September 5, 2003

Benveniste and Josephson on Abandoning Science, Denmark Gets Our Reject, Talking Pots Again, APS on Texas, AOL Into Astrology, Official Astrology in Portugal, Galileo on Con-Artists, Curing Spiky Hair, Rationality Discovered in Ontario, How Proles Think, and Roy's Rock in Alabama...

Dr. Jacques Benveniste, whose reputation was effectively destroyed following an investigation into his flawed homeopathic experiments, has now accused the scientific establishment of condemning researchers who work outside the mainstream, as heretics. He says that some scientists fear that researchers in other "fringe" areas such as telepathy and other paranormal areas, are being similarly ostracized because their work is not reproducible "conventionally." This seems to imply that the introduction of eye of newt and toe of frog is called for...

Research by Benveniste which appeared to show that homeopathy was a viable notion, was published in 1988 by Nature Magazine, the prestigious science journal, with the provision that an independent team would be sent in by them to check on the methodology. I was part of that team. Upon learning of the actual conditions that prevailed, and after attempting a supervised replication, Nature rejected the original findings as untenable.

As expected, Benveniste then said that he'd been the victim of a "witch-hunt," while the Wall Street Journal even unjustly accused Nature of wrecking his career through "arrogance and cruelty." Not so. The attempted replication had not only been agreed to in advance by Benveniste himself, but the protocol was the same as that he'd designed, himself — but with tight randomization and mixing of sample identification (controls and test samples) — and random doubling of samples to test intra- and inter-personnel testing skills. Those latter two aspects showed quite ample proficiency, though the results of the test itself were quite null.

Benveniste describes as "puritanical" the peer-review system of assessing new scientific research by journals such as Nature. He said: "By definition, the system represents present-day science. As soon as you are a little bit outside of the rules, you are stamped a heretic." The problem with that attitude is that there have been no phenomena produced which do not yield to "present-day science," so there is no need to postulate any method of testing "outside of the rules." Indeed, subsequent tests of Benveniste's claims, and of homeopathy in general, have yielded negative results, so it seems evident that there is just no phenomenon to be tested, anyway. Benveniste, a scientist, is asking that science be rejected…?

Professor Brian Josephson, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist from Cambridge University, UK, claims that he, too, is a victim of this tiresome insistence upon proper scientific validity and procedure. Says he,

There is a certain state of mind where people get emotionally involved and make it their business to attack scientific claims.

I cannot find evidence of this, and since both Benveniste and Josephson, after making much fuss over their perceived martyrdom, though they accepted offers to test their claims — Josephson even openly challenging the American Physical Society to do so — retreated silently without responding to generous offers to fund and carry out extensive, responsible, supervised, testing of homeopathy. The JREF even offered the million-dollar prize if the results were to be positive, to which offer the response was that "real scientists" don't try for prizes. I just mentioned two words, and that objection faded away: "Nobel Prize."

I would advise Professor Josephson that, to use his construction,

There is a certain state of mind where scientists get emotionally involved and make it their business to abandon scientific rigor in favor of preferred notions.

Josephson remains in his ivory tower, refusing to respond to inquiries on why he suddenly cancelled his eager plans to have homeopathy tested. Could it be that when he announced his brash overture to Benveniste, he was told that they weren't yet ready to undertake such a test, contrary to his — Josephson's — convictions? We'll never know. But we do know that just last year, when an independent academic group here in the USA, using Benveniste's own apparatus, and his own protocol, performed definitive tests of his claims — the tests failed. Something to think about, n'est-ce-pas?

