The problem of evil, as described circa 300 B.C.

| April 17, 2008 | 446 Replies

In about 300 B.C., Epicurus eloquently summed up the problem of the existence of evil. It has come to be known as the Riddle of Epicurus or the Epicurean paradox. It was translated by David Hume in the Dialogues concerning Natural Religion:

If God is willing to prevent evil, but is not able to
Then He is not omnipotent.

If He is able, but not willing
Then He is malevolent.

If He is both able and willing
Then whence cometh evil?

If He is neither able nor willing
Then why call Him God?

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Category: Good and Evil, Quotes

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich and his wife, Anne Jay, live in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where they are raising their two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (446)

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  1. Mike M. says:

    Trey: Good one..nicely stated. I find your conjectures really quite wise, and suspect you’re knocking on the right door; the one behind which lives ‘The Great Secret’. Now, just get rid of the distracting and inaccurate sexisms of “him” and “himself” and you’ll be edging even closer to the hidden treasure.

  2. The Happy Nihilist says:

    “Ask yourselves the question ” what if each and every single human is an extension of god?” What if “god” is everything and everyone? What if “gods” ultimate evolution was to experience separation from “himself”?”

    Yes, Trey, I go in that general direction, too, when I attempt my own speculative expeditions. But, as Mike M. noted, the gender notion is moot. Or human. More especially, so is the personhood notion. And the matter of “love”, well even that is an expression of the created, not the creator. The “creator” is as such without description, even as is the presingularity of physics. Why impose a face on it, or emotion? Why invite error? Why make “the divine” an object? Perhaps Jesus noted that noone has seen the face of God because, well, there’s no face to be seen…

    As an extension of the principle that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty, I hold that it is perfectly acceptable to any manner of divinity worthy of my belief that I need not believe in such, as if to assimilate its infinitude; that I live life as if my time were no more than a spark between two eternities, a sheer finitude; and that I attend simply to the notion of having faith that solipsism does not in fact hold, …then see where it goes from there.

    Perhaps a deity would deign to create another mind(-set) in order to vicariously experience that same finitude we so take for granted, and thereby split its ownmost unending infinitive. [The only alternative being creating a reflection of itself, and thence-on dispute who created whom.]

    We cannot let that deity down by believing in it.

    First, we must recollect faith in ourselves. And those whom we are amongst, and by extension, might affect. Before all else. That, in fact, is quite enough to handle, even as it compromises the deity’s indirect experience of singular finitude with only the parafinite parameter of a collective. True Believers critically underestimate that expectation. I, myself, try to argue against it, having no investment in pleasing the deity.

    One deprives God (if I may) the experience of finitude most by believing in Him, but also by believing in others. Either way, God is condemned never to know most intimately what it is to be a limited morsel of stardust. Perhaps Jesus was His best attempt, but not if he were but a chip off the ol’ Eternity

    Spurious speculative point over.

  3. Karl says:

    Yes, Baum was not an atheist, nor a Nihilist.

    The three characteristics of Theosophy consist of a Divine/Human/Nature Triangle.

    “Nature” here is not just “the stuff that goes on in the physical world.”

    It consists of much that is physical, but also much that would be of a spiritual or “other” sense like the inter-relatedness between the Divine/Human and both known and unknowable aspects of metaphysics that exist as well.

    The “Trinity” or Father/Son/Spirit may sound impossible to those with an axe to grind, but not to those who doubt this physical world is all that there is of significance.

    • The Happy Nihilist says:

      “Yes, Baum was not an atheist, nor a Nihilist.”

      Nor a Theist… and in the eyes of most any Theist, he actually WAS for all intents and purposes an atheist, i.e. he didn’t believe in God(s).

      “The three characteristics of Theosophy consist of a Divine/Human/Nature Triangle.

      “Nature” here is not just “the stuff that goes on in the physical world.”

      It consists of much that is physical, but also much that would be of a spiritual or “other” sense like the inter-relatedness between the Divine/Human and both known and unknowable aspects of metaphysics that exist as well.”

      Theosophists believe humans can, so to speak, know the mind of God… they’re essentially quasi-Buddhists who have no truck or trade with Deity Worship. Hence the Problem of Evil is not one they need squirm over. (Not that I mean to defend Theosophy, mind you… though I do find Krishnamurti intriguing.)

