Since trusting in Christ during my early adult years, I have spent the rest of my life accepting what the Bible teaches about the value and sanctity of human life at face value without much reflection. Don’t get me wrong: I recognized that human life is valuable and I have always taken life-and-death situations very seriously. However, it was not until I encountered the philosophical concept of possible worlds that I felt the weighty, humbling honor of existing. The concept of possible worlds helped me to emotionally connect with the truth about the value of human life which, in turn, fanned the flame of gratitude and thanksgiving.
In order to have the concept of possible worlds fan the flame of your gratitude and thanksgiving to God, it will be necessary to understand a few terms. If you hear me out, I think it will be worth it.
The law of noncontradiction: The proposition that A cannot be both B and non-B at the same time in the same sense. “According to Aristotle, the laws of logic are not simply principles of human thinking. Because they are also laws of being, we may use them to grasp the logical structure of the world. The law of noncontradiction is a necessary principle of thought because it is first a necessary principle of being.”
The necessity of logic (the law of noncontradiction) for human knowledge: The laws of logic are self-evident. Any attempt at refuting the law of noncontradiction would have to presuppose the law of noncontradiction and prove self-defeating. “If logic is indispensable to all human thought, speech, and action, it follows that the law of non-contradiction is not merely an arbitrary convention useful for constructing symbolic systems.” Two plus two is four is not true because humans say it is. That four is the sum of two plus two is necessarily and objectively true.
Contingent being: A contingent being is any existing thing whose nonexistence is possible and whose existence depends upon something else. This is the opposite of a necessary being. Some define contingent beings as entities that could have failed to exist.
Necessary being: A necessary being is an eternal being whose existence is not dependent on anything else; the opposite of a contingent being. God is a necessary being. Some define a necessary being as an entity that could not have failed to exist.
The concept of possible worlds: We recognize that the actual world we live in could have been different in countless ways, both profound and trivial. There could be just six planets in our solar system, some species of animal might never have had existed, the French Revolution might have failed, children born might never have been conceived (and vice versa), and you might have had three eggs for breakfast last week instead of two. In a possible world, you might have three arms or one leg (incidental or nonessential properties) but you would still have all the essential properties that make you you. In any possible world, God is a logical necessity (the necessary being for contingent beings) just as the law of non-contradiction is a necessity; God, with all His essential properties and attributes will still be the world-maker and it will still be impossible for a circle to be a square.
It is impossible to seriously imagine a world where logic and a necessary being (God) do not exist. It is, however, entirely possible to imagine numerous possible worlds in which we never have and never will exist. “Every human being is a contingent being, a fact made obvious by the role our parents played in our existence…a contingent being exists in some possible worlds, but not all. You and I exist in the real world; we also exist in many other possible worlds. But there are numerous possible worlds in which we never have and never will exist.” That we exist—each and every one of us—is a humbling affirmation of your value: God asserts that you were worth making.
God is aware of all the possible worlds (and the beings in them) that He could have made. God is not necessarily bound to have made our world, formed our earth, given it to man for dominion, or to have made you. But, He did because he wanted to. God, in all of His wisdom, omniscience, and omnipotence, has “done the math” that we cannot do and He decided that you were worth actually making. He made you because he wants you to know Him, to be known by Him, and to reflect His glory in relationship with Him. Let that sink in if you never have before.
Logic and dry philosophical concepts might be an odd vehicle, but if you are like me thinking about the concept of possible worlds will bring a new depth to your thanksgiving.
- Genesis 1:26-27; Psalm 139:13-16; Genesis 9:6; Leviticus 19:33-34; Deuteronomy 15:7-8; 2 Peter 3:9; James 2:1-4
- Ronald Nash, Life’s Ultimate Questions: An Introduction to Philosophy, 194.
- , 197.
- In defining possible worlds and demonstrating how innumerably large the number of possible worlds one might consider, Ronald Nash says, “To take examples from a far more distant point in history, all manner of things are known about the Socrates who lived in the actual or real world: he was snub-nosed, he was married to Xanthippe, he was the teacher of Plato, he was a sculptor, and he was executed in 399 B.C. These propositions about Socrates would have to be included in any complete list of true propositions about the real world. But what if Socrates had not been snub nosed or had not taught Plato or had not been executed? All the possibilities can be considered by suggesting possible worlds in which Socrates had a Roman nose or ran in the Olympic marathon or kicked Plato out of his class for cheating or died of old age. In other words, it is possible to imagine innumerable possible worlds in which Socrates exists that differ in some way from the real world.” (212)
- Ronald Nash points out that, “A human being may lose one, two three, or four limbs and still be a human being. Humans may lose their hair, their sight, or their appendix and still be humans, that is, still possess the essential property of humanness.” (216)
- Philosophers from Plato to Aristotle to Augustine to Kant have concluded that God is logically necessary and that materialism/naturalism fails to entirely explain itself. It should be recognized that not all of those philosophers would be considered Christian theists.
- It should be made clear that entertaining the concept of possible worlds is not acknowledging that those possible worlds actually exist.
- Ronald Nash, Life’s Ultimate Questions: An Introduction to Philosophy, 215-216.