home > questionable doctrine > earthquakes

Earthquakes Since 1914

The frequency of earthquakes has been constant for thousands of years. The number of earthquakes since 1914 is no greater than preceding centuries, and there have been centuries with more earthquake related deaths than in the 1900's. Watchtower information to the contrary raise serious implications regarding the integrity of Watchtower writers.

In 1984, Survival into a New Earth proclaimed;

"The frequency of major earthquakes has increased to about 20 times what it was on an average during the two thousand years before 1914." Survival into a New Earth (1984) p.23

The following year, Reasoning from the Scriptures repeated this claim.

"This means that, in comparison with the previous 2,000 years, the average per year has been 20 times as great since 1914." Reasoning from the Scriptures (1985) p.236

The incredible claim that earthquakes have increased 20 fold since 1914 has been used as an illegitimate way to convince Jehovah's Witnesses we are living in the "last days." This is related to Jesus' statement in Luke 21:11 that there will be "great earthquakes" as a sign of the "end."

Being interested in things of a mathematical nature, I was strongly influenced that this "20 times" increase in earthquakes was irrefutable proof that I was living in the Last Days. I had never thought to doubt or verify this Watchtower claim. Without exception, every one of Jehovah’s Witnesses that I have spoken to is convinced that there has been a significant increase in earthquakes since 1914. Underpinning the very foundation of Watchtower doctrine is the concept that the Last Days started in 1914, and thus Watchtower has gone out of its way to present information that Jesus' signs, such as earthquakes, have dramatically increased since that year.

Following the Tsunami of 2004, I chose to research earthquakes from the Encyclopaedia Britannica. This harmless source of information had a profound effect, as it was at total odds to Watchtower statistics. I compared this with information on seismology websites and then corresponded with a seismologist. All sources confirmed that there has been no increase in the number of earthquakes since 1914, either in frequency, magnitude or human death tolls. This convinced me it was time to carefully check every “fact” that I had been taught by Watchtower.

Are Earthquakes Really on the Increase?

The purpose of this article is to examine whether there has been an increase in "major" or "great" earthquakes since 1914, as stated by Watchtower.

The frequency of earthquakes is bewildering.

"It is estimated that there are 500,000 detectable earthquakes in the world each year. 100,000 of those can be felt, and 100 of them cause damage." earthquake.usgs.gov (27 Sep 2015)

On average, a great earthquake, one with a magnitude over 8, will occur annually.

Annual global earthquakes by magnitude based on USGS statistics

Researchers generally classify earthquake significance predominantly in one of two ways;

  • A high magnitude earthquake, for instance, as measured at over 8.0 on the Richter scale.
  • An earthquake that results in a human death toll, usually filtered at over 1000 deaths.

On both counts, there have been no increase since 1914. The following information details the frequency of earthquakes over time, along with the historical death toll recorded over the last 2000 years.

Yearly Earthquakes By Magnitude

It is accepted amongst seismologists that the number of earthquakes have remained relatively unchanged over many millenniums.

"Although it may seem that we are having more earthquakes, earthquakes of magnitude 7.0 or greater have remained fairly constant. ...

A partial explanation may lie in the fact that in the last twenty years, we have definitely had an increase in the number of earthquakes we have been able to locate each year. This is because of the tremendous increase in the number of seismograph stations in the world and the many improvements in global communications. In 1931, there were about 350 stations operating in the world; today, there are more than 4,000 stations and the data now comes in rapidly from these stations by electronic mail, internet and satellite. This increase in the number of stations and the more timely receipt of data has allowed us and other seismological centers to locate earthquakes more rapidly and to locate many small earthquakes which were undetected in earlier years.

The NEIC now locates about 12,000 to 14,000 earthquakes each year or approximately 50 per day. Also, because of the improvements in communications and the increased interest in the environment and natural disasters, the public now learns about more earthquakes. According to long-term records (since about 1900), we expect about 17 major earthquakes (7.0 - 7.9) and one great earthquake (8.0 or above) in any given year." earthquake.usgs.gov (27 Oct 2009)

The reason that the number of earthquakes change little over time is because earthquakes take years to develop, and are the result of the shifting earth's mantle. This is how islands and mountain ranges form, and to create a mountain system can take several million medium size earthquakes over tens of millions of years.

