of Nondeities” (AEND). If the argument succeeds, God would have no rational grounds for creating our present world, which contains nondeities. But since the present world clearly exists, it follows that (a maximally rational) God does not exist.

After formalizing the argument, I defend its crucial first premise. I then comment on the importance of the argument and defend it against five objections.

The Argument from the Existence of Nondeities

AEND can be formally stated as follows:

  1. If the theistic God were to exist, then the only world that he would create would contain only gods—namely beings that possess most of his attributes.
  2. The existing world does not contain only gods; indeed, in this world there exist exclusively nondeities.
  3. Therefore, the theistic God does not exist. (From 1 and 2, by modus tollens)

AEND’s second premise is true beyond a reasonable doubt. Human beings, animals, and plants are far from god-like beings. The first premise, then, is what requires the defense to which I now turn.

In Support of Premise (1)

According to theism, God is, above all, a perfect being. He is personal, omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent (morally perfect and all-loving). Call this the layperson’s view of God. More sophisticated versions of theism also endow God with being perfectly rational, completely free, eternal (with no beginning and no end), immutable (unchanging), and necessarily existent (existing in every possible world).

Both the layperson’s view of God and more sophisticated versions of theism have been criticized as unintelligible or incoherent. As an anonymous reader of a previous version of the paper pointed out:

I find the idea of “necessary existence” to be unintelligible. In my view, it is always possible that nothing exist, but even if I am wrong, and it is necessary that something (or other) exist, I can make no sense of the idea that there is some particular thing which necessarily exists. As [David] Hume said, whatever can be conceived as existing can be conceived as not existing. There are further problems with combining omnipotence with other properties in a definition. Suppose a being were defined as “omnipotent and omniscient.” Would such a being be able to learn anything new?

For the sake of argument, however, I will here assume that both the layperson’s concept of God and that of sophisticated theists is meaningful and coherent. Theists typically argue that God is under no (moral, logical, or metaphysical) obligation to create anything. If he nevertheless chooses to create, he does so out of love and generosity.

Now, if such a perfect being would decide to create another life form out of love and generosity, this created being would have to be the best possible being that could be created. For if God created something less than the best possible for no sufficient reason, then he would be an imperfect creator.

What attributes would God endow on his creature? Attributes that resemble his own: if God is perfect, then his attributes are good. Moreover, there is no other attribute that is good but that God lacks. Otherwise, he would not be perfect. So, for example, since God is personal, it follows that being a person is good, and so God would create a person. If God is all-powerful, then possessing power is a good thing, and so his creature would also be powerful. If God is omniscient, then having knowledge is a good thing, and so his creation would have knowledge. If God has free will, then having free will is a good thing, and so his creation would have free will. And so on for the rest of the divine attributes.

But to what degree would God’s created entity possess these attributes? Well, if a perfect being who creates voluntarily can create nothing less than the best possible being, then his creature would possess the aforementioned attributes to the highest degree possible. For example, the highest degree of power that a being could have is omnipotence, namely being capable of doing anything that is logically possible. God would not create a less-than-omnipotent being, then, because one could not be the best possible being: a better being could be imagined, one that is more powerful. Since a perfect creator would create the best possible being, it follows that God would not choose anything less than omnipotence for his creature. For parallel reasons God would create a being that is all-knowing and morally perfect. If one accepts a sophisticated definition of theism, then God’s creature would also have to be perfectly rational, completely free, eternal, and immutable (unchanging).

If this line of reasoning is correct, a perfect God that chooses to create another personal being would create nothing less than another god: a creature that is personal, omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent (morally perfect and all-loving). If we accept a more sophisticated theism, then God’s creature would also be perfectly rational, completely free, immutable, and eternal. I will refer to such a created god with the lowercase word “god.” Just as God is considered the greatest conceivable being, so his created beings can be viewed as the greatest conceivable created beings.

Obviously, this kind of god lacks one of God’s essential properties according to more sophisticated theists: he doesn’t exist necessarily, but contingently, given the fact that God brought him into existence by an act of free will, not by any obligation to do so. Consequently, the created god is not eternal in the sense of having an existence without beginning and without end, but only in the sense of being immortal, that is, having an existence with no end.[1]

How many of these gods would God create? If a being is brought into existence by a morally perfect being, its existence is a good thing. But God, being morally perfect, omnipotent, and perfectly rational, would not stop at doing only one good thing if he is able to do more of them.

