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):


Yes, wake up:


Oh, I’ve definitely thought about it:


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



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:
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.



It’s Just Not NATURAL, Damnit!!!

human-rights-campaign-symbolOr… “The Inigo Montoya Fallacy”

by @TakeThatHomo

One of the most popular attempts at a non-religious argument against homosexuality is the Appeal to Nature, or the Naturalistic Fallacy. It’s one of those arguments that make me roll my eyes and shake my head. I try, most of the time, not to judge any of the people who argue against the gay community, be it on the basis of marriage or just in general, because they genuinely believe that they are right. People hold their opinions for a reason, be it religious or logical (at least to them), so when I come across Tweets like this:

It is easy to reply with something like “homosexuality occurs in nature, therefore is “natural”. You’re welcome.” By the time I find these Tweets someone else has usually got in there before me with some variation of the rebuttal, like pointing out how many different species engage in homosexual acts in the natural world. From the point of view of the liberal, equal opportunities Tweeter this is the end of the argument. Someone has made a statement, and that statement has been shown to be incorrect. How can the argument continue?

68ba10c2cda3628f1f6f7319c46c3ee9Oh, how naive of us to believe that this is the case. The individual making the statement can simply ignore the facts and just keep repeating the claim, even when you pull up links to scientific papers on the subject or the actual definition of “natural”, which can be beyond frustrating. In these cases there really is no point in continuing with the conversation. If someone refuses to concede to a scientifically proven fact then there’s not really anywhere you can go.

The alternate route will quickly transform the argument from the appeal to nature to the religious argument, which is much more interesting but harder to keep on track. That’s something that I will cover at another time, because there is something that is frequently missed when it comes to the “it just ain’t natural” claim.

When the wingnuts use the word “natural” they’re not using it in the way that we are. It’s the homophobic version of “evolution is just a theory” that my esteemed colleagues @TakeThatDarwin and @TheoryFail have to deal with. Those people are using “theory” to mean “guess” or “idea” or “hunch”, rather than the actual context in which it is meant; that of a scientific theory (which I’m not going to cover because that’s best left to people who know what they’re talking about).

4246469107_gay_kiss_0_xlargeWhat the homophobe is doing in this situation is making a moral judgement about what the word means, and they’re getting it wrong. What they’re doing here is equating “natural” with “good” or “right”. They don’t like the idea of homosexuality. Most of the wingnuts on Twitter that I find have a particular vehemence towards man on man action. They find it disgusting and can’t get their brains around why any real man would want to do that sort of thing with another male. It makes them uncomfortable to see same sex affection, they don’t like seeing gay characters on the television or in the movies and it makes them feel icky. This is because it is outside of their normal experience. Twenty years ago the same could be said of mixed race relationships. They weren’t exposed to such relationships and therefore judged them as unnatural, or bad, or wrong.

In the minds of these people good equals natural, so because homosexuality is not good then it must be unnatural. How could it be anything else? This is the root of their argument in most cases. When someone uses the “homosexuality is not natural” argument they are begging the question, because they are already putting their conclusion in their premise.

Inigo-MontoyaNature, however, doesn’t make implicit value judgements. There is no “good” or “bad” or “sin” in nature, there is just “nature”. To assert that natural equates good means that accepting rape is good. Rape occurs in the natural world, therefore rape is good. A lion taking down a gazelle is natural, therefore murder is good. Cancer is natural, therefore disease is good.

This is the true meaning of what they think “natural” means. As usual it is religious indoctrination that leads to this conclusion. Homosexuality is going against the plan of God, and therefore not natural. The fact that it is present in thousands of species is irrelevant to them. It’s nothing more than an attempt to frame their religious world view in a secular standpoint.

When you hear the argument that homosexuality is not natural perhaps it might be an idea to find out what they think “natural” means, because if you leap into a defence of what you think they mean you may be coming at it from the wrong angle.

Thank you for reading, please leave a comment and if you have any ideas for future posts then please leave a comment or contact @TakeThisBlog.

It’s Not Just A Little Snip


Elizabeth BlacElizabeth Blackwell - first woman to earn a medical degree in the USA - on cirucmcisionkwell

by @TakeThatForeski

Many of us are used to hearing – about male circumcision – that it is just a snip or that it is merely the removal of a little  piece of skin and that it is no big deal or even it is healthier – we also often hear that it is a parent’s choice.

Are these some of the things that you have been inculcated with about circumcision? If so, it only follows that you probably believe them – especially if you have not been exposed to the contrary evidence. It is very difficult for people to hear that what they think they know about a given issue is based on belief and not fact. Jarring, even, to everything that you think you know.

It is not the responsibility of any person to prove to you that circumcision is needless and wrong when not medically justified – nobody can convince you of anything. Opinions – informed opinions – can only be formed when there is a thorough investigation of the facts.

Over the coming time I will provide you with information – from a skeptical and ethical viewpoint – regarding circumcision to assist you in developing an informed opinion based on facts.


What About Whataboutism?

By @TakeThatHomo

We’ve all been there. We’ve seen it happen. You’ll be happily pointing out the errors in someone’s argument or having a general debate on whether George Lucas should be flayed for making the Star Wars prequels when your opposition trots out a time honoured tactic for diverting the subject. You’ll be making valid points, whilst possibly adding them to some convoluted scoring system that you’ve created in your head until you reach the point when you’ve “won”, when they pull out the “whatabout” card.

Let’s say you’re discussing one of my favourite topics: equality for homosexuals. Last month I had the joy of retweeting wingnuts who had a biblical perspective on a dinky little place called Memories Pizza, who stated that they would refuse to cater for a same sex marriage. No one asked them to, but they felt the need to make their stand regardless. Personally I think a marriage with pizza provided would be all kinds of awesome, but that’s beside the point.

So you’re cheerfully pointing out that yes, businesses have to abide by the law even when it comes to something as stupid as catering pizza when they throw “yeah, but what about ISIS throwing gays off buildings in Syria” at you. This is a whataboutism and you need to avoid it at your peril.

The technical term for a whataboutism is the Fallacy of Relative Privation, which is used in an attempt to try and dismiss your argument. Sure, things might not be good for the queers in America, but they’re not getting hurled from buildings. Okay, so misogyny is bad, but women aren’t even allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia. There are children starving in Africa!

It’s an attempt to make you falter and if they whip that bad boy out you’re probably using good tactics. One subject has nothing to do with the other. The fact that ISIS have thrown people from buildings simply for suspected homosexuality has nothing to do with the catering concerns of Christians in California (yes, I know the pizza place was in Indiana, but I like alliteration).

You are actually allowed to be opposed to multiple things at the same time. People being stoned to death or thrown off buildings does not invalidate your argument. It does not make misogyny the lesser of two evils and therefore acceptable. The fact that there are starving children in the world is a horrible thing that should be ended, but has nothing to do with whatever you’re opposing.

A whataboutism is nothing more than an attempt to divert the topic, to shift it by saying “that’s bad, but this is worse” and in no way invalidates your argument. If you volunteer at an animal sanctuary your actions aren’t invalidated by the fact that people are sleeping on the streets. It doesn’t mean that you approve of the latter because you support the former.

Beware of the whataboutism, learn to spot it and cut it out of the conversation as quickly as you can, or you’ll just end up trying to justify your position as worthy when it doesn’t need to be.