Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Thus trumpeteth the prophets

Dear Readers:

Next week I'm going to take a brief hiatus from Skeptophilia -- so my next post will be Monday, February 27.  Keep sending comments and ideas for future posts, however!

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Because we needed something else to facepalm about, now we have some ultra-Christian Trump supporters claiming that Donald Trump's victory was (1) ordained by god, (2) predicted in the bible, and (3) indicates that we are approaching the End Times.

Well, at least #3 is not far wrong, to judge by the new administration's first month.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse by Viktor Vastnetsov [image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons]

As far as the others, though, I'm predictably a little dubious.  Apparently the whole thing started when bible historian and End Times expert David Montaigne pointed out two places where the word "trump" is used in the bible, to wit:
1 Thessalonians 4:16: “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first.”
and
1 Corinthians 15:52: “Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.”
So naturally this can't be the word "trump" as in "trump card;" it has to refer to The Donald.  Montaigne writes:
I am not suggesting that Donald Trump absolutely *IS* the last trump – but since the LAST TRUMP is one of the most clear and final signs in end times prophecy, can we overlook the possibility that a presidential candidate named Trump is being used as a sign by God?
Yup.  You can guess what they think "trump of God" means.

Biblical prophecy specialist Erika Grey said it even more forcefully:
In end time Bible Prophecy we know that the EU is going to become the greatest most powerful world empire to have ever existed and it is going to be an economic powerhouse. 
With BREXIT and Donald Trump in Bible Prophecy the EU is still going to move forward despite taking these bumps.  With Donald Trump as president there is a new sheriff in town and the era of EU, US relations has come to an end, but with the new president will come a geopolitical shift and the EU will continue to move forward even to the surprise of some EU officials.
And it wouldn't be complete without some commentary from Pat Robertson, who said that because Trump was foreordained by the bible to be president, to criticize him is to "revolt against what God's plan is for America."

Hearteningly, some Christians are speaking up and saying "that's ludicrous."  None of the critics has more gravitas than Dr. Samuel Lamerson, professor of New Testament Studies and president of Florida's Knox Theological Seminary.  About the idea that Trump is mentioned in the bible, Lamerson said:
First of all, it only works in the English language.  The New Testament was written in Greek.  Second of all, it only works in the King James Version and some other older translations.  Many other translations will have ‘trumpet’ instead of ‘trump...'  I think that often people forget that the book of Revelation was written 2,000 years ago.  The notion that what the Scripture says applies to the shape of the political world today is to totally misunderstand what exactly is going on there.
Well, yeah.  In fact, if you want to mess around with etymologies and semantics, two can play that game.  So let's look at a different use of the now-infamous syllable:
trumpery (n.) -- something without use or value; rubbish; trash; worthless stuff -- from the French tromperie (deceit, trickery), originally from the French verb tromper (to deceive).
There's also an 18th century use of the word "trump" as a verb, meaning "to fart loudly."

I propose that's the prophetic angle we take on this.  Even I, as an atheist, could get behind believing that there's a deity who so arranged the world so that our current president's name meant "loud, deceitful flatulence."

Friday, February 17, 2017

Tax-funded Bigfoot hunt

There was a bit of an uproar amongst science-minded types in New Mexico last year when it became known that Dr. Christopher Dyer, executive director of the University of New Mexico - Gallup, had allowed the university to sponsor a conference and an expedition to hunt for Bigfoot.

Dyer himself is an anthropologist, and therefore should know better.  But this didn't stop him from throwing himself and his school into the event.  Speakers were given honoraria up to $1,000, plus reimbursement for airfare, food, and lodging,  Expedition participants were even given snowshoes -- again, at the expense of the university.

Below is a jpg of the poster for the conference, courtesy of the wonderful site Doubtful News:


For those of you not up to date on your cryptozoology, Jeff Meldrum is the guy who along with Melba Ketchum was responsible for a lot of the pseudoscientific "Bigfoot is too real!" nonsense that's been around in the last few years.

