Friday, December 30, 2011

Signature in the Cell - Part 1

One Valentine's day a friend dipped his spoon into a bowl of soup and found unexpected resistance. On further investigation he discovered a half-eaten bread roll lurking beneath the broth. With sinking heart he realised the restaurant was reusing crockery without washing to improve the profit margins of the night.

But what to do? Finding an alternative table for two after sunset on February 14th seemed unlikely. He could alert the staff to their error, but his date did not seem the sort to stay in a venue if she knew of such transgressions. His cooking at the time was functional at best - returning to home base would not do. Seeing no other options he smiled, made romantic small-talk, and ate the evidence.

I experienced similar emotions while wading through Signature in the Cell. Despite wishing to stop and having good reasons to do so, I'd made a commitment to review and no honourable avenues of escape presented themselves.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Prabhupada: Hare Krishna's founder on Jews, Africans, Native Americans and Hitler

Earlier this year I enrolled in the National Genographic project. For a reasonable fee they sequenced my Y chromosome and compared the mutations to those found at archaeological digs and isolated tribes worldwide. Using this information they built a map showing my deep genetic ancestry, showing the route taken by a small band of frightened, hairless apes as they left the African savannah, eventually spreading throughout the world and depositing my more recent ancestors in Europe.

It's one of those moments when science can bring you the transcendent, and I still hold dear the bond I share with all my fellow humans so well exemplified by a simple map backed by decades of research. I highly recommend it to all and think it should be compulsory for anyone convicted of racist offences.

But what of Prabhupada? What were the founder of the Hare Krishna's views on racism?

Monday, December 19, 2011

Matthew and Geoff Discuss Evolution and Creationism

Matthew has offered to tell me why he feels creationism is valid. Feel free to follow us in the comments.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Open Letter to Creationists - Why You Should Learn About Evolution

The first evangelist I met was a Catholic missionary to China called Father Michael O'Neill. He was a rebellious sort and spent some time in Chinese police stations. When asked if Ireland had a communist party he replied "Yes! They held their last meeting in a phone box".

Thankfully for his sake the joke did not translate well.

I remember in my eight year old innocence asking him why he had to learn Chinese at all. Surely the simpler approach would be to learn how to say "Jesus died for your sins", and wander the streets with a bell and a loud voice?

I don't recall him laughing, but I'm sure the temptation was there. Instead he explained that he'd spent five years preparing for his first mission. He learned the language, the culture, appropriate ways to eat, interact and discuss beliefs. This was not a case of memorising set answers and proofs but a five year process of intense study. He said that to give people directions to where you are, you need a clear understanding of where they are.

Later, when I read the Bible, I saw a similar message in Luke (24:49) and Acts (1:4). Jesus told his followers not to immediately spread the good word but to wait until they were endued with power from on high. When this power came it was not the power to convert people by touch, or the power to instantly crush any argument or belief, but the power to talk to people in their own language.

If you feel Creationism is a necessary component of Christianity, know that it is in your power to gain a similar gift. You can talk to we Christian and non-Christian 'evolutionists' in our own language with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15) like the apostles did. All you need do is learn about evolution. Feel free to search for counterarguments or refutations, but also look at the material we read, even if you consider it wrong. is an excellent free resource. Your Inner Fish is an entertaining read if you'd like to buy a book on the subject.

Podcast Interview with a Young Earth Creationist

In an earlier post I mentioned I'd offered my services to a young earth Creationist who bemoaned the absence of debate. We met for coffee a fortnight ago and recorded a short interview. Although not swayed in my belief that the earth is older than 10,000 years I quite enjoyed the experience - Anthony's a likeable chap who let me do most of the talking, paid for the tea and biscuits, let me duck a question on the rotation of galaxies and put the whole interview up unedited. We talked for an hour overall, but kept the recorded section to under 15 minutes to maintain interest.

You may like to visit his blog. Alternatively, you might see him on Temple Bar. He attends on some Saturdays and holds a Jesus sign for identification. Do tell him I said hi.

The podcast is available here. The title is "Does science disprove faith?" (Not my choice of title) and includes a longish intro before the interview. If you don't find it, it may have been moved to his archive.

