Chronicling the follies of religion and superstition, the virtues of skepticism, and the wonders of the real (natural) universe as revealed by science. Plus other interesting and educational stuff.
"Tell people there’s an invisible man in the sky who created the universe, and the vast majority believe you. Tell them the paint is wet, and they have to touch it to be sure."
“If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed”.
“Skeptical scrutiny is the means, in both science and religion, by which deep thoughts can be winnowed from deep nonsense.”
The person who is certain, and who claims divine warrant for his certainty, belongs now to the infancy of our species. It may be a long farewell, but it has begun and, like all farewells, should not be protracted.
Does the full moon cause lunacy or affect crime?
When the police began the booking process the handcuffed man blamed everything on a mosquito. The bloodsucker landed on his arm and he went berserk. The obvious change in gravity changed an otherwise calm man into a lunatic. Once every month—though sometimes twice a month—the police have it even worse. No cop wants to walk his or her beat at night when a full moon really has the power to change the populace.
Our moon has about as much gravitational effect on the body of any one person as a mosquito sitting on someone’s arm. If the amount of gravity the moon commands really did affect rates of crime, suicide, homicide, depression, and accidents, any swarm of the pests would be a flying disaster waiting to happen. The same gravitational truth exists for anything larger than the tiny insects. The laptop or monitor or smartphone that you are reading this on right now has more gravitational influence on you than our moon. Hold any of these too close to you and you might go on a rampage if the assumptions of “lunacy” were true.
If the moon itself, and not its gravity, was the instigator of madness, the famous Apollo landing missions should have worried about than just rocket trajectory and weight restrictions. Neil Armstrong would have made a giant leap towards insanity.
The mysterious power of the moon—if it did influence the violent crimes that mental health professionals and police officers dread each month—would increase the number of homicides around the time it shines brightest. But does it? I usually like to continue down hypothetical tangents in this column, but we actually have data that can answer this particular question. (Frankly, the presumptions of the full moon effect are so bizarre—grave misunderstandings about gravity and tides, for example—that I think it is too abstract to even think of a world where these presumptions were true.)
In 2012, the city of Chicago recorded 512 first-degree murders. Using the only public database with daily updates that I could find, I took each case and plotted it on a graph showing the date and number of homicides on each recorded date. If the moon truly could create a madness all its own, we would expect a visualization of these crimes to look something like this—a full moon atop each rise in homicide:
Each of the moons in the graphic is placed on or near the highest incidences of homicide across the months. A real full-moon effect should predict these positions to coincide with the actual full moon dates of 2012. But when we place the full moons in accordance with the dates they actually occurred, we see this:
On most of the dates of the full moon, there were no recorded homicides. This is small-scale analysis, but it goes against exactly what should happen over a year of violent crime in a major American city if the full moon had some effect. Remember, the moon is always full; it is just lit differently throughout the month.
Confirmation bias may keep it alive, but at larger scales like national studies and smaller scales like homicides in Chicago last year, the “full-moon effect” is reduced to the absurd.
Photographs appearing to show a blindfolded man having his fingers severed by the mechanical amputation device have been published by an official Iranian press agency.
According to the INSA news service, the prisoner used to demonstrate the brutal contraption had been convicted of theft and adultery by a court in Shiraz last Wednesday.
A series of pictures show three masked officials, clad entirely in black, holding the man’s right hand in a vice while one turns a wheel operating the guillotine in the manner of a rotary saw.
In none of the four closely cropped images does the bearded prisoner’s expression register pain, suggesting that he may have been drugged.
Following the public amputation, Ali Alghasi, the Shiraz district’s public prosecutor, announced sentences against criminals are to become increasingly severe.
This warning, issued without explanation, may be an attempt by authorities to deter public protest ahead of June’s general elections.
The Iranian government’s deplorable human rights record has been well documented.
Public execution, including death by stoning, and torture, including flogging and amputation, are routine.