And Meldrum is not the only one with a dubious background.  "New Mexico naturalist Rob Kryder" is also a True Believer, who thinks that the aforementioned Melba Ketchum's "study" was completely convincing despite the fact that her citations were bogus, and her data consisted of a rambling screed that can be summed up as "We have proof, dammit."

Kryder got into a snarling match with KRQE, the station that broke the story about the university-funded goodies all of the participants were getting.  Kryder didn't like the skew eye he and his fellow squatchers were being given, and responded thusly:
BIGFOOT IS A REAL SPECIES/PROOF
To KRQE: In response to your pseudo-investigation and false and misleading special report on the UNM/KX Bigfoot study, the evidence, funding and the blatant lie to the public about the proof of the species.  We at KX challenge you, KRQE to send your presumptious and biased investigative reporter Larry Barker out in the field for just 12 hours with my team.  And if you do, and Larry B isn’t a BF believer by morning, we agree to do all posssible to raise the $7k and pay back the #UNM account for the cost of the public disclosure conference on behalf of Dr Dyer. — The location – The Sandia Mountains just outside Alb NM, home of #KRQE and Larry Barker.  And after, to interview myself and Jeff Meldrum to present the truth of the matter.
So take that.  Of course, KRQE declined to take Kryder up on his offer, but instead decided that if the squatchers wanted to play hardball, they'd be happy to join in.  Larry Barker contacted Senator George Munoz, who is on the State Legislative Finance Committee, and Munoz decided that enough was enough.  So he sponsored a bill making it illegal to hunt Bigfoot on the taxpayer dime.  Here's the text of the bill:
Public funds shall not be expended by a state higher educational institution for the purpose of looking for or catching a fictitious creature, including:
(1) bigfoot;
(2) sasquatch;
(3) yeti;
(4) abominable snowman;
(5) Pokémon;
(6) leprechauns; or
(7) bogeyman.
I have to say that I love that he included Pokémon.  But it does leave open hunts for El Chupacabra, for which New Mexico has been an epicenter of sightings.  My feeling is if you don't include El Chupacabra, and Sheepsquatch while you're at it, you may as well not bother.

But it's certainly a step in the right direction.  I know I wouldn't be happy if Cornell was sending biologists up to our local cryptid hotspot, Connecticut Hill, to look for the famed Connecticut Hill Monster.  As much as I'd love it if there actually was some sort of weird creature stalking around in the woods only twenty miles from my house, the funding for finding it really shouldn't be defrayed by the government or taxpayer-funded institutions of higher learning.

So it'll be interesting to see if the bill gets passed, and more importantly, if other states follow suit.  I'll also be waiting to see what rejoinders Kryder and Meldrum have for Senator Munoz, because you just know they won't take this lying down.  And if they get Melba Ketchum involved, we'll really have a battle royale going.  I can barely wait.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Flat like a pizza

There's a saying in Senegal: "There are thirty different kinds of lunacy, but only one kind of common sense."  I found an especially good example of that yesterday over at Inverse, where I found out that there is a feud brewing between the Pizzagate conspiracy theorists and the Flat Earthers.

If you're not familiar with "Pizzagate," it's the idea that Hillary Clinton, George Soros, et al. have been using pizza restaurants as fronts for a nationwide child trafficking operation, and also that you can turn anything, however ridiculous, into a scandal if you simply add the suffix "-gate.".  The whole thing got started with some (allegedly) coded emails between Clinton and staffers over getting pizza for lunch, and blew up from there.  It's resulted in harassment and death threats for the owners of the pizza restaurants involved, and has refused to go away despite repeated thorough debunkings.

Well, there's nothing like believing in one ridiculous idea to make you think that everyone else's ridiculous ideas are completely laughable.  David Seaman, who is a prominent Pizzagate "truther" (as of the writing of this post, his latest tweet says, "Friends: if something happens to me, I want big fucking protests in front of COMET PIZZA in DC every day.  Sickos"), made the tactical error of calling out the Flat Earthers, via yet another tweet, this one saying, "I have it, on authority, Flat Earth is PAID DISINFORMATION to distract from Pizzagate & other Wikileaks reveals to come."

