Answering Epicurus' Four Statements

Here is Epicurus’ four statements on God, which I assume a great majority of you are familiar with;
“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?"

If someone would be able to summarise key responses to these objections, it would be very helpful in case I’m debating someone and this is given for me to argue against.

Thank you and God bless you my friends.

I wrote this essay about 3 years ago, I think you’ll like it.

4 Catholic Responses to the Problem of Evil

The problem of evil is often pressed this way:

Premise 1. If God is all-knowing, He must know about suffering.
Premise 2. If God is all-good, He must want to eliminate all suffering.
Premise 3. If God is all-powerful, He must be able to eliminate all suffering.
Premise 4. Yet suffering remains.
Conclusion. Therefore, one of the premises must be false: God either doesn’t know about it, or He does know about it but doesn’t want to stop it (which would be bad), or He wants to stop it, but can’t.

Major premise. If God doesn’t know something, isn’t all good, or can’t do something, then he isn’t God.
Minor premise. But one of those must be true, from the previous conclusion.
Conclusion. Therefore, there is no God.

There are several possible responses to this argument, and I like the ones that focus on premises 2 and 3.

Re: premise 2, we can argue that God can be all good and permit suffering if there are morally sufficient reasons for permitting it. One way to do this is by arguing that suffering is not inherently evil but can be good, if it points us to God. Under this argument, being comfortable is not the maximum good, but being united to God is, and therefore suffering can be permitted if it helps lead people to God.

Another way to show that God has sufficient reasons for permitting evil is by analyzing the existence of evil through the principle of double effect. The principle of double effect is formulated as follows:

An act which results in both good and bad effects is only justifiable…

…if the act itself is either good in itself or morally neutral;
…if the good result is not directly caused by the bad result;
…if the evil result is tolerated, not desired; and
…if the foreseen good outweighs the foreseen evil.

Under this analysis, God freely acts to create free human beings. This action is good in itself, but the result is mixed because people sometimes abuse their freedom by doing evil instead of good. Nonetheless, the good of freedom is not caused by our abuse of that freedom, and the abuse is tolerated by God, not desired. The gift of free will also outweighs the evils that are sometimes committed through it, and thus God is justified in giving us free will.

I’ve also seen arguments that emphasize that the properties of the universe logically must be able to have both good and bad effects; the fire that warms must also be able to burn, for example; and thus the principle of double effect is used to judge that creating a world with the potential for natural disasters, etc., is justifiable because there are also good effects, which outweigh the bad effects, and the bad effects are neither intended, nor are they the direct cause of the good effects. I have seen this argument defended by Dinesh D’Souza and C.S. Lewis.

Re: Premise 3, God can be all powerful and yet be unable to put an end to suffering if doing so involves causing a contradiction. Alvin Plantinga argues that putting an end to suffering does involve a contradiction unless you remove free will and the presence of good actions, because you cannot both endow humans with free will and at the same time prevent them from causing suffering. Under this analysis, God wills to create a world where men do good actions; if He creates a world where only good actions are possible, then that is not a free world; but if He removes freedom, then good actions are not possible. (Love can’t be forced.) If God wants us to do good actions, therefore, there is only one way to bring that about, and that is to create a world with free will and let some of us choose to do good or some of us not. Under that scenario, God’s will (that man do good) is fulfilled, and God remains all powerful.

So those are four logical ways to debunk the argument from evil: the argument that suffering isn’t inherently evil, the argument that free will is so good that it justifies creating it even though it will sometimes be abused, the argument that creation, though imperfect, is so good that God is justified in creating it even with defects, and the argument that a free world without the possibility of evil would be a contradiction and God can’t create a contradiction.

That Epicurean argument is badly flawed. It assumes that we are able to see all causes, understand all purposes and know all ends: in other words, it assumes that there is no God and thus begs the question.

It also redefines Man as having no free will; in essence it’s the argument of a juvenile delinquent who attempts to blame his parents for his own disordered bahavior.

You might want to listen to some of Peter Kreeft’s lectures on free will, fate, and the problem of pain.

God is both willing and able to prevent evil. hence, the Incarnation.

God is neither willing nor able to deny human beings their free wills. hence, evil exists.

God created human beings to be free. He will not and cannot change that aspect of His creation.

if God could eliminate human beings freedom, He would be destroying them. He wishes them to be saved and to spend their immortal lives with Him in eternity.

unless you believe destroying human beings is a good thing (i do not believe that), it would be contrary to God’s nature to destroy human beings.

you cannot remove free will from human nature and still have human beings.

God is both willing and able to prevent evil. hence, the Incarnation.

God is neither willing nor able to deny human beings their free wills. hence, evil exists.

God created human beings to be free. He will not and cannot change that aspect of His creation.

if God could eliminate human beings freedom, He would be destroying them. He wishes them to be free as He is free, to be saved and to spend their immortal lives with Him in eternity.

unless you believe destroying human beings is a good thing (i do not believe that), it would be contrary to God’s divine goodness, His very nature to destroy human beings.

you cannot remove free will from human nature and still have human beings.

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