The Epicurean Paradox: Does Evil Disprove God?

The Epicurean problem with God, also known as the Epicurean paradox or the problem of evil, is a powerful argument against the existence of an omnipotent and benevolent God. It was attributed to the Greek philosopher Epicurus, although it was actually articulated by the later philosopher David Hume, drawing on Epicurean ideas.

The problem is typically presented as a series of questions:

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?

The crux of the problem is that the existence of evil and suffering in the world appears to be incompatible with the idea of a God who is both all-powerful (omnipotent) and all-good (omnibenevolent). If God is all-powerful, He should be able to prevent evil, and if He is all-good, He should want to prevent it. Yet evil exists.

This argument has prompted many responses and counterarguments from theists, leading to a vast body of literature on the problem of evil. Some argue that evil is a necessary consequence of free will, or that it serves a greater purpose, such as soul-making or testing. Others argue that our limited human perspective cannot comprehend God’s ultimate plan or the nature of His goodness.

It should be noted that Epicurus himself did not believe in the gods as personal, intervening entities, but rather thought that if they existed, they were indifferent to human affairs. The paradox, as formulated here, is more representative of later philosophical debates about the nature of God than of Epicurus’ own beliefs.

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