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August 08, 2004

Man: Why formed so weak, so little, and so blind?

Pope says in his Essay on Man, 1.2:35-38,

Presumptuous man! the reason wouldst thou find,

Why formed so weak, so little, and so blind?

First, if thou canst, the harder reason guess,

Why formed no weaker, blinder, and no less;

This casts a good sidelight on the Problem of Evil. Usually, we ask why God did not put less sin and pain into the world. Pope asks why God did not put *more* sin and pain into the world.

The answer may be that the Problem of Evil can be reformulated as, "Why didn't God make men perfect and put them in a painless world?" The alternative to the present world would not be one that is moderately less painful, because Pope's criticism is then valid-- if there's going to be a little pain, why not a lot of pain? But if we try to understand why God made a world with sin and pain rather than a world absolutely free of sin and pain, we immediately grasp Pope's deeper criticism-- that we have too little information to understand why God made the world as it is. A person may think at the micro level that it is obvious that God should have prevented the 9-11 bombing, but if you ask him to explain why God should have prevented all deaths in human history, he will become less confident.

Another way to approach what Pope said is to think about what kind of creature God ought to have created instead of Man. Men have an IQ of 100 on average, and live to about 80 years. Ought they instead to have an average IQ of 130 and live to 100? Why not, instead, an average IQ of 70 and live to 50? This is not an easy design problem, and without knowing God's objectives it is an impossible one for us to solve.

Posted by erasmuse at August 8, 2004 11:16 PM

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