Bible codes and gay genes
The American psychiatrist Jeffrey Satinover is an intellectual iconoclast. He has challenged the status quo in various academic disciplines, not least in biblical and psychological studies. He argued, in two books, that the Hebrew text of the Old Testament contains hidden codes which reveal prophesies.
The claim is that "equidistant letter sequences", computer-generated sequences of letters taken from the Hebrew Bible, can be read to uncover descriptions of subsequent events in world history that cannot reasonably be attributed to chance. That's a theory that's been disputed by quite an array of mathematicians (if that is the correct collective noun for mathematicians), who've shown that you can take any similarly large text, say Moby Dick, and, by performing exactly the same computer analysis, come up with similarly "prophetic" statements. In other words, mathematical critics regard the Bible Code as a conspiracy theory.
I'm not sure if Jeffrey Satinover still believes in the existence of a secret prophetic code hidden away in the pages of the Bible. I was hoping to find out tomorrow morning when Dr Satinover was booked to be a guest on Sunday Sequence, but he told the programme today, on the eve of broadcast, that he would not now be joining us.
Dr Satinover is visiting Northern Ireland as the guest of two Christian ex-gay ministries, not because they are keen to hear about the Bible Code, but because Jeffrey Satinover has also written a book about homosexuality. One of the groups hosting this visit is run by Dr Paul Miller, a former health adviser to Iris Robinson, chair of the Northern Ireland Assembly's health committee.
Dr Satinover, a Jewish academic who is a part-time lecturer in a small Christian college in New York, has argued that there is no genetic basis for homosexuality. Instead, he says, homosexuality is the result of environmental causes. He comes to this conclusion by a review of a others' studies. He also argues that homosexuality is psychologically unhealthy, "a disorder as evidenced by the higher associated suicide rate", and "is best viewed as a spiritual and moral illness". He also believes homosexuality is reversible.
His critics challenge the science underlying his views on the psychobiology of homosexuality, just as others have questioned the mathematics underlying his belief in Bible codes. The American Psychological Association has publicly challenged the position Dr Satinover espouses as "not supported by the science".
Three years ago, the APA made this statement: "For over three decades the consensus of the mental health community has been that homosexuality is not an illness and therefore not in need of a cure. The APA's concern about the position's espoused by NARTH and so-called convers ion therapy is that they are not supported by the science. There is simply no sufficiently scientifically sound evidence that sexual orientation can be changed. Our further concern is that the positions espoused by NARTH and Focus on the Family create an environment in which prejudice and discrimination can flourish."
Clearly, there would have been much to talk about had we had the chance to question Dr Satinover on his views both on the existence or otherwise of secret Bible codes and on the APA's claim that his work is unscientific and merely aids discrimination and prejudice. Perhaps the next time he visits Northern Ireland, we might have that chance.
Update: Stephen Cave, NI director of Evangelical Alliance, has written to explain that the email he circulated, which gave details of the event featuring Dr Satinover, should not be read as an endorsement by Evangelical Alliance of the event itself. He writes: "Neither I personally nor Evangelical Alliance were involved in the organisation of this event. Our membership hold a diverse range of opinions on the issues and it may be the case that some of our membership were involved but that does not mean we were supporting it." In the email Stephen Cave's circulated, he attached an advertising flier, which was produced by the event's organisers, and told recipients of the email, "You are free to pass this info on to others but obviously, given the sensitive nature of the issue, the organisers ask that you would do so carefully." Some of those who received the email passed it on to Sunday Sequence.