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Showing posts with label natural evil. Show all posts
Showing posts with label natural evil. Show all posts

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Can God Use Natural Evil to Reduce Suffering?

Hurricane Ivan was an intense category V hurricane that battered the Caribbean and the United States in 2004. The hurricane was especially devastating because it didn't quickly disperse after coming on land. Instead, it became a cyclone that spawned tornadoes inflicting damage from Alabama to Maryland. It was a highly unusual and very destructive hurricane that took dozens of lives.1

In my recent series on the problem of evil, I set out to distinguish the difference between moral evil, that evil that comes about as a result of man's moral failings and natural evil. Natural evil could include the catastrophic events such as the deaths resulting from Hurricane Ivan. After all, no violation of God's law caused Ivan's existence; hurricanes are simply a part of the weather cycle. Atheists have argued that if there is a God who created this world, then God is responsible for the evil and suffering that events like Ivan produce. They then seek to challenge the very notion of an all-good God because He not only allows natural evil to exist; he basically built it into the world we see. How should a Christian answer such an objection?

God May Use Evil to Restrain Greater Suffering

I've previously written that natural disasters, such as the recent earthquake in Nepal, are necessary for life to exist on earth. That's also true for hurricanes. Tropical storms like Ivan help to regulate the heat of the ocean, preventing even more devastating storms from being created.2 They also are responsible for the needed rainfall in many areas that allows people to grow food.3 But, my goal of this post is not to justify specific weather anomalies. Childhood maladies that result from natural evil won't be dismissed so easily.

God may allow a certain amount of suffering caused from nature to stem even greater suffering from moral evil. Humanity, without a threat of punishment for wrongdoing, becomes more violent and more destructive. If one looks back to the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, you can see a similar trend. In the 1970s gay bathhouses were booming as a way for homosexual men to hook up for casual sex. The Associated Press estimates there were over 200 such businesses across most major metropolitan areas of the United States. By 1990, their numbers had shrunk to 90.4 What caused the huge decline? It wasn't that the patrons became more moral. It was the fact that they were scared of contracting a deadly disease. Thus, the suffering of those with AIDS was enough to not only stem the promiscuity in the homosexual community, but it actually reversed the trend for a while.

Hurricane Ivan Stops Untold Suffering

Going back to Hurricane Ivan, the tale of Robert L. Medvee shows one way how such natural disasters can lead to less suffering. Medvee lived in a Maryland neighborhood that was struck by one of Ivan's tornadoes. He hired a repair crew to patch the damage caused by the twister while he stayed with friends. While working on the structure, the crew discovered a huge trove of child pornography, including many photos that Medvee himself took of children engaging in various sex acts. Maryland State's Attorney Scott Rolle said, "Some of them appeared to be as young as 6 or 7. They were engaged in sex acts with each other and adults."5 The pain and suffering these children endured because of Medvee's evil acts was hideous enough. Who knows how many more children would have been tortured by being forced into sex acts had Ivan not struck and Medvee be uncovered? In this one act alone, Ivan may have saved more lives than it took, but we will never know for sure. The point, though, is that God can order certain events that seem evil to actually deliver less pain and suffering than if they didn't occur at all.


1. University of Rhode Island. "2004- Hurricane Ivan." Hurricanes: Science and Society. University of Rhode Island, 2010. Web. 11 June 2015.
2. National Weather Service. "Tropical Cyclone Introduction." JetStream - Online School for Weather. National Weather Service, 29 May 2012. Web. 11 June 2015.
3. Sugg, Arnold L. "Beneficial Aspects of the Tropical Cyclone." J. Appl. Meteor. Journal of Applied Meteorology 7.1 (1968): 39-45. Web
4. Associated Press in Los Angeles. "Gay Bathhouses across US Face an Uncertain Future." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited, 23 Aug. 2014. Web. 11 June 2015.
5. Leckie, Kate. "Man Arrested for Child Pornography: Workers Hired to Repair Tornado Damage Discover Large Cache." The Frederick News-Post. The Frederick News-Post, 4 Oct. 2004. Web. 11 June 2015.
Photo courtesy Roger and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) License

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

What Counts as Natural Evil?

