Where is God When Bad Things Happen? Why Natural Evil Must Exist Natural Evil and the Existence of God Flash Slideshow, Natural Evil and the Existence of God, MP3 File
by Rich Deem


Natural evil?

Atheists claim that if God existed that He would not design a world that contains "natural evil." Accordingly, killer hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and tsunamis represent the workings of an indifferent, indiscriminately cruel world. What atheists fail to realize is that all the "bad" things of this world are absolutely required for life to exist at all. In fact, most of this "evil" provides us with much more pleasure than pain.

Rich Deem

The presence of natural evil in a world supposedly designed by a loving God is a formidable barrier to faith for many people. For example, atheist philosopher Brian Marston says, "Although an omniscient, omnipotent, perfectly good God could be justified in allowing moral evil, such a God is never justified in creating a world in which natural evil occurs."1 Nicholas Tattersall defines the evil that is incompatible with God's existence as "gratuitous evils."2 This essay will not deal with moral evil—inappropriate actions taken by free will beings resulting in hurt to themselves or other free will beings. The free will defense explaining the presence of moral evil is delineated elsewhere.

I am convinced that the majority of people who make the claim that natural evil must be eliminated by God have not considered the implications of their ideas on the way the world would operate if they were in charge of the earth's design. Are these "natural evils" really gratuitous or do they serve important functions in the earth's design? This page is a comprehensive examination of what the world would look like if atheists would have had the ability to create a "better" universe. So, for the purpose of this essay, we are going to assume that the atheists are right and that all forms of natural evil must be eliminated from the universe.

Rejected Christian responses

Numerous Christians throughout the ages have argued for specific explanations why there is natural evil. Some have suggested that natural evil was created by Satan and his angels. We reject this argument because nowhere does the Bible suggest that Satan has creative ability or took part in the way the universe was designed. We also reject the argument that all natural evil is required for spiritual growth. Some natural evil may pull at our hearts to encourage us to get involved in helping others. However, many forms of natural evil probably do not consistently result in a greater good in this way. So, we reject the argument that spiritual growth is the primary reason for the existence of natural evil. Young earth creationists say that that fall of Adam and Eve resulted in corruption of the physical creation, and that all the bad things are the result of sin. We reject this explanation, since the Bible makes it clear that the physical laws of the universe were in full operation before the fall. In addition, it is not clear from their explanations how sin caused all the "bad" processes to begin. Ultimately, even their explanation must put the blame for the existence of natural evil upon God. However, instead of designing the universe with natural evil, young earth creationists believe that God's curse upon the creation went way beyond what the Bible indicates. Another popular Christian response is that all natural evil is due to the judgment of God. Although the Bible indicates that God has used "natural" processes in judgment (e.g., the Noaic flood) and will do so in the future (e.g., earthquakes and drought), not every natural disaster that occurs can be blamed on God's judgment. So, we also reject judgment as the primary reason for the existence of natural evil.

The purpose of natural process

The physical world is subject to a number of laws that govern its operation. There are four fundamental forces of physics that operate in our universe:

  1. Strong nuclear force (keeps protons within atomic nuclei from flying away)
  2. Weak nuclear force (responsible for phenomena within the atomic nucleus, such as radioactive decay)
  3. Gravity (attraction between masses)
  4. Electromagnetic force (which governs interactions of charged particles)

These laws are absolutely essential for the proper operation of the universe as it exists. Without these fundamental laws exhibiting the exact values they do, the universe would consist solely of charged and uncharged particles and random forms of electromagnetic energy floating through space. We are going to go with these laws for now, since designing a universe with completely different laws would amount to mere hand waving (Anything is possible in philosophy, but science is a little more demanding). However, we will discuss alternative kinds of universes later in this essay.

God's requirements for the universe

First, we need some minimum requirements that the universe must possess in order to comply with God's stated purpose for designing the universe, according to the Bible. So, this essay will not address possible purposes for the universe as delineated in other religious writings, which, I believe, do not provide much of a challenge to the non-belief of skeptics. Therefore, I do not intend to defend the easily refuted claims of other religions or atheists' ideas about how best to create the optimal universe. None of the requirements below represent some fringe Christian beliefs, but are central to the tenets of all Christian beliefs. Justification for each requirement is listed below. Any atheists' claims that these requirements are not central to Christianity are spurious, at best. Here is the list:

  1. The universe must allow for the existence of sentient creatures.
  2. These sentient creatures must have the ability to make moral choices.
  3. The universe must operate by physical laws that are reliable, so that the sentient creatures will be able to interact reliably with their surroundings and each other.
  4. The universe must declare the power and glory of God

Sentient creatures

It seems somewhat unnecessary to defend the existence of sentient creatures, but for the sake of completeness, let's examine what the Bible says on the issue. According to the Bible, God created the entire universe,3 including time.4 Towards the end of God's creative acts, He created soulish creatures, including human beings.5 Human beings were given dominion over the earth to manage and protect God's creation.6 Such a task could not have been accomplished by non-sentient creatures. In addition, the Bible makes it clear that God wants to be in a relationship with human beings.7

Moral choices

Atheists may not agree that sentient creatures must be allowed to make moral choices, but the Bible clearly states that this is one of the fundamental purposes for which the universe was created.8 Since we are arguing against the existence of the God of the Bible, we must accept the requirement as absolutely necessary.

Reliable physical laws

The universe must operate through reliable physical laws, since it would be impossible for sentient creatures to make sense of a universe in which the physical laws were randomly applied. The Bible explicitly says that God fixed the laws that govern the universe.9

Power of God

According to the Bible, God isn't a wimp. In fact, the Bible says that God's power is unlimited10 and that He created the universe through His awesome power.11 According to the Bible, one of the reasons for the existence of the universe is to declare God's power and glory.12 So, we wouldn't expect the universe to look wimpy, but it must demonstrate God's power and glory.

