Magic Seeds and Spiders in Nutshells

March 20, 2020

Check this out: WE ARE HELPING. The superhero of education, the Avenger of Evolution, Bertha Vazquez, has put together a six-hour guided lesson on evolution for students stuck at home because of the coronavirus…and she’s got two versions of it! One for middle school, another for high school.

At Newsweek, Andrew Whalen looks at the alt-med “talismans” emerging in response to the coronavirus era, from plague masks to magic amulets:

… maybe the strangest is an amulet [17th century author Robert] Burton describes his mother using to treat fevers: a spider, trapped in a nutshell and wrapped in silk. But while it’s unlikely to catch on today, Burton’s reaction to his mother’s spider amulet carries with it a cautionary tale for our modern reaction to the coronavirus pandemic. …

… This appeal to antiquity remains a potent source of misinformation today: treatments that are described as ancient are assumed to have some efficacy, otherwise why would we have used it for so long?

As a sales tactic, it can be especially potent when wielded by scammers and practitioners of alternative medicine. Silver has a long history of medical use, since the metal is toxic to bacteria, but its uses as an antibiotic are dubious. Nevertheless, alternative medicine peddlers have heralded colloidal silver as a cure-all for all sorts of maladies, including as a treatment for the coronavirus.

Told to stop selling his fake coronavirus cure, Jim Bakker—and I wish I was kidding about this—now moves to selling magic seeds. I assume he sold his cow in the forest to get them.

Meet Tom Kawcyznski (or maybe don’t), a white nationalist who is positioning himself to followers as a coronavirus expert, even though he’s obviously not. The Daily Beast reports:

Kawcyznski advocates for the creation of the “Arboreal Kingdom of New Albion,” a currently fictional, 95-percent white monarchy he imagines cobbling out of parts of Canada and New England after social collapse. The Southern Poverty Law Center lists his New Albion group as a white nationalist hate group. …

… By publishing a hastily written book on Amazon about the coronavirus, Kawcyznski joined a flood of dubious experts self-publishing coronavirus books on the internet retail giant. In Kawcyznski’s book, which he initially published under a pseudonym, he doesn’t discuss his background in the white nationalist movement.

Elon Musk, who I guess knows everything, says in a tweet that “kids are essentially immune” to COVID-19. This is false. Twitter has a policy of taking down posts like this. Like, literally like this. Here’s one of the examples Twitter cites:

Denial of established scientific facts about transmission during the incubation period or transmission guidance from global and local health authorities, such as “COVID-19 does not infect children because we haven’t seen any cases of children being sick.”

But as The Verge reports, Musk’s tweet stays:

“When reviewing the overall context and conclusion of the Tweet, it does not break our rules, the company said in a statement to The Verge. “We’ll continue to consult with trusted partners such as health authorities to identify content that is most harmful.”

Billionaire exemption?

Facebook doesn’t seem to be having too much luck in the effort to stop misinformation, per the Detroit Free Press:

Despite Facebook’s efforts to limit the spread of coronavirus misinformation and a crackdown on fraudulent treatment claims, they are still circulating. Folks have been sharing and cutting and pasting them into their pages and in groups.

There is a sad irony in the coronavirus era wherein churches start demanding respect for church-state separation. I think we’ll see a lot more of this kind of thing, where churches—and not just the crazy ones—bristle at lockdowns and other limitations. Here’s a report from the Omaha World-Herald on Nebraska’s attorney general taking calls from folks about the new rules:

The most interesting question came from the Omaha pastor who didn’t want to curtail or cancel his worship services on Sundays. He earnestly asked Kleine whether the government’s limit was legal.

“Doesn’t that violate the separation of church and state?” he asked.

Kleine’s response: The government is worried about the state of your parishioners’ health.

And in crises like these, Kleine said, both state and federal law give public health agencies the power to issue directed health measures to regulate organizations.

