Posts Tagged theodicy
Even A Blind Watchmaker Can Find A Nut
Posted by Keith Spillett in Existential Rambings, Pointyheaded Highbrow Stuff on May 24, 2011
Vladimir: So….you take a watch and you put it in a bag….
Estragon: What type of bag?
Vladimir: It doesn’t matter.
Estragon: Well, what type of watch is it?
Vladimir: Again…not important. You put the watch in a bag. Now, you take a hammer and you smash it.
Vladimir: Just see if you can follow me here. You smash the watch into a hundred pieces….
Estragon: Is it a digital watch or a nice one?
Vladimir: It doesn’t matter….You take the watch and you smash it into….
Estragon: Well, why are you smashing the watch?
Vladimir: Okay, that’s really not important! The important thing is…
Estragon: What kind of lunatic would break a perfectly good watch?
Vladimir: It’s a metaphor. Nobody is really breaking a watch with a hammer. The idea is to prove a point.
Estragon: But how can you prove a point using an example that is completely unrealistic.
Vladimir: I don’t know. It’s not important! Just listen.
Estragon: Well, if it is a digital watch with one of those plastic bands it’s not going to break with a hammer
Vladimir: Fine. It’s a Rolex. A really nice gold Rolex.
Estragon: A Rolex is really expensive. Why would you want to break an expensive watch? And I don’t know if a hammer will break a Rolex into a hundred pieces.
Vladimir: Fine. It is an inexpensive magical watch that magically will break into a hundred pieces. Can I get back to my point?
Vladimir: Okay, so you break the watch. You shake it up in the bag?
Vladimir: Does it re-form into the same watch?
Estragon: Well, of course not!
Estragon: See what? I’m not sure I follow.
Vladimir: Evolution is impossible.
Vladimir: Something has to be there to assemble the watch if it’s going to come back together, right?
Estragon: I guess.
Vladimir: And the watch has been reassembled into a perfect whole, right?
Estragon: That is what you said.
Vladimir: Well, then there has to be a watchmaker who has a plan, right?
Estragon: Uhmmm. Okay. So, who is the watchmaker?
Vladimir: God is the watchmaker! Otherwise the watch would still be in pieces.
Estragon: Wait…so God reassembled the watch?
Vladimir: What do you mean why? He’s God. He doesn’t need a good reason.
Estragon: So, God just goes around putting broken watches together? We’re not sure why. That’s just what he does.
Vladimir: Exactly. He loves us. Maybe he wants us to have a nice watch. Maybe he wants us to be happy. That’s for Him to know.
Estragon: If he wanted us to be happy, why didn’t he just stop us from breaking the watch in the first place?
Vladimir: Free will!
Estragon: So, wait, he loves us so much he is willing to fix the watch, but he won’t stop us from breaking it?
Estragon: That’s not a very efficient system.
Vladimir: Well, He doesn’t have to be efficient. He’s God. He doesn’t have to explain anything.
Estragon: Well, if he’s going to go around smashing watches, I think he owes somebody an explanation. That’s pretty rude. If he smashed my watch I’d be really angry!
Vladimir: Okay…forget the watch. We’ll use another example. Pick something.
Estragon: A piece of ham
Vladimir: So, you put a piece of ham in a bag…
Estragon: Ham….in a bag?
Vladimir: Yes! And you smash it into a million pieces.
Vladimir: It still tastes like ham and smells like ham and looks like ham. RIGHT?!?!?
Estragon: Yes…I think.
Vladimir: So there has to be some kind of ham designer, right?
Estragon: Yes…well….maybe…I guess….
Vladimir: Evolution couldn’t have designed ham.
Estragon: Wait…why not?
Vladimir: Because it is perfect.
Estragon: What is perfect?
Vladimir: Ham! Ham is perfect!
Estragon: Compared to what?
Vladimir: To a universe without ham.
Estragon: How can you tell?
Vladimir: God wouldn’t have created it if it weren’t perfect. Ham is in our universe. Therefore, ham is perfect.
Estragon: Okay, now I’m really confused. If God is perfect and created a world that is the most perfect possible world for us, why does he create people who smash ham and watches in bags?
Vladimir: To test us.
Vladimir: To see how much we love him.
Estragon: Oh…so we show him we love him by not smashing things in bags?
Estragon: I see. So that’s the point of the whole thing!
Vladimir: YES! That’s the point. We have the choice whether to smash ham or watches or even possums in bags. If we choose not to, we do it because we love God. And if we do that we will be rewarded.
Estragon: With a nice watch?
Vladimir: Maybe with a watch. Maybe with eternal happiness. We’re not exactly sure. We just know that the reward is going to be REALLY good.
Estragon: And if we smash things in bags?
Vladimir: Then bad things happen to us. REALLY bad things. Things like sickness or eternal suffering or boils on our face.
Estragon: Boils on our face?!?!?!
Vladimir: It won’t be a problem for you if you just do what you are supposed to.
Estragon: So these are the rules?
Estragon: And if I follow them, I’ll be…………happy???
Vladimir: Unless God has another plan for you. But eventually you’ll be happy. At some point.
Estragon: Will I get a watch?
Vladimir: If that is what you desire and that is God’s plan and you follow the rules then, yes, you will get a watch.
(At this exact moment, a giant meteor hits the earth obliterating smashing it into a million pieces. The entire human race, including Estragon and Vladimir, are destroyed in a firey, horrible instant without warning)
Posted by Keith Spillett in Existential Rambings on December 25, 2010
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.