Wednesday, December 29, 2004

The terrible earthquake and resulting tsunami in Asia has led to a fair amount of soul searching by religious people. It has, less creditable led to some gloating by atheists as well as rather more measured reactions questioning God (such as this from Martin Kettle in the Guardian).

The Problem of Evil is the name usually given to the question as to why an all-good, all-powerful and all-knowing God (the so-called omnimax conditions) allows bad things to happen to good people. The problem first came to a head in the eighteenth century when Hume and Voltaire, the later inspired by another earthquake, asked how God lets evil happen. Oddly, it is rarely those who are actually suffering who doubt God, but rather those who witness the suffering of others from the comfort of their armchairs. For instance, the burning of heretics is a standard example of God being implicated in evil deeds, but the heretics themselves would not dream of using such an argument against his existence. There may be a few atheists in foxholes, but not many.

Evil done by man to other men is explained by the freewill defence. This states that God allowing us to do evil is the price we pay for freewill which is a greater good overall. Not everyone finds this satisfactory but I am willing to accept it as an explanation for moral wrong. It doesn't help at all for earthquakes.

Another explanation is to deprive God of his omnimax status. This is appealing for a number of reasons. First, the Bible gives very little support for the idea that God is infinitely powerful. Rather he is powerful beyond our comprehension which still allows a limit long before we get to infinite. Another limitation, accepted by nearly all theologians, is that God is limited by logic. He cannot make a stone so heavy he can't lift it. He cannot make a square circular or two plus two equal five. Nor, of course, can he make us free and unable to sin. Theologians also claim that God cannot defy his own nature - that he cannot sin or force us to sin. It is entirely possible that logic dictates the kind of universe that he can create as well. Clearly he requires that the universe has integrity and that it runs itself according to the laws he has laid down. Contra Newton, God does not need to step in every once in a while and realign all the planets that have gone astray. It may well be that a universe capable of producing life has to contain certain factors whose trade-offs include natural disasters. God can either step in and prevent the disasters or he can decide that the universe's integrity is more important and that it must be allowed to develop unimpeded.

Where do these possibilities leave us with earthquakes? Why are they necessary? Can we think of a world that works as well as ours but where they do not happen? Frankly, no. Earthquakes are a result of plate tectonics. As the plates on the Earth's surface move around, occasion jolts are inevitable. But why have plate tectonics? For the answer to that we need to look at the Earth's sister planet Venus which has a single solid crust. This sounds great until we realise that the entire surface of the planet is made up of rocks the same age. Every few hundred million years, Venus overheats and the entire crust turns to an enormous field of magna and then reforms once the excess heat has been ejected. So if Earth didn't have tectonic plates and earthquakes there would be no life here at all. Why have a hot core to the planet? Because its flow generates the Earth's magnetic field that protects us from getting nuked by the solar wind generated by the sun.... And so it goes on. There is a reason for everything and some things that are absolutely necessary have side effects that we regret.

None of this helps the victims in Asia. For them, we should dig deep into our pockets. But they should be in our prayers too as God welcomes those who have died and offers his comfort to those who survive. And how much worse it would be if death really is the end? Above all, our trust in God gives us hope even when nature has done her worst.

25 comments:

Layman said...

"Evil done by man to other men is explained by the freewill defence.... It doesn't help at all for earthquakes."

Are you sure about this? Is it possible that merely having laws of nature is necessary for us to exercise our free will? And can we say with confident that such laws of nature would to good?

I'm not willing to say that the role of free will has no bearing on "natural evil."

Anonymous said...

This is somewhat off topic, but your comment, "There may be a few atheists in foxholes, but not many," reminded me of a friend. He recently returned from serving in Iraq and reported that a lot of soliders there are accepting Christ. He himself accepted Christ while he was serving too, but interestingly, he says that it wasn't due to the (very real) fear of death that led to his conversion. It apparently wasn't even the "supernatural" things he witnessed while fighting (for example, buildings being hit by shells, burning them to the ground and melting metal, but leaving (only) Bibles undamaged). It was simply through reading the book of Romans. Apparently, it helped quite a bit that during the downtime in the desert there were no distractions, no disturbances, and nothing to do but to read and think. During these times the Bible just "hit him" (for lack of a better term...mine, not his).

jason_r

Anonymous said...

Isaiah 45:7 I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster, I, the LORD , do all these things.

