“The universe that God chose to exist is the best of all possible worlds” wrote the philosopher Leibnitz. It was his answer to explain a universe which included so many harms – whether through evil men or through the pains and sufferings that are around us all through nature. It leaves us with the question of why a good God created a world with so much evil and suffering. Do you accept his answer?
Most of us know that quotation through Voltaire’s book, Candide. It tells the story of a young man who goes through a terrible life, and witnesses terrible things. Every time he seeks solecism he looks to his favourite philosopher, whose name is Pangloss. He is, of course, a fictional Leibnitz. The book has been a best seller for three hundred years.
It is of course an excellent question. Have you ever wondered how God came to create a world with so much sorrow in it? Perhaps the death of a child, or deep poverty, or human cruelty – or even the “Lisbon earthquake” which occurred in the 18th century; up to 100,000 people died. Surely, we may wonder how God came to create such a world of disasters which, given his omnipotence, could have been a happier place.
Some years ago I asked the group of philosophers which I lead, a question: If you were God would you create a better world than the one we have? (They are a broad group from committed Christian to committed atheist.) Eventually they had to admit that every change for the better would lead to something else being worse: they would leave the world just as God made it. Yesterday morning I posed the question again (the membership had partly changed over the years). This time they couldn’t agree and they left arguing quite strongly with each other.
They come back in a fortnight. So I hope you will all agree on an answer which will satisfy them. Or perhaps not.
* * *
Some quotes to illustrate Voltaire’s character.
If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.
The best is the enemy of the good.
And this is what he had to say about Christianity:
(La nôtre religion (catholicism) est sans contredit la plus ridicule, la plus absurde, et la plus sanguinaire qui ait jamais infecté le monde.
The starting point is not after the Fall, but prior to the creation as these issues were in the mind of the Triune God. Was this the perfect world? Pre Fall it was, as far as creation was concerned, but it would not be the perfect world for God foresaw the Fall with all the implications of it. As Creator, He takes responsibility for it. Prior to the Creation of this world, but not only this world but all the worlds in the Universe would come to an end at the end of time, which God the Father alone knows when that will be.
With the Fall, everything that was created would have its beginning, middle and end in this visible creation.
With the Fall sin entered the human race and that which was not meant to die died. Man’s life on earth since the Fall would be difficult, the earth would not produce the same but throw up thorns and briars we are told. Man would have difficulty to find water, shelter, clothe and feed themselves.
Man would grow old in the Fall and at the end of it die and death would hold him fast.
No longer could he have fellowship with God, meet with Him nor was it possible to rise again to God because He was spiritually dead.
But God had a plan devised, a Salvation whereby he could be restored to life again and rise to and fellowship with God again. All this was summed up in our Lord Jesus words, “It is finished.”
When this world and the Universe is finished, God will wrap it up like a scroll. He will then create new heavens and a new earth wherein righteousness will dwell.
The perfect world is yet to come, Man’s perfection that God created will be restored and we will be like God and we shall see Him as He is and forever dwell with Him. Yes, the best and the perfect is yet to come!
Excellent Nektarios! If we are Christians, that is the answer to the question.
When it comes to Scriptures, we can intellectualize everything out of context and existence just about and soon we find ourselves in error, no longer God’s communications to us but man’s speculations and theologizing. It is God’s word to us and it is important to take up what is presented in a straightforward way without complicating it needlessly which often leads to obscuring the message God is conveying to mankind.
This lead to divisions in opinion and of course is so detrimental to any fellowship, as that is based on the things surely believed among us.
The truth of this is agreed unanimously among all God’s people, for then, together we by the grace of God make spiritual progress.
I’m inclined to give this one a pass. It seems too wide open and lacking direction.
I’ll just toss out a partially and poorly baked thought. God has given us a brain that seemingly cannot stop building increasingly complex machines, both in the material world and in our minds. The end of all this building and the end of mankind may be reached when mankind has at last made itself a part inside its own machines, unable to live without them but perhaps not essential to their operation. At that point, mankind will have, probably unintentionally, killed its own free will. A creature without free will is no longer a man.
Oh, don’t give just yet, so much here to discover.
