Update of summary for easier reference:
230,000 People died in the tsunami of 2005. Why would the loving and
just Christian God allow such a thing to happen? Why create a defective
earth with unnecessary natural evil knowing in advance it would cause
death and suffering for millions?
Natural Evil: is evil for which “no non-divine agent
can be held morally responsible for its occurrence.” By contrast, moral
evil is “caused by human activity.”
Typical theist justifications for natural evil and critical responses to them:
1. God does good things, Satan does bad things.
Response - If Satan caused the tsunami and god did nothing that makes god look weak as well as wicked.
2. Calamities can be prevented by intersessionary prayer.
Response - So god would have saved 230,000 lives if only a Christian had remembered to pray?
3. There are lots of stories of Christians who
were saved from death in the tsunami. This is a way of saying those who
died basically had themselves to blame, a form of prosperity teaching.
Response - I'm sure there are lots of stories of
atheists and Muslims who were saved from death in the tsunami. There
were also many thousands of Christians who died. If god picked a few
favorites that only makes him look even more nasty and capricious.
4. Humans cause suffering.
Response- The tsunami was caused by an earthquake
under the Indian Ocean. There was absolutely nothing any human could do
to cause it or prevent it.
5. Free will.
Response- We are not talking about human actions,
only about "natural evil" - bad things that are not caused by other
humans. If god had prevented the tsunami no free will would have been
6. All creation including the planet was harmed by the "fall".
Response- It was caused by the movement of tectonic
plates. Earthquakes are an intrinsic part of how the earth was made.
They have been happening for billions of years. It would have been
trivially easy for him to quell the beginning of the tsunami wave long
before anybody even knew it had happened. He chose to do nothing except
watch the wave wipe out a quarter of a million lives.
7. Yes it’s a pity that 230,000 lives were wiped out needlessly but humans do bad things too.
Response- Measuring the morality of god against that
of a human tyrant is setting the bar rather low for god. This is an
example of the tu quoque fallacy.
8. It wasn't god's time to act.
Response- Is there a better time for a loving god to act than before the tsunami kills a quarter of a million innocent people?
9. God was seen in the actions of Christians who worked to relieve the suffering of survivors.
Response- Human efforts to clear up god's mess does not excuse his passivity
10. God caused the tsunami because he is judging people for sin.
Response- The problem for theism is that god cannot
be powerful, knowing and loving if he passively observes the violent
death of a quarter of a million people.
You have chosen to resolve the dilemma by ditching the claim that god is
love. In doing so you are in harmony with pre-exile worshippers of
Yahweh but you are left with a god who is all-powerful, all-knowing and a
total tyrant. You still have theism but as far as ethics go your god is
on a par with Zeus or Thor. Surely the whole point of being god is
11. Who are we to judge god?
Response- You have unhitched the word "love" from
any meaningful definition. We may think we know what love means but god
demonstrates that we have not the slightest idea. Love could just as
easily mean the capricious annihilation of a quarter of a million
innocent people. You destroy our ability to make moral judgements.
"Good" is whatever pleases god from moment to moment. Mass destruction
is just as morally good as altruism and self-sacrifice.
Ethics are a matter of divine fiat. The value of human life is
In defending god you have reduced him to a celestial Pol Pot who may
choose on a whim to eradicate our lives in the manner of the killing
fields of Cambodia.
If Gods morality can not be understood by our notions of morality then how can we be assured He is worthy of Worship?
If Gods morality allows for occasions where it is morally ok to
torture someone for eternity, murder babies, and condone abusive
slavery, then I want nothing to do with this God and would never worship
Him. If we can't understand him in terms that are relative to us then
we cant possibly deem him worthy of worship until we can fully
understand His morality.
12. Suffering is good for us
Response- Let’s try that out with a real tsunami
victim. Please take a few moments to get down out your ivory tower and
try to imagine what suffering really feels like for this woman. Perhaps
this dead child is the only body she managed to recover from the
aftermath. Let’s imagine she has lost everything. Every family member,
every possession every hope and dream and ambition she ever had. She is
now condemned to months of living among devastation without adequate
food or water or shelter.
Now go and tell her that your god sent the tsunami because she needed to
learn empathy and compassion. You need to show in what way the tsunami
was a benefit to the victims.
