Earthquakes Since 1914
"The frequency of major earthquakes has increased about 20 times what it was on an average during the two thousand years before 1914." Survival into a New Earth (1984) p.23
The frequency of earthquakes has been constant for thousands of years. The number of earthquakes since 1914 is no greater than preceding centuries, and there have been centuries with more earthquake related deaths than in the 1900's. Watchtower information to the contrary raise serious implications regarding the integrity of the Watchtower writers.
Being interested in things of a mathematical nature I had always felt strongly that the "20 times" increase in earthquakes since 1914 was irrefutable proof that we are living in the Last Days. Without exception, every Witness that I have spoken to is convinced that there has been a significant increase in earthquakes since 1914. Underpinning the very foundation of the Watchtower Society is the concept that the Last Days started in 1914 and it has thus gone out of its way to present information that Jesus' signs, such as earthquakes, have dramatically increased since then.
Following the Tsunami of 2004, I chose to research earthquakes from the Encyclopaedia Britannica. This "harmless" source of information had a profound effect as it was at total odds to Watchtower statistics. I compared this with information on seismology websites and then corresponded with a seismologist. All sources confirmed that there has been no increase in the number of earthquakes since 1914, either in frequency, magnitude or deaths. I was rapidly convinced it was time to carefully check every 'fact' that I had been taught by the Watchtower Society.
The following shows that information presented by the Watchtower Society on earthquakes is grossly inaccurate. When recognising that millions of followers base their lives on what is served from the Watchtower, it is most disturbing to review the unethical way statistics are used and experts misquoted. Not only did this research bring into question that the Last Days started in 1914; it undermined my trust in everything written by the "Faithful and Discreet Slave".
The Watchtower Teaching
Over its history, the Watchtower has regularly made statements and quoted figures to 'prove' an extremely significant increase in earthquakes since 1914, a sample of which follows.
"There have been more natural earthquakes in the earth in the last four years than in any previous period in earth's history" World Distress Why? The Remedy (1923) p.26
"Even then, if the exaggerated figures of past centuries are accepted at full value, the above figures show the average annual death rate was greatly accelerated from and after 1914-from 4,000 killed per year it leaped to 40,000! Death and horror in concentrated form is mankind's portion since 1914." Watchtower 1951 Apr 1 p. 202
"Significantly, since 1914 there have been more major earthquakes than in any previous period of similar length in recorded history." Watchtower 1961 Oct 15 p.628
"On the average, about ten times as many have died each year from earthquakes since 1914 as in previous centuries." Life - How Did It Get Here? By Evolution or by Creation? p.225
""There will be great earthquakes, and in one place after another pestilences [disease epidemics] and food shortages." (Luke 21:11) That well fits events since 1914, as there has been a huge increase in the distresses from such calamities." Does God Really Care About Us? p.20
"From the time Jesus gave his prophecy until 1914, history records five earthquakes that each took 100,000 lives or more." Awake 1982 Jul 8 p.16
"But Jesus foretold "great earthquakes." (Luke 21:11) Has the frequency of these really changed? ... Since 1914 the yearly average of reported severe earthquakes has soared to over 11 times what it was during the thousand years before then. Is more than that required to fulfill the prophecy?" Awake! 1984 Oct 22 p.7
"This means that, in comparison with the previous 2,000 years, the average per year has been 20 times as great since 1914." Reasoning from the Scriptures (1985) p.236 (see below for a discussion of the full quotation)
"Such an increase in earthquakes does not surprise Jehovah's Witnesses." Awake! 1995 Aug 22 p.27
"During the last 2,500 years, only nine earthquakes have each killed over 100,000 people. Four of these quakes have occurred since 1914." Watchtower 1998 Sep 15 p.7
With little effort it can be determined that the number of 'great earthquakes' has occurred consistently for thousands of years. A comprehensive source of data is http://www.intute.ac.uk/sciences/hazards/Earthquakes-database.html As of April 2007 there were catalogued 5,800 destructive earthquakes since 2150.B.C. This is an average of over 1 great quake per year for the last 4,000 years, which is the same yearly average that the Watchtower has claimed makes the 20th century the most prolific for earthquakes in history.
