Not too long ago, I stumbled upon this quote from Republican 2012 American Presidential Hopeful Michele Bachmann:
I don’t know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians. We’ve had an earthquake; we’ve had a hurricane. He said, “Are you going to start listening to me here?”
While later comments from Bachmann’s spokespeople say the comment was in jest, the idea of attributing a natural disaster to divine punishment is not new. Glenn Beck also attributes Hurricane Irene and the East Coast Earthquake to a divine warning, and many other comments have been made for many other natural disasters.
Now the idea that a God, especially of the all-loving variety, would communicate to us in a sloppy method that involves both killing and injuring many people while not actually suggesting a clear message when logically God could have just sent us all emails is clearly crazy. I explore the question of why God doesn’t communicate with us more clearly in “Where is God?” and explore the question of why God allows suffering in “The Great Problem of Evil”.
However, I must say that this God of Bachmann’s and Beck’s is not even at the “merely permitting suffering” level, but at the “actively causing people to die” level, which is not quite all-loving, I’d say.
But true inspiration struck when a response on Facebook by Eric Brisson brought up this great idea:
Are natural disasters — or the “wrath of God” if you will — correlated in any way with a state’s party leadership? I feel like that is a testable question; Summer Research?
When we actually look at the pattern of hurricanes and earthquakes and compare them to political climates, what is Bachmann’s conception of God telling us?
In order to find out, I will compile a reverse chronological list of all earthquakes and hurricanes that struck the United States since 1980, getting my earthquake data from this Wikipedia list. I will get my hurricane data from this article on FiveThirtyEight. To shorten the list some, I will only include the top ten hurricanes by fatalities and the top five earthquakes by fatalities.
So what can we learn from this table?
First we can test the God and politics connection: Does God cause hurricanes and earthquakes in the United States because of his preference for the Republican Party? There were ten disasters during the term of a Democratic President and fifteen disasters during the term of a Republican President, so it seems like God has actually has a muddled preference for the Democrats. Seems understandable given Jesus may be a socialist.
Second we can test the God and end times connection: Is God showing us signs we are getting closer to the End Times with more and more natural disasters? This is also a definite no — between 1980 and 2011 there are 31 years, so more than 35.5% of the natural disasters should take place after 2000 if God is increasing the natural disaster count.
Instead we only see 26.7%, which is actually an abnormal decrease. Perhaps we are getting further from the End Times? If anything, the best bet for the End Times was with the actual abnormal bunching between 1990 and 2000 (40% when there “should” be 32.2%). Of course, given the sample size of only fifteen disasters, none of this is actually statistically significant.
Lastly, what about the idea that these storms are warnings at all? If they were, we would expect all of them to have clear attributions, but many of them involve no claims of divine punishment or divine warnings (the “Unknowns”), and some, like Katrina, have multiple, competing attributions.
To me, it seems quite clear. Hurricanes happen during hurricane seasons in hurricane-prone areas — no matter how gay the people of Alaska are, they will never be punished with a hurricane. Likewise, earthquakes only occur on fault lines, not on cities that specifically deserve punishment. And there are massive hurricanes on Jupiter, far more massive than any on Earth, despite there ostensibly being no people to punish or warn.
The whole idea is rather ludicrous anyway, after all where were the natural disasters that punished Hitler’s Germany?
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