A New Podcast: Take That Podcast!

By @tkthtetymology & @TakeThatGMOs  From our test run. More shenanigans.

Would you like to take something new, all the way into your earholes? Let the upcoming Take That Podcast bang your eardrum and hammer your anvil with skepticism and shenanigans. Our maiden voyage will sail this weekend and be released early next week, featuring TakeThatDarwin, TakeThatGMOs, TakeThatReason, TakeThatEtymology, and TakeThatGodwin. You know someone who never listened to a podcast? Hitler.

It’ll be a general discussion, with some science and skepticism. Basically more of the same shenanigans. 

If you have any questions you’d like addressed on the podcast, let us know on Twitter or here. Or on the streets.

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The UNI-VERSE Meme™

by @SuckItEvolution with @TkThtEtymology

There’s a pernicious and annoying little theist meme that’s been spread all over Twitter and other social media channels for several years now. Every so often, you’ll see it getting re-cycled and re-tweeted by new enthusiasts encountering it for the first time. I like to call it “The UNI-VERSE Meme”. It has a number of popular variations, but basically goes something like this (caution: you might want to have a good, stiff drink, before reading further):

“UNI” = One, or single;
“VERSE” = Spoken (or occasionally written) word, phrase,\\ or sentence;
“UNI-VERSE” = A single, spoken word or sentence;
→ Our universe is a “UNI-VERSE” — Created by a single spoken WORD or SENTENCE, uttered by God!

UNI-VERSE meme fans are not quite decided on whether “UNI-VERSE” means a single word, sentence, or phrase (hence, my canonical rendering above). But no matter — they press on undeterred! Often, they’ll embellish the meme with their own creative nuances. Some even seem to suggest that our physical universe IS that single word or phrase, suspended in the aether like some grand Platonic archetype. Here are just a few examples I’ve harvested from Twitter (note: I’ve posted these as simple screen captures, because the embedded tweets were simply taking too long to load):

UNI-1

Yes, wake up:

UNI-2

Oh, I’ve definitely thought about it:

UNI-3

Adam gets it, of course. Too bad nobody else does:

UNI-4

UNI-5

Sometimes, they don’t really bother to elaborate on what their point is. The meme has become so embedded that they simply repeat it without even giving the punchline. Like The Monkey Question, it is a shibboleth of creationist nonsense.

Screen Shot 2015-05-19 at 5.24.30 PM

Screen Shot 2015-05-19 at 5.24.59 PM

Now, what I find so exasperating about this meme (and I’m sure many of you do, as well) is that it is not based on the actual meaning, or origin, of the term universe, as used by most English speaking people today. Not in the least. Consider, for example, the English Wikipedia page for Universe, which traces this word’s etymology as follows:

The word universe derives from the Old French word univers, which in turn derives from the Latin word universum.[20] The Latin word was used by Cicero and later Latin authors in many of the same senses as the modern English word is used.[21] The Latin word derives from the poetic contraction unvorsum — first used by Lucretius in Book IV (line 262) of his De rerum natura (On the Nature of Things) — which connects un, uni (the combining form of unus, or “one”) with vorsum, versum (a noun made from the perfect passive participle of vertere, meaning “something rotated, rolled, changed”).[21]

When Googling “Universe etymology”, the first result returned to me by Google was a graphical representation of the same (more or less) above definition from Wikipedia. Following that were a number of other sources of definitions, including a link to the Online Etymology Dictionary, which defines universe as:

universe (n.) 1580s, “the whole world, cosmos, the totality of existing things,” from Old French univers (12c.), from Latin universum “all things, everybody, all people, the whole world,” noun use of neuter of adjective universus “all together, all in one, whole, entire, relating to all,” literally “turned into one,” from unus “one” (see one) +versus, past participle of vertere “to turn” (see versus).

And finally, I’d found, fairly high up there in the search results, this exquisite little gem, posted as a query to Yahoo Answers (italics added by me, to emphasize the truly sticky parts):

Atheists and the word universe?

