Of course, when a tragedy like this happens, questions of why arise. I saw one meme that shows an image of a girl praying with the superimposed text:
"Dear God, please help the victims of that terrible earthquake — wait, aren't you the one that created it? Why are we asking you for help? This makes no sense!" (Emphasis in the original.)
As with most memes, this is a dramatic oversimplification of an issue that seeks to sound good without thinking through its underlying assumptions.
I don't think there's any doubt that this meme is meant to argue against the existence of God. It seems to be implying at least two reasons to hold that belief in God is unreasonable. The broader question is "Why would a loving God create something as devastating as earthquakes?" But another question may be "Why would a loving God allow such a devastating earthquake strike such an impoverished nation like Nepal where the death toll would most certainly be high?" Let's look at each in turn.
Earthquakes and LifeThe causes of earthquakes are studied by geologists in a rather new field of science named plate tectonics. As this LiveScience article explains, scientists believe the Earth's outer layer is like a hard shell broken into several plates that move over the earth's mantle. When the mantle pushes and pulls these plates, they rub against one another in certain ways, causing earthquakes. Sometimes plates are pulled apart, such as the process that forms the deep trenches in the oceans, sometimes they rub sideways like those like in Los Angeles's San Andreas fault, and sometimes one plate is pushed underneath another, like the plates that for the fault in Nepal.2 The plate movement in Nepal is much faster than most other plates on earth, and it is the reason why eight of the ten highest mountains on earth fall within the borders of the small nation.3
As we learn more about the earth's plates and their movements, astrobiologists and geologists are beginning to discover just how crucial plate tectonics is for life to exist. In their book Rare Earth: Why Complex Life Is Uncommon in the Universe, Drs. Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee note that of all the planets we observe in our solar system, only the earth has signs of shifting plates in the form of mountain ranges and ocean basins.4 Some of the key benefits they list concerning plate tectonics are:5
- It promotes high levels of global biodiversity as species as they must adapt to different environments which ensures they don't fall extinct easily.
- It manages the amount chemicals that form carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, helping to keep the earth's temperature stable, keeping liquid water abundant on the planet.
- It creates ocean basins and lifts dry land out of the sea, allowing advanced life like humans to be land-dwelling animals.
- It also recirculates the minerals that erosion has deposited in the sea,
- Finally, it creates earth's magnetic field, sheltering life from "potentially lethal influx of cosmic radiation, and solar wind "sputtering" (in which particles from the sun hit the upper atmosphere with high energy) might slowly eat away at the atmosphere, as it has on Mars."
Why would such a poor country be hit by such a big earthquake?At this point the atheist may narrow his claim and simply ask "OK, but why would God allow such devastation in an area where there are so many people?" AS I explained above, there are many areas such as the sea floor where these kinds of earthquakes occur and they hurt no one. But land-based earthquakes are necessary to do some of the things I mentioned above. It is no surprise that Nepal is prone to devastating earthquakes. The Himalayas attest to the fault's activity. In fact, the last devastating quake happened in 1934, killing about 10,000 people. Geologist Hongfeng Yang said that geology of that part of the world is "generally consistent and homogenous" and the region should expect a severe earthquake every four to five decades.7
I live in Southern California, with my house very close to the San Andreas Fault. We know that the San Andreas is overdue for a very large earthquake. While we don't know when it will come, it is a recognized danger. Both private citizens and the government have made preparations for when "the big one" hits. In Nepal, the warnings of the 1990's were ignored, as Samrat Upadhyay explained in his recent article in the Los Angeles Times.8 My survival may depend on having emergency supplies in my home if an earthquake hits. But in other areas of the world, planning and infrastructure buttressing may be thwarted not by God but by the corruption or greed of those responsible for such safeguards. While no one can assume there would be no loss of life in any natural disaster, the loss of lives can be significantly mitigated by those who live in the area.
The meme seeks to blame God for creating earthquakes. Yet, without them, our world may be a sterile as Mars or as lifeless as Venus. People have the capability to prevent a significant amount of damage and loss of life from the quakes. Perhaps we should begin by investigating why no one acted on the warnings instead of trying to point an uninformed finger at God.
2. Oskin, Becky. "What Is Plate Tectonics?" LiveScience. TechMedia Network, 04 Dec. 2014. Web. 29 Apr. 2015. http://www.livescience.com/37706-what-is-plate-tectonics.html.
3. McClain, Sean, and Shirley S. Wang. "How the Nepal Earthquake Happened Like Clockwork." WSJ. The Wall Street Journal, 26 Apr. 2015. Web. 29 Apr. 2015. http://www.wsj.com/articles/how-the-nepal-earthquake-happened-like-clockwork-1430044358.
4. Ward, Peter D., and Donald Brownlee. Rare Earth: Why Complex Life Is Uncommon in the Universe. New York: Copernicus, 2000. Kindle Edition. 194.
5. Ward and Brownlee, 194.
6. Ward and Brownlee, 206.
7. McClain and Wang, 2015.
8. Upadhyay, Samrat. "Nepal Earthquake: We Had Been Warned." Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 28 Apr. 2015. Web. 29 Apr. 2015. http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-0428-upadhyay-nepal-earthquake-20150427-story.html.