Eliminate all the negative

Our strategy to examine the claims of atheists is to eliminate all the "nasties" that they say a loving God would never have allowed into His creation. We will do this by attempting to eliminate the underlying causes of all this natural evil. In theory, when we are finished, we will be left with atheism's "perfect world." For the sake of being thorough, I intend to eliminate all forms of natural evil, including those that might, at first glance, seem trivial. The following is a list of natural evils, according to atheists:

Let's start with the universe and work down in scale until we get to human beings.


Every year, a few people are killed by falling meteorites.15 Although an extremely rare event, you probably wouldn't want a meteorite to land on you. So, we must eliminate this form of natural evil. It seems like a trivial matter—God waves His hand and all the billions of meteorites and asteroids are instantly eliminated from the Solar System. The problem is that God has just produced a contradiction in the nature of the universe. Solar systems are formed through the collapse and accretion of dust and gases from a solar nebula. In our Solar System, most of this material went into the formation of the Sun, with the remainder forming the planets and moons ~4.6 billion years ago. Left-over pieces collided with these bodies at incredible rates through the late heavy bombardment (~3.9 billion years ago), which is why the Moon looks like Swiss cheese. So, if God had eliminated all the smaller objects in the Solar System, it would contradict the method by which it was created. Scientists examining the universe would be unable to figure out how the Solar System came into being. In essence, God would be telling a lie, something that the Bible says He can't do. So, this mechanism would violate requirement 3, above.

Could God have created the Solar System in some other way? Obviously, a God who is all-powerful could create the Solar System any way He wished. So, God could have created the universe and the Solar System in a completely different way. Many atheists have suggested that God could have created just one planet orbiting just one star. This method would have certainly solved the meteorite problem. However, this idea would violate one purpose for which the Bible says God created the universe the way He did—to declare His power and glory— violating requirement 4, above. Atheists are always complaining that there isn't enough evidence for God's existence, so removing the remaining design evidence would have justified their unbelief—something God seems to have been unwilling to do.


I live in one of the earthquake capitals of the world—the West coast of the United States. I have personally survived a couple Richter ~7 and a number of smaller magnitude 5-6 earthquakes—the latest during the writing of this article. If one were to examine atheist literature, one would think that these are capricious "acts of God" that serve no purpose to life on earth. Of course, the implication (never directly stated) is that earthquakes are a physical flaw in the "design" of the earth and that if God had really designed the earth, He could have done much better. Let's look at the reason earthquakes happen to see what could have been done to eliminate that cause.

Earth Sciences 101—The reason for the existence of earthquakes is that the earth's continental crusts are floating on the earth's molten mantel. Since the continents are floating, the plates that make up the continents tend to run into one another (see graphic to right16). When they slip past one another, the grinding of the plates results in the release of a large amount of energy, causing the plates to shake. So, there are a few ways to "fix" the "problem." We could just eliminate the mantel and make all the continents fixed in position. On the surface, it sounds like a good idea. In fact, all other rocky planets in the Solar System have no molten core, and, therefore, no seismic activity. However, it turns out that a molten interior of the earth is absolutely essential to the existence of life. The independent rotation of the molten interior of the earth results in a magnetic dynamo that produces a charged field (magnetosphere)17 around the earth. This magnetic field produces the Van-Allen radiation shield, which protects the Earth from radiation bombardment. If this shield were not present, life would not be possible on the Earth.

Get rid of radiation?—Maybe God could have designed the universe without any deadly radiation? It turns out that the production of electromagnetic radiation is absolutely necessary to the ordinary functioning of the universe. Nuclear fusion, the process by which stars produce light and heat (and radiation) is necessary for the existence of life. In addition, the materials needed to produce rocky planets (and "rocky" organisms) is produced through this process. So, changing the weak nuclear force to preclude the generation of short-wavelength electromagnetic radiation, would prevent the formation of rocky planets and life altogether—violating requirement 1, above. In addition, it is the decay of radioactive materials that keep the earth's interior molten, allowing for the existence of the magnetosphere to protect the earth from deadly radiation.

Earthquakes are good!—When the earth was first created, it was molten and the surface was uniform in height. As water was delivered to earth (through the accretion process described above) and condensed, the planet became a waterworld—completely covered by a global ocean. Tectonic activity resulted in giant earthquakes and volcanoes that formed land masses over the earth. In addition, without continuing tectonic activity, the land masses would have returned to the ocean through erosion. Getting rid of the water cycle (to prevent erosion) is not an option, since fresh water is required for life. So, not only is the underlying cause of tectonic activity required to shield the earth from radiation, but the process itself is required for the formation and maintenance of continental land masses. It turns out that the number and strength of earthquakes is significantly less now compared to when the earth was first formed.18 This is primarily due to the reduction of radioactive materials in the earth (estimated to be one-fourth of what it was when the earth first formed19). So, one could say that God has already reduced the suffering caused by earthquakes to the minimum level required for the existence of advanced life on earth.

Earthquakes and civilization—Despite the fact that earthquakes can be disruptive to civilization, 13 out of 15 of the first civilizations developed in the vicinity of earthquake fault zones (with the exceptions being ancient Egypt and China).20 Scientists have speculated that plate boundaries often have ample water supplies that might have attracted early settlers, and that volcanoes help create rich soils. Obviously, earthquakes could not have been that detrimental to human beings if the vast majority of ancient civilizations developed in proximity to active faults.

