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Earthquakes and Historical Facts

by Carl Olof Jonsson and Wolfgang Herbst,
Commentary Press, P.O. Box 43532, Atlanta, Georgia 30336. 1987.
Reproduced here by kind permission from the authors.
How to order book.

WHAT ARE the facts about earthquakes in our time? Is our planet Earth shaking with greater frequency and intensity than ever before in human history?

As we have seen, in The Late Great Planet Earth, Hal Lindsey listed this as one of the signs marking the time for Christ's setting up his Kingdom. (Pages 52, 53) Again in The Promise, he states that Jesus "warned that earthquakes would increase in frequency and intensity as this old earth prepared for its final cataclysm." (Page 198) This piece of the prophetic "jigsaw puzzle" is supposed to have come into place in our day.

In his book Good-bye Planet Earth (1976), Seventh Day Adventist author Robert H. Pierson has a subheading "A Shaking, Quaking Planet." Under it he states:

With increasing frequency and intensity Mother Earth has been shaking and quaking. Hundreds of thousands of people have lost their lives. Multiplied thousands more will perish in greater earth spasms ahead. Never since the days of Noah has the world been so badly battered.

Again God is speaking to us – He is seeking to tell us that our time is short. His Son, Jesus Christ, will return soon. Nature's voice speaks through the floods, the storms, the earthquakes. (Pages 21, 22)

He then quotes Jesus' words at Luke chapter twenty-one, verse 11, as evidence of this.

The most remarkable and detailed claims in this regard, however, are those made by the Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses and their Watch Tower Society. Maintaining that Christ's statement regarding "great earthquakes" (Luke chapter 21, verse 11) has seen its true fulfillment only since 1914, the Watch Tower Society claims that we have experienced an enormous increase in such earthquakes since that year:

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), page 23.

This is a fantastic claim. It is really possible to prove such a statement? How much is actually known about earthquake activity in the past? Are ancient records on earthquakes complete enough to allow for reliable comparisons with our century? And what is meant by a "great" earthquake? What determines its 'greatness'?

To be able to assess accurately the claims of the Watch Tower Society, we must first seek an answer to these questions.

Recording earthquake activity

The Greek word for "shaking" and (when it applies to the earth) "earthquake" is seismós. The science of earthquakes, therefore, is called seismology.

Seismology is a very young branch of science. "Not . . . until the early 1850s did the first true seismologist, as we would recognize the term, appear on the scene. He was an Irishman, Robert Mallet."1 After him came John Milne, called "the father of seismology."2 In 1880 he invented the first proper seismograph, and from the end of the last century a fairly accurate recording of earthquakes has been possible.3

Consequently seismologists are able to present a complete list of the great earthquakes that have occurred on earth from 1903 onward.4 With further improvement of the seismograph an increasing number of countries have adopted its use. But not until the end of the 1950's did this observation network reach a global scale.5 Since then it has

1 Peter Vemey, The Earthquake Handbook, New York and London 1979, p. 47. There is no general consensus about this. Professor N. N. Ambraseys, for instance, considers John Michell (1724-93) 'the first true seismologist.' (Ambraseys, Engineering Seismology, University of London, Inaugural lecture 18 Nov. 1975, p. 54.)

2 Vemey, p. 5 1. Others would term him the 'father of English seismology' only, recognizing that other, contemporary scientists in other countries, too, made important contributions to the early development of seismology. (See the discussion by Dr. August Sieberg in Geologische, physikalische un angewandte Erdbebenkunde, Jena 1923, pp. 2, 373.)

3 Verney, pp. 53, 54; B. Booth & F. Fitch, Earthshock, London 1979, p. 89.

4 G. A. Eiby, Earthquakes, London 1968, p. 191. This holds true only of earthquakes measuring 7.9 and above on the Richter scale.

5 Markus Båth, Introduction to Seismology, 2nd ed., Basel, Boston, Stuttgart 1979, pp. 27, 262-266.

been possible to record and measure all earthquakes, small and major, all over the globe.

It is not an easy matter to compare the complete list of great earthquakes recorded in our century by modern seismologists with that of past centuries. This is because of the comparatively scanty and incomplete information available from earlier centuries. Historical sources become more and more sparse the farther back in time we go. Even of modern records, seismologist A. W Lee in 1939 wrote:

The statistics are complete enough to give a fair representation of the distribution of the earthquakes which now occur, but, since they extend over less than half a century, are insufficient for showing whether there has been any secular change in the frequency.6

Another factor that considerably limits our knowledge of ancient earthquakes is that most earthquakes take place outside Europe, the source of most of our information for the greater part of history from the first century to the "Age of Discovery" in the fifteenth century. The Encyclopedia Americana tells us that:

Roughly 80 percent of the seismic energy of the world is released in a belt which girdles the Pacific Ocean. A secondary belt, starting in the Mediterranean area and running easterly across Asia, is the scene of earthquakes which represent over 15 percent of the seismic energy of the world.7

"Western Europe" writes Vemey, "might be considered almost a stable zone by comparison with the hectic earthquake history of the Andes or elsewhere on the Ring of Fire [the Pacific Ocean belt]."8

As the historical source material for past centuries is, with a few important exceptions, limited to Europe and the Mediterranean area, it is easily realized what this means. What do we, for instance, know about the "hectic earthquake" activity in North, Middle and South America before Columbus? John Milne points out: "The records before the Christian era, and prior to the year 1700, are practically confined to occurrences in Southern Europe, China and Japan."9 In our own century, the majority of the most destructive earthquakes

6 J. Milne & A. W Lee, Earthquakes and Other Earth Movements, 7th cd., London 1939, pp. 134, 135.

7 The Encyclopedia Americana, 1966, under "Earthquake;' p. 496.

8 Verney, p. 75.

9 Report of the Eightieth Meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, Portsmouth: 1911, Aug. 31-Sept. 7 (London 1912), p. 649.


im-eqke1.gif (19829 bytes)

Seismic map showing the two earthquake belts of the world. (From R. A. Daly, Our Mobile Earth, New York & London 1926, p. 6.)

have occurred in areas outside Europe and in most cases in areas from which no historical records of past occurrences are available for comparison. The Watch Tower Society, either by choice or otherwise, takes not a single one of these vital factors into consideration when making its remarkable claim.

What constitutes a "great" earthquake?

According to Luke's rendering of Jesus' words to his disciples there would be "great earthquakes." (Luke 21:11) What is meant by a "great" earthquake?

Modern seismologists measure the size of an earthquake according to certain scales. The one in common use today is the so-called Richter scale, devised by C. F. Richter in 1935. This scale measures the total amount of energy released in seismic waves during an earthquake. Earthquakes measuring 7.0 or more on the scale are termed "major," while those measuring 8.0 and over are termed "great." 10 It should be noted that the "magnitude" of an earthquake on this scale has little to do with the number of casualties:

There is usually no clear correlation between the magnitude of a shock and the number of people killed or other destruction. An earthquake may be destructive but not large. 11

Similarly an earthquake may be large but not destructive of life. The earthquake in Owens Valley, California, in 1872, for example, is said to have been the greatest earthquake in the United States in the past 150 years, in that it is estimated to have had a magnitude of 8.3 on the Richter scale. Yet only 27 persons were killed, as the area was very thinly populated. 12

How common are "major" earthquakes, measured by the standard of the Richter scale?

It has been calculated that every year there will be two earthquakes of 7.7 magnitude or greater; seventeen between 7.0 and 7.7; one hundred between 6.0 and 7.0; and no less than fifty thousand between 3.0 and 4.0. 13

The number of "major" earthquakes, then, are, according to these calculations, about 19-20 per year. Do we have any indication that the "major" (7.0 and more in magnitude) and "great" (8.0 and more) earthquakes have increased in number and magnitude during the period it has been possible to measure them instrumentally, that is, since the end of the last century onward?

If we were to believe a recent claim by the Worldwide Church of God, an increasingly vocal organization proclaiming the speedy end of the age, the answer would be 'Yes.' On page 7 of the April, 1986, issue of its monthly The Good News of the World Tomorrow, Norman L. Shoaf, a spokesman of the movement, confidently asserted:

Did you know that from 1901 to 1944, during more than four decades, only three earthquakes measured magnitude 7 or over? . . . Then, in just 10 years from 1945 to 1954, the number leaped to 21 quakes measuring 7

10 Booth & Fitch, p. 90; C. F. Richter, Natural History, December 1969, p. 44,

11 Båth, p. 137.

12 Vemey, p. 96. The earthquake in San Francisco in 1906, that killed about 700 people, also had a magnitude of 8.3. (The three earthquakes in New Madrid, Missouri, in 1911-12 were greater than these two, with estimated magnitudes of 8.6, 8.5 and 8.7, respectively.)

13 Verney, p. 72. The Encyclopedia Americana, 1966 ed., under "Earthquake;' page 496, states that, "If all shocks down to the very smallest are included, it is likely that the total may be well over a million' " The great majority of these shocks am, of course, not noticed by man, being recorded only with the aid of instruments.

or over. From then on, large earthquakes have increased dramatically. From 1955 to 1964 – in just one decade – 87 earthquakes measured 7 or over; from 1965 to 1974, 136; from 1975 to 1984, 133.

It would be a charitable understatement to say that this claim is simply nonsensical. When confronted with this claim, Professor Seweryn J. Duda, a renowned seismologist at the University of Hamburg, West Germany, wrote that "In the time 1901-1944 about 1000 (one thousand) earthquakes with magnitude 7 or over have taken place worldwide." In fact, his letter to the authors dated July 7, 1986, contradicted the entire statement of the Worldwide Church of God. See Appendix A for the complete text of his letter.

The simple fact, then, is that no such unique increases have been observed, either since 1914 or at any other subsequent point of this century. Actually, the evidence produced by modern seismologists indicates the contrary.

Charles F. Richter, former President of the Seismological Society of America and the originator of the "Richter scale," made reference to this evidence in an article published in the December 1969 issue of Natural History magazine:

One notices with some amusement that certain religious groups have picked this rather unfortunate time to insist that the number of earthquakes is increasing. In part they are misled by the increasing number of small earthquakes that are being catalogued and listed by newer, more sensitive stations throughout the world. It is worth remarking that the number of great [that is, 8.0 and over on the Richter scale] earthquakes from 1896 to 1906 (about twenty-five) was greater than in any ten-year interval since. 14

Parts of this statement were quoted disapprovingly on page 72 of The Watchtower of February 1, 1974 – without the reader being informed that it came from a leading authority on seismology. Jesus was not speaking of any "ten-year interval," said The Watchtower, but of a whole "generation."