As an example of the power of earthquakes, the 1994 earthquake in Northridge, California released energy equivalent to almost 2 billion kilograms of explosive, about 100 times the amount of energy that was released by the atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima during World War II. At magnitude 6.7, the Northridge earthquake is considered moderate in size, yet caused over $20 billion in damage. Earthquakes this size occur about 20 times each year worldwide.

In a private email I received from Professor Glenn Biasi at the University of Nevada Reno Seismological Laboratory he wrote;

"There is no significant increase in earthquakes since 1914. The record is better, so people are more aware of earthquakes, more seismometers, better communications, etc. The number of earthquakes varies from year to year, but is pretty constant once the detect ability increase is factored in. The number of earthquakes per year or the amount of energy released on average are expressions of the speed at which internal, gravity driven flows in the mantle act. Very hard to change, and no signs of disruption on any historical timeframe"

Seismology is a new science, with the first seismograph invented in 1880. Accurate records of earthquakes measuring 8.0 on the Richter scale have become possible since then, with complete seismological records now readily obtainable. Whilst the frequency of large earthquakes has not changed, we are now aware of every one, the instant it occurs.

The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that great earthquakes over 8.0 occur yearly. Smaller earthquakes, such as magnitude 2 earthquakes, occur several hundred times a day and several million temblors happen every day. For example, in just 7 days to 15th October 2011 there were the following earthquakes between 4 and 6.7.

The above image was taken from Google Real-time Earthquakes. This feature is no longer active but a similar live earthquake feed can be seen at quakes.globalincidentmap.com as of September 2015.

The following video graphically demonstrates the incredible frequency and constant nature of earthquakes.

Source: Earthquakes of the First 15 Years of the 21st Century - US NWS Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC)

"On average about 1,000 earthquakes with intensities of 5.0 or greater are recorded each year. Great earthquakes (intensity 8.0 or higher) occur once a year, major earthquakes (intensity 7.0-7.9) occur 18 times a year, strong earthquakes (intensity 6.0-6.9) 10 times a month, and moderate earthquakes (intensity 5.0-5.9) more than twice a day." www.encyclopedia.com (1 Jan 2005)

Dedicated seismologists and researchers, including R. Mallet, J. Milne, P. Verney, S. Duda and A.W. Lee have amassed a considerable volume of data on historical earthquakes. Earthquakes have been recorded as early as 2150 B.C. Four magnitude 6.8 or larger earthquakes and many magnitude 6 - 6.5 shocks occurred in the San Francisco Bay region alone during the 75 years between 1836 and 1911.

Earthquakes 7.0 and over

1900 to 1904 - 49
2000 to 2004 - 44

See earthquakes.pdf

Yearly Earthquake related deaths

Despite no increase in earthquake size or frequency, one could imagine that the increasing global population would have at least resulted in the most earthquake related deaths occurring in the 20th century. Surprisingly, this has not been the case, with some prior centuries having more earthquake related deaths.

A comprehensive source of data used for this article was ntute.ac.uk, which closed July 2011. A list of earthquakes resulting in over 1000 deaths was provided at neic.usgs.gov/neis/eqlists/eqstats.html (July 2005), showing that during the time frame that we have accurate records, there has been little change in the occurrence of earthquakes before and after 1914. From 1902 to 2001, there were 110 earthquakes resulting in 1000 or more deaths, or 1.1 destructive earthquakes per year. The 12 years prior to 1914, (1902 to 1913) had a higher average of 1.25 per year than the average for the 88 years from 1914 to 2001, where the average drops to 1.08.

Watchtower proclaimed "one great quake a year" as more earthquakes than any other period of history.

