Outreach Report: Stonewall Corn and Apple?

That seems like a strange title for this report, but it was a busy August for HAAM as we did two outreach events back to back – at Stonewall Quarry Days and the Morden Corn and Apple Festival. Six days of outreach within two weeks felt like one big long event, and it was hard not to mix up the two festivals. On Friday morning of the Morden outreach, I actually turned up Highway 7 for about 100 m to drive to Stonewall (call it morning fog).  

Week One 

Stonewall Quarry Days was a first-time outreach for us. Stonewall is a small town just north of Winnipeg that is quickly becoming a bedroom community. If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say half its population makes the commute into Winnipeg for work. It’s not part of the Bible belt per se; however, it does have a lot of churches. We met quite a few like-minded thinkers there who hadn’t heard of HAAM, and as a result, I know there will be some new faces at our upcoming meetings and events. One fella I spoke with talked about starting a secular organization in Gimli, which would be terrific, but time will tell. 

Responses from the community 

Stonewall was a different outreach experience for me. It was first time that HAAM has held an outreach in a community populated with much of my extended (born-again Christian) family. That part actually went well; nephews and nieces stopped by and said hello. What was surprising were the reactions of other people I know in the community – people my age and older who would see me at the booth, make eye contact, and keep walking. One did take the time to stop and call us schmucks, and label Humanism as stupid. He came back the next day and apologized, but knowing the family, I’ll bet his wife made him… After years of talking to believers, it never ceases to amaze me how religious folks can completely lose their composure when they find out that somebody they’ve known for years is an atheist. I’m pretty sure I won’t be invited to barbeques at that guy’s place anymore, and if I am, the visit might take on a little different tone.  

Pastor Henry, a well-known retired pastor of New Life Church (the largest church in the community) stopped by the booth and chatted with me. He took the time to write about our conversation in a column in the Stonewall Argus newspaper. His report was relatively accurate, in my opinion; however, so much was left out that it leads one to a completely different understanding of the conversation, compared to what actually occurred. I felt it was worthy of a rebuttal, so I wrote a response to the paper.

Was our outreach in Stonewall worth the effort? Of course – I’m looking forward to seeing some of those new faces at upcoming meetings. 

Week Two 

One of our outreach workers trying to understand “creationist math”

Just a week later we were Morden for our annual Corn and Apple outreach. This was our seventh year there, and as far as I can recall it was our busiest and most productive. I think much of that success was related to the organizers’ decision to place us only two booths away from the Young Earth Creationist (YEC) trailer. This 17-foot tow-behind altar to stupidity, ignorance, and misinformation was a constant source of entertainment and traffic; both the YEC crowd, and our own target audience of humanists, atheists, and other like-minded thinkers. It’s my hope that with all the business cards we handed out for the Pembina Valley Secular Community, they will experience some substantial growth this year. 

Peddling creationism 

Being almost next-door to the creationist trailer, it was always interesting to see how they operate their outreach. A mostly friendly bunch worked Friday for the local crowd. In the daytime they set out little plastic dinosaurs and coloring books to entice the children and their parents to come in and see “real science”. On the weekend they changed things up for an influx of out-of-town folks; this setup consisted of a message board and a table where you could talk to a creationist. I spoke to a gentleman about where he got the data on population growth /death rates etc for his “mathematical proof” that we came from Adam and Eve. The best he could come up with was “it’s a conservative estimate”. Personally, after a little more discussion, his answer leads me to believe that it is a conservative estimate arrived at by pulling it out of his colon.  

Misrepresenting science 

The next question that day was “How do you have 65-million-year-old fossils that contain flesh, veins and blood cells, and DNA?” This was an attempt to misrepresent the 2005 work of Dr. Mary Schweitzer. I asked the gentleman at the booth if he was familiar with the work of Dr. Schweitzer, but he didn’t know who she was. Then I encouraged him to explain his question, asking “What do you tell the folks about blood, veins, and DNA found in the 65-million-year-old dinosaur bone”? After much deflection, I asked him even more directly “What do you think ‘flesh’ is in regards to the question?” “Not bone”, he replied. With a little more questioning and a little more obfuscation on his part, I could see he was getting agitated, because he was getting louder and beginning to Gish-gallop. So I left before causing an electrical fire in his brain. 

