Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Refuting the Riddle of Epicurus

The statement in question is often used by atheists to refute the notion of God being concerned over man's fate and being able to overcome evil. If you're not familiar with it, here's how it goes:

Either God wants to abolish evil, and cannot; or he can, but does not want to. If he wants to, but cannot, he is impotent. If he can, but does not want to, he is wicked. If God can abolish evil, and God really wants to do it, why is there evil in the world?

Often, the paradox is given an additional line "Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God"
 Without fail, every atheist that has presented this to me thinks they said something brilliant and this can't be refuted. To be honest, I see several problems with this so-called paradox.

1. It has never been called the Epicurean Trilemma. 
It's either been called the Epicurean paradox or the riddle of Epicurus. A moot point, perhaps, but it is better to call things by their proper names.

2. Epicurus didn't write it.
That's right: there's no evidence to suggest Epicurus ever wrote it. The form people are familiar with, depending on who you believe, was either put together by David Hume or maybe Carneades. No one knows which but saying Epicurus put it together is yet another atheist urban legend, much like saying communism could work or saying the early Christians were never martyred. (And yes, there is a book out there arguing this).

3. The additional line I just mentioned is not a part of it and never has been.
In this case, it doesn't matter who you think came up with it: neither version has the "why call him God" part. That appears to be a later addition, but it also appears that whoever put it there didn't bother to check the original sources.

4. The so-called riddle itself is a false dilemma.
  A false dilemma is a type of informal fallacy that involves a situation in which limited alternatives are considered, when in fact there is at least one additional option.
Consider what the paradox says in the very first sentence: either God cannot abolish evil or God chooses not to.  That's it. It only considers two options; it doesn't consider (for sake of argument) that maybe God is allowing evil or perhaps there's a reason why the evil is there in the first place. I bring this up only because Hume himself (a philosopher atheists love to quote) admitted to the possibility:

"His wisdom is infinite: He is never mistaken in choosing the means to any end: But the course of nature tends not to human or animal felicity: Therefore it is not established for that purpose. Through the whole compass of human knowledge, there are no inferences more certain and infallible than these. In what respect, then, do his benevolence and mercy resemble the benevolence and mercy of men?"

5. It doesn't define what evil is.
If you're going to call something evil, okay, but you need to establish on what basis something is evil.

6. It ignores free will.
Last  I checked, man is free to commit evil or good. That is not to say they always make the better choice but this does say at least the choice is there. The paradox doesn't address that.

7. The whole wicked and impotent part is just an opinion, not an objective fact.
Those parts are nothing more than a slight-of-hand that add nothing themselves and suffer from their own logical inconsistencies. 

8. It places the problem of evil on God rather than man.
Going back to point 6, man in the end is responsible for how he treats other people. I don't see how God could even come close to blame in light of this.

9. There is no way to take this paradox seriously.
In light of all these points, a Christian should not be threatened by this writing at all since the atheist is just picking at straws on this.

In fact, I have a much better paradox:
Are atheists really bright or are they ignorant? If they are bright, why do they make so many mistakes? Do they not care about learning? Then they are not bright. If they do care about learning, why make the same mistakes over and over? Are they ignorant? If so, why not just admit it?

Because atheists are idiots.


  1. 1-3; absolutely no relevance on what your trying to discuss.
    4.god allowing evil is the same as 'god chooses not to'. 'perhaps there is a reason' this would imply god has a plan, but an infinite omnipotent being would have no need for a plan, because the definition of a plan is to use means at one's disposal to achieve means not already at one's disposal. A god would have no need of a plan if god already is in control of everything.
    5. Evil: a person, place, or action that actively and intentionally causes negative actions to a person, place, or thing. If you need someone to tell you what is evil, I feel sorry for you.
    6. If god isn't capable of controlling free will, then god isn't omnipotent, if god isn't omnipotent then god isn't god.
    7. Nonsensical
    8. God is responsible for the creation of the universe, the universe is everything (including evil), so god created evil. Even if evil was a human creation, god basically introduced the concept to humans.
    9. a statement, not a refutation.