Benveniste is locked into a rigid attitude in which he can only relate to other academics, and chooses to treat an unlettered person — such as myself — as a bouffon, so that he need not deal with this dreaded common sense that I summon up. In his opinion, whether I'm right or not, my opinions and experience count as nothing compared with his training and knowledge, so he need not consider them at all. This strong Gallic sense of class was impressed once more on me when our team first arrived in Paris in 1988 to conduct the Nature tests. There were two French academics awaiting us in the hotel lobby, and their sole interest was with me, not with Walter Stewart, nor with (Sir) John Maddox — both academics themselves. These two French savants were clearly ill at ease, perhaps because they were unaccustomed to dealing with un-degreed persons. After much carrying on about Dr. Benveniste's high standing in French academe, they settled into a speech that told me plainly: such a man could not be questioned, nor doubted, by one such as I. That just wasn't done. They were totally bewildered at how Nature Magazine had allowed me to be on the team that would oversee a replication of the Benveniste results, since I had no social/academic standing that qualified me.

Regardless, I stayed in place, the tests were done, and the results were announced. The French media were malheureuse and made that very evident, but we'd proven our case.


From a report by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Washington, D.C., we learn that Henry Weingarten, a New York City "financial astrologer," featured [a certain stock] in an e-mail newsletter and on his website, afund.com, and he made astrological price projections for the stock without disclosing his personal receipt of 250,000 stock shares. Weingarten, acting as an investment adviser to his clients, also purchased this stock for investment clients' accounts without disclosing to the account holders his conflict of interest, or his receipt of the stock shares.

The case has now been settled by Weingarten paying a fine and agreeing not to be further involved in such unethical and illegal practices. He now works for Karen Boesen, the Danish astrologer who touts "financial astrology" in that country. Ethics, anyone?


Reader Brett Armistead writes:

I remember some discussion a while ago about talking appliances, especially a coffee machine, and just this morning read a paragraph or two in Steven Pinker's book "The Language Instinct" which basically said that our ears (or more correctly, our brain) are designed to "hear speech content in sounds that have only the remotest resemblance to speech." He writes that psychologists Robert Remez and David Pisoni synthesized wave forms following the same contours of the bands of energy in the sentence, "Where were you a year ago?" One group of volunteers described "science fiction sounds" or "computer bleeps." But a second group of volunteers was told that the sounds came from a bad speech synthesizer — they were able to pick out many of the words; a quarter of them heard the whole sentence.

Interesting to know the science and/or psychology behind the crackpots and their talking pots.


From the website of Bob Parks (American Physical Society, World News) we glean:

INTELLIGENT DESIGN: WHO DESIGNED THE STATE OF TEXAS? Even as the state Board of Education is selecting textbooks to be used in Texas science classes for the next decade (WN 11 Jul 03), there is a petition movement in Montgomery County, TX, to require equal time for teaching Intelligent Design. In a poem, familiar to school children in Texas, the Devil asks the Lord if he had anything left over when he created the land. "The Lord said, 'yes I had plenty on hand, but I left it down by the Rio Grande.'" The devil proceeds to use the left-over land to build his own Hell — Texas.

Randi comments: Creationism = Crackpot Science = Intelligent Design. And don't you forget it.


Reader Danush Novakovski informs us:

I thought you might be interested in something that AOL has done. When I recently upgraded to AOL 8.0, part of the upgrade was a lot of new instant messenger icons. Ridiculously, five sublists of astrology-related icons (Chinese Zodiac, Chinese Zodiac 2, Horoscope Signs, Teen People Zodiac, and Zodiac) were listed under the category, "Science and Nature." It's one thing if they want to cater to people's pseudoscientific notions, but they shouldn't call it, "Science and Nature."

You forget, Danush: there's money in this sort of nonsense. That's why many otherwise reputable newspapers and magazines run horoscopes. There's no concern with whether there's any truth in the material; so long as the money comes in, it's okay to lie and deceive.


From correspondent Jorge Mota:

A number of Portuguese scientists, with the support of Georges Charpak and Henri Broch, have protested to the Portuguese Television authority about their hiring of an astrologer for a daily show, in times of financial problems that have reduced scientific funding. You'll find below my translation of the statement they issued. The scientists behind this initiative have authorized me to present their case to you, and they say that more actions of protest are coming in the future. I hope you can give some attention to this case.

