End of the World as we know it? Not quite.

A good friend of mine (the ever awesome @furiey) linked a post from a blog she reads on twitter this afternoon. This, in and of itself, is not an unusual thing; we are both WoW (World of Warcraft) players, though I am on a bit of a hiatus from the game, many of our other friends on twitter are also gamers, and quite often links of common interest (as well as cute animals) get shared. What was unusual about this particular link was its content. You see it was a link to a WoW blog, however the post was not about WoW, it was about the end of the world.

Honor’s Code: What In the World Is Going On?

Now, this is the dude’s blog, and he can post whatever he wants, but not only did he proceed to preach at his readers from a rather inappropriate pulpit, he also uses “facts” that are so bad that they aren’t even wrong. Then he didn’t even have the nerve to allow comments on this particular post, which says to me two things: 1) He isn’t so sure in what he is saying that he can handle any sort of criticism of what he believes; and 2) He wants people to listen to him, but isn’t willing to do the same for others; especially those that might not agree with him.

I’ve read through his post. Closed it. Gone back and read it again. Decided about posting about it, then (obviously) changed my mind.

Looking at this, in the end it is more or less the digital equivalent of someone standing on the street corner with a cardboard sign that says “Repent! The End is Nigh!” That’s all well and good, and well within his right to do, what really bothers me is the faulty logic, misconceptions and just plain bad science. Seriously, I could refute pretty much his entire argument with one link. This one, in fact: USGS Earthquake Facts and Statistics

But me being who I am I can’t let it go at just that. Let’s take a look at some of this in greater detail.

After going through the motions and giving all his reasoning for doing this (because he cares about each and every one of you, of course) he goes into what is probably one of the oldest “End Times” arguments of all time:

There are over 50 signs that God said we could look for but one that I keep seeing over and over again is what he said about earthquakes in Matthew 24:7: For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in diverse places.

*Emphasis in original

Often times you also see “war and rumors of war” on this list of “over 50 signs”, or whatever else is the hot topic talking point of the day. It is a simple fact that on Earth there are always famines, wars, and especially earthquakes. War is, sadly, just a part of human nature, and earthquakes are a fact of life on a living planet. People have been using these same references and reasoning to announce that the end of the world was at hand since at least the 4th century (Tichonus was sure it was going to end in 381, Hippolytus said 400: A History of the End of the World, Rubinsky and Wiseman, 1982) However, since earthquakes are the latest popular talking point in the news media that is what the rapture set seem to be focusing on lately.

That brings up one of the key points to this, the news media. The world is getting smaller. It was true in 1873 when Jules Verne wrote Around the World in Eighty Days, and it is even truer now in our modern information age. With cell phones, the internet, twitter, email, blogs and everything else we have near instant global communication, and countless 24-hour cable news networks and websites looking for content to fill the hours. So we hear of things sooner, and hear of more things that even twenty years ago would have gone mostly unreported. In 1710 it might take years before someone in, say, London heard about a devastating earthquake in Chile, or a war battle in Baghdad, if they heard about it at all. In 1810 much the same was true, news traveled slowly; it could take weeks or months for major news to travel. By 1910 technology had closed the communication gap to mere days, and as the century went on that gap grew ever smaller. Now, in 2010, we know things within minutes, if not seconds of their happening, I’m sure some news rooms were still trying to find Haiti on a map by the time the news of the earthquake had already made it around the world on twitter.

Unless you live in a cave you should know that earthquakes are everywhere right now, in the last month we have seen three major quakes in Haiti, Chile and in Taiwan. Just yesterday, there was a strong 6.0 magnitude earthquake in Turkey that killed 51 people. Not only were there earthquakes but these four earthquakes in diverse places brought hundreds of aftershocks with each one.

There aren’t more earthquakes, we just hear about more of them, and hear about them sooner than we used to. This is on top of more earthquakes being detected due to advancing technology. Don’t believe me? How about the United States Geological Survey:

The USGS estimates that several million earthquakes occur in the world each year. Many go undetected because they hit remote areas or have very small magnitudes. The NEIC now locates about 50 earthquakes each day, or about 20,000 a year.

As more and more seismographs are installed in the world, more earthquakes can be and have been located. However, the number of large earthquakes (magnitude 6.0 and greater) has stayed relatively constant.

The short of it is that the USGS expects about 18 7.0 or greater earthquakes every year. There have been 4 so far this year, and we are, give or take, about one third of the way through the year, so if we extrapolate that out we should have an estimated 16 earthquakes before the end of 2010.

These numbers do not make the loss of life from these earthquakes any less tragic, but one has to realize that the loss of life in an earthquake is more a factor of where the earthquake happens than how strong it is. A 6.0 earthquake in a heavily populated area, especially one with low construction standards or a large number of old buildings, is going to cause more damage and loss of life than an 8.0 magnitude earthquake in the middle of the Gobi desert. (For those of you who love graphs, I know I do, here is the data in a more visual form: Earthquake Facts and Statistics Graphs)

Maybe you think I’m just over exaggerating.

Actually I think you are being very uncritical in how you are looking at the information, and taking what you are told by others without looking into it deeper on your own to see if the science backs up the claims that are being made.

From here he launches into an appeal to emotion with a story about a man who died in the Mount St. Helens eruption in 1980, refusing to leave his lodge at Spirit Lake because he felt that the danger from the volcano had been “over exaggerated.” What he leaves out is that the man, Harry Randall Truman, also told reporters “If the mountain goes, I’m going with it.” While it is another sad story, the tale of a stubborn old man (he was 83 at the time) has nothing to do with earthquakes or the end of the world or anything else he is saying. “This man underestimated a volcano and died, so you shouldn’t underestimate the importance of what I’m saying” is not a valid leap of logic.

From here his post devolves into all the usual suspects of logical fallacies and emotional pleas that you so often see in things like this (Not to mention some comments that come across as down right insulting to any of his readers that might not share his faith). If I hadn’t already gone on so long I might take the time to deconstruct these as well, but this post is already bordering on Oracian in length so I shall leave that for others to do.

Things like this just make me want to assault someone with science.

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Published in: on March 17, 2010 at 3:05 pm  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. As someone who considers himself fairly well-versed in matters of Christian theology (being a seminary student a year away from being a pastor, and all) as well as being the son of a prominent structural geologist, I just have to say….

    AAAAARGH. There is NO legitimate basis for this sort of “end of days date setting” in scripture OR in science. A little (emphasis on little) knowledge is a dangerous thing…

  2. [...] Circle!  Please welcome the librarian from the Labyrinthine Library, who is talking today about how recent earthquakes, volcanoes, and other assorted natural disasters are not evidence for The End… In addition to referencing some nice earth science, the librarian also does a cool historical [...]


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