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GOTT-December 30, 2006

The Frowns on the Jugglers and the Clowns

So, over a month with no new posts here at GOTT?  Well, I just ran across a video on-line that I feel some very strange need to share.  That’s really what’s behind this post.  But with some work, I suppose, it can be worked into a point about the problem of evil…

Leibniz notoriously held that if God existed, the actual world would be the best of all possible worlds — and that since God does exist the actual world indeed is the BPW.  As Leibniz realized, this makes his view subject to the problem of evil in a particularly stark form:

But, you ask, don’t we experience quite the opposite in the world?  For the worst often happens to the best, and not only innocent beasts, but also humans are injured and killed, even tortured.  In the end, the world appears to be a certain confused chaos rather than a thing ordered by some supreme wisdom, especially if one takes note of the conduct of the human race.  (Leibniz, “Ultimate Origination,” Roger Ariew and Daniel Garber, tr., G.W. Leibniz, Philosophical Essays (Hackett, 1989), p. 153)

But, of course, a theist needn’t join Leibniz in thinking that God would have to create the BPW to face the problem of evil.  (For a great defense of the opposite view that a perfect God need not create the BPW, see Robert Adams’s classic, “Must God Create the Best?,” The Philosophical Review, 1972, which those with JSTOR access can get here [and it seems that everyone can at least get a look at the first page].)  Whether or not one thinks God would have to create the BPW, what goes on in this world can produce grave doubts about whether this is the kind of world that would exist if a perfectly good God were in control.

Leibniz answers:

I confess that it appears this way at first glance, but a deeper look at things forces us to quite the contrary view.  From those very considerations which I brought forward it is obvious a priori that everything, even minds, is of the highest perfection…
And indeed, it is unjust to make a judgment unless one has examined the entire law, as lawyers say.  We know but a small part of the eternity which extends without measure, for how short is the memory of several thousand years which history gives us.  But yet, from such meager experience we rashly make judgments about the immense and the eternal….Look at a very beautiful picture, and cover it up except for some small part.  What will it look like but some confused combination of colors, without delight, without art…But as soon as the covering is removed, and you see the whole surface from an appropriate place, you will understand that what looked like accidental splotches on the canvas were made with consummate skill by the creator of the work.  What the eyes discover in the painting, the ears discover in music.  Indeed, the most distinguished masters of composition quite often mix dissonances with consonances in order to arouse the listener, and pierce him, as it were, so that, anxious about what is to happen, the listener might feel all the more pleasure when order is soon restored….He who hasn’t tasted bitter things hasn’t earned sweet things, nor indeed, will he appreciate them.  Pleasure does not derive from uniformity, for uniformity brings forth disgust and makes us dull, not happy: this very principle is a law of delight.

Leibniz here uses aesthetic analogies to motivate the thought that a part that would be quite bad if it stood on its own can contribute to a whole that is wonderful — and that is better for having the ugly part than it would have been with some other part that might be much more beautiful when considered on its own.

I think this is a very important thought that will play some vital role in the best approach to the problem of evil.  (Similar thoughts, going under the banner of the defeat — as opposed to the mere overbalancing — of evil play an important role in Marilyn Adams’s approach in her Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God.)

The problem that such approaches need to overcome is that some parts are not just very bad when viewed on their own, but are such that it’s difficult to imagine how they could possibly contribute to the greater good of the whole — and difficult to believe that they do contribute to the greater good of the whole.

Which brings us to our video…

I don’t know about others, but to me, this performance of “Like a Rolling Stone” is an instance of the problem of evil.

But I enjoyed the commentary that surrounds the video when you follow the above link, and I draw your attention to this part of the commentary, which makes vivid the above-mentioned problem wrt this little bit of evil:

Ok, so maybe it’s not fair to judge the entire musical based on this one performance.  I mean, it is just a 4-minute romp on The View, which is basically the definition of “out of context.”
I’m sure that taken as part of a whole, in context, zombie clowns on exercise balls bouncing around a guy in suspenders with a cardboard guitar make perfect sense.

Posted by Keith DeRose | Permalink


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» Aesthetics and Problem of Evil from The Prosblogion
Keith DeRose discusses Leibniz and the Problem of Evil. After distancing himself from Leibniz’s requirement that God wouldn’t create a world that isn’t the best of all possible worlds, Keith indicates agreement with Leibniz on one matter. He thinks the… [Read More]

Tracked on December 30, 2006 at 06:59 PM


wow. i just lack the categories. i mean i think these performers really deserve some sort of accolade. They managed to find the one way possible to make ‘The View’ even worse.

Posted by: shane | December 31, 2006 at 11:17 AM

I sometimes wonder as to how insensitive Christians really are. The cover of Marilyn Adams book did not communicate the goodness of God.
What has a bloodied body nailed to a cross really got to do with goodness in any form whatsoever?

Posted by: John | February 20, 2007 at 10:59 PM

John: When I see the bloodied body of Christ nailed to a cross as a case of profound goodness, it’s basically as an instance of John 15:13: “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” Amazingly, this is what the God of the universe does for us. (As the great hymn puts it: “Died He for me, who caused His pain– / For me, who Him to death pursued? / Amazing love! How can it be / That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?”)

Well, that’s how I see it when I see it as an instance of profound goodness. Do you not think that God’s doing this for us would be a great act of love, or do you not think that God’s doing this could be something that helps us and is for us? If the latter — which I’m guessing is more likely — then I’m hoping that maybe some reader here can hook you up with some helpful material on the atonement, if that might help. — And while they’re at it, maybe they can hook me up with this helpful material. What meager religious experience I have had has been largely focused on Christ’s passion, but when it comes to explaining what I deeply felt…well, I can use some help.

Posted by: Keith DeRose | February 20, 2007 at 11:57 PM

Power of Evil cover

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