In part, this is all part of the Globalist agenda. Thankfully, so many folks around the world are waking up to what is happening.
The monitoring of everything by the big-tech companies, snooping on everyone and can impact their lives, work, banking, credit and a whole host of other aspects of modern living.
Man still has free will, but unless born again, regenerated by God, his free will does not choose what is right. You can see this in Quentin’s introduction where the philosophers would blame God. How arrogant and full of pride they are. But if history is anything to go by, it will be their downfall.
Since the Fall, which was catastrophic for Man, mankind has suffered, such are the effects of sin, how deep it runs affecting every aspect including his much-vaunted free will.
Thankfully God has not left us to our own devices unless we want to. He does provide a way of escape for those that trust Him.
The destiny of this planet and mankind is in God’s hands, not Man’s.
I totally disagree with thew idea that the world, as it is, is as God created it. God created it good – but then the Fall (as we call it) wrecked EVERYTHING. As for it being “necessary” for us to invent the idea of God, that is bunk, because man would never have been CAPABLE of doing it unaided, since things like “God” are/were totally outside his comprehension and (unaided) powers of imagination – no, God told man that God existed. The problem with the atheist thinkers of the so-called Enlightenment is that they felt the culture’s perceived-need to poduce a lot of humanistic hokum – that we are still living under. (OK, I summarise a bit).
I agree with you. in addition to what you said in your posting; Man since the Fall lost sight of God, could not communicate with or relate to Him. Since Man is a clever creature, there was a God vacuum in man, so what did man do, he invented a god loads of them, thousands of them.
Anything concerning God, some of which is incomprehensible, could not be thought up by man, it was a lifeless, sightless, powerless statue or image usually made in man’s image, rather than the truth of the matter, we are made in the incomprehensible image of God with all that means.
As their lifeless, imagined gods, when the so-called Enlightenment came along, Man thought he could get rid of God.
With their atheistic and humanist and liberal mumbo jumbo passing as some definitive philosophy, science jumping on the same bandwagon. Despite all the conditioning, God has not left Himself without a witness. What is that? The emptiness that only God can fill.
He has also given us His word which we can read, the Prophets and Apostles to communicate
God and what He has to say to Man.
Despite all the denying of God, the amazing fact is, God in His mercy still allows Himself to be found by those who genuinely seek Him.
// Have you ever wondered how God came to create a world with so much sorrow in it? //
Through a glass darkly, no? All we have to understand with, it seems, is the little ball of stuff between our ears. Can a bacterium write a symphony? Can we understand God?
Prior to the Fall, the world God had made was good and had no sorrow in it. On account of the Fall, when our Lord came at the fullness of time, He was said to be a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He did not come to change the planet first and foremost, but people, delivering them from sin and death, giving them a new life that was even greater than the first Adam had, giving them eternal life.
The earth rejoiced to see the children of God, it too knew it would be delivered from death and made anew as does the whole universe.
God created this world, all the worlds and the whole universe, for his glory and power to be displayed for we Mankind that would yet be created could know somethings about God and reflect His glory.
The idea of, in your words,” All we have to understand with, it seems, is the little ball of stuff between our ears.”
Can we understand God? The Universe with all its stars and worlds displays something of His glory.
We should know something and understand something about God our Creator but it is meaningless to many of us who imbibe the narrative taken over by scientists and evolutionists who cannot abide an outside agency, that is God, acting in the universe and the affairs of men.
I think that only in the next life will we be able to understand how God’s wonderful world could be free from discord and suffering, as our faith teaches us He intended when He created humans in His own image and likeness to live on this earth in perfect happiness. Food for most animals depends on killing with its accompanying fear and terror, the physical structure of the earth involves the constant movement of platelets, causing earthquakes and destruction, weather systems cause flooding, typhoons and extreme temperatures, microbes, bacteria, viruses etc. all seem to be competing with each other for life. How can we have any idea how it can all be resolved?
