Talking About the Problem of Evil: The Best-of-All-Possible-Worlds

Yesterday we addressed how one can even object to evil, in the moral argument. Then we talked about what evil is and is not, and the idea of it being a privation. Today I want to move to the best-of-all-possible-worlds argument. The place to start is God’s omniscience. This allows God to understand all possibilities.[i] If God knows all possibilities, God knows all possible worlds. Since God is also completely good, He always wants and works out the best world and the best way.

Leibniz [libe-nitz] (the philosopher who came up with this defense) wrote, “The first principle of existences is the following proposition: God wants to choose the most perfect.”[ii]

The power of this argument is to show that out of every world that a good God could have produced, His decision to generate this one means this creation is good.[iii]

There are several principles that tie into this defense.

The first major principle is centered on the truth that God acts for worthy causes. Again, God’s omniscience presumes that before God decides which world to produce, He understands the value of every possible world. This also implies God always decides on the basis of sensible, stable rationales. This is called the “principle of sufficient reason.”[iv]

To believe God can intercede in what he has formed with sufficient reason, even to avoid or restrict evil, would be like a soldier who abandons his post and knowingly allows enemy infiltration to instead stop a colleague from drinking while in uniform. The soldier ends up allowing a greater evil to stop a lesser evil.[v]

Another principle that reinforces this argument is the principle of “pre-established harmony.”

Leibniz describes it this way: “For, if we were capable of understanding the universal harmony, we should see that what we are tempted to find fault with is connected to the plan most worthy of being chosen; in a word we should see, and should not believe only, that what God has done is the best.”[vi]

Tomorrow we’ll cover the last principle of the best-of-all-possible worlds, which is arguably the most significant philosophical contribution to this so-called problem of evil.


[i] Each possibility is a new sphere, or world, of possibility that varies from the world we presently occupy. A possible world comprises an extensive idea of God’s intelligence that completely explains what could have happened if that world was generated (Jeffrey K. McDonough, “Leibniz: Creation and Conservation and Concurrence,” Leibniz Review [2007], 33).

[ii] G.W. Leibniz, “On Freedom and Spontaneity,” Academy ed., VI 4-b, 1454 in The Shorter Leibniz Texts, ed. Lloyd Strickland (New York: Continuum, 2006)

[iii] God describes everything he created as “good.” See Genesis 1.

[iv] Jill Graper Hernandez, God and Evil: The Case for God in a World Filled with Pain, ed. Chad Meister, James K. Dew Jr. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2013), 100.

[v] Causa Dei, in Leibniz: Monadology and Other Philosophical Essays, ed. and trans. Paul Schrecker and Anne Martin Schrecker (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1965)

[vi] G.W. Leibniz, Theodicy, ed. Austin Farrer, trans. E.M. Huggard (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1952), I. 44.


This originally aired on Probe Radio and appeared on Probe.org.

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