Dr. Richter's statement, however, was aimed at demonstrating that the claimed increase in the earthquake activity during our century finds no support in the recorded seismological data during the period

14 Natural History, Dec. 1969, p. 44. In his Elementary Seismology (San Francisco 1958, page 357) Richter similarly states that "There is no escape from the conclusion that the greatest shallow [that is, near the surface] shocks were more frequent before 1918 than afterward."

of instrumentally measured seismicity, which covers the period from 1896, or more particularly from 1903 onward.

Still, his statement was made back in 1969. What, then, of this claim found on page 30 of the book The 1980's – Countdown to Armageddon, by Hal Lindsey?

The 1970's experienced the largest increase in the number of quakes known to history. In fact, the dramatic increase in quakes in 1976 led many scientists to say we are entering a period of great seismic disturbances.

This statement has no more basis in fact that do those of the Watch Tower Society and the Worldwide Church of God. More recent statistics published by other seismologists, who have carefully and objectively examined the matter, not only confirm the accuracy of Dr. Richter's statement, but show that it continued to be true into the 1970's.

In 1965 the well-known seismologist Seweryn J. Duda published a catalog of the major earthquakes for the period 1897-1964. In 1979 this catalog was updated to include the period 1965-1977 in an article written by the same author jointly with professor Markus Båith, another seismologist of worldwide repute. Their very thorough study shows that during this eighty-year period (1897-1977) about twenty (19.94 to be exact) major earthquakes occurred annually. Any change in the number of earthquakes with a magnitude of 7.0 and above on the Richter scale could not be demonstrated for the period after 1914, compared to the period before that date. As to the magnitude of the quakes, on the other hand, their study revealed that the first twenty years of our century (1900-1920) had about twice as great an energy release per year as the whole period thereafter up to 1977!15

15 S. J. Duda, "Secular seismic energy release in the circum-Pacific belt," Tectonophysics, 2 (1965), pp. 409-52; Markus Båith and S. J. Duda, "Some aspects of global seismicity." Tectonophysics, 54 (1979), pp. TI-T8. Newspapers often present grossly misleading data on earthquakes. Richter (1958. p. 5) points out that "the popular press" can be used "only with caution." However, The Watchtower of May 15, 1984, p. 25, referred to an article published in The New York Times that termed 1983 "A Year of Earthquakes," because of a claimed "rash of lethal earthquakes" that year. To prove this The Watchtower reproduced a list of 9 quakes from a period of 3 months, all of which were said to be "major earthquakes, reckoned on the Richter scale." A closer look at the list, however, shows that only 3 of the 9 earthquakes are "major," having a magnitude of 7.0 or more. As Professor Markus Båth points out (personal letter, dated October 3, 1984), this is not above, but below the normal.. "The information from The New York Times is completely misleading. With 3 earthquakes of a magnitude of 7 or more during 3 months, the number of such quakes would be 12 in a year. This is clearly below the average, which is 20 quakes a year [ftnt cont]

The table on page 54, published in 1912 (for the years 1899 to 1909), gives some idea of the high seismicity recorded in the period previous to 1914. For the period before the beginning of our century reliable instrumental data are missing, as was pointed out earlier.

What is the conclusion to be drawn from this very careful study of the period from which reliable instrumental recordings are available? It is this: No marked change in the number of major earthquakes may be demonstrated during the period from 1897 to 1977. On the other hand, the study shows the frequence of the greatest earthquakes to have been considerably higher in the first twenty years of this period than in the sixty years that followed!

Efforts to Overcome the Evidence

It goes without saying that, on being confronted with these scientific statistics, the Watch Tower Society takes no great delight in the measurements of the seismologists. The Society's tendency has been to reject them altogether when making statistical comparisons on earth-quake activity before and after 1914, supplying instead a definition of their own making as to what is meant by a "great" earthquake. We read:

What is it that makes an earthquake 'great'? Is it not its effect on lives and property? But modern earthquake students tend to consider an earth quake 'great' only if it rates high on the Richter scale, which rates 'magnitude,' the power or force a quake releases.16

[ftnt cont] with a magnitude of 7 or more. The statement in the newspaper points to a quake activity that is below the normal!" Nor was 1983 "A Year of Earthquakes" measured by death figures. According to information available from the World Data Center A for Solid Earth Geophysics (see later, footnote 19), only 2,328 persons died in earthquakes during 1983, which is far below the average.

Even 1976 did not see the 'dramatic increase in quakes' claimed by Hal Lindsey, despite the great earthquake in China that year. Professor Markus Båth, in his Introduction to Seismology, says: "The year 1976 deserves a special comment. Numerous earthquake dis-asters occurred throughout the year, with maximum number of casualties in China.... On the other hand, looking at 1976 from a purely seismological point of view, there were not more or stronger earthquakes this year than in average." (P. 151) Commenting on the period after 1976, Professor Båth, in a private letter, adds: "The years after 1976 until now [1985], at least, have shown a clear decline in the seismic activity of the earth, both with respect to the number of great earthquakes (high magnitudes, over 7.0) and the number of quake victims. But this is, of course, just an example of an occasional variation that has always occurred." (Private letter Båth-Jonsson, dated August 21, 1985.)

16 The Watchtower. February 1, 1974, p. 72.

Megaseismic Frequency.

Between 1899 and 1909 the number of very large earthquakes recorded was not less than 976. Many of these where recorded at stations all over the world, others over the whole of the Northern Hemisphere, and none of them disturbed an area less than that of Europe and Asia.

The numbers recorded in successive months were as follow:-

  275  217  251  233  
Winter months 508
Summer months 468

Seismologist F. M. Walker in Report of the Eighteenth Meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, London 1912, pages 38 and 39. The expression "very large," here has no reference to the Richter scale, which was not in use at that time.

The Watch Tower Society, thus, prefers to measure the magnitude of an earthquake in the number of deaths caused. It states:

One way to prove clearly that the generation since 1914 is unusual as far as earthquakes are concerned is to consider how many deaths they have caused. 17

Some reflection will soon reveal why the Watch Tower Society would prefer this method of reckoning the 'greatness' of earthquakes. It contains several flaws of which most persons are unaware, and the claims of the Society depend on that fact for their appearance of au-

17 The Watchtower, February 1, 1974, p. 73.

thenticity. When the false premises upon which the Society bases its arguments are clearly seen, however, their statistics lose their impressiveness. Consider:

First, as was pointed out earlier, data on earthquakes and death figures are much sparser from past centuries due to the fragmentary historical sources, which moreover, previous to the year 1700, "are practically confined to occurrences in Southern Europe, China and Japan." So the idea that completely accurate comparisons can be made between modern-day and historic earthquake death figures is simply not true.

Second, the rapid population growth and urbanization in our century has very reasonably increased the number of deaths in great earthquakes, particularly when these have hit densely populated areas. An increase in the number of deaths, then, would not be a valid indicator of an increase in the number of "great earthquakes." We may also rightly ask: Did Jesus, in referring to "great earthquakes." actually speak of an increase either in the number of quakes or the number of victims? His simple statement was that, along with war, famine and pestilence, "there will be great earthquakes." Anything beyond that is human assumption, a reading into his words more than they actually say.

Despite their choice of death figures in preference to seismological measurements, when it suits their argumentation the Watch Tower Society does not hesitate to quote statements about earthquakes that are based on the Richter scale-without telling their readers that they are doing so. For example, the very same issue of the Watchtower (February 1, 1974) quoted above presents a long string of statements on earthquakes occurring since 1914, the statements said to be taken from "highly respected reference works" (though no references are given):

China (1920), 'one of the most appalling catastrophes in history.' Japan (1923), 'the worst disaster in [Japan's] history.' Pakistan (1935), 'one of the greatest earthquakes of history.' El Salvador (1951), 'the most destructive quake in El Salvador's history.' Egypt (1955), 'Egypt experienced the worst earthquake in its history.' Afghanistan (1956), 'believed to he the worst in the history of the country.' Chile (1960), 'no earthquake in history has ever had a greater range than this.' Alaska (1964), 'the largest earthquake ever recorded in North America.' Peru (1970), 'the worst natural disaster on record in the Western Hemisphere.'18

18 The Watchtower, February 1, 1974, p. 74.

But the reader is not informed that expressions such as "largest," "worst," "greatest" and so forth in these statements in several cases do not refer to the number of deaths in these earthquakes, and at least in some cases clearly refer to the Richter scale which this same article has said should not be the means of measuring earthquake "greatness"!

Thus the earthquake in Alaska in 1964 – "the largest earthquake ever recorded in North America" – took only 114 (some sources say 131) lives, although it had a very great magnitude of 8. 5 on the Richter scale! 19

The phrase "the largest . . . ever recorded" further limits the time of comparison to the period during which earthquakes have been measured instrumentally, that is, from the end of the last century onward. Some of the earthquakes included were not "great" on any count, neither according to Richter's scale, nor in the number of lives lost. What is called the "most destructive quake in El Salvador's history" had a magnitude of only 6.5 and took 400 lives (according to another source 1,100 lives), while the claimed "worst earthquake in [Egypt's] history" had a magnitude of 6.3 and took just 18 lives!20

Several of the statements quoted are certainly not scientific descriptions. They rather reflect sensation-rousing newspaper headlines created during the immediate impact of the catastrophe. Although some of the earthquakes mentioned (China 1920, Japan 1923, Pakistan 1935, and Peru 1970) were indeed very great and claimed thousands of lives, most seismologists would certainly be hesitant to term any of them the "worst" or "greatest" in the history of the country in question.

Quite recently the Watch Tower Society has come up with a new definition of a "great" earthquake. According to the Awake! magazine of October 22, 1984, its latest statistical calculations are now said to include earthquakes that meet at least one of the following qualifications:

  • Magnitude 7.5 or more on the Richter scale
  • Deaths 100 or more
  • Damage $5 million (U.S.) or more in property destroyed.
    – Page 6.

19 Booth & Fitch, p. 80; Robert A. Ganse and John B. Nelson, Catalog of Significant Earthquakes 2000 B.C. - 1979, Boulder, Colorado 1981, p. 63 (Report SE-27 of the World Data Center A for Solid Earth Geophysics).

20 Ganse & Nelson, pp. 56, 59. The earthquake in Afghanistan in 1956 claimed 220 lives according to some tables, 2,000 according to others.

These standards for measuring "greatness" are also used in the 1985 Watch Tower Society publication Reasoning from the Scriptures, page 236.

Surprisingly, the Richter scale, previously rejected, has now been introduced to play an important role in their statistics. On a closer look at their calculations, the reason soon becomes apparent. While seismologists properly make comparisons based on the Richter scale only for the period during which earthquakes have been measured instrumentally, that is, by seismograph since the end of the last century, the Watch Tower Society elects to include the past 2000 years in its comparisons! This allows for a very biased comparison. How so?

