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Saturday, January 22, 2005

The Best of All Possible Worlds

In response to my LRC articles on Christianity, a frequent objection runs like this: If God is omnipotent and benevolent, why is the world such a terrible place? I'd like to sketch a brief response that, on the one hand, is just the familiar free will answer, but on the other is (I hope) a bit deeper. (To get the full context, you should read my views on natural law and miracles.)

I claim (with Pangloss) that this really is the best of all possible worlds, just like we would expect from the God of Abraham. In order for the material universe to be intelligible, it must obey certain simple laws. And in order for everything else to work out just right, certain intemediate things have to happen.

For example, I used to be suicidally depressed. But I do not bemoan one moment of my life, especially the wrongs others have committed against me. (I do wish that I hadn't myself done bad things, so in that sense I regret the past, but what I'm saying now is that I've learned from what happened, and it helps me understand when others do the same.) The reason for this is that my present level of understanding of what motivates others could not possibly have occurred if I hadn't "been there" myself; I think God allowed me to sink into such misery because He knew I would bounce back and then (I hope) help others.

Now of course the critic demands, "Aha! But why do others have to be in such misery at all?" But questions like this seem a bit presumptuous to me, akin to saying, "Why isn't the charge on an electron 2% higher?" When it comes to the physical sciences, most observers of the universe have a profound sense of awe, and appreciate the interconnectedness of it all.

Yet when it comes to the social world, people often see nothing but wreckage. However, one possible defense of God's plan is that His story (i.e. history) is the most fascinating story every invented. Would you want to read a book where nobody ever suffered?

This blog post certainly isn't the place to defend my views fully, but I just wanted to get this down. Let me close with a final observation: To those who wrote me and asked indignantly, "Why did your loving God allow the Holocaust??" I can give at least this answer: For one thing, if you are under 45 years of age, chances are you wouldn't have been born had the Holocaust never occurred.

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