      “The “Trinity” or Father/Son/Spirit may sound impossible to those with an axe to grind, but not to those who doubt this physical world is all that there is of significance.”

      Don’t need no axe to grind, nor assume anything about the Big Picture, just a common sense perspective which is capable of asking, “WTF?”, when presented with logically incongruous propositions.

  4. Karl says:

    There we go again, using an appeal to human bodily activity to wrap our heads around concepts that we don’t wish to really address.

  5. Karl says:

    Please do some research and don’t associate a divergent theologic syncretism with being an atheist. He believed in a universalistic creator God. That is not atheism.

    His son Frank admitted the author’s interest in Theosophy, but also reported that the elder Baum could not accept all its teachings. He firmly believed in reincarnation; he had faith in the immortality of the soul and believed that he and his wife had been together in many past states and would be together in future reincarnations, but he did not accept the possibility of the transmigration of souls from human beings to animals or vice versa, as in Hinduism. He was in agreement with the Theosophical belief that man on Earth was only one step on a great ladder that passed through many states of consciousness, through many universes, to a final state of Enlightenment. He did believe in Karma, that whatever good or evil one does in his lifetime returns to him as reward or punishment in future reincarnations…. He believed that all the great religious teachers of history had found their inspiration from the same source, a common Creator.

    Also attributed of Baum are statements like this.

    “There is one thing I want you to remember first of all: This is that what is called “death” by people is not death. You are more alive than ever you were after what is called death. Death is only a journey, like going to another country.”

    http://www.teosofiskakompaniet.net/LFrankBaumTheosophist.htm

  6. Chanti says:

    What if “God” doesn’t see what humans call evil as being evil? What if “God” sees things objectively?

  7. joe spirits says:

    God is able to prevent evil, but he gave this only task to human beings. Some of them did their best to fight evil, while others supported evil. If God has prevented evil all from the start there wouldn’t have been a meaning to life, without pain we would never know the taste of happiness, the whole point of life is to make a decision, a choice either to support or prevent evil, i think to prevent evil the change must come from inside us, and not wait for God to do our job for us ..

    • Jimmy says:

      Are you trying to say God(Who can do anything) cannot create a world where Evil didn’t exist but happiness still did?

    • bk11 says:

      Jimmy: God did create a world where evil did not exist and happiness did. However, man brought evil into the world after disobeying.

  8. “When evil comes upon us, our pride immediately begins to surface. We treat God as though he were unjust. Such an attitude presupposes that we know better than God what justice really is. And so God sends adversity upon us, even to our breaking point, in order that we may obtain a deeper understanding of the justice of God. We learn that His “injustices” are only temporary, and that He knows how to turn these “evils” into good.”

    http://www.gods-kingdom-ministries.org/books/creations/Chapter13.cfm

  9. Mike S. says:

    Evil is a regretful byproduct of creation, witch is ongoing. It’s going the wrong way when you should have known better. It beats not going anywhere though.

    • Jimmy says:

      So your answer is he is not omnipotent. I believe if God existed There wouldn’t even be a concept of evil which would make us able to still have free will without being able to do evil things.

  10. tesuji says:

    This life is a school and a test. Evil exists to test and challenge us. Without evil, good would not exist. Most evil happens because of people’s choices. God allows that because he respects out freedom – without it, we could not learn for ourselves. It’s all good, because there is an afterlife and sooner or later we will all pay the consequences of our choices, both good and evil. Christ will pay the price of your bad choices for you, if you sincerely repent. These things I believe as a Mormon.

  11. George B says:

    At one time there was a problem published on the internet that asked “Which is worse, apathy or ignorance?” My answer to that problem and to this problem is the same.

    I don’t know and I don’t care.

  12. Kmuzu says:

    If you think of God as a bad comedian, the whole world makes sense.

  13. Jay says:

    What if Eden was an alien habitat growing a monkey / alien hybrid and the apple and snake was originally something that was off limits. We pissed them off and the nude sex paradise was replaced with this shithole we live in now. Way to go naked toucher people … I could be naked and having crazy biodome sex right now. Instead I’m reading a facking blog about whether or not god exists while drinking whiskey and watching facking Storage Wars. Seriously … wtf :(

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