The logical incompatibility of an omnibenevolent god with gratuitous suffering is very easy to understand for most people, yet over on the Possible Worlds blog, smug theist Randy Everist just could not grasp why there is any such conflict between the two. I suspect that he really does indeed recognize that this is an unsolvable problem and that it logically entails that the god of classical theism is impossible. But to avoid this becoming apparent, I think he's feigning ignorance, misunderstanding, and that there is any logical problem here at all. There are no plausible explanations to this problem. I know because I've refuted pretty much all of them. It's possible there are other theodicies that I haven't heard yet, but this is exactly why I like to challenge theists - I want to hear their best explanation.
I thought Randy Everist would be a good candidate as he is well familiar with the arguments for god but he subtly admitted that he doesn't really have an explanation. All he did was try really hard to play defense and falsely claim that I have not properly made the case that there is any logical conflict between gratuitous suffering and omnibenevolence. You can read our debate using the link above to be the judge.
Many atheists know that debating with theists is like talking to a brick wall. Randy is no exception. He exemplifies the core of what I think the problem with theism is. When cornered by a good argument, they special plead, or they'll claim that not having an answer doesn't mean the atheist is right by default, even if the problem is logical. Well, if that is so, then the same thing works for the atheist who may not be able to fully explain the origin of the universe. The atheist not having an answer doesn't mean the theist is right by default. I think we all understand this is correct.
I made my argument as easy to understand as one possibly can. I even made it into several different logical arguments. For example:
1. Omni-benevolence is incompatible with gratuitous suffering,
2. gratuitous suffering exists via evolution,
3. therefore the god of classical theism cannot exist.
Very few theists disagree with premise 1, but Randy seemed to be saying that this wasn't so. He responded:
Why should we think that's true? Where have you defended the premise that an omnibenevolent God is incompatible? Where have you shown a premise set that is logically incoherent, and defended why?
I defended my premises earlier in our discussion in a comment Randy actually refused to post, but which I reiterated. He mostly ignored it. I asked:
If omnibenevolence is compatible with the intentional creation of suffering that serves no purpose, well then how can we distinguish it from evil?
Randy doesn't think this question poses a problem at all! But think about it. The theist really only has two possible responses:
(1) There is no gratuitous suffering, or
(2) Gratuitous suffering is not incompatible with omnibenevolence.
Usually theists try to argue that (1) is true, that there really is no gratuitous suffering, only apparent gratuitous suffering. To justify this, they will often invoke a kind of skeptical theism, which turns out to open a host of other problems for the theist. And Randy's defense of the problem of suffering via evolution was pretty much just that. He wrote:
I have no idea why we should think if certain actions lead to explanations that are epistemologically equivalent we should think that there is some ontological incoherence. The argument is of the form: X is inscrutable; therefore, X is logically incoherent. That's just a non-sequitur (both informally and formally). The argument is very weak.
His first sentence seems to suggest, rather esoterically, that just because it appears extremely difficult to know how an all loving, omnibenevolent god can be compatible with gratuitous suffering, it doesn't make the two incoherent. But if that is so, if one is going to argue that just it's a non-sequitor to argue that "X is inscrutable; therefore, X is logically incoherent," then couldn't that also just as easily apply to the metaphysical claim that something cannot come from nothing, as well as all the other supposed logical difficulties atheists have? If the logical difficulties theists face can be discredited due to our epistemic ignorance, then so should be the case to the logical difficulties atheists face.
In the end, the problem theists face with evolution is a very real problem. It is not enough to characterize the logical problem as one that is merely due to the answer being inscrutable. There is no answer, and every possible avenue one has to take in which to find one becomes a logical dead end. Almost every theist who I've pressed this on eventually admits that they cannot provide a sufficient answer, but they will still believe - on faith - that there exists a good god. This is a mild insanity. I think any honest theist who examines this issue, who is literate in the sciences and philosophy, will come to the conclusion as I did when I was a teenager that the existence of gratuitous suffering via the evolutionary process and the god of classical theism are logically incompatible with one another.