Respectfully, do atheists have a problem with the meaning of the word “universe”? The word universe is taken from two root words….UNI meaning single… as in unicycle or unicellular and VERSE meaning sentence or spoken word. So the word UNIVERSE literally means a “single spoken word” which has connotations of God’s creative power in the Genesis acount of how God created everything by speaking it into existence. How is it that the word universe has come to mean everything in existence? or that universities are considered areas of knowledge? I’d just like to know your thoughts on this with all due respect.
Following that query were a number of replies to the contrary, most of which respectfully pointed out the error of the poster’s interpretation of the word “universe”, and generously offered more appropriate explanations, along the lines of what I’ve cited above, and with some providing links to credible sources. But this thread was finally capped-off by one last reply, from yet another meme enthusiast whom I guess just wasn’t satisfied with the more thoughtful responses, and felt it appropriate to come to the rescue by reiterating the basic canon:
Uni=One
Verse=spoken phrase
Universe=One spoken phrase
As in “Let there be”
So, … why does this silly Twitter meme stick so badly in my craw that I simply can’t ignore it? I suppose there are many reasons; here are the three main ones:
1) The meme is completely incorrect and intellectually dishonest. While it’s uncertain if he was the ultimate originator, Kent Hovind was responsible for the initial popularity of this meme, and as usual you can bet that, immediately after its conception, its progenitor didn’t think even once about looking up the true etymology of “universe”, which, as I’d demonstrated above, is but a few clicks away. Either that, or he dismissed the actual accounts as academic-liberal rubbish. There is, of course, a third possibility — that of a charlatan or troll deliberately releasing the UNI-VERSE meme on the gullible, assured it’d eventually spread like the insidious virus it is, and certainly succeeding in the end. But in any event, new adopters of the meme certainly don’t bother checking whether what’s being claimed is real, or not. I doubt they care.
2) Spreading the meme doesn’t make it so. This seems like a real problem with the present-day crop of theists and conservative wing-nuts: No matter how many times they tweet and re-tweet this lame-ass claim of the meaning of the word “universe”, they’re not going to somehow make it true. And they’re certainly not going to make true the vague and sloppily conceived idea it represents. It’s just like claiming “God is real because, after all, we always spell ‘God’ with a capital ‘G’, don’t we?” But these folks invariably get totally caught up in all this silly word play, while deliberately ignoring the factual and substantive.
3) Which “Single Word” or “Single Phrase” are you talking about, anyway? The Book of Genesis of the Hebrew Bible describes God as uttering many incantations, which, over the course of six days, collectively brought earth and heaven into full being. Many “single phrases” were spoken, not just one. Furthermore, there’s no account of God actually creating anything like the universe, as we know it today. God essentially formed heaven and earth by forcing asunder the surrounding “waters of chaos”, and inserting a firmament to keep separate the “waters above” from the “waters below”. But God isn’t claimed to have created the waters prior to dividing them. Nor the land that appeared once the waters were separated. Were the “waters of chaos” believed to be eternal by ancient people? Possibly. But unfortunately, the UNI-VERSE meme fans seem so absorbed in their shared delirium, they’ve even lost sight of the literal account of their own creation myth.

4)As with a lot of language-related mysticism I see, in addition to being a completely incorrect meme, the projection that the etymology of the word somehow reveals a secret about what the denoted object or idea truly means is a bizarre non-sequitur. As noted above, very literally, the primitive roots of “universe” would best be translated “turned into one”. It is still equally bizarre to make a claim that this proves that there were once many things that were separated which have now become one. The argument by etymology, with or without a correct etymology, is a case of the Genetic Fallacy.

5)Even if the etymology were correct, the meme would require that the mystical power imbued into the word which reveals the true nature of reality exist only in the languages which share the root for this particular concept with English. The literal etymology (or in some cases, the literal meaning) of the word for “universe” in other languages include such things as “order”, “all worlds”, “world in general”, and “wholly everything”. As I often like to joke, if we imbue the same mystical properties into the Dutch word for universe, “Heelal”, literally “wholly everything”, then we have proven that physical existence is all there is, and thus the word proves that no transcendent god exists, since physical existence is wholly everything.

