An Argument Against Leibniz’s Defense of Theism

Leibniz’s was a German philosopher who attempted to justify the ways of God by disagreeing with Hume’s thoughts on theism. Leibniz thought that an omni-benevolent creator could be compatible with evil in the world and he did a poor job of justifying his argument which one can easily argue against. One can hear his argument, though stated in different ways and in different times, throughout almost any philosophical argument for or against God. Can evil and an omni-benevolent creator co-exist? You might better understand it as the clichéd question of a bitter person rhetorically remarking: “If God exists why is everything so terrible in this world?”

Leibniz attempted to justify the existence of theism and evil in the world by giving the objections raised against theism first and then refuting them with arguments he thinks are logical and apparent.

The first objection Leibniz states is if whoever does not choose the best he is lacking in power or knowledge and God did not choose the best, i.e. this world because much evil exists, and therefore God is lacking in power, knowledge etc. Leibniz refutes this by saying that God created this evil in the world as a means to an end; he says that the evil is accompanied by a greater good. Therefore, he thinks, evil is part of the world because it leads to the greatest good that God desires. He relates this to an army general that will take wounds for the army so that he will win the battle rather than having no wounds and losing the battle.

This refutation is absurd. It only does the job of saying the opposite of what the objection says without actually saying why. The objection is simple and makes perfect sense; if God were all-powerful, omni-benevolent, he would not need to create a world with evil for a greater good. He simply would create the best world and this world would not include any evil whatsoever because the evil is irrelevant to the best world for an all-powerful omni-benevolent God. If he were all powerful he would not need to use something as a means to an end; he would just make the best world, perhaps a perfect world, because he would be all power and able to create it as an end in itself. This distinction between a means to an end and an end in itself I will discuss later in the essay.

The second objection is that in God’s work as a whole, there is more evil than there is good because in intelligent creatures there exists more evil. Leibniz refutes this objections by saying firstly that it should be the case that non-intelligent beings could compensate for the intelligent beings by possessing good in them that might even surpass this evil.

This refutation does little to help Leibniz’s argument. First off, the entire objection does not play that important of a role in the argument against theism, that is to say that even if Leibniz were to prove this objection wrong, it would not have a significant bearing on the argument as a whole because it only deals with the amount of evil and this only would lead back to the main point of evil in the world and an omni-benevolent creator, which I did, and will continue to, address.. Also, as far as Judeo-Christian beliefs, non-intelligent beings, i.e. animals, plants, etc., do not play a role in the evil of the world according much of the literature written for and by Christians and Jews. The reason I leave out these beings playing a role in the amount of evil in the world is because only intelligent beings, i.e. humans, possess souls that are stake (again, according to these religious traditions, which this essay is based off of. Moreover, although this might be the case, that evil is outweighed by good in the world through intelligent beings, Leibniz gives no support or justification for the argument and simply states that it might be, or is the case when he does nothing to prove it. This also hinders his argument for the reason that even if God were not an omni-benevolent being, but rather a benevolent being with great power, why would he greater a world with so much evil in it. That is, even if God wanted to create a best world, it would make much more sense to deduce that he would and could create a world with much less evil in it than the so called best possible world. If this world, with the amount of evil in it, is the best possible world God could create, he really should not be called a God at all but rather some being with power to create the world but not to stop a great amount of evil.

Leibniz refutes the second part of the second objection by saying that evil is not more so in the world due to intelligent beings because the good of the ones going to heaven far outweighs the evil present in those that are damned.

Again, Leibniz has no way of proving this and does not even attempt to do so. He says that God is infinite and unlimited and that the devil is limited. I would have to disagree with this statement due to the souls of the beings that are good or evil. If those souls that are evil are damned, it stills means that they are infinite because they go to hell for eternity, according to the tradition they are discussing, and the devil also remains there for eternity as well thus their being, their soul, has intrinsic evil that is infinite as well as the souls in heaven that have intrinsic goodness that is eternal.

His last argument is the argument I have been stating throughout objection two: He says that even if any of these were the case it would be impossible to prove and therefore irrelevant and by agreeing with him, neither of us would win but neither would lose either.

In objection three it states that if God were all-powerful he would be able to determine all future events and if everything is predetermined, everything is necessary, especially for this greater good world. Therefore, the objection states, if we are all predetermined then we can do nothing else but do the necessary that certain individuals do end up doing. Therefore it is unjust to punish one for these sins because they could have done nothing other than what they did.

Leibniz refutes this by arguing against the necessity of things. He states that people have free will and are not determined even though God knows what will happen. He says that the soul attempts to stop us from doing things even though we have the internal inclination to do certain things that may be evil. These sins are not necessarily predetermined but we still possess free will given to us by God and though it is not necessary, some still choose to sin.

