This past weekend’s Skepticon II was so much fun that I wanted to do a quick wrap-up post about it.
Friday began with a debate between students on the topic of Does God Exist. On Twitter I joked that we’d know the answer depending on whether or not He showed up. He did not. QED.
The debate was okay, though the format didn’t allow for as much interaction between panelists or between panelists and the audience as I would have liked. I actually found one of the Christian students very likeableâ€“he even made a joke about how if Jesus had been hit by a donkey cart, he (the student) wouldn’t be on stage that day. The Christian panelists lobbied strongly for the idea of an absolute and unchanging morality established by the God of the Bible, and during Q&A I asked why the Christian idea of morality has changed so drastically since the Bible, since back then slavery was okay and for “adulterers” to be put to death. Did God change his mind later? I followed it up by asking if Jesus had been hit by a donkey card, would they wear a tiny donkey cart on chains around their necks?
They didn’t really answer the former question, and afterward the donkey cart guy came over to chat with me about it. I’m really annoyed because I filmed the discussion but lost the audio. His point was that people were only murdered for adultery before Jesus gave his life for their sins, and that now the punishment for such sins is less. I pointed out that there were other “sins” in the Bible that he’d probably not consider sins today. I used the example of a woman who is raped being punished, but it was suggested to me later that I’m misremembering my Biblical sins. However, the point stands with many other “sins,” like having sex with a menstruating woman, working on a Saturday, or for proselytizing. On the topic of slavery, he suggested that slavery wasn’t so bad back then, so those biblical verses referred to something very different from black slavery in the US. I disagreed but wasn’t able to say much more on the topic, because really? I pointed out that the customs may be different, but surely slavery was no walk in the park 2,000 years ago. It’s not all A Comedy of Errors, is it?
Anyway, briefly on to the other topics of the weekend. That debate was followed by a “pro” debate on the same subject between Christian intellectuals (please, no tired “oxymoron” jokes as it makes us all look bad) and Vic Stenger, Richard Carrier, and the event organizer JT Eberhard, and moderated by DJ Grothe. It was a cordial discussion but not much came out of it, for me at least. The Christians failed to offer anything concrete, and instead stuck to very philosophical arguments that seemed to dance around the subject. I’m hoping DJ or someone else posts something about the debate.
I missed JT’s talk that followed, and part of PZ Myers’ talk because we went to a brewpub for dinner and then got lost coming back and then got lost inside the god damn building. Yeah.
On Saturday, DJ Grothe gave a very interesting talk about morality, inspired by the previous day’s debates since he disagreed with a few of the views of even the atheists. He was defending the idea of an
absolute objective morality that man has evolved, as opposed to a purely relative morality. It’s not a topic I’m very familiar with, so I found it very interesting and only very occasionally over my head.
Vic Stenger then gave a talk titled The New Atheism: Taking a Stand for Science and Reason. Vic calls himself the stable boy of the Four Horsemen, but he proves he’s more than worthy to stand by their sides. He’s very quick and unafraid to represent atheistic ideas from a physicist’s perspective. The only thing I really disagreed with him on was his stance on marriage and surnames (ahem), which wasn’t actually a part of his talk but a spirited debate we had over cocktails Thursday night.
Next was Robert Price, who has this wonderful off-the-cuff style. He spoke on The Gospels and Thorough-going Skepticism, and any other entertaining thought that popped into his head while talking. It’s at this point that you may realize that Skepticon is pretty damn misnamed. It’s not a skeptical conference nearly as much as it is an atheism conference, which is fine but had a few of us tweaking our talks in order to fit the theme, and would have left any skeptical theists who wandered in feeling a bit annoyed.
Bringing things back around the Skepti- part of Skepticon was Joe Nickell, who never fails to entertain as he discusses his many adventures investigating paranormal claims, from Nessie-like creatures to “haunted” houses. Joe kept everyone entertained all weekend long, because wherever he goes he brings amazing stories that he never fails to share.
Dan Barker got back to the atheism with a talk about the conflicting numbers contained in the Bible and how they can be used to easily disprove the book’s infallibility. One thing I wanted to ask him but didn’t get a chance was his assertion that Dinesh D’Souza believes in evolution, which is weird because I saw Dan debate Dinesh and wrote this:
Iâ€™ve seen online clips of Dâ€™Souza in debates, and a few times Iâ€™ve heard him say this very strange thing: that society makes â€œlawsâ€ to prevent people from behaving in a certain manner, and scientists make â€œlawsâ€ to vainly attempt to make the Universe behave in a certain manner.
Iâ€™ll give you a minute to roll that around your head.
Each time, Dâ€™Souzaâ€™s opponent corrects him, informing him that the word â€œlawâ€ has different meanings. Proscriptive laws are the ones society makes to enforce civility, and descriptive laws are the ones scientists use to describe the behaviors they observe in nature. Tuesday night, Dâ€™Souza used the exact same fallacious argument that had been repeatedly corrected for him in the past. This caused me to wonder: is Dâ€™Souza just not getting it? Is he unable to understand this simple distinction? Or is he purposely using underhanded tactics to argue his point?
I could have sworn that had something to do with evolution, but maybe not? I can’t rewatch old D’Souza debates or I’d put my own eyes out with a pencil.
After dinner, Richard Carrier gave a talk on the historical Jesus and whether or not he existed, managing to work in a lot of profanity for such a scholarly talk. He was funny and fair as he described the evidence for and against Jesus’ actual existence. Richard comes down on the “no” side but admits that his is the minority view and that there may be some evidence the other way.
Then PZ Myers was back on stage, delivering an
hour-long introduction for me overview of all the stupidity that has come his way via creationists. He claimed that it was his cranky talk as compared to the previous day’s more cheerful talk, but I found it pretty damn entertaining nonetheless. I was particularly happy he went over Ray Comfort’s argument that evolution couldn’t have happened because how did men and women evolve at the same time in the same way? When I first read Ray’s argument, I didn’t understand it. I finally realized that I was giving him too much credit: no, he really is so astoundingly ignorant as to believe that early humans reproduced asexually by physically splitting in half. And yes, for evolution to be true that means that some humans developed boy parts and some developed girl parts and they happened to fit together and that’s how babies are made. I know. Seriously.
Eventually it was my turn! I went on at 10pm, which in my head was 4am GMT, so I was basically high as a kite sucking on an enormous 44oz Pepsi to combat my exhaustion. I gave a talk called Why Chicks Matter, which was a sneaky fake name I made up to trick people into attending a talk on skeptical feminism. It worked! Most people didn’t leave and we all had a good time talking about why it’s important for skeptics, nonbelievers, and feminists to work together to combat pseudoscience and superstition. I’ll be posting little bits of it here on Skepchick over the next few weeks or so, I think.
After my talk I was ready to crawl into a small hole and die, but instead we went out drinking. We closed down a bar before going back to our motel and having a party that only got two complaints before we figured out the “inside voices” theory of party-having. Finally we decided to be adults and go to bed, but by the time DJ, PZ and I walked back as far as my room, we decided to not be adults and to instead open our last beers and hang out shooting the shit until PZ literally had to go to the airport for his 7am flight. I then got on chat and talked to my husband, who wondered why I woke up so early when my flight didn’t leave til 2pm. Yeah.
So, the best part of the conference was, for me, JT asking me to come back next year and agreeing to my terms. I told him I would, so long as he got two more women on stage with me. He didn’t even hesitate and is already working on it. I’m pretty sure Skepticon III will rock even harder than this year.