Tsunamis—When earthquakes occur under the oceans, the plate's movement dissipates its energy through the ocean in the form of waves known as tsunami. When these waves make landfall, they can be up to 100 feet high and travel inland for several miles. The 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean caused widespread devastation to surrounding coastal areas, while killing over 200,000 people. A very large tsunami struck Japan, following a massive earthquake in 2011. We have already discussed the problems involved with stopping earthquakes and have determined that stopping them would result in a greater evil (lack of continental land masses and excessive solar radiation on the surface of the earth). So, it is not possible to eliminate all tsunamis without causing greater damage.

Volcanic eruptions

Volcanoes are a relatively minor source of "natural evil," since very few people are impacted by their eruptions. Living on or near a smoking, rumbling mountain can't be said to be a really smart thing to do. However, since people can be forced from their homes or killed because of choosing to live near volcanoes, we must try to eliminate this form of natural evil. Unfortunately, volcanic activity has the same underlying cause as earthquakes—tectonic activity. In fact, the map of worldwide volcanic activity (see graphic to right21) looks strangely similar to the map of earthquake activity, above. So, the same problems involved in eliminating this "evil" are encountered compared to eliminating earthquakes. Volcanism during the past has been much more severe than it is today. For example, the Columbia River basalt flows 12-17 million years ago produced 41,000 cubic miles of lava flow.22 So, God has reduced the level of volcanism at this time to the minimum amount required to sustain advanced life on earth. Therefore, we reject the elimination of volcanic eruptions as being possible on a world that contains sentient creatures.


Here in California, we experience landslides during almost every rainy season (mostly December through February). For California, the landslides usually follow fires that remove the plant growth, whose roots tend to hold the soil in place. Without the plants, the soil is more susceptible to erosion during heavy rainfall, resulting in a landslide. Dozens to hundreds of people in California are left homeless and a few are killed by landslides every year. Removing the water cycle is not an option, since all life needs water. Making all the land flat would be eliminate landslides, but would require some major tweaking of plate tectonics. There is no natural process that would produce completely flat continents (which are actually mountains raised thousands of feet above the sea floor). Besides, a completely flat continent would experience flooding, since there would be no effective way to drain the land after a storm. From an aesthetic viewpoint, the world would be quite boring without mountains (with apologies to those of you who live in Iowa or Florida). Eliminating the water cycle or making continents flat would result in greater evils than putting up with a few landslides every year.


Killing an average of 146 people each year in the United States,23 flash floods are another natural evil, which should be eliminated according to atheists.1, 13 We have already discussed the problem caused by eliminating the water cycle. Since this is not an option, there are only a few other means to prevent floods. Some floods are the result of land being nearly flat and thus being unable to drain following major storms. Other floods occur when excess rain causes rivers to overflow their banks into the surrounding area. The solution to the flatness problem would be to create hills and mountains. However, these features often result in landslides. It is unclear how atheists propose that both floods and landslides be eliminated simultaneously.

Floods are good—Most people think that floods are evil and have no redeeming properties. In fact, some rivers throughout the world used to flood every year. The flooding brought much needed silt and minerals to the surrounding land, making it more fertile. However, people didn't like the inconvenience of having to rebuild their houses every year. So, we dammed the rivers or built levees to control their flow in the rainy season. The result was that the land now needs to be fertilized, since the natural means of soil renewal has been eliminated.


Hurricanes (Atlantic Ocean) and cyclones (Indian Ocean) and typhoons (Northern Pacific Ocean) are tropical storms that gain energy in warm waters to produce sustained winds over 100 mph. They are a particular problem to tropical areas, since storms generated in more northern latitudes cannot generate such high energy, due to the lower temperatures of the water/land over which they form. So, the problem is a function of the uneven heating of the earth's surface. How could this uneven heating problem be fixed? The earth is heated by the Sun, a single star. If the earth could be heated by three sources (one at the equator, and one at each of the poles), the heating could be made relatively even. The problem is that such a solar system could not exist anywhere in the universe. Since stars must be a minimum size, three stars circling each other could never illuminate a planet evenly, since their revolutions would place them in different locations at different times. It is unlikely that such a solar system would contain any planets, since gravitational interactions would likely eject all planets within the habitable zone. In fact, very few binary star systems would house planets, because gravitational resonances would tend to eject planets from the system. So, given the laws of physics, planetary heating is always going to be uneven, causing hurricanes and cyclones north and south of the equator (see graph at right24). The tilt of the planet does effect the evenness of heating on a planet. A planet with an obliquity of 90° would experience extreme weather, with one side perpetually frozen and the other extremely hot. An obliquity of 0° would result in perpetually frozen poles, at which ice would continue to accumulate until the planet lost most or all of its oceans to frozen ice caps. It turns out that the earth's 21.5° obliquity is optimal for maintaining habitable conditions throughout nearly the entire planet, without allowing accumulation of ice at the poles. So, it appears that the evenness of heating of planet earth is already optimal, and cannot be significantly improved.


Tornadoes represent some of the most destructive forces in the world. Winds in violent tornadoes can exceed 200 mph. Although most tornadoes occur in the Midwest part of the United States, they can occur in numerous locations throughout the world.25 Tornadoes are also ultimately caused by uneven heating, which results in local atmospheric pressure changes, causing a horizontally rotating mass of air. Rising air within a thunderstorm pulls this rotating air vertically, resulting in the familiar funnel shape, which causes destruction at its point of impact on the ground. Given the laws of physics, it is not possible to prevent storms from forming or travelling over land. In addition, the vast majority of storms are good—allowing life (i.e., sentient beings) to exist on the land (requirement 1, above). So, it is not possible to prevent hurricanes and tornadoes without negatively impacting the ability of higher organisms to exist on land.


