Don’t we have an opening on the Supreme Court?

I think Lord Justice Laws would be an excellent choice, even if he is British. He recently handed down a decision in the case of a therapist who refused to treat same-sex couples that was simply beautiful.

Lord Justice Laws said legislation for the protection of views held purely on religious grounds cannot be justified.

He said it was irrational and “also divisive, capricious and arbitrary”.

Also: cool name for a judge.

Stephen Baldwin is a modern-day Job?

I really hate Poe’s Law. I can’t tell if Restore Stephen Baldwin, a web site dedicated to raising money for the evangelical Christian actor, is sincere or not. It’s just too crazy — it’s comparing Baldwin to Job, and shilling for donations so Baldwin can continue to preach about Jesus, despite the fact that he’s a hack actor whose sole affliction is that no one wants to hire him.

What makes me most suspicious is that the guy pushing it doesn’t seem to have read Job, or he wouldn’t be making the comparison. Job lost everything he owned, had all of his children exterminated, and was afflicted with ghastly disfiguring diseases. Baldwin was more of a joke than a charismatic evangelist; Job was righteous, but not a preacher on a skateboard hanging with the cool kids.

But then…that’s no obstacle to believability. Most Christians ignore 99% of the Bible, anyway.

Quack gets dose of his own medicine, nearly dies

A vitamin D overdose is nothing to laugh about — it’s painful and debilitating, can cause kidney damage, and can kill. This is a case where consuming excessive amounts of a vitamin supplement can do more than help you make expensive urine, and can lead to crippling illness and death. Gary Null is a thorough quack who has been raking in the dough with — you guessed it — nearly worthless vitamin supplements. Now this would simply be a tragic story of one of his poor deluded suckers clients had come to harm from his magic crap food, but it’s almost funny that Null nearly killed himself by eating his own supplements.

It’s not his fault, of course: he’s suing the contractor who made his Ultimate Power Meal, claiming it was all their fault for putting too much vitamin D in one batch. The stuff has been yanked from their catalog, but have no fear, there are still plenty of other overpriced, overhyped, random collections of herbs and other gunk still on the shelves. Go ahead, buy one of his magnetic bras, Prostate Pro, or cellulose pills. They probably won’t kill you.

Null is also now claiming that it was nothing too serious, that vitamin D “dissipates quickly in the body”, and that he has returned to complete health. I guess that means we are free to laugh at him, then!

Unless he’s lying. But a quack wouldn’t lie to us, would he?

Teabaggers want to know what we think of them, via a poll

I don’t think the current results are quite right, and they need a little godless input. It’s cunningly designed to split our votes, alas…but do what you can.

What Do You Think About the Tea Party?

Believe they are white racists
Believe they are ignorant-uneducated people
Believe they are true American patriots
Frustrated with government-just as they are
Considering joining the Tea Party

Note also that they have a cute little American map that breaks down the results by state. I wonder how they’ll deal with a sudden flood of furriners?

An Orange County poll

Hey, I’m going to be at the Orange County Freethought Alliance conference on 8 May; how convenient that the OC Register is running a silly little poll already.

Does religion make us better people?

Opinion 1: Religion makes people behave better. 32 %

Opinion 2: Being religious has no effect on your behavior. 25 %

Opinon 3: Religion makes us behave worse. 43 %

It’s actually a fairly even-handed article by a rabbi starting a new weekly religion column. He even gives reasons for each of the three possibilities. For #1, he cites Rick Warren and Tom Coburn. For #3, he cites Gregory Paul, a scientist.

A statistical study by Gregory Paul shows an even more astonishing result. He reports that, in general, higher levels of religion correlate with higher rates of homicide, teen pregnancy, and abortion in the prosperous democracies. While this does not prove religion is the cause, the link between religion and bad behavior indicates that, on average, religion makes us behave worse.

You know, even if I didn’t have a prior bias, the article would have convinced me that the evidence favors the third option.

In his follow-up article, the rabbi is surprised at the result so far. I think it’s about to get a little more surprising…for him.

