A classic problem with Christianity is the so-called ‘problem of evil’—that friction between the hypothesis that the world’s creator is arbitrarily good and powerful, and a large fraction of actual observations of the world.

Coming up with solutions to the problem of evil is a compelling endeavor if you are really rooting for a particular bottom line re Christianity, or I guess if you enjoy making up faux-valid arguments for wrong conclusions. At any rate, I think about this more than you might guess.

And I think I’ve solved it!

Or at least, I thought of a new solution which seems better than the others I’ve heard. (Though I mostly haven’t heard them since high school.)

The world (much like anything) has different levels of organization. People are made of cells; cells are made of molecules; molecules are made of atoms; atoms are made of subatomic particles, for instance.

You can’t actually make a person (of the usual kind) without including atoms, and you can’t make a whole bunch of atoms in a particular structure without having made a person. These are logical facts, just like you can’t draw a triangle without drawing corners, and you can’t draw three corners connected by three lines without drawing a triangle. In particular, even God can’t. (This is already established I think—for instance, I think it is agreed that God cannot make a rock so big that God cannot lift it, and that this is not a threat to God’s omnipotence.)

So God can’t make the atoms be arranged one way and the humans be arranged another contradictory way. If God has opinions about what is good at different levels of organization, and they don’t coincide, then he has to make trade-offs. If he cares about some level aside from the human level, then at the human level, things are going to have to be a bit suboptimal sometimes. Or perhaps entirely unrelated to what would be optimal, all the time.

We usually assume God only cares about the human level. But if we take for granted that he made the world maximally good, then we might infer that he also cares about at least one other level.

And I think if we look at the world with this in mind, it’s pretty clear where that level is. If there’s one thing God really makes sure happens, it’s ‘the laws of physics’. Though presumably laws are just what you see when God cares. To be ‘fundamental’ is to matter so much that the universe runs on the clockwork of your needs being met. There isn’t a law of nothing bad ever happening to anyone’s child; there’s a law of energy being conserved in particle interactions. God cares about particle interactions.

What’s more, God cares so much about what happens to sub-atomic particles that he actually never, to our knowledge, compromises on that front. God will let anything go down at the human level rather than let one neutron go astray.

What should we infer from this? That the majority of moral value is found at the level of fundamental physics (following Brian Tomasik and then going further). Happily we don’t need to worry about this, because God has it under control. We might however wonder what we can infer from this about the moral value of other levels that are less important yet logically intertwined with and thus beyond the reach of God, but might still be more valuable than the one we usually focus on.

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God is good*


*for a very specific definition of "goodness", which doesn't actually capture the intuition of most people about ethics and is mostly about iteraction of sub-atomic particles.

Then God isn't "good" as humans mean the term. That's always been one possible explanation.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.

-- Isaiah 55:8

This probably also implies: "your values are not my values".

Yeah. Well, since It was addressing a tribe of nomadic herders in prehistoric times, that in itself is a good thing :)

To be honest, this just feels like the Euthyphro Dilemma all over again. "Good" is defined by what God does. God chooses to run the laws of physics. Laws of physics are "Good". Who gives a damn?

Also this is directly contradictory to Christianity, since the core beliefs of Christianity all assume some level of non-natural intervention in the world (e.g. resurrection of Christ). Same for almost all other religions. So who is this even for?

"So God can’t make the atoms be arranged one way and the humans be arranged another contradictory way."

But couldn't he have made a different sort of thing than humans, which were less prone to evil? Like, it seems to me that he didn't need to make us evolve through the process of natural selection, such that species were always in competition, status was a big deal, fighting over mates commonplace, etc. I do expect that there's quite a bit of convergence in the space of possible minds—even if one is selecting them from the set of "all possible atomic configurations of minds"—but I would still guess that not all of those are as prone to "evil" as us. I.e., if the laws of physics were held constant, I would think you could get less evil things than us out of it, and probably worlds which were overall more favorable to life (fewer natural disasters, etc.). But perhaps this is even more evidence that God only cares about the laws of physics? Since we seem much more like an afterthought than a priority?   

Or maybe the Ultimate Good in the eyes of God is the epic sequence of: dead matter -> RNA world -> protocells -> ... -> hairless apes throwing rocks at each other and chasing gazelles -> weirdoes trying to accomplish the impossible task of raising the sanity waterline and carrying the world through the Big Filter of AI Doom -> deep utopia/galaxy lit with consciousness/The Goddess of Everything Else finale.

I'm so happy someone came up with this!

I'm pretty sure I heard Alan Watts say something like that, at least in one direction (lower levels of organization -> higher levels). "The conflict/disorder at the lower level of the Cosmos is required for cooperation/harmony on the higher level."