If creating a god is good, then creating two gods is better. But creating three gods is even better than creating only two. And so on, ad infinitum. God would want to create as many gods as possible, in order to give as many of them as possible the opportunity to enjoy infinite happiness, which stems from both communion with God and the fellowship of other gods, and from being as close to perfection as it is possible for them to be. If an actual infinite can exist in reality, then the number of gods will be infinite. If, on the other hand, an actual infinite cannot exist in reality, then God would actualize the largest possible number of gods, something like trillions upon trillions—an unlimited number. Either way, he will create a multitude of gods, as AEND’s first premise states. Let us call the world containing God and all of the other created gods “world A.”

Is this scenario logically impossible? It does not seem to be. If God is omnipotent, he can actualize anything that is logically possible. Assuming that God exists, it follows that all of his attributes, taken either separately or together, are logically possible. I can see no reason why God couldn’t create a being that knows all that there is to know, or that is morally perfect and free. Thus, God is indeed able to create another being that shared his attributes—except for his necessary existence (and consequent eternal existence). Nor does it appear to be problematic to actualize more than two gods with such attributes. Omnipotence could raise difficulties—for example, could there be two or more omnipotent beings? Wouldn’t their power cancel or limit each other? The answer is no, for all godly beings would be morally perfect, omniscient, and perfectly rational. Thus, no disagreement could arise that would lead them to use their powers in different or contradictory ways. If we adopt a popular interpretation of omnipotence—namely, that a deity is omnipotent if it is able to do anything that is in accord with its own nature—then there cannot be any situation where two or more gods come into conflict, for they all have the same perfect nature.

What would all the godly beings created by God do with their omnipotence? They would use it exactly the same way that God used it—to bring into existence more gods, and for the same omnibenevolent reasons that God had to create other gods. If actual infinities cannot exist in reality, then each god would produce an unlimited number of gods. But what if an actual infinite can exist in reality, and God had already created an infinite number of gods? Would it still be possible for these gods to add yet more gods to world A? Yes, because it would be possible to add a new infinity to an already existing one, as is the case in the Hilbert’s Hotel thought experiment.

Consider a hypothetical hotel with infinitely many rooms. Every room contains a guest. Would the hotel be able to accommodate any newly arriving guests? Yes, by moving the person occupying room 1 to room 2, the guest occupying room 2 to room 4, and in general room n to room 2n. In this way all the odd-numbered rooms will be free for the new guests. Therefore, even assuming that infinities can exist in reality, and that God would have already created an infinite number of gods, it is still possible for these gods to create an infinite number of gods of their own. In fact, since gods are not material beings, they would not take up space, so there would not be any need to move or replace them like the guests in Hilbert’s Hotel. The gods created by other gods would have exactly the same attributes as their creators: personal, omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent (morally perfect and all-loving), perfectly rational, completely free, immortal, and immutable (unchanging).

What can be said about the relation between the divine beings and time? Are they atemporal? Or perhaps they create other gods while being in time? I suppose it makes most sense to understand them as creating in time, much like God is said to create a new soul every time a human being is conceived. Of course, it may just as well be intelligible for gods to give rise to other gods outside of time. AEND does not require one or the other view of divine existence in relation with time. And on the second variant even created gods will be eternal in the sense of having no beginning, since there isn’t any moment in time in which they do not exist. However, I will operate under the assumption that they exist in time, since it seems to me this concept is easier to follow.

To be sure, it is difficult if not impossible to describe exactly how God creates other gods, and then how these other gods create other gods, and so on. AEND faces what could be called the “modus operandi problem.” But this is not a problem for AEND per se so much as one for any argument that assumes God created anything. AEND’s goal is not to resolve such issues, but only to argue that if God were to exist and decide to create something, then he would actualize a world containing a multitude of gods. As Nicholas Everitt put it, “atheism can be no more precise than the theism which it rejects.”[2]

AEND’s first premise has also some biblical support: “Be you therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). If God wants his creatures to be as perfect as he is, then it would be reasonable for him to create gods instead of human beings, since only a god could be as perfect as he is.

