The Epicurean Paradox

The “Epicurean paradox” or “Riddle of Epicurus” is a version of the problem of evil.
Lactantius attributes this trilemma to Epicurus in De Ira Dei:

“God,” he says, “either wishes to take away evils, and is unable; or He is able, and is unwilling; or He is neither willing nor able, or He is both willing and able.”

Through the centuries there is no evidence of the intervention of God in human affairs. One might reasonably have expected Him to have intervened during the massive slaughters of two world wars, but no. Again, one might expect evidence of intervention at the present moment, with the planet in peril, with so-called “strong men” taking control over countries throughout the world, with inequality, mass migration, hunger, the breakdown of liberal democracy and the end of American hegemony, which did at least guarantee a measure of order. But no. We have to presume that God is neither willing nor able to help us live together in respect and harmony. Millions have been calling upon Him for centuries, to no avail.

We are left with the hope that more and more people will espouse the decent, humanistic ideas of Epicurus that stand for moderation, consideration for others, toleration, the search for peace of mind, friendship and caring for those less fortunate than ourselves. Epicureanism and similar humanistic philosophies are what we have left to us. Common sense, really, but then the “leadership” of the human race seems to has remarkably little of that. It prefers self-interest, dubious dealings, lies, bullying and filling its own pockets at our expense. Plus ca change.


  1. It”s sad to admit to the damnation mankind has to the cruel cycle of: good, to bad, to worse. It almost leaves me to wonder, why bother believing things to stay stable, when it only take a whiff of wind to topple our “peace”. In the ancient Greek story of the first woman,Pandora, we learn she opens all the plagues of the world, including the unbelieving deceitful hope. Hope I find can bring strength and help us to live and believe things to work out, but it could be a mask for our stupidity when the truth is, you can’t fix what is beyond repair. So as if we are in a excruciatingly painful season of evil, like all seasons, it’ll pass eventually, if we hope and continue to live.

    • We have an American President who doesn’t ”believe” in global climate change, despite overwhelming evidence and almost daily experience of it. And he is not the owner of an oil well or a coal plant, complete with vested interests. I am courteous and therefore have to take your information as accurate, even if I have never seen such an assertion before. After all, the ability of human beings to be irrational is always amazing.

  2. Any reader of the OT will find that God did intervene often in the affairs of mankind. He rescued his people – The Jews – only to have them turn their backs on him at the earliest sign of trouble. Impatient, they could not even wait for Moses to come off the mountain.

    Any reader of the NT will find that God intervened in the most effective, dramatic and visible way by sending Jesus to earth. God became man and lived with him. The world has never been the same.

    God has proven again and again that he is patient, long suffering and desirous of man’s turning to him. He has shown how this turning can be done. Ask any Christian if you don’t know how to turn away from the evil God abhors.

    Why evil? A clue is given above by the commentator who pointed out God is not a baby sitter nor is he Santa Claus, for that matter. Evil exists to show the delight God and his created man may find in the alternatives to evil. It would be impossible to love what is good unless one knew the difference between good and evil. It would be impossible to love evil unless one knew the difference between evil and good.

    And it often comes down to choices made by man. It is never God’s will that man do evil. But he has given man the will to choose. Choices have consequences, as most of us know from life experiences.

    Evil is a necessary tool. It can be used or rejected by man.

    Evil is almost like a parasite, requiring good to feed upon. In this analogy, it may be said that evil could not exist without good. And therefore exists because of the good.

    Finally, over millennia, it is possible to note that good has triumphed. Nothing lasts forever. Evil is eventually defeated, everywhere.

    • Your cheerful and positive conclusion, that “evil is eventually defeated, everywhere” is most heartening, but regretfully I do not agree with you. Evil has a tendency to pop back up, time and time again. The world was thrown into turmoil by Hitler and the other fascists, and millions died defeating them. We now have the start of a repeat, when moderation is out of the window, along with democracy and truth. If you don’t recognise this then you Re making the same mistake as many did in the 1930s, to their horrific cost.

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