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.

God is not Necessary


It was once nearly universal that people believed that god existed, and that without god, life would be chaos.  That time is in the past.  Recent data has shown that somewhere between fifteen and twenty percent of americans are non-religious, placing this group in second place in terms of population.  Only Christianity as a group can claim higher numbers.  But that’s tricky, because Christians are great at fighting between themselves.  Are the Catholics really Christians?  How about Calvinists?  Or Mormons?  Or Fundamentalist? Or evangelicals?  When you break down Christianity into incompatible subgroups that love to hate each other, the non-religious numbers more than many of them.  There’s all sorts of interesting things to consider about these statistics, but I’ll have to take those up in another post.  This post it aimed at posing a simple question:

In a nation where around one out of every six people are non-religious, why are things as ordered as they are?

While you’re thinking about that, consider these numbers as well.  If you don’t want to take the time to read it, it talks about the disparity between the religious percentages in society and in prison.  Outside of prison, the non-religious number one out of six.  Inside prison, the non-religious number around one in 500.  If it’s true that non-belief leads to chaos and anarchy, why aren’t the prisons overflowing with the non-religious?  Why are our prisons instead overflowing with people who claim belief in god?

Another example is Norway.  Norway is over 70% atheist.  According to the theory that god is necessary for morality and meaning, we would expect Norway to be anarchy and a hell hole.  But that is not the case.  Norway is one of the most responsible and peaceful nations in the world.   The hypothesis that god is necessary for morality and meaning is falsified by this evidence.

The fact of the matter is that god is not necessary for living a moral and meaningful life.

Is god necessary for you to love your family?  If you discovered that god did not exist, would you suddenly hate your wife, your husband, your sister, or your brother?  How about your children?  Would you kick them to the curb if you discovered Richard Dawkins is correct, and god was only a delusion?

Would you find your hobbies suddenly unfulfilling?  Would fishing become a chore?  Or hiking?  Or watching your favorite sports team?

Would you no longer donate to charity?  Would you ignore someone broken down on the side of the road?  Would you decide not to help your neighbor change their tire?

Would you decide that it’s now okay to steal whatever you want, to rape and murder whoever you want?

If you’re anything like everyone I know, your answer to every one of those questions is ‘no.’  And that’s my point.  God isn’t necessary for any of those things.  So let’s stop pretending that it is.  I know how the religious are stuck to their beliefs, but please, why don’t you reconsider this particular belief.

Looking at the ‘verse

Cailin has written a great description of what it’s like to look up (and around) at the awesome beauty of the Universe we live in:

These are the moments that fill me with the greatest pleasure and wonder, my appreciation for my own existence swells within me and I feel my eyes glaze with tears of joy and sorrow.

I once read a comment by someone made when viewing a beautiful sunset.  They said, ‘How can anyone look at something so beautiful and think there is no god?’  I didn’t say anything, but I was thinking, ‘Why would I want to pollute something so wonderful with something so ugly?’

Via The Friendly Atheist.

This I believe

By Penn Jillette

“Having taken that step, it informs every moment of my life. I’m not greedy. I have love, blue skies, rainbows and Hallmark cards, and that has to be enough. It has to be enough, but it’s everything in the world and everything in the world is plenty for me. It seems just rude to beg the invisible for more. Just the love of my family that raised me and the family I’m raising now is enough that I don’t need heaven. I won the huge genetic lottery and I get joy every day. “

Atheists are often accused of being arrogant, which is rather strange when you think about it.