World A has three features that would certainly please God to the highest degree possible: it is absolutely free from (1) evil, (2) ugliness[3], and (3) skepticism about his existence. Indeed, the morally perfect, all-knowing, completely rational, and free created gods will never do anything wrong, just as God never does anything wrong. In fact, at any point in time, world A would contain the highest possible amount of love and harmony between all of its inhabitants. Moreover, the gods will know that God exists and that they owe their blissful existence to him. Thus, without exception, all of them would be profoundly thankful to God and would freely choose to maximally appreciate and worship him as their creator. Each of these gods will be as happy and content as possible, finding the greatest joy not only in their individual existence, but especially in the company of God and all of the other gods.

Whether world A is perfect is arguable because (regardless of whether real infinities exist) new inhabitants could always be added to it. Perhaps a case could be made that if world A contains, say, ten gods at moment t, this world is not really inferior to world A at moment s, when it contains eleven gods. Maybe world A at t and world A at s are different worlds, but both are perfect. The fact that the eleventh god is missing in world A at moment t does not necessarily mean that the eleventh god was harmed in some way, for the simple reason that he doesn’t exist in world A at t. As David Benatar remarks, “the absence of pleasure is not bad unless there is somebody for whom this absence is a deprivation.”[4] Thus, it may be possible both for world A at t to be perfect because it does not contain anything negative which could detract from its perfection and for that world A at s to be preferable to world A at t because it contains one more infinitely happy being, even though both worlds are perfect. In my view the fact that world A at s is preferable to world A at t implies that world A at t could be improved, and such room for improvement signals that world A at t is not truly perfect.

Nevertheless, assuming that it is irrational (as I think it is) to maintain that world A is perfect, world A can still be considered the best possible world in the sense that it is the best created world that can logically exist at any given moment. Namely, even though world A at s is better than world A at t, the latter is still the best possible world that could exist at t, even though it is not perfect.

But let us suppose that we cannot even justifiably say that world A is the best possible world. It is indisputable that, at any moment in time, world A is better than our actual world (call it world B).

The differences between world A and world B are tremendous in favor of the preferability of the former. World B contains vast quantities of excruciating evil, both moral (like rape, murder, robbery, war, etc.) and natural (like earthquakes, tsunamis, birth defects, diseases, etc.). Billions of world B’s inhabitants never had a theistic belief and consequently never gave God his due by thanking, loving, and worshipping him. The assertion that our actual world, world B, is the best possible one seems so far-fetched that it was sometimes justifiably ridiculed.[5] Therefore, even if world A were neither perfect nor the best possible world, it would indisputably be vastly superior to world B regardless of the number of gods that it contains at any moment in time. Thus, if the perfect God of classical theism were to exist, he should definitely prefer world A to world B.

Moreover, God would not bring into existence both world A and world B. First, the sum of world A and world B (call it world C) would be inferior to world A. Indeed, despite the pleasant existence in world A, world C would also contain evil, ugliness, and nonbelief, since they are present in world B. Second, it would be grossly unfair to create, on one hand, god-like creatures who are guaranteed to enjoy their existence to the highest degree possible for all eternity, and on the other hand, beings who are prone to endure considerable suffering and may even risk eternal postmortem suffering to the highest degree possible in Hell. To avoid this unfairness, God would have to choose between either A or B.[6]

For these reasons, I conclude that God would have every reason to (1) prefer world A over world B and (2) never create anything other than world A. Therefore, AEND’s first premise is vindicated.

Comments on AEND

AEND is a version of what can be called the argument from imperfection, whose general form can be formalized as follows:

  1. Were the (perfect) God of theism to exist, then the only world that he would create (and permit to exist) would be a perfect world.
  2. The existing world is not a perfect world.
  3. Therefore, the God of theism does not exist.[7] (from 1 and 2 by modus tollens)

As such, AEND is simply a refinement of what has been done before in atheistic reasoning, one where the idea of “a perfect world” is spelled out in greater detail.

AEND’s importance lies in its description of a logically possible world that, on the assumption that God exists, is much more reasonable, plausible, and intuitive than the existing world. Put differently, world A is exactly the kind of world that we would expect to exist if God had existed. God is seen as a generous and perfect creator, so we should expect him to give his creatures his attributes to the highest extent possible. He wants as many of his creatures as possible to be infinitely happy, which does happen to the fullest extent possible in world A. God also wants his beings to have genuine free will as well as do no moral evil. This he accomplishes by actualizing world A. He also wants all of his beings to freely love him maximally, which he also accomplishes completely by actualizing world A.

