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Atheist Convention – wrap up

Some general thoughts on the Rise of Atheism Convention.

Firstly, you may have noticed there were no links in the previous four posts I trust you are all smart enough to find anyone or further information yourselves. Additionally I’m hoping this will prompt you to join the Atheist Foundation of Australia forum and Twitter and get involved in the many discussions there and to find out what others thought of the event. If you are already on twitter, or sign up, check the hash tag #atheistcon for all the conversations, links, pictures and discussion concerning the convention. If you really don’t want to join twitter you can always go to the search.twitter.com site and view the atheistcon hash tag there.

The panel with the five women needed to go much longer, the convention was somewhat male dominated, and I think the women chosen for the panel could have answered many questions centred around their chosen topic of feminism and religion. I liked the idea of a panel, it’s a good way to get several viewpoints on the one topic, but it needed the full two hours for a good Q and A session. As it was they didn’t get to answer any questions as the section ran over time. Hopefully next time they will have a similar panel session but with a full two hour slot.

Which brings me to another point, the questions from the audience! This needs to be handled much better next time. No matter what your persuasion you need to be short and concise with your introduction and question, whilst you may think you are clever and important, not every one else may think the same. Also, you probably don’t have experience using a microphone, so don’t shout into it, but don’t be afraid of it.

I was happy to have a question from a theist and thought the reaction to her was a little unruly, even if she asked a very open question that could not possibly be answered in the few minutes alloted. Take note people, ask only one question and ensure it’s one that can be answered in the brief time alloted.

I’m not entirely sure how this could be handled better next time, or even if it can be. No matter what the topic you’ll always get some loon that wants to spout their own agenda, and you can’t know until they’ve started talking. I don’t want to censor anyone, but they do need to stay on topic. At the least the MC should reiterate the need to stay on topic and that you are allowed only one question.

Meeting up with people. I’ve never met so many new people in such a short time before. Met people I’ve known on-line for over three years, quite a buzz to finally meet them in real life. However, despite meeting so many people, I was a little disappointed that I missed so many people. Following the convention I have seen many people from twitter and the AFA forum discussing about being there, but I never saw them. Of course the big problem is that on-line many of us use a nickname and don’t have a photo of ourselves as our avatar, so it’s impossible to spot someone if you don’t know what they look like. A few of us had name tags made up by Praxis from the AFA forum and that helped a little, I’d love to see more of this next time. Twitter also came in handy by sending messages telling someone where you were so they could find you.

So for the next one, and I’ve been reliably informed there will be another one in two years time, make sure you are signed up on the AFA forum and twitter beforehand, get a badge made up with your real name and forum, facebook and twitter names and your avatar picture.Then get involved on-line with the extracurricular meetups and say hello.

The near fanaticism of Richard Dawkins and to a slightly lesser extent P Z Myers. Whilst Dawkins is a very intelligent man and outspoken atheist (it was his movie “Religion is the Root of all Evil?” that made me become an outspoken atheist) I’m not sure he warranted a standing ovation at the start and end of his speech at the convention. The last thing atheists need is to start looking like theists who idolise their gods or earthly representatives – eg. the Pope. We must still remain sceptical of everything he, or anyone else, says; just because he is at the top of his field doesn’t mean everything he says is right.

Friendliness. Most or the presenters hung around at breaks and seemed quite happy to have a brief chat with anyone and everyone. There were even a few other celebrities there namely Julian Morrow from the Chaser and Lawrence Leung to name a couple and they also seemed happy to have a chat or have a photo taken with them. People in general were friendly and happy to talk about all sorts of things, briefly got involved in a discussion on the ethics of the treatment of animals at the pub on Sunday night. We were all there to discuss one thing – atheism – but we are all human and have varied opinions about many other topics, whilst we didn’t always agree with each other, the conversations were lively, friendly and people were willing to listen to both sides of an argument. When presented with new facts people were willing to consider them, something you’ll rarely get from a theist. As mentioned before, my only disappointment was not meeting more people, especially ones I knew from twitter or the AFA forum; maybe next time.