"Since 1948 the pattern has entered a new phase, with approximately one great quake a year." Watchtower 1961 Oct 15 p.628
Seismology is a new science with the first seismograph invented in 1880. For this reason accurate records of earthquakes measuring 7.5 on the Richter scale have only become possible since then. Accurate and complete seismological records are now readily obtainable. http://neic.usgs.gov/neis/eqlists/eqstats.html (July 2005) provided a list of earthquakes for this period resulting in over 1000 deaths. From 1902 to 2001 there have been 110 earthquakes that resulted in 1000 or more deaths, or 1.1 destructive earthquakes per year. The 12 years prior to 1914, (1902 to 1913) had a higher average of 1.25 per year than the average for the 88 years from 1914 to 2001, where the average drops to 1.08. This shows that during the time frame that we have accurate records the occurrence of earthquakes before and after 1914 has changed little.
In a private email I received from Professor Glenn Biasi at the University of Nevada Reno Seismological Laboratory he wrote;
"There is no significant increase in earthquakes since 1914. The record is better, so people are more aware of earthquakes, more seismometers, better communications, etc. The number of earthquakes varies from year to year, but is pretty constant once the detect ability increase is factored in. The number of earthquakes per year or the amount of energy released on average are expressions of the speed at which internal, gravity driven flows in the mantle act. Very hard to change, and no signs of disruption on any historical timeframe"
It is accepted amongst seismologists that the number of earthquakes have remained relatively unchanged over many millenniums.
"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.
The reason that the number of earthquakes changes little over time is because earthquakes take years to develop, and are the result of the shifting earth's mantle. This is how islands and mountain ranges have formed over millennium.
The frequency of earthquakes is quite bewildering.
It is estimated that there are 500,000 detectable earthquakes in the world each year. 100,000 of those can be felt, and 100 of them cause damage. http://earthquake.usgs.gov/learning/facts.php (April 16 2008)
The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that large earthquakes occur about once a year. Smaller earthquakes, such as magnitude 2 earthquakes, occur several hundred times a day and several million temblors happen every day. Google Maps identifies on a map of the globe earthquakes from the last 7 days at Google Real-time Earthquakes. For example, in just 7 days to October 15th 2011 there were the following earthquakes between 4 and 6.7.
To create a mountain system might take several million medium size earthquakes over tens of millions of years. www.encyclopedia.com stated 1 January 2005
"On average about 1,000 earthquakes with intensities of 5.0 or greater are recorded each year. Great earthquakes (intensity 8.0 or higher) occur once a year, major earthquakes (intensity 7.0-7.9) occur 18 times a year, strong earthquakes (intensity 6.0-6.9) 10 times a month, and moderate earthquakes (intensity 5.0-5.9) more than twice a day."
As an example of the power of earthquakes, the 1994 earthquake in Northridge, California released energy equivalent to almost 2 billion kilograms of explosive, about 100 times the amount of energy that was released by the atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima during World War II. At magnitude 6.7 the Northridge earthquake is considered moderate in size, yet caused over $20 billion in damage. Earthquakes this size occur about 20 times each year worldwide.
Dedicated seismologists and researchers, including R. Mallet, J. Milne, P. Verney, S. Duda and A.W. Lee have amassed a considerable volume of data on historical earthquakes. Earthquakes have been recorded as early as 2150 B.C. Four magnitude 6.8 or larger earthquakes and many magnitude 6 - 6.5 shocks occurred in the San Francisco Bay region alone during the 75 years between 1836 and 1911.
Despite no increase in earthquake size or frequency, one could imagine that the increasing global population would have at least resulted in the most earthquake related deaths occurring in the 20th century. Surprisingly this too has not been the case, with prior centuries having more earthquake related deaths. The Encyclopaedia Britannica 2002 on DVD lists major historical earthquakes over the last 1,500 years. Of the 5 earthquakes with the most deaths, only 1 was since 1914 and it was by no means the most destructive. The most destructive earthquake was in 1201 in Syria with 1.1 million killed. In 1556, China had an earthquake with 800,000 killed. In comparison, the largest in the 1900's killed a relatively minor 240,000.
Table of Most Destructive Earthquakes since 500 AD
The total deaths since 1914 as recorded in the full list appearing in the Britannica was 1.15 million, whilst the same list shows that during the 1200's 3 earthquakes alone resulted in 1.26 million deaths. Total earthquake related deaths for the 1200's would be even higher if a complete set of records had been available.
