Where I work, we have a “Rule of Three”: Cheap, Fast, or Good. Pick two.

You can do something Cheap and Good, but it won’t be Fast;
Fast and Good, but it won’t be cheap;
or Fast and Cheap, and it definitely won’t be good.

You can’t have all three!

My manager shared the “Rule of Three” during a meeting today, and another Christian coworker (a former pastor, might I add) who had never heard it before exclaimed his love for it. He added:

So it’s kind of like how God is supposed to be all-powerful and all-good, and yet there’s still suffering in the world. You can’t have all three.

BINGO! You win!

If only the words had actually sunk in.

If you’re not familiar with the origins of that claim, here’s the original oft-quoted passage from Epicurus.

“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?”
Epicurus (Greek philosopher, 341-270 BCE)

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22 thoughts on “Whoops, You Almost Disproved Your God!”

Three Ninjas · January 26, 2011 at 4:53 pm

So what’d they do, just ignore that and move on?

    Godless Girl · January 26, 2011 at 11:11 pm

    Yeah, the conversation just skipped right along to a completely different topic.

Stacie · January 26, 2011 at 4:56 pm

Priceless. Love your blog, btw! <3

Andrew Hall · January 26, 2011 at 5:03 pm

When I was an undergraduate I attended a Philosophy Club (yes, I was a member – they had fairly low standards) discussion between two professors. One was a Christian and argued that it’s possible for God to be all knowing, all powerful, and cared for each and every person. The other professor blew his argument away like a m80 set off in a watermelon.

    greengeekgirl · January 26, 2011 at 5:06 pm

    Unfortunately it probably wasn’t as tasty as watermelon bits 😉

greengeekgirl · January 26, 2011 at 5:08 pm

Hmm, intriguing. I wonder if he’s realized by now what he said, heh.

Henway · January 26, 2011 at 7:48 pm

It’s pointless to get into such logical arguments with a Christian. Most of them believe in Christianity and God on an emotional level – they didn’t intellectually reach the conclusion that God exists, so they should follow him. It appeals to their emotional senses.

    Jacob · January 27, 2011 at 1:18 am

    How would God be both good and just and yet exterminate suffering? I think we have to consider that we are given the choice to do good or evil and yet it is our own actions that cause or allow much of the world’s suffering. Did you donate your $10 to feed an orphan or go to Chili’s last Friday? Did you spend your weekend at a soup kitchen or did you spend it at the bar? Did you fly to Cancun for your vacation or fly to Haiti to help distribute supplies? When Cedar Rapids, Iowa flooded, what were you doing? When Haiti was destroyed what were you doing? When Africa suffered deaths over diamonds, was it God or people that were buying the diamonds? It would seem that most suffering originates from the choices of humans. So to eliminate suffering, how should God act? Should he remove our ability to make choices? Or should he wipe out people? He did it once with a flood and at the mere notion people scoff at his goodness? He states justice by taking the eternal lives of us the evildoers and we call him cruel and extreme? Didn’t one of the recent posts conclude that God is unjust because in his mercy, he keeps us from getting the full extent of what we deserve for our wickedness? Have we not made the connection that to remove evil from the equation means to remove us completely or to have never given us the right to make choices? Please help clarify all this for me? Is it not a false dichotomy to claim that either God is good and there should be no suffering or God is evil and suffering can exist? A bit oversimplified isn’t it?

      Godless Girl · January 27, 2011 at 9:48 am

      I find it interesting that—according to much of your argument—the people to blame for most of the suffering of the poor are unconnected Westerners. I do not object to the claim that human wrongs cause suffering. Who would? However, saying that a meal I eat at a restaurant is the cause of an orphan’s starvation is ridiculous and manipulative. The true causes are most likely within the orphan’s own economic and geographical area: government instability, war, class systems that oppress the poor, slavery, and a lack of access to aid are a few examples.

      We can each do what we can to alleviate the suffering of those caught in the middle of an unjust world. For example (and please don’t think this is to toot my own horn, because I could do more): I volunteer in my area, raise money, and do community projects. I help prepare healthy, digestible foods for the starving through a program that ships meals to children all over Latin America. I donate money to established organizations that have direct access to people in need of clean water, etc. We each do what we can. But don’t go using manipulation and guilt to blame people like me for the world’s suffering.