Lightning strikes from thunderstorms kill ~100 people every year in the United States.23 Lightning is caused by the differential charges generated within clouds. Ice particle collisions form charged particles. The smaller, mostly positively charged ice particles segregate near the tops of clouds while larger, mostly negatively charged ice goes to the bottom of the clouds. When the charge differences reach a critical level, an electrical discharge takes place. Usually, lightning strikes harmlessly between clouds. When strikes happen between a cloud and the ground, massive localized damage can occur. Although we tend to think that lightning is rather restricted in its range, it is found at a frequency of at least 1 strike/km2/year throughout the world,26 with the exception of the poles and extreme deserts. Even where I live in Southern California, we receive a few strikes in our neighborhood every year. The obvious way to eliminate lightning is to eliminate storms. However, this "solution" would leave the land barren of life, violating requirement 1, above. Reducing the electromagnetic force constant to decrease the number of lightning strikes would adversely affect chemical reactions—preventing the existence of life altogether.

Lightning is good!—Most non-scientists probably think there are no redeeming qualities to lightning strikes. However, the high energy electrical discharge results in the splitting of molecular nitrogen and oxygen, When these atoms recombine, they form nitric oxide,27 which is delivered to plants in the rain. It turns out that molecular nitrogen (making up nearly 80% of air) is chemically unavailable to virtually all life forms (other than a few species of nitrogen fixing bacteria). So, lightning provides chemically-available nitrogen to plants.


Fires cause extensive damage throughout the world. Living in California, there are wildfires every year that cause millions of dollars in destruction and usually a few fatalities. Atheist William Rowe used the example of fire as natural evil, in which lightning started a fire in a forest, which eventually burned a young deer (read "Bambi") that suffered for several days before dying. Surely, a good God would want to prevent the suffering caused by fires.

As you learned in your elementary science classes (or Boy Scouts), fire requires three things—fuel, heat and oxygen. In most cases, the fuel is plant material. Obviously, God cannot eliminate plants, since all life is dependent upon the food and sequestered energy produced through photosynthesis.

Eliminating heat is problematic, since the entire universe operates on the basis of thermodynamic laws. Without our Sun producing massive amounts of heat through nuclear fusion, life would be impossible on earth. Even preventing excessive heat on earth is problematic for our technological society. Much of our electricity, plus heating our homes and vehicle travel (automobile, airliner, train, etc.) requires combustion. Although occasional fires are started through lightning strikes, most destructive fires are caused by arson—moral evil. So, eliminating natural sources of heat would not prevent the majority of suffering caused by uncontrolled fires.

One cannot eliminate oxygen from the environment, since nearly all of life requires oxygen for metabolism. There are some anaerobic (non-oxygen requiring) microorganisms, but such metabolic mechanisms tend to produce energy much less efficiently (which is why there are no anaerobic higher animals). Essentially, the metabolic processes of all life are equivalent to combustion and require the physics that allows fire to exist. So, eliminating fire would have prevented God from carrying out His plan for life on earth (violating requirement 1, above).

Genetic diseases/cancer

The human population suffers from numerous genetic diseases, which occur as a result of random mutation. Some genetic diseases are retained within a population in response to selective pressure. For example, Sickle-cell disease developed in Africa in response to the malaria threat. Malaria was extremely deadly, wiping out entire populations. However, the Sickle-cell mutation results in individuals being resistant to Malaria. Those who are homozygous die at a younger age, although heterozygous individuals suffer little or no morbidity. So, this genetic disease was not designed by God, but grew out of a mutation selected on the basis of population survival.

Other genetic disorders and cancers probably do not have survival advantage, but are just due to random mutation. So, we would not say that God designed any genetic diseases (i.e., Adam and Eve did not have these mutated genes). That being said, why would God design a system in which mutation is even possible?

The error rate for copying DNA is actually quite small. Human genomic mutation is among the lowest of all eukaryotes,28 estimated to be ~2.2x10-9 per base per generation.29 The rate of DNA replication is ~60 bases/sec, which is very fast. If it were not that fast, then cells would not reproduce fast enough for humans to even exist. There is a trade-off in speed vs. accuracy. For example, bacteria replicate at ~500 bases/sec, but have an error rate ~1x10-8 per base.30 So, the ten-fold increase in speed for bacteria results in a 10-fold decrease in accuracy. Given the laws of physics and the nature of quantum events, it is not possible to design a biological machine that operates with 100% accuracy. In fact, many biological systems are operating right up to the maximum theoretical limits. So, given the laws of physics, it is not possible to create an organism that does not possess at least a small mutation rate. Therefore, genetic mutation and disorders are inevitable for any reproducing biological species.

Infectious diseases

One of the major objections atheists raise to the existence of God is the presence of pathogenic microorganisms. Why would God create infectious organisms to plague human beings and other animals? In this section, we will examine two classes of infectious disease—those caused by bacteria and those caused by viruses.