"Terrifying earthquakes have rocked the globe with increasing severity and frequency during recent years. ... Significantly, since 1914 there have been more major earthquakes than in any previous period of similar length in recorded history. "... Since 1948 the pattern has entered a new phase, with approximately one great quake a year."" Watchtower 1961 Oct 15 p.628

The yearly average of one great destructive quake, that Watchtower claimed makes the 20th century the most prolific for earthquakes in history, is consistent with long term records. As of April 2007, ntute.ac.uk listed 5,800 destructive earthquakes catalogued since 2150.B.C.; an average of over 1 great destructive quake per year for the last 4,000 years,

The Encyclopaedia Britannica 2002 on DVD lists major historical earthquakes over the last 1,500 years, in terms of human loss. Of the 5 earthquakes with the most deaths, only 1 was since 1914 and it was by no means the most destructive. The most destructive earthquake was in 1201 in Syria with 1.1 million killed. In 1556, China had an earthquake with 800,000 killed. In comparison, the largest in the 1900's killed a relatively minor 240,000.

Table of Most Destructive Earthquakes since 500 AD
(source - Encyclopaedia Britannica - 2002 ed.)

Year Size Location Deaths
1201 IX Upper Egypt or Syria 1,100,000
1556 IX Shensi province, China 830,000
1737 . . . Calcutta, India 300,000
526 . . . Antioch, Syria 250,000
1976 7.8 T'ang-shan, China 240,000
1138 XI Ganzah, Aleppo, Syria 230,000
1920 8.5 Kansu province, China 200,000
1703 . . . Jeddo, Japan 200,000
856 . . . Qumis, Damghan, Iran 200,000
893 . . . Daipur, India 180,000

The total deaths since 1914, as recorded in the full list appearing in the Encyclopaedia Britannica - 2002 ed., was 1.15 million, whilst the same list shows that during the 1200's, 3 earthquakes alone resulted in 1.26 million deaths. Total earthquake related deaths for the 1200's is no doubt even higher than that figure, limited by the lack of records of smaller incidences from that distant time.

A person was more than 3 times as likely to die from an earthquake in the 1700's as in the 1900's

A comparison of deaths from the 1700's, 1800's and 1900's likewise shows that the number of deaths annually have been very similar, with each of the last 3 centuries suffering over 1 million deaths. Considering the six fold population increase during the 20th century the ratio of deaths to population has been considerably less since 1914.

This continues to be the case in the 21st century. Using information from usgs.gov, earthquakes between 2000 to 2019 continued to average one 8.0+ earthquake each year, and between one and two 7.0+ earthquakes each month.

Despite the increased population it appears that improvements in technology - including rescue efforts, building standards and early warning systems - have helped reduce the loss of life and suffering from earthquakes since 1914. As explained in the article Why Haiti's quake toll higher than Chile's by Colin Stark, advances in technology mean suffering caused by earthquakes has decreased in developed countries over the last century.

"About six weeks ago, a large earthquake devastated Haiti and killed over 200,000 people. Saturday, a huge earthquake releasing 500 times more energy, devastated Chile and killed hundreds.

So why did the smaller earthquake kill so many more people? And why the sudden spate of disastrous earthquakes in the Americas? No, the apocalypse is not coming. No, the two earthquakes are not linked in any way. And no, Pat Robertson, you can't blame the Devil or the French. The real answers, for those comfortable with science and the Enlightenment, are tectonics and poverty. ...

Over millions of years, this tectonic squeezing has formed the Andes and raised the high desert known as the Altiplano. Elsewhere it has created the Alps, the Rockies, the Himalayas, and Tibet. It has also created and distorted some of the islands of the Caribbean, including Haiti.

So that's why some parts of the world suffer from big earthquakes that strike with irregular frequency, while other regions are seismically quiet: it all depends on where the plates meet and how fast they are running into each other. ...

Poverty is what ultimately kills most people during an earthquake. Poverty means that little or no evaluation is made of seismic risk in constructing buildings and no zoning takes place. It means that building codes are not written, and even if they do exist they are difficult, or impossible, to enforce. ... Haiti is a tragic illustration of this. Weak building materials and poor construction standards share much of the blame for the grotesque numbers of fatalities, injured and internally displaced people." cnn.com 28 Feb 2010

The Watchtower Teaching

Over its history, Watchtower has regularly made statements and quoted figures to deceptively prove an extremely significant increase in earthquakes since 1914. In light of the readily available information regarding the consistency of earthquakes over thousands of years, it is inconceivable how blatant Watchtower dishonesty is in the following quotes.

