Natural Evil?

I am fascinated by the Problem of Evil.  It has perplexed philosophers and theologians for centuries.  Atheists often play it as a trump card.

Simply put, the Problem of Evil raises the question of how evil can exist along with an omnipotent, omnibenevolent God.  If God is omnipotent, then he can literally do anything.  If God is omnibenevolent, then he does only good.  So why is there evil in a world created by such a God?  Skeptics argue that since there is evil in the world, then either God is not omnipotent, not omnibenevolent, or he doesn’t exist at all.

The Free Will Defense can satisfactorily account for moral evil, but what about natural evil?  Particularly, gratituous natural evil?  How do we explain natural evil (such as devastating earthquakes), which is not caused by the exercise of free will?

I posted on this topic once before (for any interested, it is HERE).  In it I argued that some of what we perceive to be natural evil, may actually be caused by moral evil.  I used a mudslide in Haiti as an example.  Perhaps moral evils set into effect the events that ultimately culminated in the mudslide.  Perhaps moral evil can often account for what we assume to be natural evil.

Recently I read two fascinating pieces about the causes of famous earthquakes.  One, linked HERE, suggests that the Port-au-Prince earthquake may have been caused by deforestation of the mountains around the city.  If so, then that disaster can be said to be the result of moral evil, not natural evil.

Another, linked HERE, discussed the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, which killed as many as a hundred thousand people and ended Portugal’s status as a world power.  The tragedy gave ammuntion to Voltaire’s criticism of Leibniz, who had famously argued that since God was perfect, and God created the world, then this is the best of all possible worlds.   Voltaire ridiculed Leibniz’ argument, and pointed to the disaster as evidence that this couldn’t possibly be the best of all possible worlds.   What struck me in the piece is how Rousseau responded to Voltaire:

“It was hardly nature that there brought together twenty-thousand houses of six or seven stories.  If the residents of this large city had been more evenly dispersed and less densely housed, the losses would have been fewer or perhaps none at all. Everyone would have fled at the first shock. But many obstinately remained . . . to expose themselves to additional earth tremors because what they would have had to leave behind was worth more than what they could carry away. How many unfortunates perished in this disaster through the desire to fetch their clothing, papers, or money?”

In other words, Rousseau questioned whether the tragedy was really natural evil, rather than moral evil.  Maybe there was nothing inherently evil about the quake, which might have been harmless absent the moral evils which concentrated people in Lisbon and kept them from abandoning their possessions.

My guess is that the more we understand things like the Butterfly Effect, the more we’ll realize that what appears at first to be natural evil may actually derive from moral evil.

Love Wins