Q: How do you explain something like the earthquake in Haiti? We’ve really been saddened by what’s happened there, and we just don’t understand why God lets things like this happen. Do you have any answers?
A: The different tectonic plates that make up Earth’s crust are in constant relative motion. Often this motion is impeded due to irregular features at the boundary (fault) between adjacent plates, and the plates deform over time. This deformation creates a large amount of stored energy. Periodically this strain energy is released rapidly, leading to the formation of seismic waves. When these waves reach the surface, they cause the ground to move side to side or up and down, and can result in catastrophic changes to the topology of the surface, severe damage to human constructions, and significant injury and loss of human life. This phenomenon is called an earthquake. Certain areas of Earth’s surface lie close to faults and are prone to frequent and/or major earthquakes. See Wikipedia for more information.
The recent disastrous earthquake of 12 January 2010 was due to slippage of the Enriquillo-Plantain Garden fault. While this earthquake was sudden and had devastating consequences of human life, it was not completely surprising given Haiti’s proximity to this fault and history of major earthquakes.
I have heard many people attribute this earthquake to the work of a supernatural deity but this notion is ridiculous. If it were caused by a god, then it is a god that kills people cruelly and indiscriminately. Haiti’s capital (Port-au-Prince, the site of the earthquake) has a birthrate of approximately 130 babies per day. That means that when the earthquake struck, 130 day-old babies, and 3,900 month-old babies were subjected to its effects. Since the death toll amounted to about 10% of the population of Port-au-Prince metro area, it is reasonable to expect a significant fraction of these vulnerable babies were killed. An additional significant fraction were also maimed and/or orphaned. If someone believes that a benevolent god let this happen or caused it to happen, their belief system is completely irrational and their god is cruel and crude. The most reasonable explanation is that there are no gods that intervene in our universe (for good or ill).
Feel free to leave your answer to this question in the comments.