"There have been more natural earthquakes in the earth in the last four years than in any previous period in earth's history" World Distress Why? The Remedy (1923) p.26
"Even then, if the exaggerated figures of past centuries are accepted at full value, the above figures show the average annual death rate was greatly accelerated from and after 1914-from 4,000 killed per year it leaped to 40,000! Death and horror in concentrated form is mankind's portion since 1914." Watchtower 1951 Apr 1 p. 202
"Significantly, since 1914 there have been more major earthquakes than in any previous period of similar length in recorded history." Watchtower 1961 Oct 15 p.628
"On the average, about ten times as many have died each year from earthquakes since 1914 as in previous centuries." Life - How Did It Get Here? By Evolution or by Creation? p.225
""There will be great earthquakes, and in one place after another pestilences [disease epidemics] and food shortages." (Luke 21:11) That well fits events since 1914, as there has been a huge increase in the distresses from such calamities." Does God Really Care About Us? p.20
"From the time Jesus gave his prophecy until 1914, history records five earthquakes that each took 100,000 lives or more." Awake 1982 Jul 8 p.16
"Such an increase in earthquakes does not surprise Jehovah's Witnesses." Awake! 1995 Aug 22 p.27
"During the last 2,500 years, only nine earthquakes have each killed over 100,000 people. Four of these quakes have occurred since 1914." Watchtower 1998 Sep 15 p.7

In 1923, the Golden Age Nov 7 page 67 demonstrated not only the inaccuracy and sensationalism of Watchtower comments about earthquakes, but also the superstitious nature of the religion.

As supportive evidence that the end was coming in 1925, a spate of earthquakes in the United States were pointed to.

On June 27th and 28th the state of Montana experienced a series of earthquake shocks which cracked many buildings and caused others to sway dangerously. ... The whole earth seems to be uneasy, getting ready for the greatest of all earthquakes, the one predicted by the Lord as due at this time no doubt." The Broadcaster 1925 Jul 13

In 1984, it was stated that there has been an 11 times increase in earthquakes.

"But Jesus foretold "great earthquakes." (Luke 21:11) Has the frequency of these really changed? ... Since 1914 the yearly average of reported severe earthquakes has soared to over 11 times what it was during the thousand years before then. Is more than that required to fulfill the prophecy?" Awake! 1984 Oct 22 p.7

Just a year later, Watchtower writers became even more creative, exaggerating the figure up to 20 times.

"This means that, in comparison with the previous 2,000 years, the average per year has been 20 times as great since 1914." Reasoning from the Scriptures (1985) p.236

Whilst the English edition of Survival into a New Earth sensationally claimed a 20 times increase, the German edition was changed to the even more outlandish figure of 25 times.

"The frequency of major earthquakes has increased to about 20 times what it was on an average during the two thousand years before 1914." Survival into a New Earth p.23 (English)

"Major earthquakes occur in modern times 25 times more frequently than in the 1000 years before 1914." Survival into a New Earth p.23 (German translation)

Deceptive Reasoning

The above data showed it is well established that there have been constant occurrence of "great earthquakes" since the time of Jesus. When considering what is presented next, it is important to understand the following:

  • There has been an average of about one great earthquake every year for the last 2000 years
  • The earthquake of the greatest magnitude occurred prior to 1914
  • The earthquake resulting in the greatest loss of life occurred prior to 1914.

It is shocking to see the lack of quality and integrity in information presented on earthquakes by Watchtower. It is noteworthy to examine the way facts and statistics are misrepresented, and sources misquoted, to support the doctrine of increased earthquake activity. Starting with Rutherford, there has been an ongoing history of false statements about earthquakes.

"Call to mind also that since 1914 there have been more disastrous earthquakes than in any other time of the world's history." Deliverance (1926) p.251

This is an interesting quote, considering that there were actually more earthquakes with over 1000 deaths in the twelve years immediately prior to 1914 than the twelve years following; including large earthquakes in San Francisco, Turkey, Iran, Italy and Jamaica.

Earthquake San Francisco 1906

In 1977, the following spurious statement was made, one which has appeared in numerous Watchtower publications since.

