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About tsunamis, hurricanes and similar disasters

Why do tragedies happen?
Answers that do not involve God

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Why do tragedies happen?

It seems natural for humans to seek reasons at the time of personal, family, regional and international tragedies. Some examples:

bullet Miscarriage: A couple in Alabama becomes pregnant and excitedly looks forward to the birth of their first child, only to suffer a miscarriage. They ask why?

bullet Child death: A child in California runs out onto the street after a ball, is hit by a truck and killed. The parents and the rest of neighborhood ask why?

bullet Deaths from tainted water: Hundreds of people face death in Walkerton, Ontario, Canada due to a municipal water supply tainted mainly by E. Coli O157:H7 and Campylobacter jejuni bacteria. Seven eventually die. Millions ask why?

bullet The South Asian tsunami in 2004-DEC: An earthquake in Indonesia generates a tsunami -- commonly called a tidal wave, although they are unrelated to the tides. As of 2005-MAR, as many as 280,000 persons are believed to have died in Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka and other countries as far away as Somalia and South Africa. A sizeable percentage of the victims are children. The world asks why?

bullet Hurricane Katrina in 2005-AUG: A category 4 hurricane devastates New Orleans, and surrounding area. A quarter million people become internal refugees in Texas alone -- many without money, assets, job, or home. North America asks why?

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A logical approach to explaining why disasters happen:

The logical approach, often promoted by secularists, non-theists and religious liberals attributes the cause of tragedies to chance and natural forces. Intervention by God, fate, or karma are not included in the equation.

Bad things just happen. If God exists, he/she/it/they neither initiates nor prevents tragedies. Nor is there such thing as fate or karma involved. The universe is neither opposed to, nor supportive of, nor even aware of our existence. Only chance and physical processes are the direct cause of disasters:

bulletMiscarriage: The couple's embryo may have been genetically defective or had not received proper nourishment. It died and was expelled from the woman's body.

bulletChild death: By chance, the California child just happened to run out onto the street as a truck approached. She or he received a massive physical impact from which it could not survive.

bulletDeaths from tainted water: A former conservative Ontario government decimated their civil service in order to reduce their labor costs and the public's income taxes. Monitoring of the safety of the water supply and other environmental factors were adversely affected. Municipalities no longer were required to report contamination. 1 Deaths from tainted water were inevitable; only the location was determined by chance.

bulletThe South Asian tsunami: The Australian and Eurasian tectonic plates are continuously grinding against each other under the earth. They cause frequent earthquakes in the region. On 2004-DEC-26 one unusually large quake occurred. It generated a tsunami, also called a sea surge, in the Indian Ocean which was capable of creating massive destruction. Many governments were not forewarned. Many lacked systems for informing their public of danger.

bulletEarthquake Katrina: Hurricanes are a fact of life in the Gulf Coast and along the Eastern seaboard of the U.S. However:
bullet The levee system around New Orleans can survive a Category 2 and perhaps a Category 3 hurricane. But it is not designed to withstand a Category 4 storm, like Katrina.

bullet Structures can be designed to withstand hurricane force winds, but their construction is much more expensive. Building codes often do not require such a high standard.

bullet Emergency management plans could have been prepared years ago. They were not; the law requires such plans only for areas in the vicinity of nuclear power plants.
bullet Global warming is increasing the strength of hurricanes and perhaps their frequency.

The disaster of caused by Katrina was totally predictable. Only its arrival time was unforeseeable.

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What we can do to prevent such tragedies:

We can have systems in place to reduce the frequency or seriousness of personal, regional, national and international disasters. In the five cases described above:
bullet A study showed that one dollar spent on pre-natal care will save the health care system seven dollars overall. However, "prevention" is a four-letter word in some areas of the medical and government communities.

bullet More speed zones can be installed around children's playgrounds and parks.

bullet Voters can choose to reject political parties that are willing to risk the public's safety for the sake of political ideology.

bullet We can install systems to link earthquake monitoring centers to war rooms or other permanently staffed government offices worldwide. Few such systems apparently exist at this time in much of the world. News reports indicate that most or all of the countries seem to have been caught by surprise when the South Asian surge hit.

bullet The United Nations developed a system for the Indian Ocean to monitor earthquakes and possible tsunamis. Eventually, such systems will be installed world wide. Over time, systems will be in place to notify governments who will then be able to alert their public to the danger of a tsunami.

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Inadequacy of the scientific answer:

People with no concept of deity or other supernatural forces may be satisfied with a logical approach. They would include many religious skeptics, Agnostics, Atheists, Humanists and other non-theists. However, many do not find these answers adequate. They look for other causes and deeper meanings. They still ask why such disasters happen.

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References used:

  1. "Walkerton report highlights," CBC News, 2002-JAN, at:
  2. "Alternative Arguments," BBC: The Open University, at:
  3. William J. Broad, "Deadly and Yet Necessary, Quakes Renew the Planet," New York Times, 2005-JAN-11, at:

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Site navigation:

Home page > Christianity > Christian personalities > God > Disasters > here

or Home page > Religious information > God > Disasters > here

or Home page > Spirituality > Disasters > here

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Copyright © 2005 to 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2005-JAN-01
Latest update: 2014-MAR-14
Author: B.A. Robinson

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