Statement about financing astrologers with public funding.

The undersigned persons wish to express their concern about the financing of astrologers by the Portuguese State, and ask for the correction of this anomalous situation as soon as possible. The most serious and visible case is the one of astrologer Cristina Candeias, to whom the State pays a monthly sum, probably well above the minimum wage, for her participation in the daily show "Praça da Alegria" on Channel One of the RTP (Portuguese Television). We suspect that there are similar cases on other public service media. The company "SAPO" uses an astrologer. It is unclear whether this service is paid with public or with private funds, since the company is related to Portugal Telecom. It would be important to identify and cease payments to all individuals exhibiting these pseudo-scientific activities on state-sponsored media.

Our main arguments are these:

1. Incompatibility with budget strictness — Recent measures to control public spending have included budget cuts on investigation and on teaching. One consequence of this has been a reduction of scholarships from the "Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia (Science and Technology Foundation)", thus creating unemployment and uncertainties in an area involving highly-qualified people, an extremely sensitive and critical part of the country's development that demands a continuous effort, so that Portugal will reach a "critical mass" of investigators in several areas of science and technology. It's nonsense that this same State should be funding pseudo-scientific activities like astrology, that are not recognized by the State itself.

2. Pedagogic immorality — Mrs. Cristina Candeias alone has more weekly coverage via public television, than all the country's scientists and all educational and investigative institutions. This is even more immoral when the State finances, on a live, highly visible public TV service, actions which deny and distort all the concepts being taught to thousands of students in public schooling.

Our request demands no modification to Portuguese legislation, only that it be strictly applied, as is its due in a democratic state.

The petition is signed by 35 leading academics who are concerned by this seeming officially-supported validation of astrology. I'm sure that Senhor Mota will keep us informed on the progress of this matter.


A reader provides us with this interesting excerpt from Galileo Galilei's "Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems," 1632:

This [event] reminds me of a man who wanted to sell me a secret method of communicating with a person two or three thousand miles away, by means of a certain sympathy of magnetic needles. I told him that I would gladly buy, but wanted to see by experiment, and that it would be enough for me if he would stand in one room, and I in another. He replied that its operation could not be detected at such a short distance. I sent him on his way, with the remark that I was not in the mood at that time to go to Cairo or Moscow for the experiment, but that if he wanted to go I would stay in Venice and take care of the other end.

By way of explanation, the claim was that if balanced magnetic needles were to be sent up at different locations, all would respond by turning to match the manual rotation of the "sender" needle. This was a sort of supernatural telegraph idea. It's interesting to note that other early primitive communications devices were actually very similar to this, though they were connected by wires and not merely by fantasy.

To me, this situation is not at all foreign. It merely shows me that 370 years ago, the same sort of incredible claims were being made, offered for proof, and then being encumbered by ridiculous and unattainable terms and conditions, with the result that no tests ever took place. At the JREF, we get this every day.


Reader Mike Granville of Sheffield, England, writes:

I enjoy reading about the Barefoot Doctor in the Observer (from a recent Swift Commentary). It's one of the funniest pieces in the paper, at a time when we need all the laughs we can get.

A year or so ago, he was asked to advise a man who suffered from spiky hair at the crown of his head. (I should be so lucky.) Barefoot's advice was the application of acupuncture needles at a point midway between scrotum and anus (this is true — believe me). The following week, a separate correspondent wrote to say that he also had hair sticking up at the crown of his head. He'd followed the advice with the needles and now ALL the hair on his head was stood on end!

I'm still not sure whether the whole thing is a spoof, but Barefoot has a book of this stuff selling well.


