Often you will see Americans in Tornado Alley giving thanks to god for their survival when they crawl out of their basements after their house has been lifted off its foundations and turned into matchwood. Where was god when the tornado started? Did he let it happen? Was he having a snooze when it began, and only switched on late in the drama when several of the presumably less fervent christians had been annihilated?
I was in Newcastle when the 1989 earthquake1,2 hit and a day or so later, we happened to bump into a fervent christian. His ‘explanation’ for the event was to state that “God works in mysterious ways”. I had to disabuse him of this, stating that the earthquake stemmed from faulting in rocks near, or on the Hunter-Mooki Thrust Fault system. It seems that stress builds up along this fault slowly and every 60 years or so this translates into an earthquake as the stress buildup eventually causes the fault to slip. Thirteen people died through building and awning collapses; it was the first earthquake to cause recorded fatalities in Australia since Europeans arrived in 1788.
That is an aspect of religiosity which amazes me; their acceptance of, or even pride in ignorance: “I don’t know what happened, therefore it was my god’s will”. Surely, rather than assume it was god’s will, it would be better to ask a geologist, some of whom specialise in the detection and analysis of earthquakes. It is they who determine where the focus of the earthquake was, based on analyses of the signal obtained by their detection instruments. It was found to be at a depth of about 11.5 km beneath the suburb of Boolaroo. They can also determine what the direction of movement along the fault was, and in this case it was a thrust movement, with the rocks on the southwest side of the fault, being thrust up over those to the northeast3.
Ignorance is not a virtue. If you don’t wish to be ignorant, ask a geologist.
- McCue, K., Wesson, V. & Gibson, G. 1990. The Newcastle, New South Wales, earthquake of 28 December 1989. BMR Journal of Australian Geology & Geophysics 11, 559-567.