The New Horizon

A new world explored with a rational view

The Epicurus Riddle

with 16 comments

While going through Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion, the argument that struck me a lot was in fact posted long back(Around 300 BC) by a Greek Philosophist, Epicurus. The argument is said to be the first argument for Atheism.

The argument goes like this (Epicurus, as quoted in 2000 Years of Disbelief):

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 willing, nor able? Then why call him God?

Isn’t the argument a little bit different from the popular arguments for Atheism?

The other one came from Russell’s Teapot argument, which goes like this :

If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time.

Bertrand Russell clearly compared God with ‘China teapot’ that is preached in a way that cannot be disproved. Also, the accusition against the doubter is satirically criticised in his argument.

Is there any good answer to these questions (especially the first one) with anyone? I am yet to take a side.

A nice video to follow up the writing.
Epicurus, Atheism


Written by Diganta

February 18, 2007 at 1:34 pm

16 Responses

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  1. For the first:
    Most evil comes from people exercising their free will. Have you ever done anything evil in your whole life? If yes, would you have God take away your free will? If no, what shall God do?

    For the second:
    It is not directly a matter of belief. It is a matter of whether we will seek something that is important to us even if we don’t know that it even exists. Assume God exists, now of what importance might your Creator be to you? If none, then don’t seek Him. If you think your Creator may be important to you, then seek Him. I don’t see where Russell’s issues with burden of proof need arise.


    May 6, 2007 at 11:37 pm

    • well the Cristian bible offers quite a conundrum when it comes to free will it suggests that we choose to do evil but then how can god claim to be omnipotent since according to the bible gods “plan” for every human it already mapped out for us thus logic dictates that he also planned the evil that we would preform and does that not ultimately mean that god already knows whom will go to heaven or hell


      August 31, 2010 at 4:45 am

    • We only have free will in God’s World, like a bull inside a china shop has free will. Such an argument relies on entrapment. Your view of God is one whom chooses to do evil yet he has the power to inflict his will onto the world around him so that it is now good and none can say otherwise. That is proof of a Malevolent god that should never be worshiped no matter how trapped or victimized one is to become.

      How about you take said free will and go stick yourself in a closet with it, go foster evil on a coat rack and see how productive is that? That is the kind of fickle bean counter God you endorse quite clearly not here at the moment because he is a complete sociopath.

      These 3 traits Epicurus points out are the traits of psychopathy, the karpman drama triangle explains it further. The Ego, Super Imposed Ego, and the ID are all mental faculties displayed in those subjected to criminal activities.

      The first Christian Paul was a slayer of the religious and through use of the trinity many savages were hunted down and properly purged from humanity at the start of civilization. Then a religious mutation known as Islam occurred that triggered the Crusades and schools were then created to promote the Trivium. Even more heretics were purged in the Inquisition in Spain then later in the French Revolution. Purging these defects was and still is the only reason for war. The Marines have a saying “Lead, Follow, or GTFO” if God can do neither of these then he is an irrelevant bastard.


      September 11, 2016 at 12:33 am

  2. Wow… Looks like you have done some research on atheism. Guess I need to read whole blog of yours (I shall do it sometime).

    One suggestion I need from you, “The God delusion” has arrived to the shop next street (SO LATE ???), is it good. Not to miss book?


    May 21, 2007 at 9:55 am

  3. I have already read it and you will find a blog entry on that. BTW, I am yet to write up a full-fledged review of the book.


    May 21, 2007 at 10:49 am

  4. In case you want to read only ‘Atheism’ related topic, I would suggest you to go through articles tagged with Atheism.


    May 21, 2007 at 10:55 am

  5. @Diganta: Great blog!

    Free will:
    Your God, if omnipotent, could have created man who would not want to do evil. Or he could have created man who is not so hung up on free will. Or he could have refrained from creating man at all. After all, we see the world as it is, because we are in it. There can be an infinite different ways in which an omnipotent and omnibenevolent creator could create us with free will and still not evil.

    For the second:
    The problem is not whether your creator is important to me, but whether I am persecuted for not believing in him. I can live a perfectly happy life not liking papayas, or not knowing how to speak Mandarin. Because these “nots” do not cause people to shun me and mistreat me and my family. However in a lot of parts of the world, even today, “not” believing in “your” creator can get someone killed.


    May 21, 2007 at 2:22 pm

  6. > It is not directly a matter of belief.
    Yes, it is.

    > It is a matter of whether we will seek something that is important to
    > us even if we don’t know that it even exists.
    That’s fine, it’s more the route that you’re taking to find that something that’s wrong. Unthinking trust in and servitude to a feckless old man in the sky who may or may not exist is beyond reason.

    > Assume God exists, now of what importance might your Creator be
    > to you? If none, then don’t seek Him. If you think your Creator may
    > be important to you, then seek Him.
    Assuming God exists, he has not made himself known in any verifiable way. Therefore I submit to you, that for all intents and purposes, he is unimportant because he has no interest in us.

    > I don’t see where Russell’s issues with burden of proof need arise.
    He doesn’t have any issues with burden of proof. He has an issue with the lack of proof when it comes to religion, and (then) society’s unthinking acceptance of it and surprise when someone does not agree.


    November 19, 2007 at 9:38 am

  7. “Assuming God exists, he has not made himself known in any verifiable way. Therefore I submit to you, that for all intents and purposes, he is unimportant because he has no interest in us.”

    Assuming that Jesus Christ is God, I’d say He did quite a lot.