On the other hand, world B is not even close to what we would expect a perfect God to actualize. World B’s inhabitants are far from perfect: not only are they cognitively, morally, and physically limited, but there are serious imperfections in the way that their bodies function.[8] Billions of human beings not only lack infinite happiness, but their existence can be accurately characterized at most as a decent balance between happiness and unhappiness, when they are not downright miserable. Although there might be genuine free will in world B, there is also a vast quantity of moral evil, to say nothing of the massive amounts of suffering brought about by natural disasters. A large part of world B’s populace has never had a theistic belief and, as a consequence, has never worshipped and maximally loved God.

In light of these facts, it is indeed reasonable to think that if world A is logically possible and God is a perfect creator, then he shouldn’t instantiate world B instead of world A.

To be sure, the practice of imagining possible worlds in order to maintain that ours could have been improved is not new. For example, John L. Mackie argued that the existence of God is logically incompatible with the existence of evil, as there is a possible world that God could have created where agents always freely choose the good. As he puts it:

If God has made men such that in their free choices they sometimes prefer what is good and sometimes what is evil, why could he not have made men such that they always freely choose the good? If there is no logical impossibility in a man’s freely choosing the good on one, or on several occasions, there cannot be a logical impossibility in his freely choosing the good on every occasion. God was not, then, faced with a choice between making innocent automata and making beings who, in acting freely, would sometimes go wrong; there was open to him the obviously better possibility of making beings who would act freely but always go right.[9]

However, Mackie’s use of ‘beings’ is unclear and confusing. What kind of being is Mackie referring to when he talks of “beings who would act freely but always go right”? Is he referring to human beings, as the beginning of the quotation suggests? Or to metaphysically superior beings like gods? Alvin Plantinga, the most celebrated critic of Mackie’s argument, apparently takes ‘beings’ to refer to human beings, for in his God, Freedom, and Evil (1977) Plantinga rejects Mackie’s argument by considering the hypothetical case of a human being—Boston mayor Curley Smith. Plantinga’s concept of ‘transworld depravity’ also suggests that he has human beings in mind. According to Plantinga, an agent suffers from transworld depravity if in any possible world in which he is created, he freely performs at least one morally reprehensible act. Thus, he argues, it is possible that not even God can actualize a world that contains free beings that never do evil.

However, if we substituted “men” with “gods” in Mackie’s argument, Plantinga’s response would fail. For we know that human beings are fallible creatures who are bound to choose to commit a morally wrong act at least once. Thus, it seems possible that human beings indeed suffer from transworld depravity. But—and this where AEND becomes relevant—the same cannot be said about morally perfect, omniscient, perfectly rational, and completely free beings like gods. No traditional theist could claim that God suffers from transworld depravity, because then he would not be perfect. The gods in world A could not suffer from transworld depravity, either, for they are also morally perfect, omniscient, perfectly rational, and completely free beings. AEND shows that, contra Plantinga, there is a world—world A—in which free agents always choose what is ethically required. Therefore, it is possible that God, being omnipotent, could create a world with free creatures that never choose evil.

Other philosophers argue that God could have improved the actual world by creating human beings with greater intelligence or a tendency to do what is morally required.[10] Others still argue that a world where human beings do not have free will could be superior to our world.[11] But why suppose that if God exists, he would create human beings to begin with? AEND challenges this hidden assumption, maintaining that we should expect God to create no less than other gods. So the very existence of human beings is in itself a proof against theism.

AEND greatly raises the standard to which a world created by a perfect god must conform. If world A is absolutely free of evil, nonbelief, and ugliness, then any existing world that contains these even to the slightest degree can be considered a proof of God’s nonexistence. To underscore the point, consider what Theodore M. Drange says about world B: “It would not do to say that God should simply eliminate all suffering for there is definitely some suffering that makes the world better than it would otherwise be. Many examples could be cited here, but it would suffice to point out that some suffering is needed just for the sake of contrast. Otherwise, people’s lives would be too bland to be enjoyable.”[12] But AEND shows that there is no need for even such a small amount of evil. Just as God does not need evil in order to avoid boredom or blandness, in world A there is no need for any kind of contrast that evil could bring about. So we should not expect there to be any quantity of evil in God’s created world.

The same can be said with respect to nonbelief. Since in world A there is not even one nontheist, it follows that an existing world that contains one nonbeliever is not created by God. Thus, such an existing world is a proof that God doesn’t exist because if he would exist, he would not actualize it instead of world A.