A line from the Hallelujah chorus springs to mind (Ironically, Messiah is very popular at Christmas,although it is about Easter)

'Hallelujah! For our Lord God omnipotent reigneth'

But Bede says God is not omnipotent. All I can say is that Messiah is performed more often than the works of Bede.

Plantinga said (according to Bede)

'Prof. Plantinga explained his definitions and then asked us to consider 'weak' Darwinism (where random mutations, while not caused by the biology of the creature in question, are subject to a deeper cause such as God) and 'strong' Darwinism (where the random mutations are caused only by physical processes).'

Is Bede a strong Darwinist, or does he disbelieve Plantinga , who claims that God 'God might be collapsing every wave function as well fixing all the mutations.'

This puts God right on the spot when it comes to tsunamis.

What is the point of theology when it cannot decide even such basic things as what God does? Is it a totally useless subject that leads to no knowledge?

Incidentally, Plantinga told me in an email that God can, and has, created beings with free will that have never chosen evil.

If God can (and has) created beings with free will, who have never chosen evil, why does God *also* create beings with free will that he knows will choose evil?


http://www.godandscience.org/love/sld031.html

A very interesting article.

It says 'God Proclaims His Love: Design of the Earth

Established a unique continental crust, which allows for recycling of minerals through tectonic activity.'

I guess 100,000 people died so that God could recycle some minerals.

Did God design tectonic activity? This is the question for Bede.

Anonymous said...

Actually, Plantinga says the freewill defense acts for natural disasters as well, which are the work of demons.

Truly, Christian theology is in a terrible intellectual state when its leading defender believes in demons......

Anonymous said...

'So if Earth didn't have tectonic plates and earthquakes there would be no life here at all. '

You mean it would be a miracle for there to be life on such a planet?

Now there are people who believe in miracles and people who dom't believe in miracles.

Which camp are you in?

Has God fine-tuned the level of tectonic activity so that it does not kill everybody on Earth?

Anonymous said...

At least God gets his priorities right.....

'e says that it wasn't due to the (very real) fear of death that led to his conversion. It apparently wasn't even the "supernatural" things he witnessed while fighting (for example, buildings being hit by shells, burning them to the ground and melting metal, but leaving (only) Bibles undamaged).'

Undamaged Bibles? Entire towns swept away by floods?

What would Bibles say if they were really written by God? 'I'm all right, Jack'?????

Anonymous said...

Um, well, I thought I'd raise a question and play devil's advocate, but I see someone's beat me to it, though rather shrilly and half-assedly.

Anyways, my devil's advocate argument was this - I accept all that you say about the necessity of the physical laws which lead to earthquakes, but couldn't God have given us a sense which detects incoming tsunami so that we can get out of the way? I thought it was a far-fetched idea, but then I read this:

http://www.reuters.com/newsArticle.jhtml?type=scienceNews&storyID=7198022

Elliot

Layman said...

Regarding those animals,

I'm going to wait until more firm scientific evidence of this is provided. I doubt that most of the search and rescue efforts have tried to recover dead animals.

And I'm skeptical. The tsunamis travelled at 500 mph. Indonesia was hit within minutes. The waves hit Thailand in less than an hour and Sri Lanka only 2.5 hours after the earthquake.

Just how far out did these animals detect the Tsunami? How car could they get in one a few minutes? Admittedly, an elephant can run at about 10 miles per hour. But there are few roads heading straight north frequented by elephants. And did they find all the elephants huddled together just outside the impact zone of the wave?

The reality is that while there are probably not very many elephants in the path of the Tsunami, there were hundreds of thousands of human beings. So you find thousands and thousands of dead humans and not so many elephants.

In any event, the United States' detection system in Hawaii tried to warn Indonesia that there was Tsunami danger, but no one returned their calls (or emails).

Anonymous said...

"Undamaged Bibles? Entire towns swept away by floods?

"What would Bibles say if they were really written by God? 'I'm all right, Jack'?????"

Umm...Huh? I have no clue what you're talking about.

Layman said...

I told him those mushrooms were bad!

Anonymous said...

I pay people the courtesy of reading their comments. I find it makes it easier to understand what they are saying.

If you read through the comment by Jason R, he lauded the supernatural activity of Bibles being undamaged.

Why does God make sure a few Bibles are undamaged ,when entire towns are swept away?

Anonymous said...

If you don't understand the 'I'm all right, Jack' comment, it is the name of a famous film in the UK.

Just ask if you need anything else explained.

Anonymous said...

Layman contiunues to demonstrate the concern for truth shown by Christian apologists.

http://www.noaa.gov/ and

http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2004/s2358.htm

'The Pacific Basin tsunami warning system did not detect a tsunami in the Indian Ocean since there are no buoys in place there.'