#checkmateuniverse

On the Origin of Take Thats: An Interview with Take That Darwin

by @TakeThatGMOs and @TakeThatDarwin

What inspired you to start, what gave you the idea of making a Twitter account and RTing creationists?

I’d been posting on creation/evolution discussion boards like CARM and Christian Forums since I was twelve years old, but, when I first discovered Twitter, I had no intention of creating an account that revolved around that topic. I’ve had a few accounts, in fact, including one about synopses of Sliders episodes that never existed (don’t ask) and a “fake facts”-style account that basically ripped off John Hodgman’s shtick.

While running that latter account, I happened to do a search for “why are there still monkeys.” As a joke, you see. And I was positively floored by how many people were asking that very question — “The Question,” as it were — in the apparent belief that it was a pretty good argument against evolution. So I started a new Twitter account to chronicle my terrible findings.

Can you talk about how you started and what you did to get noticed?

When I first started the account it was done purely to amuse myself; I had no real desire to get noticed. I’d just retweet some people who wanted to know why monkeys still exist, and maybe post a few image macros and pictures of church signs I’d discovered saying the same thing. I didn’t do any commentary, didn’t crack any jokes, didn’t post any image macros or comments of my own devising. It was just my personal dumping grounds for people who wanted to know why we’ve still got monkeys.

However, the comedic potential soon became apparent. I started poking a little fun at The Question and the sorts of people who ask it. Turns out that a couple of decades arguing with creationists about evolution have left me with a surplus of capital-O Opinions on the topic, and when I started to voice those opinions and have exchanges with other people who were, like me, flabbergasted that The Question was so popular, folks began to follow my account out of morbid curiosity.

I’ve also gotten the occasional popularity boost out of celebrities, like Robin Ince, Dominic Monaghan, and Joe Rogan, who like me share a fascination with the flaming thirty-car pileup that is creationism.

How do you find these people that you find and what kind of interactions do you have with them other than RTing?

It’s amazing, really, how predictable creationists can be in some ways and how spectacularly unpredictable they can be in others. One way in which they’re predictable is the phrasing of The Question. With a few keyword combinations — “evolved monkeys,” “evolution apes,” and so on — I can reliably discover one or two dozen people per day who are pretty sure evolution means monkeys shouldn’t exist. I also do some other searches to discover related but unique forms of stupidity, like kids who’re complaining that they’re being forced to learn about evolution in their science classes.

For the sake of my own sanity I don’t generally mix it up with the creationists I retweet, although if I think they’ve got a simple misconception that can be corrected quickly, or if they ask me a direct question, I’ll respond. If they ask me a question that isn’t in good faith, I will respond with withering sarcasm such as can flay their very souls.

Why Twitter specifically, did you consider other platforms too?

Oh, I’ll occasionally scour Facebook, YouTube, and the comments sections of news sites to find more creationist stuff, but it’s always to show off on Twitter, where I find the bulk of the creationist silliness. There’s just something very immediate about Twitter that causes people to cheerfully reveal their innermost feelings about things they probably shouldn’t have innermost feelings about.

That said, I was recently invited by Black Mudpuppy of the webcomic of the same name to contribute to a YouTube project called “Darwin’s Finches,” so we’ll see where that goes.

How did the idea spread to other fields of pseudoscience?

Because — and this is something I’ve commented on before — people are rarely just one sort of crazy. If you’ve already accepted that the entire scientific community is engaged a conspiracy of unprecedented proportions to promote evolution, then what else are those sneaky bastards up to? Perhaps, while they’re hiding the Nephilim skeletons and carving feathers into dinosaur fossils, they might dabble in inventing chemtrails, filling vaccines with autism, or faking the Moon landing.

While my interest mainly lies in creationism, I find it fun to point out some of the other wacky things creationists often find themselves believing. And folks like you, seeing the rich veins of crazy I’ve tapped and having discovered their own sets of searches that turn up other sorts of crazy, have created accounts similar to mine that speak to your own interests. Turns out there’s plenty of crazy out there to share.