A person was more than 3 times as likely to die from an earthquake in the 1700's as in the 1900's
A comparison of deaths from the 1700's, 1800's and 1900's likewise shows that the number of deaths annually have been very similar, with each of the last 3 centuries suffering over 1 million deaths. Considering the six fold population increase during the 20th century the ratio of deaths to population has been considerably less since 1914. Despite the increased population it appears that improvements in technology - including rescue efforts, building standards and early warning systems - have helped reduce the loss of life and suffering from earthquakes in the 20th century. As explained in the article Why Haiti's quake toll higher than Chile's by Colin Stark, advances in technology mean suffering caused by earthquakes has decreased in developed countries over the last century.
About six weeks ago, a large earthquake devastated Haiti and killed over 200,000 people. Saturday, a huge earthquake releasing 500 times more energy, devastated Chile and killed hundreds.
The above data shows that it is well established that there have been a constant occurrence of great earthquakes since the time of Jesus. When considering what is presented next it is important to understand the following:
It is shocking to see the lack of quality and integrity in information presented on earthquakes by the Watchtower Society. It is noteworthy to examine the way the Watchtower Society has misrepresented facts, misrepresented statistics and used misquotes to prove it's teaching on increased earthquake activity. This has been an ongoing history of misleading statements about earthquakes, starting with Rutherford.
"Call to mind also that since 1914 there have been more disastrous earthquakes than in any other time of the world's history." Deliverance (1926) p.251
This is an interesting quote considering that there were actually more earthquakes with over 1000 deaths in the twelve years immediately prior to 1914 than the twelve years following; including large earthquakes in San Francisco, Turkey, Iran, Italy and Jamaica.
In 1977 the following spurious statement was made, one which has appeared in numerous Watchtower publications since.
"Interestingly, for a period of 1,059 years (856 to 1914 C.E.), reliable sources list only 24 major earthquakes, with 1,972,952 fatalities. But compare that with the accompanying partial list citing 43 instances of earthquakes, in which 1,579,209 persons died during just the 62 years from 1915 to 1976 C.E." Awake! 1977 Feb 22 p.11
It is misleading to say there were only 24 earthquakes prior to 1914, especially when going on to say the 43 since 1914 is only a partial list; obviously the pre 1914 list is the more understated figure. It is quite simple for any person to locate a significant quantity of data to show there were far more than 24 major earthquakes between 856 and 1914. Yet this inaccurate information was included a decade later in the main study publication distributed to millions of followers and Bible studies.
"From 1914 until now, there have been many more major earthquakes than in any other like period in recorded history. For over 1,000 years, from the year 856 C.E. to 1914, there were only 24 major earthquakes, causing some 1,973,000 deaths. But in the 63 years from 1915 to 1978, a total of some 1,600,000 persons died in 43 great earthquakes." You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth p.151
In 1983 the Watchtower had an interesting quote to prove that there has been a rise in earthquakes.
"In the Italian journal Il Piccolo, of October 8, 1978, Geo Malagoli observed: "Our generation lives in a dangerous period of high seismic activity, as statistics show. In fact, during a period of 1,059 years (from 856 to 1914) reliable sources list only 24 major earthquakes causing 1,973,000 deaths. However, [in] recent disasters, we find that 1,600,000 persons have died in only 63 years, as a result of 43 earthquakes which occurred from 1915 to 1978. This dramatic increase further goes to emphasize another accepted fact-our generation is an unfortunate one in many ways."" Watchtower 1983 May 15 p.6 Earthquakes - A Sign of the End?
You will recognise that Il Piccolo has actually taken its information from the Awake. Since 1983 the Watchtower has used Geo Malagoli's quote to prove an increase in earthquakes. For instance:
"The Italian journal Il Piccolo reported: Our generation lives in a dangerous period of high seismic activity, as statistics show. On the average, about ten times as many have died each year from earthquakes since 1914 as in previous centuries." Life How did it get here? By Evolution or by Creation? p. 225
What these quotes do not state is that the source of Malagoli's figures was the Society's own invented ones. Why do this? This was a way to give credibility to its' own misleading information.
