Archive for May, 2009

We’re all familiar with the problem of “natural evil” and the problems it poses for a benevolent creator god. We all know about earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, and so on. But, I recently heard about a bizarre natural disaster that happened back in 1986.

Lake Nyos is located in central Africa. A pocket of magma leaks CO2 into the lake, causing it to build-up over time. Occasionally, there is a chain reaction that causes the CO2 to suddenly burst out of the lake. The CO2, which was colder and heavier than normal air, flows into the surrounding area, suffocating and killing life.

From the BBC:

It is thought that recent high rainfall had displaced the CO2-rich water at the bottom, releasing a massive bubble of carbon dioxide gas from the lake in a natural phenomenon now referred to as “lake overturn”.

The heavy gas then sank to the ground and rolled in a cloud several tens of metres deep across the surrounding countryside.

The gas killed all living things within a 15-mile (25km) radius of the lake


On August 21, 1986, a limnic eruption occurred at Lake Nyos which triggered the sudden release of about 1.6 million tonnes of CO2; this cloud rose at nearly 100 kilometres (62 mi) per hour. The gas spilled over the northern lip of the lake into a valley running roughly east-west from Cha to Subum, and then rushed down two valleys branching off it to the north, displacing all the air and suffocating some 1,700 people within 20 kilometres (12 mi) of the lake, mostly rural villagers, as well as 3,500 livestock.

This type of event happens periodically to the lake, and people living around the area had myths about evil spirits who periodically came out of the lake and killed people. (An interesting pre-scientific explanation for the events.) When you think about the details, it makes sense why non-scientific people would interpret it as evil spirits – there would be the sound of gas suddenly erupting from the lake, cold smelly air would flow into the countryside, the CO2 would extinguish flames (including lamps or candles), people would become weak, unconscious, and many people and animals would die. It all sounds very creepy.

Since that time, scientists have placed pipes into the lake to degas it, preventing this tragedy from happening again. (Yay science!) But, there are other lakes in Africa which have this same problem.

Related Links:
Wired: Aug. 21, 1986: Volcanic Lake Explodes, Killing Thousands
BBC: 1986: Hundreds gassed in Cameroon lake disaster

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[Via io9] This is a picture of an ant stinging a centipede. The stinger isn’t just randomly inserted into the centipede’s head. These ants are specialist predators of centipedes, and its venom paralyzes the centipede’s brain. The ant will then drag the centipede back to its nest where ant larvae can eat it.

I can’t help but be reminded of my young-earth-creationist upbringing; which taught that everything on earth was created “good” by God 6,000 years ago. There was no death and no predators; animals simply adapted to predatory roles after Adam sinned. As for the existence of venom – I don’t remember that ever being discussed.

One other thing to notice about the picture is how much the ants look like wasps. I’d read in the past that ants were evolutionarily closely related to wasps. These ants look an awful lot like wasps without wings.

To see a few more pictures of ants and other bugs, go here.

And if you’re not too squeamish:

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Common Sense Atheism linked to a video the other day about fertility rates in Europe and in Muslim countries. The point of the video is to say that Europe will be predominantly Muslim within fifty years or less, as a result of low birthrates among native Europeans and high birthrates among Muslim immigrants. I’ve seen these arguments over the past few years. It’s stuff promoted mainly by American Right-wing Christians, often with dire warnings that Europe will be Islamicized within 50 years, and America will stand alone in the world. For example, here’s a sample:

If there is anything that should make Americans’ blood run cold about immigration, it is the sight of Europe—and Britain, the home of Western civilization—being buried by millions of Muslim colonists. Europe is just hoping against hope that Islam isn’t going to explode into massive rioting (or worse), or impose total cultural Islamification.

Now the triumphs of Tours and Vienna are being trampled by immigrants, entering mostly legally. It’s a wonder the Muslims bother with terrorism at all when demography is working so well for them.

