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Epicurean Riddle - Dan the Serene
April 1st, 2008
09:33 pm

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Epicurean Riddle
Can anyone come up with a logical argument to refute this?

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?


-- David Hume, echoing the logical formulation that we have dubbed the "Epicurean Riddle"; quoted from William Hart, Evil: A Primer (2004), pages 28-29

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From:kittles
Date:April 2nd, 2008 01:49 am (UTC)
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Parents can lock their kids up and treat them like infants for hte rest of their lives to protect them, but they don't. Not because they aren't willing, and not because they aren't able (within reason) - but because free will is essential to human happiness and achievement. We do not learn and grow only by merit of our good experiences, but also in the way we react to the bad ones. I may not like that bad things sometimes happen, but I respect that they are necessary to give me the perspective necessary to appreciate the good things. I don't want to be a safe infant - I want to be a mature adult.

Perhaps not a logical argument, per se, but that's how I personally look at it.
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From:phanatic
Date:April 2nd, 2008 02:05 am (UTC)
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. Not because they aren't willing, and not because they aren't able (within reason) - but because free will is essential to human happiness and achievement.

Free will's only essential to human happiness and achievement because that's the way God created man and the universe. God, being omnipotent, could just as easily have created a universe in which only robots get to be happy.

Presumably, after a graceful death, the soul reaches a state of paradise. Being paradise, such things as anguish and suffering and nun-rapists simply don't exist there. But if free will is a desirable quality, then it must exist there. This requires us to ask the question "Well, if such a state is possible, why didn't an omnipotent God just create that state down here in the first place, without requiring people to suffer in order to reach it?" He could as easily have created free-willed beings who were incapable of sin as he did free-willed beings who were incapable of sprouting wings and breathing fire.

but I respect that they are necessary to give me the perspective necessary to appreciate the good things.

Voltaire spoke to that a long time ago:

"There is a concatenation of all events in the best of possible worlds; for, in short, had you not been kicked out of a fine castle for the love of Miss Cunegund; had you not been put into the Inquisition; had you not traveled over America on foot; had you not run the Baron through the body; and had you not lost all your sheep, which you brought from the good country of El Dorado, you would not have been here to eat preserved citrons and pistachio nuts."

"Excellently observed," answered Candide; "but let us cultivate our garden."



To speak to dantheserene, no, the Problem of Evil is an argument that is devastating to the claim that the described God exists (omnipotent, omniscient, moral perfection). Apologetics is devoted to finding a way out of that little conundrum, but hasn't yet. Even Platinga's arguments require special pleading. Quite a few religions, however, aren't greatly bothered by it because they don't make claims of moral perfection for their respective Gods; the Jews don't, and will gladly point you to Isaiah 45:7, where God says flat out that "I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things." Lots of Christians, on the other hand, try to avoid recognizing that this chapter exists, or perhaps aren't familiar with it in the first place.


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From:kittles
Date:April 2nd, 2008 02:34 am (UTC)
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Hey, I said my ideas weren't logical. I personally do not believe in an afterlife - but interpret the idea of 'heaven' as being here on earth when you are 'with God.' I don't think I'd really enjoy a place where I was just nonstop Generic Happy with nothing to do but sin songs of worship. But I also don't have a problem with God having created evil/allowed it to persist.

But that's also why I tend to think of religion as an individual personal decision, and I'm not out to change anyone else's mind. Faith isn't a rational argument - if it were, we'd all be the same religion or no religion at all. However, I provide my personal perspective when asked, as Dan did.
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From:kittles
Date:April 2nd, 2008 03:01 am (UTC)
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By the way, CS Lewis wrote a book on this topic: The Problem of Pain. I have heard good things, but have not read it myself as it is never a question I really wrestled with.
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From:warpedpuppy
Date:April 2nd, 2008 03:01 am (UTC)
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Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.


well that's just crap. just cause you don't exercise power doesn't mean you don't have that power.

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

this I totally agree with. I believe it's my responsibility to use my skills and training that my country has given me for the greater good when I can.

Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?

well - the old testament God wasn't a NICE god.
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From:morlith
Date:April 2nd, 2008 03:29 am (UTC)
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Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
this I totally agree with.


