In a lecture entitled The Faith Question (2008), I argued that the occurrence apparently pointless suffering decreases the probability of theism and makes more sense on the backdrop of naturalism. With that said, the warrant for competing worldviews does not hinge entirely on the problem of suffering. In fact, an often neglected source of evidence for theism is the problem of good.
- God has good reason to actualize goods such as consciousness, beauty, morally significant freedom, justice, and self-giving love – as well as creatures with the potential to experience and realize those goods.
- The actual world contains those goods.
- Naturalism gives us little reason to expect those goods.
- Therefore, (2) is evidence for theism.
Premise (1) seems very at home with the traditional concept of God. While God could have chosen not to create anything, he has reason to create a world containing such goods, especially because God is by definition a perfectly good being who delights in such things.
Premise (2) is quite reasonable as well. We may not fully understand how those values came to be in the history of the cosmos, but they exist nonetheless, however incomplete or imperfect they are.
What about premise (3)? To what extent would we expect these goods on naturalism? Perhaps the best approach to this question is from the perspective of multiple worlds (or a multiverse). According to our current understanding of this hypothesis, very few of the worlds in the multiverse are hospitable to life, let alone to the goods in premise (1). And within such a limited set of hospitable worlds, there is no guarantee that those goods will actually arise in the process of cosmic evolution. Perhaps a fraction of those worlds contain only amoebas but none of the goods consonant with personal agents (this is a generous concession to say the least!). If so, then these goods are quite surprising on naturalism but unsurprising on theism, since God (as a benevolent creator) would have reason to populate worlds with them.
The surprising existence of goods in a naturalistic worldview can be interpreted in at least two ways, depending on whether the future of this world is causally open or closed:
First, if many possible futures are compatible with this world’s initial state (i.e. its future is open), then we are left without a complete explanation of why goods emerged and not something else. I say “complete explanation” because a partial account of how they emerged can be given in terms of cosmic and biological evolution. But if evolution could have taken many different paths, we still have not explained why the goods-path won out over the others. A naturalistic account of the processes involved in the emergence of goods does not obviate the need for a further explanation of why other paths did not win out instead.
Second, if only one possible future in terms of cosmic and biological evolution is compatible with this world’s initial state (i.e. its future is closed), then we could similarly ask why, among so meagre a handful of hospitable candidates, the beginning of this world was so precisely calibrated as to make goods not only possible but physically inevitable!
But the hypothesis of theism can readily explain these surprises. On the first interpretation, God providentially guides natural processes so that they lead to the goods he envisions. On the second interpretation, God calibrates the initial state of this world by “stacking the deck” in favour of his goals. Either way, theism gives us reason to expect goods whereas naturalism gives us little reason to do so.
What do you, the reader, think about the problem of good. Is it really a problem? How might naturalism shore up its resources for explaining the surprises mentioned above? Note: in part 2 of this blog post (forthcoming) I will address possible objections to the above argument.
 The value of morally significant freedom still remains even if we are compatibilists who believe that human responsibility and determinism are not at odds with each other.
 Some theologically inclined physicists speculate that quantum chaos (QC) provides a key to understanding how God might act within the causal “gappyness” of the quantum world to affect major changes that suit his purposes. QC suggests that minor quantum changes can be iterated and rapidly amplified within systems that are extremely sensitive to changes in their initial conditions. However, the jury is still out on the viability of this theory.
 For an excellent discussion of “deck stacking” as a form of divine action, see Michael Murray, Natural Providence (or Design Trouble), cited on December 30th, 2012, from: https://edisk.fandm.edu/michael.murray/Providence.pdf