The problem of evil is one of the most difficult issues Christians must deal with when defending their faith. While I've spent a few columns discussing how to answer the problem of evil generally, these responses focus primarily on what philosophers would call moral evil. Moral evils are evils perpetrated because people are sinful and do sinful things. God would be required to stamp out the freedom of man in order to stop the evil for which he is responsible.

That's all well and good, but what about those evils that man has no control over? What about the child born with cancer or natural disasters and earthquakes? Stopping those things doesn't take away free will, so why doesn't God at least do something about them?

Separating Natural Evil from Moral Evil

In addressing this question, one must think carefully about exactly what is to be included in the category of natural evil. For example, not all medical ailments fall into this category. Heart attacks are bad, but if an individual is obese and smokes two packs of cigarettes a day, it isn't surprising. If that person were to have a heart attack, blaming God for it is disingenuous. He or she had abused their body and reaped the consequences of his or her actions.

Other medical issues may be due to moral evil even though they aren't immediately visible. For example, the Hooker Chemical Company used a small portion of its land holdings near Niagara Falls to bury some21,800 tons of toxic waste in the 1940s and early 50s, all with the knowledge and approval of the federal government.1 In fact, a Reason investigation reports that various federal agencies used the land themselves to dump their own toxic wastes.2 Hooker Chemical was pressured into selling the land by the Niagara Falls Board of Education, who sought a cheap way to meet their need for large empty lots to accommodate new schools. Schools were then built on some of the property, sewer lines were constructed, perforating the waste area and allowing the chemicals to be carried by rainwater residential sections of the city. The School Board then sold the rest of the land in 1960 to another developer who had no knowledge of its toxic past.3

Of course, the results of what came to be known as the Love Canal Disaster wouldn't be evident for decades. It wasn't until the late 1970's that a reporter for the Niagara Gazette began an investigation as to why there were an inordinate number of y birth defects reported in their community.4 Until a severe storm that surfaced some of the chemical containers and the subsequent investigation, people did not attribute the birth defects, epilepsy or other various medical maladies to the moral failings of people.

What Can't We See?

It's quite clear that the Love Canal disaster was a result of moral evil. I don't know if Hooker Chemical took all of the proper steps when first disposing of their waste. I do know reading the transcripts of the School Board's minutes, the Board itself got greedy and improperly resold the land to subsequent developers, setting up a series of tragedies that ultimately caused people pain and grief. Yet, this is one example of which we know the facts; how many other supposed natural evils are really caused by the immoral actions of humans? We don't know but many natural evils may actually be a result of some chain of events that began with the choice of free moral agents.

Of course, not all free moral agents are human. If Satan is a real being as Christianity holds, then he can also be responsible for pains and ills that we would otherwise assume have no moral origin. We read in Job that Satan was able to summon great winds that would collapse houses or inflict Job with a severe illness causing sores all over his body. Satan and his demons are the source of Job's suffering; their actions would also be categorized as resulting from oral evil, and not natural evil.

Not all evil can be dismissed as moral evil, though. As the recent earthquake in Nepal shows, God did fashion the world to work in a certain way. I take up that portion of the response in this post. For now, simply realize that the evil men can do may have consequences beyond what we immediately see. Moral failings have far-reaching implications and it isn't fair to blame God for the evil that men do.


1. Zuesse, Eric. "Love Canal: The Truth Seeps Out." Reason Foundation. 01 Feb. 1981. Web. 10 June 2015.
2. Zuesse, 1981.
3. Zuesse, 1981.
4. "Love Canal Timeline." Niagara Gazette. Niagara Gazette, 26 July 2006. Web. 10 June 2015.

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