Natural, not supernatural, disasters

Q: Many have criticized Pat Robertson’s suggestion that the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti was the work of the devil or … Continued

Q: Many have criticized Pat Robertson’s suggestion that the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti was the work of the devil or a form of divine punishment. But if one believes God is good and intervenes in the world, why does God allow innocents to suffer? What is the best scriptural text or explanation of that problem you’ve ever read?

I’m not particularly concerned about flat earthers and Holocaust deniers in this country, because they have no influence. I can’t even name one, and that’s a good thing. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about Pat Robertson, a household name to Americans. Even worse, he is influential and respected by millions. According to the book of Robertson, the reason for every disaster is sin, and the solution usually involves sending him money.

While Haitians may not blame past sins for the earthquake, many have a worldview similar to Robertson’s. Numerous Haitians gave thanks to God for keeping them alive. They, like Robertson, believed that what happened was the will of God.

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.

If an all-powerful god either caused the earthquake in Haiti or stood passively by as thousands perished, he would be a god more worthy of blame than praise. Some days the best thing you can say about God is that he doesn’t exist.

Natural disasters like the one in Haiti require action by humans, regardless of their theological views. Human lives can be saved by other humans, and the sooner they act the better. Many of us who want to contribute, but are not sure how, should do a little homework and contribute to organizations they trust. I’ll not be contributing to Pat Robertson’s “700 Club,” which is soliciting for prayers and donations. I will contribute through the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, which has joined forces with 13 other freethought groups to collect donations for two fine non-religious relief organizations. Contributions will go, depending on one’s stipulation, to either Doctors Without Borders or the International Red Cross.

To quote Robert Ingersoll, “Hands that help are better far than lips that pray.”

Herb Silverman
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  • -ID62-

    Donation complete!@BOBBIEK1…I agree. This is not a hard question to answer for us atheists and freethinkers, brights and secularists, skeptics and agnostics. I wish the supernaturalists would spend as much time using their brainpower to figure out how to improve life for those less fortunate, like in Haiti.

  • fhay26

    The problem I have with a Pat Robertson or a Jerry Falwell is how to distinguish between them and any other schizophrenic or any other Bernie Madoff. If there is a difference, I have missed it.Frank Hay

  • fhay18

    The “will of God” answer my parents and grandparents gave me as a child never comforted me as much as it seemed to comfort them. I could never hold the conflicting images of God in my brain at the same time: loving father, wrathful punisher.

  • Navin1

    Tragedy does not prove there is no all powerful loving god for we define both tragedy and god. Truth is what it is. When you can have a personal relationship with THAT, you may find some more peace. But even that will be you evolutionary biology telling you you need to belong to a big group.When you begin to see past your own egocentric / ethnocentric constructs, you may find a peace beyond biology, if it is worthwhile to you. hariaum

  • bobbiek1

    As usual, Silverman is on target, but let’s face it, this is a softball question for an atheist. No matter how much the religionists try to rationalize “the problem of evil” the indiscriminate effects of natural tragedies prove that there is no all-powerful, loving god.

  • maryellensikes

    Robertson seems to have one speed when it comes to this kind of thing. It’s hard (and sad) to believe people still pay attention to ridiculous pronouncements of a punishing god who inflicts suffering on children and other innocents. As an atheist I am relieved not to be obligated to answer unanswerable questions like, “…if one believes God is good and intervenes in the world, why does God allow innocents to suffer?” The burden for that question is on those who peddle gods.

  • jonesm2

    Professor Silverman’s comments are certainly a breath of fresh air after suffering through those of Pat Robertson and Rush Limbaugh. Another good organization for donations is Oxfam America. This group puts your dollar to work and is highly touted by another secular humanist, Peter Singer, in his book “The Life You Can Save.”

  • edbyronadams

    “Natural disasters like the one in Haiti require action by humans, regardless of their theological views. Human lives can be saved by other humans, and the sooner they act the better.”Human life is worth saving? Where does an atheist get such an axiom?

  • wiccan

    “Human life is worth saving? Where does an atheist get such an axiom?What a horrible and nasty comment. A person doesn’t have to believe in your God, my Gods, or any god to value human life, or to feel compassion for those who are in pain. Twit.

  • PSolus

    “Human life is worth saving? Where does an atheist get such an axiom?”It’s hardwired in their DNA.

  • clearthinking1

    I agree with Christians’ & Muslims’ basic commandments: 1. One should exploit others suffering to spread one’s own religion. 2. Charity should be done with an ulterior motive to gain power.3. One should identify weakness in another country and culture. Then, instead of letting them correct problems, one should exploit.4. Divide and conquer.5. Always pretend to do charity. This provides the perfect cover for the true agenda.6. Always remember that my god is better than the other’s god. Use this belief to justify and rationalize acts of deception & destruction.7. Religion is about winning and expanding, not about spiritual development.8. Might is right.9. If the whole world can be converted to Islam or Christianity, we will win. Then we will destroy the other inferior religion.10. Peace on Earth and goodwill to mankind – NOT.