Reader Dave Bailey writes from Canada:

As you may remember from your days up here in the Great White North, specifically Ontario, we have a large, beautiful, and world-renowned provincial park called Algonquin, named after a native tribe that has inhabited the area for millennia. They have a publication called "The Raven," a visitor's newsletter published by a group known as The Friends of Algonquin Park. I don't know who wrote the article for Volume 44, Number 9, August 14, 2003, but I intend to find out and offer them some words of encouragement. Here is a quote from the first paragraph;

Of all the living things on our planet, our species has some truly outstanding abilities. One that we can be especially proud of is being able to use clues from the present to reconstruct events in the past. Examples include Charles Darwin deducing the fact of evolution and then formulating a powerful theory to explain it, thus laying the very foundation of our modern understanding of life.

Excellent! Someone who not only understands words such as "theory" and "fact," but also isn't afraid to use them and damn the opposition. I don't know if they've received any flak over it, but they have my unwavering support.

I thought you might like to know that rationality seems to be breaking out everywhere!

A dangerous and insidious infection, Dave. People will start thinking, they'll use that process when they vote, and before you know it, only smart people will be in office! Where will we be then? Boys and girls, can you say, "heaven"?


A very interesting book, "Class," by Paul Fussell, which is subtitled, "A Guide Through the American Status System," has come to my attention. It's amusing, scary, perceptive, and needs a new edition; the latest is from 1983, and so much has happened to re-sort social classes, that we need an update. The author refers to the proletariat, or working-class, as "proles," and I give you here an excerpt that he feels demonstrates just a few of many symptoms that can be used to tell the difference between proles and middle-class folks:

Proles being more interesting than the middle class in almost every way, we'd expect their beliefs to be, too. What middle-class person would hold the colorful belief that objects dreamed about have meanings ascertainable in a Dream Sign Book? Or that a copper bracelet will repel arthritis? Or that one has quite a good chance to win lots of money betting on horse races? Or that the authorities introduce bromide into servicemen's food to repress lust? Or that Laetrile will arrest cancer? Or that the concept Creation Science involves no oxymoron? Or that it's open to anyone to make a killing by "inventing" something, "an antigravity belt or something like that," as a Manhattan bellhop was once heard to say? Or that cripples and the deformed are really "reincarns," being punished this time around for misdemeanors committed in a previous life? Or that Esperanto is the solution to the world's misunderstandings? Or that there's nothing funny about the designation "Ladies' Auxiliary," when associated with the Elks, or the American Legion, or the Ancient Order of Hibernians? Or nothing comic, or even odd, about a tennis tournament called the Congoleum Classic? Where the middle-class heart leaps up when solicited by an ad for hideous jewelry from Tiffany, the prole responds with equal joy and hope, to ads promising to alleviate rectal itch or promoting a book on poker which will earn the purchaser "a Guaranteed Income for Life."

But it's primarily in its bent toward superstition that the prole mind differs from the middle-class version. It's largely in deference to prole sensibilities that buildings have no thirteenth floor and that thirteen is skipped over when racing cars are numbered. Indeed, numbers are much in the minds of proles, just as larger numbers (with dollar signs attached) are much in the minds of the upper- and upper-middle classes: sports scores with significant meanings, lucky numbers, lottery numbers. At an airport recently I was in line at a newsstand behind a prole whose wife was standing some distance away. His purchases of a magazine and "gum" amounting to $2.65, he shouted to her, rather hoping all would hear and thus identify him as a dashing sport, "Remember sixty-five for the [lottery] number!" Proles read horoscopes avidly and take regular astrological advice. They believe that winning and losing "streaks" are actual and self-propelling, and they believe in gambling systems. Believing that supernatural intervention will help locate lost objects, they insert newspaper classifieds thanking St. Anthony for his help. They believe in heaven. They respond to direct-mail ads reading:

Do you need help??? Do you need prayer? Are you troubled?

Are you lonely? Do you need a continuous flow of money blessings? ... I want to mail you this "Golden Cross of Prosperity." Like I said, don't send any money.

