Do Tummy Aches Disprove God?

by Joe Carter

My tummy hurts. Ergo, there is no god.

This argument may be absurd, but it’s not intended as a reductio ad absurdum. Although in simplistic form, this enthymeme encapsulates one of the primary atheological arguments—the argument from evil.

The structure of the argument becomes more obvious once we include the unstated premises:

1. Tummy aches are a form of harm being done to the physical and/or psychological well-being of a sentient creature.
2. Harm is evil.
3. God — an omniscient, wholly good being — would prevent evil.
4. God did not prevent my tummy ache.
5. Ergo, there is no god.

This argument is known as the evidential problem of evil, the preeminent surviving form of that argument since the logical problem of evil has fallen out of favor.

The evidential problem of evil is the problem of determining whether the existence of evil constitutes evidence against the existence of God. As the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy explains, “Evidential arguments purport to show that evil counts against theism in the sense that the existence of evil lowers the probability that God exists.”

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The strongest and most famous examples of this type of argument can be found in William Rowe’s 1979 paper, “The Problem of Evil and Some Varieties of Atheism.” Rowe outlines his primary argument as follows:

1. There exist instances of intense suffering which an omnipotent, omniscient being could have prevented without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.

2. An omniscient, wholly good being would prevent the occurrence of any intense suffering it could, unless it could not do so without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.

3. (Therefore) There does not exist an omnipotent, omniscient, wholly good being. (Rowe 1979: 336)

I contend that Rowe’s argument is precisely the same as my Tummy Ache formulation.

Not so, you say, for Rowe has added the qualifier intense to the suffering in question. To which I’d respond: My tummy hurts intensely.

Actually, I would say that my construction of the argument is more solid. By sneaking in the adjective intense, Rowe attempts to give the premise emotional resonance. However, the inclusion of the modifier shifts the premise onto subjective ground, weakening its force. After all, how does intense suffering differ in kind from mere suffering?

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