Wednesday 2 February 2005

Planning for catastrophe

When US judge Richard Posner wrote his book, Catastrophe: risk and response (OUP, 2004), he had no idea that a tsunami would kill 300,000 within months of its publication. However, he would have said (and now has that we should have been more prepared. Posner's basic argument is that there are events which have a very small probability of occuring, but whose impact is so dramatic that it makes sense to get ready for them. To give a crude example, if we knew that a tsunami would hit once every 300 years and kill 300, 000 people, that is 1000 people a year who need to be factored into the defence/health care budget.

Working out how to prepare for such events is difficult, but not impossible. For instance, some say much more money should be spent on asteroid watch and elimination (anyone see Deep Impact?) More generally, it warrants serious examination of global environmental issues such as warming, diminishing oil supplies and species extinction, and whether or not enough is being done about them.

What happens if we apply 'catastrophe planning' to Christian belief. Even if you think there is but a small risk that there is a God to whom the creatures of the universe will give account, what kind of planning might you do to prepare for such a possibility? Would it not be worth expending resources now in order to prepare for possibilities then?

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The Borg said...

Hello Greg. Good post.

Please excuse the shameful self-promotion, but I wrote some stuff about this on my blog ( before the tsumani.

My argument was a little more extreme than Posner's; I took consequences for granted and said that all catastrophes should be factored in.

It was (and is) my argument that we ought to take catasrophe planning seriously in relation to evangelism. Of course, we need to hold this in tension with God's sovereignty.

However, in regards to applying "catasrophe planning" to Christian belief, it smells a little too much like Pascal's Wager. While Pascal's Wager might be good apologetics, one ought to believe something because it is true, not because the consequences of not believing are bad.


Greg Clarke said...

Thanks for the response, Borg Blog person. You are right—I'm not suggesting we wager on belief itself, but that the consequences of Christian beliefs (that there is a Creator, that Jesus was divine, that he died for our sins and rose to new life, that in him we find salvation, etc) are so extreme that it makes sense to spend one's life exploring their validity. I think the same argument can be used for other belief systems such as Islam, which delivers similarly dramatic consequences if true. But you are right to say we must determine whether or not such beliefs can be said to be true.