Thursday, April 08, 2010

Natural Evil

I've recently been grappling with the Problem of Evil for an essay for the Reformed Apologetics course. Most theodicies or defences discriminate between moral evil and natural evil. For example, the Free Will Defence of Plantinga focusses on moral evil, but also addresses natural evil. Plantinga's proposal that natural evil is also a consequence of the actions of non-human free moral agents seems to me a little bizarre. A more fundamental question is: is natural evil actually evil? I'm sure that a nuanced answer is required, but my own view is that things that are often labelled as 'evils' are not in fact evil. Here's Henri Blocher on sin being the worst evil, the foremost evil, the essence of evil, the thing that makes humanity susceptible to all other evils:

Of course, this proposition appears exaggerated or strained to some: was it not God who created viruses and volcanoes? Did not the law of the jungle shed blood for thousands of centuries before the human race appeared on the scene? These objections are not insuperable. In his original, sinless and flawless state, mankind was bursting with health, so that viruses and other pathogens, which are all the more dangerous when an organism is weakened, caused him no harm whatsoever. He no doubt had intuitive wisdom and such finely tuned premonitory senses - far sharper than those of the most amazing of today's animals - that volcanic eruptions were incapable of causing him any danger. As for the manifestations of violence in the animal kingdom which shocked Wilfred Monod so profoundly, it is debatable whether they can be considered as evil...

The idea that before mankind's creation Satan might have caused the transformation of peaceful, loving animals into parasites and predators, or even that the fall in Eden was its cause, finds no support in the Scriptures; the speeches in the book of Job (38:39ff.; 39:29f.; 40:25ff.) and Psalm 104 (vv. 21 and 27f.) reveal in the behaviour of the carnivores the wisdom of God the Creator. This wisdom gives us a sense of wonder indeed, when science unfolds the intricate ordering and complex control of various ecosystems. Pain undergoes a radical change of category, depending whether there is or is not a reflecting consciousness that is able to relate sensations and experiences to a personal centre ('I'). Where there is to be found a similar consciousness, suffering certainly seems evil - that is, in human beings; but you cannot draw the hasty conclusion that it is the same in the case of animals. Evil and the Cross, 58-59.