Tag Archive: Jeff Wagg

God & Pizza in Vermont

(Submitted by friend of the blog, Alison Smith)

My friend Jeff Wagg and I both worked at the James Randi Educational Foundation for some time. We were close enough that we often had yelled debates over the phone – and the most popular conversation between us was about a higher power. Unlike many of my friends in the critical thinking world, I am not an atheist – though characterizing my form of belief is rather difficult.

One day, Jeff and I were winding down from one of these debates, and, tired of the argument, Jeff said, “I would believe in God if pizza showed up on my doorstep.” (I should add that he insists he said ‘a pizza’).

Immediately, I began to plan. Jeff lived in the middle of nowhere in Vermont. Pizza places didn’t deliver to him, and the nearest restaurant was something like half an hour away. I, at the time, lived in Texas – so I couldn’t shuttle a pizza over, either.

But we did have a mutual friend in New Hampshire – one that was driving over to visit Jeff soon – and she was the nice sort of person who would do a favor if asked. I called her and asked that, along the way, she stop off and get pizza to take to Jeff. I didn’t tell her the reason, or the source of the issue. I am not sure, even now, if she knew at the time that I wasn’t an atheist. She did agree to get the pizza, and I sat back, like a villain in a comic book, with a bit of maniacal laughter.

On the way to Jeff’s house, our friend stopped off to get the pizza and while there saw a greeting card she liked. She bought it, wrote in it, and added it to the pizza to take to Jeff. He opened it, and was amazed. So am I – even still.

The front of the card was the painting ‘The Creation of Adam’ – where God is reaching out to Adam, and Adam is reaching back. However, in this interpretation, their hands were not empty. God held out a pizza, and Adam held out money. On the inside, our friend wrote, “And God said, ‘Let there be pizza!'”

Jeff is still an atheist, though – because our friend didn’t get him ‘a pizza’, as he claims he said. She got slices.

Go figure.

Below are the extended notes provided by Barbara Drescher for use in Skepticality Episode 185. Take a look and leave your comments below.

As cute, funny, and amazing as this story is, the ‘amazing’ part does not hold up to scrutiny. The author notes that arguments about the existence of God were common between he and Jeff. It’s likely that Jeff had discussions about religion with others as well. Given that the woman who visited Jeff is a mutual friend, the odds are pretty good that the friend was an atheist or at least enjoyed discussions about religion herself. When she saw the card, she knew that Jeff would appreciate that humor, and the fact that she was bringing him pizza made the card funnier, even though she did not know that the pizzahad anything to do with a discussion about God. This is a case in which shared interests and values are responsible for the friendships the three shared, making the odds of something like this happening much greater than they appear. Great story, but not ‘crazy’ odds. 

Prehistoric Dreams

(Submitted by reader Jeff Wagg)

Last summer, I surprised my girlfriend with a mystery trip to St. Louis. She agreed to get in the car without knowing our destination, and as I drove the five hours south, she watched the signs and tried to guess where we were going. By the time we hit Dwight, IL, she had it figured out.

My primary destination was an amazing place called simply “City Museum.” This rather mundane and non-descriptive title belies the wonders waiting inside.

Housed in a large old shoe factory, City Museum features airplanes suspended in mid-air, connected by human-sized habitrails. A school bus leans over the side of the building, and you’re invited to sit in the driver’s seat and open the door at the 150 foot drop. Inside is the world’s largest pencil, a ten story spiral slide, a circus, a carnival sideshow, an architectural museum, and a complex network of caves and tree houses all connected by tunnels, bridges and secret passages.

The things listed above account for about 5% of what this unique place offers.

Jen (my girlfriend) was very interested in the tunnels, but as I had badly twisted my ankle in a cave earlier in the day, I was taking it easy in a room filled with waterways and dinosaurs. As I’m wont to do, I checked Twitter to see what was going on in the world, and I saw a tweet that amazed me.  It was from Magician and magic designer Andrew Mayne, and though I don’t have a copy of the actual tweet, it went something like this:

“I just had a dream about a white pterodactyl. It was so real.”

This doesn’t seem like unusual dreamtime fare for a magician, but the amazing part was that directly above me, at the exact moment he tweeted  that short message was this:

@Andrewmayne umm, are you following me?

Andrew and I are friends, but we’re not super close friends and I doubt he even knew I was in St. Louis. I know of no webcams at City Museum, and even if he did know I was there, the place is large enough that his assumption that I’d be in the same room with, nevermind standing underneath, a life-sized pterodactyl of the unusual color “white” would be amazing in itself.

My best explanation is that this truly was a coincidence, and while I could point out the fact that Andrew has hundreds and hundreds of Twitter followers, and that the chances of any one of them finding some connection to one of his tweets is quite likely, the specificity of this particular coincidence is such that I felt it worthy of inclusion here.

By the way, if you’d like a great opportunity to see the City Museum, some of us are putting on a first-year conference there, called the College of Curiosity. It’s on May 26th, and will last ALL DAY. I promise you’ll leave having experienced things you’ve never imagined.

That is, unless you’re a sleeping magician.

[EDITOR: First off, this place sounds FANTASTIC. If I had any chance of being in town for that event, I’d definitely be there. Sounds like something you could visit over and over again and never run out of new things to see. As for the actual story, well… this one’s really hard to put clear thoughts behind. We can try to start listing out the number of people Jeff follows on Twitter, the average numbers of tweets across those people, and all sorts of other factors, but it falls apart when you start dealing with what people DREAM about. A pterodactyl? I can’t imagine people don’t regularly dream about the critters, but it’s still likely a pretty small number of people each night. And a white one at that? Far more specific. The timing of it being the night before Jeff went is pretty interesting, but then you realize if the dream ever occurs it will ALWAYS be the night before probably hundreds or thousands of people visit this museum. So then we have to come around to the fact that someone who specifically follows Andrew was at the museum the next day. Slimmer margin, although he does have nearly 4,000 followers. And finally the fact that Jeff happened to look at Twitter at that moment. Would it have counted if he had looked at it five minutes later, though? Probably. Saw the pterodactyl five minutes later? Just as likely. Then we can start adjusting to any of the other odd attractions in the place and things people dreamed about. With tweaks and modifications you can find that a lot of variations would have garnered the exact same reaction, raising the odds that SOMETHING would have gotten this amazing coincidence from SOMEONE. That someone happened to be our friend Jeff. And to him it was crazy. And it is to us, too. – Jarrett

And we don’t mind at all promoting The College of Curiosity – in fact, curiosity is our favorite educational resource! – Wendy]