Here's a direct quote from an informational video Seaman made about the topic:
So Flat Earth theory is some kind of weird disinformation campaign, some sort of psyop to make people not believe. The fact that it shows up so closely whenever Pedodate and Pizzagate are mentioned, the fact that that’s when it pops up, I think it’s designed to muddy the waters … whoever’s pushing it continually, it does appear to be a disinformation campaign.
So basically, people are getting checks (from Soros himself, presumably, since he's someone who would have the necessary discretionary income) to convince everyone that the Earth isn't an oblate spheroid, because that would cause us all to be in such disarray that we'd ignore the idea that Hillary Clinton is running a pedophilia ring in the back of a dozen or so pizza restaurants.

Sure.  Makes total sense to me.

Well, far be it from the Flat Earthers to take that lying down.  One of them, Maggie Sargent, took to Twitter in high dudgeon a couple of days ago, and had hot words for Seaman:
All the Flat Earth people are saying is to question everything we have been told.  NASA is run by the federal government and if the federal government can traffic children and cover it up perhaps they made up the entire idea that the earth is round and it's all supposed to take us away from God.  I don't know what to believe either way but you shouldn't be rude to the flat-earth people.  There is a perfectly logical thought process between pizzagate and Flat Earth.  Not everybody thinks like you do.  We're all just trying to figure it out here so you should always be gracious to everyone who questions the government.
Yes!  Right!  What?

Of course, we probably shouldn't expect too much of Sargent, because one of her recent tweets was:
What if the Earth is a dimension?  Not flat, not round.  But like a video game.  This stuff is coming into my Consciousness for some reason.
What the hell does that even mean?  "The Earth is a dimension?"  Like, for example, width?

So the feud continues, with each side arguing that their lunacy is the right lunacy, and everyone else's is actual lunacy.  And the rest of us are just sitting here like this:


So that's our dip in the deep end of the pool for today.  Me, I'm just waiting for the crystal energies, HAARP, and Illuminati people to get involved, and it'll be all-out war, until finally they just self-annihilate in a massive explosion of daftness.  I've already got my popcorn popped.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The specter of bias

Back in 2005, a study by David Kelly (of the University of Sheffield) et al. showed something simultaneously fascinating and unsettling; that racial bias begins to crop up in children as early as three months of age.  The authors write:
Adults are sensitive to the physical differences that define ethnic groups.  However, the age at which we become sensitive to ethnic differences is currently unclear.  Our study aimed to clarify this by testing newborns and young infants for sensitivity to ethnicity using a visual preference (VP) paradigm.  While newborn infants demonstrated no spontaneous preference for faces from either their own- or other-ethnic groups, 3-month-old infants demonstrated a significant preference for faces from their own-ethnic group.  These results suggest that preferential selectivity based on ethnic differences is not present in the first days of life, but is learned within the first 3 months of life.
I suspect, although this is yet to be rigorously tested, that this tendency of like-prefers-like comes from the fact that in our ancestors, strangers -- i.e., people who don't resemble us -- were more likely to be dangerous.  A built-in tendency to develop an aversive response to faces that look different is unfortunate, but certainly understandable given the fact that our forebears, in the words of Thomas Hobbes, lived lives that were "nasty, poor, brutish, and short."

It's easy enough to think that by the time we become adults, most of us have unlearned these natural tendencies.  I consider myself to be unbiased with respect to race or ethnicity -- and I suspect most of my readers think the same thing about themselves.  But a pair of studies that just appeared last week that appeared in The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology give us the uncomfortable truth that racial and ethnic bias may not be that easy to expunge.