Interesting question. Let me introduce an Islamic perspective, for I consider all Abrahamic faiths as a continuation of the same massage. In Islam there are two types of sorrows- Godly acts and man made disasters. The former are part of the grand scheme of things to be, the latter are the result of the inquisitive nature of man which causes wars, inequalities of wealth and status and failure to live in harmony with nature. Godly acts can bring misery for some but are necessary for the continuation of life on earth. For instance a mother undergoing intense pain in labour or a flood that makes the land fertile. In Islam natural disasters are also seen as the effect of a cause such as earthquakes and fires which visit a nation when it exceeds in disobedience to God and injustice to human beings.
Finally it is human folly to look for perfection in a transitory journey to eternity where perfection was born and shall dwell for ever and which is the final destination of the children of Adam.
This is the first time I have seen your name on this blog, so welcome.
Your Islamic understanding is a general human and very natural perspective.
The truly Christian perspective from The Holy Bible would not hold certain views you have expressed.
I think you have expressed a broadly biblical perspective on what we would call the story of Creation and Fall as expressed in the Pentateuch which, as you will know is the basic text of the Abrahamic faiths. We place our lack of perfection at the door of our sin and the Fall from grace firstly of Adam& Eve and then the whole family of mankind. Since we are all sons of Adam we all inherit this thing called original sin. What is the islamic perspective on Original Sin may I ask?
This makes a lot of sense to me as a Catholic. Thank you Brother
“Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge?
Brace yourself like a man;I will question you,and you shall answer me.
Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it?
On what were its footings set,or who laid its cornerstone—while the morning stars sang together
and all the angels a shouted for joy?”
Is a bit like asking a grasshopper the solution to Global Warming.
I cannot see the sense in this question.
If I were God how could I create a better world than the one I create.
God cannot create anything that is defective, since God is good.
So we do live in the best possible universe already.
Just as I cannot do anything to make God love me more, nor can I do anything to make God love me less.
The experience of evil in our world is never brought about by God.
Its like blaming God for the great conflagration in Lisbon after the earthquake because it was on All Saints Day when everyone was at mass with all the churches were ablaze with candles for the feast.
There is no real sense to the question posed by Quentin. Talking about God is not the same thing as knowing Him, relating to Him and following Him.
Let me tease you a little, was the perfect Universe that God Created any different between Pre-Fall and Post-Fall? How would we know, how could we tell? A clue lies in the change in Nature including humanity.
I thought the whole point of Leibniz’s theodicy was to explain the problem of evil to someone who does not share a particular faith or concept of God. Almost all the replies above assume not merely the acceptance of Christianity but the acceptance of a particularly narrow interpretation of the role and nature of scripture which is inimical even to many (if not most) Christians.
As a Christian who is also a scientist I am happy to accept that the universe is approx 13.6Bn years old, that the carbon atoms so essential to my existence were formed in a supernova and that mono-genesis (the idea that all humanity descends from one set of parents) is entirely contrary to the evidence of DNA.
Do those writing also believe that before the fall lions ate grass and volcanoes did not exist? Did God re-order human DNA in order to introduce the possibility of cancer? It is only in realising that a so called ‘perfect world’ is an impossibility that we can understand a ‘best possible world’. We need to leave this silly thinking to Jehovah’s witnesses and allow ourselves to understand a more sophisticated Deity.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin made an attempt to marry evolution to the divine plan but fell foul of the rejection of scientific progress by the Catholic church in the early 20th century. Perhaps we need to consider some of his thinking as a departure point.
// We need to leave this silly thinking to Jehovah’s witnesses and allow ourselves to understand a more sophisticated Deity. //
To each his own understanding of God. You see God the Scientist; others see something less elaborate.
I find milliganp’s posting rather sweeping in the first instance. He assumes we all are too simplistic’ and allow ourselves a more sophisticated Diety.” Of course, science will provide that …. what utter tosh.
What field of Science is dear milliganp in? Clearly not in cosmology or genetics. He says,”As a Christian who is also a scientist I am happy to accept that the universe is approx 13.6Bn years old, that the carbon atoms so essential to my existence were formed in a supernova and that mono-genesis (the idea that all humanity descends from one set of parents) is entirely contrary to the evidence of DNA.”
When dear milliganp says, he is happy to accept, that means he does not know but is something he has read, Those who wrote that do not know that for sure either. The scientist cannot tell why this universe is here at all. One thing we do know scientists generally do not like the idea of an outside agency operating in the known universe.
