Earthquakes, supermoons and Armageddon

Posted by on March 17, 2011 in Thoughts | 4 comments

A guiding principle in my life is logic. Reason and rational thought guide logic, and for me reality is what I see around me. The observable, testable and the falsifiable.

With reason comes the process of reasoning, the ability to look at information presented and decipher meaning and intention of the one presenting it. This includes looking at who is presenting information, what their motives and intended outcomes might be (also from deduction of facts) and thereby determining just why the presenter has given a particular spin on the information. This can be quite an exhausting task, but it really is necessary if we want to arrive at a reality or truth. If we don’t employ this exhaustive deduction we so often can end up with half truths, exaggerations or even lies and spin. As an active skeptic I need to avoid the untrue or risk being labelled as too quick to act, impetuous or worse, unreliable or untrustworthy!

(I have learned this the hard way, being too quick to jump on this bandwagon or that meme without first looking into it.)

What has prompted me to talk about this is the earthquake and subsequent tsunami and nuclear crisis in Japan from last week. Definitely a very scary set of events, and terrifying for those involved. The crisis is only beginning, and my heart goes out to those killed or injured, their families and the hardship they all face. This is a time when we have to pull together as one planet and help where we can. Not to try and take away from the significance and the weight of the situation, please bear with me while I illustrate a point.

As could be predicted, the worms are coming out of the woodwork, those who are so quick to claim “Armageddon” in its many possible forms. I don’t blame people for being afraid, for it does seem like there are is a lot of very destructive seismic activity at this time, violent weather patterns, and unrest in the Middle East.

There are those who are claiming that the bible has foretold these events as the hearkening of the end-times, foretold in Mark 13:8 which reads:

“Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.”

Luke 21:10-11 says pretty much the same thing, but it has an 11 in it, seeing a correlation between the Chilean, Haitian and Japanese earthquakes falling on the eleventh of the month (and September 11). (In actual fact the Haiti earthquake occurred on January 12th 2010, which was January 13th in Australia. The Chilean earthquake was on February 27th 2010 local time. Only the Japanese earthquake occurred on the 11th of a month. Not to forget Christchurch on February 22 of this year.) As pointed out in this Reddit thread which is related to this image:

“…there is a 1/30(or 28/29, 30) chance that an event will happen on the 11th, pretty decent chances when you think about it. If ALL tragedies followed the same pattern I would be interested, but:

*Haiti (was actually the 12th)
*Chile (27)
*Christchurch (22)
*Kashmir (8)
*Shaanxi (23)
*Boxing Day Tsunami (26)
*Titanic (15)
*Deep Water Horizon (20)
*Katrina (29)”

Not only is this Armageddon scenario patently false, it’s also badly researched. Another thing to keep in mind about the lines from the Bible, these predictions are very vague. It’s safe to say that nations are constantly rising against nations, and floods, famine and earthquakes are always happening “in various places”.

Another scenario being presented comes from the various news sources around the globe. Some are making claims that the melting of the icecaps is causing a shift in the weight of the earth’s crust, causing it to rise, thereby causing greater seismic activity. They even cite “experts” who say this is the case. But wait, that’s not what they say at all! The articles actually say something like “Some experts say that this hypothesis could be true”, but these experts aren’t named, except maybe the one token who also says the same as claimed in the article. Note also the use of the words “could”, “possibly”, “might”, “may” and “some evidence”. There is a big difference between “could be a hypothesis” and “general consensus” among the scientific community. But again, if we run a fine toothed comb over the information in the article we can see why this is being presented. Scaremongering is the greatest motivator, and it sells papers. Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not discounting the possibility that this could be the case in theory, but this kind of “evidence” is geared toward keeping people in a perpetual state of worry. This is not conspiracy theory. It is the commercial interests of writers who want to get paid.

Along the same lines, people have jumped on the bandwagon of an idea about what is commonly called “The Supermoon” which is the closest passing of the moon for some 19 years, slated to occur on March 19. People are listening to the advice from astrologers (yes astrologers!), who predict massive disruptions in communications and massive natural disasters when this does occur. Well sorry to tell you, but the sun has a much more massive effect on the earth all the time, and things like solar flares are much more likely to disrupt us in our lives. Bad Astronomer Phil Plait sums this up quite well in his article here.

