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Apr 25 2010

Earthquakes and boobs (the religious kind)

There’s nothing I like better than taking the pseudoscientific claims of a religious cleric and proving them to be wholly divorced from reality. I have a bad feeling about this particular effort, though. This one’s going to backfire, it’s only a question of how severely.

Don’t get me wrong. I like breasts (being a heteronormative male); I like women owning their sexuality; I like sex-positive feminism; and I don’t feel that women dressing immodestly objectifies them any more than, say, my wearing my new jeans objectifies me just because I apparently have an attractive ass in them. (Or at least so I’m told.) And I fully support this Boobquake effort, as well as any effort to make any dogmatist eat his words. My problem with this particular endeavour is entirely statistical.

You see, in a given year, there’s over six hundred thousand earthquakes worldwide.

Description Magnitude Frequency per year
Great 8.0+ 1
Major 7.0-7.9 18
Large (destructive) 6.0-6.9 120
Moderate (damaging) 5.0-5.9 1,000
Minor (damage slight) 4.0-4.0 6,000
Generally felt 3.0-3.9 49,000
Potentially perceptible 2.0-2.9 300,000
Imperceptible less than 2.0 600,000+

Statistically, there’s going to be about three “damaging” earthquakes, e.g. 5.0-5.9 on the Richter scale, throughout the world this Monday. The problem here is entirely one of scope and selection bias. The cleric originally suggested that the frequency of earthquakes in Iran is directly linked to women wearing short skirts and/or forgetting their head scarves, and results in adultery amongst their people, thereby increasing the frequency of earthquakes in Iran. That doesn’t seem like an instant causal relationship to me, and the claim is explicitly localized to Iran, though it does serve to show how ludicrous this cleric’s claims are.

I see a way out for him, though. All he has to do is wait for the next big earthquake, no matter where it is, and claim that it happened because of Jennifer McCreight and the rest of us heathens supporting this silly game of call-the-religious-idiots’-bluff. Because obviously, if there’s an 8.0 earthquake in Japan four months from now, it was entirely because of the North Americans angering their fickle god, who has evidently horrible aim. Well, either that, or he could embrace science and use the theory of plate tectonics to show why so many earthquakes happen in Iran, and will continue to happen even if every single woman in the country spends all day every day entirely covered. But you know that’ll never happen.

We have to make it very clear that if there was any kind of god that would be so petty as to be upset about immodesty, said god would punish it equally no matter where the offenders. Look at this map:

The fact that the middle of North America is nowhere near a tectonic fault, should absolutely be no deterrent to such an all-powerful, all-mighty and all-prude deity, should it? Wouldn’t such an all-powerful deity have no problem conjuring up an earthquake pretty well wherever he wanted? And the fact that the Middle East is pretty well on a plate to itself, you’d think that might have something to do with all the earthquakes. You know, rather than saying that the prudest nation on the planet is simply not prude enough to dodge the wrath of their violent warrior god. But those are mere facts. And you know what the dogmatic are like when facts cross roads with faith.

Update: Phil Plait has some better numbers. Including one number that drew my attention immediately: in 2000, there were 8008 magnitude 4.0-4.9 earthquakes. It’s like I’m 12 and have my first calculator all over again!

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  1. 1
    Jenny Wadley

    Thanks for these statistics! Although I’m supporting Boobquake as well, I have wondered what the odds were that an earthquake would occur on Monday. And you know the conservative news will be sure to report any boob-incited quakes and the damage they cause.

  2. 2
    Jason Thibeault

    My pleasure. Figured I’d head that particular talking point off at the pass.

  3. 3
    McDude

    As a religious guy, it really, *really* bothers me when nutcases give us a bad name. Which, also because of statistics (and the high number of religious people of all faiths worldwide), happens all the freaking time. It’s frustrating, because it’s those guys who get all the attention, and set the stereotype for everybody else – even though they’re by definition they’re the ones using religion as a shallow band-aid solution for deep, preexisting psychological issues. This is like giving nitroglycerin to kids with Down Syndrome. Sure, you feel sorry for the kid, but you don’t trust him with powerful, easily detonated explosives.

    While I’m pretty easygoing, and it takes a lot to get me to actually hate someone, I still find people like this cleric, Pat Robertson (his Christian twin separated at birth), and the God Hates Fags crew to be incredibly annoying and counter-productive to their own causes.

