Here is a news item with some interesting statistics.
In addition to some stuff which seems too far out even for Pat Robertson,
there are interesting (if bogus) arguments based on misunderstanding
statistical arguments. For instance, one could argue that to gain a
chance of avoiding tornadoes, form more gay grups. Alabama could avoid
two tornadoes a year if they'd just get two more such groups.
OTOH, being a Proteststant increases your chances a lot. Unless you are a
Lutheran. Oops -- I forgot, I think they, like Baptists, don't use that
Texas could cut their 139 tornados a year to half that if the Baptists
would just convert to something else.
Do Unnatural Acts Cause Natural Disasters?
Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Coalition, recently 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," he said,
apparently 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. (Robertson also warned Orlando about
terrorist bombs, suggesting the possibility that God may also employ
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. (Tough choice for Alabama's civil
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
Protestants, of course, come in many flavors--we were able to find
statistics for Lutherans, Methodists, Baptists, and Other. 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 like the frequency of
natural disasters could 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) and 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
I say "Kudos!" to Orlando. Despite Robertson's warning that Orlando is
"right in the way of some serious hurricanes" (hardly a revelation), note
that it was not struck by the very destructive Hurricane Andrew a few
years ago. And amid the recent conflagrations (that's fires) in central
Florida, which occurred just after Pat sounded his alarm, Orlando was
spared. Keep those flags waving!
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
Janis Walworth July 16, 1998
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.
Permission is given to all to reprint this article in its entirety on a
201 Adams St.
Denver, CO 80206-3417
303.320.4895 (phone & fax)
John Burgeson (Burgy)
(science/theology, quantum mechanics, baseball, ethics,
humor, cars, God's intervention into natural causation, etc.)
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