Thursday, 14 January 2010


Haiti's tragedy is before our eyes as we look at the news. I find myself thinking about the Lisbon earthquake of 1755. At the time, the dismay was so general that it presented a real problem for theologians - how can a benign and all-powerful God let something like this happen? Voltaire used the earthquake to undermine the arguments of Dr Pangloss in Candide [Kant was also fascinated by it, and even wrote a book trying to explain the Lisbon quake as a result of subterranean caverns full of gas shifting -- one of the first serious attempts to produce a scientific explanation]. Today, there is little discussion along similar lines. In a way, the 18th century reaction to the 1755 quake is charmingly innocent. I guess the 20th century offered so many impressive horrors that it is difficult to think that a bad earthquake accentuates the need for a theodicy.

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