After blogging my thoughts on the problem of natural evil, I was rightly taken to task for dismissing any link between freewill and natural disasters. Firstly this was due to traditional Christian theology that dates nature's hostility to man from the Fall. But even if we do not exactly subscribe to such a doctrine, there are other links between the two subjects.
It is fairly clear that God grants the universe a great deal of freedom in the way it operates. The whole point of natural laws is that the universe can function without the need for God to step in and make adjustments the whole time to keep the show on the road. At the same time, those natural laws are not deterministic and so God has not set everything up in advance to come out a certain way. However, he does know the way it is going to turn out and so must think of the result as being good. Thus, I would say that the universe is allowed a 'radical integrity' and given the trouble this can cause we must assume that it is central to God's purposes.
So why did he not create a world where things are better than they are here? Why does he tolerate the inevitability of scarcity, evil and pain? Why not create a world where everyone has what they need and do not have a desire for more than that? I suggest that the reason for this is tied up with the idea of 'radical integrity' and God's obvious desire that we should be our own creatures and not simply automatons.
Imagine a perfect world. In that world, there are animals who never need worry about where the next meal is coming from, never need worry about finding a mate and never need worry about getting eaten. We can be absolutely sure that these animals will never evolve into conscious beings because there is simply no need to. They won't be happy because the concept of happiness can never occur to them. Evil doesn't exist but neither does the concept of good. They simply do not have the ability to comprehend either concept. What about love? I can't see how that can have appeared either because love almost always involves some sort of self-privation which is impossible in a world without scarcity. Of course, God can step in and create the difficult conditions in which these ideas can develop, but that makes him even more responsible for evil than he is already. If you want a universe that enjoys radical integrity and you want love and good to develop, you have to ensure that the conditions exist for them to appear. Without scarcity, they won't. The flip side is that scarcity gives rise to other consequences. The human desire for status is a direct evolutionary result of the fact that there is not enough to go around.
In our universe, love and good have developed to a quite remarkable extent. This has happened because natural evil exists. This natural evil has also given rise to much moral evil because pride, violence and promiscuity have all evolved because of it. But without it, we would not be conscious of good either or, if we were, we would not be free as the concept of good would simply have been planted in our heads by God rather than being something we discover for ourselves. Thus beings who know love and good through their own efforts can only evolve in a world of privation. Otherwise, everything we value, including freewill and consciousness, simply won't exist.