    1. Refuting your refutation:
      1-3: lots of relevance. Could it be you just didn't understand?
      4. Not the same thing and not how power of choice works. Also, you ignored the "for argument's sake" part.
      5. There is no objective definition of evil in atheism, so whatever you put is, by atheist logic, just your opinion but nothing more than that. Also, begging the question fallacy.
      6. Poor understanding of omnipotent you got there.
      7. Nope. It made perfect sense.
      8. Nope. Man twisted God's universe and made it evil. Big difference.
      9. Valid refutation.
      Care to try again?

  2. I’m a little late to this party, but I’ve gotten interested in this topic recently, and this blog is one of the first Google results for “Epicurus trilemma.”
    1-3, 7. Not important for main discussion.

    4. You are correct that alternative options would constitute a valid refutation of the argument, but I don’t think you’ve done so here. God is described as omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent (i.e., God is Love), is he not? If so, then the presence of evil in the world means that only two of those can be true. Hence the paradox. Your first option, “God is allowing evil,” contradicts omnibenevolence…it’s not another option. Your second alternative, “perhaps there’s a reason why evil is there in the first place,” is not another option either; you’re just restating the goal. But some have argued for another option, which I’ll get to below.

    5. Let’s put this in more concrete terms, and say that rape and murder are evil. These are actual and substantial harms that are perpetrated on another person without their consent, and they are widespread in the world since the dawn of time. You don’t have to be religious to think that these are, in fact, evil. Simply using the golden or platinum rules establishes a sufficient moral basis for not raping and murdering other people.
    8. Let’s say that you create three people. The first person steals something from the other two so you tell the other two that this is sinful and it is their right to punish the first person. In front of person #2, you place a wooden spoon and a leather belt for this. In front of person #3, you place a wooden spoon and a noose. There is inherently more evil in the punishments of person #3 than person #2. And you are responsible for that. Yes, they also have to take responsibility for which option they choose, but you cannot shirk your responsibility of creating a noose as one of the options (more on this below).

    6. Free will is an excellent refutation of the paradox, and indeed, many philosophers have accepted it as an ultimate defeat of the paradox. Omnipotence doesn’t allow one to create a logical contradiction. Just as it is impossible to create a square circle, it is equally impossible to create free will with no choice. If the ability to choose good exists, there has to be the ability to choose not-good, or free will doesn’t exist. And here is where we get back to your “other reasons” from #4. God decided that free will + evil was more benevolent than no free will. And I think this is an excellent point. We can’t understand God’s motives, and it’s hard to appreciate what a wonderful blessing free will truly is, even if it means that evil has to exist in the world as the price for that blessing. Therefore, evil is not a counter-argument against his benevolence, it is simply a negative consequence of a greater benefit.

    Nevertheless, I still have a few qualms, which lead me to believe that the paradox is a good one, and God’s benevolence must be questioned. First, it seems like he permitted more evil than was necessary for fulfilling the requirements of free will. Take rape for example. He could have easily designed us so that rape was not physiologically possible, which would have removed a serious evil from the world and still left humans will plenty of opportunity to exercise their free will. Similarly, why does he permit people to perpetrate as much evil in the world as they do? Certainly, after the second time the gas chambers were used on the Jews, there was enough information on the choices that Hitler would be making for god to judge him. Instead, he allowed millions of Jews to die so that Hitler could exercise his free will, which leads me to my second problem. What about the victims? Why isn’t their right to exercise their free will as important as the murderer’s? It seems to me that this set up actually favors the sinner, not the righteous, which makes me seriously doubt god’s ultimate benevolence.