Europe’s swirl down the toilet bowl is little reported in this country largely because the Main Stream Media is not interested in showing it. The top media elites are still stuck on multiculturalism. But the European experience shows what a bogus ideology that is. (Source)

So, how accurate is this video?

Claim: “Historically, no culture has ever reversed a 1.9 fertility rate.”
They provide no source for this claim. However, birth rates do vary over time, and have increased. For example, here’s an image of France’s population over the past two centuries. As you can see, the population size barely changes between 1890 and 1945. Since 1945, the population has grown by 50%. The current fertility rate in France is about 2 children per person.

Wikipedia states:

After 1947 however, France suddenly underwent a demographic recovery that no one could have foreseen. It is a fact that in the 1930s the French government, alarmed by the decline of France’s population, had passed laws to boost the birth rate, giving state benefits to families with children. Nonetheless, no one can quite satisfactorily explain this sudden and unexpected recovery in the demography of France, which was often portrayed as a “miracle” inside France. This demographic recovery was again atypical in the Western World, in the sense that although the rest of the Western World experienced a baby boom immediately after the war, the baby boom in France was much stronger, and above all it lasted longer than in most other countries of the Western World (the United States being one of the few exceptions). In the 1950s and 1960s France enjoyed a population growth of 1% a year, which is the highest growth in the history of France, not even matched in the best periods of the 18th or 19th centuries.

Claim: “A rate of 1.3: impossible to reverse… There is no economic model that can sustain itself during that time.”
It’s true that declining birth rates cause a lot of problems for nations; it’s difficult for workers to pay enough taxes to support the retired generation. A lot of countries (including east-asian countries like Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan) are very worried about this problem.

These numbers are almost right. It’s true that these nations are declining in population. According to nationmaster (which took it’s numbers from the CIA World Factbook), the actual fertility rates are:

France 1.98
England 1.66
Greece 1.36
Germany 1.41
Italy 1.3
Spain 1.3

It’s also worth noting that the fertility rates of these nations have been rising slightly over the past five years. Here’s a look at the historical data:

Spain, historical fertility rates:

2003 1.26
2004 1.27
2005 1.28
2006 1.28
2007 1.29
2008 1.3

France, historical fertility rates: (*note: France reversed a fertility rate that dropped below 1.9)

2003 1.85
2004 1.85
2005 1.85
2006 1.84
2007 1.98
2008 1.98

Germany, historical fertility rates:

2003 1.37
2004 1.38
2005 1.39
2006 1.39
2007 1.4
2008 1.41

Italy, historical fertility rates:

2003 1.26
2004 1.27
2005 1.28
2006 1.28
2007 1.29
2008 1.3

(According to the nationmaster numbers, the UK’s and Greece’ fertility rate stayed relatively constant across the 2003-2008 time period.)

1.3-1.5 sounds approximately right. The highest fertility rate in Europe is 2.02 (Albania), and eastern Europe has some of the lowest fertility rates (Poland 1.27, Ukraine 1.25, Lithuania 1.22).

Claim: “France: 1.8 Children per family, Muslims: 8.1.”
They list of source for this claim, but it’s too small to read. This claim is almost certainly false. First, there isn’t a country in the whole world that has a fertility rate of 8 children, so I doubt that millions of Muslims in France’s are having that many children.

While it’s true that many Muslim nations have high fertility rates (Yemen 6.41, Gaza Strip 5.19, Saudi Arabia 3.89), not all of them do. While I have no source for Muslim birthrates in France, I do know where most of France’s immigrants come from: they come from France’s former colonies. Here’s a map of French immigration by nation:

You can quickly pick out that France’s Muslim immigration comes mainly from four countries: Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Turkey.

What are the fertility rates in these countries?

Morocco 2.57
Algeria 1.82
Tunisia 1.73
Turkey 1.87

Now, it looks very suspicious when they claim French Muslims are averaging 8.1 children per person. In fact, the birthrates in their original countries are lower than birthrates in France. I have a hard time believing that they suddenly become hyperfertile when they live in France.