Bacteria are single celled prokaryotes (organisms that lack a nucleus, or other membrane-bound organelles), which are mostly free-living. Bacteria are indispensible to the biomes of the world, recycling carbon and minerals from dead organisms. Bacteria are typically present at greater than 107 organisms/g in soil and makeup the vast majority of the earth's biomass (greater than 1030 organisms). In addition to their role as recyclers, some bacteria can fix carbon as photoautotrophs or chemoautotrophs. Many bacteria serve as the first trophic level in a food chain. In addition to free-living bacteria, many are commensal and/or symbiotic, living beside or within other organisms. For example, human beings are hosts to at least ten times the number of bacterial cells than their own cells. Most of these bacteria inhabit our intestines, where they serve to metabolize unused energy substrates, prevent the growth of harmful species, and produce vitamins such as biotin and vitamin K. Because of the nature of microbial activities, these organisms are required for the existence of sentient creatures. The question then arises, "What about pathogenic bacteria?" It turns out that pathogenicity is the function of a poor host-microbe response. Bacteria that have been adapted to their hosts are non-pathogenic, since killing or harming your host does not facilitate your own survival. So, the existence of pathogenic bacteria are not the result of God's creation, but the result of mutation and transfer to a less adapted host. Because of bacteria's high reproductive rate and mutation rate, it is not possible to prevent the development of pathogenic species. So, the presence of pathogenic bacteria on earth is a result of processes that are required to recycle biological materials.

Viruses are obligate intracellular parasites that use cellular machinery to reproduce their nucleic acid. Unlike bacteria, which are indispensible to higher life forms, it was originally believed that viruses serve few if any positive functions to promote advanced life. So, where did these viruses come from? Scientists have two main theories. One says that viruses were once free living cellular microbes that began to infect eukaryotes (and other prokaryotes). Once these microbes became intracellular, they were free to evolve by losing functions to the cellular machinery they had hijacked to perform necessary cellular functions. The other theory says that cellular machinery mutated to acquire independent reproductive activity. However, many viruses use specialized enzymes and different nucleic acids (RNA vs. DNA), suggesting that they were not derived from the host. In addition, since Darwinian evolution is fully capable of losing information through natural selection, I think the first theory to be a superior explanation of viral origins. In addition, the recent discovery of giant viruses with up to 900 gene products31 suggest that they may have evolved from more complex organisms. So, it seems likely that viruses are merely highly specialized bacteria that have lost much of their cellular machinery to become obligate intracellular parasites. Given the laws of thermodynamics there is probably no way to get rid of viruses other than direct interference when they arise.

Recent scientific studies point to viruses being involved in the ocean's nutrient cycle.32 In fact, studies estimate that there are ~1030 viruses in the ocean. Since there are "only" 1080 baryons in the entire universe, this number shows the enormity of viral influence in the marine environment. Although viruses probably impact terrestrial environments less than marine ones, ultimately, most of the earth's terrestrial biomass ends up in the ocean. Since most of these studies are relatively recent, we should probably expect to see more evidence for the positive role of viruses in carbon recycling in the future.

Animal pain

The red tooth and claw nature of the animal kingdom is troubling to many people, even though we human beings tend to be at the top of the food chain and generally enjoy eating other animals. In the wild, carnivores attack and kill herbivores, inflicting at least some pain in the process. Ecological systems are delicately balanced so that both herbivores and carnivores can live and reproduce in balance. Without carnivores, herbivores would reproduce until they ate all their food sources, causing massive starvation. Having populations suffer periods of catastrophic starvation doesn't seem to be a better way to run an ecosystem. Starvation is much more painful and cruel than being eaten by a carnivore.

Atheist tend to assume that all pain, suffering, and death are bad or evil. However, physical pain is absolutely vital to our survival and well-being. If we felt no pain, we would do things to ourselves that could be very destructive. There is a rare genetic disease in which a person cannot feel pain. A girl who suffers from this affliction has to be constantly watched to make sure she doesn't do damage to herself.33 If God had made us without the ability to feel pain if we touched a hot object, we would not react until we saw our flesh smoking. Recently, I was digging weeds out of my front lawn and noticed some irritation on my palm, but ignored it until the blister that had formed popped. At that point, the pain level was sufficiently high to stop me from doing further damage to my hand. So, pain tells us we need to react to a situation before serious damage occurs.

Not all nerve receptors transmit sensations of pain. God has provided us with nerves that transmit sensations of pleasure, as well. So, the exact same chemical signals from different nerves are interpreted as pain or pleasure depending upon which areas of the brain they stimulate.

Extent of natural evil

Atheists complain a lot about natural evils in the world, but seldom give statistics about how much they negatively impacts our lives. In my 50+ years of life, I haven't been seriously impacted by meteorites, earthquakes, volcanoes, floods, landslides, storms, lightning or fires. Is my experience unusual, or do all these evils only marginally impact the average person? The table below represents the extreme cases of natural evil experienced by people in the United States and is certainly not any kind of average impact. In an average year, less than 2% of people in the U.S. are impacted by any form of natural evil. A much smaller percentage of people are actually killed through any form of natural evil. So, why do atheists make such a big deal about natural evil? The most probable explanation for their concern is today's modern news media, which reports natural disasters with relish. If one watches the nightly news on a regular basis, one would get the impression that the entire world's population is plagued by natural disasters. The statistics below reveal otherwise.

Impact of Natural Evil on People in the U.S.
Natural evil % People Affected/Year


Earthquakes 0.02% (Northridge, 1994)34
Volcanoes 0.2% (Mt. St. Helens, 1980)35
Landslides 0.02%36
Floods 0.03%37
Hurricanes 1% (Katrina, 2005)38
Tornadoes .006%39
Lightning 0.00004%23
Fires 0.1%40
Genetic diseases 1.3%41
Cancer 0.5%42
Infectious diseases 0.06% (deaths)43
Total 3.2%

The tinkering God

So far, we have examined ways to eliminate natural evil from the universe. We have been completely unsuccessful, because the physical processes that cause natural "evil" are the same ones required for the proper functioning of the universe and the existence of sentient life. However, there is another solution for all these examples of natural evil—the tinkering God. God could just wave His hand and prevent all individual examples of natural evil that might impact humans or animals. The solution seems simple, since, if God is omnipotent and omniscient, this task would not be too difficult. Every time something bad was about to happen, God would personally intervene and stop it. Although we would argue that God occasionally breaks the laws of physics (miracles), He does not do this on a routine basis. In general, miracles are done with the purpose of displaying God's power and authority. If God were to break the laws of physics routinely, science would not exist, since it would be impossible to determine how the laws of physics operated. In essence, there would be no reliable laws of physics to measure, since God's interference would make measurement unreliable. In addition, if God constantly interfered, people would get used to being rescued and would get lazy, expecting God to bail them out when they failed to act responsibly. So, the tinkering God approach for the elimination of natural evil violates requirement 3, above.