That depends on His intent. Some lessons are learned due to dealing with pain in its various forms. One cannot appreciate and love Life without confronting Death, for example. The phrase "Is he able, but not willing" is too vague to cover the complexities of Life and how we deal with it. Also, your defintion of "evil" may not match mine. It's a subjective term.

well - the old testament God wasn't a NICE god.

The "Old Testament God" and the "New Testament God" are the same God shown from different perspectives. Otherwise, we're not dealing with a monotheistic religion anymore.
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From:warpedpuppy
Date:April 2nd, 2008 03:30 am (UTC)
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That depends on His intent. Some lessons are learned due to dealing with pain in its various forms. One cannot appreciate and love Life without confronting Death, for example. The phrase "Is he able, but not willing" is too vague to cover the complexities of Life and how we deal with it. Also, your defintion of "evil" may not match mine. It's a subjective term.

yeah, I'll agree with that. I was thinking about The Apathy of Good People.
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From:phanatic
Date:April 2nd, 2008 12:09 pm (UTC)
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One cannot appreciate and love Life without confronting Death, for example.

Did you just say that God was incapable of creating beings that could appreciate and love Life without confronting death?

Yeah, some God. I thought he was supposed to be omnipotent.
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From:dantheserene
Date:April 2nd, 2008 12:16 pm (UTC)
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It is killing me that I posted this right before bed (I saw but did not respond to Kit's first comment) and now I'm at work and on my blackberry. I'm going to have to post a follow up from a real keyboard.
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From:morlith
Date:April 3rd, 2008 02:37 am (UTC)
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Did you just say that God was incapable of creating beings that could appreciate and love Life without confronting death?

Are you saying that God is incapable of creating beings that have different experiences, perspectives, thoughts, ideas, and lives?

Yeah, some God. I thought he was supposed to be omnipotent.

Generally, yes. But, not on the days he plays Truth or Dare. Then, it's no fun.
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From:shadowbody
Date:April 2nd, 2008 03:05 am (UTC)
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A beautiful blind woman will never see the proof of her beauty in the mirror, nor ever behold any other beautiful sights with her eyes. Does this mean beauty therefore does not exist, or that she is simply not able to comprehend what physical beauty is?
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From:morlith
Date:April 2nd, 2008 03:31 am (UTC)
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Physical beauty is not just made up of how we look. A beautiful blind woman will hear, smell, touch, and taste physical beauty much more intimately than those of us who see ever will.
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From:shadowbody
Date:April 2nd, 2008 03:48 pm (UTC)
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Incorrect. This was a loaded trick response.

The woman exists, the mirror exists, beauty does not. “Beauty” is a subjective, an adjective. Beauty is neither a person, a place, nor a thing; nor is it animal, vegetable, mineral nor energy. Hunger, Sadness, Anger, Love, Hate, despair, lust, cold, hot, itchy. . .these are all Subjectivity, are all conceptual, and are all defined differently with a meaning which is fluid based upon a myriad of external and internal definitions.

Thus the perception of “good” and “evil” is also subjectivity rather than substantial matter (animal, vegetable, mineral or energy) These categories are not a form of Being (such as the woman or the mirror) in their own right, but derivative on the existence of individuals.

As such: As the Epicurean Riddle makes the assumption that “good” and “evil” exists, which are shown to be subjectivity rather than Substantive, you must logically come to the conclusion that they do not exist.

Ipso facto the argument Dan placed forth for refutement is invalidated. Only that which is substantive exists.
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From:phanatic
Date:April 2nd, 2008 05:04 pm (UTC)
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Hunger, Sadness, Anger, Love, Hate, despair, lust, cold, hot, itchy. . .these are all Subjectivity,

Let me sit you down in this chair, strap you down, and hook a few truck batteries in series up to your genitals. Then you can talk about how "subjectively" unpleasant that experience is. Yeah, the Holocaust wasn't a fucking evil, it was just a subjective experience.

If it helps, "evil" is generally defined in this particular philosophic context as "unnecessary suffering." For purposes of theodicy, "evil" includes things like a typhoon that strikes Bangladesh and kills a hundred thousand people, or a meteorite falling on your mother. There's no attribution of intent or malice, it's simply unnecessary suffering. Then perhaps you could move past your PHL 101 sophistry and consider the problem seriously.
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From:dantheserene
Date:April 2nd, 2008 05:28 pm (UTC)
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I know you're passionate about your issues, and you're welcome to disagree with people's comments, but please don't attack the people themselves in my LJ.
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