"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." Awake! 1977 Feb 22 p.11

The Watchtower writer does not list any source for these figures, and has compiled them to suit their own agenda. It is exceptionally misleading to say there were only 24 earthquakes prior to 1914, particularly when going on to say the 43 since 1914 is only a partial list; obviously the pre-1914 list is the more understated figure. It is quite simple for any person to locate a significant quantity of data to show there were far more than 24 major earthquakes between 856 and 1914. Yet this dishonest information was used a number of times over the following decade.

"From 1914 until now, there have been many more major earthquakes than in any other like period in recorded history. For over 1,000 years, from the year 856 C.E. to 1914, there were only 24 major earthquakes, causing some 1,973,000 deaths. But in the 63 years from 1915 to 1978, a total of some 1,600,000 persons died in 43 great earthquakes." You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth (1982) p.151

In 1983, the Watchtower included a familiar quote as proof of a rise in earthquakes.

"In the Italian journal Il Piccolo, of October 8, 1978, Geo Malagoli observed: "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, [in] 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. This dramatic increase further goes to emphasize another accepted fact-our generation is an unfortunate one in many ways."" Watchtower 1983 May 15 p.6 Earthquakes - A Sign of the End?

You will recognise that Il Piccolo has actually taken its information from the Awake. Since 1983, Watchtower quotes Geo Malagoli, rather than identify itself as the source of this information, such as in the Evolution book.

"The Italian journal Il Piccolo reported: Our generation lives in a dangerous period of high seismic activity, as statistics show. On the average, about ten times as many have died each year from earthquakes since 1914 as in previous centuries." Life How did it get here? By Evolution or by Creation? (1985) p. 225

Why not identify itself as the source of Malagoli's figures? To give unfounded credibility to its' own misleading information.

The 1983 Watchtower article also misquotes Professor Aki, in a further attempt to prove a surge in earthquakes.

"Professor Keiiti Aki of the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology 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." Watchtower 1983 May 15 p.6

This partial quote from Professor Aki gives the opposite meaning to what he actually said. Aki's full sentence 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. The main reason is the well established plate tectonics which indicates a very steady fault motion over the past many millions of years."

In other words, due to the slow movement of plate tectonics there is no surge, just an apparent one due to better measurement and recording. However the manner in which the Society misquoted the Professor gives the misleading impression that there has been a surge.

Whilst ongoing research and data collection on historical earthquakes has increased known earthquakes and fatalities, Watchtower has managed to decrease the fatalities it claims occurred prior to 1914. Statistics from the following magazines show the trend.

Source Claimed deaths per annum
prior to 1914
Claimed deaths per annum
since 1914
Watchtower 1951 April 1 p. 202 4,000 40,000
Awake! 1961 February 22 p.7 NA 5,000
Watchtower 1974 February 1 p.73 3,000 15,000
Happiness How to Find It (1980) p.149 1,800 25,300

Happiness How to Find It p.149

The box from the Happiness book claims only 1,800 earthquake related deaths occurred per year prior to 1914. Watchtower appears to have created this figure from its own spurious claim of only 24 major earthquakes (1,973,000/1,059=1863). It is generally accepted that tens of millions of people died from earthquakes since Jesus time. In Advancement in Science, June 1969 p.362, J.H. Latter estimates up to 1.5 million people died per century since 1,000 A.D., or around 15,000 per year, a figure very similar to that during the 20th century.

The Watchtower publication Insight on the Scriptures goes into great detail about this claimed increase in earthquakes.

"Jesus foretold earthquakes in significant number and intensity as a feature of the sign of his presence. (Mt 24:3, 7, 8; Lu 21:11) Since 1914 C.E., there has been an increase in the number of earthquakes, resulting in much distress. With data obtained from the National Geophysical Data Center in Boulder, Colorado, supplemented 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 during the 2,000 years before 1914. The same tabulation showed that in just 69 years following 1914 there were 605 of such quakes. These statistics are a means of indicating the extent of suffering from earthquakes during this period of history." Insight on the Scriptures, Volume 1 p.669

This shockingly inaccurate calculation has been used a number of times over the years. The Awake 1984 Oct 22 p.6 footnote summarised the calculation as follows;

"Earthquakes listed had to 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"

Reasoning from the Scriptures (1989) quotes the paragraph from Insight, Volume 1 in full;