      And to touch on the real point Epicurus and I are making: some suffering is caused by corrupt, man-made systems. Some is just direct wrong and harm to another human. But the suffering that comes from disease, natural disasters, birth defects, and other completely non-human causes is not my fault, nor yours. It is no human’s fault that Haiti was destroyed and thousands killed. You may place blame on humans for not cleaning up God’s mess, but it’s God’s mess in the first place. Did the dying in Africa ask to contract AIDS? Did they do some great sin to deserve such a curse? At what point do you think humanity is the cause for that?

      “God” is sitting up there watching millions of people die. God could give them clean water, food, and take away their diseases. God could stop tsunamis from drowning thousands of people or hurricanes from destroying the lives of millions.

      He could. But he doesn’t. You can’t have all three.

        Jacob · January 28, 2011 at 1:11 am

        Strong point. I get it; I do. I guess my bigger idea/question is how does the standard of not relieving suffering within the full potential of ability apply to people versus God? If we say we can do less than our all and be good than we have to apply that to God and deem him good. If we say that failing to do all than ability allows makes God evil does that not make us evil by our own reasoning? If we use Epicurus reasoning we have an extreme dichotomy in which either a good God is impossible and we are evil or oppositely where we can be good despite the Epicurus’ reasoning but so can God. Is there a premise altogether missing? Or is there a progression of Evil on up to Good in which case, who sets the standards? Or is there no evil or good, in which case the world is completely amoral and we can not reasonably punish anyone or reward anyone save that we individually decide what merits reward or punishment by no logical means whatsoever. Do we reward and punish on the basis alone that something benefits a majority or not? Epicurus’ statements bring on some large dilemmas not answers, in my opinion.

          MikeTheInfidel · January 31, 2011 at 9:25 pm

          “If we say we can do less than our all and be good than we have to apply that to God and deem him good.”

          Except that God is supposed to be perfectly, wholly good.

            Jacob · February 2, 2011 at 2:12 am

            I agree. But again the thought following that was that if we say that God is therefore not good because he does less than “his all”, then we are not good. My idea there is that the simplicity of Epicurus reasoning would either deem God bad and us bad or us good and god good. I don’t think either is acceptable. There is more to this than what Epicurus tries to put so simply. If we call God evil but not ourselves(a common stance in atheism) than there needs to be another premise in there somewhere. If we call ourselves evil but God good(a common stance in Christianity), there again needs to be another premise in there. I’m simply saying that Epicurus oversimplifies the situation one way or another, in my opinion.

            I would say that the idea that God being malevolent to not prevent evil in his ability is a false premise. It doesn’t allow for the freewill of man nor does it differentiate the eternal realm from the temporal realm.

            Godless Girl · February 4, 2011 at 10:03 am

            Jacob, you’re claiming that atheists think we are perfect or “all good” as you put it. How you can see this as a “common stance in atheism” I have no idea. In fact, I think a virtue of atheism is the proclamation that humans are imperfect. This has no spiritual meaning or cosmic significance, nor does it beg for a savior to fix our imperfection. It just simply is. Humans are highly intelligent, amazing, complex beings that can do both great and terrible things. But this is a choice, not a result of supernatural influence. This humanistic view of our imperfection is distinctly different from the self-loathing inherent within the Christian belief system.

Jenny · January 29, 2011 at 8:46 pm

The problem of evil is not an insignificant issue. I tip my hat to Epicurus.

shane · February 2, 2011 at 10:55 am

love your blog and your tweets.

i love these thoughts because i applaud challenge. – i think how Epicurus’ viewed the problem of God was part of the problem.

what if God weren’t all powerful but all good and peace and harmony ruled – we’d be dead long ago, no? – who would keep the galaxies in place and sustain life?

what if God were all powerful but not all good but peace and harmony ruled – we’d all be in bigger trouble than we are now – with Satan and one big ego centric, selfish all- powerful beastly judge with a temper(God). YIKES!

for this discussions sake if God chose one of these three scenarios He chose the best- he being all-powerful and all good while the world struggles. at least this scenario has hope and leaves us with many people and organizations sold out to make the world a better place.

great posts – thnx

Andrew MacVicar · February 4, 2011 at 7:06 am

Jacob, with all due respect, your argument is a typical example of Christian cherry-picking. Of course human-caused suffering is a result of human’s free will regardless if we were created by god or evolved from single-cell organisms. However you have to admit that Christians are faced with a quagmire when we look at natural disasters like earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, and hurricanes. There is only one “man” who could prevent these things in your model of existence. The fact that these things occur suggests that he either chooses not to or is unable. In either case the premise of your god is fatally flawed. These flaws are the impetus for logical, rational, free thinkers to turn to atheism. Why do otherwise intelligent Christians choose to defend these ridiculous hypocrisies?

