Do all of these recent large earthquakes mean that it’s the end of the world?

Plenty of religious and spiritual belief systems view earthquakes as a sign or warning to humanity. They are a bad omen. Many Biblical prophecies link an increase of earthquakes to the end of the world, which can put Christians on edge when there are large earthquakes in the news. Earthquakes are often quoted by spiritual and religious leaders/enthusiasts as being the result of God’s anger, or a spiritual call to renewal.

Matthew 24:7 For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.

Psalm 18: 7 Then the earth reeled and rocked; the foundations also of the mountains trembled and quaked, because he was angry.

OK let’s talk science. In the past few weeks we have had several large earthquakes (a 7.4 off the coast of the Solomon Islandsa 6.6 in Nicaragua, and a 7.1 off the southwest coast of Papua New Guinea). Additionally, many large earthquakes with a magnitude 8.0 or greater have happened in recent years including an M9.0 in Japan in 2011, and many others (See this USGS page on recent significant earthquakes). Is there a trend?

Well, scientists would say yes. There has been a recent trend in large/significant earthquakes. I include significant because many smaller earthquakes happen in largely populated or low income areas and cause more damage and deaths than larger earthquakes elsewhere.

Is this increase in earthquakes unusual? Well, not necessarily. First of all, the overall increase of earthquakes (both large and small) we are detecting can be correlated with the increase of seismic instrumentation around the world. The more instruments we have, the more earthquakes we detect and record. This smaller sect of geology/seismology is a pretty new field, and the theory of plate tectonics has only been around for about 50 years. Seismic instrumentation was invented within the last 100 years, and a global network and number of seismic instruments have increased significantly in only the last 30 years. More instruments, more recorded earthquakes.

What about the increase of deaths and cost related to earthquake/tsunami damage? Well that has increased with the increase of our population. The more people on Earth, the more people at risk when an earthquake happens.

OK but what about all the big earthquakes? Even old records record those, seismic instruments or not. Good point. Within our limited worldwide earthquake historical record (see figure below) you can see a sort of “clustering” of larger earthquakes, both in recent times and also centering around the year 1960. Note that the record only shows through the year 2010, and many other large earthquakes are missing for years 2010-2014. Still, you can see that a similar trend to what is happening in recent years has happened in the somewhat recent past. Scientists are still struggling to understand the correlation of one large earthquake to another in these clustered events. If one earthquake is triggering another, why are the large events still many months or even years apart (as opposed to happening right when the seismic activity and seismic waves initially occur)? It’s interesting stuff.

Image

Figure borrowed from Charles Ammon, after Ammon et al., SRL, 2010

Scientists may still be looking for reasons to explain the method by which these large earthquakes may or may not relate to each other, but it still allows for those of us who seek spiritual meaning to ponder it. Are these signs from God? Is it the end times? Does this mean Jesus is coming back soon? Is this perhaps the result of how we as humans have treated our planet, and is a punishment from the planet itself?

Maybe you believe there is an energy or other supernatural being that is aware of these things happening. This next segment holds my own spiritual interpretation, and maybe you have a different one you would like to share. My personal belief is that an all-knowing God sees in advance that these events will happen. If my God is all-knowing, He isn’t stupid. He is much smarter than you or me. Therefore these things do not surprise Him, and He understands the scientific mechanism by which it occurs. OK, He created it! I don’t think hurting people makes Him happy because I believe God is a loving God. We have made our own choices on this Earth as part of free will, and we suffer many things because of it. I don’t know if God causes them for this or that such reason because I’m not God.

One thing I do know is that whenever natural disasters affect us, people are reminded of the fragility of life. We are reminded of what is important. Those we love, the things we hold dear. And we think about death. People don’t like to think about death, but death is a very real part of being alive.. it is an inevitable event that none of us can escape. Maybe when earthquakes occur we can remind ourselves and each other that we love each other.

Whether or not earthquakes are a judgment or a sign, I think they are a reminder to us that we need to take the fragility of life seriously and live each day as if it were our last. That includes preparing ourselves to ponder what happens to us when we die.

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About doctorstg2020

I am both a scientist and spiritual enthusiast. These two things do not need to be contradictory. I attempt to reconcile these two trains of thought, and also present my thoughts on following God without being a self-important judgmental jerk about it.

8 responses to “Do all of these recent large earthquakes mean that it’s the end of the world?”

  1. Laurie F. Harrison says :

    Thanks for the follow and visiting my blog. I look forward to reading through more of your posts because so far, it looks really interesting. Thanks again!

  2. Lester Chua says :

    What are your thoughts about the recent increases in the incidences of small quakes in some states in the U.S.?

    • doctorstg2020 says :

      Scientifically? Depends on the location. Seismologists are looking into a lot of these issues. Some are on faults that we didn’t know about previously and are only recently active. Usually if you have one earthquake it can trigger a few other small ones around the same time (foreshocks and aftershocks) due to the change in loading/stress on the fault. Also, we have a lot more seismometers than we used to now, so we can pick up a lot of those smaller earthquakes that were never previously recorded. Some of this increase in activity is due to proximity to an active tectonic zone (i.e. near a plate boundary system, or near the mid-continent rift for quakes in the middle of the US). Some other small seismic activity may be human-induced (i.e. fracking, mining), and scientists are still looking into this possibility for answers.
      Spiritually? Whenever natural disasters/phenomena occur I think it’s a good idea to reflect on life and the meaning behind it for you spiritually. If these earthquakes cause people to start reflecting on their actions, their life and their beliefs, then maybe the spiritual meaning behind the earthquake has come to fruition.

  3. Rene Nielson says :

    It is a misinterpretation of Jesus words within the context of the Olivet Discourse to believe and teach that earthquakes, or war, or famine, or any other negative event, rape, murder, genocide etc. has any relationship to Jesus second coming. He said so himself. He defined all these with the phrase “the end is not yet” and the metaphor ” these are pangs of distress” (false alarm when awaiting a childbirth). So run around in circles screaming Jesus, Jesus when the earth shakes… if you must. The superstitious have been doing precisely that for 2000 years.

  4. xxkultuur says :

    First of all, thanks for your follow, and this very logical approach to disaster. You may be interested in this book: http://www.amazon.com/There-Such-Thing-Natural-Disaster/dp/0415954878 which directly addresses your statement about the number of deaths from catastrophe vis a vis the rise in population. For what my 2 cents are worth, whatever religious background you are from, if the end of the earth/life as we know it is coming, there is no reason to fret about it. Leave that up to the deities and live as the best human being you can be. That is the best preparation.

    • doctorstg2020 says :

      Thanks for pointing me to this book, I will definitely check it out. Disaster greatly interests me, and I agree with you that worrying/fretting about the end of the world doesn’t really help. It is up to us to be informed and prepared for whatever happens.

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