Before the current pandemic, I only really thought of viruses when I got my yearly flu shot. But in light of the significant suffering and death caused by COVID-19, I’m sure none of us will ever think the same way about viruses again.

But how should we think about the pandemic in terms of the pain and suffering left in its wake? For example, should a pandemic be defined as a form of evil? If so, what kind of evil would it be?

Classifying Evil

Philosophers typically classify evil in two ways: moral evil and natural evil. First, moral evil consists of malevolent things done by a personal agent (e.g., murder, rape, robbery). Second, natural evil consists of pain, suffering, and destruction that results from natural disasters (e.g., floods, earthquakes, hurricanes).

Trade-Offs of Natural Evil

I view the coronavirus pandemic as a type of natural evil (again, like a natural disaster). Scientists affirm that only a fraction of viruses are harmful and potentially deadly.1 In fact, some viruses are not only beneficial but also even vital to human health and agriculture.2 So as a natural disaster, viruses carry trade-offs. That is, they can confer necessary benefits for human life and deliver potentially devastating effects. In this way they are similar to other natural disasters. For example, plate tectonics contribute to Earth’s habitability by acting as a global thermostat. But the same shifting tectonic plates also allow for potentially devastating earthquakes. Natural evil present a trade-off of benefits mixed with potential disbenefits.

Effects of Moral Evil

But potentially deadly viruses, like other natural disasters, can also be greatly exacerbated by the moral evil of bad human decisions and actions. For example, human beings can cause or contribute to pandemics by irresponsible actions like the following: wet markets (animal meat placed in highly unsanitary conditions), risky or negligent laboratory practices, biological warfare, government unpreparedness, failure to share critical medical technology, etc. Natural evil in the world never seems to stand alone. Moral evil often makes things much worse.

Suffering and Moral Courage

In offering this extremely brief summary of a huge health crisis impacting the entire world, my philosophizing isn’t meant to minimize or distract from the great suffering and death that the coronavirus has caused. People everywhere are collectively experiencing this great trial that is causing various kinds of pain and grief.

Fortunately, we also see many examples of moral courage and selfless sacrifice during this crisis. Many health care professionals and first responders put their lives and potentially the lives of their loved ones on the line by caring for COVID-19 patients. Many other unsung heroes like farmers. truck drivers, and supermarket personnel are doing their part to keep society functioning. In God’s providence, we will get through this natural disaster together.

To summarize, I view the coronavirus pandemic as a type of natural evil that is also exacerbated by moral evil. However, as human beings created in the image of God and who care about others, we can overcome this pandemic with medical and moral wisdom and courage.

Reflections: Your Turn

How do you view the pandemic in terms of the categories of moral and natural evil? Visit Reflections on WordPress to comment with your response.

Check out more from Reasons to Believe

  1. Cynthia Mathew, “Not All Viruses Are Bad for You. Here Are Some That Can Have a Protective Effect,” Science Alert, August 10, 2019,
  2. American Society for Microbiology, “Viruses: You’ve Hear the Bad; Here’s the Good,” April 30, 2015,


About The Author

Kenneth R. Samples

I believe deeply that "all truth is God’s truth." That historic affirmation means that when we discover and grasp truth in the world and in life we move closer to its divine Author. This approach relies on the Christian idea of God’s two revelatory books - the metaphorical book of nature and the literal book of Scripture. As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity's truth-claims. My writings and lectures at RTB focus on showing how the great doctrinal truths of the faith (the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Atonement, creation ex nihilo, salvation by grace, etc.) are uniquely compatible with reason. This approach reflects the historic Christian apologetics statement - "faith seeking understanding." I work to help myself and others fulfill Peter's words in 2 Peter 3:18: "But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen." As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity's truth-claims. • Biography • Resources • Upcoming Events • Promotional Items Kenneth Richard Samples began voraciously studying Christian philosophy and theology when his thirst for purpose found relief in the Bible. He earned his undergraduate degree in philosophy and social science from Concordia University and his MA in theological studies from Talbot School of Theology. For seven years, Kenneth worked as Senior Research Consultant and Correspondence Editor at the Christian Research Institute (CRI) and regularly cohosted the popular call-in radio program, The Bible Answer Man, with Dr. Walter Martin. As a youth, Kenneth wrestled with "unsettling feelings of meaninglessness and boredom," driving him to seek answers to life's big questions. An encounter with Christian philosophy in Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis led Kenneth to examine the New Testament and "finally believe that Jesus Christ is the divine Son of God, the Lord and Savior of the world." From then on, he pursued an intellectually satisfying faith. Today, as senior research scholar at Reasons to Believe (RTB), Kenneth uses what he's learned to help others find the answers to life's questions. He encourages believers to develop a logically defensible faith and challenges skeptics to engage Christianity at a philosophical level. He is the author of Without a Doubt and A World of Difference, and has contributed to numerous other books, including: Lights in the Sky and Little Green Men, The Cult of the Virgin, and Prophets of the Apocalypse. He has written articles for Christianity Today and The Christian Research Journal, and regularly participates in RTB's podcasts, including Straight Thinking, a podcast dedicated to encouraging Christians to utilize sound reasoning in their apologetics. He also writes for the ministry's daily blog, Today’s New Reason to Believe. An avid speaker and debater, Kenneth has appeared on numerous radio programs such as Voice America Radio, Newsmakers, The Frank Pastore Show, Stand to Reason, White Horse Inn, Talk New York, and Issues Etc., as well as participated in debates and dialogues on topics relating to Christian doctrine and apologetics. He currently lectures for the Master of Arts program in Christian Apologetics at Biola University. Kenneth also teaches adult classes at Christ Reformed Church in Southern California. Over the years Kenneth has held memberships in the American Philosophical Association, the Evangelical Philosophical Society, the Evangelical Theological Society, and the Evangelical Press Association. The son of a decorated World War II veteran, Kenneth is an enthusiastic student of American history, particularly the Civil War and WWII. His favorite Christian thinkers include Athanasius, Augustine, Pascal, and C. S. Lewis. He greatly enjoys the music of the Beatles and is a die-hard Los Angeles Lakers fan. Kenneth lives in Southern California with his wife, Joan, and their three children.

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