Yes, that is what I sound like. Some feedback would be great - it's easy to write blog posts with reference materials to hand, but somewhat harder to do these things on the spot.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Prabhupada: Hare Krishna's founder in his own words

In an earlier article I discussed how many Hare Krishnas have a rather unusual view of cosmology. They believe the moon to be larger than the sun and some 800,000 miles more distant. One of the supporting quotes I provided included the line
"I’m sure that devotees who are more erudite than a mere woman can come up with much better citations..."

and I was asked offline if I could elaborate on sexism in the organisation. (Emphasis in the above quote is mine.)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Hare Krishnas and the faked moon landing

I sometimes encounter beliefs that are so outlandish as to be immune to parody. Take Hare Krishnas and the moon landing. has a lengthy pseudoscientific article on why they feel the moon landing was faked, and a shorter example of poor maths directed at the same goal. I've met moon landing deniers. Some of them can make a superficially compelling case by referring to the tension of the cold war and the pressure to outdo the Russians, but ultimately they fall down under the weight of scientific facts. Still, you can have a conversation with them. I've known them to change their views.

But it turns out it is not doubts about moon landing footage or radiation levels that cause their dubiousness. Krishna Consciousness' founding dates all the way back to the mid 1960's when His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (henceforth Prabhupada, I don't want to get RSI retyping that title) formed the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. He had some interesting views on cosmology which are thoroughly defended by here. An excerpt:
"The Vedic account of our planetary system is already researched, concluded, and perfect. TheVedas state that the moon is 800,000 miles farther from the earth than the sun. Therefore, even if we accept the modern calculation of 93 million miles as the distance from the earth to the sun, how could the “astronauts” have traveled to the moon–a distance of almost 94 million miles–in only 91 hours (the alleged elapsed time of the Apollo 11 moon trip)? This would require an average speed of more than one million miles per hour for the spacecraft, a patently impossible feat by even the space scientists’ calculations."

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

I've got the Power(Shell) - how to connect Google Insights and Excel

It is almost certain that you will find the below crushingly uninteresting. In an earlier post I used a PowerShell script to pull the year on year stats for certain search terms, add the results to a spreadsheet, then draw a line graph to show change over time.

Here is the script. I'm a believer in 'good enough' coding. This was written for a short-term project (it assumes, for instance, that the year will always be 2011) for my own use only. It works, but there are areas in which it could be improved. Feel free to use it and ask questions in the comments, but please don't assume it's my finest work.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Boost your book sales through Krishna consciousness

"Are you from Dublin by any chance?"
I was stopped on Grafton Street by a book salesman with an English accent who was making the rather safe bet that those walking on Grafton Street during rush hour were likely to be Dublin natives. I responded in the affirmative, noting hints of shaved head under a warm hoddie.

"Tell me - do you ever get stressed?"

As a rule I dislike it when salespeople and street preachers ask me questions to which they already know the answer. It's a very obvious tactic known as the Yes-set Close. I answered that I had, once, been stressed.

"And are you a thinking man?"

It seemed this was likely to go on for some time. I confirmed that, on occasion, my neurons fire. The light was poor but by this time I'd spotted the telltale tilak of a Hare Krishna on his forehead.

"I used to get stressed when I studied Economics at Cambridge University." he continued, perhaps a little too eager to boast of his studies for a man devoted to the renunciation of the self, "but this book really helped me."

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Porn, Rape, Hamza Tzortzis and Statistical Analysis Part 2

Last month I wrote a review of Hamza Tzortis' article entitled 'Do Liberal Societies Facilitate Rape via the Legalisation of Pornography?' As a member of a liberal society I took a dim view of this. It's worth reading before going further.

I brought my article to Hamza's attention for his comment. In fairness to Hamza, he read this post, describing it as 'quite thorough', and we discussed for a few FaceBook posts. As always he was polite. I've met him in person and cannot fault his manners or eloquence. He wondered if the figures on Google Insights could have been caused by increased liberalisation or materialism in Muslim countries. He said that rising property prices meant people were marrying later in life, forced to live with their parents for longer and that this could be the cause. This was an off-the-cuff hypothesis on his part, I don't mean to represent it as an entrenched position.

How can we check for this?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Age of the earth - seeing the wood for the trees

Last Saturday I had a chat with Anthony from He's a young earth creationist, putting a maximum age of the earth at about 10,000 years but believing the real figure to be closer to 7,000. He's a pleasant, polite and interesting chap and while we disagree profoundly on the fundamental nature of the planet we both inhabit I found I quite enjoyed the chat. He'll be making a podcast available at some point in the future (to be announced), but in the meantime I'll be running a series of articles on the age of the earth and how we know it. I'm going for shorter articles, hopefully one a day.

I'd like to thank Anthony for the opportunity. I'd also like to thank his friend Jim for buying the tea and biscuits.

