On January 12, 2010 a strong earthquake struck the small island nation of Haiti. The capitol city, Port-au-Prince was nearly leveled and over 200,000 people died. Atheists claim that if a god did exist, he would not allow these kinds of natural disasters to happen. Their answer to the question, "Where was God?" is "Nowhere!" Some Christians (most prominently, Pat Robertson) claim that the earthquake is God's righteous judgment because Haiti's people, "swore a pact to the devil."1 Did God judge the Haitians or does He even exist?
God is responsible?
Daniel C. Dennett, Professor of Philosophy and Co-Director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University, says that if God is responsible for the good things, He must be responsible for the bad also:
The idea that God is a worthy recipient of our gratitude for the blessings of life but should not be held accountable for the disasters is a transparently disingenuous innovation of the theologians. And of course it doesn’t work all that well… All the holy texts and interpretations that contrive ways of getting around the problem read like the fine print in a fraudulent contract — and for the same reason: they are desperate attempts to conceal the implications of the double standard they have invented.2
This argument is actually a logical one, since God is recognized as Creator of the universe. The problem with Dennett is that he is pretty much clueless about science, as most philosophers are.
What atheists don't know
If Dennett knew anything about geology, he would have known that plate tectonics (the process that produces earthquakes and volcanoes) is absolutely required for advanced life to exist on our planet. Earthquakes are caused by the movement of continental plates that float on a molten mantel. Without the mantel, the earth's Van-Allen radiation shield and the earth's magnetosphere would not exist and advanced life could not exist on the land due to deadly solar radiation. In addition, tectonic activity is required to prevent all land from being washed into the oceans through the water cycle, which is required for all life. All these concepts are developed more thoroughly on our natural evil page.
What theists don't know
Pat Robertson came up with an explanation for the earthquake in Haiti that involved God's judgment on a people who made a pact with the devil. Although the Bible indicates that God has used natural processes in His judgment, it is clear that He judges only the guilty. For example, in the universal flood, God killed all the evil people, but spared all the righteous people (Noah and his family).3 When God was about to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham asked God if He would destroy the cities if there were 50 righteous people in them.4 God said no. Then Abraham asked the same question if there were 45 righteous people. Every time he dropped the number and got the same answer. The fact is that God would not have destroyed those cities if there were any righteous people in them. The few righteous who were in those cities He warned ahead of time to get out.5 So, God does not destroy the righteous along with the evil.
So, one must ask if God destroyed only those Haitians who originally made that Pact with the devil before 1804. My guess is that all those people are already dead. Did God only kill the unrighteous in the Haitian earthquake of 2010? Somehow, I doubt that this is what happened.
However, the Bible says that God applies the laws of physics equally on the righteous and unrighteous peoples of the earth:
"But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:44-45)
So, it would seem that neither the atheists or some of the theists are correct about reasons for the Haiti earthquake. Earthquakes are absolutely essential to the existence of advanced life on earth. All the good things we enjoy would be impossible without the design of the earth as it now exists. Theists who insist they know the motives of God and state that this earthquake was God's judgment on the people are out of touch with how the Bible says God judges people. So, why did all those people have to die in that earthquake?
Natural or moral evil?
As a lifelong resident of California, my first question was why all those people died in Haiti during a 7.0 earthquake. I have personally survived several Southern California earthquakes of magnitude 6.6 or greater. In fact, for each of the California earthquakes over the last century, the death toll has been, at most 115 - in the Long Beach earthquake of 1933. Most of those deaths were caused by building collapse due to poor construction standards, which resulted in the rewriting of California's construction codes. Likewise, Haiti has virtually no building codes and construction has been done to minimize costs at the expense of safety.6 The only multi-story building to survive the earthquake unscathed was the American Embassy, which was constructed according to U.S. codes. So, the vast majority of deaths caused in the earthquake in Haiti were probably due to moral evil (i.e., greed), rather than natural evil.
For example, just 6 weeks later, an earthquake in Chile, measuring 8.8 (500 times more powerful than the earth quake in Haiti), caused only a few hundred deaths. However, having suffered from the largest recorded earthquake in 1960 (9.5), Chile had instituted strict building codes that prevented the kind of damage seen in Haiti.
Contrary to the claims of atheists, the earthquake in Haiti does not show that God does not exist or that He is indifferent to our suffering. The "poor design" that they decry is, in fact, absolutely required for advanced life to exist at all. Contrary to the claim of some theists, the earthquake in Haiti does not represent God's judgment for the sins of the people, since it does not fit the biblical model for such judgments. Instead, the earthquake shows that sin (in this instance, the greed of Haiti builders to shortcut construction safety) has its consequences - in this case, very deadly consequences.
- Where is God When Bad Things Happen? Why Natural Evil Must Exist
- Southeast Asia Earthquake and Tsunami: Where was God?
- Is it Possible for God to Provide 'Partial Free Will' and Eliminate All Evil?
- Where was God During the World Trade Center Attack?
- The Incredible Design of the Earth and Our Solar System
- Science and the Bible: Does the Bible Contradict Scientific Principles?
- Did God Create Evil - Does the Bible Say So?
- "Something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it. They were under the heel of the French ... and they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, 'We will serve you if you'll get us free from the French.' True story. And the devil said, 'OK, it's a deal.' Ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after another." Pat Robertson: Haiti 'Cursed' By 'Pact To The Devil' (VIDEO) The Huffington Post, January 13, 2010.
- Dennett, D. C. 2010. Problem of evil and religion's double standard.
- Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually... But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD. These are the records of the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God. (Genesis 6:5, 8-9)
- Then the men turned away from there and went toward Sodom, while Abraham was still standing before the LORD. Abraham came near and said, "Will You indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will You indeed sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from You to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?" So the LORD said, "If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare the whole place on their account." And Abraham replied, "Now behold, I have ventured to speak to the Lord, although I am but dust and ashes. Suppose the fifty righteous are lacking five, will You destroy the whole city because of five?" And He said, "I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there." He spoke to Him yet again and said, "Suppose forty are found there?" And He said, "I will not do it on account of the forty." Then he said, "Oh may the Lord not be angry, and I shall speak; suppose thirty are found there?" And He said, "I will not do it if I find thirty there." And he said, "Now behold, I have ventured to speak to the Lord; suppose twenty are found there?" And He said, "I will not destroy it on account of the twenty." Then he said, "Oh may the Lord not be angry, and I shall speak only this once; suppose ten are found there?" And He said, "I will not destroy it on account of the ten." As soon as He had finished speaking to Abraham the LORD departed, and Abraham returned to his place. (Genesis 18:22-33)
- When morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, "Up, take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away in the punishment of the city." But he hesitated. So the men seized his hand and the hand of his wife and the hands of his two daughters, for the compassion of the LORD was upon him; and they brought him out, and put him outside the city. (Genesis 19:15-16)
- Blame Haiti’s deaths on shoddy construction by Newsdesk.org
Last Modified February 27, 2010