AEND proves that a world created by God also should not include any instances of aesthetic ugliness, as our world does include. AEND also strengthens the argument from confusion, which argues that God does not exist from the disagreements between theists about crucial doctrinal matters. Since in world A there is no disagreement between agents whatsoever, it follows that a world which contains even the slightest disagreement—on religious matters or anything else—shows that God doesn’t exist.

In short, AEND provides serious support for a whole range of atheistic arguments, demonstrating that a world created by God would not contain even the slightest of the deficiencies just considered.

Objections to AEND and Responses

Objection 1 (O1): AEND’s first premise states that God would create only a world containing exclusively a multitude of gods (what we have called world A). But this is not clearly so, because there are certain goods that do not exist in world A. Some examples of these goods include intellectual curiosity (the kind of curiosity that motivates us to want to learn more about the world), discipline, the power to resist temptation, compassion, perseverance, and courage. Thus, it is not clear that world A is better than B, so it is not clear whether God would indeed choose A over B.

Response: The goods enumerated above are not intrinsically valuable. They are good only if there exist certain difficulties or shortcomings that need to be overridden by possessing these goods. Since in world A there aren’t any difficulties or shortcomings that need to be surpassed, it follows that their absence in world A does nothing to detract from its desirability over world B.

Consider curiosity and discipline. As I argue elsewhere, “curiosity and discipline are not good things in themselves. For the most part they are important when we are ignorant because they give us the determination to learn more and to learn more effectively. If we already knew (to a high degree) everything that is useful to us, then curiosity and discipline would largely be unnecessary.”[13] Not even learning should be viewed as being intrinsically good. It is only knowledge that is valuable in itself. Learning is good in world B because it is the only way its denizens can gain knowledge. But in world A there is no need for learning because all of its beings are omniscient and so already know all that there is to know. Consider compassion. It too is not a good thing in itself. We should be compassionate only if and when there exists suffering that needs to be alleviated. But it would be better if there didn’t exist any type of suffering that calls for compassion. The absence of any suffering in world A is preferable to the intense and widespread suffering found in world B. Therefore, even though all of A’s inhabitants are morally perfect and supremely compassionate, compassion doesn’t exist simply because it is not needed. Since a world without suffering is preferable to a world that contains it, a world where compassion is not needed is preferable to a world where it is needed.[14]

Nicholas Everitt makes a similar point with respect to the virtuous power to resist temptation: “Given that human beings are liable to temptation, it is good that they have to some degree the power to resist temptation. The second property helps, as it were, to counteract the effect of the first. But the counteracting is not so valuable that it is better that both should be instantiated than that neither should be.”[15]

Perseverance is steady persistence in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement. It is useful to be perseverant in world B, where difficulties and obstacles abound, but it would be completely useless in world A, where there are no difficulties or obstacles of any kind.

Thus, the absence of things from world A like compassion, courage, the power to resist temptation, perseverance, and the desire to learn does not signal a problem or an imperfection in A which might determine God to choose A over B. On the contrary, their existence in world B is an indication of B’s imperfection.

But perhaps, a critic might protest, in actualizing world A God would make supreme happiness (which consists in possessing all of God’s attributes and being in the presence of God and other gods) too easy to acquire, and such an important goal should be earned through serious effort. However, it should first be remembered that the god-like beings in world A are completely free, just as God is. If God’s actions could not carry any moral significance, they could never be praiseworthy. But this consequence is obviously rejected by theists. Therefore, if God’s actions carry moral significance, then the other gods’ actions likewise carry moral significance.

Ralph Wagenet describes God’s freedom as follows:

[God is] not bound by inappropriate or involuntary restraint. This is not the same as the absence of all restraint. Clearly it is no slavery to be bound by restraints that you yourself have chosen and embraced, that are consistent with who you are and what you desire. The opposite of freedom is compulsion; being bound to act inconsistently with your conscience and values. God is absolutely free, for no one and nothing can bind him to an action he finds repugnant.[16]

All of the god-like beings in world A possess exactly the same kind of absolute freedom. Since they are omniscient, morally perfect, and perfectly rational, they will freely choose to do what is right and abstain from doing evil. If God is absolutely free, and thus his freedom is relevant and significant, so is the freedom possessed by the beings in world A. Therefore, their choices, like loving and worshipping God and loving all of the other beings in world A, are relevant and not determined by anything outside of them. So in a very important sense, they certainly deserve their blissful existence since they themselves freely made all of the right choices.

