Saturday, January 3, 2009

The Riddle of Epicurus

An oldie but a goodie...

Is god willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.


Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.

Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?

Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him god?

14 comments:

Ceroill said...

Ahhh. One of my faves!

I think the most amusing reply I've ever run across to the question of why God would allow such misery in the world comes from the 70's show All in the Family, where someone asks Archie that question, which he then passes off to Edith. She ponders a minute and comes up with, "So we'll notice the difference when we get to Heaven?"

G said...

I wonder how Epicurus, who did believe in gods, would have responded had he lived to meet Jesus.

This "riddle" makes some assumptions that are not necessarily true. As one example, there is the assumption that an omnipotent, benevolent god can't allow or coexist with evil.

The Bible teaches that God gave man dominion over the earth. He also gave man free will. If there is no potential for evil, then it is not really free will. If man can choose evil, but God prevents him from acting upon it, then man doesn't truly have dominion.

The Bible also teaches that a time is coming where man will be incapable of evil. At the end of that period, mankind will still rebel against God.

I realize that you all think this is nonsense. But the presence of evil doesn't argue against the existence of God at all... no more than the existence of dirty people argues against the existence of soap.

csm said...

G, I was with you (though not necessarily agreeing) up until you went crazy in the last paragraph... dirty people, soap? Is your god the dirty person or the soap in that analogy?

G said...

Sorry. I know it isn't the best analogy. I was trying to think of a father-child thing, but couldn't quite get it to work. My mind's been a bit fuzzy for the past few days. In any case, analogies always fall a bit short, particularly when trying to explain a God that isn't subject to our human limitations.

Anonymous said...

The philosophical weakness in Epicurus' riddle "Is he able to prevent evil, but not willing? Then he is malevolent." Not a logicsl conclusion here. There are many of contradictions with free will that necessitate detachment and assuming he is unwilling makes him malevolent is an illogical conclusion. Evil is not necessarily the the opposite of good nor is the absence of evil the presence of good.

A second problem with Epicurus is the assumption of moral law which Kant shot down years ago.

coreydbarbarian said...

i am not sure that this anonymous poster grew up speaking english, yet i am willing to overlook that, simply because (s)he appreciates kant.

personally, i have always had a problem with this riddle. then again, i am not convinced in the existence of evil in the first place. pain & suffering, i recognize. ill will & aggression, i recognize also. evil, not so much.

csm said...

I guess it all depends on your definition of evil - as well as a person's intent, which is impossible to know for sure, other than for the person committing the alleged "evil."

And then there is the matter of culture. For example, to my mind, genital mutilation is evil, especially when perpetrated on someone too young to know better. Folks in the Western hemisphere probably immediately begin to think of the other side of the globe and female genital mutilation, but hey, isn't circumcision a form of genital mutilation?

Wow, I think I strayed WAY OFF TOPIC there.

To the anonymous poster, yes, perhaps "malevolent" is not accurate... how about ambivalent? Uncaring? Stupefyingly sick? These are the terms we might apply if say, a young thug was raping your grandmother on your front porch and you just sat there and watched it instead of trying to stop it. If he existed that would be "god" to me, the guy who enjoys watching my grandma get raped every day.

coreydbarbarian said...

way back when i was locked up in texas, there was this 15yr old kid in the cell next to me for a while. at the time he was sort of famous locally - while burglerizing (sp?) a supposedly-empty home with two of his friends, the resident woke up and surprised them. she was a granny in her 80's; he slit her throat.

he was a cold, heartless psychopath, for certain. a couple weeks after he arrived in our "pod", he threw a cup of almost boiling water into another inmates face. apparently, he had boasted over his winning hand of playing cards.

my point, you ask? (do i really have one?) i believe the human mind is imperfect. i also believe aggression is in our genes. put the two together and you have a volatile mix.

also, i suspect the male circumcision agenda is secretly being led by women who prefer circumcised penises. just a hunch.

Anonymous said...

Nietzsche asked:........... Is Man one of g-d's Mistakes? Or is g-d one of Man's??? I choose the second!

csm said...

Totally agree, Anonymous.

Anonymous said...

"malevolent" is not accurate... how about ambivalent? Uncaring? Stupefyingly sick?

Sounds more like man to me. Why blame the evils of men on god? God may be asking what are you doing to stop evil?
The assumption of understanding an omnipotent omniscient being and his plan is another one of the problems with the riddle. Something things can only be answered with i don't know. Nevertheless, like so many astronauts after entering space, I feel certain there is a god and if I am a mistake thanks for fumbling the ball!

csm said...

You are definitely a mistake, Anonymous. ;-)

coreydbarbarian said...

relating back to female "circumcision":
i listen to lectures on my ipod when i'm truckin' now.

this week, i'm on an anthropology spree. i just finished 12 hrs on primatology, just started 12 hrs of cultural anthropology, and i've got 18 hrs of linguistics loaded for the end. (there's a series of lectures on classic mythology after that, but i digress..)

ANYWAYS.. did you know that female circumcision was practiced in the u.s. and europe throughout the 19th century, to "cure" the affliction of female masturbation?

also, did ya know that in many cultures (somalia, for example), this genital mutilation is defended by the women of the culture as the only path to "true" womanhood?

shocking, but true.

csm said...

I always thought the path to true womanhood was thru me ;-)