Natural Disasters and the "End Times"

The Worldnutdaily has this piece by Greg Laurie giving the usual "the end is near" screed that we hear after every major disaster. Laurie is a regular WND contributor and is the pastor of one of the largest churches in America, Harvest Christian Fellowship. So naturally, he can be relied upon to pass along a good bit of nonsense and false scientific claims to his followers while he's peddling his end-times theology:

As we prepare to remember the horrific attack on American soil on 9-11, we may wonder could it be that all these things that are happening in our world today are actually signs of the times. Could these be reminders to us that Jesus Christ is coming back soon?

Consider the tsunami that struck Southeast Asia on Dec. 26 last year. It was caused by the fourth most powerful undersea earthquake on record. An earthquake so powerful it moved the entire island of Sumatra 100 feet to the southwest from its pre-quake position. Geologists said the tsunami was so powerful that it set the whole Earth to vibrating and it interfered with the Earth's rotation to the degree that time stopped for three microseconds.

According to the U.S. Geological Society, earthquakes are on the increase. For the past 50 years, every decade has increased in the number of earthquakes recorded. And not just minor ones, but "killer quakes" as well. And, this one has been one of the strongest ever, with more than 286,000 causalities in its wake. More will come.

And now in our own back yard, this tragic hurricane called Katrina may end up claiming thousands of lives as well.

First, there is no "US Geological Society". The agency he intends to refer to is the U.S. Geological Survey, which is a government agency. While he cites them as the source for his claim that earthquakes are increasing, he doesn't bother to cite an actual paper from the USGS. There's a good reason for that - he's either lying or passing on information from someone who is. Here is the USGS paper on the subject of increasing earthquakes and it says the opposite of what he claims:

We continue to be asked by many people throughout the world if earthquakes are on the increase. Although it may seem that we are having more earthquakes, earthquakes of magnitude 7.0 or greater have remained fairly constant.

A partial explanation may lie in the fact that in the last twenty years, we have definitely had an increase in the number of earthquakes we have been able to locate each year. This is because of the tremendous increase in the number of seismograph stations in the world and the many improvements in global communications. In 1931, there were about 350 stations operating in the world; today, there are more that 8,000 stations and the data now comes in rapidly from these stations by electronic mail, internet and satellite. This increase in the number of stations and the more timely receipt of data has allowed us and other seismological centers to locate earthquakes more rapidly and to locate many small earthquakes which were undetected in earlier years. The NEIC now locates about 20,000 earthquakes each year or approximately 50 per day. Also, because of the improvements in communications and the increased interest in the environment and natural disasters, the public now learns about more earthquakes.

According to long-term records (since about 1900), we expect about 17 major earthquakes (7.0 - 7.9) and one great earthquake (8.0 or above) in any given year.

Laurie is far from alone in making this claim. Hal Lindsey, another WND contributor, has been claiming this for years as well. His book Apocalypse Code., written in 1997, contains this passage:

Earthquakes continue to increase in frequency and intensity, just as the Bible predicts for the last days before the return of Christ. History shows that the number of killer quakes remained fairly constant until the 1950s - averaging between two to four per decade. In the 1950s, there were nine. In the 1960s, there were 13. In the 1970s, there were 51. In the 1980s, there were 86. From 1990 through 1996, there have been more than 150.

He doesn't give a source for those statistics, but in his 1996 book Planet Earth 2000 A.D., he cites similar statistics as being from the USGS, but he also doesn't bother to cite a specific paper. And the footnote only references a newspaper article from 1984, which obviously could not contain data from the 80s and 90s. Grant Jeffrey, another prominent end times preacher and writer, wrote in his 1994 book Prince of Darkness:

However, since A.D. 1900, the growth in major earthquakes has been relentless. From 1900 to 1949 it averaged three major quakes per decade. From 1949 the increase became awesome with 9 killer quakes in the 1950's; 13 in the 60's; 56 in the 1970's and an amazing 74 major quakes in the 1980's. Finally, in the 1990's, as [sic] the present rate, we will experience 125 major killer quakes in this decade (Source: U.S. Geological Survey Earthquake Report, Boulder, Colorado).

Similar numbers have been cited, with reference to the USGS, by John Hagee, Jack Van Impe, Chuck Missler and numerous other prominent evangelical leaders. But the claim is so far off the mark that even the Institute for Creation Research isn't fooled by it (and that's rather remarkable) and has openly called it an urban legend. Nonetheless, you can expect this sort of claim to be made more and more often. In their zeal to prove that an increase in the number of earthquakes means we're living in the end times, they're really only proving an increase in end times nonsense.

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Boy, have I been there/done that! Since my office is closest to our main office, I tend to be the "go-to" geologist when somebody calls the department with a question. Up until 2000, end-of-the-world quake people were calling every few days, and I would read them the survey's spiel. We still get a few, but since we hired a structural geologist, I can pass them off to her, and I can stick with the folks who think they've found gold.

We still get a few, but since we hired a structural geologist, I can pass them off to her, and I can stick with the folks who think they've found gold.


I'm pretty surprised that they would actually call to ask that though. Makes me wonder if they aren't just a little skeptical of what some of these preachers are saying.

What I don't get about all these end times nutters is that Jesus was pretty clear about how you should approach the apocalypse: whatever you do, don't try to predict it. I mean, he even came up with a parable about it. How do they justify their crap, then? They must have some excuse, and I'd love to hear it.

By Ginger Yellow (not verified) on 07 Sep 2005 #permalink

What, no shout out for the incredible claim that the earthquake caused TIME TO STOP. For three microseconds no less! How you'd calculate the length of time that time stopped for I don't know, but that's pretty astounding nonetheless.

I glossed right over that incredible claim. I'd love to know what geologists said that. Maybe I'll ask him.