"Has there actually been a significant number of major earthquakes since 1914? With data obtained from the National Geophysical Data Center in Boulder, Colorado, supplemented 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 during the 2,000 years before 1914. The same tabulation showed that in just 69 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." p.236

Although presented as if from the Geophysical Data Center, careful reading shows the figures were fabricated by Watchtower, resulting in a wildly inaccurate and biased number. It is claimed there were only 856 earthquakes for the 2000 years prior to 1914, including all earthquakes fitting one of the following criteria:

  • over 7.5 on the Richter Scale OR
  • $5,000,000 damage OR
  • caused 100 or more deaths

As has already been shown, it is well attested by seismologists that the number of earthquakes has been consistent for thousands of years, with around 1 earthquakes a year over 8.0 on the Richter scale and 18 over 7.0. Therefore, on this basis alone there were thousands of earthquakes prior to 1914 fitting the first criteria, not just 856. The second criterion was to add any earthquakes that caused $5 million dollars in damage. This hypothetical figure is entirely meaningless for a time period when people had no cars or electricity and generally lived in what we would term a shed by today's standards. How many dollars worth of damage would a camp of Aboriginal humpies sustain in an earthquake? To present these as accurate figures based on the third category is absolute intellectual dishonesty. How can Watchtower expect readers to accept it has a complete list of earthquakes that resulted in 100 or more deaths from 2000 years ago? Over such a long timeframe, most small villages and their records no longer exist. If 100 Australian Aboriginals were killed in an earthquake 500 years ago, who would honestly claim to have any record that earthquake even occurred. Despite this calculation being grossly incorrect, this is the basis for the claim there have been 20 times the number of earthquakes since 1914.

Not until 2002, and only after information highlighting the Watchtower's misleading use of figures became readily accessible on the internet, did Watchtower finally concede earthquakes over 7.0 remain constant.

"Some say that any reports of an increase in the number of earthquakes are simply due to advances in technology, which enable more seismic events to be detected. The U.S. National Earthquake Information Center reports that earthquakes of 7.0 magnitude and greater remained "fairly constant" throughout the 20th century. Note though, that the fulfillment of Jesus' prophecy does not require an increase in the number or power of earthquakes. All Jesus said was that there would be great earthquakes in one place after another. Furthermore, he stated that these events would mark the "beginning of pangs of distress." (Matthew 24:8) Distress is measured, not by the number of earthquakes or how they rate on the Richter scale, but by the effect that they have upon people." Awake! 2002 Mar 22 p.9
"From Our Readers
I read the cover series “Earthquake Survivors Tell Their Story.” (March 22, 2002) In it you quote a source stating that “earthquakes of 7.0 magnitude and greater remained ‘fairly constant’ throughout the 20th century.” Yet, the 1999 World Almanac shows a dramatic increase in earthquakes during the 1990’s. F. A., Italy
“Awake!” responds: Without taking sides on this issue, our article merely pointed out what some seismologists assert regarding the overall frequency of earthquakes in the 20th century. The point was made that even if one believes that the number of earthquakes has remained “fairly constant,” Jesus’ prophecy recorded in Matthew chapter 24 is being fulfilled in our era. Jesus simply said that “great earthquakes” would occur.—Luke 21:11." Awake 2002 Nov 8 p.30

These comments still verge on being deceptive for a number of reasons. Firstly, note how it says seismologists state that earthquakes have been quite consistent during the 20th Century. Seismologists state is that it has been fairly constant over thousands or even millions of years. By using the term 20th Century, the impression can still be held by uninformed Witness members that the 20th Century was more prone to earthquakes than those that preceded it.

These articles, and the Watchtower in general, try to indicate that the effect on people today is worse than in previous centuries. This is hardly so. In 1737 there was a tsunami in the same area as the Asian Tsunami on December 26, 2004. The 1737 tsunami killed as many people as the 2004 one. Who were more affected, the people in 1737 or those in 2004? In 2004, within hours doctors were flown in with medicine to relieve the pain of the injured, heavy equipment was delivered to help clear the destructive mess and a global campaign of donations means the displaced people could look forward to newly built houses and infrastructure. Compare this to 1737 when hundreds of thousands of people were left to die and fend for themselves, whilst the rest of the world was largely unaware that anything had even happened.

A more recent article has toned down comments regarding earthquakes even further.