But it is here that the critic might retort that their omniscience and perfect moral character is what made their choice a lot easier. Acquiring so much knowledge, the critic might argue, should require a lot of hard work. Such valuable goods should not simply be given away. But this argument assumes that learning is a goal in itself, an intrinsic good rather than merely a means to the end of knowledge itself—an argument that has already been rejected above.

It is certainly true that in our world, world B, most significant goods can be attained exclusively by hard work. But as I have already said, that is only because ours is an imperfect world, filled with obstacles stemming from its imperfection and all kinds of difficulties that need to be overcome. This objection is based on how things are in our world, not on how things should be in the best possible world.

Why does the critic think that becoming more knowledgeable should require hard work? All things being equal, it is the knowledge that matters, not how it was acquired.
It is worth mentioning here that AEND also receives some biblical support against O1. In Ezekiel 28:12 we are informed that God created Lucifer “full of wisdom.” Since wisdom is defined as knowledge of what is true or right coupled with just judgment as to action, it follows that there is nothing wrong from God’s point of view with giving a high degree of knowledge to one of his creatures. Why should giving perfect knowledge to his beings be undesirable?[17]

Objection 2 (O2): Robert M. Adams challenges the assumption that if a perfectly good moral agent created any world at all, it would have to be the very best world that he could create. By employing the concept of divine “grace,” which is considered a virtue in the Judeo-Christian tradition, Adams argues that even if there is a best of all possible worlds, the fact that God chooses to create a less than perfect world does not show a moral defect on his part. That is because God would still love the creatures in the less than perfect world due to his grace, which is defined as “a disposition to love which is not dependent on the merit of the person loved.”[18]Therefore, if Adams is right, then AEND’s first premise fails because it would not be true that God would create exclusively a world that contains a multitude of gods.

Response: William Hasker has pointed out that even if choosing to create an inferior world does not indicate a moral flaw on God’s part, God would still have good reasons to prefer creating the best possible world:

Unlike Adams, I believe that if we grant the existence of a best world, we will be hard pressed to make sense of the notion that God might create some other world instead. The problem is not that God is obligated to create the best world…. But I think it will be very difficult to make such a choice on God’s part rationally intelligible: what possible reason could God have for creating an inferior world instead of the best?…. [T]he concept of grace provides no reason why God would choose to create less than perfect. As Mark Thomas has pointed out, the notion of grace is neutral with regard to which world God creates; it does not provide a reason for which God might create some world other than the best possible.[19]

William Rowe drives this point home when he writes:

Loving parents may be disposed to love fully any child that is born to them, regardless of whatever talents that child is capable of developing. But such love is consistent with a preference for a child who will be born whole, without mental or physical impairment, a child who will develop his or her capacities for kindness toward others, who will develop his or her tastes for music, good literature, etc. And in like manner, God will graciously love any creature he might choose to create, not just the best possible creatures. But that does not rule out God’s having a preference for creating creatures who will strive as creatures not only to have a good life but also to lead a good life, creatures who will in their own way freely develop themselves into “children of God.”[20]

Returning to AEND, even if God would graciously love any kind of created beings, he would still have compelling reasons to create only gods, as AEND’s first premise states. Just as loving parents would prefer to have a healthy child instead of a mentally deficient one, even though they would love fully any of the two children born to them, so God would prefer to actualize world A instead of world B, even though he would also love the beings in world B were they to exist. Thus, the concept of grace introduced by Adams does nothing to show the falsity of AEND’s premise (1).

Though this is sufficient to reject Adams’ argument, it is interesting to note that in the Judeo-Christian tradition God is said to have actually regretted the creation of world B at one point. Genesis 6:5-6 states: “Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. The LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.” Not even his divine grace was capable of making him love his creatures, since in the next verse we find out that he destroyed them: “And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them.” Since it is reasonable to believe that God would want to avoid such disappointing situations, he would want from the start to actualize world A, whose denizens will never disappoint him, instead of experimenting by actualizing other possible worlds.