  4. 4
    Jason Thibeault

    I hear you. While I absolutely support people believing whatever the hell they want, though, I draw the line at enacting public policy, e.g. forcing women to wear burkas, with threats of divine retribution, e.g. more earthquakes. Especially when the science behind what causes earthquakes, and statistics on how frequently it happens, are both readily available to any goon with a computer and access to Google.

    You’re entitled to your beliefs. But not your own facts. If everyone in the world that believed in a deity switched to deism and stopped trying to make factual claims about the universe that are easily disproven with the least amount of objective observation of facts, I wouldn’t have to rail or foam at the mouth about “religious idiots” all the time.

    Le sigh.

  5. 5
    Nightfallz

    A very good read. I hadn’t realized that the number of worldwide earthquakes was quite so high, as I thought it was in the thousands per year. Good to learn something informative daily!

    Now, two points. 1) I’d gladly ride out an earthquake if it meant more mini-skirts (yes, I’m kidding)

    2) (and serious), I have to agree with McDude. I am a Christian, and although I don’t follow the path of the bible (which was written by man, edited by man, and contains the biases of man throughout), I do strive to be a better person and use it as a moral compass as well as draw strength from it. There is no bold line that you are on one side of or the other; most of us have to do things everyday that we feel are wrong and that’s just the way life is. I don’t believe in Hell in any traditional sense, (which is surprising after doing tech support) as I don’t need fear to tell me right from wrong.

    Now, that being said, these quacks that make the most noise are usually the ones with the least useful information to say. None of the major religions preach hatred in their original doctrine, and yet that is all that we ever hear about from them. Forgiveness and acceptance take a backseat to zealotry, and the most obscure passages (many of which have long been left mistranslated) are stretched or omitted as needed to spread intolerance and anger. This has gone on for so long that most practitioners wouldn’t accept the true message of their faith if it was presented to them.

    Science isn’t entirely different than religion in a lot of ways, however. There are those same crackpots that claim something preposterous, and have zealous followers regardless of evidence to the contrary, and then it all becomes a great conspiracy to suppress the “truth”. Whether it is delusion or simply an attempt at gaining power over the easily led, being a nutcase really has no ties to religion. The religious ones just seem to get more airtime.

    That’s my 2 cents worth, and I welcome discussion.

  6. 6
    Jason Thibeault

    There are those same crackpots that claim something preposterous, and have zealous followers regardless of evidence to the contrary, and then it all becomes a great conspiracy to suppress the “truth”.

    THIS. YES.

    The problem isn’t religion itself. The problem is dogma. You can have dogmatists in any epistemology. While you and I might argue which epistemology (naturalism or theism) has more merit, our epistemologies are both being hijacked by the Pat Robertsons on one side claiming Haiti made a deal with the devil, and the Jenny McCarthys on the other claiming a government conspiracy to give our kids autism via vaccines. I rail against both flavor of delusional idiot.

    Now, a separate discussion can be had about religion and the religious moderates who apologize for it providing cover for delusional folks to make horrifying claims, while rationalists and skeptics and naturalists and scientists actively fight against those encroachments on our side. But I have to emphasize that’s a separate discussion. You and I are on the same side on the issue at hand.

  7. 7
    McDude

    I’m definitely in agreement with you on using law to enforce morality. The whole point of this country was to make a place where people could believe what they want, but couldn’t force it down other peoples’ throats. It’s a good system, and leaves room for lots of faiths, even ones that are significantly less popular, as long as they don’t infringe upon other peoples’ basic rights (or laws that extend and clarify those rights). The fact that an athiest and a christian can talk religion civilly is proof that the system, for the most part, works.

    For what it’s worth, I do try to take everything people tell me regarding the origin of the universe with a grain of salt. I’ve heard some seriously weird stuff about Adam and Eve in my time, and I’m not even all that old. And on the other hand, evolution seems pretty attractive, except for gaps in fossil records and the whole irreducible complexity thing. But I try not to end up believing in “my own facts,” I’m just trying instead to piece together my own personal best interpretation of the facts I know are true and solid, which is basically what scientists do all the time in an effort to make the mysteries of the cosmos make sense. If we didn’t think like that, we wouldn’t be curious.

  1. 8
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    This post was mentioned on Twitter by lousycanuck: New post: Earthquakes and boobs (the religious kind) – http://freethoughtblogs.com/lousycanuck/?p=3450

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