Poe’s Law

PZ watches a clip from a creationist video game and wonders:

Now here’s the question: is this the work of a sincere creationist, or is this the product of the evil atheist conspiracy, made with the intent of making creationists look like talentless, tasteless hacks? I can’t tell.

This is an example of Poe’s Law: “Without the use of a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is impossible to make a parody of Fundamentalism that someone won’t mistake for the real thing.”


  1. #1 Cody
    January 21, 2008

    That’s closely related to Russell’s Law: “It is impossible to distinguish a creationist from a parody of a creationist.”

    I’ve been unable to determine the origin of the name for Russell’s Law; do you know where you first heard Poe’s Law?

  2. #2 Sigmund
    January 22, 2008

    I remember a few years back when a few friends of mine found a particularly nasty fundie messageboard and tried to enter a debate with them. As you might expect if you have any experience of these types of sites as soon as they started to use reason, logic and evidence in their messages they were ‘spotted’ as non-fundie troublemakers and banned. We then started to have a competition to see who could stay on the board the longest and I stumbeled onto the fact that all you needed to do to stay under their radar was to appear stupid but agree with them. I literally couldn’t post anything so ridiculous or nasty that it would get me banned or even questioned as a fundamentalist so long as I acted dumb and on their side. There seems to be an implicit acceptance amongst them that a lot of other fundies are indeed quite thick. They put up with complete racist, bigoted, homophobic(well, no surprise there!) and quite frankly surreally stupid posts, all without accusing me of parodying their site! My other friends joined in and turned the site into such an in-joke that we all had to out ourselves after about a week (we outed ourselves in an online Sinatra ‘My Way’ thread)as it was becoming too addictive.

  3. #3 Josh Rosenau
    January 22, 2008

    Cody, neither term exists in the Talk.origins jargon file, making it tricky to track the authenticity of either. I’ve heard of Russell’s law as well, though somehow I hear about Poe’s more often.

  4. #4 HP
    January 22, 2008

    I was reading up on this just the other day, but today my Google-fu is weak.

    At first I thought maybe Poe’s Law was named for Edgar Allen Poe, who after all, had written some pieces which were widely believed to be true at the time of publication (e.g., “The Great Balloon Hoax,” “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar”), and when he revealed that he was the author, and they were works of fiction, people actually argued with him that he (Poe) was wrong, and the articles were genuine accounts.

    Then there’s a 19th c. theologian named Poe (William Poe? I don’t know, and it’s not in Wikipedia, and I can’t remember where it was), who had some theological Poe’s Law that said that portions of scripture assume different importance depending on local culture and history or something like that.

    Finally, there’s Russell’s Law, as stated by Cody above. But that’s as far as I got before I gave up. I suspect that the modern, satirical Poe’s Law is a conflation of Russell’s Law and the older, non-ironic Poe’s Law, although that presumes a bit too much arcane knowledge on the part of Internet wags.

  5. #5 Josh Rosenau
    January 23, 2008

    Dude, never underestimate the arcane knowledge of net.wags. Just sayin’.

  6. #6 MartinM
    January 24, 2008

    Poe’s Law was coined at christianforums.com, by a poster named Nathan Poe.

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