[image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons]

Let's start with the one called, "Whites Demonstrate Anti-Black Associations But Do Not Reinforce Them," by Jordan Axt and Sophie Trawalter of the University of Virginia, that looked at how easy it was to instill and/or eradicate negative racial associations.  Axt and Trawalter write:
White Americans, on average, associate Black people with negativity (Nosek, Banaji, & Greenwald, 2002), and have an easy time learning that Black people are associated with negative information.  Not surprisingly then, they have an easier time associating negative experiences (e.g., an electric shock) with Black vs. White faces (Olsson, Ebert, Banaji, & Phelps, 2005).  For example, in one study, participants received a mild electric shock while viewing either Black or White target faces.  Subsequently, they viewed Black and White target faces without receiving the electric shocks.  All the while, researchers measured participants' skin conductance responses as a proxy for fear, and found that White participants who had been shocked while viewing Black vs. White target faces then had an easier time learning to fear the Black vs. White target faces, and also had a harder time unlearning this association between Black faces and negative outcomes.  This pattern of results is consistent with the notion that Whites have an easy time associating Blacks with negative information.
Once acquired, though, these negative associations are rather resistant to strengthening, and a protocol intended to instill positive associations with people of other races strengthened far more easily, a result that is at least a little cheering:
Across five studies, the IGT paradigm revealed an intriguing asymmetry in participants' acquiring and strengthening of racial associations.  White participants readily demonstrated an association that paired Black faces with negative outcomes, supporting earlier work showing that Whites are better at learning an association between racial outgroups and aversive stimuli (Olsson et al., 2005).  However, Whites in our studies were then unwilling or unable to strengthen this initial anti-Black association.  Conversely, White participants were less able to initially acquire an association that paired Black faces with positive and White faces with negative outcomes, but were willing and able to reinforce this association.
So it's encouraging that these biases can be modified in a positive direction.  But the second study suggests that such subconscious prejudice may not be as eradicated as we might wish.

The paper called "Welcome to the U.S., But Change Your Name," by Xian Zhao and Monica Biernat, explored the reaction of professors -- who as a group, you'd think, would be more cognizant of the dangers of racial bias -- to receiving inquiry emails from someone with a Chinese name versus ones from someone with an Anglo name, and also of undergraduates presented with a lecture using the same distinction.  The researchers found a disquieting pattern:
In Study 1, an email from a Chinese student requesting a meeting about graduate training was sent to 419 White professors with the name of the sender being varied (Xian versus Alex).  Use of the Chinese name led to fewer responses and agreements to meet than using the Anglo name.  In Study 2, a lecture recording from an international graduate student was presented to 185 White undergraduates with the name of the lecturer varied (Jian versus John). The preference for Anglo names over Chinese names was apparent among those high in assimilationist and low  in multicultural ideologies.
It'd be nice to think that in the 21st century, we're beyond dealing with racism, but the neurological underpinnings are still there.  The attitudes are not that easy to eradicate even in the best of times, and with the current upsurge in xenophobia, suspicion, and stereotyping we need to be even more on guard for letting these flawed perceptions influence our behavior.

In short, it's not enough to say "I'm not a racist" and be done with it.  The specter of like-prefers-like bias is too deeply ingrained in us to dismiss so quickly.  And it's easy enough to criticize those tendencies in others; it's as important -- possibly more important -- to be on guard for the same biases in our own perceptions of our fellow humans.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Left-wing conspiracies

The rather regrettable human tendency to assume that everyone in Our Tribe is honest and clever and valiant, and everyone in the Other Tribe is dishonest and cunning and weaselly, makes up for in appeal what it lacks in any kind of supporting evidence.

The fact is, all of us, regardless of tribe, are capable of exhibiting the full spectrum of human behavior.  I got a stern reminder of that yesterday from (of all places) Buzzfeed, a site which I had honestly stopped looking at because of their tendency to publish sensationalist, overhyped garbage.

But this particular article, called "Behind the Rise of the Anti-Trump Twitter Conspiracy Theorists" by Charlie Warzel, is unusually well researched -- and has a cautionary conclusion for any of us on the Blue side of things.  Warzel lays out clearly the fact that although the left is awfully quick to point out the conspiracy theorists on the right -- people like Alex Jones and Glenn Beck, for example -- they seem to be blissfully unaware when they're engaging in exactly the same kind of behaviors themselves.

"[T]he Blue Detectives," Warzel writes, "are increasingly active in theorizing that Trump and his associates are involved in a dizzying multidimensional plot — and, crucially, are always 10 steps ahead of the American public... which suggests a cunning on the part of the Trump administration and Russia to distract, dodge, and outwit the American public while bolstering its coffers and power."

