Recent ecological or environmental occurrences have caused many to speculate upon physical evil and what part God has to with such. Prior I presented the problem of evil from a moral aspect; the problem remains that these solutions do not appear to solve the problem of natural disasters. This article is by no means completely original. I have compiled and cited various philosophers and scholars to assist us in our journey.
The recent catastrophe of Hurricane Katrina, as it hurled itself upon the South, was truly an awakening for our culture. “Hurricane Katrina was the costliest and one of the deadliest hurricanes in the history of the United States. It was the sixth-strongest Atlantic hurricane ever recorded and the third-strongest landfalling U.S. hurricane on record.”(1)
In mere moments we realized how helpless and undone we were to the forces of nature. When the churches, schools, and Red Cross cots became full many(2) blamed the hurricane on God or stated that the city known as New Orleans was a direct recipient of God’s judgement. Some saw Katrina as a virtual revisiting of the plagues upon Egypt.
Conversely, the “past 10 years have seen more ferocious and more frequent hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean and scientists are confident that there will be more to come. While some studies have suggested that global warming may be a contributing factor, many meteorologists instead believe that it is just part of a natural cycle.”(3)
The question remains, why is our planet seemingly plagued with tornadoes, hurricanes, and earthquakes? It does not logically follow that the moral choices of individuals causes such things. Evil is indeed a problem in society generally and is one of the strongest arguments, as mentioned prior, of the atheist (or Gnostic, anti-theist).
Norman Geisler offers the following syllogism:
1. Moral evil is explained by free choice.
2. But some natural evil does not result from free choice.
3. Natural evil cannot be explained by free choice of creatures.
4. Hence, God must be responsible for natural evil.
5. But natural evils cause innocent suffering and death.
6. Therefore, God is responsible for innocent suffering and death.(4)
Three Levels of Evil Awareness:
Before we endeavor to give a reasoned response to the problem of physical evil we should investigate the levels of evil which appear to our cognition and reasons why our speculations are often folly. Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli indicate that “the problem of evil may arise on three levels of consciousness.”(5) These three levels are worth re-iterating here. I will not quote them verbatim but the ideas stem from these authors.
1. The emotional or “gut” level. This was mentioned prior concerning Sigmund Freud but it is on par with when you are informed that you or a relative are dying. Many of us have felt this level after learning of terrible news. Evil is no longer an abstract concept but is a personal reality.
2. The intellectual level. Kreeft and Tacelli state that this level is first “intuitive before it is calculative or argumentative.” This occurs when we see recognizes inconsistencies or the “glaring incompatibility between evil and an all-good God.” We move from an emotive acknowledgement to understanding how such a reality is justified logically and argumentatively. Many people, as Kreeft and Tacelli state, “this is the level on which philosophers and theologians especially work”.
3. The deepest level. This level is also the level that looks longer at solution. It is the level that sees the happenings of evil in history and life. “Evil does not just "exist," it happens.” Therefore, the solution cannot be one that is purely metaphysical or outside of finitude. The solution, then, must happen in the same world in which evil happens.
Did God Create Evil?
Something we often forget is that the world now is not the world that God originally intended or created. The Scriptures tell us that God did no create the world in the state in which it is now, but evil came as a result of man’s disobedience. The Bible says that God is a God of love (1 John 4:8) His desire for man was reciprocal love. The paradox then is that true love cannot exist apart from free will; anything else would appear to be bondage. Man has free will and is very capable of exhibiting love. The existence of free will makes evil possible—not actual. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God, they personally made the decision to rebel or disobey God. To say that God created evil and man succumbed to evil, as a creation of God, is a logical fallacy. God is neither evil nor did He create evil. It was by man’s own will that he, indeed, chose to do evil rather than good.
Dorothy Sayers, author and translator, views the problem of evil thusly: “For whatever reason God chose to make man as he is—limited and suffering and subject to sorrows and death—He had the honesty and the courage to take His own medicine. Whatever game He is playing with His creation, He has kept His own rules and played fair. He can exact nothing from man that He has not exacted from Himself. He has Himself gone through the whole of human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair and death. When He was a man, He played the man. He was born in poverty and died in disgrace and thought it well worth while”(6)
The Human Condition:
Many of us, including myself, have given speculative reasons about God and evil. Many times they are problematic. This is due to the human condition. As humans:
1. We are limited in time and space. We are finite. Therefore it is logical to conclude then that there are many aspects of God and infinitude that we cannot comprehend. Being finite we do not have access to all knowledge or data, especially the divine knowledge of deity.