I had actually read an article a few years ago (again, by an Christian-Right author). He talked about how he met a Palestinian woman living in Paris who was raising her 6 children. He then implied that all French Muslims were having this many children. Of course, that was a huge generalization. It’s true that Palestinians (on average) have a lot of children, but it’s false to claim that most Muslims living in France (most of them not from Palestine) were having this many children. Yet, he tried to slide this claim past his readers.

Claim: “In the Netherlands, 50% of all newborns are Muslim.”
That same article I read a few years ago claimed that 50% of all newborns within a particular Dutch city were Muslim (which may or may not be accurate). I have to wonder if that claim was generalized to “In the Netherlands, 50% of all newborns are Muslim.”

There are approximately 1 million Muslims in the Netherlands, a nation of 16.6 million people. So Muslims makeup about 6% of the total population. Yet, we’re supposed to believe 50% of the children born in the Netherlands are Muslim? The fertility rate in the Netherlands is 1.66 children per person. Mathematically, Muslims in the Netherlands would need to have 26 children to makeup 50% of the births in the country.

Further, if we look at the countries of origin of these Muslims, we find that 2/3rds immigrated from Turkey (1.87 fertility rate) or Morocco (2.57 fertility rate).

Claim: “In only 15 years, half of the population of the Netherlands will be Muslim.”
It makes my head hurt to figure out how 1 million Muslims will outnumber 15.6 million non-Muslims in 15 years.

Claim: “In Russia, there are over 23 million Muslims, that’s 1 out of 5 Russians.”
According to Wikipedia:

According to the most recent estimates by the R&F Agency, there are more than 20 million officially self-identified Muslims in Russia, a number that has risen by 40% in the last 15 years, though no more than 6 million are truly orthodox. Roman Silantyev, a Russian Islamologist has estimated that there are only between 7 and 9 million people who practise Islam in Russia, and that the rest are only Muslims by ethnicity.

Also, Russia’s population is 140 million. Even if “23 million muslims” was accurate, that’s 16.4%, not 1 out of 5 (or 20%).

Claim: “Currently in Belgium, 25% of the population and 50% of all newborns are Muslim.”
Wikipedia states:

An 2008 estimation shows that 6% of the Belgian population, about 628,751, is Muslim (98% Sunni). Muslims cover 25.5% of the population of Brussels, 4.0% of Wallonia and 3.9% of Flanders.

Maybe they mixed up “Brussels” and “Belgium”. Regardless, they inflated the percentage of Muslims in Belgium from 6% to 25%.

Again, we see the same pattern of immigration as we saw in the Netherlands – 2/3rds are Moroccans and Turkish immigrants – whose home countries have relatively low birthrates (2.57 and 1.87, respectively).

Claim: “1/3rd of all European children will be born to Muslim families by 2025, just 17 years away.”
That doesn’t seem very likely considering that Muslims currently makeup “4 percent of the European Union’s population” (Source). This particular claim about “1/3rd of all European children” appears to come from the Right-wing Brussel’s Journal.

Claim: “The German Government, the first to talk about this publicly, recently released a public saying, ‘the fall in the German population can no longer be stopped. Its downward spiral is no longer reversible… It will be a Muslim state by 2050.”
Considering that Muslims makeup 4.0% of the German population, that statement seems over the top. More than 90% of them are Turkish (fertility rate in Turkey: 1.87). A quick google search credits Walter Rademacher, vice-president of the German statistics office, with the quote.

So, do you believe that the “German Government” issued that statement? Are you wondering what Walter Rademacher actually said?

BERLIN, Germany, November 9, 2006 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Germany’s downward spiral in population is no longer reversible, the country’s federal statistics office said Tuesday. The birthrate has dropped so low that immigration numbers cannot compensate.

“The fall in the population can no longer be stopped,” vice-president Walter Rademacher with the Federal Statistics Office said, reported Agence France-Presse.