13. Suffering provides us - the observer of suffering - with the opportunity to learn compassion and empathy.
Response- Please refer to the answer to number 12
above. Try telling the victim that your god sent the tsunami so that you
could learn to be a better Christian. What astonishing hubris that
diminishes the lives of a quarter of million people into a commodity to
be used for your benefit.
14. It’s a mystery.
Response- This is a non-answer, the intellectual dishonesty of faith is self-evident.
Intellectual Dishonesty: When one avoids an honest, deliberate
and comprehensive approach to a matter because it may introduce an
adverse effect on personally held views and beliefs. A failure to apply
standards of rational evaluation that one is aware of, usually in a
self-serving fashion. If one deflects criticism of a friend or ally
simply because they are a friend or ally, this is also intellectual
Saying "its a mystery" is avoiding deliberation and avoiding to apply
standards of rational evaluation that one is already aware of. When a
person evaluates God's character and evaluates His actions in very
particular ways as exemplifying Love, goodness and infact being the
source of goodness, and then avoids evaluating His actions or inactions
that would exemplify otherwise, this is intellectual dishonesty.
This is different from scientists, scientists will say they "dont
know yet" or "its a mystery" because they are still working out all the
details. Theists tend to take the position that Gods characteristics are
already known to be a certain way for sure without doubt. When
presented with evidence to the contrary scientists reevaluate theories
and apply evidence to formulate new theories. Theists who claim
"mystery" are being dishonest because it doesnt fit with their theory of
how God is and they arent willing to change or deny their theory, or
explain why this evidence still fits with their theory of God.
15. Suffering will be unimportant compared to eternal rewards.
Response- This is ethically repugnant. It is an
extreme example of "the end justifies the means" defense, so beloved of
Like other theodicies it is dehumanizing by reducing humans to pawns in
Imagine that a scientist developed a pill that would eradicate all
unwelcome memories and create a feeling of bliss.
How would you judge a scientist who imposed the most horrific suffering
on millions of people, as unwilling subjects of his experiment, but who
gave some of his favorite people one of the magic pills when it was
Is the suffering imposed by God and allowed by God through his
non-interference, offset and justified by a reward of paradise or
heaven? Is it ethical? Would you worship a God whose character allows
for such things with an expectation of non-questioning obedience?
16. We just need to trust that god always does what is for the best.
Response- If god's lack of willingness to save the
230,000 victims of the Asian Tsunami doesn't give you pause to reflect
on that trust, what would?
17. He chose not to. Why? He is a free agent just as we are.
Response- So if you could prevent a great evil at no
cost to yourself but chose not to, and your only defense was "I chose
not to; I am a free agent", what would that say about your ethics?
18. God intervening in that tsunami may have
been the cause of another’s' death...from a human reaction to God having
stopped that tsunami?
Response- An all-knowing god would be aware on the
earthquake under the Indian Ocean before it happened and could have
quelled the wave at its source without any human ever being aware. Not
in order to impose his presence any anybody but purely as an act of
love. That's what I would have done which makes me far more moral than
19. Suffering is necessary in the short term.
It's a bit more like allowing your child to suffer a painful
operation... and then give comfort and gifts afterwards.
Response- There is a direct benefit from a painful
operation to the person who endures the pain. You need to explain what
the benefit was to the victims of the Asian tsunami
20. Retreat towards Deism - This can take
various forms that tend to back away from any of the elements of an
all-knowing, all-powerful god.
Response- How does a world with an ignorant or weak
god look any different from a world with no god? What makes a god of
this sort worthy of our attention?
21. Blame the victims. They should have known not to live so near the coast or how to read the signs of a tsunami etc.
Response- Apart from the staggering callousness of
these sorts of assertions they also make no sense. The god of theism
created a world of earthquakes and knew in advance when it would happen.
To blame the victims is like throwing rocks at a crowd and blaming them
for failing to duck.
22. The prodigal son defense. Since the fall God
gave humans what they wanted; to act as the God of their own world?
This is effectively the JW position.
Response- This is an example of the retreat towards
deism defense, number 20 above. It is hypocritical for a theist to use
this excuse. Every time a believer thanks god for their food or prays
for health or protection or a new job they demonstrate their belief that
god is very much active in the world.(Cofty2014)