Thou Shalt Not Golf
I hate contemporary Christian music. At church last week, the band sang a couple of new songs (a rare occurrence, but it was also a new band). One of the songs included a line about how God "has told every lightning bolt where it should go."
God controls every bolt of lightning?!!! WTF!
Now, I know this is only a song, and it's not taken from the bible itself or anything the pastor said that day (in the bible, God only explicitly controls lightning on occasion); however, the pastor didn't veto that line in the song, so I assume that he doesn't have a problem with it. With that view in mind, I consider that line to be fair game.
And fair game it is. Whoa-boy, that's a doozy of a thing to accuse God of doing.
Lightning strikes kill an average of 73 people a year in the US, and injure hundreds more.
Check out the National Geographic article linked above. It's scary: if God controls every single lightning bolt, he's killing a lot of people, mainly those who enjoy outdoor sports, like golf, hiking, and camping.
So why the vendetta against golfers?
Well, it turns out that God may not be controlling where lightning strikes after all. You see, though incomplete, the science of lightning is rather well understood. Lightning is a mechanism for the quick equalization of electrical charge between the atmosphere and the ground. As such, the electricity requires a path, favouring one that offers the least resistance. Solid objects, like steel poles, trees, and even people offer less resistance to electrical current than air. Consider this quote from the National Geographic interview with Vladimir Rakov, an electrical engineer and lightning expert at the University of Florida in Gainesville:
As for the question as to whether or not lightning can strike the same place twice, Rakov says that the answer depends on what kind of place that is.So this leads to a rather startling conclusion:
Statistically, he said, during cloud-to-ground lightning, the channel of discharge is merely looking for a place on the ground, which is a random act assuming the ground is flat and geologically uniform.
For example, Rakov says that one square meter of terrain in a flat Florida field gets hit by lightning once every 100 millennia, thus if that area gets hit, it would not be hit for another 1,000 human generations, which he considers in all practical purposes to be never.
The reality, however, is that the ground is not uniform and lightning is attracted to certain ground features and not to others. "From a lightning point of view, yes, it does strike the same place many times, particularly if it is a tall structure," said Rakov.
God doesn't control where lightning strikes; WE DO.
Or rather, while still being dangerous and chaotic, we can influence where lightning strikes due to our understanding of how lightning operates. Benjamin Franklin was the first to figure this out. Noting that you can influence lightning so that it will tend to strike a tall metal object more than a surrounding low area, he invented the lightning rod. Along those same lines, the CN Tower, 553 m (1815 ft) high in the heart of Toronto, is struck by lightning a stupefying 75 times a year!
I never figured that God, who controls every lightning strike, would choose to give up control so easily.
This is just one example of the God of the Gaps receding in the face of scientific inquiry. By treating the world as rational, by hypothesizing, experimenting, and coming up with theories that fit observations, humanity has eliminated the superstition associated with nature and replaced it with understanding (at least for the segment of the population that chooses to embrace a rational and impartial world). This understanding saves more lives than any prayer for safety in a storm ever could.
The idea that we don't know anything about lightning strikes reeks of an anti-naturalistic world view: a view rooted in the Dark Ages that embraces mysticism and fear. It makes me sad that so many religious people have such a low opinion of human knowledge that they are stuck in the stone age: "Remember kids, rain is God crying, wind is God exhaling (a foul wind is God farting), and if you're bad, God may hit you with a lightning bolt!"