Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz is a fool. That’s the only explanation for theodicy, the inane, laughable idea that he came up with to rationally prove that his version of God was real and all-powerful. Leibniz, for those of you who have lives and don’t spend your afternoons reading philosophical nonsense, came up with the idea that our world must be “the best of all possible worlds”. I believe that his “best of all possible worlds” hypothesis is in a category by itself in the pantheon of truly moronic thoughts.
If I had to argue what the dumbest idea in history is, this is my vote. Now, I’m sure some of you have an crazy uncles who have theories that link vampires and global warming or think that the phone company had John F Kennedy killed, but I am speaking of ideas that have been taken seriously by a good number of people. Leibniz was and is a highly respected thinker. As a matter of fact, he is one of the most significant and respected minds of his era. They named a cookie after him in Germany for God sakes.
Granted, many great philosophers have had dumb ideas. Descartes had some pretty blockheaded ones and he was certainly no slouch. The guy ran around dissecting corpses because he believed that the soul was physically located somewhere inside of their skulls. God’s very own set of rabbit ears, I guess.
Leibniz, however, took intellectual goofiness to new heights. Voltaire used the better part of his book Candide ridiculing Leibniz by portraying him as the doltish Dr. Pangloss. No matter what horrible bit of suffering affected his view that “all is for the best in this best of all worlds”. Voltaire clearly and succinctly put this idea out of its misery, but for an idea this horrendous, there are simply not enough nails for the coffin.
Leibniz begins this monstrous theory with the idea that God is perfect. This is a completely unprovable assumption. How would Leibniz know if God is perfect? Has he seen another world that God has created and compared the two? Has he evaluated each an every atom in the universe and found no mistakes? Who is he to even think he can judge the work of the creator of the universe? How does he even know for certain if there is a God?
If Leibniz wants to say that he has faith that this is true, that’s fine with me. He can have any spiritual belief he wants. But that is not what he’s saying. He’s trying to make the assertion that his belief can be rationally proven. He gets no leeway here because he’s trying to smuggle his spiritual beliefs into the world of rationality.
Just so we can get to the silliness that comes next, let’s take him at his word about the God being perfect thing. This perfect God had a choice of every possible universe. He looked at each, evaluated it and came up with the perfect one. Why you ask? Because he’s perfect and is incapable of choosing a less than perfect world. If he’s perfect and has the choice of any possible universe, what makes Leibniz so certain he would choose the perfect one? Leibniz is making the mistake of trying to assume what the thinking of a perfect being would be. Again, how would Leibniz know what God would choose? Maybe God wanted to experiment to see what an imperfect world would look like if it played out for a few hundred thousand years. Maybe God just picked at random. I don’t know what happened and neither does Leibniz.
So, he’s 0 for 2 so far with two strikeouts, but he isn’t going to stop there. Now, he’s going to take his perfectly unprovable God who picked this unproveably perfect universe and pull the proverbial rug out from under him. See…cuz…this perfect being, right, he only had a choice of lots of imperfect worlds and he chose the best one he could find.
So basically, God, the perfect being, is unable to go shopping at say, Macy’s, and instead has to pick potential universes out of the 9-dollar pile at TJ Maxx. He couldn’t pick a universe where people lived forever and there was no suffering, no perception of suffering, no cancer, no starvation, no bubonic plague, an infinite amount of space, resources and joy. All of those were out of stock or on back order. He had a choice between lots of different universes that happened to have all sorts of design flaws. No new Mercedes for you, God! Its either the 1998 used Saturn with no working radio or heat or the 1975 light blue Pinto with the flaming engine.
Leibniz rests a highly questionable conclusion on top of a mountain of conjecture. Does Leibniz mean to say that God should get credit for the good things in the universe but bare no responsibility for the bad? If you only have control of some facets of the universe, then how can you be called omnipotent? You could drive an 18-wheel cement truck through the holes in this argument and still have room for the University of Michigan football team and the cast of a Robert Altman film.
The only thing that Leibniz’ argument actually proves is that Leibniz believes in God. I have no call to hassle the man if he simply wants to make the point that he doesn’t know why, he just believes in God. I have a good deal of respect for people of faith, because they are able to believe in something they can’t exactly explain but feel deeply. An argument for the existence of God based on belief or faith can be a powerful and beautiful thing. Arguing for God based on quasi-rational statements that are filled with highly speculative “proof” is at best slightly insane and at worst highly disingenuous.