While it is true that seismologists have estimated magnitudes for many great earthquakes of the past, for the bulk of destructive earthquakes before A.D. 1900 such estimates are missing.21 All these destructive earthquakes obviously would fail to meet the first criterion set up by the Watch Tower Society – no matter how great in magnitude they actually may have been!22 And if they do not meet at least one of the other two criteria, they are conveniently excluded from the calculations altogether!

As to the second criterion, it has already been pointed out that death figures are often missing in ancient records, especially if the losses amounted to only some hundreds or less. In fact, many severe earthquakes that involved relatively few fatalities may have been completely ignored in the early records. This can only mean that countless "qualified" earthquakes in the past have been excluded by the Society's arbitrarily set standards of comparison!

The same holds true for damage, the third criterion set up by the Watch Tower Society. Damages are far better known for modern earthquakes than for the earlier ones.23 Besides that, since there are manifold more buildings nowadays – and larger and more sophisticated

21 The estimates of this kind that do exist seem to have been generally included in the catalog prepared by Ganse and Nelson. (See earlier footnote 19.)

22 In this connection it is noteworthy that The Watchtower, February 1, 1974, p. 72, states that "some of the earthquakes with the highest magnitude ratings - are under the oceans" and that such "have had virtually no effect on men." Speaking of "potentially damaging earthquakes" (3.8 and over), seismologist J. H. Latter, in the Advancement of Science (June 1969, page 365) even says that "the overwhelming majority occur beneath the sea or far from inhabited regions." As such quakes in most cases would pass unnoticed before the time of instrumental registration, it is clear that the Society's magnitude criterion could grossly distort the real facts about earthquake frequency.

23 Although Ganse and Nelson have tried to estimate such damages for past earthquakes in their catalog, the damages for numerous earthquakes are stated to be "unknown."

ones at that – a comparison of the sort carried out by the Watch Tower Society of necessity must clearly do injustice to any comparison with the past. This is stressed by N. N. Ambraseys, who is professor of Engineering Seismology at Imperial College of Science and Technology in London. He says that,

. . . the exact repetition of an old earthquake at the present day will differ not only in the type of structures damaged but also in the degree of damage. In some cases modern structures will be more severely damaged than old buildings. A distant large earthquake ten centuries ago would have caused practically no damage in Istanbul, Ankara or Jerusalem; the same earthquake today would cause damage to a large number of longperiod structures in these cities.24

Quite naturally, many earthquakes in earlier times, although involving substantial damage, would fail to meet the Watch Tower Society's purely arbitrary criterion of "$5 million or more in property destroyed"

Obviously the new criteria for "great earthquakes" suggested by the Watch Tower Society are designed to qualify the largest number possible of the earthquakes after 1914 and to exclude as many as possible from the time previous to that year. We are not at all surprised to find that calculations based on such slanted and biased reasoning would appear to show an enormous increase of "great" earthquakes in our century compared to earlier times. The Awake! article just quoted concluded:

Since 1914 the yearly average of reported earthquakes has soared. There are 11 times the number that there were, on an average, annually during the 1,000 years before that date. And 20 times the annual average for the 2,000 years preceding 1914.25

The present world seismological situation does not actually lend itself to such statistical comparison with that of the past two millenia. This is because, as demonstrated earlier, available data on earthquakes

24 N. N. Arnbraseys, "Value of Historical Records of Earthquakes;" Nature, Vol. 232, August 6, 1971, p. 379.

25 Awake! Oct. 22, 1984, p. 6. Note the wording "reported earthquakes." It indicates that the Society knows that written records of great quakes in the past are incomplete. However, the unsuspecting reader is not likely to notice this distinction. The Society obviously wants him to conclude that there actually has been a tremendous increase of earthquakes since 1914. Thus the Society's book Survival into a New Earth (1984) does not hesitate to state that the frequency of major earthquakes "has increased about 20 times what it was on an average during the two thousand years before 1914." (p. 23)

are much sparser from earlier centuries. In fact, for whole continents data are completely lacking for the greater part of the past two millenia, and especially previous to the year 1700. Similarly, it has only been in this century that tremors occurring in oceanic beds or uninhabited regions could be recorded, yet it is in such regions that the vast majority of high magnitude quakes occur.

It should also be observed that the method of comparison used in the earlier-quoted calculation contains another fraudulent element, not easily recognized by the unsuspecting reader. By extending the pre-1914 period of comparison thousands of years back in time to include the long ages of poor reporting of earthquakes, the Watch Tower Society naturally gets a very low overall annual average, even for later centuries when reporting actually increased. This conceals the large number of severe earthquakes known from the latest centuries, leveling them out with the aid of earlier centuries when reporting was poor. It is further concealed that this method does not point to 1914 any more than to any other date within the last 200–300 years. The choice of 1914 as the seismic "turning point" is thus wholly arbitrary. It would be equally possible to use the identical method to choose, for example, 1789, when the French Revolution started, or 1939, when World War II began and obtain similar results. Whatever date during the last 200–300 years picked as a watershed would get the full advantage of modern reporting following it, giving an apparent great increase in the annual average.

It is safe to say that any scientist who would slant and manipulate statistical data in this way in a scholarly journal would be quickly exposed as a fraud. In a religious paper, however, read by millions of unsuspecting people who feel that it might be a sin to question their leaders, such calculations easily pass as if they were firmly established facts.

When foretelling "great earthquakes" Jesus, quite evidently did not have in mind any modern standard, such as magnitudes on the Richter scale or a certain minimum of fatalities or damages calculated according to modern money standards. The Watch Tower Society's use of such standards does not appeal to us, as it should be natural for Christians first of all to turn to the Bible for clarification. True, we do find that an earthquake damaging "a tenth of" a city and killing "seven thousand persons" is termed "great" at Revelation chapter eleven, verse thirteen. However, the two earthquakes described as "great" at Matthew chapter twenty-eight, verse two, and Acts chapter sixteen, verse twenty-six, are not shown to have caused any appreciable damage, let alone any loss of life. Yet the Society accepts both of these as proof that there was a "first-century fulfilment of Jesus' words" regarding great earthquakes!26

From the Scriptures themselves, then, it is only reasonable to conclude that Jesus spoke of "great earthquakes" in a general sense, of tremors affecting – with greater or lesser severity – people, property and landscape. He could not reasonably have had in mind statistics of average numbers of annual deaths before and after certain dates! Nonetheless, since such figures play a very major role in the Society's calculations, we will now proceed to a closer look at its statistics.

How to "prove" by statistics

In an article entitled "Can Statistics Mislead You?" the Awake! magazine of January 22, 1984, said on page 25:

Figures don't lie, we are told. But be on guard. Honestly used, they can be very informative and useful. However, statistics can also he presented in a way that misleads you.

The examples presented below will show that this warning has a pertinence that its writer probably did not realize.

According to Awake!, February 22, 1961, page 7, the estimated number of annual deaths in earthquakes before 1914 was 5,000.

But in 1974 the Watch Tower Society lowered that figure. The Watchtower of February 1 that year cited a statement in the 1971 Nature/Science Annual, according to which "more than three million people (possibly four million)" have died in earthquakes during the past 1,000 years. Estimating that at least 900,000 of these had died since 1914, the Society presented the following impressive statistics (page 73):

Earthquake deaths each year

Before 1914:3,000
Since 1914:15,000

These same statistics were published again in Awake!, January 8, 1977 (pages 15, 16). However, the book Happiness How to Find It,

26 The Watchtower, May 15, 1983, p. 5. In Awake!, August 8, 1968 p. 30, the Society emphasized that an earthquake in the latter part of June that year "claiming the lives of 16 persons and injuring 100 others" fulfilled "Scripture prophecies," although no magnitude rating or property value was considered. We agree that this earthquake met Jesus' prophecy, even if the Society should now reject it in the light of their latest criteria. There have been innumerable such earthquakes since Jesus spoke his words about them.

published in 1980, managed to "improve" the figures considerably, as the table on page 149 shows:

Earthquake deaths

Up to 19141,800 a year
Since 191425,300 a year

That the number of annual deaths could be increased in four years (from 1974 to 1980) to such an extent-from 15,000 to 25,000 a year-is relatively simple to explain:

In 1976 China was hit by the greatest killer earthquake in this century. Western newspapers, misled by a premature report from Hong Kong, first put the death toll of the quake at 650,000 or more (some even said 800,000). If this figure is divided by the number of years that had then passed since 1914 (62 years, from 1915 to 1976 inclusive), we get an average-from just this one earthquake-of close to 10,500 deaths a year. Thus a single great earthquake may create impressive statistics for a whole generation! If we were to take in place of this earthquake the great earthquake in China in 1556 which is listed as claiming about 830,000 victims, and then divide that death figure by the same number of years (62), we would get an average of about 13,400 deaths a year from that one earthquake alone.27 (Adding other disastrous earthquakes from that century would, obviously, increase substantially the number of annual deaths during that sixteenth century.)

The Watch Tower Society, however, by its method of employing statistics, not only increased the annual death rate after 1914 from 15,000 to 25,300. They also succeeded in reducing the number of annual deaths before 1914 from 3,000 a year (according to their statistics of 1974) to just 1,800 a year (according to their statistics of 1980)! This is perplexing indeed. How did they arrive at this new figure?

The answer is that the latest (and lower) statistics were not based upon the estimated 3-4 million victims of earthquakes during the past

27 This quake is usually said to have claimed more lives than any other recorded earthquake in history. However, it may have been surpassed in this respect by the earthquake that hit Upper Egypt and/or Syria on July 5, 1201, which, according to some ancient records, cost about 1,100,000 lives. If this figure were divided by a period of 62 years, we would obtain an annual average of 17,740. This would be a higher figure than the correct figure for the 20th century, 15,700, as shown in this section. See S. Alsinawi and H. A. A. Ghalith, "Historical Seismicity of Iraq;" Proceedings of the First Arab Seismological Seminar, Seismological Unit of Scientific Research, Baghdad, Iraq, December 1978; also Ganse and Nelson, p. 6.

1,000 years, as were the earlier Society statistics, but upon a much smaller figure, 1,973,000 victims during a period of 1,059 years. The extraordinary feature about this is that this new figure is not some estimate made by any modern seismologist-it is a figure which the Watch Tower Society itself has created by adding up the number of deaths in only 24 major earthquakes, selected_from among literally thousands of destructive quakes that took place in the 1,059 years before 1914!

The new figure first appeared in the Awake! magazine of February 22, 1977, page 11. In connection with a list of 43 earthquakes from the period of 1915-1976, it stated:

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.. . . . The dramatic upsurge in earthquake activity since 1914 helps to prove that we are now living in the time of Jesus' presence.

