Natural evil (also known as surd evil) is the result of any event perceived to be morally negative and that is not caused by the action or inaction of an agent, such as a person. It is a form of evil that stands in contradistinction to moral evil.

Nature of natural evilEdit

Moral evil results from a perpetrator, one who intentionally inflicts the evil. 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, tornadoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, and other phenomena which inflict suffering with apparently no accompanying mitigating good. Such phenomena inflict "evil" on victims, but with no human perpetrator to blame for it.

Natural or 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. Certain such disasters, however, such as damage caused by a meteorite, cannot be ascribed to the actions of humans.

Another common argument, espoused by for example Alvin Plantinga, is that all 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.

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