Although it might be entertaining to follow up the implications of De Tocqueville's conclusion that "religious insanity is very common in the United States," it would be too large an undertaking for this book, nor would it be seemly here to dwell on the class significance of religious beliefs. But we can't help noticing, finally, the social meaning of the various funerary practices of the classes. Here perhaps the crucial class divide, between uppers and lowers no matter how designated, is between families who, in wintertime, provide floral "grave blankets" to keep their dead warm in their cemetery lots, and those who wouldn't think of it. Another line of division separates those who go in for splendid funerals and subsequent showy newspaper In Memoriam ads, and those who don't.

The prole who actually gave some value to the number 65, is demonstrating the kind of thinking process employed by those who believe in — for an example — astrology. It's so obvious to any thinking person, we might think, that numbers aren't magical, that nature doesn't and can't give a damn what happens in the stock market, and that the planets of our solar system are too far away to influence our personal affairs of the heart. But there exists a huge percentage of otherwise reasonably smart folks who dote on such "connections" to guide them — and to take their money. Astrology is illogical, irrational, juvenile, and wrong. It just can't work.

But the question here isn't whether it can work, only whether it does work — and to the prole it certainly appears as if it does work, because in his ignorance he looks for — and finds — examples of correct guesses, while he ignores the incorrect ones. And — dare I say it? — there are proles among scientists, too…


The recent brouhaha over the 5,280-pound, 4-foot-high rock monument of the Ten Commandments that the State of Alabama's Chief Justice Roy Moore surreptitiously installed in the State Supreme Court lobby, has provided much international amusement. The back-and-forth between the suspended Moore and the state legal system has been featured in the news daily, and one can hardly keep track of the state of the situation.

Briefly, the eight associate justices of the Alabama Supreme Court unanimously ruled that Moore must abide by federal rulings that found he had violated the separation of church and state, but the granite block, known as Roy's Rock, remained in the lobby until last week, when it was pried up and moved to a remote hallway, out of public view, amidst the weeping and wailing of the faithful. This matter has made news all over the globe, and Moore has attracted hundreds of supporters in Alabama, who rallied in front of the courthouse, some blowing biblical-style rams' horns as a call to arms, in what must look to the rest of the world as a clown show. How Christians can choose to use the rams horn — a decidedly Semitic religious artifact, has to be puzzling. And, last we heard, the walls of the State Supreme Court building, unlike those of Jericho, are still in place. Some of the faithful marched with Bibles, some brandished cardboard cutouts of the Ten Commandments tablets, and others sang out, "I shall not be moved!" Officials have naturally been cautious about provoking the increasing number of Moore's supporters who have turned the courthouse steps into a campground and a revival site, huddled under the gargantuan pillars of the courthouse singing hymns and praying. Votes are votes, after all.

Moore, a Republican, stepped in front of the crowd at one point, shouting, "To do my duty, I must obey God!" It surprised only a few to discover that the Chief Justice spoke directly to his deity of choice. And the media snapped it up, of course.

Moore appears to actually believe he's "in touch" with his variety of god. "I've been ordered to do something I cannot do," he said. "I cannot violate my conscience." The other judges, who decided that Moore must obey the law like any other citizen, came under fire from his supporters. In between shofar blasts, Rusty Thomas, a minister from Waco, Texas, asked them, "Does Judas mean anything to you? Those judges betrayed a righteous man. They'll pay the price." I have to wonder what that might be. Thirty pieces of silver?

The federal judge who presided over the case ruled that the monument could be displayed in Chief Justice Moore's private chambers or some other room within the courthouse away from public view, but Moore's office is on the third floor and the monument is too heavy for the elevators, and for just about every other available space in the courthouse, says the building's architect. Seems to me that Moore should start heavy prayers for divine intervention; this rock problem is nothing compared to parting the Red Sea, and with his direct connection, he should have no problem summoning up his very own miracle.

The United States Supreme Court declined to issue a stay against the removal order, as Moore had asked them to do. All the state justices except Chief Justice Moore met to decide upon a proper action, deciding eventually to order the removal of the rock. "I don't want to speak for my colleagues," said one judge, "but I can say as a group we were motivated by that federal court order." Wonder of wonders! The State of Alabama Federal Court Judges actually decided, by vote, to obey and enforce the law! I can only wonder how long these people would have tolerated any ordinary citizen who decided to ignore a court order.