Formalized argument

We have examined every example (that we have found) of "natural evil" proposed by atheists and found no instance in which this evil could be prevented without causing a greater evil—preventing the stated purpose for the existence of the universe. If we have missed some arguments, please send them to us. Here is our formalized argument:

Why did God choose these law of physics?

Although we have shown that the laws of physics require the existence of all natural evils defined by atheists, it is still possible that God could have chosen different laws of physics. Even so, the different laws of physics would still need to allow requirements 1-4, above. Virtually every process that makes human beings unique require the operation of thermodynamic laws. However, these laws also result in almost all natural evil. So, it is unclear how the laws of physics could be substantially different from what they are and yet still produce a universe in which sentient creatures would be allowed to make moral choices.

Obtaining physical perfection

The model proposed in this paper admits that God's designs in this universe are limited by the laws of physics. It doesn't mean that God Himself is limited, just that He chose limiting laws of physics to provide the optimal creation in which His purposes could be fulfilled. Contrary to what atheists want to believe about God, this universe was not designed to provide an eternal, perfect place for humans to live in. It is perfectly designed to give human beings the optimal conditions under which choice between good and evil can be made. In order to design thermodynamically-perfect biological machines, it would be necessary to create a universe in which the second law of thermodynamics did not operate at all. Of course, removing the second law means that the universe would have been completely different. There would be no stars, no electromagnetic radiation (including light), and no way to design machines (including biological ones) that depend on heat/energy flow. This means that creatures would not be powered by food or metabolic processes. Creatures designed for such a universe could never die a natural death, since death is dependent upon the operation of the second law. However, the description of this hypothetical universe corresponds almost exactly to the Bible's description of heaven (see What Will Heaven be Like?). Therefore, the atheists' "perfect universe" nearly exactly corresponds to the Bible's description of heaven:

Characteristics of Heaven
Characteristic Implication
There will be no Sun or moon44 No thermodynamics
No more death, suffering, pain45 No thermodynamics
No sea46 No water cycle
Gravity will be absent or greatly reduced47 Heaven does not contain matter (?)
Believers will receive a spiritual, non-physical body48 Heaven does not contain matter (?)

The problem about heaven is that there is no ability to choose good vs. evil, since there is no evil. This lack of choice is the reason that God instituted a two creation design—the first in which free will beings could make choices, and the second to reward those beings who choose to be with God in His second creation. Atheists seem to be stuck on the idea that a perfect God must design a physically-perfect universe. God Himself called individual aspects of the current creation as "good" and the overall design "very good," but never "perfect." And the universe is "very good." The biological machines are awesome, but by no means perfect. They can't be, in this universe. The second creation (heaven) is perfect, but it doesn't house beings with physical bodies—only beings with spiritual bodies.48 Physical bodies cannot operate in a universe that lacks the laws of thermodynamics.

Conclusion Top of page

The "natural evil" described by atheists actually represents the design of an intelligent Creator. Atheistic arguments claiming that God could eliminate most or all natural evil are simplistic or naïve and show a lack of basic understanding of how the physics of the universe operates. This page shows that all examples of natural "evil" are, in fact, required for the existence of sentient creatures or to provide evidence for God's existence. The universe that atheists think God should have designed is the one in which He will reward those who believe in Him. The universe we live in is perfectly designed as a place to choose between good and evil. However, such choices would not be possible in a physically-perfect universe in which natural evil did not exist. This is why the God created a two universe design—the first a temporal, material universe dominated by choice, and the second, non-temporal, non-material universe designed to optimize interpersonal relationships between believers and God.