The statement that 'reliable sources list only 24 major earthquakes for the 1,059 years from 856 to 1914' is so far from the truth that it is almost impossible to understand how anyone with even an elementary knowledge of the subject could make such a statement. The fact is that reliable sources list literally thousands of destructive earthquakes during this period! (The evidence of this will be discussed in the last section of this chapter.) And this is by no means the end of the matter. The writer of the Awake! article takes those 24 pre-1914 earthquakes and seeks to make a comparison between them and earthquakes in the 62 years following 1914. But whereas the 24 earlier earthquakes were all major catastrophes, they are now compared with a modern list that includes both great and small disasters (some have death figures of 52, 65, 115, 131, and so on).

This unequal method of comparison is either the result of sheer carelessness or of deliberate bias and manipulation of fact. And, to further add to the distorted picture, the writer describes his post-1914 list as "partial." thus implying that the 24 major earthquakes allotted to the 1,059 years before 1914 is a complete number! With this the statement becomes so foreign to fact as to be almost comical.28

Yet it is upon absurd figures of this kind that the Watch Tower So-

28 The author of the Society's textbook You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth (1982), clearly presents these 24 quakes as a complete list of major quakes by saying that "From the year 856 C.E. to 1914, there were only 24 major earthquakes." (P. 151)

ciety has built up its figures of the average number of annual deaths before and after 1914 in its publications.29

The tendency is apparent. In the statistics of the Watch Tower Society, whereas the number of annual deaths after 1914 has been raised, the average number of annual deaths previous to 1914 has been steadily shrinking, as follows:

Annual earthquake deaths before 1914

Society statistics of 1961:5,000 per year
Society statistics of 1974:3,000 per year
Society statistics of 1980:1,800 per year

If this trend were to continue at the same rate for another 20 years, the annual death figure previous to 1914 would be reduced to zero in the statistics of the Watch Tower Society!

How many people have actually died in earthquakes in past history? Due to the incomplete source material no one can say with definite certainty and estimates vary . "It has been estimated that over seven million people have lost their lives in earthquakes" wrote Vemey.30 Another source states that probably ten million have died in earthquakes since the time of Christ.31 An outstanding seismologist, Professor Båth, however, says:

It has been estimated that during historical time 50 to 80 (according to one estimate 74) million people have lost their lives in earthquakes or their immediate aftereffects, such as fires, landslides, tsunamis, etc.32

It is obvious, then, that estimates of annual deaths in earthquakes in the past will be as divergent as the guesses of the total death number upon which they are based. Population growth is an important factor.

29 Happiness How to Find It, 1980, p. 149; the same impressive statistics were again published in The Watchtower of May 15, 1983, p. 7 (chart III).

30 Vemey, p. 7. Seismologist J. H. Latter estimates that "a minimum of five million people have died as a result of earthquakes, and half a million as a result of volcanic eruptions, since A.D. 1000." But he adds: " It is probable that the maximum figures are between two and three times higher than this," that is, 10-15 million since A.D. 1000. This would mean a maximum of 1.5 million per century on the average. (Advancement of Science, June 1969, p. 362)

31 New York Times, August 20, 1950. Compare Awake! December 22, 1960, p. 14.

32 Bath, p. 137. The Time magazine of September 1, 1975, similarly stated: "During recorded history, earthquakes – and the floods, fires and landslides they have triggered – are estimated to have taken as many as 74 million lives."

Since about half of the world's population lives in the earthquake belts of the earth, it would certainly not be surprising if the number of deaths in earthquakes kept pace with the population growth in those areas. This would not constitute proof, however, that earthquakes have increased either in numbers or severity.

Along with their figures for pre-1914 earthquakes and their shifting death statistics, the Watch Tower Society has published lists of earthquakes with death figures from the year 1914 onward. Interestingly, the death figures in these lists also seem to change from one list to next, and they differ with authoritative reports in several instances. A comparison between the two latest lists-published in the Awake! of February 22, 1977, page 11, and in The Watchtower of May 15, 1983, page 7 – gives the following result:

 Death figuresDeath figures
 according toaccording to
1920, China180,000200,000
1939 Turkey23,00030,000
1950, India1,50020,000
1962, Iran10,00012,230
1972, Nicaragua6,00010,000
1976, China655,235800,000

As can be seen, the death figures have been raised in the latest list by a total of nearly 200,000! This does not mean that the figures have been deliberately falsified. Lists showing deaths in earthquakes, published in different works, often vary. But the Watch Tower Society's listings reveal a clear tendency to choose always the highest, not the most reliable, figures in these works, evidently in an attempt to present the earthquakes of the twentieth century as being as "great" as possible, while the tendency to reduce the numbers and size of the earthquakes before 1914 is equally apparent. This is not an honest, objective use of data.

Actually, the most authoritative works often present much lower figures than those given by the Watch Tower Society in both of their post-1914 lists quoted above. The 1920 earthquake in China, which the Society lists as claiming 180,000 or 200,000 lives, according to the Encyclopedia Americana claimed about 100,000 victims 33 Likewise the great earthquake in China in 1976, which the latest list of the Society shows as causing 800,000 deaths, in reality claimed 242,000 lives according to the figures released by the Chinese authorities!34 This lower figure is now generally believed by seismologists to be the correct one.35 Inasmuch as the latest estimate of annual deaths in earthquakes since 1914 published by the Society is based upon figures that include a death toll of 650,000 for this quake, the correction mentioned here reduces the actual death figure of the Society by as much as one third!36

The varying figures to be found in different works clearly demonstrate what a hazardous task it is to try to make any comparisons between earthquakes before and after 1914 based on death figures. It also demonstrates how easy it is to create a seemingly very impressive and convincing, but completely misleading, statistical picture, simply by choosing only those figures that best support a preconceived view from among the many different lists that have been published. To do this reflects, at best, shallow research and irresponsible journalism; at worst, deliberate deception.

33 Encyclopedia Americana, 1966, "Earthquake;" page 498. Bath (page 14 1) has the same figure, 100,000, in his list. The earthquake in Japan 1923, which according to the Society's list took 143,000 lives, killed 95,000 according to the Encyclopedia Americana. But as shown by C. F. Richter (Elementary Seismology, page 562), who gives the death figure as 99,331, an additional number of 43,476 were reported as missing. The total death toll, then, was probably about 143,000. In one case the Encyclopedia Americana has a considerably higher figure than The Watchtower. This is the 1939 earthquake in Turkey, which the encyclopedia claims to have taken about 100,000 lives, while The Watchtower, like Bith, Ganse & Nelson, and other seismologists, sets the death figure at 30,000.

34 A report from Hong Kong first erroneously set the death figure at 655,237, from which the Western estimates of 650,000-800,000 were derived. When finally, the Chinese authorities, who at first kept all information about the catastrophe secret, released information about the earthquake, they put the death total at 242,000. ("Chinese Seismological Society Report on July 28, 1976 Event," Dalian Meeting 1979 Xinhua News Agency. Compare Ganse & Nelson, p. 70, 148, ref. 61.) The Dallas Times Herald of Sept. 3. 1983, summarized the new information as follows: "Officials now put the Tangshan death toll at 148,000 with another 81,000 seriously injured. In a deadly triangle anchored by Tangshan, Peking and Tianjin, nearly 100,000 other people died, increasing the official death total to 242,000. Western estimates placed the death toll as high as 800,000."

35 Professor Båth, in a personal letter dated October 3, 1994, explains: "recent example [of exaggerations] is the China earthquake 27/7, 1976 (page 149 in my 'introduction'), for which Hong Kong (!) gave a much too high a figure immediately after the quake. Long afterwards (too late, in fact, to be included in my book) an official Chinese report gave the number of victims as 242,000, which now is regarded as the correct figure."

36 Professor Båth, in his letter of October 3. 1984, points out that the annual deaths in earthquakes during the twentieth century are 15,700 on the average (as against the Society's 25,300).

How to "prove" with quotations

The seismic activity in the earth's crust is not quite constant. The activity seems to have had varying cycles during different periods in the past, with periods of greater activity and periods of lesser activity. The evidence is, however, that in a longer perspective the activity has been stable. The above-mentioned fluctuations, then, are only minor variations in the overall pattern. Some popular writers feel that the earth is now going through one of the periods of increased activity. "There are now indications that the planet Earth is moving into an era of increasing earthquake activity," writes Vemey.37

But it is doubtful if any seismologists would agree with this. True, The Watchtower of May 15, 1983, claims that seismologist Keiiti Aki "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." (Page 6) It is difficult to see how such a statement can be helpful to the Watch Tower Society since it embraces "the last one hundred years." rather than the much shorter period following 1914.

However, the true significance of Professor Aki's statement was obviously glossed over by the Watch Tower Society. In his letter to the Watch Tower Society, Professor Aki did not indicate that there had been a real or actual increase in the earthquake activity during the last one hundred years. His full statement 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. (Letter from Keiiti Aki to the Watch Tower Society, dated 30 September 1982. A copy of this letter is reproduced in Appendix A [in printed edition].)

From that letter it is clear that the Watchtower magazine misused the information supplied to them. Professor Aki's letter to the Watch Tower Society shows that when referring to "the apparent surge in intensity and frequency of major earthquakes" he clearly used the term "apparent" in the sense of a seeming surge, not in the sense of that which is evident or noticeable. For he stated in the same sentence that

37 Verney, page 7. The Awake! of April 8, 1981, also quoted Robert I. Tilling, chief of the U. S. Geological Survey's office of Geochemistry and Geophysics, as saying that there are "some suggestions that both volcanoes and earthquakes worldwide are on the increase." Professor Markus Båth, however, who is a leading authority on earthquake activity, comments that "Tilling's statement is wrong. No increase in the seismic activity of the earth has occurred." (Personal letter of October 3, 1984)

such "apparent" surge was "in all probability, due to the improved recording of earthquakes and the increased vulnerability of human society to earthquake damages." The Watch Tower Society saw fit to drop this portion, thereby giving to the quoted phrase a meaning that it does not have.

The true standpoint of Professor Aki is that there has been no increase at all in earthquake activity in our century, and that the seismicity of the earth has been stationary for milleniums. In a private letter to the authors, dated September 5, 1985, Professor Aki explains:

I feel strongly that the seismicity has been stationary for thousands of years. I was trying to convince Jehovah's Witnesses about the stationarity of the seismicity, using the data obtained in China for the period 1500 through 1700, but they put only weak emphasis in the published statement. (For the entirety of this letter, see Appendix A [in printed edition].)

Obviously, then, The Watchtower quoted Professor Aki in a way that concealed his true position and views. As Professor Aki, on being confronted with the Watch Tower Society's use of his letter, remarked, "it is clear that they quoted the part they wanted, eliminating my main message," namely that the seismicity has been essentially stable, with no increase. (Letter from Keiiti Aki to the authors, dated June 16, 1986.)

