Did God Create the Best of All Possible Worlds?

The question that I have asked above pertains to what is known as the Problem of Evil. This particular philosophical discussion has made its way from the East and evolved to its current form here in the West. The difference between those two spheres of thought (East and West), however, is on varying discussions regarding the human condition (which we now consider sin) and enlightenment (now personal salvation) as a fix to the human predicament.

Some early philosophers (such as Augustine, Aquinas, Maimonides, etc.) thought the problem of evil was due to the abuse of human free will, while in more modern circles (particularly the 16th and 17th centuries) the problem of evil was not only recognized by moral evils (e.g. killings, lying, violence, etc.), but also natural evils (e.g. earthquakes, volcanoes, etc.). Two very well-known philosophers such as Gottfried Leibniz and David Hume would come to partake in these discussions; the former I would like to examine (Leibniz).

  • Leibniz’s Treatment to the Problem of Evil

What would Leibniz have said about the Problem of Evil? Drawing on an analogy used as far back as Augustine, Leibniz said that all the evils in the world that occur are actually essential to the superior goodness of the world to which it plays a part. Suppose for instance, we pick a particular color that we would say ranks rather high on a color “scale of beauty”; for the sake of demonstration, let’s say the color purple ranks pretty high. Suppose further that we have a color that is close to the bottom (say, gray) that is on a beautiful piece of art.

It could be the case that a little bit of gray here and a little bit of gray there instead of substituting the color purple (or some other color closer to the top of the scale of beauty) would add to the overall beauty of the painting. So too, Leibniz argued, the great evils in our world may contribute to an overall goodness. So then, what about moral atrocities like the Holocaust, 9/11, or the Colorado school shootings? Would Leibniz say that these evils were truly evil? Nothing on the contrary in fact!

Just like our painting analogy, so too like the Holocaust may it add to the overall goodness of the world. Leibniz further would have said that if we focus on only the goods and the evils in the world, then we would have no reason at all to think that the Holocaust actually contributes to the overall good. However, Leibniz was also convinced of the existence of an all-perfect being; to which, he deduced, led to him believing that the world this perfect being created to be the best of all possible worlds. For, if the being did not create the best of all possible worlds, then that being is lacking in character.

  • Critiques of Leibniz’s Treatment

Critiques of Leibniz’s treatment have been in works as early as Voltaire’s Candide, and even more relevantly from Robert Adams’ essay, Must God Create the Best? (1972). In this essay (see The Philosophical Review, cp. 1972; 317-32), Adams points out Leibniz’s usage of a utilitarian perspective on God creating worlds. That is, that God must bring about the best possible good for the greatest number of people (this of course, would lead him suggesting that our world – the actual world – is the best of all other possible worlds that God could have created). In Theodicy [Essays on the Goodness of God], sections 218-236, Leibniz writes:

I have shown that among older writers the fall of Adam was termed felix culpa, a fortunate sin, because it had been expiated with immense benefit by the incarnation of the Son of God: for he gave the universe something more noble than anything there would be otherwise have been amongst created beings (see Summary of the Controversy Reduced to Formal Arguments, Answer to Objection I, Prosyllogism)

So then, the Christian might ask, are we limited to believing that God has created the best possible world? According to Adams, no we do not. Suppose we have the following proposition:

(P) If a perfectly good moral agent created any world at all, it would have to be the very best world that he could create.

In regards to rejecting (P), Adams in turn argues against two of the following supports for (P):

  • (1) A necessary being would wrong someone (violate someone’s rights), or be less kind to someone than a perfectly moral agent would be, if he knowingly created a less excellent world instead of the best one he could.
  • (2) If the perfect being wronged no one, a lack of creating the best possible would show a deficiency in power.

One response to “Did God Create the Best of All Possible Worlds?

  1. Very interesting thoughts. Though I’ve never struggled with the idea that God would not have allowed evil into the world, I’ve often wondered if this is the best of all possible worlds.

    It seems at least possible that God has created a number of worlds, that all possible worlds containing more good that evil should exist. I’m not sure what I think of this, but I haven’t yet seen a way that this contradicts the concept of a good God.

    So, still thinking on that…

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