Avengers: Infinity War & Possible Worlds



(The FreeThinking Theist)


April 28, 2018

Spoiler Alert! Spoiler Alert!! Spoiler Alert!!!

Seriously, if you have not yet seen the movie, Avengers: Infinity War, stop reading this and go to the movie theatre and buy a ticket! Then come back and read this article. Consider yourself warned!

Marvel Studios has devoted the past decade to developing many of my favorite childhood comics into fantastic movies. They started with Iron man, Thor, and Captain America, and then went on to develop other stars and co-stars within a robust Marvel Universe that, in my opinion, is unrivaled — even by Star Wars! Not only do I love the Marvel super heroes who I grew up with in the comic books, but these recent movies have provided fantastic opportunities to discuss philosophical and theological issues in pop-culture. For example, FreeThinking Ministries has pointed out how Captain America knows that there is only one God … and He does not dress like Thor! Cap also knows of the “law above the law” that can only be grounded in God (See Make America Great). Tony Stark (Iron Man) has demonstrated how absurd it is to hold a person accountable for their actions when someone else is ultimately in control of their thoughts and actions (See Captain America, Bucky, & Moral Responsibility).

Avengers: Infinity War continues in this ten-year tradition and does not disappoint. In my opinion, this movie provides one of the best illustrations of one of the most hard to grasp theological issues ever conceived. Namely, the Marvel Universe has just painted a beautiful picture of Molinism and God’s middle knowledge while simultaneously defeating the so-called “problem of evil.”

Let me explain: Tony Stark, Peter Parker (Spider-Man), and Doctor Strange join forces with The Guardians of the Galaxy on the planet Titan. They know a fight to the death with Thanos (perhaps the most powerful being in the universe?) is looming and the heroes are desperately trying to devise a plan to defeat him. A task that might be easier said than done when Peter Quill (a.k.a. “Starlord”) is on the planning committee!

Doctor Strange & Middle Knowledge

Doctor Strange, however, chooses not to be involved in this conversation and instead uses the Time Stone to look forward in time. However, he did not merely look forward into the future, rather, he evaluated over 14,000,000 “alternate futures.” These are perfect examples of what philosophers and theologians refer to as “possible worlds.” Why is Doctor Strange doing such a thing? Because, although it is not logically impossible for the Avengers to defeat Thanos, he wants to see if there is a possible world that could be actualized — a “feasible world” in which the Avengers would actually defeat Thanos!

Strange tells Tony and the others that he examined over 14 million alternate futures, but out of the multi-millions of possible worlds surveyed, he knows of only one in which the good guys actually defeat Thanos in the end. One in 14 million is commonly referred to as “horrible odds.”

However, my guess is that these “alternate futures” are not merely based on chance alone, and that Doctor Strange gained knowledge of how all of these super heroes and villains would freely choose in each of the millions and millions of possible worlds he examined. Possessing this knowledge of how these free super-powered persons would freely choose in each of these possible futures (similar to what theologians refer to as “middle knowledge“), I would venture that Strange freely chose himself — and did everything in his power — to make the possible world in which the good guys would win the actual world in which the good guys will win.

The Best Feasible World

Infinity War ends on a cliff hanger and in apparent defeat. In fact, so many of my childhood heroes were destroyed and seemingly “killed off” as they literally turned to dust in front of our eyes. This includes the demise of Doctor Strange himself, but just before Strange dies, his last statement to Stark was attention-getting: “There was no other way.” This seems to indicate that Doctor Strange believed that even though many good guys are dying — and he himself would be killed in this world — this is the only world available in which the evil of Thanos is ultimately defeated. Based on this knowledge, Doctor Strange layed down his life for his friends and the greater good. The ultimate sacrifice.

That is to say, although this world is suffused with so much suffering and death, it is still the best of all possible worlds that could be actualized. In his last moments, Doctor Strange seemed to believe that everything was going according to plan. If I am right — and if Strange is right — then the pain, evil, and suffering that occurs at the end of Avengers: Infinity War, is actually the only path to defeating the evil of Thanos.

It is vital to note that Doctor Strange possesses this counterfactual knowledge before he somehow chose to make this possible alternate future the actual future. That is to say, to make a possible world the actual world! So, although it does not seem like it at the end of the movie, my hunch is that this world, as bad as it is, is actually the best world humans could hope for, even though it sure does not feel like it at the moment. Strange has chosen the best of all possible worlds available to make actual. Because of this, Strange is the hero — perhaps of the entire Marvel Universe!

Thinking About GOD

Although no analogy is perfect, Doctor Strange provides a great illustration as to how we should view God and His sovereignty over the entire universe and all of its contents. This also includes the affairs of humanity. God is omniscient and knows all that could happen, all that will happen, and all that would happen in “alternate futures” or possible worlds. God is also omnipotent and has the power to choose the best of all the possible worlds available (feasible worlds) and to make it actual.

It might not always seem like it — especially when we experience pain, evil, and suffering — but God (similar to Doctor Strange but maximally greater) perfectly knows that this “evil-infused universe” will eventually lead to a world where evil is extinguished and no one will ever make evil choices again (Heaven). Doctor Strange had the big picture in mind and made his choice allowing limited evil to ultimately defeat evil. God has eternity in mind and made His choice allowing limited evil to ultimately destroy evil into the infinite future.

God is the Hero of the universe and should be praised!

As Starlord said, “What master do you serve?”

*UPDATE (April 28, 2019):

Now that Avengers: Endgame has been released, check out my follow-up article entitled, Avengers Endgame, Middle Knowledge, & the Destruction of the Problem of Evil.


About the Author



(The FreeThinking Theist)

Timothy A. Stratton (PhD, North-West University) is a professor at Trinity College of the Bible and Theological Seminary. As a former youth pastor, he is now devoted to answering deep theological and philosophical questions he first encountered from inquisitive teens in his church youth group. Stratton is founder and president of FreeThinking Ministries, a web-based apologetics ministry. Stratton speaks on church and college campuses around the country and offers regular videos on FreeThinking Ministries’ YouTube channel.

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