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Thank God for volcanoes and earthquakes

One of the most difficult objections to believing in God is the problem of evil – explaining why bad things happen if God is good. There is moral evil – the actions that people freely do to each other and then there are the ones we see in nature. At this stage, two culprits are identified as being guilty of this evil – Volcanoes and earthquakes. It should be noted that we rarely call these events disasters if no human was hurt or killed, revealing our human-centric view of everything. It all revolves around us.

Both these two troublemakers can cause massive destruction and devastation and they lie behind other disastrous events such as tsunamis. They live in our collective history and imagination such as Pompeii and Krakatoa. Then there are the earthquakes and the San Andreas fault and its ‘big one’. Volcanoes are the more dangerous disrupter of the two because, if sufficiently large enough, they can change the climate of the entire Planet. Which is what the explosion of Mt Tambora did in 1815 causing global temperatures to drop a few degrees. Perhaps if we cannot bring climate change under control, a volcano will do the job for us.

I’m not alone in being awestruck by the power we see, particularly in volcanoes. Earthquakes are ugly things, just destroyers in their grumbles and upheavals. But a volcano can be a majestic thing of awe-inspiring power. With its glowing, bubbling and boiling fires it’s no wonder that they became shrines and places of worship and sacrifice.

This photo shows lava flowing as La Cumbre erupted on Fernandina Island, the Galapagos, Ecuador, on January 12, 2020. The volcano last erupted in 2018. Galapagos National Park via AP

But we have, it turns out, genuine reason to be thankful for both volcanoes and their ugly, grumpy sibling, the earthquake. They reveal that the core of our planet is molten (the inner core is apparently solid iron, so I’m talking about the outer core) and this blazing, furious, swirling heat creates a magnetic field. This field in turn protects us from the sun’s harmful radiation and keeps our atmosphere in place, which means we have life on this planet. And if you don’t believe me, then take it from David Attenborough.

Mars, by contrast, has volcanoes that no longer erupt because it likely now has a solid core. Or at least a tiny molten core. And because Mars is smaller, it cooled quicker and its weaker magnetic field collapsed meaning it a thin atmosphere. Which is a problem for the science-fiction lovers amongst us who dream of humanity being able to terraform Mars (think the ridiculous final scenes of Total Recall with Arnold Schwarzenegger).

Earthquakes too play their part in Earth being a life-sustaining place.

Tectonic activity is essential to sustaining life on Earth. Matter is constantly being recycled between the atmosphere and the crust. We have continents because of tectonic activity. Mid-ocean ridges support a huge amount of life and may have been important in the origin of life, and the atmosphere is reliant on volcanic eruptions for its composition

Life on earth needs the right ingredients and those are, it seems, much rarer than many think. We need a star just like our Sun, and we need to be in the goldilocks zone. Neither too close and too hot like Venus nor too far away and cold like Mars. We also need a large planet just like Jupiter far enough away to protect us from meteors and comets. Our planet needs a satellite to stabilise seasons, orbits and tides. Our planet needs to have a molten core ‘with highly radioactive minerals like uranium and thorium with half-lives of billions of years.'1 and our planet needs to be large enough to hold its magnetic field in place for there to be an atmosphere.

These are not the only things necessary for life to be successful on a planet but already we’re generating quite the list. And the more ingredients you need, the more likely it seems that the correct conclusion is that this is a rare earth indeed.

So perhaps we should not be so quick to put volcanoes or earthquakes in the ‘evil’ category for without them we wouldn’t be here. God it seems, knew exactly what he was doing when he made them.

  1. The Future of Humanity, Michio Kaku, p.94

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Thank God for volcanoes and earthquakes


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