Regrettably, it must be said that this method of "proving" a case is in no way exceptional in the publications of this movement, as the following additional examples demonstrate.

In September 1950 the Scientific American magazine published a brief news item on earthquake activity. Parts of this have been quoted in Watch Tower publications, time and again, for about twenty years, as the principal proof of their claim that great earthquakes have increased in numbers since 1914. The sentences cited by the Watch Tower Society are:

Major quakes used to occur in clusters, each period of activity being followed by a rest period.... But the periods of activity became progressively shorter and closer together. Since 1948 the pattern has entered a new phase with approximately one great quake a year.38

38 Scientific American, September 1950, p. 48. The quotation may be found, for example, in Awake!, March 8, 1956, pp. 7,8; Awake!, December 22, 1960, pp. 14,15; The Watchtower, 196 1, p. 628; Awake!, October 8, 1965, p. 16; and in Aid, 197 1, p. 478. In each case, the quotation was the sole evidence of an increase in the earthquake activity since 1914!

Earthquake Patterns

WILL seismologists someday be able to predict earthquakes? Workers at the California Institute of Technology seem to have taken a step in that direction. They have found evidence that earthquakes throughout the world follow a rough pattern of recurrence and are related to a world-wide stress system.

Investigators at the Institute's Seismological Laboratory studied the 48 great earthquakes that have occurred all over the world since 1904, when reliable instrumental observations began. The study was limited to the highly destructive shallow quakes, which take place less than 45 miles below the earth's surface. All these quakes fell into a pattern "as orderly and regular as the cutting edge of saw."

Major quakes used to occur in clusters, each period of activity being followed by a rest period. Thus there was violent activity between 1904 and 1907 and then quiescence for 10 years, except for two quakes in 1911 and 1912. Four more active periods, separated by quiet intervals, occurred between 1917 and 1948. But the periods of activity became progressively shorter and closer together. Since 1948 the pattern has entered a new phase, with approximately one great quake a year. Instead of accumulating over years, strain in the earth's crust now seems to find release as fast as it is generated.

The nature of the "global force" that controls this orderly pattern is unknown. One speculation is that periodic increases in the earth's rate of spin due to slight changes in the tidal forces of the sun and moon may enlarge the earth, opening it's seams sufficiently to release the accumulated tensions.

Scientific American, September 1950, page 48.

These sentences, isolated from their context, strongly convey the impression of an increase in the number of major earthquakes in our century, and especially since 1948. A careful examination of the whole news item, however, gives quite another impression. For the reader's benefit, we present the news item above in its entirety.

Does the news item actually claim that major earthquakes have increased in number since 1948? Does it say they have been more violent or destructive since that date? No, it does not. It refers to a study of a special type of great earthquakes, "the highly destructive shallow quakes, which take place less than 45 miles below the earth's surface." Forty-eight quakes of this kind had occurred between 1904 and 1950, that is, about one such quake a year, on the average. But while they earlier used to occur in clusters, followed by a rest period, the pattern entered a new phase in 1948, "with approximately one great quake [that is, of 8.0 magnitude or more] a year." Thus the average number of earthquakes was still the same.

To illustrate, if in a ten-year period a cluster of four great earthquakes occurred in the first year, another cluster of three in the sixth year, and a third cluster of three in the tenth, with the intervening years being years of quiet, the total number would be ten great earthquakes in the ten-year period. This would be the same as if there had been one great earthquake each year during the ten-year period. The total number would be the same in either case.

The Scientific American news item itself clearly shows that no increase in either the total number or size of earthquakes had occurred. Only by quoting two or three sentences out of context was it possible to create the opposite impression.

According to the study of seismologists Båth and Duda, mentioned earlier, about 20 major (7.0 or more in magnitude) earthquakes a year have occurred from 1897 to 1977. No marked change in that pattern could be demonstrated for this whole period, except that the frequency of the greatest earthquakes was almost twice as great before 1920, compared to the whole period thereafter up to 1977. The "new phase" mentioned in the Scientific American of September 1950, then, must have been a comparatively trivial episode in the larger pattem.39

In spite of this, the sentences quoted out of context by the Watch Tower Society have been used, time and again, in an attempt to "prove" that earthquake activity entered a new and more violent phase in 1948, and that this phase has persisted since. In the long run, of course, the Scientific American item of September 1950 could not be dusted off every time this need to be "proved."40

39 It should also be observed that the "new phase" had appeared for at most parts of three years, from 1948 to 1950, when the information was published. The information could not show, of course, whether the "new phase" would continue after 1950. Certainly this would be a slender thread of evidence upon which to build such startling claims.

40 There is evidence that it was realized that the Scientific American article of 1950 had begun to take on a somewhat outdated look, one in need of renewal. The Watch Tower Society's Bible dictionary Aid to Bible Understanding, published in 1971, thus made use of this quote in an unusual way, one that gave a further false appearance, as is shown in the following quotation: "Jesus foretold earthquakes in great number and magnitude as a feature of the sign of his second presence. (Matt. 24:3, 7, 8; Mark 13:4, 8) Since 1914 C.E., and especially since 1948, there has been an increase in the number of earthquakes, especially major ones. Before 1948, they occurred in clusters, with a rest period inbetween, but since then there has been a major quake almost annually, in addition to a great number of smaller ones See Encyclopedia Americana, Annuals, 1965-1967, under 'Earthquakes.'" ( Aid to Bible Understanding, p. 178.) The sentences from the Scientific American are almost literally repeated in this dictionary, but instead of referring to that magazine (by then some twenty years old) as the source, The Encyclopedia Americana, Annuals of 1965-1967, is referred to, evidently in order to give this "proof" a more current look and to indicate that the 1948-50 phase still persisted. The problem is, however, that this encyclopedia has nothing whatever to say about such a "new phase" from 1948, or of any increase in earthquake activity in our century! The unsuspicious and loyal reader of the Watch Tower publications takes it for granted that the new source cited confirms the statement about such an increase. It is most unlikely that he will check the source to find out that he has been misled. This way of substantiating claims is far from honest, especially as the statements are presented as the sole proof of the claimed post-1914 increase in earthquakes.

im-eqke2.gif (10107 bytes)

This figure shows the annual number of great shallow quakes of 1897-1979 measuring 7.8 or above on the Richter scale. These are usually the most destructive quakes, especially when they hit densely inhabited areas. The great earthquake that struck Mexico City on September 19, 1985, belongs to this category. About 2.1 quakes of this type occur each year on the average. No increase in the number of such quakes has been observed in our century. As regards those who would designate 1914 a turning point, the fact is that the number was highest in the pre-1914 period! (K. Abe & H. Kanamori in Tectonophysics, Vol. 62, 1980, p. 196.)

A new "evidence" advanced

By 1978 the statement in Scientific American magazine had been used for about twenty years as the Watch Tower Society's principal or only neutral "proof" of the claimed increase in earthquake activity since 1914. In 1978, however, another "evidence" began to be quoted, one that has served as virtually the only "neutral" source of proof since then. A closer scrutiny of the source and dependability of this new evidence will give us yet another interesting lesson in the Society's art of "proving" by the aid of quotations.

The erroneous statement presented in 1977 that "reliable sources list only 24 major earthquakes" from A.D. 856 to 1914 would soon become useful to the Watch Tower Society in another, most unexpected way. The year after that claim was published, in the Italian journal Il Piccolo, of October 8, 1978, a writer, Geo Malagoli, presented the following views:

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, if we compare this figure to the partially complete list of 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. The dramatic increase further goes to emphasize another accepted fact – our generation is an unfortunate one in many ways. (Quoted from The Watchtower, May 15, 1983, page 6.)

By stating that fatality figures indicate that ours is a "period of high seismic activity," Geo Malagoli reveals that he is definitely not a seismologist.41 He is clearly a reader of the Awake! magazine, however. A careful comparison will show that his statement is practically a word-for-word repetition of the same statement published by the Watch Tower Society one and a half years earlier. (See page 62.)

It is quite evident that the source of Malagoli's "information" was the Awake! magazine of February 22, 1977, quoted earlier. The slight differences are easy to explain. He has rounded off the figures: 1,972,952 to 1,973,000, and 1,579,209 to 1,600,000. As one year had passed since the figures were originally published in Awake!, he has also raised the 62 years (from 1915 to 1977) to 63 years (1915-1978). But aside from this, all details are identical. And from now on this Geo Malagoli began to appear in the Watch Tower publications, time and again, every time the subject of earthquakes was brought up for discussion – elevated to the position of a neutral, impartial earthquake authority!

Malagoli's statement in Il Piccolo was first picked up and cited under the heading of "Insight on the News" in The Watchtower of June 15, 1979 (page 11), without the reader being informed that Malagoli had in turn borrowed his information from the Awake! magazine. Next year – in 1980 – Malagoli and his statement appeared again, this time in the book Happiness – How to Find It, where he is quoted on page 148 as the sole "evidence" presented of the claimed increase in earthquake activity since 1914. A few months later, in the Awake! of October 8, 1980, Malagoli is again quoted as the one and only source of evidence:

41 High seismic activity is not necessarily translated into high death figures. As Båth (quoted above, see footnote 11) points out, "There is usually no clear correlation between the magnitude of a shock and the number of killed people or other destruction." Only if the seismic activity is manifested in densely populated areas can there be high death figures. Seismologists, therefore, measure seismic activity by instruments, not by fatality reports.

Has the frequency of earthquakes really Increased? The Italian magazine II Piccolo observed: 'Our generation lives in a dangerous period of high seismic activity, as statistics show.' And then it produced figures for the past thousand years to prove it. (Page 20, 21)

And of course they avoided mentioning the fact that the 'figures produced' were –originally – produced by the Watch Tower Society itself.

In 1981 Malagoli was quoted in the Society's book " Let Your Kingdom Come" on page 113, and in 1982 "his" figures were referred to three times: in the Awake! of April 8, page 13, in The Watchtower of April 15, page 9, and in the new study book You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth, page 151. Each time Malagoli's figures were the only "evidence" offered as to increased earthquake activity. In the special discussion of earthquake activity published in The Watchtower of May 15, 1983, Malagoli was finally brought up again as the principal witness (aside from the Watch Tower Society's own misleading statistics) to the claimed increase in the earthquake activity since 1914. Incredible as it may seem, this time his statement was used to "disprove" what an authentic earthquake authority, Keiiti Aki, states, namely, that the period from 1500 through 1700 was as active as the past 100 years!

