In an earlier discussion of natural evil I defined the concept as follows:
Natural evil refers to any event or state of affairs which (i) directly or indirectly leads to the suffering and/or deprivation of sentient creatures, (ii) is unconnected to the acts of commission or ommission of any finite creature (iii) but which is connected to the acts of commission or ommission of a divine being.
This may provide a sufficient description of natural evil, but is it a necessary one?
To answer this question come with me to a beautiful mountain meadow as the morning alpenglow begins to strike the unfurling petals of the wild flowers. (For ambience music click here.) You can hear the water running of a nearby brook as birds flitter overhead and the puffy cumulus clouds roll silently on.
As you look down at the meadow you marvel at the beauty of the alpine flora: the aster, butterwort and clematis that fill the meadow with bright colors. All is peaceful.
Then you hear a low rumble in the mountains and feel a tremor roll underneath your feet. You look up at the rising snow-capped peak above you and witness a rolling avalanche of rock and mud. You run and in moments the entire, idyllic scene is covered in three meters of debris, the aster, butterwort and clemantis crushed to nothing.
You have no doubt that the meadow has been deprived of life and beauty. Even if no single life has suffered, is that not in itself an evil?