Saturday, September 06, 2008

Acts of God

People still talk about "dialing a phone number" even though telephones haven't had dials for decades. This is an example of how our language doesn't always keep pace with our changing world.

I guess it's sort of the same thing when John McCain recently said about Hurricane Gustav that its outcome was "in the hands of God." I don't care how religious you are, you probably realize that hurricanes aren't really acts of God. As a matter of fact, even Baptist minister and former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee objects to the term. Way back in 1997, he refused to sign some legislation pertaining to natural disasters until the phrase "acts of God" was removed. He didn't think destructive and deadly forces should be considered acts of God.

As it turns out, calling a hurricane or a flood an act of God is about as inaccurate as you can get. Unlike our primitive ancestors, most people today probably realize that any amount of rain -- from the slightest drizzle to the most violent storm -- is a well-understood meteorological condition and not the doing of some rain god. Even the most pious and devout people would have to agree. There's no controversy over this. No one is saying, for example, that there isn't enough scientific evidence to support the theory that changes in the weather aren't part of God's plan.

But we still use the term "Act of God." And it's not just a casual term -- it actually has a legal definition. It means an event outside of human control, although, oddly, it doesn't imply that the event was actually caused by God. So maybe we should just stop using the term altogether and replace it with "Act of Nature."

And while were at it, we should stop talking about dialing a phone number as well.