Natural evil

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The devastation caused by a hurricane can be considered natural evil.

Natural evil, or surd evil, is a term generally used in discussions of the problem of evil and theodicy that refers to states of affairs which, considered in themselves, are those that are part of the natural world, and so are independent of the intervention of a human agent. It stands in contrast to moral evil. Both natural and moral evil are a challenge to religious believers. Many atheists claim that natural evil is proof that there is no God, at least not an omnipotent, omnibenevolent one, as such a being would not allow such evil to happen to his/her creation. However, the deist position states that intervention by God to prevent such actions (or any intervention) is not an attribute of God.

Nature of natural evil[edit]

Moral evil results from a perpetrator, or one who acts intentionally and in so doing has flouted some duty or engaged in some vice. Natural evil has only victims, and is generally taken to be the result of natural processes. The "evil" thus identified is evil only from the perspective of those affected and who perceive it as an affliction. Examples include cancer, birth defects, tornadoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, acts of god, and other phenomena which inflict suffering with apparently no accompanying mitigating good. Such phenomena inflict "evil" on victims with no perpetrator to blame.

Natural versus moral evil[edit]

Jean Jacques Rousseau responded to Voltaire's criticism of the optimists by pointing out that the value judgement required in order to declare the 1755 Lisbon earthquake a natural evil ignored the fact that the human endeavour of the construction and organization of the city of Lisbon was also to blame for the horrors recounted as they had contributed to the level of suffering. It was, after all, the collapsing buildings, the fires, and the close human confinement that led to much of the death.

The question of whether natural disasters such as hurricanes might be natural or moral evil is complicated by new understandings of the effects, such as global warming, of our collective actions on events that were previously considered to be out of our control. Nonetheless, even before the beginning of the Industrial Revolution (which many believe was the beginning point of global warming), natural disasters (e.g., earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis, flooding, fires, disease, etc.) occurred regularly, and cannot be ascribed to the actions of humans.

Another common argument, espoused by Alvin Plantinga, is that everything that appears at first glance to be natural evil could in fact be moral evil committed by freely acting supernatural beings, such as fallen angels.