Anyway, on to the article:

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Test of Faith - Laying a Fleece

"If you pray to God, He'll give you a sign."
David Wilkerson passed away earlier this year. He was 79 and was involved in a fatal car accident. There's a slim chance you recognise the name; if so it's most likely as the author of "The Cross and the Switchblade", a bestselling true story of his decision to leave a comfortable rural parish to minister to drug addicts and gang members in inner city New York.

It's a good read and by all accounts he did excellent work with good intentions and self-sacrifice. Critics may point to one false prophecy, but this pales in comparison to his positive contributions. It is not my intention to criticise the chap. I mention him by name because in his book I found an excellent example of a test for God I'm often advised to try.

This goes back to Gideon in the Old Testament. An angel told him to marshal troops to attack Midianite invaders, using miraculous fire to prove the pedigree of their message. Gideon was a skeptical chap and asked for more proof. He said in prayer that he would lay out a fleece, and if the morning dew made it damp while keeping the surrounding ground dry he would take this as a sign of God's will. The following morning his woollen wear was damp and the surrounding ground dry. 

Showing a good grasp of experimental design, he tried the converse and prayed that on the following night a second fleece would be left dry while the surrounding ground would become damp with dew. Again, the sheepskin test was passed. Thus convinced, Gideon and God chose the three hundred finest warriors by means of a drinking competition and killed 120,000 Midianite soldiers. [Judges, chapters six through eight]

Sorry, I'm jumping around a little here. David Wilkerson wanted to be sure leaving his rural parish for New York gangland was the right decision, so he also laid a fleece before the Lord. In his case he said an appropriate sign would be raising exactly the right amount of cash to start his mission.

There are many Christians who disagree with this approach. They make a reasonable case, and if you count yourself among them I offer no counter argument. You may enjoy the rest of the article as a curiosity, but the remainder doesn't apply to you. If, on the other hand, you are in favour of laying fleeces, I'd like your help.

How do we design a fair experiment? I'd rather not go to battle against the Midianites on this one. I don't possess a fleece and I've no desire to visit the more undesirable areas of New York. The three most common criticisms I've encountered when I've tried this test are:

  • You may have been asking God to do something that was not in His plan
  • Your test is far too strict and precise
  • You could have been insincere in your prayer
With this I turn to a book on experimental design. (Snake Oil Science by R Barker Bausell - excellent read.) Barker Bausell states that when designing experiments, we should "accept as significant any differences between groups that would occur by chance alone less than 5 percent of the time." This is the standard convention used when investigating medical cures, educational approaches, or anything else amenable to experimental investigation.

What is the simplest test we can devise? I quote one below, discussing a hypothetical test of a coin that is thought to land on heads more often than tails:
Using our definition of statistical significance, this would mean that if you flipped your coin five times and it came up heads five times in a row, then your purchase should be regarded as an indicator of your financial acumen[...] Why? Because the probability of flipping a heads on the first trial would be ½ or 0.50, the probability of flipping two heads on the first two attempts would be ½ × ½ = 0.25, that of flipping three heads out of three tries would be 0.125, the chance of obtaining four heads in four attempts would be 0.0625, and the probability of getting five heads on the first five attempts would be ½ × ½ × ½ × ½ × ½ × = 0.03125! Because this number is under 0.05, it meets our criterion of statistical significance.
If it is valid to devise tests of this nature I see no reason why a coin toss could negatively affect any divine plan, so hopefully that counters objection number one. The test is no more strict or precise than any other experiment, hopefully countering objection two. On objection number three, how do we control for my sincerity? I feel I've tried this test with sincerity on several occasions but I understand why you might not be ready to take me at my word. I'll even acknowledge the risk that I'm deceiving myself, however small.

I may be insincere. But if you're a Christian, believe in laying fleeces, and have read this far you're likely sincere in your faith. Here's what I propose. We have a brief Skype conversation. You make a sincere prayer that God reveals himself to me through the experiment outlined above, show both sides of the coin and flip it five times. If you're right I'll publish the video - I get a thousand hits a month so you'll reach many atheists. To contact me just comment below and we'll set something up. I check comments daily.

If you're normally in favour of asking for a sign but find yourself unwilling to try this, I'm interested in hearing more from you. Please consider commenting below.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

One Handed Keyboards and Evolutionary Computing

If you’re reading this you likely have one advantage over me when it comes to typing. You can type the word QWERTY faster than I can.

