Tsunami and a solution to the problem of evil
According to geologists, it's possible that life would not exist on earth without the plate tectonics that also happen to cause earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis, and general death and destruction. On the most basic level: Volcanism on the early earth is probably what spewed forth the atmosphere and oceans (in the form of water vapor). No oceans and no atmosphere = no life (at least as we know it). Also, without plate tectonics, over millions of years, carbon dioxide would get locked up in rocks as carbonate, and without that greenhouse gas, the earth would freeze over. Luckily, with plate tectonics, volcanoes spew out carbon dioxide, thus completing the carbon cycle. On a secondary level: volcanoes make soil fertile by spreading ash with helpful minerals for miles around. Tectonic action concentrates mineral deposits like gold. And so on.
This could provide some support for an interesting solution to the problem of evil (i.e., how can there be a God who's both all-loving and all-powerful when there is so much suffering and evil in the world?): the "modal realism" solution. (Hat tip: Crooked Timber.)
Let’s assume the following metaphysical claims are all true.With respect to the tsunami, one could postulate that when God was deciding whether or not to create this particular universe, he knew that the laws of nature in this universe dictated that life could only evolve if Earth had active plate tectonics, but that these plate tectonics would also create lots of pain and suffering. And perhaps that pain and suffering didn't outweight the goodness of life and humanity evolving. Given all the discussion of the problem of evil in the wake of the tsunami (and in light of the historical precedent for such discussion), this point is well worth pondering.
If all this is true [a big if!], what should God do? Well, I think He should create all and only the worlds such that it is better that they exist than that they not exist. And that will include worlds, like this one, that are not perfect but that contain more goodness than suffering. So the existence of this world as concrete entity is compatible with God’s existence, and indeed His omnipotence and benevolence.
- There is a class of abstract possible worlds W. (I’m not going to say what abstract and concrete amount to in any of this - on this distinction see Gideon Rosen’s SEP entry.) In other words, weak modal realism is true.
- God cannot change any of those worlds without destroying it - what happens in a world is essential to its nature.
- What God can do is make any of them that He chooses concrete. Abstract possible worlds have no moral value, but concrete worlds do have value, or disvalue if they are bad, so this choice is morally loaded.
- God’s creation is timeless, so He can’t create one and then tinker with it. For each world He faces a take-it-or-leave-it choice. [...]
It's a sort of Deist conception of God (especially the idea that universes are timeless and take-it-or-leave-it so God logically can't tinker with them). I'm not sure that it address the problem of evil posed by the traditional Christian God, who sometimes intercedes with miracles in the Bible, etc. And it's hard to see how AIDS, the Holocaust, etc. could possibly be beneficial in the same way as plate tectonics.
In any case, the problem of evil doesn't especially distress me since I don't believe in God. Still, this possible solution is intriguing (and at least forces one to focus on the real reason for not believing in God, namely the lack of evidence thereof.)