How did you come up with the name ‘TakeThatDarwin’? Did you consider it could be confusing for some?

A young Charles Darwin has absolutely no idea what the hell high schoolers in 2015 will think about him. "I bet they'll like me," he says, optimistically.
A young Charles Darwin has absolutely no idea what the hell high schoolers in 2015 will think about him. “I bet they’ll like me,” he says, optimistically.

Deliberately so! When I started this account I was concerned that many creationists, seeing that I’d retweeted them, would instantly block me. I chose a more ambiguous username so they’d pause before hitting that block button, possibly thinking that I’m on their side. That’s why I can’t be upset at non-creationists who assume I’m a creationist. I invited it on myself. That said, I went through a few names for this account before settling on “Take That Darwin,” including “WhyStillMonkeys” and “Y R There Monkeys???” I think history will vindicate me for my ultimate decision here.

As far as why I named this account “Take That Darwin,” I find it fascinating how creationists have placed Darwin on a pedestal. A pedestal covered in goat skulls, spikes, and fire, sure, but they deify the man in much the same way that they deify the figure of Satan. When creationists argue against evolution, they’re arguing against a soft-spoken Victorian-era naturalist whom they view as a legitimate threat to the supremacy of an omnipotent being. And that is hilarious.

What is the specific purpose of the account?

Although I didn’t have a purpose beyond amusing myself when I started this account, I’ve developed a sort of three-pronged mission statement:

  • To reveal how embarrassingly stupid our species can be;
  • To inspire people, including myself, to try as hard as we can to avoid displaying the sort of stupidity I showcase; and
  • To provoke a few laughs along the way.

Some use my account as a sort of dispatcher service for people who want to correct creationists’ misconceptions about science, and that’s fine. But it’s not something I can actually condone, because it puts good people in contact with some really awful people. No, the main goal here is to examine how we’re all vulnerable to sloppy thinking shortcuts.

What are some of the most notable moments in your 3 years doing this? 

I have seen some things, let me tell you. I’ve seen things so surreal they make Burroughs’ “Naked Lunch” look like a VCR repair manual from 1988. I’ve drunk-livetweeted the Bill Nye/Ken Ham debate. I’ve discovered Animal Planet’s mermaid mockumentaries and the many, many folks who were unaware they’re fictional. I’ve met some great people — too many to mention — and also some really remarkably terrible people. I’ve discovered that people who dislike homosexuality can’t help but use the phrase “shoving it down our throats,” which is something you just can’t make up. I’ve appeared on a number of podcasts, including Herd Mentality, the Imaginary Friends Show, and Breaking Bio. I’ve had some fun.

I’ve also explored the frontiers of alcohol tolerance.

How do you recommend others help in educating the public?

You know the old saying about horses, and water, and drinking? The best we can do for creationists is to make sure that information is available. You can’t browbeat people into accepting science. Just gently guide them toward the sources, earnestly answer questions that were asked in earnest, and understand that, in most cases, creationism is something that happened to these people.

That said, it is absolutely not anyone’s responsibility to cure creationism. The only time, I feel, when we’re obligated to speak out against creationism is when creationists are trying to use their social and political clout to hurt others, which, okay, yes, happens pretty goddamned often.

What do you have set in mind for the future of your account and others and possible expansion to other areas?

To quote Heath Ledger’s Joker, do I look like a guy with a plan? Oh, I’ve got dreams — paleontologist Trevor Valle has suggested a meetup he calls Take That Vegas, and I’ve got a semiautobiographical novel in what might be generously called the early stages — but I’m basically at the mercy of my addiction here. To ask me where I see my account going is like asking a junkie where he sees his heroin habit going in a few years.

I’ve been delighted that what was formerly a goofball hobby of mine has gained so much traction. But I’m just as curious about where this train will stop as anyone else. The only thing I can be certain of is that we’ll all have headaches when we get there.