2. We have many false presuppositions. A presupposition is something we have beforehand. It is an idea or belief that we hold prior to completely understanding or knowing certain data. Such postulations are often called a priori assumptions. We often think we are God’s proverbial pets and we have a notion that everything should be good in a world with God. Where is the evidence for these notions? We also think that God should inform the human race of his purpose for every act or occurrence, especially evil ones. This is indeed folly.
3. “No matter how many people steal, stealing remains wrong. No matter how many people are corrupt, corruption remains wrong. No matter how many people betray public trust, that action remains wrong. The fact that any misdeed becomes popular does not make it permissible. The problem of evil is not solved by multiplication.” ~ Sidney Greenburg ~
4. Many ask the question, “Why isn’t God doing something about evil?” My retort would be, “How do you know He isn’t?” The logic here is that the presence of evil, directly or indirectly, militates against the existence of God. Conversely, as we shall see, the existence of evil actually affirms God’s existence.
Benefits of Evil:
As noted earlier, some of God’s reasons for tolerating certain things may not be immediately apparent. It is definitely within the scope of Gods power to end evil now, but it is possible that certain goals are attainable while evil exists. With evil present more people choose God therefore there is moral improvement. We do not often learn from pleasure, or at least have a strong sense of self-realism in those moments that effect change for our future. Usually, when evil or negative times abound we learn valuable lessons. Suffering is not good in itself, but it can produce good. There are four ways that suffering/evil can produce good. I will include and expound on them briefly below.
1. Suffering brings people to God. Only in a world involving natural [physical] and moral evil would the maximum number of people come naturally to knowledge of God and salvation. Empirical evidence: the Gospel is increasing in its most rapid rates in those areas where the suffering is most intense. The Gospel is waning in areas such as the West where we are so content.
2. Suffering builds community. The hurricane Katrina gives new meaning to this. When Katrina finished her destruction to our shores Americans came together from far and near. Suffering brought unity, it brought community.
3. Helps teach us our human limitations and needs. Through suffering we realize that we are not fully independent and have need for, not only, community but a higher power as well.
4. Challenges us to go beyond our current state of moral development to develop greater moral virtue. (II Cor 4:17)
Objective Moral Values.
First, in a lecture (7), Dr. William Lane Craig offers this syllogism:
1. If God does not exist then objective moral values do not exist.
2. Objective moral values exist
3. Therefore God exists.
I believe it is possible to acknowledge and define morality and even to live somewhat morally apart from a belief in God’s existence. But, do objective moral values actually exist apart from Him? Or, do we find ourselves walking in step with cultural traditions? If God does not exist do objective moral values exist? I would say no. For example, in the atheist’s world we may understand that rape or molestation has became taboo in certain cultures because it was not at any point socially advantageous. However it never proves rape is absolutely wrong from the atheistic point of view. It simply acknowledges that a culture has developed such a negative view against rape. From an atheists point of view rape is socially unacceptable but not a moral evil.
How do we know the difference between good and evil? How did you know that Hitler’s Holocaust was evil? How did you know that 911 was an evil atrocity? How do we know what it means to be good or to be evil? We know these things by knowing the antithesis of either. Francois Mauriac (1885–1970) said, “We who live beneath a sky still streaked with the smoke of crematoria, have paid a high price to find out that evil is really evil.”
It is logical to conclude that murder is evil. It is logical to conclude that the ability to live is good. We know these things by the existence of both. We would not know how good God is without already knowing what evil is like—the antithesis.
Objective moral values Therefore, without God, and especially His revelatory Word, we would not have objective moral values. Alas, we do however and because of the existence of evil we realize that there are indeed objective moral values and thus God does exist. Why would we have a duty to be moral or merciful if there is no God? Dr. William Lane Craig suggests that, “After all, if there is no God, then what’s so special about human beings? They’re just accidental by-products of nature that have evolved relatively recently on an infinitesimal speck of dust lost somewhere in a hostile and mindless universe and that are doomed to perish individually and collectively in a relatively short time.”
Certain virtues could not exist apart from evil: courage, mercy, forgiveness, patience, the giving of comfort, heroism, perseverance, faithfulness, self-control, long-suffering, submission and obedience.
