Skepticism

American Atheists in the Mini-apple

I attended the morning session of the American Atheists Conference in Minneapolis Friday.  Despite the fact that it was snowing like crazy, the turnout was fantastic, with about 500 pre-registered guests and quite a few who showed up last minute, we more than filled the large ballroom. It is always great to meet other people who share our views, especially when we can be made to feel so isolated sometimes in our everyday lives. Click here for pictures.

I wish my husband and I could have stuck around for the whole weekend, but we had to take off after Dawkins spoke as we had family obligations out of town. We did meet briefly with Dan (he goes by Dread Polack in these parts) while waiting in line for the book signing. Hi Dan! Sorry we couldn’t hang out longer. You seem cool (you do read Skepchick, after all). 

Ellen Johnson, president of American Atheists, kicked things off with a rousing and impassioned speech on political action, mainly addressing the fact that secular voters do represent a major voting block which should not be allowed to be ignored by politicians.  She called for solidarity and strength, urging atheists to remain engaged rather than giving up, especially in the face of flagrant constitutional violations, and to resist caving to our frustrations.

Dawkins was in his usual fantastic form. It was great to finally see him in person. His speech picked up some of the threads begun by Johnson’s, re-emphasizing and refining certain points. He called for atheists to pick our battles carefully, to strike where we can be most effective without coming off as whiny, but also to know when it is appropriate to be a bit more blunt. Dawkins responded to creationist calls to “teach the controversy” with a snarky imaginary journal on the controversy over the asteroid theory of dinosaur extinction.  It magnified the ridiculousness of the evolution/creation “debate” by simply moving the same concept to a different topic.  

He also discussed the importance of consciousness raising, especially in the religious labeling of children, and drove home the importance of teaching comparative religion, as this is one of the best ways to get people thinking critically about these matters (it was for me).  He called for the preservation of the bible as literature, and argued that it should be viewed as a source of (some) beautiful writings and a window into the lives of ancient people, not as a moral compass or a source of absolute truth.

After an interesting Q & A, we waited around to have our books signed.  They sort of herded everyone through, as I’m sure Dr. Dawkins was ready to eat lunch (I know we were), but we got to shake his hand and have a picture taken as he scribbled on our books.  I mentioned this blog to him, he said it sounded great…who knows if he’ll remember but, hey–I at least got the plug in there.  Overall, it was a fun and informative morning which has me even more excited for TAM 6 (if that’s even possible).

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4 Comments

  1. Hey, Carrie! Of course, I read Skepchick every day! I concur with your review, adding that the PZ fiasco was the highlight of the Dawkins’ talk (only ‘cuz I’ve heard much of his points already).

    I regret not getting to hang with people more. I sat at a table with some students from SD and Eddie Tabash (one of the speaker, as a matter of fact), and absolutely everyone I talked to was awesome. If this whole skepticism thing sticks to me, we’ll probably cross paths again :)

    Yeah, I wish I coulda’ stuck around longer, too. After lunch, I was feeling pretty worn out (early morning for me), so I went home for a nap. Sadly, Saturday morning, the alarm went off and I killed it and slept in :)

    One of the bennies of not being a religious type is not having to get out of bed for church :) If I didn’t know I could get most of the talks online (or versions of them), I’d probably have put in a greater effort.

    I’d LOVE to go to the amazing meeting some day. I’ll be saving my pennies for a day when my employment is a little less “in the air”.

    *Oh wow, they just mentioned PZ on NPR just now… something about an award?*

    Off to Pharyngula to find out what that’s all about…

  2. yeah–it was pretty great to hear dawkins’ take on the whole expelled fiasco. it’s hilarious how huge that thing has become, and not in a good way for the film, it seems.
    hope to see you around again sometime…

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