He then goes on to mock, saying, “Do those writing also believe that before the fall lions ate grass and volcanoes did not exist?
If you knew your Scripture better you would know that lions eating grass and lying down with the lamb is in the world to come, not now.
Further mocking by dear milliganp, “Did God re-order human DNA in order to introduce the possibility of cancer?”
Prior to that, he says, “(the idea that all humanity descends from one set of parents) is entirely contrary to the evidence of DNA).”
It is self-evident that there is difference of DNA within the human race. Owning to certain factors DNA can modify itself. So it is not only possible that we are all descended from Adam and Eve and our DNA modified to deal with the unknown effects of the Fall, climate, diet and so forth and has kept modifying since then.
God in His omniscience took all the modifications to DNA there would ever be to protect man and still be Man without morphing into something else.
I stand corrected on the issue of not mocking other religions. On the second point I do not see God the Scientist but that the laws of science are as much a Divine creation as the matter they form.
When I was 9 I had to recite George Herbert’s line “Be calm in arguing for fierceness makes error a fault and truth discourtesy” – it still hasn’t quite sunk in!
“If you were God would you create a better world than the one we have?”
– if as God i answer ‘yes’ – it would have to exclude a creation with sentient entities that are not God, as they would be incomplete. ….. If as God i answer ‘no’ – i would need to ensure sentient beings were able to know ‘completion’ is already with them; and give the means to let go of their own judgement to realise completion.
…….. And God being God – created with both answers in balance & united in One Alpha (&) Omega. And negated both. ….. And still we think we know what we don’t (&).
Ncktarios say’s “I find milliganp’s posting rather sweeping in the first instance”. LOL. Pot kettle black comes to mind …
Guilty as charged, though I try to communicate to the wider audience or readership,
it is inevitable that one generalizes from time to time.
Is that your only gripe, how disappointing!
“Guilty as charged, though I try to communicate to the wider audience or readership,
it is inevitable that one generalizes from time to time.
Is that your only gripe, how disappointing!”
Ok, 1) how about the overarching tendency to self aggrandisizing, hectoring and majoring on passive aggression, almost without thinking?
2) Then there is the hysterical and borderline neurotic imbibing and dissemination of wacky world conspiracy theory with all that is indicated there.
3)Then there is the shameful tendency to gleefully slander Catholic Church leaders whilst remaining smug and secure in the realisation that you will not be held to account.
4) Finally one could point to the manner in which you seem to believe this blog exists as a medium solely provided for the free promulgation of your horribly biased and hopelessly narrow worldview…
5) Oh yes…then there is the way which you so quickly turn to vitriol as a defense when others dare to point out the often risible nature of your posting content.
Is that sufficient griping for now or would you like some more?
As I understand it, the premise of this blog and discussion is “faith seeking understanding” and so both natural science and philosophy have equal ranking with theology and creed for the purposes of understanding faith more fully.
Thus any appeal to scripture or church dogma do not automatically trump other aspects of the discussion. In particular appeals to personal piety should not overrule other discussions.
When I was a child, I was partially raised by two pious Catholic aunts who firmly believed that men had one less rib than women because Adam gave up one to form Eve. I did not count my ribs then and I do not ridicule them now by having a more intellectually accurate faith since they were both paragons of virtue.
However when I was taught scripture by a Benedictine Abbot Bishop, he allowed that much of the Old Testament is sacred myth – a different form of truth to the truths of science.In light of this appeals to a literal fall and banishment from a once perfect creation fall, in my case, on deaf ears.
Karen Armstrong has written excellent books on the history and development of the creation myths of the ancient world- she does not rubbish them but sees them as essential to the development of humanity in realising the existence of the transcendent – that which we now know as God.
The great Victorian apologist G K Chesterton starts his discussion of orthodoxy with the lines:
” Modern masters of science are much impressed with the need of beginning all inquiry with a fact.
The ancient masters of religion were quite equally impressed with that necessity. They began with the fact of sin–a fact as practical as potatoes. Whether or no man could be washed in miraculous
waters, there was no doubt at any rate that he wanted washing.”