I do not have a problem with evil existing in the world because of free will. I could go along with the argument that evil exists because of the things humans do, not God. But the argument is not actually about that. It still comes back to God allowing this evil in the first place. Also, Leibniz’s refutation’s flaw is that God’s foresight and complete knowledge of the future and his complete power and incompatible with free will. In Deane-Peter Baker’s essay, he writes, “The basis of the problem, thus understood, seems to be about control – if God foreknows everything, and this makes everything necessary, then in what sense do we have control over our behaviour? Worse still, does this not imply that if in fact God is in control of our lives, we are not responsible for our behaviour, and that perhaps the blame shifts to God? …If God has complete, perfect foreknowledge, does that not somehow mean that he is in control of all that happens, including the actions that we take, and that he is therefore responsible for our actions and we are not?” (61, Baker).

Many philosophers have written on the free will and foreknowledge problem. Leibniz does not even address the problem in his refutation but talks about it as though the two are completely and obviously compatible. They are not because if God knows what we are going to do, they how could we do any different? The problem remains a huge one and one that Leibniz cannot continue this refutation without addressing. Furthermore, I seriously doubt that even if Leibniz did decide to tackle the problem he would find a solution because so many philosophers have experienced much trouble with it. This free will that he speaks of is compatible with an omni-benevolent God but I think that the free will and foreknowledge, the foreknowledge that God knows about because he created the universe with evil so that it would lead to the greatest good, are incompatible and either God is not all powerful and he does not know what will happen, which would be that he could not have created the greatest possible world with the greatest end because he would not know, or he does know what will happen but yet he knows because he forces our decisions upon us and thus he is not omni-benevolent. And again, it comes back to the amount of evil in the world: if God did allow us to have free would it not make more sense for God to intervene more often than he does to stop evil? That is, could it not be possible for God to allow us to some sort of free will but still not allow certain evils to happen no matter what? Things such as rape and cold-blooded murder and torture are never necessary and this free will might not need to be completely unlimited if it meant stopping some of these unnecessary evils.

Objection four says that if something can prevent the sin and does not do so, it is an accessory to the sin; God possesses the ability to prevent sin because he is all-powerful and therefore he is an accessory to the sin.

Leibniz refutes this quote by saying that preventing this sin of man would be committing a sin Himself because by permitting this sin, God is passively letting men do what they will so that the best possible world will be brought about. That is to say that if God stopped men from doing these evil acts, he would be doing one because it would hinder the greatest good.

This greatest good that Leibniz continues to use as an argument is still irrelevant for if God wanted to make the greatest possible universe he just would have made it and would not let humans go through suffering and evil but let them live in paradise. He could let them have free will if their decisions were good, but if the decisions were truly evil He should step in and make the things not happen; God, if he were omni-benevolent and all-powerful would have made an all good world and if something evil attempted to come about, if again, God were all-powerful and omni-benevolent, he would prevent it from happening.

The Monsignor of the Old South Church once said, “And I am reminded, on this holy day, of the sad story of Kitty Genovese. As you all may remember, a long time ago, almost thirty years ago, this poor soul cried out for help time and time again, but no person answered her calls. Though many saw, no one so much as called the police. They all just watched as Kitty was being stabbed to death in broad daylight. They watched as her assailant walked away. Now, we must all fear evil men. But there is another kind of evil, which we must fear most, and that is the indifference of good men” (The Boondock Saints). Even if Leibniz constitution was rock solid, even if he thought he put forth a good argument (which he did not) I am amazed that he could think God would allow some of the things He does. The things that happen in this world, the little evils perhaps put aside, but the truly evil things that He allows are unforgivable. I am not sure if I would want to believe in a God that allowed some of the things He does and if an omni-benevolent God truly wanted all his people to come to eternal glory, not only would he prevent these terrible evils from happening, he would also create a world in which people wanted to believe in Him because of the evils that He did prevent; He does neither of these. The only reason people believe in God is the fear of death and perdition.

Leibniz continues to set forth objections against the existence of God that he continues to attempt to remedy with his “God’s best world” argument. This argument begins to become his only defense for the latter objections raised and it is important to examine the “best world” and the exact term “omni-benevolent” creator.

The Oxford English Dictionary states that omni-benevolence is “unlimited or infinite benevolence.” David Kelley defines benevolence in his book Unrugged Individualism as, “a commitment to achieving the values derivable from life with other people in society, by treating them as potential trading partners, recognizing their humanity, independence and individuality, and the harmony between their interests and ours.” Keeping this in mind, it is obvious that God and omnibenevolence are incompatible.

This “best world” that Leibniz speaks of cannot be the best world that God could conjure because an omnibenevolent creator would not create this world that is so full of maleficence and evil. If he were the definition of what Hume calls “benevolent” he could in no way create the world as it is. The two are incompatible because to say that an omni-benevolent creator made this world full of evil would be similar to saying that an all perfect something possessed an imperfect trait, which makes no sense and cannot work or exist.

