Those who have suffered through the recent North Atlantic hurricane season would probably prefer nothing more than an afternoon shower ever again.
High death tolls, staggering property losses, and frightening devastation earn these tropical cyclones their reputation as "acts of God." People everywhere wonder, "If God is so great and has designed the world, why would hurricanes be a part of His good creation?"
This question deserves a compassionate, thorough answer,1 but this short article briefly addresses one aspect of such a complicated issue. What would life be like if Earth did not undergo hurricanes?
Scientific evidence suggests that Earth's rotation speed probably has the greatest effect on the number and intensity of storms the planet generates each year.2 If its rate were to change by as little as two hours per day, slowing from 24 to 26 hours, the number of violent storms, including thunderstorms and hurricanes, would certainly decrease. (On the other hand, a faster rotation rate would result in more numerous and far more devastating storms.) Perhaps hurricanes might disappear altogether; so humans would live in a much more benign environment-or would they? There is evidence that a planet without hurricanes, as devastating as they are, may not represent an improvement.
Earth derives a number of benefits from massive thunderstorms (of which hurricanes are the most severe), including these five:3
- Sufficient rainfall to water the earth. Major parts of the world rely on heavy storms to supply water for life's basic needs.
- Plant fertilizer from lightning. Nitrogen "fixing" by lightning converts some of the nitrogen in the air into a form that plants can use for food. Without it, many plants could not thrive. And plants are the foundation of humanity's food chain.
- Pruning of forests and prairies from lightning fires. Fires help maintain the diverse life-forms needed for a stable ecology naturally, by clearing away old growth and spurring new plant growth required for food.
- Pruning of forests by strong winds. In addition to fires, winds uproot weaker trees and open up the forest canopy for a greater diversity of plants and animals.
- Drought-breaking rainfall. Severe storms such as hurricanes (called monsoons, typhoons, or cyclones in other parts of the world) provide immediate, ample water supplies to end years of drought.
Earth's rotation speed is fast enough to provide the just-right quantity and magnitude of thunderstorms to sustain a rich diversity of life. But with that provision come occasional hurricanes in certain areas, storms with locally tragic effects. Rather than charging God with poor design or asserting that He does not exist or care, perhaps the best response would be to research and supply the ways and means to better protect people living in hurricane-prone regions. (Check out the newspaper article written by RTB apologist Mark Ritter for some additional thoughts.4)
- See Ronald H. Nash, Faith & Reason (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1988), 177-221; Kenneth Richard Samples, Without a Doubt (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2004), 239-53; Hugh Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos, 3rd ed. (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2001), 175-99; and Krista Kay Bontrager, "Good God, Cruel World?" http://www.reasons.org/resources/skeptics/goodgod.shtml, accessed 10/27/05.
- A. Navarra and G. Boccaletti, "Numerical general circulation experiments of sensitivity to Earth rotation rate," Climate Dynamics 19 (2002): 467-83.
- Chuck Doswell, "Is there a good side to severe storms?" http://webserv.chatsystems.com/~doswell/goodwx.html, accessed 10/27/05.
- Mark Ritter, "Maybe there's some good in those 'canes," North County Times, October 2005, accessed 11/15/05.