"WHAT IS A COMMON OBJECTION? We are not experiencing more earthquakes; because of modern technology, we are just more aware of them than people were in the past.
IS THAT OBJECTION VALID? Consider this fact: The Bible does not emphasize the number of earthquakes during the last days. However, it does say that great earthquakes will occur in one place after another, making them one of the notable features of this momentous period of history.
WHAT DO YOU THINK? Are we seeing great earthquakes, just as the Bible foretold? Earthquakes alone may not seem to be conclusive evidence that we are living in the last days. Yet, they are only one prophecy that is being fulfilled." Watchtower 2011 May 1 p.4

Watchtower 2020 No.2 p.8 included the confusing phrase "Though some might attribute the apparent increase in earthquakes to better detection, the fact is that great earthquakes around the world are causing suffering and loss of life on an unprecedented scale."

Watchtower 2020 No.2 p.8

There is more detection of earthquakes, but few people other than Watchtower writers took this to indicate an "increase in earthquakes." Particularly dishonest about this sentence is Watchtower claiming as "fact" that earthquakes are causing suffering on an "unprecedented scale."

With its statements about an increase in earthquakes proven to be spurious, Watchtower quotes since 2002 show a change in doctrine, recognising that the sign never said there would be a greater number of earthquakes. This is subtle admission that Watchtower had misrepresented the meaning of Jesus words about earthquakes, and then fabricated figures to support its incorrect stance. A doctrine that was a critical foundation stone to my faith, has since disappeared with an inglorious, unacknowledged, whimper.

The Sign

The National Geographic article "An earthquake lasted 32 years, and scientists want to know how" by MAYA WEI-HAAS MAY 29, 2021 states "The slow quake—the longest ever recorded—ended in disaster in 1861."

The longest recorded earthquake occurred prior to 1914. There has been no increase in the number of earthquakes since 1914. Neither has there been an increase in the power of earthquakes. The 1900's did not have the most earthquake related deaths, nor the largest, nor the most destructive. Despite this, every major earthquake triggers Jehovah's Witnesses to believe it is a sign pointing to Armageddon.

The number of earthquakes has occurred consistently over long periods of time due to the slow nature of continental drift, and with little effort it can be determined that the number of "great earthquakes" has occurred consistently for thousands of years.

In order to support its apocalyptic view of our times, Watchtower has concocted the idea that the "signs" presented in Matthew and Luke are related to the term "Last Days" written by Peter, Paul and James. As shown at Did the Last Days start 1914?, this entire doctrine is fundamentally wrong. Neither did Jesus or any other Bible writer point to the specific year of 1914 for this to start. The article 1914 shows how the concept that the Last Days specifically started in 1914 is based on misapplication of Daniel 4.

Jesus outlined earthquakes as a sign for the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, but did not detail what constitutes a great earthquake. At Luke 21:11 he is recorded as using the phrase "there will be great earthquakes ", and at Matthew 24:7 simply states there will be "earthquakes in one place after another." Jesus does not say that there needs to be a dramatic increase in earthquakes, and Watchtower statements of an increase are a sensationalist attempt at motivation through fear. Did the Last Days start 1914? shows that Watchtower presents similarly spurious information about the other signs of Jesus.

Watchtower information on earthquakes brings into question the honesty and integrity of the Governing Body. In order for Jehovah's Witnesses to believe earthquakes prove the time of the end commenced in 1914, Watchtower resorts to misquoting seismologists, presenting inaccurate figures, and quoting back their own incorrect information. This type of intellectual dishonesty is not unique to the Watchtower, but common with writers from apocalyptical movements. It is also very effective. After every large earthquake, I receive emails from Jehovah's Witnesses claiming I have been proven wrong and the end is about to occur.

This article shows that information presented by Watchtower on earthquakes is grossly inaccurate. Not only did this research bring into question that the Last Days started in 1914; it undermined my trust in everything written by the "Faithful and Discreet Slave." Recognising that millions of followers base their lives on what is served by Watchtower, it is disturbing to review the unethical way statistics are misused and experts misquoted.



Ukrainian translation of this article.

Originally published June 2005, last update August 2023.

creative commons copyright    Paul Grundy  2005 - 2024