These letters are found in order on the top row of the majority of the world’s keyboards and typewriters. The arrangement prevents keys jamming together, a design flaw inherent in 19th century typewriters that has long since been remedied. The arrangement was not intended for speed.

So, why am I so slow to type QWERTY? My keyboard is different. I’ve been using a Dvorak keyboard layout for just shy of a decade. Where you have QWERTY I have the letters ‘,.PYF. For your ASDF I have AOEU. The rest of the keyboard is similarly rearranged, the goal being to design an arrangement more conducive to efficient typing.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

An Orderly Explosion on O'Connell Street

Some months ago I spoke to a chap on O'Connell Street intent on curing me of my atheism. He opened with:
"I could never be an atheist. Give me one other example of an explosion leading to order."
As luck would have it I could think of a few.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Porn, rape, Hamza Tzortzis and statistical analysis

Hamza Tzortzis has recently published a response in his questions and answers section entitled "Do Liberal Societies Facilitiate Rape via the Legalisation of Pornography?" In it he attempts to link liberal society with consumption of pornography, consumption of pornography with rape, and offers Islamic society as a corrective solution.

As a member of a liberal society I read the article with much interest. If he's right it's the most important article on the internet. as head of research with iERA he is "responsible for ensuring all of the research projects are ... of the highest standard". His team and target market are both based in liberal countries as of course are many of the world's Muslims, so it would be best if he tackled the subject with tact and care to avoid the offence caused by inaccurate research.

Let's see if he was of a similar mindset:

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Lennox, evolution and honesty

If you have a moment, perhaps you could add a comment to my Amazon review of God's Undertaker? There are four creationists commenting on it at present (generally polite chaps) and regrettably I don't have the time to give all of them lengthy replies.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Disciples Wouldn't Die for a Lie

"And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith."

-Paul, 1 Corinthians 15:14, NIV

The resurrection is the sine qua non of the Christian faith and much has been written in its defence. Today I'd like to address one I've heard from a few different sources. My suspicion is that it originated with Lee Strobel's 'The Case for Christ' but I haven't given the origins investigation extensive time. Getting through the Case for Christ was trial enough already.

Anyway, on to the argument. It proceeds as follows:

  • Witnesses to the events of the resurrection are listed in the Gospels
  • They would not have been willing to die for their faith if it were based on a lie

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

With A Pinch of Salt

"The Qur'an is full of scientific miracles. You'll enjoy it!"

I'm outside the GPO where an enthusiastic fellow Irishman offered me a pamphlet concerning a man who favoured red underwear. It didn't strike me as immediately relevant so I asked if he'd be willing to talk me through a sample scientific miracle instead.

Monday, November 7, 2011

No Sacred Cows

Perhaps I should introduce myself. Or perhaps not. A minor part of me values my privacy. A more significant part of me realises the information will not be interesting to either of my readers. Perhaps it's better if I introduce my interest.

I talk to street preachers. Almost exclusively street preachers. I'm not the sort of chap who'll spot a pensioner clutching a set of rosary beads and demand the owner explain the distinction between the output of a Peritus and output caused by pertussis. I don't initiate conversation, though I have been known to walk past stalls incredibly slowly. In short, anyone who wishes to discuss their views on the nature of reality will likely find in me a receptive ear.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Dark Side of the Moonies

A few days ago I blogged about meeting a Moonie evangelist outside the GPO in Dublin. I was polite. She was perplexing. The meeting spawned some research on my part and I now regret my civil tone.

It seems her Messiah said the 6 million Jews that died in the holocaust were paying their just indemnity for killing Christ., and that they had to suffer for 2,000 years as a result.

Like many religious leaders, he reserves his greatest opprobrium for those who love people of the same gender. In a world where every psychopath and mass murder is the fruit of heterosexual relationship I find the logic confusing.

The official church website employs hamfisted alliteration  in its description of homosexuals as dirty dung eating dogs. He longs for the day when [t]here will be a purge on God's orders, and evil will be eliminated like shadows. Gays will be eliminated ... If not then they will be burned. We do not know what kind of world God will bring but this is what happens. It will be greater than the communist purge but at God's orders.