'At approximately 4:30 p.m. HST PTWC attempted to contact the Australia Met Service with no luck but were successful in contacting Australia Emergency Management. They confirmed they were aware of the earthquake.'

So when Layman said Indonesia, he meant Australia, where few people died.

'At approximately 5:30 p.m. Internet newswire reports of casualties in Sri Lanka provided PTWC with the first indications of the existence of a destructive tsunami. Indications are that the tsunami had already struck the entire area by this time, although we have not been able to obtain arrival times.'

So the first the Americans knew of the existence of the tusnami, was after it had struck.

Never rely on Layman for information.

Layman said...

Oh, c'mon Steve.

Trying to link the information about the Tsunami to my apologetics efforts is rather far fetched, even for you.

If I was wrong, I'm glad to have it corrected. Because I am concerned with the truth.

And I'm also concerned with you -- again -- misreprsenting what I said. I never said the US detected the Tsunami. I never said they knew about it before hand. What I said was this:

"In any event, the United States' detection system in Hawaii tried to warn Indonesia that there was Tsunami danger, but no one returned their calls (or email)."

Nor did I confuse Indonseia with Australia. The source of my information was quite specific and quotes a NOAA official:

"International ocean monitors predicted that a tsunami would likely follow the deadly earthquake that hit the Indian Ocean on Sunday. But they didn’t know who to inform.

'We put out a bulletin within 20 minutes, technically as fast as we could do it,' said Jeff LaDouce, an official in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

LaDouce noted that they e-mailed Indonesian officials, but said that he wasn’t aware what happened after they sent the e-mails."

http://www.aljazeera.com/me.asp?service_ID=6430

Not the use of the term "predicted" rather than detected. And "Indonesian officials" rather than Austrialian officials.

Now, if Al Jazeera was contradicted by NOAA I would side with NOAA. But the most pathetic thing about Carr's attack on my character is that the article he cites actually confirms key parts of my source (and what I said):

"At 4:04 p.m. PTWC issued bulletin No. 2 revising the earthquake magnitude to 8.5. That bulletin stated no tsunami threat to the Pacific BUT IDENTIFIED THE POSSIBILITY OF A TSUNAMI NEAR THE EPICENTER. No additional information regarding the formation of a tsunami was available."

And they did send a warning out to potentially affected nations:

"NOAA scientists then began an effort to notify countries about the possibility that a tsunami may have been triggered by the massive 9.0 undersea earthquake. The Pacific Basin tsunami warning system did not detect a tsunami in the Indian Ocean since there are no buoys in place there. Even without a way to detect whether a tsunami had formed in the Indian Ocean, NOAA officials tried to get the message out to other nations not a part of its Pacific warning system to alert them of the possibility of a tsunami."

So, yes, NOAA in Hawaii sent out a warning to non member nations that there was Tsunami danger due to the earthquake.

I also confirmed that the official quoted in the Al Jazeera article is, in fact, an official with NOAA:

http://www.ofa.noaa.gov/cgi-bin/nloc?NAME=LaDouce&FNAME=&LO=%7Bany%7D&ASC=%7Bany%7D&RC=

In other words, it is Stephen Carr -- again -- who is manipulating the truth by selective parsing of sources (and my original comment). No doubt this is due to his extreme bias and hatred of all things Christian.

Killer Monkey said...

Steven Carr once again shows his true colors.

He and others here are also distorting Plantinga's position on the problem of evil. While he has proposed that demons may be the cause of all natural evil, it's only in the context of showing that a deductive logical problem of evil does not exist. Demons causing natural evil is only one logical possiblility that makes a deductive argument fail. However absurd, it is logically possible. From his comments in the past, Stevie is either not able to understand this, or more likely unwilling to, so he can continue to pretend he has some kind of a point here.

Jason

Anonymous said...

Anybody can read the official NOAA timetable and see that there is not one word to support Layman's claim that 'In any event, the United States' detection system in Hawaii tried to warn Indonesia that there was Tsunami danger, but no one returned their calls (or emails).'

http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2004/s2357.htm

Where is the bit which says 'no one returned their calls'? Where is that, Layman? Where is that?

And why does Layman quote the report out of chronological order? Why does he pretend the warning about the 9.0 earthquake was issued before the tsunami struck?

Here is the schedule of events, on the official site.