Thus we find that the Watch Tower Society's principal, yes, its sole seemingly "neutral" and "impartial" proof that earthquake activity has increased since 1914 is an Italian writer, who –undoubtedly in good faith – borrowed his "information" right out of the Awake! magazine. That "information" on seismic activity in the past is, in turn, completely erroneous and has nothing to do with actual historical evidence. The fact that the Society, time and again, has presented this false information-seemingly taken from a neutral source-in order to "prove" its interpretation of the "sign" since 1914, should induce every honest reader of its publications to ask if this Society is genuinely deserving of his or her confidence in its remarkable claims.

Quotations taken out of context and given a different, slanted meaning, biased selection of figures and data, misuse of and even fabrication of statistics that are then presented as though coming from an outside, neutral source-these are the methods employed by the Watch Tower publications to support the claim that the number of earthquakes and of quake victims has soared since 1914. How is it that persons considered as devout and respectable men resort to such methods?

An article entitled "Fraud in Science," published in the Awake! of May 22, 1984, pointed out that dedicated scientists such as Ptolemy, Galileo, Mendel, Newton and others sometimes resorted to manipulation of figures, data selection and even fabrication of data in order to support their theories. The article then says that, "conscientious and honorable though a scientist, or anyone, may be in other things, when his own reputation or interest is at stake, he can become quite dogmatic, irrational, even reckless, or take a shortcut." (Page 6) Emphasizing that "science, too, has its skeletons in the closet," the article concludes:

Their occasional exposure ought to make us realize that though science and scientists are often put on a pedestal, their place on it should be carefully reevaluated. (Page 8)

We ask: When such "skeletons" are also found in the "closet" of a religious organization, should not this induce a similar reevaluation of the exalted position which that organization claims for itself?

Earthquakes in the light of history

What are, then, the actual facts about earthquakes in the past? If, as seismologists clearly demonstrate, thousands of destructive earthquakes took place during the period from 856 to 1914, how is it possible for anyone to state that "there were only 24 major earthquakes" during that period? One possibility is that such a listing was found under the entry "Earthquake" in a reference work of one kind or another. Encyclopedias and other reference works often present tables with a brief selection of major earthquakes of the past. But in no case have we ever found any such list that claims to be complete. On the contrary, one is usually informed in one way or another that the list presented is incomplete. Thus seismologists Frank Press and Raymond Siever, on page 651 of their popular textbook Earth (San Francisco 1974) list 32 (note!) earthquakes from 856 to 1914 under the heading " Some of the world's worst earthquakes (in lives lost)." Clearly, only a writer grossly ignorant of the facts could honestly claim that pre-1914 history recognizes only 24 major earthquakes! Only such a writer would also be able to pen the following statement on page 18 of the Awake! of May 8, 1974:

Further, the great earthquakes of the past were generally isolated events occurring years, even centuries, apart. There were not many of them in a single generation.

In a remarkably similar statement, Hal Lindsey's book The 1980's – Countdown to Armageddon (1981), on page 29 says:

There have been many great earthquakes throughout history, but, according to surprisingly well-kept records, in the past they did not occur very frequently. The 20th century, however, has experienced an unprecedented increase in the frequency of these calamities. In fact, the number of earthquakes per decade has roughly doubled in each of the 10-year periods since 1950.

Although lacking even the slightest foundation in fact, such statements could be the hasty impression obtained by someone whose main, perhaps only, information about earthquakes in history has been brief looks at tables containing partial selections of major earthquakes.

As has been shown, the earthquake catalogs carefully worked out by seismologists list a vastly greater number of major earthquakes for the period 856-1914. For this reason the Watch Tower Society has felt it necessary to try to undermine confidence in these catalogs. The Awake! magazine of May 8, 1974, stated:

Nor do all historical records about 'great' earthquakes of the ~ Inspire confidence in their reliability. That was the view of noted cataloger John Milne. 'In these catalogues,' we read in the 1939 edition of his book Earthquakes and Other Earth Movements (revised and rewritten by A. W. Lee), 'there are uncertainties in the dates, or even the years, for many of the ancient earthquakes. There are numerous inaccurate or obscure references in the original writings.' (Page 18)

With this quotation, taken out of context, the Watch Tower Society dismisses all the catalogs of thousands of earthquakes in the past, carefully compiled by modern specialists. Was it really the view of John Milne and A. W Lee that these catalogs could be ignored, because the ancient documents often contained "inaccurate or obscure references." and because "there are uncertainties in the date, or even the years." for many of the quakes? Milne's statement seen in its context gives the reader quite a different impression:

The information available for examination of the distribution of earthquakes in different parts of the world throughout historic times has been collected in many catalogues. The older catalogues, which were prepared from reports found in the histories of various countries, are necessarily incomplete, and do not give a fair representation of the distribution of seismic phenomena over the entire globe. In these catalogues there are uncertainties in the dates, or even the years, for many of the ancient earthquakes. There are numerous inaccurate or obscure references in the original writings, and the dates are frequently given according to some little known system of reckoning. The entries for these ancient shocks refer, for the most part, to widespread disasters.42

Read in its entirety and in its context, Milne's (and Lee's) estimation of the catalogs presents a quite different meaning. What they in fact point out is that, since the older catalogs are incomplete, the real number of ancient earthquakes was actually larger, and that these catalogs, therefore, do not give a fair representation of the full scope of the situation as regards earlier seismic activity. The uncertainties regarding certain dates or years, they say, are owing to the fact that the dates are frequently given according to some system of reckoning that is little known today. This in no way says, then, that the ancient sources were careless and thus unreliable in this respect, an impression created by the Watch Tower Society by taking the statement out of its context and interrupting the quotation in the middle of a sentence. Nor does the observation that the descriptions of the ancient earthquakes sometimes contain "inaccurate or obscure references" constitute a denial that these earthquakes did indeed take place.

Turning to one of the learned classical writers of antiquity, we obtain an interesting illustration of this incompleteness of existing catalogs of earthquakes of the past. Shortly before his death in A.D. 65, the famous Roman writer Seneca stated that frequent earthquakes had long been a characteristic of the ancient world:

How often have cities in Asia, how often in Achaia, been laid low by a single shock of earthquake! How many towns in Syria, how many in Macedonia, have been swallowed up! How often has this kind of devastation laid Cyprus in ruins! How often has Paphos collapsed! Not infrequently are tidings brought to us of the utter destruction of entire cities. (Seneca Ad Lucilium Epistulae Morales, translated by Richard M. Gummere, Vol. 11, London & New York, 1920, p. 437.)

No existing earthquake catalog would claim to embrace all the disastrous shocks presupposed by this statement. In fact, only a very small number of earthquakes before A.D. 65 have been specifically identified. But it would certainly be a mistake to infer from this that earthquake catastrophes "did not occur very frequently" in the past,

42 John Milne & A.W. Lee, Earthqakes and 0ther Earth Movements,seventh edition, London 1939, p. 134.

as author Lindsey states and the Watch Tower's Awake! magazine implies. Seneca's personal testimony is that as far back as the first century they did occur with notable frequency. That few if any specifics are known today about these destructive quakes certainly does not mean that they did not take place.

That modern earthquake catalogs, far from exaggerating the number of shocks in the past, actually list only a small minority of them, has been noted by several seismologists. In 1971, for example, seismologist N. N. Ambraseys at Imperial College of Science and Technology, London, reported that he had identified about 2,200 "larger shocks" in the Eastern Mediterranean alone between A.D. 10 and 1699. Having started a fresh and painstaking examination of contemporary source material and recent archaeological evidence from that area of notable seismicity, he stated:

The total number of all earthquakes, large and small, identified so far for the period AD 10 to 1699, is just over 3,000, or about twenty times the number of genuine earthquakes listed for the same period in modern catalogues.43

Professor Ambraseys has not yet published a documented study of these findings, but the series of catastrophic earthquakes that befell the Eastern Roman Empire in A.D. 447 – the year of Attila the Hun's second invasion – are probably among the 2,200 larger shocks mentioned above. We learn of them through historian E. A. Thompson, who states the following in his book A History of Attila and the Huns (Oxford, England, 1948), on page 91:

As the Hun squadrons prepared to move, a disaster of the first magnitude befell the Romans. The series of earthquakes which shattered the Eastern Empire for four months beginning on 26 January 447 were, in the belief of Evagrius, the worst in its history. Entire villages were swallowed up and countless disasters occurred both on land and sea. Thrace, the Hellespont, and the Cyclades all suitered. For three or four days after the earthquakes began, the rain poured from the sky, we are told, in rivers of water. Hillocks were levelled with the ground. Countless buildings were thrown down in Constantinople, and, worst of all, a stretch of the massive walls of Anthemius, including no less than fifty-seven towers, fell to the ground.

43 N. N. Ambraseys in Nature, August 6, 1971, pp. 375, 376.

Yet these disastrous shocks of 447 A.D. are not included in any of the earthquake catalogs the authors of this present work have had access to.

It is only since the middle of the last century that seismologists have intensively studied records of earthquakes in the past. Robert Mallet, "the first true seismologist." not only examined the older catalogs compiled by his predecessors, but he also searched through libraries all over Europe, looking for records of ancient earthquakes. Finally, in the Reports of the British Association for the years 1852-54, he published a catalog of nearly seven thousand earthquakes, dating from 1606 B.C. to A.D. 1850!44 As Milne and Lee pointed out, these entries "refer, for the most part, to widespread disasters," that is, great and destructive earthquakes.

But this was just a beginning. When John Milne, "the father of seismology," arrived in Tokyo in 1875, "it was to find records of over two thousand earthquakes in the Japanese archives." 45 In Japan a running list of destructive earthquakes had been kept for a period of more than two thousand years! Soon also similar records were discovered in China. The Chinese records go back to 1100 B. C. and "are fairly complete from around 780 BC, the period of the Chou dynasty in north China."46

Within a short time several seismologists started working out careful catalogs of quakes in different countries. Thus Davison's History of British Earthquakes lists 1,191 shocks from A. D. 974 to 1924 in England alone – a country far removed from the earthquake belts of the earth.47 In Italy, Mario Baratta, in his I Terremoti d'Italia, published in 1901, gives accounts of 1,364 earthquakes which have shaken Italy from A.D. I to 1898.48 Similar catalogs list earthquakes in Austria, Russia, China, Japan and so on.49

The greatest earthquake collector among modern seismologists, however, was a Frenchman, Count F. Montessus de Ballore. From

44 Milne/Lee, p. 2; Verney, p. 50. To his catalog, Mallet added a bibliography of about seven thousand books and pamphlets.

45 Vemey, p. 76.

46 Milne/Lee, p. 135. Booth/Fitch, p. 76.

47 Milne/Lee, p. 135.

48 Milne (1911; see footnote 9 above), p. 655.

49 Milne (1911), pp. 655-658. Wong Wen-Hao's list for China, compiled from historical records, includes 3,394 earthquakes from 1767 B.C. to 1896 A.D.! – Comptes Rendus Comgrès Géol. Interntl. XIII, Belgium 1922, fasc. 2, Liege 1925. pp. 1161-1197.