  3. 1-3 and 7 are relevant. You might as well have said "let's rewrite the 2nd Amendment but do nothing with the 1st."
    4. Either you don't understand evil or you don't understand why evil is even in the world. And going with what else I said, perhaps you don't care to know.
    5. Let's say for a moment people don't have to be religious to know those are evil. How then do you explain the people who are not religious are always the same people trying to show how they're okay (Pol Pot and De Sade for example)?
    6. Free will doesn't refute it at all. Clearly you don't understand how the will works in a human.

    Now to refute everything else you said:
    The notion that "God allows more evil than anyone or anything else" would be laughable if it weren't so stupid. Even if we took the notion of free will to its logical conclusion, that still doesn't change the fact some decisions are superior to others. Second, Hitler is a perfect example of the old saying "if there is no God, all things are permitted."

  4. I encourage you to work on an exposition of systematic atheism: how the whole edifice rests on sand.

  5. This is brilliant! Atheists like to use Epicurus's riddle, but they don't grasp it. This article is also beyond their reasoning ability. The masked Angel's riddle at the end is a classic. I would love to see how atheists handle it. In fact, I am in an an argument with atheists right now. With The Angel's permission, I would like to present his riddle to them.

  6. OK, second time. This article is brilliant. It has been my experience that atheists are extremely ignorant. Indeed, all things being equal, they are more ignorant and stupid than the developmentally disabled adults I worked with and took care of thirty years ago. The Masked Angel's riddle at the end is excellent. I am in an argument with atheists right now, and if The Angel has no objections, I would like to pose his riddle to them.

    1. Brilliant ? The riddle is full of holes and fallacy. Curiously enough, next google search blog entry is quite useful and well developed.

  7. First of all, I never care to be in the company of line who labels people with an apposing view "idiots." SecondlyThe creator is responsible for the quality of his/its/her creation;how can a good God create evil man? These are fair questions from a curious mind. If God created that mind, he cannot be angry with the questions that come from it. Can He? Can you?

    1. First off, I didn't ask you whether or not you cared, nor will I ever ask that. Second, it's not a fair question and I have a perfect example of why it isn't:
      Both Peter and Judas betrayed Jesus. Sure they had a choice of whether or not they'd do it, but they also had a choice on how they dealt with it. Judas gave in to despair; Peter did not.
      Didn't think of that, did you?

  8. Name-calling seem to be the purview of those who have run out of plausible arguments.

    1. Atheists should know. After all, none of their arguments are ever sound so what does that leave them?

  9. For myself God in concept is the creator and operator of the universe and of everything with a beginning.

    That concept of God is what makes God deserving of any attention from man.

    That is why I also have the conviction on critical thinking that God exists really in objective reality, and man knows that from the evidence that is the universe: so, the universe needs God to come to existence, it the universe exists, wherefore God exists as the creator and operator of the universe and of everything with a beginning.

    As regards what to do with God, I opt to adopt the Christian faith, in which faith God is also in addition to His role as creator and operator of the universe and of everything with a beginning, God is also the author of morality which is epitomized in the Ten Commandments.

    About the traditional attributes of God, namely: omniscience, omnipotence, all just, all good, all merciful, all whatever else toward mankind, all that is accepted by me on faith.

    I like to talk with atheists who happen to visit this blog, in order that we can exchange ideas on how you atheists come to know that there is no God, and how I know from critical thinking that there exists God in concept as the creator and operator of the universe and of everything with a beginning.

    Atheists, please reply to my comment.

    1. There is really little to reply to here.

      I am not an atheist, but the fact that the complexity of material creation makes many theists come to the conclusion that "God must have made it" has always bothered me.

      Certainly, creators are supposed to be more complex than their creation. And in this case puts the existence of God into very serious doubt, as he now has more of a need for a creator himself, than our material universe does. How theistic reasoning allows this to coexist with good sleep at night is mind boggling.

    2. It shouldn't bother you at all. Things are created by creators but what if there was a creator that needs no creator itself? The line must stop somewhere because if it didn't, nothing would ever be made.

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