    R. Hoeppner

    November 20, 2007 at 2:29 pm

  8. Um, yeah, that is quite an assumption you are making.


    January 26, 2008 at 9:46 pm

  9. The contrary is also quite an assumption you’re making. With potentially more eternal consequences.

    Nig Nad

    October 12, 2008 at 7:25 am

  10. Well… I am a bit late into this conversation, a few years perhaps…

    But yeah… If God is unwilling to destroy evil but is able to nonetheless, then that does not make God malevolent. You can’t put God on the judgment seat for there is no evil if there is no God. That is nonsense to judge God, because you would have to use His natural against Him. That is ridiculous.

    God is able and willing to destroy evil, although not how you would like Him to. He decrees mankind to fall into evil (as He decreed the angels before that) and then to redeem them through His Son by the power of His Spirit. He then comes in judgment to condemn evil eternally with infinite power.

    Imagine God as an artist who wanted to make a picture. He wanted this picture to reflect Him as much as possible. His very nature being love, means that He wants the creation to manifest this love. And there is no greater love than this, that a man should lay down his life for his neighbor. This is why evil is, and why God tarries in judgment on it. The Hell that comes will always be there in eternity, and so God keeps evil in it’s place, as a contrast to His character expressed in the people He has loved from the foundation of the world.

    St. Paul put it nicely, to paraphrase him… “who are you, oh man to speak against God? Does the potter not have the right to make some porcelain into a toilet and some into a beautiful vase?”

    Free will is not sufficient. God is not culpable for your decisions, but He did ordain them for His own glory. Your decisions are truly free, but they would not be so had He not already established your will by His own and sustained it by His will. Remember the distinction between Creator and creature.

    And, by the way, the “assumption” that God revealed Himself in Christ is an assumption that is quite reasonable. Not just because there are good reasons but because, someone has to have an epistemology that is coherent and not suspended in midair. We all have presuppositions that govern our thinking. You would all do well to think of how you know what you know and the nature of knowledge.

    Hint: if “reason” is the reason you believe something, then why do you believe reason? Play a reductio on your beliefs and you will discover that Reformed Trinitarian Christian theism, and abject hopeless nihilism (even that is borrowing creation!) are the only consistent systems of thought available to you. All else is inconsistent, and thus cowardice.


    November 11, 2010 at 11:53 pm

  11. Please, consider that Epicurus was NOT atheist. He was rather adherent to a particular declination of the atomistic theory of Democritus. Thus, for Epicurus gods (not God!) did exist, and they were made of atoms but, because completely absobed in their stuff, they could do nothing for us. Of course, fo a clear understanding of this perspective, one has to be at least a bit conversant with ancient Greek philosophy.
    Personally I find Russel’s argument more interesting (but here we are in another completely different cultural context), because it describes – of course by means of an image, i.e., the example of the pot – what actually takes place in the process of generation of a belief (religion, opinion not supported by proofs, etc.).
    The matter, I think, does not lie in the existence or non-existence of god, rather in our need to think that god exists. If one has this need, let him/her find god where s/he wants. If one does not have such a need… where’s the problem?


    December 16, 2010 at 5:40 pm

  12. 1. God is actually a concept of man. God will be there as a concept as long as man is there. Independent of man , God actually does not exist.
    2. As per ‘Advaita’ philosophy established in ancient Indian literary works of Vedas and the Upanishads, God known s Brahman is a manifestation of self. By ‘self’ I mean the human mind or the typical awareness of the individual. This awareness or self is actually identical with the entire universe. The self and the outside world are actually not at all different as they look like. That is ‘advaita’ which actually means ‘non dual’.
    3. Thus existence of any entity like matter, energy, time or even space is actually a mental attribute and without mind, even the question of existence of any entity can not arise.
    4. The universe is born along with the self and vanishes along with self.
    5. The question of how the universe came into being in the first place without the self does not arise in the absence of self. When the self is around, it is obvious that the universe and self are one and the same. So Advaita is in a position to answer all questions . Further clarification is available at


    March 5, 2011 at 5:34 pm

  13. If God exists, only He can provide the key for understanding this problem; that is a truism. It is my belief that good and evil are not subjective concepts, contrary to the beliefs of many today. Free will is good in itself; by its nature it can be abused. If God were to punish such an abuse, this would be just, not evil. Likewise, the punishment for sin that exists in the world is just, and therefore does not contradict God’s goodness or His omnipotence; especially considering that God can draw good from evil (the Redemption).

    Tim M.

    March 21, 2013 at 1:48 pm

  14. Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.

    Firstly define omnipotent, this statement is essentially the same as the euthyphro dilemma (which is a fallacy). The euthyphro dilemma basically asks “can god create a boulder too large for him to lift”. The question is answered in defining omnipotence as either “capable of doing anything INCLUDING illogical things” or in the alternative definition “capable of doing anything within logical bounds”. If God can do anything no matter the bounds of logic then he simply can, and thus he could even EXIST without existing. If however God can do anything within logical bounds the question just points out on possible example of a logical boundary and still does not succeed in proving he is not omnipotent. (this second definition is most often the definition of omnipotence used by believers in the Christian god of the bible)

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

    You are able to stop hunger in Africa for one person with a very small amount of money, you do not, does this make you malevolent or simply focused on a separate task managing what is important according to your own understanding? Why not give the same benefit of a doubt to a God? Moreover we do not know the methodology by which one could stop evil, it may (if we comprehended all that an omnipotent being could comprehend) find that great evil was required in the process of stopping evil. Imagine evil as an infection, like a zombie apocalypse and infected individuals who could not be cleansed must be killed. This is neither an act of malevolence nor a sign of a lack of omnipotence.

    Is he both able, and willing? Then whence cometh evil?

    Willing does not mean doing. Again see my argument for the previous statement, if mankind is mostly good and inclined to see evil man made evils like hunger in this day and age eradicated why does hunger exist?

    Is he neither willing, nor able? Then why call him God?

    This is the only truly sound argument in the whole of the epicurus argument.


    April 28, 2013 at 10:30 pm

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