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Hurricane Strikes as Divine Retribution

An Empirical Test

DIVINE INTERVENTION PROVIDED THE EARLIEST attempt to explain natural phenomena, particularly weather events.1,2 Although religious explanations for such phenomena waned with the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment, divine explanations for weather persist.3-6

Catastrophic weather events are often explained as divine wrath—punishment for social or political beliefs or decisions.7,8 The divine retribution archetype is perhaps best illustrated by the biblical flood in Genesis of the Hebrew Bible (with variations in the Quran and Epic of Gilgamesh that portray deities that are more capricious than vindictive). The Hebrew god is said to have punished humanity for its evil deeds by creating a massive, apocalyptic flood that killed all but the righteous. Whereas popular documentaries purport evidencebased investigations into the existence of such floods (see, for example, the 1976 documentary film In Search of Noah’s Ark and the 2007 Noah’s Ark: Thinking Outside the Box), the ability to consider a divine mechanism for single historical events remains outside the scope of science. Religious dogma suggesting a divine mechanism for natural, measurable events is falsifiable.9 Indeed, many prominent thinkers—from Albert Einstein to Stephen Jay Gould—have described religion and science as discrete entities, compatible only in that they address different aspects of the human experience,10,11 although others, such as Richard Dawkins, disagree.12 When a divine explanation is proffered from measurable events, with measureable outcomes, however, scientific techniques can be employed to test mystical claims. For example, faith healers claim the ability to alter human health, a testable prediction that can be (and has been) falsified.13 Similarly, claims by political and religious leaders who invoke divine retribution to explain the patterning of catastrophic weather events are falsifiable.14,15

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CONFIDENCE SCAMS EXCERPT: The Confidence Game: Why We Fall for it Every Time; ARTICLES: America’s Stonehenge: Did Highly Developed Europeans Build a Sophisticated Astronomical and Religious Monument on the American East Coast More than 3000 Years Ago?; Is It ET?: Is Star KIC 8462852 a Sign of an Extraterrestrial Civilization?; Hurricane Strikes as Divine Retribution—An Empirical Test; Ruins of Empires: Thomas Jefferson, Constantin-Francois Volney, and the Separation of Church and State; Winning the Vaccination War in California; Prophet Without Honor: Francis Galton and the Birth of Behavioral Genetics; When Cops Kill: An Insider’s Perspective; Guns and Games: The Relationship Between Violent Video Games and Gun Crimes in America; More on Morals: On Science and Morality (1) Deontologists are Covert Consequentialists, (2) Expanding Science to Include Morals, (3) Clarifying Confusions; Alligators in the Sewers! COLUMNS: Who’s Crazy Now?: DSM-5 and the Classification of Mental Disorders; The Delicate Dilemma of Defining Rape; REVIEW: Red Team: How To Succeed by Thinking Like the Enemy by Micah Zenko reviewed by David Priess; JUNIOR SKEPTIC: Haunted Houses; Earliest Ghost Stories; Ghostly Evolution