The 17th century German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz famously argued that this world of ours is “the best of all possible worlds”, and in doing so founded the philosophical study that he named ‘theodicy’ – the attempt to answer the question of why we suffer in a world supposedly watched over be an all-powerful and benevolent God. The scenes of devastation created by the tsunami that recently hit the east coast of Japan make these kinds of proclamations hard to swallow to say the least. Some philosophers after Leibniz made a point of how blindly indulgent and insensitive such claims can seem in the face of these reminders of the relentless and destructive powers of nature. Voltaire’s famous literary lampoon Candide: Or, the Optimist mocked the academic sophistry of such arm-chair speculation about suffering, and fellow German Schopenhauer, philosophy’s eternal pessimist, was perhaps the most damning of them all, saying once that:
…I cannot here withhold the statement that optimism, where it is not merely the thoughtless talk of those who harbour nothing but words under their shallow foreheads, seems to me to be not merely an absurd, but also a really wicked way of thinking, a bitter mockery of the unspeakable sufferings of mankind. Let no one imagine that the Christian teaching is favourable to optimism; on the contrary, in the Gospels world and evil are used as synonymous expressions. Continue reading “The Real Problem of Evil”
If there is an all-good, all-powerful God, why is there so much wrong with the world? This ancient problem — the problem of evil — receives unfortunate freshness every time something terrible happens. Philosopher David Bain discusses the problem of evil, and its connection with the Haiti earthquake, in this short and accessible essay.
I usually think that the best hope for a solution to this problem lies in the idea that there is no best of all possible worlds. This view says that, for any possible world God could have created, there is an even better world that God could have created instead. If this were true, then God would have to make a less-than-perfect world — or else nothing at all. And presumably an imperfect something is better than absolutely nothing. Thus we might be able to explain how an all-good all-powerful God could have created an imperfect world. However, it’s another question whether this line of thinking can offer a complete solution to the problem of evil. For that you’d need to explain how an all-good all-powerful God could allow, not just imperfections, but also hugely catastrophic events — like what has happened in Haiti.
Misery is all around us. You don’t even have to look away from The Philosopher’s Eye to learn how hazardous the world is: we’ve discussed on this blog how the deadly swine flu is becoming even more virulent and how 1.4 billion people live on less than $1.25 a day.
The fact that there’s so much suffering is already bad enough. But it poses a special problem for theists who believe in an omnipotent and good God. How could such a God allow so many people to suffer so much? This is the (or a) Problem of Evil. Leibniz‘s famous, deeply counterintuitive answer to the Problem of Evil is to argue that, despite appearances, we inhabit the best possible world. Over the weekend, philosophers Jan Cover and Michael Murray appeared on Bloggingheads.tv to discuss this strange idea.