The mysterious case of the totally bogus Epicurus quote

e g r e g o r e s

If you do a google search on the following words (without quotes):

“Is he willing to prevent evil, but unable?”

you will get over 2 million hits. Most of those hits ascribe these words to Epicurus, who is supposed to have posed the above question concerning “God”. The only problem is that Epicurus never wrote any such thing, and, in fact, directly contradicted the sentiment expressed in that question.

The quote actually comes from David Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. More specifically it is found on page 134 of the 1907 edition of Hume’s Dialogues (look here and search for the word “malevolent”).

Hume has Philo, one of the fictional speakers of his Dialogues, say the following:

Epicurus’ old questions are yet unanswered.

Is he [God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? then he is malevolent…

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