Amnesty International led international outcry over the execution of 21 year-old Ali Naderi earlier this month for the alleged murder of an elderly woman killed during the course of a burglary – a crime he committed when he was 17.
It is illegal under international law to execute anyone for a crime committed as a minor.
Ironically, they still have plenty of crime, demonstrating the ineffectiveness of severe punishment in deterring crime.
Must the world forever remain the victim of ignorant passion? Can the world be civilized to that degree that consequences will be taken into consideration by all?
Why should men and women have children that they cannot take care of, children that are burdens and curses? Why? Because they have more passion than intelligence, more passion than conscience, more passion than reason.
You cannot reform these people with tracts and talk. You cannot reform these people with preach and Creed. Passion is, and always has been, death. These weapons of reform are substantially useless. Criminals, tramps, beggars and failures are increasing every day. The prisons, jails, poorhouses and asylums are crowded. Religion is helpless. Law can punish, but it can neither reform criminals nor prevent crime. The tide of vice is rising. The war that is now being waged against the forces of evil is as hopeless as the battle of the fireflies against the darkness of night.
There is but one hope. Ignorance, poverty and vice must stop populating the world. This cannot be done by moral suasion. This cannot be done by talk or example. This cannot be done by religion or by law, by priest or by hangman. This cannot be done by force, physical or moral.
To accomplish this there is but one way. Science must make woman the owner, the mistress of herself. Science, the only possible savior of mankind. Must put it in the power of woman to decide for herself whether she will or will not become a mother.
This is the solution of the whole question. This frees women. The babes that are then born will be welcome. They will be clasped with glad hands to happy breasts. They will fill homes with light and joy.
Men and women who believe that slaves are purer, truer, then the free, who believe that fear is a safer guide than knowledge, that only those are really good who obey the commands of others, and that ignorance is this soil in which the perfect, perfumed flower for virtue grows, will with protesting hands hide their shocked faces.
Men and women who think that light is the enemy of virtue, that purity dwells in darkness, that it is dangerous for human beings to know themselves and the facts in nature that affect their well-being, will be horrified at the thought of making intelligence the master of passion..
Robert Green Ingersoll - What is Religion, article 10
According to Federal Bureau of Prisons data, the number of responding people in prison acknowledging they were Catholic was 39 percent; Protestant, 35 percent; Muslim, 7 percent; Jewish, 2 percent; and godless, 0.2 percent (20 percent did not respond).
Since the number of godless is estimated to be 10 percent of the general population, all things being equal you would expect their prison population to be 10 percent.
If, as many people assume, the godless do not lead moral lives, you would expect the number to be greater than 10 percent. The fact that the actual number is 50 times less than expected can lead to only one of two conclusions: either the godless commit less crime than the religious or they’re too smart to get caught very often.
According to a Barna Research Group report, fundamentalist Christians have the highest divorce rate, followed by Jews and Baptists. The godless are tied with Catholics and Lutherans for the lowest divorce rate. It seems that some groups that claim to follow the Bible most strictly are not putting their money where their mouths are. The godless who are thought to be without morals seem to take their vows more seriously.
According to a Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life Survey, the least-educated Americans are Jehovah’s Witnesses, followed by black Protestants and fundamentalist Christians. The most highly educated are reformed Jews, followed by Unitarian Universalists and the godless.
Some groups seem to like their flocks ignorant so that pastors’ interpretations of God’s edicts are not questioned. Other groups prize scholarship and achieve more in their lives here on Earth.
In fact, a review of worldwide studies found that criminality and religion go hand in hand. The countries with the most religious people have the highest crime rates, highest sexually transmitted diseases and the highest teen pregnancy rates.
This is also true in the United States. The more religious a state’s population, the higher the crime, STD and teen pregnancy rates. The report does say that the religious are happier than the secular but posits that the ostracism of the latter may be a major cause.
So what conclusion can be reached? It is obvious that you do not have to believe in a higher power in order to live a moral and successful life. Quite the opposite.
