Thursday, November 22, 2012

Epicurus On God

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?

Many theists say that the unwillingness of god to prevent evil is done for sufficient reasons. Evil, many of them say, is necessary in order to have good and in order to draw believers towards acts that are good. Some even claim that the existence of evil proves god's existence.

I don't respond well to this sort of conjecture for the following reasons. First, I think what we consider good and evil, are a natural occurrence in a world where beings evolved the ability to respond and to employ free will, even if that free will is an illusion. Under naturalism there would also exist the imperfection of a world that is not designed. This means natural disasters exist and will sometimes harm beings caught at the wrong time and place. Also, naturalism permits the evolution of beings to evolve that harm other beings such as diseases and other microbes.

Second, the idea that there exists this grand designer who made things this way, who designed the virus and the harm it does, who designed the tectonic plates of the Earth's crust knowing it would cause earthquakes and tsunamis that kill millions of people and animals, is to say that evil and tragedy are also designed and masterminded. The reason why I say this is because if something harmful occurs naturally, it is not evil, it is just a rather sad set of events. But if something harmful occurs because it was designed that way, then it becomes evil because it was intentional.

If the allowance of human evil and the creation of natural evil are all somehow justified by god because it is all to fulfill some sort of grand scheme in the end, then god you can say is just a utilitarian, in that the evil he intends today is just a means to an apparent positive end.

Either way I think that the notion of god the designer and the existence of evil, are confusing at best to the greater notion that we are all created in order to come to know and love god. I think Epicurus more or less got it right when he accused god of being malevolent, because to intentionally create conditions that cause harm and be unwilling to prevent the resulting harm is to be evil.

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