Another earthquake happened in China earlier in the week and the death toll has kept increasing. I consider it the right time for us to examine what we know about earthquakes. Earthquakes are very devastating with many of them claiming thousands of lives each. How does the earth begin to shake resulting in the deaths of so many people just like that What causes earthquakes? The answer depends on who you ask.
Geology tells us that the structure of this planet is not perfect. The whole earth (the ground you walk on) isn’t a single piece. It’s like several pieces delicately positioned side by side. Picture slicing an orange into several pieces and gently assembling them altogether to mimic a whole single orange again. Those lines of separation are called ‘faults’. When a large burst of energy gets suddenly released from within the earth, it comes to the surface and make these faults rupture. This rupture is what causes the shaking of the ground beneath us in an earthquake. This is how earthquakes result.
If it happens under the ocean, it can push water to the land causing what is called a tsunami. A tsunami is a powerful rush of water that comes from the ocean and can sweep thousands of people and properties away.
Watch the video below for more explanation of the earthquake phenomenon. It’s a short but very detailed documentary by National Geographic. It takes only a few minutes and I encourage anyone who wants to understand earthquakes to watch it.
Since earthquakes happen around faults, it’s logical then to conclude that they will be common in some parts of the world more than others. Nigeria for instance isn’t near an active fault and thus we don’t experience earthquakes here. Places like Japan, Phillipines, and China are close to the faults and thus experience earthquakes so much that they have formed a part of their lifestyles. They build their houses, organize their cities, handle their water bodies, etc, with earthquakes in mind. To them, earthquakes are like rains that you only plan for once you are aware beforehand. No more, no less.
Even though human activities like damming and drilling can accentuate the causation of earthquakes, such activities are present in only a tiny minority of earthquakes and even in those where they are, their causative effects are not majorly contributory. There are suggestions that human activity can cause global warming and then worsen earthquakes but once again, these effects are not fairly negligible.
Thus in the main, we can’t take any blame for earthquakes. We didn’t create the faults, we didn’t create this energy, and we don’t make it burst suddenly. If you believe that God created the earth then God must have created those faults and made the energy burst. There are people who believe that the earth shows signs of an intelligent design but faults that cause destruction are a sign of the DEFECTIVE design of the earth. In other words if you follow that line of thought, you will need to accept that thousands of innocent people die because the designer of the earth left some flaws in it. The faults and many other similar defects in the structure of the universe make the earth looks like an abandoned design project of an incompetent engineer.
Now that we’ve discussed science and a belief, let’s look at some more beliefs. Quoting from Wikipedia:
Earthquakes were explained as the violent struggling of the god Loki. When Loki, god of mischief and strife, murdered Baldr, god of beauty and light, he was punished by being bound in a cave with a poisonous serpent placed above his head dripping venom. Loki’s wife Sigyn stood by him with a bowl to catch the poison, but whenever she had to empty the bowl, the poison dripped on Loki’s face, forcing him to jerk his head away and thrash against his bonds, which caused the earth to tremble.
Poseidon was the cause and god of earthquakes. When he was in a bad mood, he struck the ground with a trident, causing earthquakes and other calamities. He also used earthquakes to punish and inflict fear upon people as revenge.
Namazu is a giant catfish who causes earthquakes. Namazu lives in the mud beneath the earth, and is guarded by the god Kashima who restrains the fish with a stone. When Kashima lets his guard fall, Namazu thrashes about, causing violent earthquakes.
These mythologies don’t deserve much effort. We will all chuckle about their primitive nature and walk away. What about those the contemporary beliefs that command the respect of billions of people worldwide?
Jesus of Nazareth
According to Jesus, earthquakes are a sign of the end of the world. In three New Testament references, Jesus was quoted to have said ‘earthquakes in divers places’.
3…the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us…what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world? 4 And Jesus answered and said unto them, 7…earthquakes, in divers places.
Matthew 24:3-4, 7 (KJV)
This is wrong on so many grounds. One, humanity has been witnessing earthquakes for a very long time. We’ve seen written records of earthquakes that date almost 2,000 BC. If earthquakes had been happening thousands of years before jesus was born, how can earthquakes be a sign of the end of the world?
Two, ‘earthquakes in divers places’ hasn’t exactly happened. Even though virtually anywhere can witness earthquakes, the same places have been the ones experiencing earthquakes as far as we know. At best, other places experience mere tremors which are too low on the seismic scale to be termed earthquakes.
My search about the Islamic perspective of earthquakes yielded little to nothing as Islamic scriptures don’t seem to say much about earthquakes. However there doesn’t seem to be so much difference from the Christian perspective. There are deterministic and eschatological elements in both views. The Islam Helpline website has the following to say:
There are many aayahs in the Holy Quran regarding earthquakes, but all of them imply the earthquake of the start of the Day of Judgment.The earthquakes that we experience in this world today are just a pre-runner to the earthquake of the end of time….The earthquakes are one of the signs of Allah and their coming are absolutely in Allahs control.
So many Nigerians believe that we don’t have earthquakes around here because God loves us specially. So does that mean God doesn’t love the Japanese and others as specially? That reasoning is erroneous when considering the real cause of earthquakes. The same response goes for the claim that earthquakes are caused by sins. Even if it’s sins that cause earthquakes, innocent children and babies also die in those disasters. The special love and the sin claims don’t make any sense.
One can’t but ask why God still creates people around faults where they will be at the risk of dying in an earthquake or tsunami. The question can also be asked why those faults even exist in an earth that was allegedly created by an intelligent designer. Earthquakes also bust the argument that says evil exists in the world because of free will. The defects in the structure of the earth and the intermittent sudden burst of energy through them were never due to man’s free will. So if the blame needs to go somewhere, it has to be somewhere else, not on us humans.
In summary, most of our understanding about the natural world are not factual. Even though these alternative explanations can provide supposed psychological benefits, they are not in tandem with science. A nation where children are brainwashed with these superstitious explanation since childhood rather than sound scientific explanations can not succeed in science and technology.