Saturday, June 22, 2013

Face to Face with Destiny

Some say the journey is a particular percentage of the reward. To get to the SSA conference yesterday, I took a bus from downtown LA to the Strip in Vegas for $25 bucks. A great money saver to be sure, but since I had no travelling companion the seating arrangement became a game of roulette.

So, what are the odds that when travelling to a skepticism or atheism related event that the person in the seat next to you holds some really reeaaally wacky beliefs? If I were going by empirical measurements, so far the odds are near 100%.

This trip was no exception, as a pretty 18 year old girl with a skateboard sat next to me on the very last pick-up point.  The first few minutes were uneventful as we awkwardly avoided eye contact, both internally deliberating whether or not we should make first contact. When I finally broached the silence to introduce myself, I had just unwittingly opened a Pandora's Box. I should have had my first clue that this girl was worthy of a Tim Minchin 9 minute beat poem when she said that her name was Destiny.

For a short time the conversation was lighthearted and innocent as we discussed our respective origins and destinations, families and friends, and other such introductory small talk. Then, just as I was starting to think I had lucked out with my seating companion, without warning a wild Zubatshit appears.
"So what do you think about the 'theory' that we landed on the moon?"-Destiny
Through some incredible act of willpower, I manged to keep my hand from impacting my face at high speed. Still, my heart sank as I considered that we still had 4 hours of bus ride ahead of us and no seat belts existed capable of keeping me secure in my seat during this wild ride.

After taking a few minutes to regain inner composure, I realized I was wearing my SpaceX swag so the question may not have been as random as I thought. So I delicately replied that I believed we did land on the moon. Scratch that, I'm nearly certain that we landed on the moon. I then went on to explain the retro-reflective mirrors left there by Apollo astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong, and how you can demonstrate that the mirrors are there by shooting a laser at the moon. Science rocks!

She seemed to think this was an interesting piece of trivia but promptly hypothesized that maybe they just sent the mirror there with robots or something.

But the fun was just getting started, as over the course of the next three hours I learned interesting things about our world that I never realized were facts, including but not limited to:

  • Adam and Eve lived to by 930 years old. (Her Grandpa didn't believe this and tried to talk her out of it but she showed him where it was in the Bible and that obviously proved she was right).
  • Evolution didn't happen because I don't believe we evolved from monkeys. God made each of us individually with great care. Even AIG takes issue with this argument. (It also took her a while to search for the word EVOLVE when she was trying to explain what "those scientists" believe).
  • Red tides and the Yangtze river turning blood red are signs of the end times (seas and rivers turn to blood and all that right?).
  • Obama's new healthcare law will require implanting RFID tags for insurance reasons in the hand, which was possibly the Mark of the Beast. Either that or the chips they're putting in our head is the mark..
  • The rapture is going to happen and I feel sorry for anyone who will be alive for Satan's 1000 year reign. Sucks to be them!
  • America is number MACHISMO! Ya we're badasses!! (China's number 2 BTW)
  • We have a right to bear arms, and Obama is taking our guns because someone had an accident and shot up a bunch of people somewhere.
  • Dragons are real! They found one frozen in ice that had some charred knights next to it. I saw it on Animal Planet. The government is also trying to cover it up because they want to feel superior to those pesky dragons.
  • Animal Planet also explained how they found a Mermaid, cause they're real too. 

Aside to Animal Planet: I know your documentaries are really cool fictional "what-if" CGI fantasies and I sincerely hope you know that, but clearly that fact isn't as obvious to your audience as you might think. When people see a "documentary" on Animal Planet or History Channel or Discovery, they seem to be under the (mis)apprehension that they will contain actual facts.

We covered a lot more ground than this in our 4 hours together, but I don't want to strain my brain any more than I already have recalling the experience. For the first couple stories I attempted to put forth counter evidence if I was aware of any, but we so quickly descended into depths of conspiracy madness that I had never even heard of some of the details that she knew with such confidence to be true. 

At that point, I reverted to an "I've never heard of this, please point me to the evidence so I can investigate further" type responses. I simply stated my skepticism, a few reasons why I had doubts, and left it at that. 

Rule number one when strating an argument with a believer is have an exit strategy. If you know you will be unable to extradite yourself from the conversation (say by being stuck on a bus or plane for 4 hours), diplomacy must be your number one priority. I do regret not having the opportunity to mention that I'm an Atheist and on my way to a conference of like minded students, but to paraphrase Tim Minchin: may as well be 4 hours back in time for all the chance you'll change your mind.

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