[image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons]

Warzel cites people like Adam Khan, who tweets under the handle @Khanoisseur, and specializes in linking together facts and figures and other people's tweets into what looks like a massive flow chart.  Khan insists he's not a conspiracy theorists, but is "merely asking questions."

"I’m not manufacturing anything new," Khan says.  "But I’m taking this piece of reporting from this journalist and showing clearly how it aligns with something else out there.  And put together, I think it shows there’s a bigger story.  If nothing else, I hope my work leads to more people doing their own investigative journalism."

The problem is, just as with people on the right like Rush Limbaugh (and Trump himself) saying "I'm just asking the question," the result is almost never "people doing their own investigative journalism."  The ones who are primed to believe whatever explanation is being offered tend to swallow it without question.

Thus confirmation bias rears its hideous head once again.

The tendency is not confined to bloggers and tweeters.  Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich slipped into that dangerous territory himself last week, with a claim that Breitbart and ultra-conservative firebrand Milo Yiannopoulos had engineered the riots at Berkeley to give impetus to Donald Trump to tighten his grip on college campuses:
There is the possibility that Yiannopoulos and Breitbart were in cahoots with the agitators in order to lay the groundwork for a Trump crackdown on universities and their federal funding... Hmmm. Connect these dots...  I don’t want to add to the conspiratorial musings of so many about this very conspiratorial administration, but it strikes me there may be something worrying going on here.
Of course, Reich never lays out his evidence for all this, because he doesn't appear to have any.  It's merely "likely speculation."

And his disingenuous "I don't want to add to the conspiratorial musings" doesn't impress me at all.  If you don't want to add to "conspiratorial musings," you keep your damn mouth shut until you have some hard evidence.

The irony isn't lost on conservative blogger Mike Cernovich.  "It’s even happening to people who have reputations in the media for being pretty normal," Cernovich said.  "I saw this great meme the other day that said if there’s ever a terrorist attack in America under Trump, the left is going to go full Infowars. And I think that’s totally true..  Honestly, that’s why I’ve pivoted with my brand, and my trolling today compared to a year ago is mild.  They’ve adopted that fringe-level mentality aggressively.  People on left are making themselves look ridiculous and so I see it as an opportunity to look reasonable by comparison."

The sad truth is that none of us is free of bias, so it is even more important to question stuff you hear from Your Tribe -- because that's what is most likely to hoodwink you, most likely for you to accept without question.  That tendency simply to go, "Yeah!  Right on!" when we see something that appeals to our preconceived notions blinds us to the truth, and prevents us from correcting our errors even when they're right in front of our faces.

So do what I always tell my Critical Thinking students to do; make sure you're getting your news from a variety of sources.  If you're conservative, watch MSNBC every once in a while.  If you're liberal, watch Fox.  You probably won't agree with what you hear, and it might even piss you off, but it'll pull you out of the comfy little echo chamber where most of us are content to live our lives.

And don't just listen -- consider what they're saying carefully.  Training yourself to think about what you're hearing and seeing is good practice, and not something that comes naturally.  It'll make you far less likely to fall for unfounded conspiracy theories -- no matter on which side of the aisle they originated.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Evidence blindness

It is a sad fact of human nature that it is far easier to delude people than to un-delude them.

Once someone has accepted some counterfactual stance, you have all sorts of things working against you.  There's confirmation bias (the tendency of people to accept ideas they find appealing with little to no evidence), the backfire effect (the baffling fact that presenting people with evidence contrary to their beliefs can make them double-down on the belief in question), and the induction of cynicism when people discover they've been lied to (making them disbelieve everything they hear, including you).

This is why it was disheartening, but also unsurprising, to read the survey conducted by Public Policy Polling that found that among the Trump voters surveyed, over half said that their support for the president's executive order on immigration was at least in part due to the horrors of "the Bowling Green Massacre."