Debating creationists in Dublin

Anthony Brazabon, Dublin street preacher, blogger and podcast host is disappointed at the lack of debate on young earth creationism.
So I've volunteered my services.
I'll let you know if he gets back to me.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Book Review: God's Undertaker

It's easy to view creationists through the lens of caricature. From Dr Kent's belief that dinosaurs died out due to spontaneous nasal combustion, to the belief that the 300 mile Grand Canyon formed in about five minutes, we can find instances of claims that would have to work hard to be considered merely absurd. But still, it is perhaps unfair to judge a group based on the worst of its members. Though I have yet to hear good creationist arguments I do know smart creationists. With that in mind I was quite happy to receive a recommendation to read Professor John Lennox's book on the subject, God's Undertaker.

I went in with high hopes - my initial readings on evolution were prompted back in 2003, when I studied evolutionary computation. Lennox's background in mathematics would surely mean he could speak with authority on this area.

He was born on the same island as I, a coincidence of birth which admittedly does not make him more likely to be correct, but caused me to warm to him nonetheless.

He's also a talented linguist, speaking Russian, German, Spanish and French in addition to his native English. He has been published and has given lectures in many languages.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Storytelling (Van der Broek and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission)

The more astute among you will have recognised that this blog originally started as a venue for my short stories. If pushed, I'll jokingly refer to myself as a failed writer.

Still, stories are important. They enable us to share our understanding of this world, impart important lessons and simplify topics to convey important details. Sometimes artistic licence is used. Sometimes some facts are sacrificed to make the story more memorable, or to take students to a more accurate picture of real world phenomena.

One example is atoms. In school I learned that electrons orbit the nucleus in much the same way as a planet orbits a star. This is a very useful way of thinking about atoms, but it's also wrong - the electron is more of a fuzzy cloud.

I've spoken to many biblical inerrantists, but I've yet to encounter one who thinks that the parable of the prodigal son involved an actual son, father, fatted calf and brother.

We can look at stories that are fiction, but intended to convey an important message. We can also look at stories that are thought to hold factual accuracy in the highest regard. Today I'd like to look at a story that seems to have jumped between the two categories.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Does God heal today?

*Edit: Ajay Gohil sent me a very polite e-mail confirming his existence and inviting me for coffee. Bear that in mind while reading - it rather annihilates many of my arguments. I've asked him if he's comfortable with me releasing details of his church and will update with more details when he gets back to me. My thanks to the members of Unbelievable? who pointed me in his direction.*

This is the title of the 13th chapter in Nicky Gumbel’s “Alpha: Questions of Life” book and it appeals to my literal mind. It can be rare to find verifiable claims in this literary genre; it was refreshing to see Gumbel nail his colours to the mast as a believer in faith healing and to provide a case study for those who are unconvinced.

For those of you who don’t know the Alpha course is a charismatic introduction to Christianity, typically held over several evenings. Bear Grylls speaks highly of it. I speak highly of it. You’ll meet pleasant people, get free dinner and interesting conversation. I have issues with the accuracy of some of the course material, but not with the genuine, good-natured people I met on the course. I even enjoyed Nicky Gumbel's jokes and am somewhat jealous of his rhetorical skills. One of the evenings includes a discussion of faith healing, and the story of interest begins with “There are so many wonderful stories of God healing that it is difficult to know which to give as an example.”

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Over the Moonies

I am fortunate enough that my commute takes me through a marketplace of ideas every day. iERA frequently run a stall on Islam outside the General Post Office. There’s a Christian street preacher and creationist on Wednesdays and Thursdays called Dessie with whom I’ve had many pleasant chats, and a stressed looking chap in Hare Krishna garb selling books on the benefits of meditation. Recently proponents of presidential candidates have attempted to engage passers by in conversation.

I've spotted a new addition, a small, woven basket that Moses would have found cramped, containing perhaps four books written by or on the Reverend Sun Myung Moon with a sign saying “Messiah? You Decide!” Suspended a convenient four foot or so above the ground, it’s attended by a pamphlet distributing member of the Unification Church – a Moonie, to you or I.

My fellow pedestrians seemed to be voting unanimously with their feet as to the Christology of the basket occupant. I decided to hear her out.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Tick Tock

Vinnie Tuscavedo was the sort of guy that would hand a girl a five dollar bill with which to buy him a pack smokes, and tell her to use the change to pick up something 'nice' for herself. Then, if she came home without a new dress, he'd smack her around for disrespecting his generosity.

He was worse with us men. He’d scream and holler, leaping out of bed to take a swing. His mind was still locked in the sixties. I’m not talking about tie-dyed t-shirts and the summer of love here, I’m talking race riots, and Vinnie wasn’t backing the winning side. Vinnie’s an angry man with angry ideas. Over the years we learned to only send in white nurses with his meals, and to have a few of us guys waiting outside with sedatives in case anything kicks off.

