Sunday, and fortunately not quite so early a start as Saturday. 🙂
The convention centre is really packed out this time as quite a few people bought Sunday only tickets, supposedly there was about 2,500 people, the vast majority of whom were atheists. There were a few theists, some agnostics and even a Scientologist (we think) more on this later.
First up MC Stuart Bechman, an American and president of the Atheist Alliance International, informed us what AAI was and what they can do for the atheist community and atheist groups. If you are in an atheist group, or are thinking of starting one then you should be in contact with AAI, as well as the AFA.
Following the opening speech Peter Singer discussed morality and ethics. He had a good point about reciprocity or tit-for-tat, he decried the teachings of Jesus that said “turn the other cheek” as he said this leads to a society in which selfish bad people always get their own way. Society sometimes need to ‘hit back’ either directly or through laws. Had a good point about absolute majority. Singer also discussed charity works and pointed out that 3 out of 4 of the worlds wealthiest donators are atheists. Discussed how throughout the world there are the same moral teachings despite the many different religious teachings which would lead you to think that it’s humans that came up with morals not any gods.
Ian Robinson stepped on to the stage to the music from 2001 A Space Odyssey (each speaker came on stage to a different tune, a bit like the Twenty20 cricketers), he discussed “atheism as the logical conclusion to a spiritual journey.” Very good talk, quite cutting at times, which got a few laughs. Made some good points , about “spirituality” and the materialistic outlook on life, as a different way of looking at life. He did have a Powerpoint presentation, however it was quite a good one without too many slides. Some good questions at the end about education.
Kylie Sturgess – the famous Podblack – discussed her thesis study on sex and superstition. Her thesis originated from the, perhaps mistaken, idea that women were more likely to believe in weird things than men The results from her survey showed that it was about equal. However there was a marked difference between the types of things women believed in compared to men.
The question I would have liked to ask, but was too slow to get to the mic, is: Why do men tend to believe in things like UFOs and Loch Ness monsters more than women, whereas women believe more in psychic and astrology type false beliefs? Perhaps I’ll need to find time to read podblack’s blog where she has her “Sex and Superstitions” essays and research.
Robyn Williams then discussed science and religion, and also talked about his life discussing science on radio. He had some interesting stories from his long career.
Comedian Jamie Kilstein gave us his hilarious rapid fire monologue rant against religion, including his version of the ten commandments. I’m hoping the whole of this is on the DVD as I missed part of it due to laughing hysterically and part because he talked so fast!
After the convention closed and people were saying their goodbyes, and/or waiting in the very long line to get an autograph from Richard Dawkins, I found Jamie selling his CD “Zombie Jesus” from a corner of the Readings book shop stand. I spoke to him about the speed of his delivery, and joked I’d have to slow the CD down to understand it, and he said he doesn’t normally talk that fast but had a limited amount of time and wanted to do the whole monologue. He also said he was a bit nervous playing to such a huge crowd. I’ve since listened to his CD, which is quite funny.
Dan Barker followed Jamie and discussed his transition from fundamentalist preacher to atheist. A very compelling story with a lot of insight into the mind of a fundamentalist. I am very keen on getting his book and reading the story. As he pointed out a lot of religious people use the argument “you’re not a true believer” when trying to counter atheists who used to be religious. He had this to say about that: “if I was not a true believer then nobody is”.He also provided a few good tips on conversing with religious people and trying to convince them that their religion is wrong. I got as far as typing this “I respect your opinion but disagree with you and do not…” when Richard Dawkins came on stage, unfortunately I now can’t remember the rest of his excellent line to theists.
So the moment many (most) people had been waiting for – Richard Dawkins. He walked on stage to a standing ovation (which I thought was a little over the top) and then proceeded to give a measured talk about evolution and gratitude. I actually thought his speech was not a highlight of the event, unlike some of his fanboys, he seemed a little hesitant and occasionally appeared to lose his place in his lecture. I’m not sure why, but I was expecting him to provide a 45 minute lecture ‘off the top of his head’ which he didn’t seem to be doing. Then came question time, which was much better as he appeared much more relaxed and able to rattle off intelligent answers without much problem. Though there was two stumbling blocks.
These have been covered incessantly online and in the media, so I’ll just mention them briefly. The first one was when the Christian woman got up and following her “I’m a Christian blah blah…” she asked Dawkins “Can you explain DNA…”. The crowd had already started to get restless and a little jeering was heard when she announced she was a very religious person, but the place erupted when she asked the question. I’m sure there was more to the question but I was unable to catch it in the uproar. I thought the uproar was a bit uncalled for, and probably made us atheists look closed minded, but a 15 minute Q&A session is hardly the time to ask a biologist what DNA is. The answer is so complicated it can’t possibly be covered in that short a time period. Dawkins very graciously told the audience to quiet down and give the women and opportunity to ask her question, then explained about RNA and DNA albeit briefly given time constraints. I have since found out that after he finished speaking she turned to her friend and said (paraphrasing) “see Dawkins doesn’t know about DNA.”
The other controversy was when Dawkins said “… Pope [pause] Nazi …” which was seized upon and taken out of context in several news media reports. The YAS wrote a good report on the whole affair and have video footage of the section of Dawkins speech.
As for the Scientologist, he asked a question earlier in the day and opened with “I’m a secular humanist. I don’t believe in psychiatry” then asked a question that was more of a statement. I’m disappointed I don’t remember this better, but many people suspected he was a Scientologist and was trying to trick the speaker into saying something. But we’ll never know, perhaps if this is on the DVD that is to be released of the event (they recorded the whole 3 days) I’ll review it again then.
The end of the convention, but not the end of thousands of atheists wanting to hang around together. There were several semi-organised after-party events (and I’m sure a major organised event for all the organisers and speakers) I ended up at the Waterside bar on Flinders Street with a few hundred other atheists. As far as I could tell the place was packed out and everyone was from the convention, had a few drinks and a chat, then said my farewells and headed back to the hotel to get some sleep before the dawn flight home.
So that’s my brief recollections of the 2010 Global Atheist Convention, I’ll write one more blog outlining my thoughts on the event and it’s aftermath.