On August 10, 2005, on the Christian Forums website, a Creationist wondered how apes could possibly come into existence if they only ever mated with their own species. Evolution was clearly wrong because this was a logical impossibility!
A lot of commenters attempted to explain why this was a complete misunderstanding of how evolution works. While some of them were serious, others just mocked the Creationist, in some cases, by imitating her irrational thinking. After one commenter included a 😉 emoticon, someone else responded with: “Good thing you included the winky. Otherwise people might think you are serious.”
And then Nathan Poe jumped in:
Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is uttrerly impossible to parody a Creationist in such a way that someone won’t mistake for the genuine article.
It wasn’t the first time someone had made that point, but this time, it was spelled out and had a name attached.
A day later, the thread died out… but Poe’s Law soon took on a life of its own.
Papers have been written about it. Atheists who spend any time online know the definition when they hear it. Whenever there are articles online that make religious seem ridiculous, you’ll inevitably see comments that simply say “Poe.”
(Coincidentally, two months after Poe’s comment, we saw the premiere of The Colbert Report, where Stephen Colbert parodied a right-winger while (almost) never breaking character. Talk about the law in action!)
I still get emails to this day with links to Landover Baptist Church asking me if an article there is for real. Same thing with weird faith-based products — like the Christian version of Tinder. You don’t know if it’s a genuine parody or Fundies acting fundie.
I missed the ten-year anniversary of the definition earlier this week, but let’s all take a moment of silence in honor of Nathan Poe for his contribution to society.
(I tried getting in touch with him a few months ago to get his thoughts on the matter but didn’t get a response.)