In the aftermath of Boobquake…

Jen has put up the numbers — this was clearly an effective PR move, doing a good job of bringing an absurdity to the public’s attention. I think it’s important that we use more humor and make more noise to wake people up, because this problem of religious ‘prophets’ using natural events to bolster their superstition has been around for a long time. I was sent this little essay which seems appropriate. Note the date: it’s 9 years old.

Are Natural Disasters Caused by Unnatural Acts?
June 27, 2001
Janis Walworth

Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Coalition, once warned Orlando, Florida, that it was courting natural disaster by allowing gay pride flags to be flown along its streets. “A condition like this will bring about … earthquakes, tornadoes, and possibly a meteor,” Robertson said.

Apparently he was referring to his belief that the presence of openly gay people incurs divine wrath and that God acts through geological and meteorological events to destroy municipalities that permit gay people the same civil liberties as others.

Before Pat and his Christian cronies get too carried away promulgating the idea that natural disasters are prompted by people who displease God, they should take a hard look at the data.


Take tornadoes. Every state (except Alaska) has them — some only one or two a year, dozens in others.

Gay people are in every state (even Alaska). According to Pat’s hypothesis, there should be more gay people in states that have more tornadoes. But are there?

Nope. In fact, there’s no correlation at all between the number of gay folks (as estimated by the number of gay political organizations, support groups, bookstores, radio programs, and circuit parties) and the annual tornado count (r = .04, p = .78 for you statisticians).

So much for the “God hates gays” theory.

God seems almost neutral on the subject of sexual orientation. I say “almost” because if we look at the density of gay groups relative to the population as a whole, there is a small but statistically significant (p = .05) correlation with the occurrence of tornadoes. And it’s a negative correlation (r= -.28).

For those of you who haven’t used statistics since 1973, that means that a high concentration of gay organizations actually protects against tornadoes. A state with the population of, say, Alabama could avert two tornadoes a year, merely by doubling the number of gay organizations in the state.

Although God may not care about sexual orientation, the same cannot be said for religious affiliation. If the underlying tenet of Pat’s postulate is true — that God wipes out offensive folks via natural disasters — then perhaps we can find some evidence of who’s on God’s hit list.

Jews are off the hook here: there’s no correlation between numbers of Jews and frequency of tornadoes. Ditto for Catholics. But when it comes to Protestants, there’s a highly significant correlation of .71.

This means that fully half the state-to-state variation in tornado frequency can be accounted for by the presence of Protestants. And the chance that this association is merely coincidental is only one in 10,000.

Tornados Drawn to Baptists

Protestants, of course, come in many flavors — we were able to find statistics for Lutherans, Methodists, Baptists, and others. Lutherans don’t seem to be a problem — no correlation with tornadoes. There’s a modest correlation (r = .52, p= .0001) between Methodists and tornadoes.

But Baptists and others share the prize: both groups show a definite correlation with tornado frequency (r = .68, p = .0001). This means that Texas could cut its average of 139 tornadoes per year in half by sending a few hundred thousand Baptists elsewhere (Alaska maybe?). What, you are probably asking yourself, about gay Protestants? An examination of the numbers of gay religious groups (mostly Protestant) reveals no significant relationship with tornadoes.

Perhaps even Protestants are less repugnant to God if they’re gay.

And that brings up another point — the futility of trying to save the world by getting gay people to accept Jesus. It looks from our numbers as if the frequency of natural disasters might be more effectively reduced by encouraging Protestants to be gay.

Gay people have been falsely blamed for disasters ever since Sodom was destroyed by fire and brimstone. (We have been unable to find any statistics on disasters involving brimstone).

According to a reliable source, the destruction of Sodom was indeed an act of God (see Genesis 19:13). Its destruction was perpetrated because the citizens thereof were, according to the same source (see Ezekiel 16:49-50) “arrogant, overfed and unconcerned [and] did not help the poor and needy” — not because they were gay.

Now Pat would have us believe that gays are the cause of tornadoes (as well as earthquakes, meteors, and even terrorist bombs) in utter disregard for evidence showing that Baptists are much more likely to cause them.

