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Natural disasters, teleology and the God of love(4)

By Douglass Anele
None of the explanations of evil presented thus far is satisfactory. The problem takes a wider dimension when evil is juxtaposed with teleology. ‘Teleology’ is derived from the Greek word telos,which means ‘end.

Thus, teleology  is “the study of the ends or purposes of things.” Leibniz, the German philosopher we referred to earlier, formulated a teleological doctrine which is also a theodicy. A theodicy is a body of ideas vindicating God in creating a world containing evil. According to Leibniz, there is an infinite number of possible worlds. God considered each of these worlds, and being good, eventually decided to create the actual world, which is the best of all possible worlds.

The world with the greatest excess of good over evil is the best. God could have created a world in which evil is non-existent,but it would not have been as good as the actual world. The teleological aspect of Leibniz’s theory is that God has a purpose for creating the real world: to establish the best of all possible worlds.

The theodicy comes in with the connection of sin with free will. Free will is a great good, but it was logically impossible for God to permit free will and simultaneously decree that there will be no sin – and sin  inevitably brought punishment and evil.

Thus, although the actual world contains evil, the surplus of good over evil makes it the best among the infinite possibilities God could have created. Let us discuss the teleological argument for the existence of God, because  it  has an important bearing on the fundanental problem we have been discussing, namely, the existence of evil in a world allegedly created by an all-powerful, loving God.

Although the teleological argument had been marshalled by several philosophers and theologians before him,William Parley formulated a version  which is remarkable because it is based on the analogy of a watch. In his book, Natural

Theology, Paley compares the universe to a watch. If we come across a watch and examine its intricate mechanisms closely, observing how the movements of the parts of the time piece are synchronised to reckon time, we can only conclude that a watchmaker(s) produced it.

There is no way anyone can believe that the watch was  brought into being by chance, or that its components  suddenly put themselves together to produce a working device. Every design that exists in the watch also exists in nature.

However, says Paley, the works of nature are by far superior to the marvels of a watch, and the degree of design manifested in the universe vastly surpasses that of a watch. Hence, if we can infer the existence of a designer or watchmaker to explain the watch, we should conclude that there is a God responsible for the awesome design that exists in nature which is enormously greater than the mechanism of a watch.

If we cannot argue that the watch came into being by pure chance without a designer, how can we claim that the universe is the product of chance, or that it has no creator?

It is not surprising that christians and muslims uncritically accept the teleological argument. In fact, members of the Institute for Creation Research in the United States, led by its founder, the late Henry Morris, have for years used the argument to challenge the theory of evolution. At first sight, the teleological argument seems solid, but on closer inspection it is unsatisfactory.

Philosophers such as David Hume and Immanuel Kant have refuted  it, but I will concentrate on just two of their counter-arguments.

It is indeed true that the universe contains incredible beauty and harmony. But it also contains incredible ugliness, disorder, imperfections and suffering. Why should theists concentrate only on the good aspects of the universe, and ignore the bad? Regarding the watch-implies-watchmaker argument of William Paley, we assume that the watch was  designed not just because of its intricate mechanism, but also because we know from experience that  people design watches and other things.

However, nobody has witnessed a universe being designed, or gone outside the universe to see it as an object  the way we can see a watch.

Thus, the analogy Paley used just cannot work. Seen as an object (which is impossible), the universe may not be what we think it is. On a final note,Leibniz was wrong in thinking that this world is the best of all possible words. To Haitians, all those suffering worldwide, and very imaginative individuals, his description is ridiculous: how can the best of all possible worlds contain so much evil, both natural and man-made?

How can a loving God create such a world? Sentiments aside, the universe is partly good and partly bad, and every blessing in it is mixed. Looking up to an imaginary loving God  to save us from evil is futile, just like waiting for Godot.


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