References Top of page

  1. Brian Marston. 1998. The Problem of Natural Evil.
  2. Nicholas Tattersall. 1998. The Evidential Argument from Evil.
  3. God created the entire universe:
    • In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1)
    • This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made earth and heaven. (Genesis 2:4)
    • Thus says God the LORD, Who created the heavens and stretched them out, Who spread out the earth and its offspring, Who gives breath to the people on it And spirit to those who walk in it, (Isaiah 42:5)
    • "Drip down, O heavens, from above, And let the clouds pour down righteousness; Let the earth open up and salvation bear fruit, And righteousness spring up with it. I, the LORD, have created it. (Isaiah 45:8)
    • "It is I who made the earth, and created man upon it. I stretched out the heavens with My hands And I ordained all their host. (Isaiah 45:12)
    • For thus says the LORD, who created the heavens (He is the God who formed the earth and made it, He established it and did not create it a waste place, but formed it to be inhabited), "I am the LORD, and there is none else. (Isaiah 45:18)
    • For by Him [Jesus] all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things have been created through Him and for Him. (Colossians 1:16)
    • And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, "To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever." (Revelation 5:13)
    • and swore by Him who lives forever and ever, WHO CREATED HEAVEN AND THE THINGS IN IT, AND THE EARTH AND THE THINGS IN IT, AND THE SEA AND THE THINGS IN IT, that there will be delay no longer, (Revelation 10:6)
  4. God created time and was acting before time began:
    • In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1)
    • No, we speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. (1 Corinthians 2:7)
    • This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time (2 Timothy 1:9)
    • The hope of eternal life, which God... promised before the beginning of time (Titus 1:2))
    • To the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. (Jude 1:25)
  5. God created human beings:
    • God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. (Genesis 1:27)
    • This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day when God created man, He made him in the likeness of God. (Genesis 5:1)
    • He created them male and female, and He blessed them and named them Man in the day when they were created. (Genesis 5:2)
    • "Indeed, ask now concerning the former days which were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and inquire from one end of the heavens to the other. Has anything been done like this great thing, or has anything been heard like it? (Deuteronomy 4:32)
    • "It is I who made the earth, and created man upon it. I stretched out the heavens with My hands And I ordained all their host. (Isaiah 45:12)
  6. And God blessed them, and God said to them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moves upon the earth. (Genesis 1:28)
    The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. (Genesis 2:15)
    When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet: all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas. LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! (Psalm 8:3-9)
  7. "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. (Deuteronomy 6:5)
    "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
    "Know therefore that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments; (Deuteronomy 7:9)
    and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (Romans 5:5)
    But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
    But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. (Romans 8:11)
    For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)
    Now I urge you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God for me, (Romans 15:30)
    Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you? (1 Corinthians 3:16)
    Finally, brethren, rejoice, be made complete, be comforted, be like-minded, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. (2 Corinthians 13:11)
    The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. (2 Corinthians 13:14)
    But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-7)
    Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: "He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us"? (James 4:5)
    keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. (Jude 1:21)
  8. "I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, (Deuteronomy 30:19)
    "If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD." (Joshua 24:15)
    "Let us choose for ourselves what is right; Let us know among ourselves what is good. (Job 34:4)
    Do not envy a man of violence And do not choose any of his ways. (Proverbs 3:31)
    "He will eat curds and honey at the time He knows enough to refuse evil and choose good. (Isaiah 7:15)
    This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:3-4)
    The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)
  9. "Do you know the ordinances of the heavens, Or fix their rule over the earth?" (Job 38:33)
    Thus says the LORD, Who gives the sun for light by day And the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, Who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar; The LORD of hosts is His name: "If this fixed order departs From before Me," declares the LORD, "Then the offspring of Israel also will cease From being a nation before Me forever." (Jeremiah 31:35-36)
  10. Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, "I am God Almighty; Walk before Me, and be blameless. (Genesis 17:1)
    "I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, "who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty." (Revelation 1:8)
  11. "Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, indeed everything that is in the heavens and the earth; Yours is the dominion, O LORD, and You exalt Yourself as head over all. (1 Chronicles 29:11)
    and he said, "O LORD, the God of our fathers, are You not God in the heavens? And are You not ruler over all the kingdoms of the nations? Power and might are in Your hand so that no one can stand against You. (2 Chronicles 20:6)
    'Ah Lord GOD! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and by Your outstretched arm! Nothing is too difficult for You, (Jeremiah 32:17)
    It is He who made the earth by His power, Who established the world by His wisdom, And by His understanding He stretched out the heavens. (Jeremiah 51:15)
    Daniel said, "Let the name of God be blessed forever and ever, For wisdom and power belong to Him. (Daniel 2:20)
    "Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created." (Revelation 4:11)
  12. "Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the highest heavens, the earth and all that is in it." (Deuteronomy 10:14)
    "You alone are the LORD. You have made the heavens, The heaven of heavens with all their host, The earth and all that is on it, The seas and all that is in them. You give life to all of them And the heavenly host bows down before You." (Nehemiah 9:6)
    For the choir director; on the Gittith. A Psalm of David. O LORD, our Lord, How majestic is Your name in all the earth, Who have displayed Your splendor above the heavens! (Psalm 8:1)
    For the director of music. A psalm of David. The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. (Psalm 19:1)