Just how did Roy's Rock get there in the first place? As you might suspect, it's a long story.

Chief Justice Moore is a Baptist the son of a common laborer. He broke from the common mould of his class, attending West Point and graduating 640th out of a class of 800. He served in Vietnam, then became a prosecutor. During a 1978 murder trial, he sliced up his suit with a Buck knife while trying to act out a murder. Moore is a showman, I give him that.

In 1992, when few outside his patch of northeastern Alabama had heard of him, he hung a rosewood Ten Commandments plaque above his bench. The American Civil Liberties Union heard of it and sued, but Moore won that case. The win apparently went to his head, and he has said that when he hung up the plaque he was not looking for a crusade, but a decoration. Having that keen sense of showmanship, however, he recognized a good publicity bite and a strong premise on which he could build a career. In 2000, he ran for Alabama chief justice, on the slogan "Roy Moore: Still the Ten Commandments Judge." He won easily.

Then in July 2001, without the permission of the other justices, he installed the Ten Commandments monument in the State Supreme Court. Since the act was an illegal one, the rock was surreptitiously brought into the courthouse in the wee hours of the morning, long after the other justices had gone home. Moore and a couple of workmen sneaked it into the rotunda of the Alabama Supreme Court. He didn't ask anyone's permission, because he was the top judge in the state, and official custodian of the Supreme Court. He even secretly dug up blueprints of the Supreme Court building to find a secure beam location to support the monstrous thing.

This illegal act won Moore the adulation — and support — of voters and other legislators who were willing to ride along on his religious agenda. Overnight, he was famous. The rock is more than just an object to him — it's the basis for his rise from obscurity in rural Alabama to the highest judgeship in that state.

The Ten Commandments issue did not, however, help his legal acumen, said Jim Hedgspeth, district attorney in Gadsden, Alabama. "To me he didn't even know the law," he said. "Most of the time he would get the idea that the law books around him were there for decoration, not for use." But the commandments, it would seem, were hardly just the decoration that Moore had claimed they were; he obviously meant them to be instructions. He refused to include a figure of an atom or a reference to the Koran, in the monument he installed. His argument was that American law was based on Judeo-Christian beliefs. His display, he said, was a statement about the moral underpinning of law, not an advancement of one religion over another.

What? Come again? The version of these commandments that Moore chose to display, most definitely promote his version of his chosen and defined deity. We'll come to that point later.

Though Moore knew full well that the eight other Alabama justices had the power all along to reverse his administrative order, he figured that he wouldn't have to back down, and he'd end up as a hero with the Religious Right. That's just what happened. There are those who predict his suspension will add to the swelling popularity of Chief Justice Moore, a Republican elected to the post. "This will only increase his martyrdom," William Stewart, a political science professor at the University of Alabama, said. "It shows how far he is willing to go for the cause." Shelby Foote, Memphis historian, said, "He made it sound like he stood for God and everybody who opposed him was against God. For a lot of people with simple minds, that makes perfect sense. And once he started grabbing headlines, he just didn't want to let go."

Religious editor Don Lattin asked in the San Francisco Chronicle, "Which Ten Commandments [are involved here]?" He pointed out:

You've got your Jewish Ten Commandments, your Catholic Ten Commandments, your Lutheran Ten Commandments, your Charlton Heston Ten Commandments, your King James Bible Ten Commandments, your New Revised Standard Version Ten Commandments, and they don't all agree as to which commandment is which — or what they really mean. Even the Bible contains two versions, one in Exodus 20:1-17 and a slightly different one in Deuteronomy 5:6-21.