    Jacob · February 7, 2011 at 8:07 pm

    Okay, here it is. I’m giving her all I’ve got, captain!

    Let’s say that God is good and respects the value of our freewill. He gives us a perfect relationship with himself and thereby a direct knowledge of goodness. For the sake of our freewill, he gives us the option to reject him. By rejecting him, we choose to sever our relationship with him and also separate ourselves from goodness. We come to know evil and death. We exalt ourselves as deserving of pleasure and success and withhold our love from God. He has a way to restore them and allow them to undo their choice if they want. He will send one righteous being to die for the entirety of humanity. As time passes, he gives promises and hope of a better life to people. (Remember, everyone deserves death and complete separation from any goodness because everyone has rejected God, that is, goodness). In his mercy, he lets humanity live on and multiply, which is more than they deserve. He gives hope of knowing absolute goodness one day to those who will believe in Him and worship him. Some people die, some get killed by disaster, some get murdered. It makes no difference though, because those who believed will spend eternity knowing goodness only. And those who did not believe will know only an absence of all good. Truly, for those who believed, any length of life was worth gratitude and no trial could overshadow the promise of goodness. For those who did not believe, no length of life could be enough for them as they had no hope for anything past life on earth. And all trials and suffering were viewed bitterly as they dampened or destroyed what little life they had.

    Thanks for your ear! Thanks for all the responses to this and the other thoughts I’ve contributed to Godless Girl’s blog over this past year. I will no longer be on this blog to contribute but I’ve had a great time! Again, thanks for the willingness of all of you to discuss such an important topic with such great fervor. Hopefully, I’ll run into some of you in the real world! Thanks Godless Girl! I will not respond to anything further, but keep discussing it all without me!! 🙂

    P.s. We all deserve death, we all die and it happens quickly. Each day we have is an act of God’s mercy. Suffering is temporary and awakens us to our mortality and frailty and instills in us a need for something better and a hope in God’s promises. I think God allows suffering to make sure we don’t slip into cruise control, forget our own mortality, and walk right past him and into hell.

James Smith João Pessoa, Brazil · February 10, 2011 at 3:11 pm

Thank you Jacob for at least being polite. Logic from a theist no one expects. You cannot reason someone out of a position they did not reach through reasoning.

An emotional position does not require facts, truth, or logic, just a desire to believe. The ironic thing is, if you believe enough, it at least appears to be true for you. That doesn’t make it actually true. For example, at one time, everyone believed the sun revolved around the earth, mostly because religion said that it did. That didn’t make it true to fact no matter how sincerely everyone “knew” it.

Jim Jones · November 28, 2011 at 3:05 pm

“I would say that the idea that God being malevolent to not prevent evil in his ability is a false premise. It doesn’t allow for the freewill of man nor does it differentiate the eternal realm from the temporal realm.”

There’s no bar to humans having free will and living in a pleasant world free of evil. Those who lived in Pacific island communities came very close to that. Religion introduces far more evil than it removes – that is the dichotomy. Like every other tool invented by humans, it becomes another tool for the greedy and the perverse.

Amish beard-cutting leader charged with ‘hate crimes’

By Andrew Gully (AFP)

WASHINGTON — A beard-cutting case in America’s secretive Amish communicty has exposed allegations a sect leader presided over beatings of opponents, locked others in a chicken coop and took sexual advantage of married women.

Samuel Mullet Sr., his three sons Johnny, Daniel and Lester, his son-in-law Emanuel Schrock, and followers Levi and Eli Miller were charged Wednesday with committing and conspiring to commit religious hate crimes.

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Tweets that mention Christian Coworker Admits Yahweh Cannot Be Good | Godless Girl -- Topsy.com · January 26, 2011 at 6:29 pm

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[…] (see Godless Girl) […]

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