As any statistician will tell you, of course, correlation doesn’t prove causation. Protestants causing tornadoes by angering God isn’t the only explanation for these data. It could be that Baptists and other Protestants purposely flock to states that have lots of tornadoes (no, we haven’t checked for a correlation between IQ and religious affiliation).

But if Pat and his Christian crew insist that natural disasters are brought on by people who offend God, let the data show who those people are.

Sources: Tornado Occurrence by State, 1962-1991 1990 Churches and Church Membership; Population by State, 1990 US Census; Gay & Lesbian Political Organizations, Support Groups, and Religious Groups from Gayellow Pages, National Edition, 1987.

It’s all my fault

PBS has a crew in the Vatican, looking to see some signs of light from a secretive organization. Here’s an account of one audience — it sounds hopeless. First some flunky came out to make this declaration:

The last couple of months have been very difficult, he went on, with so many questions being raised about things that happened long ago. But he said, “This is the time for truth, transparency and credibility. Secrecy and discretion are not values that are in fashion at the moment. We must be in a condition of having nothing to hide.”

Ah, now it’s all in the distant past. Once again, they are not going to take responsibility, but push it off. That is not promising.

When the Pope himself spoke, it was no better. No mention of the sex abuse scandals, just another slow swivel to another target in the blame game: the internet.

“The times in which we living knows a huge widening of the frontiers of communication,” he said (according to our Italian fixer/producer) and the new media of this new age points to a more “egalitarian and pluralistic” forum. But, he went on to say, it also opens a new hole, the “digital divide” between haves and have-nots. Even more ominous, he said, it exacerbates tensions between nations and within nations themselves. And it increases the “dangers of … intellectual and moral relativism,” which can lead to “multiple forms of degradation and humiliation” of the essence of a person, and to the “pollution of the spirit.” All in all, it seemed a pretty grim view of the wide open communication parameters being demanded by the Internet age.

The rejection of modernity is not just the provenance of yokel creationists, I guess.

Latest Ark finding is a fake

This is completely unsurprising. An account from Randall Price has emerged; Price is a notorious Ark-hunter, young earth creationist, and professor at Liberty University, so he has good kook credentials and is the kind of guy who desperately wants the recent claims of the discovery of Noah’s Ark to be true, making this an admission contrary to his biases…of course, it turns out he also has a money motive to begrudge the Chinese evangelicals their ‘discovery’. But this is also a familiar story.

I was the archaeologist with the Chinese expedition in the summer of 2008 and was given photos of what they now are reporting to be the inside of the Ark. I and my partners invested $100,000 in this expedition (described below) which they have retained, despite their promise and our requests to return it, since it was not used for the expedition. The information given below is my opinion based on what I have seen and heard (from others who claim to have been eyewitnesses or know the exact details).

To make a long story short: this is all reported to be a fake. The photos were reputed to have been taken off site near the Black Sea, but the film footage the Chinese now have was shot on location on Mt. Ararat. In the late summer of 2008 ten Kurdish workers hired by Parasut, the guide used by the Chinese, are said to have planted large wood beams taken from an old structure in the Black Sea area (where the photos were originally taken) at the Mt. Ararat site. In the winter of 2008 a Chinese climber taken by Parasut’s men to the site saw the wood, but couldn’t get inside because of the severe weather conditions. During the summer of 2009 more wood was planted inside a cave at the site. The Chinese team went in the late summer of 2009 (I was there at the time and knew about the hoax) and was shown the cave with the wood and made their film. As I said, I have the photos of the inside of the so-called Ark (that show cobwebs in the corners of rafters – something just not possible in these conditions) and our Kurdish partner in Dogubabyazit (the village at the foot of Mt. Ararat) has all of the facts about the location, the men who planted the wood, and even the truck that transported it.

A similar phenomenon took place in Paluxy River, Texas. Some creationists find fossil footprints that look vaguely (to the biased eye) human, pretty soon a flood of evangelical Christians are searching the area for confirmation, and very quickly, the locals, being no dummies and seeing a tourism goldmine, start carving up even better footprints.

You can hardly blame the Turks around Ararat. There’s a lot of money being poured into the local economy from these numerous creationist expeditions. It only makes sense to salt a few sites with chunks of wood.