Germany has the lowest birthrate in Europe, with an average of 1.36 children per woman. Despite government incentives to encourage larger families, the population is dropping rapidly and that trend will continue, with an expected loss of as much as 12 million by 2050. That would mean about a 15 percent drop from the country’s current population of 82.4 million, the German news source Deutsche Welle reported today.

Germany has one of the largest populations of Muslim immigrants in Western Europe, with a Muslim community of over 3 million. That trend is expected to continue, leading some demographic trend-watchers to warn that the country is well on the way to becoming a Muslim state by 2050, Deutsche Welle reported.

The [Right Wing] Brussels Journal reported last month that one third of all European children will be born to Muslim families by 2025. There are an estimated 50 million Muslims living in Europe today–that number is expected to double over the next twenty years.


Wow. There’s two major distortions here:
(1) They credit the “Germany Federal Statistics Office” with the statement that “[Germany] will be a Muslim state by 2050”, when it was actually a statement made by a vague group identified as “some demographic trend-watchers”. Immediately, in the next paragraph, they mention the right-wing Brussels Journal – leading me to suspect that they are the “demographic trend-watchers”.
(2) The quote was twisted from “is well on the way to becoming a Muslim state by 2050″ into “It will be a Muslim state by 2050”.

Claim: “There are currently 52 million Muslims in Europe. The German government said that number is expected to double in the next 20 years to 104 million.”
The EU population is 491 million, 4% (19.6 million) of which are Muslim (Source).

Claim: “In the United States, the current fertility rate of American citizens is 1.6. With the influx of the latino nations, the rate increases to 2.11; the bare minimum needed to sustain a culture.”
Considering that latinos makeup only 13% of the US population, it’s hard to believe they can single-handedly bring-up the fertility rate from 1.6 to 2.11.

Looking up actual data (1, 2) reveals this fertility rate for American women (2004):

White 2.05
Black 2.03
American Indian 1.73
Asian 1.89
Hispanic 2.82
Total 2.04

(I think the “White” category includes “non-hispanic white” and “hispanic white” into the same category. If that’s true, then the non-hispanic white fertility rate would be around 1.8-1.9.)

Claim: “Today, there are over 9 million [muslims in the United States]”.
Reality? No one really knows. Estimates vary between 1.1 million and 8 million.

Not very likely.

This wasn’t specifically argued in the video, but I should also add that the fertility rates among Muslims (in their own countries) is also declining.

For example:

Saudi Arabia, historical fertility rates:

2003 6.15 (* is this accurate?)
2004 4.11
2005 4.05
2006 4
2007 3.94
2008 3.89

And the three largest Muslim countries:

Indonesia, historical fertility rates:

2003 2.5
2004 2.47
2005 2.44
2006 2.4
2007 2.38
2008 2.34

Pakistan, historical fertility rates:

2003 4.1
2004 4.29
2005 4.14
2006 4
2007 3.71
2008 3.73

Bangladesh, historical fertility rates:

2003 3.17
2004 3.15
2005 3.13
2006 3.11
2007 3.09
2008 3.08

And let’s not forget that some Muslim countries have already fallen below the replacement number of 2.11 (and, supposedly, below the mythical 1.9 fertility rate that the video says is very, very bad). When you look at the three most populous countries of the Middle East (Egypt, 79 million; Turkey, 70 million; Iran, 69 million), you find that Turkey and Iran have already dropped below a fertility rate of 2.0. Egypt recently dropped below a fertility rate of 3.0, and the Egyptian government is aiming to get it down to 2.0 within 8 years. All three are experiencing a decline in their fertility rates.

Egypt, historical fertility rates:

2003 3.02
2004 2.95
2005 2.88
2006 2.83
2007 2.77
2008 2.72

Turkey, historical fertility rates:

2003 2.03
2004 1.98
2005 1.94
2006 1.92
2007 1.89
2008 1.87

Iran, historical fertility rates:

2003 1.99
2004 1.93
2005 1.82
2006 1.8
2007 1.71
2008 1.71

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Fits quite nicely with the Daily Show clip posted a few days ago.

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