By Vexen Crabtree 2007 Dec 03
Earthquakes, volcanoes, floods and disease affect human beings indiscriminately and result from geological factors not from free will. Unborn babies lay amongst the victims. Animals and humans alike suffer as a result of natural evil. These disasters have been prevalent for all of Earth's history so have nothing to do with human agency. Not only that, but the entire universe is steeped in large-scale destruction and violence as part of the very design of the physical world. None of this indicates that there is a 'good' design behind it all, and it especially indicates that there is no good god.
“If God is all-powerful and all-good, it would have created a universe in the same way it created heaven: with free will for all, no suffering and no evil. But evil and suffering exist. Therefore God does not exist, is not all-powerful or is not benevolent (good). A theodicy is an attempt to explain why a good god would have created evil and suffering. The most popular defence is that it is so Humans could have free will. However the entire universe and the natural world is filled with suffering, violence and destruction so any Humanity-centric explanation does not seem to work.”
Much suffering, pain, distress, death, horror and unhappiness result from the events of the natural world that are unconnected to Human free will. Earthquakes, floods and volcanoes all form part of the normal geological behaviour of the earth. If a good God designed the way our planet was formed and how its tectonics work, then, it wouldn't have designed it in such a way that random catastrophic disasters occur as part of the normal working of the planet. The suffering of the unborn, infants, children and animals all occur as a result of god's natural earth regardless of issues of free will or morality. The suffering of innocent people results from things that are beyond their own control. Natural evil causes suffering because of the nature of the elements, the nature of nature itself. It is the way the world works.
The major physical events only form part of natural evil. Zoonotic diseases travel between animals and humans, humans and animals, and diseases in general travel haphazardly and opportunistically from being to being with no care for whether people deserve infection. Would a good god let animals suffer as a result of the diseases passed on by mankind as a result of the 'free will' to choose evil? Many religions hold that non-human animals are somehow more innocent than human animals, yet, many human diseases cause suffering of animals. Such human-sourced anthropozoonotic diseases that affect primates include "measles, polio, scabies, influenza, tuberculosis"1.
Natural disasters and disease effect people and animals indiscriminately, and the workings of the Earth itself results in cataclysms and disasters which have predated humanity, and will outlive (and eventually wipe out) humanity. This is not an indication that there is a good-natured supremely intelligent God, and it seems that there is no such thing as divine justice.
In a moment of irony that goes a little too far, the author of some verses in Genesis 6:13 is found to be quoting God itself as God attempts to justify the global flood that wipes out all life on Earth. God says "the end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth". As God designed the universe to be full of violent physical events, and designed the food chain so that animals have to fight each other with much violence in order to eat each other, then God wouldn't then be surprised to find that the Earth, like the rest of the universe, is full of violence. you'd expect God, apparently being all-knowing, would have known that that was going to happen! Biblical justifications for violence make very little sense, even to the point of being condescending.
The famous naturalist David Attenborough was interviewed on the very point of there being a creator god that "designed" all of life, and his reply highlights the fact that natural evil is simply indifferent to humanity, and not a result of free will or design:
“People say: 'How can you see hummingbirds, roses, orchids and not believe in the Lord's splendour?' But if you're going to look at these things, you should look at other things too. Think of an African boy with a parasitic worm boring into his eye. If you tell me God not only created but cares for us all, what about that boy? Are you telling me he says: 'I understand God deliberately created a worm that's going to blind me?' I find that intolerable.”
New Scientist2 (2009)
Natural disasters including earthquakes, volcanoes, etc, are part of the geological design not only of planet Earth, but of all stellar bodies. Mass destruction and violence are part of the design of the entire universe; meteor strikes and earthquakes have been witnessed throughout the galaxy, and, such violence predates the existence of humanity.
There is evidence of earthquakes, collisions and catastrophes on every stellar object we have observed. Linda Morabito, a member of the Voyager Navigation Team, saw the plumage of a volcano on Io, one of Jupiter's large satellites, as she watched footage filmed by the passing Voyager satellite. "We know now of nine large volcanoes, spewing out gas and debris, and hundreds - perhaps thousands - of extinct volcanoes on Io"3.
Everything in the universe is affected and ultimately destroyed by the processes of tumultuous cosmic change. That this happens on the Earth, too, is merely unfortunate and has nothing to do with human free will.
Natural evil, then, is universal. Cataclysmic events have continued from the Universe's inception through to the arrival of living beings, and continues into the future. As the free will, choice, volition of living beings is irrelevant, why would a god design such a dangerous universe? As a moral god would not allow earthquakes and disease to cause undue harm, theologians try to reconcile the existence of natural evil to the existence of a good god. "The Problem of Evil: Why Would a Good God Create Suffering?" by Vexen Crabtree (2011) examines many such explanations - to date, none have been found that can explain why such disaster and suffering exists in the universe if there is a good God.
There are only a few possible explanations for the existence of natural evil:
“To the present day, all theodicies have failed to explain why a good god would create evil, meaning that the existence of evil is simply incompatible with the existence of a good god. After thousands of years of life-consuming passion, weary theologians have not formulated a new answer to the problem of evil for a long time. The violence of the natural world, disease, the major catastrophes and chaotic destruction seen across the universe and the unsuitability of the vastness of reality for life all indicate that god is not concerned with life, and might actually even be evil. Failure to answer the problem of evil sheds continual doubt on the very foundations of theistic religions.”
By Vexen Crabtree 2007 Dec 03
Originally published 2002 Jan 14
Last Updated: 2013 Jan 02
The Bible (NIV). The NIV is the best translation for accuracy whilst maintaining readability. Multiple authors, a compendium of multiple previously published books. I prefer to take quotes from the NIV but where I quote the Bible en masse I must quote from the KJV because it is not copyrighted, whilst the NIV is. [Book Review]
Cosmos (1995). Originally published 1981 by McDonald & Co. This edition published by Abacus.