First came the earthquake, then the tsunami and the fires, and then, over time, a critical decline in belief in a benevolent God.
The Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 killed about a fifth of the city’s 200,000 residents and leveled 85 percent of its buildings, including almost every major church — on a church holiday, when they were packed with parishioners. It also shook 18th-century philosophers to the core. “Candide,” Voltaire’s comic polemic against the belief that all was for the best in this best of all possible worlds, was written in the quake’s aftermath, as Voltaire was abandoning any notion of godly oversight of the world’s affairs. The young Immanuel Kant was sufficiently upset to research and write one of the first books ever on the causes of quakes, before he turned to his life’s work of creating ethical codes that functioned in both the presence and absence of God.