William Hasker (Huntington College) offers his perspective on natural evil.
This doesn’t, I think, cover everything. There are what are sometimes called natural evils. These are evils that result from just the way nature works in a way that doesn’t in any obvious or understandable way result from human wrong doing. Tidal waves, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, things like this can devastate parts of the world and human lives in ways that is far fetched to trace those to human activities. And to think about this, I think we need to back up a little bit and try to form a conception of how the world works overall, kind of the natural order if you like that is set up by the laws of nature. And when we do that, one of the things we find is that these disasters are the result of the way things work in a broader framework, which as a whole is conducive to life and conducive to the flourishing of living creatures. I’ll tell you the example of earthquakes and volcanoes. An important part of what causes earthquakes is what is known in geology as plate tectonics. It seems that on the surface of the earth, the solid surface of the earth consists of a number of huge plates of rock that are essentially floating on a sea of molten rock underneath. Geologists can talk about this in more detail, but that’s the dime sort of version, that’s the crude picture of it. And in fact these plates are moving all the time because of movements and the underlying magma, the molten rock. And so down the center of the Atlantic Ocean, there’s a zone where the plates are separating. And Iceland happens to be sitting right on top of it, and that’s why they have so many volcanoes. And a recent Nova segment pointed out that there are a number of volcanoes in Iceland that have the potential to do very serious damage not only to the Icelanders but to all of us. I mean, the one that erupted and disrupted air traffic for periods of time, that was the small one. That was the less damaging than other that can erupt that have erupted in the past, okay.
Well so it looks like this system of plate tectonics with the plates floating on the magma, it can be responsible for a lot of really devastating things. But okay, without this, without a molten core to the earth, for one thing, there would be no magnetic field on the earth which we need to shield us from the incoming stream of cosmic radiation that otherwise would make life or at least any form of advanced life on earth impossible. Now does this mean we’re back to likeness, and this is the best possible world. Well there’s no denying that these volcanic eruptions or earthquakes and so on, tidal waves, they do serious harm to people, you know. So in that sense, it’s not saying everything is beautiful, but its part of a system, a natural order that on the whole makes life possible for us, and is beneficial. Much more an be said about this, but I think you can see the general kind of pattern that I’m looking at here.