1885 to 1922 he devoted all his time to studying and cataloging earthquakes. "His greatest work, however, was never published. This is a monumental catalogue of the earthquakes in all parts of the world since the earliest historic times, and contains information about 171,434 earthquakes"! The manuscript is stored in the library of the Geographical Society in Paris, where it occupies 26 metres (over 84 feet) of bookshelves.50

John Milne, too, spent several years in compiling his catalog of earthquakes from all over the world. Limiting his study to destructive earthquakes only, he lists 4,151 destructive earthquakes between the years A.D. 7 to A.D. 1899.51 The entries before A.D. 1700, which "are practically confined to occurrences in Southern Europe, China, and Japan." are, for logical reasons, sparser.52 Milne was admirably strict in handling his sources. He states:

Not only have certain small earthquakes been omitted, but whenever the information on which the accounts of larger ones have been based has been of doubtful character, these also have been rejected.53

Milne indicated the intensity of the earthquakes he listed according to the scale I, II and III, with III referring to the most destructive earthquakes, "those which destroyed towns and devastated districts," cracking walls, shattering old buildings, and so forth "up to a distance of 100 miles" from the center. During the last century alone (the nineteenth), when the records are most complete, about 370 earthquakes of class III are listed. When compared with such documented evidence the Watch Tower Society's reference to only 24 major earthquakes from 856 to 1914 A.D. becomes virtually ludicrous.

As a matter of fact, the Watch Tower Society in effect has now recognized this. In the summer of 1985 they published a statement acknowledging that there had been 856 severe earthquakes during the 2000 years preceding 1914. (See Reasoning from the Scriptures, 1985, page 236.) Although this is a step in the right direction, this figure also is a far cry from the actual truth. The arguments based on this new figure actually are as deceptive as those based on the earlier figures. (See the accompanying box on page 79.)

When it comes to the number of deaths in different earthquakes in the past, the ancient records are often silent or give very scanty infor- [cont.]

50 Milne/Lee, pp. 137, 138.

51 Milne (1911), pp.649-740. Milne/Lee, p.138.

52 Milne (1911), p. 649.

53 Milne (1911), p.651.


In its textbook You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth (1982), the Watch Tower Society claimed that "from the year 856 C.E. to 1914, there were only 24 major earthquakes." (Page 151)

Obviously leaving that claim behind, three years later the textbook Reasoning from the Scriptures (1985) offers a vastly greater number of earthquakes:

With data obtained from the National Geophysical Data Center in Boulder, Colorado, sup. plemented 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 durinr the 2.000 years before 1914. The same tabulation showed that in just 6,9 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.

Did the Data Center in Boulder really support the claim?

Terming this statement a "misuse of the statistics" seismologist Wilbur A. Rinehart at the National Geophysical Data Center in Boulder, Colorado, stated that "there has been no significant increase in the numbers of earthquakes during this or any other century." (For his complete reply to our questions, see Appendix A [in printed edition. See page 1 and page 2 of letter)].

What about the "20 times increase"?

Writing about the limited area of the Eastern Mediterranean basin, the renowned seismologist N. N. Ambraseys stated in 1971:

The total number of all earthquakes, large and small, identified so far for the period AD 10 to 1699, is just over 3,000, or about twenty times the number of genuine earthquakes listed for the same period in modern catalogues. . . . for the larger shocks, about 2,200 in all, the homogeneity of the material can he proved to be satisfactory for the whole period. – Nature magazine, August 6, 1971, pp. 375, 376.

These findings of themselves totally nullify the Watch Tower Society's claims.

What leading seismologists comment

The Watch Tower Society's statement about a 20-fold increase in earthquakes since 1914 was also sent to a number of leading seismologists around the world. All of them rejected the claim and none of them thought that our century is in any way unique with respect to the number of great earthquakes. A number of the answers received are reproduced in the Appendix [in printed edition] (Appendix A).

mation. The Awake! issue of July 8, 1982, on page 16, claimed that, "From the time Jesus gave his prophecy until 1914, history records five earthquakes that each took 100,000 lives or more." while "In the period since 1914 at least four more such superearthquakes have occurred."

Just to demonstrate how erroneous such a statement is, the following table presents 24 such "superearthquakes" from the period A.D. 532 to 1914. Perhaps as many as seven of these (there are quite naturally some uncertainties) occurred in the eighteenth century alone.54

A.D. 532Syria130,000
856Iran: Qumis Damghan200,000
893India: Daipul180,000
893Iran: Ardabil150,000
1138Egypt, Syria230,000
1139Iran: Gansana100,000
1201Upper Egypt, Syria1,100,000
1290China: Chihli100,000
1641Iran: Dehkwargan, Tabriz300,000
1669Sicily (Etna eruption)100,000
1693Sicily: Catania and Naples100,000
1703Japan (tsunami)100,000
1721Iran: Tabriz100,000
1730China: Chihli100,000
1730Japan: Hokkaido137,000
1731China: Peking100,000
1737India: Calcutta300,000
1780Iran: Tabriz100,000
1876Bay of Bengal (tsunami)215,000
1908Italy: Messina/Reggio110,000

54 Robert A. Ganse and John B. Nelson, Catalog of Significant Earthquakes 2000 B.C. 1979, Boulder, Colorado, 1981, pp. 3-33. (Report SE-27 of the World Data Center A for Solid Earth Geophysics.) On the Messina/Reggio quake, see A. Imamura, Theoretical and Applied Seismology, Tokyo 1937, pp. 140, 202, 204, which says that some 83,000 died in Messina and c. 20,000 in Reggio. Other sources used are: N. N. Ambraseys in Revue pour 1`étude des calamitès, No. 37, Geneve, December 1961, p. 18f, J. H. Latter, "Natural Disasters," Advancement of Science, June 1969, pp. 363, 370; N. N. Ambraseys & C. P. Melville, A History of Persian Earthquakes, Cambridge 1982; R. A. Daly, Our Mobile Earth, New York & London 1926; A. T. Wilson, "Earthquakes in Persia," Bulletin [ftnt. cont.]

Comparing this information with the statement of the Awake! writer earlier-quoted, it becomes painfully evident how remarkably superficial the research of the Watch Tower publications is, how utterly irresponsible the claims made actually are.

In many cases great numbers of deaths have been caused by accompanying results or consequences of earthquake activity, such as tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, landslides, fires, and similar factors. But this holds equally true for some of the "superearthquakes" occurring after 1914. The 100,000 that died in the earthquake in China in 1920, for example, were killed primarily by a landslide triggered by the quake. The earthquake in Japan in 1923 caused a fire storm that killed 38,000 of the 143,000 victims. It should also be added that the table above certainly does not claim to list all "superearthquakes" before 1914.

In view of the population increase it might seem only reasonable to expect that more people have died in earthquakes during our century than during earlier centuries.55 The following challenge on page 19 of the Awake! magazine of May 8, 1974, would therefore seem rather safe to make:

All together, over 900,000 persons have died in earthquakes since 1914! Can any single 'generation' equal that terrible record? Jesus' prophecies about earthquakes apply now.

Although this number has subsequently increased by a few hundred thousands in the years that have passed since that statement was pub-

[ftnt 54 cont] of the School of Oriental Studies, London Institution, Vol. VI (1930-32); Dr. A. Sleberg in Handbuch der Geophysik (ed. Prof. B. Gutenberg), Vol. IV, Leipzig 1932; and James Comell, The Great International Disaster Book, New York 1979. Death figures vary, and in several cases some sources give considerably higher figures than shown in our table. Thus the New Catalog of Strong Earthquakes in the U.S.S.R. from Ancient Times through 1977 (Report SE-31 of the World Data Center A, July 1982) gives 200,000~300,000 deaths for the earthquake in Gansana, Iran, in 1139. Comell (page 153) sets the death figure for the 1693 quake in Sicily at 153,000,.and Sieberg (in Gutenherg, p. 854) has 150,000 for the Japanese earthquake in 1703. For the two earthquakes that hit Tabriz in Iran in 1721 and 1780, estimates range up to 250,000 and 205,000 respectively. (Ambraseys/Melville, pp. 54, 184, 186) Two other relatively recent quakes that may have been 1.superearthquakes" are the earthquake in Japan in 1855, which may have claimed 106,000 lives (Sieberg in Gutenberg, p. 854), and the earthquake in Kangra, India, in 1905, of which Comell (p. 139) says that "some other reports claim nearly 370,000 people were killed in Central India when several villages were completely destroyed." Neither of these has been included in the table.

55 Professor Båth points out that "the coastal areas are most often visited by quakes, and that these areas always have been those most densely populated." Thus, "one cannot reckon with the total population on earth as a clue for earlier times" when estimating the total number of earthquake victims in the past. (Personal letter of October 3, 1984.)

lished in the Awake! magazine, we will nonetheless take up the gauntlet presented by the Watch Tower's challenge.

As the historical entries before A.D. 1700 "are practically confined to occurrences in Southern Europe, China and Japan" (Milne), we choose the generation from 1714 onward and compare it with the generation after 1914. The table in the Awake! of February 22, 1977, covering the period 1915-1976, has been updated to include the years up to 1983 inclusive. A correction of the figure for the great earthquake in China in 1976 has been made at the bottom of the table, with a reference to a later statement in Awake!. (See page 83.)

The results show that the total death figure in earthquakes from 1915 to 1983 amounts to 1,210,597, which is an annual average of 17,545.

The accompanying table (on the left side) listing 43 major earthquakes from 1715 to 1783 shows a total of 1,373,845 deaths, which is about 163,000 more, giving an annual average of 19,911!

To prove that 1914 was a real seismic "turning point" The Watchtower of May 15, 1983, made reference to 50 destructive earthquakes during the 68 years between 1914 and 1982. (Page 7) We have therefore prepared a table for the 68 years preceding 1914 (1847-1914) showing a partial list of 50 destructive earthquakes compiled from reliable sources. It demonstrates very conclusively that 1914 cannot have been the conspicuous turning point the Watch Tower Society claims it was.

Of course, no such tables are complete. For a number of great earthquakes from the 18th century onward, no death figures are known, the contemporary records simply giving the information that "many" were killed in them. Even if death figures were to be added to all three tables by including more earthquakes from the three periods involved, the comparison still would only demonstrate that the generation of 1914 is in no way unique as far as earthquakes are concemed.56 (See page 84.)

We have seen, one by one, the different claims of the Watch Tower Society demolished by historical facts – that the period A.D. 856- [cont.]

