Those hoping that 2011 would be a more settled year, following the tumultuous few years following the global financial crisis and the near collapse of Western markets, will have been severely disappointed.  Only a few months into the year, and there remains continuing uncertainty in Western money markets, civil unrest in Europe, as well as revolution sweeping across the Middle East.  Similarly, the rest of the world has been able to do little more than look on, helpless bystanders as Japan has endured its most powerful earthquake on record, followed then by a tsunami, and now possible meltdown at the stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant.

In such unstable times, one may start to wonder what would happen in such worst case scenarios.  What procedures are in place, if any, when catastrophe strikes?  Moreover, who decides which procedures should be taken?

Some light has been shed on such unknowns by William Glaberson in a recent article for The New York Times.  In February 2011 a seemingly innocuous official legal document, was published in New York by the State Court System and the State Bar Association, with the rather prosaic title, the ‘New York State Public Health Legal Manual’.  Yet, as Glaberson’s article highlights, the banal title belies the radical material written within.   This legal manual has been designed as a guide for legal and health professionals in the event of a large-scale emergency, such as a terrorist attack, epidemic or mass contamination.

The intention behind the creation of such a document, as the chief of operations for the state court system, Ronald P. Younkins, has explained, is to give judges and lawyers Continue reading “Apocalypse…Now?”

Fukushima Daiichi: Making Atmospheres Explicit

It has now been over a week since the ‘double disaster’ earthquake-tsunami combination ravaged the northeastern region of Japan and the full scale of the tragedy remains as of yet unknown. As rescue crews and aid workers make their way to the affected region, increased media attention in North America is being turned to the ‘Fukushima Fifty’, a group of unknown workers struggling tirelessly to prevent a nuclear catastrophe at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex, about 80 km south of Sendai and 250 km north of Tokyo. As soon as the nuclear troubles began, media sources began making comparisons with previous disasters: would this be another Three Mile Island? Another Chernobyl? And panic began almost as quickly. In Japan, whose history with nuclear fallout now runs back almost seventy years, the level of concern was perhaps understandable, especially given the proximity of the reactor to large urban centres and the quick escalation of the situation in the early days. What is perhaps more curious, however, is the level of panic in North America. Continue reading “Fukushima Daiichi: Making Atmospheres Explicit”

The Real Problem of Evil

The 17th century German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz famously argued that this world of ours is “the best of all possible worlds”, and in doing so founded the philosophical study that he named ‘theodicy’ – the attempt to answer the question of why we suffer in a world supposedly watched over be an all-powerful and benevolent God. The scenes of devastation created by the tsunami that recently hit the east coast of Japan make these kinds of proclamations hard to swallow to say the least. Some philosophers after Leibniz made a point of how blindly indulgent and insensitive such claims can seem in the face of these reminders of the relentless and destructive powers of nature. Voltaire’s famous literary lampoon Candide: Or, the Optimist mocked the academic sophistry of such arm-chair speculation about suffering, and fellow German Schopenhauer, philosophy’s eternal pessimist, was perhaps the most damning of them all, saying once that:


…I cannot here withhold the statement that optimism, where it is not merely the thoughtless talk of those who harbour nothing but words under their shallow foreheads, seems to me to be not merely an absurd, but also a really wicked way of thinking, a bitter mockery of the unspeakable sufferings of mankind. Let no one imagine that the Christian teaching is favourable to optimism; on the contrary, in the Gospels world and evil are used as synonymous expressions. Continue reading “The Real Problem of Evil”

Haiti and the problem of evil

If there is an all-good, all-powerful God, why is there so much wrong with the world? This ancient problem — the problem of evil — receives unfortunate freshness every time something terrible happens.  Philosopher David Bain discusses the problem of evil, and its connection with the Haiti earthquake, in this short and accessible essay.

I usually think that the best hope for a solution to this problem lies in the idea that there is no best of all possible worlds. This view says that, for any possible world God could have created, there is an even better world that God could have created instead. If this were true, then God would have to make a less-than-perfect world — or else nothing at all. And presumably an imperfect something is better than absolutely nothing. Thus we might be able to explain how an all-good all-powerful God could have created an imperfect world. However, it’s another question whether this line of thinking can offer a complete solution to the problem of evil.  For that you’d need to explain how an all-good all-powerful God could allow, not just imperfections, but also hugely catastrophic events — like what has happened in Haiti.

Philosophy of Action and Philosophy of Religion By Stewart Goetz, Ursinus College (Vol. 1, 2006) Philosophy Compass

Morality and Religion By Tim Mawson, St Peter’s College (December 2009) Philosophy Compass