What’s in a Name?: Hurricane Monikers and the Problem of Evil

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose

By any other word would smell as sweet.

So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,

Retain that dear perfection which he owes

Without that title.”

Romeo and Juliet, 2.2

hurricane-ireneContrary to what Juliet might think, psychologists have recently learned there is much “in a name”—at least when it comes to hurricanes. And failure to recognize the implications of a hurricane’s name on the part of meteorologists, the media, public officials, and policymakers has unwittingly led to tragic outcomes.

Researchers from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and Arizona State University discovered hurricanes with female names are deadlier than those with male names.1 Using fatality data for 94 Atlantic hurricanes from 1952 to 2012, the investigators determined the average death rate for a hurricane with a masculine name was just under 16 individuals. On the other hand, hurricanes with female names yielded a death rate of just over 41 individuals. In other words, naming a hurricane Victoria, rather than Victor, could easily triple the storm’s death toll.

Based on a series of laboratory experiments, researchers showed that test subjects perceived hurricanes with feminine names as much less deadly and were much less likely to take protective action than if the hurricane was given a masculine name. Interestingly, this effect is true regardless of the test subjects’ beliefs about gender traits. It appears most people are unconsciously influenced by deeply held gender stereotypes, with men perceived as strong and aggressive and women viewed as weak and passive.

As the researchers note, “Individuals assess their vulnerability to hurricanes and take actions based not only on objective indicators of hurricane severity but also on the gender of hurricanes.”2

This insight has important implications for how hurricanes are named and how potential threats from natural disasters are communicated to the public. There are also philosophical and theological implications with regard to the problem of evil.

Skeptics often point to natural disasters, such as hurricanes, as a reason to reject God’s existence. If God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good, then why is there so much pain and suffering in the natural realm? Why is there so much death and destruction? Why are there so many “flawed designs”? Skeptics argue it is logically incompatible for the world to be the work of a Creator when so much widespread pain and suffering exists—agony caused by flawed designs and natural disasters.

Yet in many instances the pain, suffering, and death that results from natural disasters stems from poor decisions and human moral failings, not necessarily the magnitude of the natural event. In other words, God isn’t always to blame; human beings bear much responsibility when it comes to the tragedy surrounding natural disasters.

Over the last few years, I’ve written several articles arguing this point.

The research findings of the University of Illinois and Arizona State University scientists add to the examples of moral evil masquerading as natural evil. In some instances, the suffering caused by natural disasters is due to how we perceive and respond to the risk of the threat. Is God really at fault if we suffer because we choose to ignore potential dangers?

References

  1. Kiju Jung et al., “Female Hurricanes Are Deadlier than Male Hurricanes,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA 111 (June 17, 2014): 8782–87.
  2. Ibid.
About these ads
Comments
One Response to “What’s in a Name?: Hurricane Monikers and the Problem of Evil”
  1. Steve says:

    Wait, but aren’t hurricanes named alternately between male and female? It’s not like there’s any thought to whether to name each male or female; it’s just what’s next in line. So maybe the correlation rests in the “every other” concept rather than the naming concept, perhaps?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

  • Hidden Treasures in the Book of Job

    Arguably the oldest book in the Bible, the book of Job has a surprising amount to say about some of the newest scientific discoveries and controversies. With careful consideration and exegesis, Hugh Ross shows that the Bible is an accurate predictor of scientific discoveries, and that both the book of Scripture and the book of nature are consistent both internally and externally.
  • Creating Life in the Lab

    Representing the best of RTB's efforts to anticipate scientific breakthroughs and explain their contribution to the case for Christian faith, biochemist Fuz Rana shows how recent advances in synthetic biology actually undermine the evolutionary explanation for the origin of life. Creating Life in the Lab addresses the scientific, theological, and philosophical aspects on both the dangers and promises of synthetic biology.
  • If God Made the Universe…Why Is It the Way It Is?

    Drawing from his popular book Why the Universe Is the Way It Is, Dr. Hugh Ross shares Scripture, stunning satellite photos, and the most recent scientific findings to explain the great love story that is our universe. This DVD series invites you to be a part of Dr. Ross’ small group. Each session includes a brief presentation (about 20 minutes), followed by Q&A.
  • Impact Events: The Earth

    In this unique student devotional, astrophysicist Jeff Zweerink and seasoned small-group leader Ken Hultgren connect little-known facts about our planet with faith-building insights about the Creator. The booklet includes practical, yet thought-provoking questions to help students apply each lesson’s principles to their lives. This Impact Events series is designed to transform your life and faith with truth from God’s Word and evidence from God’s world. God wants to impact your life. Will you let Him?
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 137 other followers

%d bloggers like this: