Ben Goldacre over at tweeted this today:

Airborne rabbis fight off swine flu: (I'm trying to figure out why they are on an airplane. Poor pilot)

Go ahead and watch the video... I'll wait patiently.

I've received a lot of criticism from both ends of the religious belief spectrum for suggesting that the "god question" is outside of practical skepticism. I stand by that claim. However, I can't help but believe that objectively, the BBC article and video demonstrates all that is wrong with religion.

Somehow, an entire plane full of educated men thinks that flying around over Israel, blowing horns and chanting, will protect the country from a virus. Oh, and by the way, they can't call it "Swine Flu" over there – swine are unclean, so they prefer the less-popular and more medical term of H1N1. Watch again if you didn't see the gentleman in the back, yelling into the plane's PA system. And take an even closer look at the guy in the blue shirt on the left. He's the only one doing something practical.

But let's step back for a second, and consider if this treatment actually worked. That would mean...

  • The god they're praying to requires people blow horns and chant, in the air, in order  to actually do something about a virus that he created in the first place. Fair enough, I guess.. he's god. He makes the rules. I read Job.

  • We could cure every illness on the planet just by following suit. Imagine the PA announcement as you taxied down the runway: "In the event of pandemic, a horn will fall from the compartment above you. Blow in a ritualistic manner. Bag may not inflate; but your mojo will reach its intended destination. Blow your own horn before helping others blow theirs."

  • The people on the plane only care about Israel. After all, if this treatment worked, why not fly over as many countries as possible?

  • Before planes were invented, rabbis would need to find another way to float in the air.

  • H1N1 is important enough to go to all this effort, but HIV, the common cold, and other viruses aren't.

And so on. Feel free to continue this list in the comments.

How this is any different from voodoo or swinging dead cats over one's head is not apparent to me. But we're asked to respect this behavior as being reasonable. I will respect the right to engage in these activities, and even to believe they might do something, but I can't respect the practice itself because it's contrary to everything I've experienced in the world. And I'm not going to. Do what you'd like, but if it's silly and counterproductive, I'm going to say so. You can change my mind by showing me evidence that I'm wrong, and I'll publicly apologize.

Besides, everyone already knows that Airborne is ineffective, don't they?


Swift contributor Barbara Mervine offers the following.. "If they're going to fly around up there, at least they could drop leaflets explaining how to cover your mouth and wash your hands."