I read a couple of posts this week about the question of whether this world is the best possible world. See here and here. The first is on an atheist web site. The second is on the blog of Arminian Roger Olson.
The philosopher Leibniz is credited with saying that this world is
the best possible world. I have not read Leibniz. I first read about
him and his claim that this is the best possible world in James Byrne’s Religion and the Enlightenment. I was thinking of checking out the Cambridge Companion to Leibniz last time I was at the library, but I did not do so. Now, I’m tempted to read it.
Asking you to keep in mind that I do not know much about Leibniz, I’d like to quote what R.L. Culpeper says about him:
“…according to Leibniz, God is omnipotent but he cannot break rules
of logic; and, if he were to alter one aspect of this world, there would
be a consequence felt somewhere else. Thus, God created this world such
that the perfect balance of evil to good exists. Whereby, we might
experience the evil in order to experience the good, but to such a
degree that the good outweighs the evil. His intellect and power,
moreover, are infinite insofar as his awareness to all of the possible
worlds and his capability to actualize any of them is concerned. This
represents the claim that this world is ‘the best of all possible
God is good in allowing us to have free will, but free will can lead
to evil. And the presence of evil enhances our appreciation of the
good. That’s why the world is as it is, and, according to Leibniz, it
is the best possible world. Consequently, Culperer asks, will not
heaven be like this? Will there be free will (and thus evil) in
heaven? Will God permit evil in heaven because that will enhance our
appreciation of the good? Many Christians will answer “no.” But why do
they say “no”? If this is the best possible world, why won’t heaven be
this way? Will heaven be inferior to what we have now?
Roger Olson addresses similar issues. If this is the best possible
world, what about the coming eschatological paradise that Scripture
talks about? We expect that to be better. If that is the case, then
this world is not the best possible world, right? A better one is
Olson makes the point that “I take it that even Leibniz thought there
was a better world coming, so when he argued that this is the best of
all possible worlds he meant ‘for now.’ Saying this is the best
world leading up to the best of all possible worlds is the same as
saying this is the best of all possible worlds—right now.” That would
make sense, though Roger Olson doesn’t exactly buy it.
I appreciate these posts because they do undercut certain Christian
apologetic arguments that I have heard. “There is evil because God gave
us free will, and free will is good because God wants us to love him
freely, otherwise we would be robots.” But will God dispense with free
will when we get to heaven or eschatological paradise? Will God at that
time be open to robotic humans loving him? In the biblical prophetic
writings, we see God in the eschatological future essentially
programming Israel so that she does right—-so that she automatically
obeys God’s laws. Does this violate free will? One could answer “No.”
After all, God can give Israel desires that are in accordance with
righteousness, and so, when Israel does what’s right, she is actually
doing what she wants, freely. Of course, God has programmed Israel to want
a certain thing. Still, she’s choosing to do right because she’s
acting according to her desires. It’s like the reverse of original sin:
we were born with a propensity to evil, and yet, in doing evil, we are
acting according to our desires. We are doing what we like, and thus we
are responsible, according to many Christians.
If free will can coincide with us being programmed to want
righteousness, however, then why couldn’t God have done this at the
outset? Why give us a free will that can permit us to do evil?
In asking whether this is the best possible world, I think we should
add a few words to the question: Is this the best possible world for what?
What is the goal of this world being as it is? God perhaps made this
world so that we can build character. For character to be produced,
there needs to be adversity. Is this the best possible world for that?
Well, that’s debatable. How about the people who die before they can
build character? And are suffering people guinea pigs for my moral
education? Still, I think that people are looking at worlds and asking
if they are the best possible worlds, without asking what the goals of
those worlds might be. Maybe, in this season, the best possible world
for us is one with adversity. Eventually, however, another world would
be appropriate. Here and now, we’re building character and making
choices and seeing why right is right and wrong is wrong. After we
learn that, we can move on into a world of total righteousness.
Neither post, as far as I can see, mentions the Fall. Of course, the
Fall is difficult because science has challenged it. It’s hard to
believe that there was no death or chaos at all in the world before Adam
and Eve ate the fruit, for there are fossils of dead animals dating
millions of years before Adam and Eve allegedly existed, plus entropy is
essential to the universe. Many Christians say that the world now is
not the best possible world but is fallen—-it does not line up with
God’s standards. But God is making due with it, adapting God’s
strategies to teach us righteousness in light of our fallen nature. Is
this the best possible world for that? Well, people can debate that.
Suppose one does not believe in the Fall? I guess, then, that God made
things imperfect (from a certain sort of view) because coping with
imperfection is how people can learn and grow.
There are problems in what I am saying. For example, in biblical
prophecies, we read of children being born in the eschatological
paradise. So will children be deprived of what we have now: the
opportunity to build character through adversity? Well, perhaps the
lessons that the human race collectively learned will be passed on to
them: the lessons of why right is right and wrong is wrong.
I’ll stop here.