Second, God’s moral and sufficient reasons for certain ecological occurrences may have answers that emerge centuries from now or in different locales. Our finitude limits us from all knowledge and information. It is often that we do not realize the purpose or full scope of events until hours, days, months or even years later. Is there evidence that we have not examined? Is there data needing analyzed? In our finiteness time will only tell.
A Biblical View: Human Responsibility and Sin:
Third, in this fallen world no one is innocent. From a biblical standpoint we sinned in Adam. The notion that we are simple good people deserving of all of God’s benevolence is folly. We are all sinners and not only have the propensity for evil but the inclination of it also. A.W. Tozer (1897–1963) states, “There is nothing evil in matter itself. Evil lies in the spirit. Evils of the heart, of the mind, of the soul, of the spirit—these have to do with man’s sin, and the only reason the human body does evil is because the human spirit uses it to do evil.” The scriptures tell us:
Romans 5:12, “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:” (KJV)
As a consequence man deserves death:
Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin [is] death…” (KJV)Natural disaster is a direct result of the curse on creation because of the fall of humankind (Genesis 3; Romans 8). Sadly, this curse will not be removed until Christ returns (Revelation 21–22).
Revelation 21:4, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (NIV)
Revelation 22:2-3, “down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse…” (NIV)Category Mistake:
Fourth, the logic of the atheist implies that God is morally responsible for taking the life of a creature. This is a category mistake, it wrongly assumes that, since it is wrong for a creature to take innocent life, it is also wrong for the Creator to do so. But God gave life and alone has the right to take it (Deut. 32:39; Job 1:21). We did not give life, and we do not have the right to take it.
Eight More Responses:
Fifth, natural evil can be explained by free-choice. In biblical language, the free choice of Adam and Eve brought natural disaster on this world. In addition the free choice of evil angels accounts for the rest of human suffering. But even putting this possibility aside, which could in itself explain all natural evil, physical suffering can be explained in reference to human free choice. Norman Geisler offers these responses:
1. Some suffering is brought on directly by our own free choice. The choice to abuse my body can result in sickness.
2. Some suffering is brought on indirectly by free choice. The choice to be lazy can result in poverty.
3. Some physical evil to others can result from our free choice, as in the case of spouse or child abuse.
4. Others suffer indirectly because of our free choice. Alcoholism can lead to poverty of one’s children.
5. Some physical evil may be a necessary byproduct of a good process. Rain, hot air, and cool air are all necessary for food and life, but a byproduct of these forces is a tornado.
6. Some physical evil may be a necessary condition for attaining a greater moral good. God uses pain to get our attention. Many have come to God through suffering.
7. Some physical suffering may be a necessary condition of a greater moral good. Just as diamonds are formed under pressure, even so is character.
8. Some physical evil is a necessary association of a morally good physical world. For instance, it is good to have water to swim and boat in, but a necessary association is that we can also drown in it. It is good to have sex for procreation and enjoyment, even though it makes rape and incest possible. It is good to have food to eat, but this also makes dying of food poisoning possible.(8)
At this point some may ask why a physical world is necessary. Why did not God make spirits, who could not hurt their bodies or die? The answer is: God did; they are called angels. The problem is that, while no angel can die of food poisoning, neither can they enjoy a prime rib. While no angel has ever drowned, neither has any angel ever gone for a swim or went water skiing. No angel has ever been raped, but neither has any angel ever enjoyed sex or the blessing of having children (Matt. 22:30). In this kind of physical world, we simply must take the associated evil along with the good.
“The existence of evil is not so much an obstacle to faith in God as a proof of God’s existence, a challenge to turn toward that in which love triumphs over hatred, union over division, and eternal life over death.” Nikolai Aleksandrovich Berdyaev (1874–1948)
Sources in Order of Appearance:
4) Geisler, N. L. (1999). Baker encyclopedia of Christian apologetics. Baker reference library (222). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books.
5) Handbook of Christian Apologetics © 1994 by Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli. All rights reserved.
6) Dorothy Sayers, Creed or Chaos? New York: Harcourt, Brace and Col, 1949, p.4
7) Dr. William L. Craig, Do Pain and Suffering Disprove God's Existence? http://www.leestrobel.com/videos/Creator/strobelT1212.htm
8) Geisler, N. L., & Hoffman, P. K. (2001). Why I am a Christian : Leading thinkers explain why they believe (75). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books.