Objection 3 (O3): God did in fact create a perfect world. According to Genesis 1:31, “And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.” Moreover, in Genesis 1:27 we read: “So God created man in his own image.” However, this flawless world “fell” because one of its free beings chose to disobey God. Thus, AEND’s conclusion does not follow from its premises because there is no real conflict between the two premises. Since God is not responsible for the actualization of world B, it follows that AEND’s premise (2) does not contradict in any way premise (1).

Response: The obvious reply is that no matter how good the world created by God was, it was certainly not perfect. A perfect world must by definition remain perfect. A “perfect” world that has the capacity to become imperfect is not perfect in the first place. Even if the first pair was created without sin, Adam and Eve were surely vastly different from the gods that I’ve argued God would create. For example, if Eve would have been omniscient and morally perfect, she would have known that the talking serpent is the Devil and wants to harm and trick her, and she wouldn’t have eaten the forbidden fruit. In fact, since the apple she ate was from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, it follows that she didn’t even know the basic difference between good and evil before she ate it. Thus, it is obvious that she was not omniscient. Therefore, it cannot be argued that the human beings created by God in the Genesis story were perfect. On the contrary, they were extremely deficient at least from an epistemic point of view.

Michael Martin underlines the differences between God and human beings as follows: “[I]n what specific respects God was supposed to make humans in His image is not clear. After all, in many respects humans are not created in God’s image: God has no body, humans do; God cannot sin, humans can and do; God is infinitely strong, humans are weak; and so on.”[21]

In fact, if God would choose to create a being in his image, this being would probably be like a god, as argued in defense of AEND’s first premise; that is, it would be a being that does not have a body, cannot sin, is infinitely strong, and so on. Thus, Genesis 1:27 seems to enforce AEND rather than O3.

Objection 4 (O4): In Exodus 20:4-6 we read: “You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but I showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.” Doesn’t it follow that since God is “jealous” of other gods, he would not want to create other gods?

Response: The verses above are usually interpreted as a divine prohibition on making idols and worshiping those idols instead of God. God is not somehow envious of other gods or idols. That would be a character flaw incompatible with his moral perfection. Instead of his children loving nonexistent idols and gods, the moral of the story is that God wanted his children to love and appreciate their true creator. And that is exactly what would happen in world A: every inhabitant of world A would love and appreciate God and would never be so deluded as to love nonexistent idols and gods.

But perhaps the message here is that if God were to create another being of equal power, intelligence, and perfection, then he would cease to be unique. But even in world A there is at least one crucial thing that does make God unique among all of the other gods: he is the creator of all of the others. In addition, if we agree that God is, by definition, necessarily existent, then he is also the only god whose existence is necessary. And since they are omniscient and morally perfect, the created gods would know this and recognize God for what he is.

Objection 5 (O5): God has a good but unknown reason to prefer world B over world A, but our limited minds cannot understand his reasons.

Response: If God is morally perfect, then he would choose world B over world A only if he could achieve an even better result than world A. But world A already contains everything that God could want from his creatures, since there exists supreme happiness, complete love and harmony among its denizens, no evil or suffering, and freely chosen love and worship of God by all of his creatures. Not even Heaven—where believers expect to find supreme and eternal happiness, to love “the Lord their God with all their heart and with all their soul and with all their mind,” and to love “their neighbor as themselves”—offers anything more than what is already found in world A. However, in world A every personal being is guaranteed infinite happiness, and none of them experience any suffering, not even for a limited amount of time (unlike the denizens of world B). Thus, world A is superior to world B even if world B includes a place of eternal postmortem happiness for some of its denizens. Therefore, it is irrational to believe that there could by some possible unknown reason for God to prefer world B over world A.


I have argued that were the traditional theistic God to exist, the present world would not exist. For God would only choose to actualize a world containing other gods who possess every one of his attributes except necessary existence—a world I have called world A. And since there is nothing logically impossible about world A, it could be actualized by an omnipotent God. Were God to decide to create a world that includes other personal beings, world A is what we would expect him to actualize. For there is nothing that a perfect God wants that our present world has but that world A lacks. The only things utterly absent from world A are the numerous negative aspects of our actual world, like suffering and nonbelief. Thus, God should be motivated to actualize exclusively world A. Since a world other than world A clearly exists, it follows that the God of traditional theism does not.[22]


[1] Some readers might wonder if a being that does not exist necessarily should still be called “God.” It seems to me that we are fully justified in using the label “God” to name a being that exists contingently but is still personal, omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent (morally perfect and all-loving), perfectly rational, completely free, immutable, and eternal. After all, in ancient Greek, Scandinavian, or Roman religions, beings with far less impressive features are called “gods.” And even if the contingently existing being just described should not be considered a deity, it would certainly be “god-like.” AEND could thus just as well be described as “The Argument from the Existence of Non-Godlike Beings” since human beings, animals, and plants are still far from godlike.