A very short time later, one of the creationist ladies brought me a free pamphlet that explained exactly what they’re teaching about Dr. Schweitzer’s work. The following is an excerpt from the pamphlet Reality Check: Round 2 – the Dating Game (published by the Somerset Bible Chapel). 

“In 2005, Dr. Mary Swcheitzer (sic) an american (sic) paleontologist, was the first to report finding soft red blood cells, stretchy blood vessels, collagen and DNA within the fossilized remains of a T-Rex… No fresh blood cells, soft tissue or intact DNA should be found in supposedly 65 million years (sic) old samples, basic chemistry and physics preclude it. So how can we find such soft tissue in such good condition? Obviously, the time when those animals died and were fossilized is much less than the supposedly 65 million years.” (emphasis mine)

Real science 

Talking to creationists and reading their literature would lead the layman to believe that, with a little salt and pepper, T-Rex’s “flesh” or “tissue” is ready for the barbecue. The actual science tells a different story. I’m no biologist or paleontologist, but anybody with Google and a modicum of scientific understanding can read about Dr. Schweitzer’s actual findings, and they are truly amazing. In her reports, flesh is not mentioned. The researchers had to dissolve rock and fossilized bone to uncover the structures they were looking at. 

– The “soft red blood cells” mentioned in the creationist pamphlet are actually heme, or the oxidized remnants of iron that was once in the blood. (Oxidized iron is commonly known as rust.) 
– The “stretchy blood vessels” are actually base proteins of collagen held together by their chemical bonds in a process we don’t completely understand (yet). 
– The “intact DNA” Is actually badly damaged, fragmented pieces of DNA found inside the collagen proteins.  

Dr. Schweitzer was even a guest speaker at the Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre in Morden recently.  

Lying for Jesus 

some of the creationist ‘literature’ we collected

It never ceases to amaze me how far creationists will go to lie for Jesus. If you enjoy reading creationist literature occasionally as I do, you will in short order notice that frequently, scientists’ names are misspelled, common names are used for scientific terms, and logical concepts are changed (e.g. a more obscure term is used, or a name is just completely made up). It’s common enough to cause one to wonder – Are they trying to change the language? Are they stupid? Or are they just trying to make it harder for people to look up accurate information? 

Visitors to the booth come in many varieties 

We have many visits to the booth by religious sorts, like the drive-by spitters (these people don’t actually spit at us, but their gestures suggest that they’d like to); the Catholics who believe that the church is ordained by God and what priests to do doesn’t matter; and of course, the many who feel that we just need Jesus! Then there are always the doctrinal disagreements that inevitably occur when two Christians from different sects visit the booth together. This year we had one Christian telling us that God sends us to hell, while the other asserted “no he doesn’t; we send ourselves”. They couldn’t seem to iron it out between themselves, but they were united in agreeing that we’re going there… somehow.  

But by far the most disturbing visit we had this August was near the end of the festival from a man and his wife? daughter? After his testimonial about how terrible he had been in his earlier life (he was a really bad dude who saw a death and did drugs… yada,yada…), he got Jesus. Right from the beginning this fella kind of gave us the creeps. Our feelings were confirmed when he turned to our outreach worker Tracy and said “Hey, you know you are really a beautiful woman, ya know the only thing stopping me from raping you is Jesus” My jaw was on the ground, but without missing a beat, Tracy says “If the only thing stopping you from raping me is Jesus, then you go right ahead and keep believing in him, and hold onto him tight”. After the guy left and the waves of creepiness dissipated, we all felt we needed a shower. 

Finding our people 

But outreach is not really about the creeps, the wacky, the delusional, or the intentionally dishonest. It’s about reaching out to our people – Humanists. To that end, I think we greatly increased the number of folks who showed interest in the Pembina Valley Secular Community. We actually found a secular counselor and therapist who resides and practices in the Morden/Winkler area. We even met some folks who would like to help out with outreach. One gentleman I talked to is a geneticist. He mentioned that he had had a conversation with the creationists, in which they asserted that they know something about genetics – and the look on their faces when he told them “actually, I am a geneticist.” I really wish I could’ve been there. 

Here’s to our volunteers 

Well that was two weekends and two outreaches. I’ve gotta thank all our volunteers: Tracy, Tony, Donna, Lawrence, Blaine, Dorothy, Adriana, Arthur, and Norm. Without all of you it wouldn’t be possible. We had lots of conversations, met a lot of new people, and I think significantly added to our Humanist community. 

– Pat Morrow

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