Why would both educated and uneducated people believe that earthquakes are the wrath of God?

  • related? philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/14698/…
    – Dave
    Sep 2 '15 at 13:54
  • 1
    "Why" questions are difficult to fit into an SE. Can you make clearer some of the assumptions you're coming with and some of the methods of thinking about the question you are interested in (right now, you've got a sociological/epistemology answer and a dogmatic answer). Do you want to understand this in terms of how epistemologists might look at? Or ... ? What sort of answer would satisfy this question?
    – virmaior
    Sep 3 '15 at 6:48
  • There are also a wide variety of what people mean by "earhtquakes are the wrath of God..." as two examples: (1) God caused the earthquake directly, (2) God allowed the earthquake to happen. Can you be more specific about what you mean in your question? Sep 8 '15 at 15:42
  • The difference between science knowledge and religious knowledge is that science knowledge is derived from belief supported by corroborable evidence, while religious knowledge is derived from faith (i.e. belief without evidence).
    – MichaelK
    Apr 9 '18 at 10:58

That's an extremely complicated question. It has to do with the functional aspect of religion, cognitive dissonance theory, and much more. A person could write a book on the topic.

But consider this:

Religion does have functional value, as addressed by various anthropologists, including the function of providing psychological comfort. Therefore rejecting one's religion can provide a great deal of emotional stress, even if there is evidence which contradicts a given belief. People will try to reconcile their beliefs with the outside world as best as they can while trying not to give up views in which they are strongly invested.

But there's more than that. While an educated person may consider a scientific explanation to the Earthquake itself, he may also consider the possibility that some kind of god was driving the process. This is not contradicted by any scientific evidence, although it is not supported by it either. Basically, any belief for which there is no known method of obtaining empirical evidence can sit alongside views supported by science, without any current possibility of one contradicting the other.

This belief may however reinforce beliefs which do contradict scientific evidence and a rejection of that belief may weaken the core religious belief.

For instance:

1) There is a god. 2) Bad things happen because god has decided that people have done something wrong.

Now if we have evidence that bad things happen for another reason, that can be seen as an attack against the core belief, and therefore a person may be willing to reject evidence against (2) in order to protect (1).


Because science and religion are not systems that can directly compete with each other. It is only when we talk about certain things, like prediction in a specific situation, that we can say science is always superior. For instance, we might be able to use psychological sciences to predict with high probability that a psychopath will torture an animal at some point in his life. But a religious person is not interested in these kinds of empirical questions. A religious person might be more interested in issues of divine justice, fairness and desert, guilt, ultimate meaning and purpose, and so forth. We're talking philosophy, almost literature, versus science. Different content, and requiring different methods.

Therefore there is no clear inconsistency in believing that earthquakes are caused by rocks breaking along the fault lines (or whatever the latest scientific theory is), versus him believing that the ultimate cause being God's wrath. It's a question of motivation here, from an invisible being. It's not something you can exactly test in a lab....


Difference between science knowledge and religious knowledge?

Scientific Knowledge: A set of models which may be used to explain and predict the the universe around us. Includes the process necessary to verify and add to that body of knowledge. Understanding the world around us, and the underlying rules which governs it, is paramount.

Religious Knowledge: Generally, the memorization, understanding, and strategies for adherence to a set of tenants and/or moral rules (usually) connected to the belief in a specific deity or enlightened being. Belief that everything in the world is operating within a divine plan of some sort is typical. This type of knowledge is often focused on how best best to remain in compliance with these tenants, and apply them to day-to-day existence.

Why would both educated and uneducated people believe that earthquakes are the wrath of God?

There is a negative correlation between intelligence/education and religious belief which suggests that educated people are less likely to believe Earthquakes are the wrath of God. In this particular example, education would likely result in a better understanding of what causes Earthquakes, which removes the subconscious motivation to rely upon supernatural explanations to fill in for our own ignorance.

tl;dr - Scientific knowledge is concerned with how the world works now, and reliably predicting how it will operate in the future. Religious knowledge assumes the existence of a some manner of greater being, and is focused on determining/acting according to it's will. When we have reached the limits of our (current) scientific knowledge, people often rely upon Religious knowledge rather than saying, "I don't know."

  • I upvoted this because I didn't think it was fair for you to be penalized when the actual question and apparent question are different. The title asks what the difference between the two are. The actual question asks why, even with an apparent difference, do "educated" and "uneducated" people still hold religious beliefs. Sep 3 '15 at 18:20
  • I appreciate the upvote/comment. I went ahead and modified my response to answer both questions. Sep 3 '15 at 19:18
  • Good point on the correlation discussion, although I personally disagree with the correlation for a variety of reasons. If I went into why, we would have to move to a "chat." Sep 4 '15 at 1:59

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.