God works in mysterious ways

By October 7, 2017Science, Society

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.


  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1989_Newcastle_earthquake
  2. https://d28rz98at9flks.cloudfront.net/69527/69527.pdf
  3. 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.


  • Arthur Baker says:

    “If you don’t wish to be ignorant, ask a geologist.”

    Nah, mate, we’ve all had enough of experts (Michael Gove, famously interviewed by Sky News’s Faisal Islam, 3 June 2016, on Brexit). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GGgiGtJk7MA

  • Arthur Baker says:

    Here’s a (longish) quote from Sam Harris’s “Letter to a Christian Nation”, (Bantam Press, 2006). I apologise for its length, but it’s the best expression I’ve ever read of the illogicality and moral bankruptcy of the “God’s will” hypothesis.

    When a tsunami killed a few hundred thousand people on the day after Christmas 2004, many conservative Christians viewed the cataclysm as evidence of God’s wrath. God was apparently sending another coded message about the evils of abortion, idolatry and homosexuality. While I consider this interpretation of events to be utterly repellent, it at least has the virtue of being reasonable, given a certain set of assumptions. Liberals and moderates, on the other hand, refuse to draw any conclusions whatsoever about God from his works. God remains an absolute mystery, a mere source of consolation that is compatible with the most desolating evil. In the wake of the Asian tsunami, liberals and moderates admonished one another to look for God “not in the power that moved the wave, but in the human response to the wave”. I think we can probably agree that it is human benevolence on display – not God’s – whenever the bloated bodies of the dead are dragged from the sea. On a day when over one hundred thousand children were simultaneously torn from their mothers’ arms and casually drowned, liberal theology must stand revealed for what it is: the sheerest of mortal pretences. The theology of wrath has far more intellectual merit. If God exists and takes an interest in the affairs of human beings, his will is not inscrutable. The only thing inscrutable here is that so many otherwise rational men and women can deny the unmitigated horror of these events and think this is the height of moral wisdom.
    End quote

    Incidentally, I remember the day of the Newcastle earthquake very clearly, because it was the day on which I did one of the most stupid things I ever did. On 28 December 1989 (I didn’t have to look that up) I was in a second-floor office in St Leonards, Sydney, when the building rocked. We knew it had to be an earthquake, who knows where centred. But a group of us then unthinkingly TOOK THE LIFT to the ground floor. It worked. We survived. I subsequently became a fire warden in my workplace, learning a heap of things NOT to do in emergencies, then marvelled at how many idiots, just like me, did exactly those things in fire drills.

    • admin says:


      Yeah; it’s an excellent book. I have read a couple of his others as well. I also knew a person in Sydney, working on the umpteenth floor of a building on that day; and she told me that she could feel the building swaying. That must have been weird. I was at my parents’ home and I initially thought that a truck had ploughed into the building, the racket was so loud and the vibration so intense. I rushed outside to have a look at the damage, but there was none; just an initial deathly silence, and then all the neighbours walking out their front door with a look of ‘what the f??? was that?’ on their faces.

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