They could have used some restrictions on religious gatherings a few weeks ago in Malaysia, where pilgrims of the Tablighi Jamaat movement congregated at one mosque. Hannah Beech at the New York Times reports:

Three weeks later, participants in the 16,000-strong gathering of the world’s biggest Islamic missionary movement had spread the coronavirus to half a dozen nations, creating the largest known viral vector in Southeast Asia.

More than 620 people connected to the four-day conclave have tested positive in Malaysia, prompting the country to seal its borders until the end of the month. Most of the 73 coronavirus cases in Brunei are tied to the gathering, as are 10 cases in Thailand. At least two coronavirus deaths have been linked to the event.

“We talked about religious concepts and our faith in God, not the coronavirus,” said El Matly, a Cambodian seller of used phones who participated in the conclave.

Way to go, guys.

Nonetheless, here’s some folks in New Hampshire who think gathering close together in a room for Jesus is more important than not-dying. The AP reports:

David Binford, Eric Couture and Holly Rae Beene filed a lawsuit Tuesday, the day after Republican Gov. Chris Sununu issued the order prohibiting large scheduled gatherings for social, spiritual and recreational activities. They argue there is no emergency, and that the governor is violating their constitutional rights.

“We can choose to assemble if that is our desire. What cannot occur is one man in a position of power deciding to strip us of our rights in the name of safety and without due process,” Couture said in press release.

“No emergency”!!! I can’t even.

Even Narendra Modi, whose Hindu nationalist movement rejects fundamental tenets of science, is telling Indians to stay home, and is trying to convince folks not to take part in a celebration of the god Ram, which involves a pilgrimage by hundreds of thousands.

Paula White is moving from “cynical grifting” to “pathetic desperation.” Via Friendly Atheist, we learn she told her flock:

As of yesterday, the IRS is allowing people to, for 90 days, past that April 15th, they’re not going to have to pay their taxes right on April — it’s 15th, isn’t it, usually? — so there’s that 90-day deferment. So we believe that there’s gonna be ways — this is not the time to come out of covenant with God.

We have to pay insurance. Our insurance is $5,100 here. And it’s like, that’s a lot of money, you know? And so, I always say, we’re a smaller ministry but we have big impact.

The pope and Italy’s bishops are asking everyone to recite the rosary from home to pray for God to stop the coronavirus. I mean, that’s fine, but you could have asked him sooner is all I’m saying.

At The Conversation, Jérôme Viala-Gaudefroy of Université Paris Nanterre goes through the multitude of surveys and polls to look at how religion will shape the U.S. presidential election:

If you have doubts about the relevance of religion in politics in the United States, just look at the US governing bodies. The 116th American Congress is more diversified on the religious level, but remains overwhelmingly Christian (88% against 71% of the adult American population).

Only one elected representative, Senator Kyrsten Sinema (Democrat of Arizona), claims to be nonreligious and no member describes themselves as an atheist. Even someone as far to the left as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez mentions her Catholic faith in Congress and even quotes the Bible on social networks.

Wendy M. Grossman talks to Atheist Ireland’s Michael Nugent for Skeptical Inquirer about the changes he’s witnessed and helped bring about:

One of the most significant joint campaigns was the successful effort to remove the law against blasphemy from the statute books. This, too, was the subject of a 2018 referendum. The law removing it passed early in 2020.

“It’s one of our big achievements as Atheist Ireland,” Nugent says. “It was always being used by Islamic states to justify what they were doing—’There’s a Western democracy with a law against blasphemy. Why are they telling us we can’t?’” At one stage, he says, Islamic states, led by Pakistan, were using the Irish law’s wording as a model for what they wanted around the world. “Now it’s gone.” You can hear him smiling over the phone.

Remember that judge in Texas who was scolded by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct for refusing to officiate same-sex marriages? He’s suing the commission for violating his rights. What? Courthouse News reports:

He plans to seek re-election in 2022 and intends to campaign as an opponent of same-sex marriage and the “living-constitutional mindset” that resulted in the Obergefell ruling.

Gotta have someone to hate at, right?


Linking to a story or webpage does not imply endorsement by Paul or CFI. Not every use of quotation marks is ironic or sarcastic, but it often is.