If I knew that there were a planet with life on the far side of the galaxy, with no hope of contact with us, what would I wish for it? Not that it be merely bacteria, nor that it be merely happy cows, but rather that it soar with the heights of civilization, science, the arts, philosophy -- right? Wouldn't that be better, cooler? Let's, see, what else....
"Really cool wars?" suggests one of my TAs (Will Swanson), when I run the idea by him.
Yesterday, another one of my TAs (Meredith McFadden) was guest lecturing to my course, Philosophy 5 ("Evil"), on "the problem of evil": If God is omnipotent, omniscient, and benevolent, this should be the best of all possible worlds, shouldn't it? But it doesn't look like the best of all possible worlds. There are of course some traditional theological responses to this problem, though they all face considerable obstacles. However, with the help of Will's suggestion about wars, we might construct a somewhat different theodicy. In this theodicy, God is not omnipotent, omniscient, and benevolent but rather: (1.) omnipotent, (2.) omniscient, and (3.) super-cool.
Thus, instead of creating the best of all possible worlds, God creates the coolest of all possible worlds. The question then arises: Do we in fact live in the coolest of all possible worlds?
My first inclination is to say no. But the super-cool theologian can respond to some of the obvious objections. The issue isn't entirely straightforward.
Objection 1: The world would be cooler if magic were real. Reply 1: No, if magic were real, we would just call it physics. Maybe, in this sense, magnetism is magic. It's much cooler for magic to be imaginary. (I owe this point also to Will.)
Objection 2: The world would be cooler if aliens were real. Reply 2: The universe is large enough that aliens probably are real. We're not in contact with them (yet?), but it's not obviously cooler to have a universe in which every intelligent species is in contact with other intelligent species than to have a universe in which some intelligent species are isolated.
Objection 3: The world would be cooler if dorky person X didn't exist. Reply 3: Although joy seems to be possible without suffering (a problem for traditional theodicies, especially those with a Heaven), coolness is arguably impossible without uncoolness as a contrast. For example, The Rolling Stones wouldn't have been nearly so cool if there weren't also dorky Beatles-imitators to contrast with.
Objection 4: The Holocaust was seriously uncool, and in a way that cannot be fully counterbalanced by any contrast effect.
Now before I reply let me say that I don't think this reply ultimately works, and I am reluctant to say anything good about the Holocaust. But theologians who think that this is the best of all possible worlds are in an even worse position, because all the super-cool theologian needs to say is that the world is cooler for having had the Holocaust than for not having had it -- not that the world is better all things considered for having had the Holocaust.
Reply 4: Let's suppose that the super-cool theologian does in fact buy into the idea of cool wars -- buys into the idea that violence, disaster, and tragedy can make for a cooler world than a world in which people are always placid and happy. Maybe The Lord of the Rings can be a model here. If Tolkien's world is cool, well, Sauron perpetrates some serious death and horror, and that's essential to the coolness of the world. If we think about Tolkien's world or a world on the other side of the galaxy, maybe we can warm up to the idea that huge amounts of horrible tragedy and undeserved suffering can belong in a maximally cool world, if there's also enough triumph at the end. Will likes Nietzsche, and maybe this attitude fits with Nietzschean yes-saying to even the most horrible aspects of the world.
Alternatively, maybe we can do some natural theology here: We can try to infer the attributes of God by looking out at the world God chose to create. If God was going for coolness, God must have thought a world with the Holocaust would be cooler than one without. Maybe this says something about God's moral character. Maybe we're like soldier ants God finds it cool to shake up and watch fight? A God with little sympathy for us but an interest in "cool wars" might think Nazis are the coolest bad guys, in part because because of the irredeemably evil awfulness of the Holocaust. I can't say that I would be fond of such a God, but if "coolness" isn't sharply separable from benevolence, super-cool theology is no real alternative to orthodoxy.
A Euthyphro question arises. Is something cool because it is seen as cool by the super-cool God, or is God super-cool because God loves things that are cool -- things that would be cool regardless of God's preferences? Although there are surely limits -- an uncool dork God seems possible -- to some extent it seems God could make things cool by finding them cool. For example, if God started wearing hightop sneakers, that might make hightop sneakers cooler than they would be if God weren't wearing them. I doubt this works for the Holocaust though.
The picture, then, would be an unbenevolent God who is entirely willing to inflict vast undeserved suffering in the interests of a "cool" historical arc, with maybe some triumphs and awesomeness down the road that we can't yet anticipate, and for whom uncoolness is justified mainly to make current and future coolness pop out ever more coolly. I can't say we have great evidence for this view. But a sufficiently motivated theist might find it avoids some of the problems that flow from assuming divine benevolence.
[Revised March 13]