Skepticon Reflections

Last weekend, I once again attended Skepticon in Springfield, MO.  I would link to the website, but it’s apparently expired sometime in the last few days.  This was a the third year the conference has been held, and it’s been bigger every year.  The first year, it was just Carrier and PZ, who were great.  Last year, it expanded to two days, and this year it was three.  I really hope it continues to grow, as it’s really nice to be able to spend some time around like-minded individuals.

That said, the conference had one major problem this year: it allowed itself to be defined by some criticism that occurred before the conference started by someone who wasn’t even attending.  The criticism was that the conference would have been better named “atheistcon” instead of “Skepticon.”  I really think this criticism is pretty ridiculous, so I’m not going to spend time talking about it here, especially after hearing so many people talk about it at the conference, especially DJ Grothe and Randi.  They both seemed very defensive to me and I didn’t understand it at all.

Phrases like “atheism is skepticism about only one thing” and “I’m an atheist because there is no evidence” were hammered on so much, I just wanted to yell “get on with it.”  I mean, it’s 2010, is this really an issue?  Was this actually unclear to anyone?  Never-the-less there were some really good points made, and it was great to hear Randi in person.

DJ Grothe made a really good point that I had to applaud.  He said that he would rather hang out with someone who is skeptical about everything but god than someone who is skeptical about only god.  Examples given were Bill Maher, who is a prominent atheist, but pushes some really bone-headed ideas, compared to Martin Gardner, who was very skeptical, but believed in a deist god never-the-less.  I couldn’t agree with this sentiment more.  I’ve stopped going to some of the local skeptical meetups because they are populated with people whose only concern is religion and have really strange ideas about other things.

Don’t get me wrong, Religion is an important topic to discuss and be skeptical of, but listening to atheists who believe the crap about vaccines and autism, or push Zeitgeist as a good source for information is not my idea of fun.  I’m not going to accept atheism as ‘good enough.’  The end goal is skepticism.

There were several speakers at the conference I had never heard of before.  The best speaker at the conference was John Corivino, a philosophy professor, gay rights activist and skeptic.  It’s safe to say that I’m now a fan, and I hope to get more opportunities to hear him speak.  His best trait?  The ability to effectively explain and communicate nuance.

David Fitzgerald was someone else who I hadn’t really heard of before.  He gave a talk on the historicity of Jesus which was very good.  He has a book out called “Nailed: Ten Christian Myths that show Jesus never existed at all.”  After hearing his talk, it’s definitely on my wishlist.  The historicity of Jesus is a topic that’s very interesting to me, even though it has a reputation of being somewhat ‘out there.’   In the last decade or so, it looks like the scholarly case for a mythical Jesus has really been put together, though, and can hold up to criticism.  I would go so far as to even call it compelling.

Other new speakers included Debbie Goddard, Amanda Marcotte, and Greta Christina.  These talks were all very good, though I don’t have much to say about them.  Marcotte’s presentation on Skepticism and Feminism was very good to hear.  I haven’t paid much attention to feminism; it just isn’t something that I’ve been interested in, but after hearing her talk, I think it’s something I should be interested in.  It’s important, and I should learn more.

I did have an interesting conversation with a Christian who stopped to witness to me in the hotel.  It was very cordial, even though his accusations of “you never really were a real christian” irked me.  Who is he to say that?  I didn’t go that route, though, and I think we had a pretty good conversation.  I was helped by the fact that he had a background in psychology, so I was able to bring up our cognitive biases when he started talking about ‘evidence’ for god.  He didn’t really have a reply to that, and kept complaining about superficial christians.  I don’t think either mind changed at all, but these are the conversations we need to be having.

Overall, the conference was great.  We had some of Ray Comfort’s people outside handing out copies of their annotated Origin of Species, and there was a gun show right next door.  Other than the expected “you’re going to hell” accusations, everything was very civil.  I can’t wait to attend again next year.