Theodicy . . .

. . . is a term introduced in the 18th century by the German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz who shot back at contemporary skeptics by saying the existence of pain, evil, suffering and worse in the world doesn’t prove there is no God.

LeibnizIt’s an old, old question, my friends. And one that we here at TGPDN have decided to hurl ourselves into pell-mell, willy-nilly, balls-out and protoplasmically.

So: Theodicy (n.): the argument that God is not an illusion despite the obvious existence of bad things

We’re right at the heart of it here, I think. Ask an intelligent skeptic – as opposed, say, to a philosophical atheist – why they don’t believe in God, and this is where they’ll start. “What about all those people in Haiti?” asked a charming woman we know. “Would they have lived if they’d just prayed harder?”

Of course not. Right?

As usual, we’re caught up in words. Often people who argue to the death are just using a different dictionary. The classical theodical logic is this: (1) God is (i) all-powerful, (ii) all-good and (iii) all-knowing; (2) Evil exists; therefore (3) God can not exist.

Why? Because he (ii) doesn’t like evil, (iii) knows it’s there, and yet (i) doesn’t stop it. God is a self-contradiction.

We can’t hope to answer this objection here. Plenty of super-smart people, including theological rock star Bart Ehrman, have argued theodicy is religion’s fatal flaw. We content ourselves with a few signal flares.

These are the assumptions of the theodical argument:

  1. God is all good – Is she? Really? Ancient Greeks seem to have had plenty of gods who were not “good” by our definition of the term; were, in fact, assholes.
  2. We know what’s “good” – Building on the above, is it possible something that seems bad to us now is actually good in the long run? (This is what religious types are getting at when they say things like, “Everything happens for a reason.”)
  3. God is omnipotent – Is she really? Before Judaism, religions assumed God had powerful enemies, and many modern Christians, particularly in the U.S., talk about Satan like he’s a true adversary.
  4. God knows all – Near the end of his life Norman Mailer was interviewed by Charlie Rose and he said (paraphrasing): “I think God is overworked — he doesn’t have time to notice a lot things.” Here also, we get into the treacherous geography of whether or not people have free will. If God knows in advance what we will do, is our will free?
  5. People do NOT have free will — Let’s say this: either we have free will or we don’t. If we do, it seems reasonable that we have to be free to do evil or it isn’t free will.
  6. God can be known through our reason.

Point (6) is a big one, the mega-point. Reasoning about God implies God can be reasoned about. As we’ve said, this is a controversy of great age. Kant said no, we can’t extend our senses to the supernatural; Anselm, Liebniz and Descartes offered proofs for God; Rousseau claimed God was a feeling; so did our friend Friedrich Schleiermacher.

The Catholic Encyclopedia (1914 edition) puts it in a humorous way: “Nearly all Protestant theologians who have not yet sunken into atheism follow in Schleiermacher’s footsteps. They generally teach that the existence of God cannot be demonstrated.”


4 responses to “Theodicy . . .

  1. This is excellent stuff! I am working on something on Leibniz and this is a big help.

  2. thanks bro – happy holidays! I look forward to learning more about Leibniz myself …

  3. This article is meant to be the equivalent of me and a gang of thugs beating Leibniz with tire irons.

  4. Thanks Keith – this is good stuff. So great to see this kind of discourse on the interweb. I don’t know much about Leibniz but I remember enjoying Voltaire – what a great satirist. I’ll look forward to seeing who you go at with the tire irons next!

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