This week’s Everyday Ethics podcast endeavored to “explore the theology and ethics of flu” including the difficult question of whether to consider the “H1N1 virus a reason to abandon belief in an all-loving God who takes care of the world,” among other theological issues. While this seems like a picayune problem relative to the larger evidential problem of evil taken as a whole, it is certainly worth considering more closely.
If metaphysical naturalism is true and life exists in any form, it must have arisen from the simplest self-replicating molecules gradually giving rise to more complex forms over time. There is no other conceivable way for life to have begun on naturalism, and thus idea of naturalism necessarily implies the possibility of free-floating selfish genes which invade and attack other organisms, even the most intelligent of organisms, those who spend their work day combating infectious disease and their spare time contemplating deep metaphysical questions. On the hypothesis of metaphysical naturalism, it is difficult to conceive of the existence of intelligent beings who are not prey to microscopic life-forms, even simple parasites which are barely more than strands of DNA with attitude.
On theism, though, there is no reason to suppose that the intelligent designer of all life would see fit to introduce microscopic strands of DNA or RNA into the world with the sole function of reproducing themselves at the expense of other organisms, including sentient beings. Not only is there no particular reason to suppose that the intelligent designer would design such nasty buggers, but there is good reason to doubt that the creator would do such a thing, at least for those theists who posit the existence of a perfectly loving and all-powerful being who cares about at least one primate species on this planet.
In summary, we are once again faced with a situation which is more or less inevitable on naturalism, and pretty much inexplicable on classical theism. The theist apologist will, no doubt, resort to some variation on “God moves in mysterious ways,” thereby absolving himself from giving an account of precisely how virulent disease came about and what role it is meant to play in the master scheme of the intelligent designer of the cosmos. This excuse, while useful, only serves to underscore the vast difference in predictive power between these two metaphysical models. Naturalism requires that the world be just the sort of nasty place that it is, supernaturalism merely allows for the possibility.