Whose Fault was the Haitian Earthquake? January 21, 2010

Whose Fault was the Haitian Earthquake?

It’s a question that doesn’t have a supernatural answer, even though religious nuts everywhere won’t hesitate to offer their own explanation.

The Secular Coalition for America‘s president, Herb Silverman, has a far more honest response to the question of “why God allows innocents to suffer” in Haiti:

Here’s an alternative view. The “fault” lies under the Atlantic Ocean, not in the sins of Haitians. The earth’s tectonic plates are neither good nor evil. The more we learn about their shifting, the better we will be able to predict future earthquakes.

And for those who still believe in the supernatural at the exclusion of scientific discovery, I’ll confidently predict when you will again see God’s wrath: July 11, 2010, the next total solar eclipse. And my home state of South Carolina will see such wrath on August 21, 2017. Fortunately, most people no longer think of an eclipse as a warning from God. Science works whether you believe in it or not.

The last line is one of the most quotable things you’ll ever read.


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  • Darwin’s Dagger

    Actually science only works when scientists believe in and properly apply the scientific method to their experiments and observations of measurable reality. The things those measurements describe, plate tectonics, evolution, exist independently of human belief or approval, but science itself is a product of human belief and understanding.

  • NewEnglandBob

    I think we should blame Pat Robertson as wholly responsible for the earthquake in Haiti and prosecute him for 200,000 homicides.

  • Kit

    As an undergraduate studying geophysics with a not insignificant (i.e. 12 months research in earthquake statistics), earthquakes aren’t actually predictable in a deterministic sense. They follow a Poisson distribution in terms of occurrence.

    What we can do is help Haiti develop so that they can afford to build better structures. An equivalent earthquake in the United States, for example, wouldn’t even cause 1000 deaths. “The seismic future of cities” by Roger Bilham (2009) in the Bulletin of Earthquake Engineering provides a pretty good discussion of earthquake resistant building, if anyone is interested.

  • That is a great quote. The earliest source I could find is from the AAAS in 2005:

    http://ideas.4brad.com/aaas-issues-warning-pat-robertson-you-have-turned-away-science

    Interesting that Pat Robertson was involved then too…

  • littlejohn

    I confess. I did it. Yes, I, littlejohn, farted while swimming off Florida. Now, can the preachers just move on to something else? I promise not to do it again. Oh, and sorry about all those dead fish.

  • Claudia

    The quote is good, but I find this version more poetic:

    Two hands working can do more than a thousand clasped in prayer.

    While trying to find the author of that particular quote (unknown) I came across a site with a whole lot of prayer quotes. Here’s another great one:

    I prayed for twenty years but received no answer until I prayed with my legs. ~Frederick Douglass, escaped slave

  • Alexis

    Bad joke from my childhood: Who was to blame for the San Francisco earthquake? It was San Andreas Fault!

    Oooh Booo Hisss

    and another:

    “If, as they say, God spanked this town
    For being much too frisky,
    Why did He burn His churches down
    And save Hotaling’s Whiskey?”

    Poem on 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire, in which
    the city’s largest whiskey distillery was left unscathed

  • mousefeathers

    That’s easy! Poseidon did it!

  • Dan Covill

    @Kit:

    “earthquakes aren’t actually predictable in a deterministic sense”

    Agreed, you can’t predict _when_ there will be one, but you can surely, within a small margin of error, predict _whether_ one will occur. It’s like sticking a poster up with scotch tape – you don’t know exactly when it will fall down, but fall it surely will.