At approximately 5:30 p.m. Internet newswire reports of casualties in Sri Lanka provided PTWC with the first indications of the existence of a destructive tsunami. Indications are that the tsunami had ALREADY STRUCK the entire area by this time, although we have not been able to obtain arrival times.


At 7:25 p.m. the Harvard University Seismology Department reported its preliminary Centroid Moment Tensor solution that indicated a magnitude of 8.9.

At approximately 7:45 p.m. PTWC contacted the Australia Bureau of Meteorology and advised them about the increased earthquake magnitude and the 0.5m reading at Cocos Island, as well as the possibility of a destructive tsunami impact on Australia's west coasts.

At approximately 8:00 p.m. PTWC re-contacted PACOM to advise of increased earthquake magnitude and potential for further tsunami impacts in the western Indian Ocean.

At approximately 8:15 p.m. Australia Bureau of Met called PTWC to advise they had issued an alert to their west coast.

So Laymans' quote about the warning about the *9.0* earthquake was issued after the tsunami had struck.

The tsunami can travel at up to 500 mph. While I'm certain that NOAA did a fantastic job, they could not detect a tsunami in the Indian Ocean and the speed of events beat any warnings they issued.

Anonymous said...

You mean Plantinga proposes solutions to the logical problem of evil that even he doesn't believe are true?

I'm stunned by the dishonesty.

Surely if somebody proposes a defense to an atheistic challenges, then the least they could do is pretend that their defense is true.

Anonymous said...

At 7:25 p.m. the Harvard University Seismology Department reported its preliminary Centroid Moment Tensor solution that indicated a magnitude of 8.9.

At approximately 7:45 p.m. PTWC contacted the Australia Bureau of Meteorology and advised them about the increased earthquake magnitude and the 0.5m reading at Cocos Island, as well as the possibility of a destructive tsunami impact on Australia's west coasts.

It does seem Layman's source , Jeff La Douce, was right about the warning being issued within 20 mins of notification of an 8.9 earthquake - as fast as humanly possible.

So Layman was right about that, but the official source makes clear that the tsunami had already struck by then.

Anonymous said...

I asked a Plantinga supporter if Plantinga's methods of defending against the logical problem of evil could be used to show that there is nothing illogical about us believing we only have one leg.

He said that it could , and this showed the *cogency* of Plantinga's arguments.

But don't we have two legs?

Surely this just illustrates that Plantinga has nothing but sophistries to offer?

Killer Monkey said...

Stevie,

Whats the point with all this earthquake stuff anyway? If Layman was wrong, there is really no reason for him to purposely lie, as it has no real bearing on what he was saying one way or another. You're disputing an extremely minor point like it's debunking will justify your whole worldview. You seem to have become a bit unhinged.

Regardless, you are wrong here as well. While NOAA didn't detect the tsunami, they did detect the earthquake and noted the possibility of tsunami at the epicenter. They tried unsuccessfully to contact Austrailian authorities.

http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2004/s2358.htm
Stevie's source and timeline he quoted. Events ommitted before the 5:30 section he begins quoting:

At 2:59 p.m. Hawaii Standard Time (HST) on Christmas Day a large earthquake occurred in the Indian Ocean near Sumatra, Indonesia.

At 3:07 p.m. the resulting seismic signals received at the NOAA Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC) from stations in Australia triggered an alarm that alerted watchstanders.

At 3:10 p.m. PTWC issued a message to other observatories in the Pacific with its preliminary earthquake parameters.

At 3:14 p.m. PTWC issued a bulletin providing information on the earthquake and stating there was no tsunami threat to the Pacific nations that participate in the Tsunami Warning System in the Pacific (ITSU). These member nations are part of the UNESCO Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) and the International Coordination Group for the Tsunami Warning System in the Pacific (ICG/ITSU). India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives are not part of the Pacific system.

At 4:04 p.m. PTWC issued bulletin No. 2 revising the earthquake magnitude to 8.5. That bulletin stated no tsunami threat to the Pacific but identified the possibility of a tsunami near the epicenter. No additional information regarding the formation of a tsunami was available.

At approximately 4:30 p.m. HST PTWC attempted to contact the Australia Met Service with no luck but were successful in contacting Australia Emergency Management. They confirmed they were aware of the earthquake.

--------
It's ironic that you accuse Layman of quoting the report out of chronological order, while purposely ommitting half of the timeline which shows the warnings Layman was talking about.