The 1983 Watchtower article also misquotes Professor Aki in a further attempt to prove a surge in earthquakes.
"Professor Keiiti Aki of the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology speaks of "the apparent surge in intensity and frequency of major earthquakes during the last one hundred years," though stating that the period from 1500 through 1700 was as active." Watchtower 1983 May 15 p.6
This partial quote from Professor Aki gives the opposite meaning to what he actually said. Aki's full sentence was:
"The apparent surge in intensity and frequency of major earthquakes during the last one hundred years is, in all probability, due to improved recording of earthquakes and the increased vulnerability of human society to earthquake damage. The main reason is the well established plate tectonics which indicates a very steady fault motion over the past many millions of years."
In other words, due to the slow movement of plate tectonics there is no surge, just an apparent one due to better measurement and recording. However the manner in which the Society misquoted the Professor gives the misleading impression that there has been a surge.
Whilst ongoing research and data collection on historical earthquakes has increased known earthquakes and fatalities, the Watchtower Society has managed to decrease the fatalities it claims occurred prior to 1914. Statistics from the following magazines show the trend.
The box from the Happiness book claims only 1,800 earthquake related deaths occurred per year prior to 1914. The Watchtower Society appears to have created this figure from its own spurious claim of only 24 major earthquakes (1,973,000/1,059=1863). It is generally accepted that tens of millions of people died from earthquakes since Jesus time. In Advancement in Science, June 1969 p.362 J.H. Latter estimates up to 1.5 million people died per century since 1,000 A.D., or around 15,000 per year, a figure very similar to that during the 20th century.
The Watchtower publication Insight on the Scriptures goes into great detail about this claimed increase in earthquakes.
"Jesus foretold earthquakes in significant number and intensity as a feature of the sign of his presence. (Mt 24:3, 7, 8; Lu 21:11) Since 1914 C.E., there has been an increase in the number of earthquakes, resulting in much distress. With data obtained from the National Geophysical Data Center in Boulder, Colorado, supplemented by a number of standard reference works, a tabulation was made in 1984 that included only earthquakes that measured 7.5 or more on the Richter scale, or that resulted in destruction of five million dollars (U.S.) or more in property, or that caused 100 or more deaths. It was calculated that there had been 856 of such earthquakes during the 2,000 years before 1914. The same tabulation showed that in just 69 years following 1914 there were 605 of such quakes. These statistics are a means of indicating the extent of suffering from earthquakes during this period of history." Insight on the Scriptures, Volume 1 p.669
This shockingly inaccurate calculation has been used a number of times over the years. The Awake 1984 Oct 22 p.6 footnote summarised the calculation as follows:
Reasoning from the Scriptures (1989) quotes the paragraph in full:
"Has there actually been a significant number of major earthquakes since 1914? With data obtained from the National Geophysical Data Center in Boulder, Colorado, supplemented by a number of standard reference works, a tabulation was made in 1984 that included only earthquakes that measured 7.5 or more on the Richter scale, or that resulted in destruction of five million dollars (U.S.) or more in property, or that caused 100 or more deaths. It was calculated that there had been 856 of such earthquakes during the 2,000 years before 1914. The same tabulation showed that in just 69 years following 1914 there were 605 of such quakes. That means that, in comparison with the previous 2,000 years, the average per year has been 20 times as great since 1914." p.236
Although presented as if from the Geophysical Data Center, careful reading shows the figures were fabricated by the Watchtower Society, resulting in a wildly inaccurate and biased number. It is claimed there were only 856 earthquakes for the 2000 years prior to 1914, including all earthquakes fitting one of the following criteria:
As has already been shown, it is well attested by seismologists that the number of earthquakes has been consistent for thousands of years, with around 1 earthquakes a year over 8.0 on the Richter scale and 18 over 7.0. Therefore, on this basis alone there were thousands of earthquakes prior to 1914 fitting the first criteria, not just 856. The second criterion was to add any earthquakes that caused $5 million dollars in damage. This hypothetical figure is entirely meaningless for a time period when people had no cars or electricity and generally lived in what we would term a shed by today's standards. How many dollars worth of damage would a camp of Aboriginal humpies sustain in an earthquake? To present these as accurate figures based on the third category is absolute intellectual dishonesty. How can the Watchtower expect readers to accept it has a complete list of earthquakes that resulted in 100 or more deaths from 2000 years ago? Over such a long timeframe most small villages and their records no longer exist. If 100 Australian Aboriginals were killed in an earthquake 500 years ago, who would honestly claim to have any record that earthquake even occurred. Despite this calculation being grossly incorrect, this is the basis for the claim there have been 20 times the number of earthquakes since 1914.