56 Sources used for the table on the 18th century earthquakes include: the catalog by Ganse & Nelson; Milne (1911), pp. 686-698; Robert Giffen in the Journal of the Statistical Society. Vol. XLI, London 1878, pp. 442-444; Charles Davison, Great Earthquakes, London 1936; Akitune Imamura, Theoretical and Applied Seismology. Tokyo 1937; Richter (1958); Båth (1979), page 139; Booth & Fitch, p. 78; and Encyclopedia Americana Annals, 1965-67, page 498. If the fact that the population on earth today is six-fold as great as that of the 18th century (c. 750 million in 1770), and the number of earthquake victims is seen as a ratio of the total population, the 18th century far surpasses the 20th!


 1715-1783   1915-1983: 
     (See Awake! February 22, 1977) 
YearLocationDeaths YearLocationDeaths
1715Algeria20,000 1915Italy29,970
1717Algeria20,000 1920China180,000
1718China43,000 1923Japan143,000
1719Asia Minor1,000 1927China200,000
1721Iran100,000 1932China70,000
1724Peru (tsunami)18,000 1933U.S.A.115
1725Peru1,500 1935India (Pakistan)60,000
1725China556 1939Chile30,000
1726Italy6,000 1939Turkey23,000
1727Iran77,000 1946Turkey1,300
1730Italy200 1946Japan2,000
1730China100,000 1948Japan5,131
1730Japan137,000 1949Ecuador6,000
1731China100,000 1950India1,500
1732Italy1,940 1953Turkey1,200
1736China260 1953Greece424
1737India300,000 1954Algeria1,657
1739China50,000 1956Afghanistan2,000
1746Peru4,800 1957Iran (Northern)2,500
1749Spain5,000 1957Iran (Western)2,000
1750Greece2,000 1960Chile5,700
1751Japan2,000 1960Morocco12,000
1751China900 1962Iran10,000
1752Syria20,000 1963Yugoslavia1,100
1754Egypt40,000 1964Alaska131
1755China270 1966Turkey2,529
1755Iran1,200 1969Iran11,588
1755Portugal60,000 1970Turkey1,086
1755Morocco12,000 1970Peru66,794
1757Italy10,000 1971U.S.A.65
1759Syria30,000 1972Iran5,057
1763China1,000 1972Nicaragua6,000
1765China1,189 1973Mexico (Western)52
1766Japan1,335 1973Mexico (Central)700
1771Japan (tsunami)11,700 1974Pakistan5,200
1773Guatemala20,000 1975China200
1774Newfoundland300 1975Turkey2,312
1778Iran (Kashan)8,000 1976Guatemala23,000
1780Iran (Tabriz)100,000 1976Italy900
1780Iran (Khurasan)3,000 1976Bali600
1783Italy (Calabria)60,000 1976China *242,000
1783Italy (Palmi)1,504 1976Philippines3,373
1783Italy (Monteleone)1,191 1976Turkey3,790
    1977-1983 addition +44,623
Total 1715-1783:1,373,845 Total 1915-1983:1,210,597
Annual average:19,911 Annual average:17,545

*See page 65, footnote 34; compare Awake! July 8, 1982, p. 13.

+Ganse & Nelson list a death figure of 44,623 for this period.

Did 1914 really bring a change?

YearPlaceDeaths YearPlaceDeaths
1847Japan34,000 1882Italy2,313
1850China300-400,000 1883Italy1,990
1851Iran2,000 1883Greece, Asia Minor15,000
1851Italy14,000 1883Java36,400
1853Iran (Shiraz)12,000 1885India3,000
1853Iran (Isfahan)10,000 1887France1 ,000
1854Japan34,000 1887China2,000
1854El Salvador1,000 1891Japan7,283
1855Japan6,757 1893Western Turkmenia18,000
1856Java3,000 1896Japan27,122
1857Italy10,000 1897India (Assam)1,542
1857Italy12,000 1902Guatemala2,000
1859Ecuador5,000 1902Turkestan4,562
1859Turkey15,000 1903Turkey6,000
1861Argentina7,000 1905India (Kangra)19,000
1863Philippines10,000 1905Italy2,500
1868Peru40,000 1906Colombia1,000
1868Ecuador, Colombia70,000 1906Formosa1 ,300
1872Asia Minor1,800 1906Chile20,000
1875Venezuela, Colombia16,000 1907Jamaica1 ,400
1876Bay of Bengal215,000 1907Central Asia12,000
1879Iran2,000 1908Italy110,000
1879China10,430 1909Iran6-8,000
1880Greece (Chios)4,000 1910Costa Rica1,750
1881Asia Minor8,866 1912Marmara Sea Coast1,958
Total victims for 68 years previous to 1914:1,148,973-1,250,973
Annual average:17,149-18,671

SOURCES: Båth: Introduction to Seismology (1979); Richter: Elementary Seismology (1958); Imamura: Theoretical and Applied Seismology (1937); Ganse-Nelson: Catalog of Significant Earthquakes (1981); Ambraseys: Earth-quake Hazard and Vulnerability (1981); Ambraseys-Melville: A History of Persian Earthquakes (1982); Latter: Natural Disasters (Advancement of Science, June 1969); Press-Siever: Earth (1974); Handbuch der Ceophysik (ed. Prof. B Gutenberg), Band IV (Berlin 1932).

1914 saw only 24 major earthquakes, that the great earthquakes of the past occurred "years, even centuries, apart," that history records only five "superearthquakes" from the time of Christ to 1914, and that no single generation before 1914 can equal the one following that year with respect to earthquake victims. Is it really possible that the writers of the Watch Tower publications are so ignorant of past earthquakes— or are they trying to conceal the truth about them from their readers? We prefer to believe that they primarily have been ignorant of the facts. But if so, it is extremely remarkable that an organization claiming to have been authorized by Jesus Christ to interpret the signs of the time for people of our days, seems to take so little interest in verifying how its interpretations and statistics tally with historical reality.

Finally, what do the seismologists themselves say as to the overall picture? Have they found any marked difference between the frequency of earthquakes since 1914 compared with earlier centuries? Seismologists J. Milne and A. W Lee declared that "there is no indication that seismic activity has increased or diminished appreciably throughout historic times."57 And professor Markus Båth agrees: "For earlier centuries we do not have the same reliable statistics, but there are no indications at all of any increase in the activity in the course of time."58

As the ancient records become more and more sparse and incomplete the farther back in time we go, it is only natural that we have more and better information from the latest centuries than from the earlier ones. There is, however, one exception: Japan. As was shown earlier, the Japanese have kept a running record of destructive earthquakes in that country (with its frequent seismic activity) reaching back to well before the birth of Christ. According to Milne's catalog the number of destructive earthquakes in Japan recorded during each century from the ninth to the nineteenth are:

CenturyNo of destructive earthquakes in Japan

57 Mitne/Lee, page 155.

58 Professor Båth, private letter dated June 17, 1983. See also Richter as quoted earlier, Natural History, December 1969, page 44, and Appendix A.


"There is no indication that seismic activity has increased or diminished appreciably throughout historic time." – Seismologists J. Milne and A. W Lee, Earthquakes and Other Earth Movements, seventh edition (London, 1939), p. 155.

"Certain religious groups have picked this rather unfortunate time to insist that the number of earthquakes is increasing. In part they are misled by the increasing number of small earthquakes that are being catalogued and listed by newer, more sensitive stations throughout the world. It is worth remarking that the number of great earthquakes from 1896 to 1906 was greater than in any ten-year interval since." – Professor Charles Richter in National History, December 1969, p. 44.

"For earlier centuries we do not have the same reliable statistics, but there are no indications at all of any increase in the activity in the course of time." – Professor Markus Båth, private letter dated June 17, 1983.

"I certainly would agree with both Professors Båth and Richter in their assessment that there has been no significant increase in the number of earthquakes during this or any other century." – Wilbur A. Rinehart, seismologist at the World Data Center A, Boulder, Colorado. Private letter dated August 8, 1985. Page 1 and page 2.

An expert on the seismicity of the Mediterranean area, one of the earth's major earthquake regions, says:

"Most certainly, there has been no increase in the seismic activity of the Mediterranean during this century. Quite the contrary, in the Eastern Mediterranean the activity of this century has been abnormally low when compared with that of the 10th-12th and 18th centuries." – Professor N. N. Ambraseys, private letter dated August 9, 1985.

"I feel strongly that the seismicity has been stationary for thousands of years. . . . Excellent geological evidence for the stationarity has been obtained by Prof. Kerry Sieh of Caltech, for the San Andreas fault." – Seismologist Keiiti Aki, professor at the Department of Geological Sciences, University of Southern California, Los Angeles. Private letter dated September 5, 1985.

"There are indications that worldwide seismic activity – if expressed in terms of earthquakes with magnitude 7 or over-has decreased steadily in the time from the beginning of the 20th century until now." – Seweryn J. Duda, Professor of Geophysics, University of Hamburg. Private letter dated July 7, 1986.

(The private letters quoted above are reproduced in their entirety in the Appendix [in printed edition].)

In our own century about 20 earthquakes of some importance had occurred in Japan up to 1983, pointing to a final total of perhaps 2530 for the whole present century.59 Evaluating these figures, Milne and Lee reported that "the data support the conclusion that during historic times the amount of seismic activity has not changed to any appreciable extent."60

Consequently, there is no evidence whatsoever in support of the claim made by various religious sources, including the Worldwide Church of God, a Seventh Day Adventist author, and notably by the Watch Tower Society, that earthquake activity is markedly different in our century compared with earlier centuries. All information available points to the contrary. The shifting, twisting, uncoordinated claims of the Watch Tower Society and their juggling of facts and figures in an effort to prove that an increase has occurred have been revealed above as fraudulent –hopefully not deliberately so, but as a result of remarkably poor research, superfical analysis and wishful thinking.

59 Compare the table by Milne/Lee (pp. 232-235), Eiby (pp. 191-195), Båth (pp. 114-117), and the statements by Verney (p. 77). Also Ganse & Nelson.

60 Milne/Lee, p. 156.


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Comment Box Disabled For Security

Date: 20 Mar 2005
Time: 14:36:21


I have followed quake statistics for some time now and whatever ANYONE says, the earth is experiencing many more this year between mag 4 thru 6 +.You seem to be very concerned about discrediting this Watchtower Society - If you think they are giving poor information why do you spend so much time and effort on this? It appears to me that you are worried about something that you don't even know how to deal with.

Date: 10 Nov 2005
Time: 00:02:32


I have previously done similar research as shown at and am very impressed with the throughness of Carl's work quoted here. In virtually every subject that i have looked into the Watchtower uses a similar method of misquoting and selective quoting to support their theories and doctrines. I certainly hope that any person thinking about joining the Jehovah's Witness religion do real research outside the pages of the Watchtower.


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