Dinesh D'Souza has an interesting article (to me, at least) in the e-mail newsletter of Christianity Today titled, "Why We Need Earthquakes." It might also be titled, "Why God allows natural evil." This is a question that has bedeviled many, many Christian minds, and contemporary science, especially geophysics, my old stomping ground, has something to contribute.
People over the centuries have struggled with why, if God is loving and omnipotent, does He allow evil. Moral evil is a bit easier to deal with, since human freedom is its source. Natural evil, like earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, and the like, are a bit harder to explain, since they so often cause innocent human suffering on a large scale. While some Christian apologists propose that such disasters turn our eyes to God, or give us opportunities to show one another charity, such claims, while true, are not entirely satisfactory. Couldn't God give us less dramatic and devastating opportunities?
D'Souza mentions "Rare Earth," a book published in 2003 and authored by Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee, a paleontologist and astronomer at the University of Washington, Seattle, who examine some of the many conditions required for life to exist on any planet. Earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis, and a whole host of geologically-based catastrophes are all a consequence of plate tectonics, a well-established, though recent, scientific description of relative motion between huge jigsaw-like pieces of the earth's crust. The authors acknowledge W
hile natural disasters occasionally wreak havoc, our planet needs plate tectonics to produce the biodiversity that enables complex life to flourish on earth. Without plate tectonics, earth's land would be submerged to a depth of several thousand feet. Fish might survive in such an environment, but not humans.
Some might complain that a loving, omnipotent God could create a world that didn't require processes that cost so much human life. Ward and Brownlee's response to such an argument would be simple and direct:
Plate tectonics also help regulate the earth's climate, preventing the onset of scorching or freezing temperatures that would make mammalian life impossible. In sum, plate tectonics are a necessary prerequisite to human survival on the only planet known to sustain life.
Such a world could have produced life, but it surely could not have produced creatures like us. Science tells us that our world has all the necessary conditions for species like Homo sapiens to survive and endure.
This would be good to remember, the next time a natural disaster takes human life. It is a price we pay for the possibility of a planet that can sustain human life.
Our planet requires oxygen and a warming sun and water in order for us to live here, and we appreciate this, even though we recognize that people can get sunstroke and drown in the ocean. So, too, it seems that plate tectonics are...a 'central requirement for life' as we know it.
And a good opportunity to love our neighbor, as well.