Our favorite little CoG splinter has just produced another pretentious expulsion of science envy. It is a book with the ambitious title, Why Natural Disasters? Any fifth-grader can answer that question, but the Armstrongists find it necessary to insult our intelligence yet again.
Unable to process the implications of 5th grade science, but coveting the prestige of fact-based assertions, the proponents of Armstrongism as a rule turn to superstitious explanations for natural events. They would like their readers to believe that such myth-weaving is original with them, but weather mythology is nothing new. Nor is it the exclusive domain of Armstrongism. Most fundamentalist sects proclaim their god/s as the source of weather phenomena. It is not surprising at all that worshipers of Yahweh should do so, since he was originally conceived as a storm god of the Canaanites.
The Armstrongist who professes belief in weather and geological mythology is no different in that regard from the bygone proponents of such nonsensical theories as earthquakes being caused by Poseidon striking the ground with his trident, or by Namazu the giant catfish thrashing about in a bath of subterranean mud. But the opportunistic and hypocritical moralizing that accompanies the Armstrongist theory of natural disaster puts it in a subset of nature mythology that is particularly attractive to modern fundamentalists. From Protestant pulpits to mosques to the ostentatious sets of televangelists, the message is the same: “Our god is responsible for natural disasters, and he causes them because he is angry.” But this common fundamentalist nature mythology has a special problem with the science its subscribers wish could be marshaled in its defense. We will now address this particular problem.
The common fundamentalist stands with his feet obstinately planted upon two propositions which are, apparently unbeknownst to him, divided hopelessly by a truth that threatens his manhood (assuming he has any). He would not be so confident in this stance if he had the brains to understand his cringe-worthy predicament. One foot rests soundly on the claim that his god created this planet, designed and crafted it as would a “master builder”—tailor-made for humans to inhabit and thrive upon its surface. Held down by his other foot, though, is the oft-repeated opinion that this same god makes his wrath known to humans through what we now have the sense to refer to as natural disasters. These two propositions enjoyed some logical coherence in a younger, scientifically dimmer age, before we humans had developed such a full understanding of how our planet works. Given that understanding though, it is positively stupid to try and stand upon both propositions simultaneously. It is also self-defeating. For thrust up in between them is the soaring bulwark of the Earth sciences.
Consider. What should we expect the world to look like had some god designed it perfectly as a habitation for us? Money growing on trees perhaps? How about food growing on pigs? No, let us not tax the Creator’s imagination so much: what about a system of thermal energy management that doesn’t necessitate (in a predictable manner) the occasional production of hellishly destructive storms, or something less inhospitable than the volcano- and earthquake-prone tectonic arrangement we currently endure? Wouldn’t our imaginary god be free in such a world to actually intervene in order to specially create “acts of God” for the expression of its displeasure? Of course! As it stands, though, it is perfectly reasonable to assert, á la Laplace: “Je n’avais pas besoin de cette hypothèse-là.”
Tornadoes, floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, droughts—even meteor impacts—none of these have ever occurred in such a way as to invite a supernatural explanation. They always happen when and where and in the manner in which we now expect them to. No one in “Tornado Alley” will ever say, “Well, gee, I never expected a tornado here—someone must be trying to tell me something.” (Okay, a fundamentalist might—but they’re stupid, remember?) The people of the Midwest who were forced to flee their homes in front of a cresting Mississippi, did not have “the Lord” to thank for their advance warning (though some of them pretended they did). But did anyone exclaim, “Floods in flood plains!—what is the world coming to?” No. When the recent tsunami struck Japan, did we hear, “Earthquakes in the Ring of Fire?—totally unexpected! Miraculous! Judgment is upon us!” (Well, yes—but, again, these were fundamentalists—see a pattern developing here?)
It would be reasonable to suspect something amiss if a tornado struck from a clear-blue sky in a high-pressure zone (even then, the most one could say about it is that it is weird—an unexplained phenomenon). But that never happens—even if the locals are all homosekshuls—or, worse, goddamn atheists! Similarly, earthquakes only occur around fault lines, volcanoes don’t spring up overnight, inhabitants of rainforests don’t experience droughts, mountaintops don’t require levees and hurricanes never baffle us in their formation. Entire professions are built up around predicting these events based on our understanding of them as natural occurrences. By contrast, the fundamentalists’ theory of natural disasters has zero predictive power, as was roundly demonstrated by the recent mass experiment known as Boobquake. Gods do not seem to lash out with any consistency to speak of except that which can be explained without reference to any god. That is to say, as we have said before, natural disasters are natural. One may, with blithe assurance of safety, defy any so-called god to strike them down with a bolt from the blue (specifically, a lightning strike when such activity is not predicted by meteorological science). Or even better—a (snicker) global flood. Won’t happen. Never has; never will. How is it that the fundamentalist’s gods are so constrained in their petulant tantrums by the science of mere mortals?
We moderns can look upon Nimrod’s tower with some good-humored disdain. The old boy had the right idea: God wouldn’t flood his own realm, would he? But Nimrod was entirely too lenient with the Creator/Destroyer of his benighted age. Armed with our planetary knowledge, we now truly have the upper hand. We have duly chastened God, in effect commanding him, “This far, O Eternal, but no further may thy wrath extend.” And to date he seems loathe to disobey us by striking outside the decreed boundaries. In actual fact we keep climbing up our own metaphorical version of the apocryphal tower: flood walls, not building in flood plains, flood insurance, forecasts and predictions of various types—not to mention earthquake-resistant architecture, cloud-seeding, enhanced GM crops, pesticides, seismic sensors, tornado warnings, etc. Whole economies turn on these successful efforts at putting the terrible God in his increasingly small place. We’ve even gone so far as to turn God’s wrath into a profitable resource, by harnessing his bratty outbursts and converting them into usable energy. Who would have thought geothermal plants could be so ironic? (Try something similar with your two-year-old son or daughter and let me know how it goes.)
Speaking of hot air, we hope the reader is convinced that a fetish for natural disasters is not exclusive to Armstrongists. Exploiting the misfortune of their fellow humans is a propaganda tactic common to all fundamentalist quacks, and this is especially true in the case of natural disasters, which are to fundamentalists what bombings are to
fundamentalists terrorist organizations. It is a selling point for them to be able to claim responsibility for their particular god¹ every time the wind blows or the water rises–but the only buyers of this snake oil are ignorant fools with a debilitating lack of common sense. Don’t be one of them.
¹ Can all these gods of natural disasters be equally responsible–or are they all just equally non-existent? You decide.