    Be exalted above the heavens, O God; Let Your glory be above all the earth. (Psalm 57:5)
    For Your righteousness, O God, reaches to the heavens, You who have done great things; O God, who is like You? (Psalm 71:19)
    And blessed be His glorious name forever; And may the whole earth be filled with His glory. Amen, and Amen. (Psalm 72:19)
    The heavens will praise Your wonders, O LORD; Your faithfulness also in the assembly of the holy ones. (Psalm 89:5)
    Tell of His glory among the nations, His wonderful deeds among all the peoples. For great is the LORD and greatly to be praised; He is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are idols, But the LORD made the heavens. (Psalm 96:3-5)
    The heavens declare His righteousness, And all the peoples have seen His glory. (Psalm 97:6)
    For as high as the heavens are above the earth, So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him. (Psalm 103:11)
    Be exalted, O God, above the heavens, And Your glory above all the earth. (Psalm 108:5)
    The LORD is high above all nations; His glory is above the heavens. (Psalm 113:4)
    To Him who made the heavens with skill, For His lovingkindness is everlasting; (Psalm 136:5)
    Let them praise the name of the LORD, For His name alone is exalted; His glory is above earth and heaven. (Psalm 148:13)
    And one called out to another and said, "Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory." (Isaiah 6:3)
    "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:9)
    Thus says the LORD, "If the heavens above can be measured And the foundations of the earth searched out below, Then I will also cast off all the offspring of Israel For all that they have done," declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 31:37)
    For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. (Romans 1:18-20)
  13. Crabtree, Vexen. 2007. Natural Evil: Evidence That God is Not Good.
  14. Rowe, William L. 1979. "The Problem of Evil and Some Varieties of Atheism". American Philosophical Quarterly 16: 337.
  15. Meteor strikes might kill people this weekend by Burleson Consulting.
  16. Figure modified (continental plates labeled) from Lowman, P.D. and B.C. Montgomery, 1998.
  17. For more information on the magnetosphere, see NASA's What is the Magnetosphere? and Space Weather on Mars.
  18. Sleep, N. H. and Zoback, M. D. 2007. Did Earthquakes Keep the Early Crust Habitable? Astrobiology 7: 1023-1032.
  19. Paul Morin and Kent Kirkby. Virtual Geodynamics: Earthquakes, Volcanoes, and Plate Boundaries, University of Minnesota, January 2000.
  20. David Malakoff. Did Rumbling Give Rise to Rome? ScienceNOW Daily News 22 August 2008.
  21. This Dynamic Planet: World Map of Volcanoes, Earthquakes, Impact Craters, and Plate Tectonics. Third edition, 2006.
  22. Columbia Plateau and Columbia River Basalt Group, National USGS Website.
  23. Tornadoes.... Nature's Most Violent Storms from the NOAA.
  24. Global tropical cyclone tracks from Wikipedia.
  25. U.S. Tornado Climatology from the NOAA.
  26. Frequency of Lightning Strikes from Wikipedia
  27. Nitrogen Fixation by Robert Asato.
  28. Drake, J.W., B. Charlesworth, D. Charlesworth, and J. F. Crow. 1998. Rates of Spontaneous Mutation. Genetics 148: 1667-1686. See Table 5.
  29. Kumar, S. and S. Subramanian. 2002. Mutation rates in mammalian genomes. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 99:803-808.
  30. Drake, J. W., B. Charlesworth, D. Charlesworth, and J. F. Crow. 1998. Rates of Spontaneous Mutation. Genetics 148: 1667-1686.
  31. La Scola, B., S. Audic, C. Robert, L. Jungang, X. de Lamballerie, M. Drancourt, R. Birtles, J. Claverie, and D. Raoult. A Giant Virus in Amoebae. 2003. Science 299: 2033.
    Raoult, D., S. Audic, C. Robert, C. Abergel, P. Renesto, H. Ogata, B. La Scola, M. Suzan, J. Claverie. 2004. The 1.2-Megabase Genome Sequence of Mimivirus. Science 306: 1344-1350.
  32. Dell’Anno, A., C. Corinaldesi, M. Magagnini, R. Noble, C. Tamburini, M. Weinbauer, and R. Danovaro. 2008. Major viral impact on the functioning of benthic deep-sea ecosystems. Nature 454, 1084-1087.
    Rohwer, F. and R. Vega Thurber. 2009. Viruses manipulate the marine environment. Nature 459: 207-212.
  33. Rare disease makes girl unable to feel pain from MSNBC.
  34. Taking the Northridge earthquake of 1994 as an extreme example, the quake epicenter was under a highly urbanized region, damaging 12,500 structures and leaving tens of thousands of people temporarily homeless (Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris and Nabil M. Kamel. 2004. Residential Recovery from the Northridge Earthquake: An Evaluation of Federal Assistance Programs , California Policy Research Center, University of California).
  35. The Mount Saint Helens 1980 eruption was one of the most powerful in recorded history. Even so, it destroyed ~200 homes and impacted ~500,000 residents with wind-blown ash (Robert I. Tilling, Lyn Topinka, and Donald A. Swanson, 1990, Eruptions of Mount St. Helens: Past, Present, and Future, U.S. Geological Survey)
  36. Landslides kill an average of 25 people in the U.S. each year and cause 1.5 billion in property damage (Robert L. Schuster and Lynn M. Highland, 2001, Socioeconomic and Environmental Impacts of Landslides, U.S. Geological Survey)
  37. 70,000 people (out of 300,000,000 in U.S.A.) were evacuated in the great flood of 1993. LESSONS TAUGHT BY FLOODS IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, NOAA.
  38. An average of 4 hurricanes make landfall each year (Jon K. Ayscue. Hurricane Damage to Residential Structures: Risk and Mitigation, The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland November, 1996). Hurricane Katrina (2005) impacted ~ 3 million people (Richard D. Knabb, Jamie R. Rhome, and Daniel P. Brown, Tropical Cyclone Report Hurricane Katrina 23-30 August 2005, National Hurricane Center, December 20, 2005)
  39. A violent tornado can affect 1,000 individuals with ~20 occurring each year in the U.S. (Tornadoes.... Nature's Most Violent Storms from the NOAA)
  40. QuickStats: The Overall Fire Picture—2006, U.S. Fire Administration.
  41. Genetic Education: Incidence of genetic disorders.
  42. United States Cancer Statistics (USCS), 2004, National Program of Cancer Registries, CDC.
  43. Armstrong GL, Conn LA, and Pinner RW. 1999. Trends in infectious disease mortality in the United States during the 20th century. JAMA. 281:61-66.
  44. And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb. (Revelation 21:23)
  45. for the Lamb in the center of the throne shall be their shepherd, and shall guide them to springs of the water of life; and God shall wipe every tear from their eyes." (Revelation 7:17)
    and He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away." (Revelation 21:4)
  46. And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. (Revelation 21:1)
  47. Revelation describes the New Jerusalem as a cube 1,500 miles on each side. Under the current laws of gravity, any structure that size would immediately become a sphere. Therefore gravity would be either absent or greatly reduced.
    "And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband... And the city is laid out as a square, and its length is as great as the width; and he measured the city with the rod, fifteen hundred miles; its length and width and height are equal." (Revelation 21:2, 16)
  48. So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. (1 Corinthians 15:42-44)

Last Modified September 9, 2009


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