I would have thought by now that everyone on the planet Earth who has not been in a cave for the last three weeks would know that the "Bowling Green Massacre" is an invention of Kellyanne Conway, the Trump spokesperson whose grasp of the truth is so tenuous that if she said the sky was blue, the chance of it being some other color is nearly 100%.  She talked about the mythical attacks by Iraqi immigrants in Bowling Green, Kentucky on three separate occasions (so much for it being a "slip"), despite the fact that no one in Bowling Green has the slightest clue what she's talking about.

Of course, the problem is, the people who were already primed to believe her accepted it without question, and even after it was shown that she had lied (three times) it was easier for them to conclude that everyone else was wrong.

Or, of course, that the lying, crooked media had covered up the story of the Massacre.  Just two days ago a Facebook friend of mine posted a screed about how she and her husband are cancelling their subscription to the local newspaper because "all they print is lies" and "it totally has a liberal bias" and "it does nothing but slander the president."  (And allow me to add that we're not talking The New York Times or The Washington Post here; this is a town newspaper in the Deep South.  Rampant liberal bias down there, apparently, despite the fact that the whole area is as hardcore Republican as you can get.)

[Public Domain image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons]

Fact resistance is getting to be a real problem.  For example, ask most people -- actually, on either side of the aisle, because I think this is a common misconception -- why we should restrict immigration.  Usually the first answer is "jobs," but a close second is "crime."  Those immigrants are poor, and besides, they don't have our 'Murikan sense of morals and ethics.  Invite 'em in, and watch the violent crime rise.

However, the facts don't support this.  Actually, they support the opposite contention, as counterintuitive as that might be.  A study just released last week in the Journal of Ethnicity in Criminal Justice, which looked at the last forty years of trends, found that there is no connection between immigrants and higher crime rate.  Lead author Robert Adelman, professor of sociology at the University of Buffalo, said:
Facts are critical in the current political environment.  The empirical evidence in this study and other related research shows little support for the notion that more immigrants lead to more crime...  Our research shows strong and stable evidence that, on average, across U.S. metropolitan areas crime and immigration are not linked.  The results show that immigration does not increase assaults and, in fact, robberies, burglaries, larceny, and murder are lower in places where immigration levels are higher... 
This is a study across time and across place and the evidence is clear.  We are not claiming that immigrants are never involved in crime.  What we are explaining is that communities experiencing demographic change driven by immigration patterns do not experience significant increases in any of the kinds of crime we examined.  And in many cases, crime was either stable or actually declined in communities that incorporated many immigrants.
The problem is, it is unlikely that this will make any difference at all.  The connection between immigrants and crime has been so tightly welded in the American mind by people like Conway and her boss, Donald Trump (think of his repeated use of the phrase "bad hombres" to refer to Mexicans), that a little thing like forty years' worth of data won't make the slightest dent in their certainty.  It seems like immigrants would be likely to commit crimes; therefore it must be true.

Evidence be damned.

I wish I had some kind of clever idea what to do about this.  The fact that a dishonest spokesperson for the current administration has a significant fraction of Americans believing in a violent attack that never happened makes me wonder if it can be fixed.  It'd be nice if people were more prone to looking at the facts and saying, "Well, okay, I guess I was wrong, then," but the sad truth is that people are way more likely to say, "Nope.  Nope nope nope.  These 'facts' have to be wrong."

All of which reinforces one thing in my mind; the most important thing we need to be doing in public schools is to teach critical thinking.  Information, long the currency of educators, needs to take second seat to thinking skills and methods for evaluating evidence.  Hell, the kids in my biology class can look up the definition of "endoplasmic reticulum" in twenty seconds flat on their cellphones if they need to know it.  What can't be looked up is skepticism as a way of thinking, the ability to question what you're reading or hearing, the understanding that media is inherently slanted and if all you do is listen to MSNBC or Fox News you're not getting the whole story -- that's the stuff they need to have solidly under their belt before they go out into the real world.

And become the next generation of voters.  Which privilege, it is devoutly to be wished, they will exercise more carefully than the current generation has.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

The devil made me do it

One of the human tendencies I find the hardest to comprehend is the bafflement some people feel when they find out that there are people who disagree with them.