[2] Nicholas Everitt, “The Argument from Imperfection: A New Proof of the Non-Existence of God,” Philo, Vol. 9, No. 2 (2006): 113-130, p. 128.

[3] In “The Argument from Physiological Horrors” (2003) on the Positive Atheism website, I argued that the existence of aesthetic ugliness provides good grounds for thinking that God does not exist.

[4] David Benatar, Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming Into Existence (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2006), p. 30.

[5] See, for example, Voltaire’s satire Candide (1759).

[6] Assuming, for the sake of argument, that God would have good reasons to actualize world C, AEND would fail. However, it is worth noting that world C is a devastating possibility for all three of the major monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) since it includes a multitude of gods.

[7] I owe this point to an anonymous reviewer, who also provided the formalized version of the argument from imperfection.

[8] See David B. Myers, “New Design Arguments: Old Millian Objections,” Religious Studies, Vol. 36, No. 2 (2000): 141-162.

[9] John Mackie, “Evil and Omnipotence,” Mind, Vol. 64, No. 254 (April 1955): 200-212, p. 209.

[10] See, for example, Richard Schoenig, “The Free Will Theodicy,” Religious Studies, Vol. 34, No. 4 (December 1998): 457-470.

[11] See, for example, J. L. Schellenberg, “The Atheist’s Free Will Offence,” International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, Vol. 56, No. 1 (August 2004): 1-15.

[12] Theodore M. Drange, Nonbelief and Evil: Two Arguments for the Nonexistence of God (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 1998), p. 36.

[13] See my response to the third objection in my “The Argument from Insufficient Knowledge of the Bible for the Nonexistence of the God of Christianity” (2005) on the Secular Web.

[14] See also Ryan Stringer, “Arguments from Perfection” (2011), Section IV on the Secular Web.

[15] Nicholas Everitt, “The Argument from Imperfection: A New Proof of the Non-Existence of God,” p. 119.

[16] Ralph C. Wagenet, “The Coherence of God: A Response to Theodore M. Drange” (2003), “Definitions and Comments” section, on the Secular Web.

[17] In “Why the Abundance Theory of Creation Fails” I argued that God has to create fallible beings (like humans) in need of salvation through a divine act of complete selflessness. Some readers might think this is inconsistent with the position taken here that God should actualize only world A, even though it doesn’t contain any fallible beings. But this misses the point of “Why the Abundance Theory of Creation Fails,” which argues that in a world where only God exists, unconditional self-sacrifice for the benefit of another would be impossible, and so God’s love could not attain perfection. If the argument succeeds, a perfect God cannot exist because God either lacks something valuable (moral perfection) or depends on something outside of himself (human beings). Since AEND assumes that an existent perfect being is possible, I will ignore the aforementioned argument and concede here for the sake of argument that lacking the possibility of self-sacrifice does not infringe upon God’s perfection. I will also ignore Nicholas Everitt’s argument that God would not create any contingently existing things in his “The Argument from Imperfection” for the same reason.

[18] Robert M. Adams, “Must God Create the Best?” Philosophical Review, Vol. LXXXI [81], No. 3 (1972): 317-322, p. 324.

[19] William Hasker, The Triumph of God over Evil: Theodicy for a World of Suffering (Strategic Initiatives in Evangelical Theology) (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press Academic, 2008), p. 83.

[20] William Rowe, “Divine Freedom,” 5. Alternatives to creating the best possible world,” in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

[21] Michael Martin, the Fernandes-Martin Debate (1997), Dr. Martin’s Second Statement, “Response to Misunderstandings of Atheism,” transcribed on the Secular Web.

[22] I am indebted to an anonymous reviewer for making valuable and helpful suggestions on an earlier version of the paper. I also thank Keith Augustine for providing useful comments and giving this paper a suitable form for publication.

Copyright ©2013 Horia Plugaru. The electronic version is copyright ©2013 by Internet Infidels, Inc. with the written permission of Horia Plugaru. All rights reserved.

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