Not until 2002 (and only after information highlighting the Watchtower's misleading use of figures became readily accessible on the internet) did the Watchtower finally conceded that its earthquake claims were wrong.
"Some say that any reports of an increase in the number of earthquakes are simply due to advances in technology, which enable more seismic events to be detected. The U.S. National Earthquake Information Center reports that earthquakes of 7.0 magnitude and greater remained "fairly constant" throughout the 20th century. Note, though, that the fulfillment of Jesus' prophecy does not require an increase in the number or power of earthquakes. All Jesus said was that there would be great earthquakes in one place after another. Furthermore, he stated that these events would mark the "beginning of pangs of distress." (Matthew 24:8) Distress is measured, not by the number of earthquakes or how they rate on the Richter scale, but by the effect that they have upon people." Awake! 2002 Mar 22 p.9
"From Our Readers
These comments still verge on being deceptive for a number of reasons. Firstly, note how it says seismologists state that earthquakes have been quite consistent during the 20th Century. Seismologists state is that it has been fairly constant over thousands or even millions of years. By using the term 20th Century, the impression can still be held by uninformed Witness members that the 20th Century was more prone to earthquakes than those that preceded it.
These articles, and the Watchtower in general, try to indicate that the effect on people today is worse than in previous centuries. This is hardly so. In 1737 there was a tsunami in the same area as the Asian Tsunami on December 26, 2004. The 1737 tsunami killed as many people as the 2004 one. Who were more affected, the people in 1737 or those in 2004? In 2004, within hours doctors were flown in with medicine to relieve the pain of the injured, heavy equipment was delivered to help clear the destructive mess and a global campaign of donations means the displaced people could look forward to newly built houses and infrastructure. Compare this to 1737 when hundreds of thousands of people were left to die and fend for themselves, whilst the rest of the world was largely unaware that anything had even happened.
A more recent article has toned down comments regarding earthquakes even further.
"WHAT IS A COMMON OBJECTION? We are not experiencing more earthquakes; because of modern technology, we are just more aware of them than people were in the past.
Jesus outlined earthquakes as a sign of his presence, but did not detail what constitutes a great earthquake. At Luke 21:11 he is recorded as using the phrase "there will be great earthquakes ", and at Matthew 24:7 simply states there will be "earthquakes in one place after another." In order to support its apocalyptical view of our times, the Watchtower has written in its publications that there has been a monumental increase in the number of earthquakes during the 20th century, though Jesus sign does not actually say that this needs to be the case.
Neither did Jesus or any other Bible writer point to the specific year of 1914 for this to start. As discussed at 1914, the concept that the Last Days specifically started in 1914 is based on misapplication of Daniel 4.
Watchtower information on earthquakes brings into question the honesty and integrity of its publications. In order to make Jehovah's Witnesses believe that earthquakes prove 1914 was the start of the time of the end, the Watchtower Society has had to resort to presenting inaccurate figures, quoting back their own wrong figures and misquoting seismologists. This type of intellectual dishonesty is not unique to the Watchtower, but common with writers from apocalyptical movements. It is also very effective. After every large earthquake, I receive emails from Jehovah's Witnesses claiming I have been proven wrong and the end is about to occur.
There has been no increase in the number of earthquakes since 1914. The number of earthquakes has occurred consistently over long periods of time due to the slow nature of continental drift. Neither has there been an increase in the power of earthquakes. The 1900's did not even have the most deaths from all earthquakes combined, nor the largest or most destructive earthquake. Despite the above, every time there is an earthquake Jehovah's Witnesses believe it is a sign pointing to Armageddon.
The Watchtower presents similarly spurious information about the other signs of the Last Days.
Paul Grundy 2005 - 2014
607 / 1914 / Seven Times
1900 to 1904 - 49
Are Earthquakes Really on the Increase?