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The Correspondence of Leibniz’ The Monadology with a Biblical Cosmology[1]

 

*This paper was written for an upper level university class on 17th and 18th century philosophy.  For that reason is brief and somewhat incomplete.

 

The Monadology of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716) is an attempt to expound a thoroughgoing cosmology which contrasts with its brevity.  Of course, Leibniz wrote other works that addressed this cosmology and his philosophy more fully, for example, his Theodicy, but The Monadology is a concise summary.  One could take the approach to review all that is known about Leibniz’ theological beliefs and determine how the monadology corresponds to those.  However, a simpler and perhaps more interesting project would be to take some basic principles of a Biblical cosmology and evaluate how those correspond to Leibniz’ monads.  In a short paper, this project will have to be highly selective, but even so, it will be seen that Leibniz’ brief thoughts do have a considerable correspondence to a Biblical cosmology.

 

First, a Biblical cosmology starts with God where the Bible does, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).[2]  God “was” prior to anything that He created.   Leibniz’ monads correspond to this act of God.  “There is no conceivable way that a simple substance (monad) can begin naturally.  (Monads) can only begin by creation.” (6)[3] “God has power which is the source of everything.” (48) 

 

Second, a Biblical cosmology must reflect the character or attributes of God Himself.  God is a unity.  “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4).  Leibniz has substantial agreement here.  His monads are “a simple substance that enters into composites.” (1)  There can be no “divisibility” or “parts,” while they are “true atoms of nature … the elements of things.” (3)  Leibniz weaves together a unity of past, present, and future: “Every present state of a simple substance is a natural consequence of its preceding state, the present is pregnant with the future.” (22)  God Himself is a simple substance, The Greatest Monad, if you will.  “The ultimate reason of things must be in a necessary substance…. This is what we call God.” (28)  “God alone is the primitive unity or the first simple substance.” (47)  In response to “Mr. Bayle,” Leibniz countered that the former “was unable to present any reason for (this) universal harmony.” (59)  His “plenum” accounts for an “interconnectedness” of everything in the universe.  “There is no chaos or confusion (in the universe) except in appearance.” (69) 

 

Central to the unity of the universe which corresponds to God’s essential unity is (1) the central tenet of Leibniz’ construction, “pre-established harmony, between all substances, since they are all representations of a single universe.” (77)  “Souls (the higher functioning monads) act according to the laws of final causes,” that is, the unity of ends for which God created them.  (2) The universe and all its inhabitants constitute “the city of God which is a truly universal monarchy … a moral world within the natural world.” (85-86) This unity includes “efficient causes” (the immediate causes of effects) and “final causes” (the ultimate purpose of causes). (87)  This unity of moral reality and a physical universe is surely one of the greatest of Leibniz’ ideas—one that has plagued many other great philosophers throughout history.

 

Third, a Biblical cosmology must be grounded in “spirit” and “mind.”  God existed before there was a physical world.  He is “spirit” (John 4:24).  He is pure “mind,” if you will.  He was the logos (a Greek word full of meaning in reason, language, speech—Calvin’s choice—logic, word or words, and much more).  “His word is truth” (John 17:17).  Thus, Leibniz is grounding, even ranking his monads, according to “perception,” that is, understanding (the functioning of the mind).  The lower order of things, inanimate objects and perhaps plants, have only “small perceptions.” (21)  Animals have “heightened perceptions” and “memory.” (25, 26)  “The rational soul or mind,” which “distinguishes us from simple animals,” has “knowledge of eternal and necessary truths.” (29)  These truths include “sufficient reason” which further includes “two kinds of truth”: “those of reason and of fact.” (33)  In addition, there are “simple ideas” and “axioms and postulates.” (34) 

 

Fourth, Leibniz posits his whole monadal project on the being of God Himself.  “In Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).  “All things are upheld by the word of His power” (Hebrews 1:3).  Leibniz states that “God has power, which is the source of everything, knowledge … and finally will.” (48)  He posits three proofs for the existence of God.  God is “sufficient reason for a contingent world”; He is “the ontological ground of possibilities”; and a modal proof: “possibilities are either continent or necessary; God is both possible and not contingent; therefore, God is necessary and must exist.” (44, 45)

 

Finally, I would be remiss not to present Leibniz’ “best of all possible worlds.”  Of “an infinity of possible universes … and since only one of them can exist, there must be a sufficient reason for God’s choice.” (53)  That reason can only be that the one that is most perfect and has the “right to claim existence.” (54)  “Wisdom makes known to God” that which is the “best which his goodness makes him choose and his power makes him produce.” (55)  Biblically, “In (Christ) are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”  (Colossians 2:3)  God would choose the best of all possible worlds because that would be the wisest choice!

 

There are other characteristics of monads that would correspond to a Biblical cosmology: the appearance of change based upon the internal principles of monads, the existence of a material and an immaterial universe (dualism), the universal conscience of monads, the possibility of empirical study, presence of sin in a universe created by a sinless God, the necessity of law of noncontradiction, and more.

 

The only statements of Leibniz’ cosmology that do not seem logically and Biblically consistent are his ideas of “best of all possible worlds” and that God has “infinity.”  (1) God has no contingency—Leibniz’ own words (above).  God’s will and His action are immediate, that is, His conception of any idea to create or determine actions are immediate.  “God said, ‘Let there be light, and there was light” and on through the whole of creation (Genesis 1).  Also, God has predestined all events, that is, “determined all things according to the counsel of His own will” (Ephesians 1:11).  Leibniz saw this truth, as well, in his “the past is pregnant with the future,” “all things conspire,” and the enteleche of every monads to its own end.  Since God’s thinking and His will are immediate, there is no possibility of other worlds.

 

(2)  God is omniscient, that is, he knows everything (Isaiah 40:13-14).  But, if monads and their characteristics were infinite, God could not know them all.  For Him to know everything, there has to be a limited amount of knowledge for Him to know. 

 

(Mathematical) theorems seem to be possible without end.  Then would not omniscience make God infinite? … If the theorems are infinite in number, neither God nor man could know them all, for with respect to infinity, there is no “all” to be known.  Infinity has no last term, and God’s knowledge would be as incomplete as man’s.[4]

 

To many readers of Leibniz and to some philosophers, Leibniz’ monadology may be merely fascinating, especially in its brevity.  However, regardless of it length, it is a profound attempt to describe the creation of His God’s universe, the best of all possible worlds.  There may be no other cosmology with the same detail and breadth of answers to the myriad problems of cosmology and its broader philosophy.  Certainly, there is none that is this concise.  And, to Leibniz’ credit, he posited a universe that was wonderfully consistent with a Biblical cosmology of the God that he worshipped.

 

Notes and References


[1] Technically, Leibniz’ monadology is a thoroughgoing philosophy, not just a cosmology.  However, its focus is a coherence of the universe both physical and spiritual, and thus will be addressed here as a cosmology.

 

[2] I have made no attempt to be thoroughly Biblical, only to give a representative verse or verses.

 

[3] Numbers in parentheses correspond to those of Leibniz’ The Monadology.

 

[4] Clark, Gordon H., The Incarnation, (Jefferson, MD: The Trinity Foundation, 1988), 62.


 

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