*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 14th of November 2021 Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
It was on this, the 14th of November in 1716 that Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz died in Hannover. In his 70 years the Lutheran philosopher and historian interacted with the greatest minds on the continent, he invented the calculating machine and invented calculus(!). He argued with Descartes on the ontological existence of God and wrote one of the most influential apologetic works in history.
But that’s not how I first met him. I first knew him as the character being lampooned by Voltaire in Candide. The philosopher Leibniz is masked as the buffoonish Professor Pangloss who argues that despite all evidence to the contrary this “is the best of all possible worlds”. “Panglossian” is defined as "characterized by or given to extreme optimism, especially in the face of unrelieved hardship or adversity”.
Voltaire was responding to Leibniz’s 1710 publication of “Theodicy”. In this work, Leibniz argues that this must be the best of all possible worlds because God is all-powerful and all good. Let me give you the dictionary definition of theodicy
“attempt to provide a plausible justification—a morally or philosophically sufficient reason—for the existence of evil and thereby rebut the “evidential” argument from evil.”
A few quick things:
1. we are finishing up the next season of Soul of Christianity and theodicy looms large in Debi’s conversations so be on the lookout around the beginning of ’22.
2. You may have heard our show recently on Dostoyevsky and the Grand Inquisitor which is a blunt attack on the goodness of God from Ivan and reveals a theodicy.
3. I can’t think of any more important apologetic question that deserves careful reflection. I don’t personally know the specifically correct answer, or if there is one… but in honor of Leibniz and Pangloss I thought on today’s show I could give you 4 historical Christian approaches to the problem of evil and theodicy. Let’s Go.
Quick refresher- the argument goes like this
If God is all-powerful, he is not good because evil exists
If God is all good, he is not powerful because evil exists.
How can God be all good and all-powerful?
The first approach we can label is Augustinian (his fingerprints are everywhere). According to this position, it was the fall that lead to both moral and natural evil. Like many arguments, it is based on the free will defense- and lest you get scared of “free will” it pertains to the will of Adam and Eve prior to the fall.
The second is Irenaean- after Irenaeus and labeled the “soul-making” theodicy by John Hicks. It does not start with the fall as its focal point but rather it looks forward to the end times. In this model, humans are not created perfect but rather born into a “vale of soul-making” whereby evil is necessary but “that God will eventually succeed in His purpose of winning all men to Himself in faith and love”. Think of the Orthodox tradition that doesn’t see the fall as Western churches do.
A third is Thomist. That is, in the tradition of Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas's argument boils down to seeing the joys of heaven as overriding necessary but temporal evil.
A fourth we might call Clementine after Clement of Alexandria who argued that evil isn’t a thing, but rather the privation of good. This gets God off the hook for creating evil because it’s not actually a thing.
These are 4 basic positions from which many other positions developed. You can read and decide what you think about, but on the anniversary of Leibniz’s death let me warn against Panglossian optimism when others are hurting and weeping. Consider perhaps the oldest work dealing with theodicy: the book of Job.
Thanks to old Leibniz for letting me highjack his birthday for a conversation about the historical roots of this apologetic task.
The last word for today comes from Job, of course:
Oh, that my words were written down,
inscribed on a scroll
with an iron instrument and lead,
forever engraved on stone.
But I know that my redeemer is alive
and afterward he’ll rise upon the dust.
After my skin has been torn apart this way— then from my flesh I’ll see God,
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 14th of November 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man with more J.O.B.s than most- pastor, sound engineer, and coffee roaster (at gillespie.coffee). He is Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man tending to his own garden of church history podcasts. I am Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.