Even further hysteria has been whipped up by various blogs and “news” sources claiming that cracks are opening up all over the earth. And they are. All the time! If we had the ability and capacity to see everything all the time, every minor tremor, every storm, every solar flare, every car crash, every death or injury, we would see that these events are constant and continuously occurring. Whether they have any relation to other events is unclear, but remember, correlation does not imply causation.

After September 11, I remember my emails being bombarded with conspiracy theories, biblical prophecies, many with titles like “Too spooky to be coincidence” or “Proof of a government plot”. None of these were founded in any sort of truth, people made large assumptions based on the coincidental occurrence of unrelated events, or tricks of the camera, or whatever it may have been. It seems in situations that are too big to fully comprehend, we all too readily fall back into a mindset of mysticism and unseen conspiracies to explain them.

One thing that is true though. As the population of the earth increases, so does the land that we need to inhabit, low lying areas, unstable areas, known areas of seismological activity, flood prone areas, pretty much any place we can. When these disasters strike, we will increasingly see more people affected, simply because we are everywhere on this planet.

These days access to information can be as much of a curse as a blessing. I notice in my time on Twitter that I am constantly being updated with the latest news as it is happening. We get news from all corners of the globe instantly, because the people who are reporting it are the ones who are there, who it is having an affect upon. Never in history have we had such a network of information gathering and distribution. So while it may seem that correlations between events are plain, remember the amount of information we are dealing with here. What one needs to do here is to stop worrying about spurious claims of Armageddon and calmly assess what is happening.

We need to be critical of the information we receive. We need to ask of all information, “ls there an ulterior motive for this information? Is the information credible? Does it sound unlikely? Does it have a particular spin on it? Does it appeal the the fears we hold inside about our own safety?”

With the situation in Japan unfolding daily, we need to be mindful that the best we can do is to support the efforts of the rescuers, the emergency crews, the doctors and nurses, and the people effected by this horrible tragedy. Give to The Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders or Oxfam. Help these people rebuild their lives, and be mindful of what you read or hear, so that we don’t cause needless hysteria or panic.

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4 Comments

  1. Very nice piece, again for that matter. It does seem we have deliberate miss-information and manipulation (press, the genuine but misguided and scamsters) occurring alongside simple minded credulity. Part of the problem seems to be that once a magical/mystical worldview is established it takes an awfull lot of counter evidence to neutralise it. You would think that in this day and age that schools would be preparing students with life skills to handle this sort of nonsense but I suspect these topics lead to too much controversy and are therefore considered too hot to handle.

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  2. Excellent post, Pribble ^_^ I couldn’t agree more.

    It’s amazing how determined people are to apply superstitious thinking to unfortunate events just to make sense of it all. It’s as though if there is some kind of meaning behind a tragedy it’ll make it less tragic. If tens of thousands of Japanese died because they were meant to or in some way deserved it then it gives us all the freedom to keep leading middle-class existences unaffected by these righteous events. It’s quite a perverted mindset.

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  3. I can’t believe how bad it has gotten in Japan. Anyone who lives near a fault line should pick up some emergency supplies for the future. There are lots of sites like http://www.buyearthquakekit.com where you can pick up some basic supplies that might save your life. Thoughts and prayers to those in Japan.

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  4. Anatomy of an Earthquake.Seismologists examine the parts of an earthquake such as the slip of the fault that causes it what happens to the earths surface during an earthquake how the energy of an earthquake moves from inside the earth to the surface and how this energy causes damage. This is because they are closer to the surface where the rocks are stronger and build up more strain..Seismologists know from observations that most earthquakes originate as shallow-focus earthquakes and most of them occur near plate boundariesareas where the earths crustal plates move against each other see Plate Tectonics .

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Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Japan Deserves the Earthquake & Tsunami « Waxing Apocalyptic - [...] life, numerology is nothing but superstition masquerading as science or art. A recent post made by Martin S Pribble…
  2. Supermoon « Curve of the World - [...] the armageddon soothsayers have tales of more earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis and the dismissive sceptics gleefully ignore the possibility…

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