Being a center-left atheist from conservative, Christian southern Louisiana, I have never been under the illusion that everyone agrees with me.  Further, I am convinced that the people who do disagree with me are, by and large, good, kind, honest people who believe what they do for their own heartfelt reasons.  While we've come to differing conclusions about the way the universe works and how governance should happen down here on Earth, mostly we respect each other despite our differences, and mostly we get along pretty well.

But there's a contingent on both sides of the spectrum who seem entirely incredulous that people who disagree with them actually exist.  And I ran into several interesting examples of this just yesterday, revolving around leaders of the Religious Right who are so befuddled by the fact that there are folks who don't support Donald Trump that they can only explain it by proposing that said dissenters are motivated by Satan.

Starting with Pastor Lance Wallnau, who was asked on The Jim Bakker Show what he thought about the Donald Trump's inauguration.  Wallnau replied:
What I believe is happening is there was a deliverance of the nation from the spirit of witchcraft in the Oval Office.  The spirit of witchcraft was in the Oval Office, it was about to intensify to a higher level demon principality, and God came along with a wrecking ball -- Trump -- and shocked everyone, the church cried out for mercy and bam—God knocked that spirit out, and what you’re looking at is the manifestation of an enraged demon through the spirit.
So, of course, only people under the influence of the devil himself would object to all of this.  About the Women's March on Washington, he said that the people who showed up to celebrate Trump were motivated by god, and the people who protested... weren't:
[The crowd that chered at the inauguration] was, in a great measure, the Christian community showing up in Washington to celebrate God’s intervention...  The people attending Trump’s inauguration represented the people of God that went to Washington to celebrate the mercy of God... those who went to the following day’s Women’s March on Washington were the people of the devil that came in order to fight it.
Wallnau isn't the only one who ascribes criticisms of Trump to a demonic source.  Rick Wiles, conspiracy theorist par excellence and purveyor of End Times nonsense, said that Satan was involved -- but so was Satan's right-hand man here on Earth, none other than Barack Obama:
We are witnessing a full-blown Marxist/communist resistance movement, a revolution in America.  The chief banker funding the Purple Revolution is billionaire George Soros and the chief community organizer directing the insurrection in the streets is none other than Barack Hussein Obama …  My gut feeling says Barack Obama is on the phone day and night and he is directing the protests, he is organizing, he is giving clear instructions to the people what to do and how to carry it out.

This is outright sedition, and we have laws in the United States against sedition….  What the Democrats are doing, and the news media and the Obamanista bureaucrats inside the government agencies, what they are doing is, these are acts of sedition. 
You wanna get God worked up?  You know what sedition reminds Him of?  Lucifer.  It all goes back to Lucifer because what Lucifer did in heaven was commit sedition …  So all acts of sedition are inspired by Lucifer. 
Those who are opposing Trump are not only breaking the laws against sedition, but are also breaking God’s laws.
Not to be outdone, Pat Robertson had to join in the fray, and said this week on his show The 700 Club that not only are the protests motivated by Satan, they're not even real:
They’re paid for, many of them, and George Soros and those like him are paying the bill to make all these demonstrations look like the nation is rising up against this ban; it’s not. The people of America want to be safe from terrorists.
Okay, it's not that I expect these three guys and others like them to do anything but celebrate Trump from the rooftops, although I am still a little mystified at how the family-values, Ten-Commandments-touting, live-like-Jesus Christian Right ever embraced someone like Donald Trump in the first place.  Given that now Trump is their Golden Boy, I suppose they have their reasons.  But what I completely fail to understand is how you can be so wedded to your worldview that the only way you can conceive of people disagreeing with you is by postulating that they must be motivated by Satan.

Or, at the very least, Barack "Antichrist" Obama.


I've recommended more than once Kathryn Schulz's amazing TED Talk "On Being Wrong," in which she makes a powerful case that we not only need to be aware that others can disagree with us without their being stupid, evil, deluded, or immoral, but that considering the possibility that we ourselves might be wrong about our views is one of the most mind-altering, liberating steps we can take.  In any case, being so invested in our theories that we have to ascribe our own views to god and our opponents' views to the devil seems to me to be so arrogant as to be entirely incomprehensible.

So maybe there are people whose existence baffles me, after all.