  • edbyronadams

    “It’s hardwired in their DNA.”POSTED BY: PSOLUSSo is tribal aggression to the point of genocide. The “acting naturally” argument simply does not cut it.

  • PSolus

    “So is tribal aggression to the point of genocide.”Exactly: There is no god making us do good; there is no devil making us do bad.It’s all in the genes.”The “acting naturally” argument simply does not cut it.”Cut what?

  • edbyronadams

    If you want to claim that motivation to engage in altruistic acts are a result of innate instinct as justification, fine.The Holocaust could be justified by the same claim. Defining the “other”, the enemy, and eliminating them is another side of DNA based behavior.I don’t think that the latter is justified while the former is. We have a choice. We have free will. However, we cannot invoke “acting naturally” as a motivator for that choice because it justifies both. My problem with atheists or post Christian thinkers is that many take the moral precepts left by the Judeo Christian culture in which they were raised and elevate them to a universal human norm when they are not. They leave their motivations and own faith statements unexamined.

  • PSolus

    “If you want to claim that motivation to engage in altruistic acts are a result of innate instinct as justification, fine.”I’m not justifying anything.”The Holocaust could be justified by the same claim. Defining the “other”, the enemy, and eliminating them is another side of DNA based behavior.”Again, I’m not justifying anything.”I don’t think that the latter is justified while the former is.”Enough with justifying, already.”We have a choice. We have free will.”Generally speaking, yes we do.”However, we cannot invoke “acting naturally” as a motivator for that choice because it justifies both.”You lost me right there.I’m guessing that that’s not the only problem you have with “atheists or post Christian thinkers”.”They leave their motivations and own faith statements unexamined.”Whatever. (I learned that from my niece.)

  • persiflage

    Thanks Herb, for summing up the problem with sanctimonious, self-serving morons on the order of a Pat Robertson…..To quote:’ Robert Ingersoll, “Hands that help are better far than lips that pray.”Compassion is both pragmatic and empathetic – we see ourselves in the suffering of others and do something about it as best we can.This fundamental human impulse does not require religion of any kind. The praying part is odd, because it first assumes that disasters are God’s work – and with a little begging, some of the suffering will (possibly) be alleviated. All of this points up the fact that humans are not in control of nature and it’s unpredictable processes. Catastrophic events occur, and we all suffer to varying degrees. Geologists know very well why earthquakes occur, and they also know that praying does not affect our planetary dynamics in any way. Humans helping humans is what it’s all about, as Ingersoll so succinctly puts it. And as far as free will and sinning go, we only have free will to the extent that we’re able to overcome our inherent conditioning as social animals – B.F.Skinner had a point. For example, the superstitions of religion need to be given up before free will begins to be possible. Religion for many is not a matter of choice, but of early conditioning. If someone gains real ‘spiritual’ knowledge from religion through conscious choice, they probably had a good idea of what they wanted from that religion in the first place. We have to assume that they understand the origin of natural disasters and the sense of humane responsibility that follows – and that none of this originates in a supernatural realm at the hands of a supernatural deity. Understanding all of this is part and parcel of having true ‘free will’.

  • persiflage

    Thanks Herb, for summing up the problem with sanctimonious, self-serving morons on the order of a Pat Robertson…..To quote:’ Robert Ingersoll, “Hands that help are better far than lips that pray.”Compassion is both pragmatic and empathetic – we see ourselves in the suffering of others and do something about it as best we can.This fundamental human impulse does not require religion of any kind. The praying part is odd, because it first assumes that disasters are God’s work – and with a little begging, some of the suffering will (possibly) be alleviated. All of this points up the fact that humans are not in control of nature and it’s unpredictable processes. Catastrophic events occur, and we all suffer to varying degrees. Geologists know very well why earthquakes occur, and they also know that praying does not affect our planetary dynamics in any way. Humans helping humans is what it’s all about, as Ingersoll so succinctly puts it. And as far as free will and sinning go, we only have free will to the extent that we’re able to overcome our inherent conditioning as social animals – B.F.Skinner had a point. For example, the superstitions of religion need to be given up before free will begins to be possible. Religion for many is not a matter of choice, but of early conditioning. If someone gains real ‘spiritual’ knowledge from religion through conscious choice, they probably had a good idea of what they wanted from that religion in the first place. We have to assume that they understand the origin of natural disasters and the sense of humane responsibility that follows – and that none of this originates in a supernatural realm at the hands of a supernatural deity. Understanding all of this is part and parcel of having true ‘free will’.

  • pelicanwatchcb

    Over the millennia, how much human time and passion has been expended to explain two great mysteries? 1) Why god favors one tribe, nation or class above all others and 2) why god allows fires, floods, wars and earthquakes to occur? Such a waste of time and passion.