Hume wrote, “the best and indeed the only method of bringing everyone to a due sense of religion is by just representation of the misery and wickedness of men. And for that purpose a talent of eloquence and strong imagery is more requisite than that of reasoning and argument. For is it necessary to prove what everyone feels within himself? It is only necessary to make us feel it, if possible, more intimately and sensibly…people, indeed,…are sufficiently convinced of this great and melancholy truth. The miseries of life, the unhappiness of men, the general corrruptions of our nature, the unsatisfactory enjoyment of pleasures, richess, honors – these phrases have become almost proverbial in our language and who can doubt of what all men declare from their own immediate feeling and experience?”

That is to say, I will not attempt to justify that evil is ever present in our world; it is transparently clear.

Also, it is difficult to imagine that even if a somewhat benevolent being, or god, did exist, he would make a world even remotely close to as evil as this world that is so full of evil. This world we live in contains so many evil things, so many bad people, so little good, relatively speaking, that to imagine a god that created it, one would almost have to imagine a maleficent or sadistic god. This means that even if we gave Leibniz the benefit of the doubt and decided to say that God was not omnibenevolent, but rather quite benevolent, even then I would experience cognitive dissonance in attempting to connect a partly, or even mostly, benevolent god with this world as it currently works and plays out.

The last problem with this argument lies within the utilitarian and deontological approaches to life. A being in which nothing greater can be imagined, a being like God, an omni-benevolent, all-powerful perfect being would almost certainly justify a deontological point of view from anyone that knew that He existed. Because if a perfect all powerful, omni-benevolent being existed we could be aware and know that there are certain truths and universalities because He would be there as something that could back up and justifiy these arguments. Thus, we would know that we should adhere to a strick set of moral principles and rules and lifestyles that would be justified, and it would be in our best interest to do so (especially if the Christian idea of Hell existed). This idea of deontology, this consistent set of moral principles that people must adhere to with utter fidelity and integrity, are incongruent with Leibniz’s idea that God possessed only an idea of the “best possible world.”

A best possible world is more along the lines of a utilitarian approach that God would make. But if God were perfect, omni-benevolent, all-powerful etc., he would not be a utilitarian. He would not be looking out for the best possible good for the greatest number of people. He could not be looking for the best possible good for the best possible number as only a utilitarian could possibly do. If He were all the above listed things that “God” must be, namely an omni-benevolent one, he would undoubtedly and irrefuteably be a deontological God after which his people would, whether they found out sooner or later, know that deontological integrity was the only possible way of life and the only way to truth and the afterlife. So not only is Leibniz inconsistent with his view that an omni-benevolent God could create a world such as this one, he is also mistaken on a different level and that is that God, if omni-benevolent, could not merely make a world that was the greatest in his power; the world simply would be the greatest world. We would not make a chalkboard full of relatively “good” worlds, if this God did exist, and have him pick the best possible one that he could create. If a perfect God did exist He would look at all the mapped out worlds, dismiss them and use the one universal world that is the best world, not the best possible. The distinction is utterly important to the argument and it leaves Leibniz argument obsolete.

So many philosophical standpoints come and go throughout time and once in a while we need only to step back away from all the garbled mess of inextricable arguments that have become so specific and impossible to find a clear argument out of, and look at the world before us to understand why an omnibenevolent creator cannot exist; it is because of the world we live in. To put it bluntly, simply, the world is not good, the world is bad and this only means that an omnibenevolent God did not create it.

And even if Leibniz meant that a partially benevolent God created it, would we even want to believe in a God that created a world like this anyway? My most important part of the argument lies in this last paragraph and these scenarios:

Even if God wanted us to have free will He could certainly intervene at times to stop the terrible evils of this world by helping us. Why, if God is all-powerful and all-benevolent does he not simply give people more power over others that are not intending to do any harm? Why not give a girl about to be raped the chance to disappear to some other place on the planet; it still gives her free will and it gives the man about to rape her free will because God would not have stopped the man, not taken away his free, yet he still would not have allowed the girl to be raped. The rapist simply was not given the power, but still the free will because if he did have the power, he would have been able to rape her if he wanted to yet he could not.

Several scenarios could follow this example. A murder would still be allowed to murder in cold blood if he could. But God could perhaps make someone unable to be hit by bullets, able to run away and the murderer could still exert his free will yet be unable to accomplish the evil.

If God simply takes the victim out of the scenario it isn’t taking away the free will of the criminal out of the scenario, thus leaving free will and taking away the evil act. It’s a loop hole for God. Yet He does not use it.

Perhaps someday I shall understand.

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