That’s why I only see him when he’s sedated, or about to be sedated. We’ve never had a conversation and he’s never said a civil word to me. Everyone else looks peaceful when they’re knocked out, but Vinnie’s different. The hate in him has a knack of staying awake. His hands twitch into fists every couple of minutes. Makes his watch jangle. I swear I’ve seen the hair on his knuckles stand up, and his wrinkles are so deep he’s always frowning. Aggressive breathing too; sounds like he’s growling. He’s got a full head of white hair, so thick you’d never see his scars. Life aint fair. I’ve been going bald since I hit twenty, and this guy who’d as soon throw a punch as say hello aint even thinning yet.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Sathya Sai Baba – Death of a God

A true story, posted here as I have no other home for it:

In 1993 Sathya Sai Baba proclaimed his mastery of death, saying “...I can live for as long as I please. I can also terminate it at will. It is my will that decides and not any other person. The reason is my purity, selflessness, and divinity.” [1]

Motivated no doubt by an urge to avoid undue confusion in the medical community he agreed to limit his godly lifespan to nine decades and change. [2] For reasons time did not permit him to explain his cold and lifeless corpse now lies in state, fawned over by half a million devotees who have undertaken considerable journeys to pay respects to a god man who mistimed his death by almost a decade.

This was not the 84 year old spawn-of-a-virgin’s first brush with death. In 1971 he raised Walter Cowan from the dead not once, not twice, but three times in quick succession,[3] through the improbable method of guided dreaming and materializing a sacred ash formed of burnt cow dung. In 1963 he disappeared from public view for eight days. His immortality had been impertinently questioned by a stroke and four rapid heart attacks. Shortly after emerging from a world renowned hospital he revealed that he suffered the illnesses voluntarily, willing the damage upon himself to spare an unnamed follower.[4] Apparently no western medical care caused his rejuvenation; eyewitnesses attest to his miraculous healing through the self-application of water droplets to his paralyzed thigh.

Water is not the only liquid Sai Baba massaged betwixt male legs. Both the BBC[5] and Denmark’s national broadcast company have produced documentaries on the widespread allegations of sexual abuse and rape of young boys that have dogged his career as fervently as his most devoted followers. The deity Baba caused miraculous oil to spurt forth from his person and then massaged this sweet smelling liquid into his victims’ pelvic and crotch region in a healing ritual of his own creation.[6]

That this odious pederast’s organs slowly failed over the course of the past month is a positive development. That his last eight years of parasitic life were immobile and enfeebled by a combination of failing brain and broken hip, despite his divine predictions to the contrary, brings me some measure of joy. He will continue to decay in the Indian sun and probability is against his proposed reincarnation. Yet his followers, if anything, have grown more devoted. The queue to stand within range of his rotting flesh is a slow-moving mile and I am reliably informed that India does not possess a season in which it is pleasant to undertake such a stroll. Despite only leaving India on one occasion he is credited with worldwide apparitions and healings. He is believed to have floated by the cockpit of a damaged aircraft, telepathically restarted the engine and hovered alongside it – presumably buoyed by his theatrically oversized hair – for twenty minutes to allow a safe landing. [7] Trinidad and Tobago – a country I honestly thought knew better – has expressed the sadness of thousands of their citizens via their acting president. India (a nation in which I must seriously reconsider my investments) has declared two days of mourning and is lowering their flag as a sign of respect to a man that has swindled himself an empire of 5.5 billion (GBP) in a rather poor country.[8]

He died as he lived – a charlatan, a fraud and a pervert. His estimated fifty million followers are already descending into infighting and conspiracy theories[9]. The stories are tweaking, evolving and adjusting; already we see modifications to official websites. What can we learn from practitioner of autodeification?
Anatole France once said “If fifty million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing” and although our paths never crossed I feel she would not object to me extrapolating. We have fifty million followers who on some level accept his divinity, reincarnation, identity as both the Lamb of God and reincarnated Sufi saint, ability to fly, raise the dead, telepathically repair engines, absorb the injuries of others, heal through molestation and defeat death. He also had a sideline in producing Seiko watches.

Does this mean that Mohammed did not fly into heaven on a horse? That Joe Smith did not translate a tale of evil Native Americans killing holy white folk? That John Frum will not emerge from the Yasur volcano and deliver cargo to his followers? Not necessarily. That charlatans exist does not preclude honesty. But when examining supernatural claims, we should always remember Sai Baba and the credulity of his followers.