I won’t attempt to claim a correlation of religion with crime, infidelity and ignorance. However, it is total hypocrisy for those in such groups to claim that the godless are not and cannot be moral. Yet in a recent study atheists were believed to be no more trustworthy than rapists.
In spite of this easily obtained information, the groups with the highest crime rate, the poorest marriages and the lowest education continually strive to force their beliefs on the nonreligious. And the politicians pander to them. Why else would they pass laws to put religion in the schools and on courthouse facades? And then they wonder why the godless could possibly be upset.
Psychic Sylvia Browne, who has made a career of televised psychic readings, told Louwanna Miller on a 2004 episode of the show that her daughter was dead, causing Miller to break down in tears on the show’s set.
A year after Amanda Berry disappeared in Cleveland, her mother appeared on “The Montel Williams Show” to speak to a psychic about what happened to her daughter.
"She’s not alive, honey," Browne told Miller on the show, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper. "Your daughter’s not the kind who wouldn’t call."
Miller told the newspaper that she believed “98 percent” in what Browne told her. Miller died a year later from heart failure.
On Monday, Berry was found alive after she broke free from a home in Cleveland where she says she has been kept for the past decade.
Browne did not return phone calls seeking comment today by ABC News. The Montel Williams show, through syndicator CBS, also did not return calls for comment. The show no longer airs new episodes.
It’s not the first time that Browne, and other psychics, have come under fire for their involvement in law enforcement cases.
In 2003, Browne incorrectly told the parents of missing teen Shawn Hornbeck that their son was dead, and his body could be found somewhere near “two jagged boulders,” according to her premonition.
Nearly four years later, Hornbeck was found alive, and Browne was widely criticized in the media for causing the Hornbecks additional grief.
A website called “Stop Sylvia Browne,” dedicated to cataloguing Browne’s purported failures at prediction, sprang up in 2006.
Last year, Dwayne Baker told ABC News that after his son went missing in 2007, he was flooded with calls from psychics offering potential leads into the whereabouts of Travis Baker.
"It’s very hard,’ Dwayne Baker said. "I went through everything. My son was missing for two years, two months and 12 days. "Psychics called me. I even received a DVD in the mail that a guy claimed he could talk to the dead and this was Travis’ voice, with no return address. I don’t understand why people would want to do that."
"The psychics…" said Baker, 45, before pausing to let out a long sigh. "I hate to say how many of those called me and said they knew where Travis was. My mother and wife went to one and paid them $100."
Travis Baker’s remains were located in 2009.
Brad Garret, a former special agent with the FBI and ABC News consultant said that alleged tips from psychics rarely help solve a case.
"As far as finding a victim, finding remains, finding evidence or in any way helping to solve the case, it’s never been my experience," he said. "So, it’s really a disservice to victims."
"We’ve never had a psychic lead that turns out to be correct," said Lt. Dave Parker, of the Anchorage, Alaska, police department, after 18-year-old Samantha Koenig went missing in February, 2012.
Today, Brown faced backlash on social media for her incorrect prediction about Amanda Berry. It is unclear whether she has helped to solve a crime with her psychic predictions.
"Psychics make me sick. Here’s an example: Sylvia Browne told Amanda Berry’s Mum (now dead) her daughter was dead," wrote Twitter user Chris McBriarty.
I wish that every news story, report and article would refer to the Aurora gunman by anything but his actual name. I think when someone perpetrates such a crime, their name should be erased from the story and replaced by some generic identifier such as “the suspect”. Instead, this guy will revel in seeing himself become a household name. His name will be repeated and his photo displayed a million times on TV and in print. His perosnal story will be told and retold.
These maniacs perform these acts for various reasons but I have to think that it greatly appeals to them to have their names go down in history, even for such a heinous reason. While it’s important to understand the circumstances that lead to these acts for closure and prevention, I think that can be done without constantly boosting the suspect’s notoriety or carving out a place for him in the history books.
May the victims always be remembered and the killer swiftly forgotten.