Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Sometimes accidental journeys bring you back to the beginning

You know when you start looking up the Wikipedia article for fly fishing and then you're somehow reading about Impressionism in Poland? It's even odder when that happens outside of the confounds of Wikipedia or Google. For example, look at the journey I took today:

1. My friend asked how I got interested in Evolution. I said I didn't remember how I was first introduced to it, but around age 14 I started thinking a lot of Intelligent Design arguments made sense. I asked my then Science Olympiad coach (former 7th grade science teacher) if he could explain how evolution worked to me, and he promptly explained why ID was bunk.

2. I remembered I wrote a debate paper for AP Composition near the end of my senior year of high school why Intelligent Design shouldn't be taught in school. Said teacher was a source (paper required one interview.)

3. I wondered if I ever wrote down my thoughts about Intelligent Design/Evolution/Atheism since I had a journal at the time. Old journal was terrifyingly emo, mildly hilarious, occasionally insightful, and full of emoticons and quizzes. It was also full of quotes from said teacher since I pretty much had the biggest crush on him for a long long time (I feel no fear admitting this because pretty much everyone in the universe knew about it, including him. Yeah, young girls aren't too subtle.).

4. Remembering he had a blog, I go to check if it was updated. Hadn't been updated since shortly after I graduated high school.

5. Wondering if he maybe kept the same username but moved to a different blog, I search for his username in Google. I see one of the links goes to Pharyngula, so I click.

6. I find this comment by him in late April, 2006:

Thanks for making available your presentation. As a science teacher, I recently recommended some links (including Pharyngula) to a student preparing a debate paper against teaching ID in science classrooms. Her paper was finished prior to this (and it was superb), but I will be sure she sees this piece.

Again, thanks.

That was him talking about my previously mentioned ID paper. My initial reaction was "Wow, he thought it was superb?!" with a sort of basking glow and those same girly butterflies in my stomach (old crushes die hard, I guess). But then it dawned on me. That's how I found Pharyngula. People were always asking me how I stumbled upon it, but I never could remember. It was the first blog I ever read, but did I Google it or what? But now I remember - he linked me to it for that project. He was also the one who introduced me to the Index to Creationist Claims.

When I think about it, that man affected my life in pretty much every way I could imagine. His class was the first time I really got interested in science. He made me fall in love with genetics, and in a year I will be going somewhere to get my PhD studying it. He was always there to answer my questions about evolution, and made me passionate about the surrounding debate. His encouragement of logical thinking helped me get out of my weird supernatural deist funk and back to being an atheist. He even linked me to Pharyngula, which would eventually motivate me to become an atheist activist and start a blog, and be the thing that made my blog somewhat popular. And on the risk of sounding creepy, he likely started my trend of being attracted to sarcastic, somewhat cocky, skeptical, scientific men.


Friend: He reads Pharyngula? PZ has linked to you a ton. What if he reads your blog?
Me: ...I would be honored, and he might be creeped out that I just wrote this big post about him.


  1. Hell of a story and one that got my cogs turning as well on my own beginnings as an atheist. Thanks.

  2. Very interesting post, Jen. It’s fun to hear your thoughts.

    I certainly remember how I myself was first introduced into the world of atheism, evolution, the dishonesty (and vileness) of Creationism and such crap in America, and so forth. Right about at last Christmas, actually, when, upon reading some Roger Ebert film reviews, I came across a journal entry of his – his long and wonderful attack on Ben Stein’s Expelled!. That set off a relatively long and convoluted journey, through Pharyngula (and other blogs), Talk.Origins’ Index Creationist Claims as well, and so forth. What can I say; I got hooked, and my interest in the evolution-vs.-Creationism “debate” has only solidified over time.

    It’s also when I realized I had been an atheist for a while without even noticing it. Huh. Of course, said atheism has only grown stauncher ever since, particularly since I myself started blogging (though for me, it’s just for the fun of expressing my thoughts and commentary, and especially, for laughing and insulting idiots who sorely deserve it).

    Anyway, thought this would be a nice place to share such thoughts. Hope I’m not hijacking or anything. =P

  3. My gateway to most of the skeptic and atheist movement was Star Wars vs. Star Trek debate.

  4. I'd be lying if I said that story didn't make my eyes a little wet.

    How awesome.

  5. Interestingly enough...I had one of those instances regarding him too.

    He talked about Sagan's Dragon with regards to scientific rigor. I didn't even think about how it was related to atheism and skepticism until I did some research on it years later.

  6. I think I discovered PZ by the time of the Crackergate, probably linked by Cory on Boingboing. Now, how I found Boingoboing I have no idea.

  7. I think I ws linked to Pharyngula through Ben Goldacre's mini-blog, but I don't recall the subject.

    But it was PeeZed that led me to Bad Astronomy because he linked to Phil a little later when he made a public and sincere apology.

    Nowhere near as awesome.

  8. 419 Eater got me started on my skepticism and atheism. I had the seeds of doubt planted by preachers back in high school but it took realizing how people easily tricked themselves. From 419 Eater I found Derren Brown and read his book. Everything started clicking from there. I am trying to remember how I got to PZ's first. I was there before Crackergate, I think it was a link to his place from the Expelled from Expelled.

    From PZ's I was introduced to Ray Comfort's irritable blog. That is where I found the Raytractors group which now have the SMRT forum, where I spend a lot of time online at.

    http://www.wearesmrt.com/bb/index.php - overt plug now.

  9. I'm a science teacher and this entry gives me hope. I'm constantly challenging kids to think for themselves, look at the DATA, and consider all sides, think about what you believe and see if it is supported...you know, science teachery stuff. I have to do it carefully, lest I incur the wrath of fundie parents. I have wondered if I have any influence at all - I can only hope that one of my students will end up being a science major and the head of their campus Atheist group.

  10. Great story. I've had quite a few teachers who had strong influences on me, but nothing this significant.

    It makes me think back to my own version, though. It was Douglas Adams who convinced me to self-identify as an atheist; the first openly atheistic writing I read was the transcript of Adams' Digital Biota speech shortly before his death (as published in The Salmon of Doubt). It was a different piece in that same book, where he was discussing why he uses the term atheist, that convinced me to start using it - one of those "Oh, wow, that's exactly what I am! There's a word for it?" type of moments.

    As for how I found Pharyngula, that's not nearly so spectacular. After the Expelled fiasco, there were quite a lot of links floating around, and one or another of them led me there.

  11. Stories like this warm the teacher's heart---thanks for sharing it. Some day soon after my dissertation is finally defended, I am hoping to spend some time on my own blog, paying tribute to the numerous powerfully important mentors I've had from the time I was 14 all the way until today. I feel so remarkably fortunate to have had so many who've meant so much to me.