The 2010 Haitian Earthquake: God?

The 2010 Haitian Earthquake does not constitute compelling evidence against the existence of God because the cause of the 2010 Haitian Earthquake was the sudden release of two hundred and fifty years of tension in the fault lines between the Caribbean and North American tectonic plates.

I say this because David John Wellman, valorious foil to the unapologetic plagiarist Brock Lawley, recently challenged Christian apologists, philosophers, and evagelists to begin a video, as I just have, by saying, “The 2010 Haitian Earthquake does not constitute compelling evidence against the existence of God because…”

I certainly reject the label of Christian apologist – indeed, I’ve long argued that the Christian apologist tends to run contrary to the Biblical and Christian ideal and he tends to be an unpleasant, immoral, indecorous, and cowardly person – and the labels of Christian philosopher, Christian Evangelist, and Christian, so, perhaps I’m speaking out of turn, but I think that the problem of evil or the argument from evil are substantially less serious to theistic belief than those who advance the argument seem to be believe.

When I frame the theological implications of the Haitian Earthquake, I must conclude that, ultimately, we are engaged in the problem of “why?” and here, we are asking, “Why did this earthquake occur?” and we anticipate competing theories with God as a more or less an important character.

And, just for the sake of pointing it out, the question really does matter because “Why did so much suffering occur?” for example, is a distinctly different question and more complicated question and might easily require us to discuss political science, history, technology, biology and so on.

We can further complicate the question by asking: “What do we mean by ‘Why?'”

It may seem silly but I think that certain answers, like “because Haiti isn’t located in the Pacific,” are clearly not intended in the “whyness” of the question.

I will therefore suggest that in terms of earthquakes, “why?” usually suggests a description of the events prior to the earthquake, certain true comments about the nature of things, and an argument that since these events occurred, the earthquake ipso facto occurred.

I am not a seismologist so I can’t provide a detailed or technical description or hope to defend my account under any serious scrutiny, but my understanding is that tectonic plates move at relatively constant speeds, the Caribbean plate in this story moving north at about less than an inch a year.

Along the edges of the plates, little fault lines appear and they build up tension as the plates move; this tension is released in the form of earthquakes from time to time.

Despite my only superficial understanding of plate tectonics, this strikes me as such an ordinarily acceptable explanation of earthquakes that I’m left perplexed as to why it serves as a critique of theism; the answer must be, partly, that there must be theists out there who abandon all clarity of thinking in their understanding of the natural laws and natural events.

Certainly, when Pat Robertson attempted to connect the 2010 Haitian Earthquake to some folkloric pact with the devil, I can’t imagine that he was speaking from a place of knowledge or that he was aware that he was suggesting that this particular earthquake was not only best explained by a supernatural explanation but that it could not be explained by a natural explanation.

Pat Robertson’s flimsy and repugnant comments therefore are philosophically damaged by the natural sciences if not human decency.

For theists who offer answers to the question “why?” which mention God, supernatural answers, such answers are invariably vulnerable to fairly simple questions.

If God really did cause this earthquake because of a pact with the devil, why now? why not right after the pact? Or before the pact? what are we to suppose about all earthquakes? or places where an earthquakes didn’t occur on January 12, 2010?

I think, however, that part of the critique of theism that follows from the 2010 Haitian Earthquake must be the hidden premise that part of the cause of the Earthquake is: “Because God didn’t prevent it.”

The cause of the Haitian Earthquake is God’s failure to prevent it; since God is supposed to be good and powerful, surely he is either not good, not powerful, or non-existent.

This is the problem of evil and the argument from evil, but I’m afraid that I can’t quite appreciate its intended impact or the integrity of its delivery.

We suppose, first of all, that God really could prevent an earthquake, which I’m not entirely willing to accept; when we recognize that omnipotence and omnibenevolence can be, perhaps, better expressed as ‘maximally powerful’ and ‘maximally good,’ and when we recognize that no attribute of God can trump another attribute of God, it’s fairly easy to accept that that God did not stop the Haitian Earthquake could easily be an expression of divine justice.

And, by ‘divine justice,’ I don’t mean a crude, juridical judgment over the Haitian people like Mr. Robertson imagined; I mean a larger story of design and nature in which God constitutes living things and the world in which they live in such a way that both suffering and relief are possible and, like a teacher who cheats for his or her student, God’s intervention to cause comfort or prevent suffering would be an act of injustice.

We might be left to wonder if we ought to blame God for failing to prevent all earthquakes and then, all natural catastrophes, all catastrophes, all smaller, more domestic catastrophes, all moments of pain, all moments of discomfort, all moments that aren’t sheer, perfect, orgasmic joy; and then we might be left to wonder if such blame is rightfully leveled at God for failing to prevent the Haitan earthquake, how much worship ought we level at God for all the earthquakes his design didn’t cause?

I think my biggest criticism of the problem of evil or the argument from evil is that it ultimately compells its advocates to take total stock of the world and say: “How can there be God?”

Imagine the real crudeness of the problem of evil when it draws its inspiration not from the catastrophes of nations but the catastrophes of an individual life – diseases of great suffering somehow renders the philosopher heartless when he exclaims: “Look at my cousin Mitch… how can there be God?”

Such simplistic evaluations of the totality of the universe, derived from examples of any size, are both impossible and occur with disturbing frequency; I don’t think I could do it with a straight face and because the sheer act would tickle me, I don’t think I could also do it with a condemnatory tone… but that’s just me.

I have mentioned that the balance of the larger story of God’s power and God’s goodness, specifically in the office of creator and designer of the universe, may very well be a thing of minimal suffering and maximum human virtue; the world may poteniate the best in and for the most number of people, but I don’t know.

But, I also know that no one else knows that the world potentiates anything less, which is in part the substance of the critique of God that the Haitian earthquake supposedly constitutes.

I will conclude these thoughts by simply saying that if there is a real comment to be made about God that can be gleaned from the Haitian earthquake, please share it – when it does, if it does, talented theistic thinkers, I’m sure, will offer a defense but, I am as equally sure, a competent defense won’t come from Brock Lawley.

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