You are right that it wasn't a 9.0 warning at that time, but 8.5. This isn't really Layman's fault since he was quoting this section of the NOAA page cited above. This was a summary from the beginning of the timeline and hence wasn't concerned about when the earthquake was rated at 8.5 or 9.0. The whole section reads:

NOAA scientists then began an effort to notify countries about the possibility that a tsunami may have been triggered by the massive 9.0 undersea earthquake. The Pacific Basin tsunami warning system did not detect a tsunami in the Indian Ocean since there are no buoys in place there. Even without a way to detect whether a tsunami had formed in the Indian Ocean, NOAA officials tried to get the message out to other nations not a part of its Pacific warning system to alert them of the possibility of a tsunami. However, the tsunami raced across the ocean at speeds up to 500 mph. Below is the timeline of agency's actions once the undersea earthquake was detected by the NOAA Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii

-------

Even though this says 9.0 Earthquake, it seems pretty clear that this section is talking about the early NOAA attempts to warn about tsunami possibility. The the fact that it was only a "possibility that a tsunami may have been triggered" and that "the tsunami raced across the ocean at speeds up to 500 mph" surely doesn't sound like a description of events 3 hours after news reports were already everywhere about the event.

You're just wrong Steve.

Jason

Killer Monkey said...

Again you demonstrate you refuse to understand what a logical argument is or what it entails. Try finding something new to argue with Stevie, rather than arguments that have long since been dismissed, and which you've been shown wrong on over and over again.

Jason

Anonymous said...

It is fascinating to compare the lack of compassion shown by Bede and his followers with the thoughts expressed on secular news boards.

'It will be days or weeks before the final toll is established. During that long time we can only imagine a fraction of the anguish that people with loved ones and friends out there are going through.
My thoughts will be with them '

'It is indeed a very saddening and certainly shows the power of Mother nature, one of the most powerful earth quakes in 40 years and the largest tsunamis in A 100 years.

My thoughts are with those effected.'

'When one hears of such catastrophies one has to question whether there is indeed a God. My thoughts go to all those families who have suffered as a result of this latest act of nature.'


'Its simply terrible what has happened, and only time will tell how much more devastation will be uncovered.

Its perhaps a chilling reminder at a time where most people are rejoicing and dare we say over indulging, of the sheer tragedy that has happened.

My thoughts and prayers go out to anyone with families in the affected parts, or indeed anyone just holidaying out there, I hope they are safe.'

etc , etc.

Anonymous said...

Jason quotes the following :-
'At approximately 4:30 p.m. HST PTWC attempted to contact the Australia Met Service with no luck but were successful in contacting Australia Emergency Management. They confirmed they were aware of the earthquake.'

How does 'were successful' confirm Layman's claim that they had no success in alerting the Emergency people?

Moebelwagen said...

"So if Earth didn't have tectonic plates and earthquakes there would be no life here at all. Why have a hot core to the planet? Because its flow generates the Earth's magnetic field that protects us from getting nuked by the solar wind generated by the sun.... And so it goes on. There is a reason for everything and some things that are absolutely necessary have side effects that we regret."
The above seems to state that the earth has a molten core with the purpose of generating a magnetic field to protect the earth from solar wind... Surely the earth has a molten core because it happensto be at that stage in it's process of evolving/changing/developing. Our presence on the planet is of no consequence at all in the overall existence of the planet. It just happened that conditions on the planet led to life and eventually to us!
While I'm at it, what about the rest of the unverse? Is the Almighty attending to the billions and billions of other life-bearing planets too? Arethere Christians throughout the universe ar are they just waitingfrom us to get out there and convert them to the trusth?

Anonymous said...

Leading Christian philosoophers do believe that suffering, such as that caused by the tsunami, is caused by demons.

http://mind.ucsd.edu/syllabi/02-03/01w/readings/swinburne-evil.html

Swinburne writes :-
The other assumption is that there exist humanly free creatures other than men, which we may call fallen angels, who have chosen to do evil, and have brought about the passive evils not brought about by men. These were given the care of much of the material world and have abused that care. For reasons already given, however, it is not God's moral duty to interfere to prevent the passive evils caused by such creatures.

Swinburne continues 'It is also an assumption which was part of the Christian tradition long before the free-will defense was put forward in any logically rigorous form. I believe that this assumption may indeed be indispensable if the theist is to reconcile with the existence of God the existence of passive evils of certain kinds, e.g., certain animal pain.'

Such is the state of Christian philosophy that they have to have fallen angels to explain earthquakes.

[21] This defense has recently been used by, among others, Plantinga. This assumption, it seems to me, will do the job, and is not clearly false.