“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.
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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.