Epicurus and the Omnipotence of God

In the midst of a friendly philosophical discussion, a friend of mine brought up the subject of Epicurus’ famous quote:

“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?”

This quote he regarded as an airtight argument against the existence of a God who is both omnipotent and all-good. Is it? My friend was surprised to hear me deny this claim. An agnostic atheist, he expected me to accept this argument at face value. My counter argument is as follows.

It is true that there is evil in the world. This much we can gather from the immoral actions of men everywhere. But would an all-powerful and all-good God intervene to prevent immoral actions? Epicurus presents the answer to the second question as though it is self-evident, but a closer examination of morality shows that a God who is all-good and all-powerful would not intervene to prevent immoral actions. Morality is dependent on choice; the ability to choose between good and evil. If God intervened in order to prevent man’s immoral actions, man could never make the choice to behave in a moral way.  Morality as we know it would not exist and mankind would be reduced to a bunch of Chatty Cathy dolls, unable to articulate any thoughts except for those permitted by our maker. Thus there is an inherent flaw in Epicurus’ reasoning: if God eliminated all evil in the world, God would also eliminate all good.

I leave the question to you, the reader. Which God is malevolent? The God who allows man to choose between good and evil, or the God who denies mankind the ability to be moral? Which world is preferable, the world without misery, or the world without morality?

2 thoughts on “Epicurus and the Omnipotence of God

    1. kc Post author

      Hey, he stole my argument! I hope he at least cited me.

      The Wikipedia article brings up an interesting question, the question of natural evil. I would argue that natural evil is impossible because natural phenomena are not free agents and therefore are not evil. It seems patently ridiculous to call an earthquake evil. Still the question persists, why should there be suffering if an omnibenevolent, omnipotent and omniscient God did in fact exist? I feel as though the argument I’ve posited here does in fact show that moral evil is compatible with a God who has all of the aforementioned characteristics, but why should suffering exist at the hands of nonhuman actors?


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