And there are, of course, various English translations of those ancient Hebrew texts. By some counts, there are actually twenty-nine commandments, not just ten. Ten is a neat number, expected of a deity, and the base of our counting system. It would hardly do to have a more awkward number, would it? As reader Barry McGuire of Johnson Valley, California, writes:

THE ten commandments? The commandments that were on display in Alabama are not the ones that were inscribed on stone tablets. They are but the first ten of several dozen commandments delivered to Moses orally. (Exodus 20) The only set of commandments that the Bible calls the ten commandments were the ones inscribed on the second set of stone tablets. (Exodus 34:28) I am rather in favor of this set being publicly displayed. I especially like #10: Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother's milk. (Exodus 34:26) These official ten commandments — those said to have been chiseled on stone tablets — were inscribed on both sides of the tablets, not just one. (Exodus 32:15)

Bottom line in Alabama: wrong commandments, improperly displayed. But what else can be expected from the transcendentally inspired?

Okay, let's take a look at the ten commandments in question. I use here the King James, Exodus 20:1-17, version — with UK-style spelling — of these divine laws, instructions, working rules, commands:

1. I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

First, this is a direct statement to the "children of Israel," not to everyone, and certainly not to Christians, or to non-Semites. Second, it appears to me that this indicates that it's alright to have gods other than Jehovah,/Yahweh/G_d/JHVH/whatever, just so long as he/it is Number One. And this isn't a religiously- biased belief structure? This is a published, posted, instruction that those in the state of Alabama must believe in the version of the Judeo-Christian god that Moore does! It's carved in stone!

2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.

I'll not argue about the primitive and medieval geological and physical view of the world this expresses, but isn't the monument itself a "graven image"? I see there a distinctly graven monument — that's not a natural formation — and I also see, in churches all over the world, Baptist included — crucifixes and other graven images. So everyone ignores this divine commandment? Note, too, that this deity we're afraid of here, is jealous and vindictive. He even reaches out to smite your children and grandchildren if you don't please him/it. He only "shews" any withholding of his wrath to those who read this notice, apparently. Is this any sort of document to publicly display before a family, much less offer it to them as a warning? As reader Joe Granski, from Virginia, observed:

Not only are we being told what we should worship, now we're being told, pretty explicitly, what we CAN"T worship, and what will happen if we don't follow this command, and what will happen to our children if we don't. Sounds like pretty cruel and unusual punishment to me (now... where have I heard that phrase before?). I guess Catholics, Hindus, and any other religion that uses statuary or images in their ceremonies are SOL.

Moving right along...

3. Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.

Mr. Granski observes that

. . . [this] prohibits free speech. AND it's saying that we will be judged accordingly for violating this fairly irrational commandment. Keep in mind that this is in the STATE JUDICIAL BUILDING!

And of Commandment number 4:

4. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.

Mr. Granski asks:

To which Sabbath is this referring? From Friday dusk to Saturday dusk for Jews and Muslims? Or Midnight Saturday to midnight Sunday of Christians? Does this mean that government services will only get one day off a week? And which day? Is it now illegal to plow my field on the said Sabbath because god told my ox to take the day off? Notice also, that it directly references Genesis not only as fact, but as justification for this rule. Of course Genesis is the story of everybody's creation, so I guess it's non-denominational.

Of course, this whole don't-work-on-Sunday (or Saturday!) nonsense has been conveniently ignored by Christians and Jews (except for Orthodox Jews, and don't get me started on that, please!) and Muslims, because it's just not practical. It appears that we can conveniently ignore any of these commandments if they don't suit us, and maybe we don't believe the whole setup, anyway? In Toronto, there were "Sunday Blue Laws" enacted in 1976 that forbade us to go out to buy anything that wasn't absolutely necessary — medicines, basic foods (but no fripperies such as candy bars!), crutches, Bibles, were exempted. Some of that is still in effect, indicating that Canada has a way to go to catch up with the rest of the world.

5. Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.

Here we have this blatant threat again: Do this or I'll kill you.

