What does suffering and evil suggest about whether gods really exist?

The “Problem Of Evil” (PoE) posits that suffering and evil mitigate against the existence of an omni-benevolent god. Relevant discussion, links and information about the PoE may be found here.

A shorter formulation of this is the quote attributed to the philosopher 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?”

The PoE is premised on the relevant god being claimed to be omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent etc – an “omni-max” conception of god. A god who wasn’t omni-max couldn’t be held to be always aware of evil, or always having the power to do something about it. Because of this, the PoE is traditionally applied to the 3 main monotheistic conceptions of god.

One apologetic against the PoE is the “Argument from free will” – that is, that god is indeed omni-max, but created humans with free will, which allows for evil by humans.

We consider this to be unpersuasive, for a few reasons. For instance, if an existent god is indeed onmi-max, s/he will know in advance what all humans will be doing with their “free will”, and could still act to prevent resultant evil if it chose – but patently does not.

The topical example of child abuse by clergy and religious personnel also belies the Argument from free will – because to accept it requires humans to also accept that such a “all-loving, all-powerful god” is quite happy to tolerate that extreme evil being perpetrated by his/her appointed earthly representatives, on defenceless, vulnerable children who are devoted to their faith.

While it could be argued that the abusers are exercising their “free will”, this ignores both the harms to the child victims and their alleged free will. Where is that “free will” exercised in that scenario – given that in the vast majority of religious scriptures, children are supposed to obey their religious leaders? Clearly such a god has no apparent concern that by allowing the alleged exercise of “free will” by abusive priests, s/he is condoning the abrogation of the free will of those children, and standing by while unspeakable and permanent harm is done to them.

Tracie Harris has called such a claimed god a “moral monster” – because a human who knew a child was being abused would be considered a moral monster if they did not act to stop it. Yet god patently does not. We think that a god should be able to be relied on to do at least what we would demand of any ethical human being.

Contemplating this calls to mind the unadorned words found scrawled into a cell wall at the Mauthausen Nazi concentration camp:

“If there is a God, He will have to beg my forgiveness.”