6. Thou shalt not kill.

Sounds reasonable, if we ignore the firing squads, the electric chairs, the gallows, the lethal injections, that is. Another subject not to get me started on...

7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.

Let's get real, folks. This text was written at a time when "adultery" meant sexual contact with a married woman, an engaged woman, or a virgin who was not the adulterer's wife. Sex with other females was not included, because establishing the paternity of any offspring was the motive; it was a civil matter, not a criminal one. As Mr. Granski points out, a deflowered virgin had a much lower "value" on the bridal market, and the punishment was payment equal to the loss of value. Life is complicated...

8. Thou shalt not steal.

Well, okay. But a little fudging on taxes, or including an old dent on the auto insurance claim, shouldn't lead to immersion in brimstone, I'd say. But I'm no authority on such matters.

9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.

Question: does this one include gossip? If so, Hell's going to be crowded. In civil law, there's already a set of rules in place, with serious penalties for slander, libel, perjury, etc., but I don't think we need any worse experience than going through the court system, thank you. I'll take brimstone.

10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's.

Oh boy. Here we go. It seems that merely wanting to have something belonging to a neighbor, can bring on damnation. "Covet" shows up in Webster's as, "To desire wrongfully, inordinately, or without due regard for the rights of others," but that's not getting what you want, it's just desiring it! The Oxford Dictionary gets a little more graphic, one meaning of "covet" stated as, "To desire with concupiscence or with fleshly appetite." That's more than I want to know.

But seriously, such a commandment posted in a government building dedicated to the law, simply tells the reader that, officially, he must not want anything that isn't already his! At this point, Moore is trying to dictate the thoughts of the citizenry. Thinking, wondering, fantasizing, imagining, are all part of being human. Moore wants thought control, which he'd see if he'd spend a few moments unblinded by the zeal that has dazzled him and led him to be such a self-righteous laughing-stock.

In the next chapter of Exodus, about which Moore apparently knows — or chooses to know — nothing, we find further rules which allow fathers to sell their daughters into slavery (21:7) and we're told that "whoever curses his father or his mother shall be put to death" (21:17). Those commandments are not included among the Ten Commandments that Moore placed under the rotunda of the Alabama Supreme Court building. Why not? In his legal decisions, does Moore use this kind of selective thinking to make his rulings?

Moore has argued that his installing the monument was "a way to honor the biblical underpinning of America's laws." That's not valid. The Constitution doesn't claim to be "under God"; the Declaration of Independence simply alleges that inalienable rights come from a "creator." There is no mention of a god or creator in the entire text of the constitution. The commandments which prohibit worshipping other gods and require that one honor one's father and mother, aren't reflected in our U.S. laws, at all. And as pointed out above, some US laws are in direct opposition to the Ten Commandments, e.g. capital punishment.

As a nation currently struggling with its credibility and its image on the world stage, we certainly didn't need this ridiculous scene to be played out publicly. I'm personally embarrassed by Justice Moore's stance, his actions, and his ignorance of reality, since they reflect on my country. He committed what he knew was an improper act — arguably an illegal act — then openly and flagrantly violated a federal court order to reverse that action, and he has shown no remorse, nor discomfort. In fact, he's crowing and preening in the spotlight that he's brought to bear on his actions. The ethics complaint that was brought against him stated that he failed to "observe high standards of conduct" and to "respect and comply with the law." And this is the Chief Justice of the State of Alabama?

I must give ample credit to those who supplied much of what I've summarized here. Readers Jim Kutz and Joe Granski, among others, shared their thoughts with me. In fact, I'll let Joe close this discussion with his queries he asks about "God's Top 10 Ways to Stay Out of Hell":

First of all, in what way does the state acknowledging God, not violate separation of church and state? Last I checked, believing in a god was the expressed domain of religion. Are atheists and agnostics recognized by the state only as godless savages, and therefore, not as deserving of unbiased legislation? Can the citizens of Alabama believe in anything they want to, so long as they believe in a god?

Good questions, Joe...