Media coverage. There was quite a lot of it especially in the Melbourne papers, and the conversation is still going on on-line. Rather then list them all I suggest you go the to atheist convention website and check out their Media Coverage page. The coverage was both positive and negative, but even some of the negative coverage conceded that something must be going on for 2,500 atheists to gather in one place.

I had a few questions before I went to the convention and it seems like I wasn’t the only one, mainly; what will the convention achieve?

  • Was the convention just a fun way to meet like minded people?
  • Was it just a chance to see and hear some interesting and famous people?
  • Will the convention advance the cause of atheism?
  • What, if anything will the convention achieve? Or, as I was asked on twitter, “Achieve? What’s to achieve about a person’s belief philosophy?”

I think I’ll leave the answers to these questions for another post. Please leave other questions about the atheist convention, or your ideas on the above questions, in the comments.

One of my concerns during the convention was the amount of information my poor little brain was consuming. 🙂 With so many speakers each talking for about 45 minutes it was difficult to digest everything they were saying. I have been reliably informed that a DVD of the event will be released which will be great to re-listen to some of the speakers. I’ve also been hoping that the speakers will post their speeches on-line. At least one has so far – Philip Adams at ABC The Drum, also Kylie Sturgess has a whole page on her PodBlack blog dedicated to her Sex and Superstitions speech. I have been reliably informed that transcripts of most of the speeches will be made available, I’m suspecting about the same time as the DVD is released, perhaps on a CD with the DVD, now that would be a great package to buy! If any one does see any of the other speeches, or transcripts thereof, on-line let me know in the comments or via twitter.

Last but not least a great big shout-out to all the volunteers and organisers, a job well done. It was a very big event and it ran very smoothly, kudos to all involved. A thank you should also go to the Convention centre staff, I know they were being paid to do their job, but I think they did it exceptionally well. The food was excellent and plentiful and the staff all seemed quite cheery and helpful. I had wondered how many of them might have been staunch religious people and if it would have impacted their work having to deal with 2,500 atheists. But if any of them were they kept it to themselves and performed admirably.

It was fantastic to finally meet all the great people in real life who I’ve only known on-line, some for a few years. It was a pity I didn’t get to meet more people who I only know via their twitter account, maybe next time we should organise a giant twitter party? Speaking of which, there were parties everywhere, from small groups to bars full of atheists, it was as much luck as design which one(s) you ended up at. All the feedback I’ve received from the various after event gatherings has been very positive, pity I couldn’t be in more than one place at a time. 🙂

Hat Tip to the many people who provided input to this and the previous four posts.


Link to John Perkins talk “The Cost of Religious Delusion: Islam and Terrorism” (pdf file)

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Atheist Convention Day 3

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.

morning tea.

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.

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Atheist Convention Day 2

Saturday, early start, glad I’d had a fairly early night.

Opening by Kylie (podblack) Sturgess, who by the way did an excellent job of MCing all weekend, and also presented an interesting lecture herself.

First speaker Philip Adams “Atheists as Honest Brokers” Adams theorised that religion is self imploding and dying not because of our (atheists) efforts but because of their own internal disintegration due to the majority of believers disagreeing with their hierarchies edicts. He has confidence that atheists should assist the demise by befriending the religious and that many religious people are just as nice as some atheists. Adams surmises that we should not be so strident to-wards the religious all the time,

Second speaker Russel Blackford discussed the need for atheists to support liberty, particularly freedom of speech and separation of church and state. He discussed the need to ensure that the religious fully understand what separation of church and sate really means. Blackford encouraged atheists to be “Defenders of liberal principles”. A good speech ruined a bit by problems with his powerpoint slides which detracted from his message. Though as someone said “who wants death from powerpoint anyway”.

Getting religious people to understand and concur with the policy of the separation of church and state is a very valid and worthwhile venture and something we atheists should be doing more about. It’s all well and good to rant and rave about the lack of separation of church and state in Australia and to try and remedy the situation, but without the majority of the populace in agreement this may never happen. Atheists need to find a good way, backed by valid, mutually agreeable arguments, to encourage the religious to assist us in making Australia have proper separation of church and state policies and laws.

Third Speaker Max Wallace, discussed his idea that a film needs to be made to show how much money, via taxes, the church makes. I agree and have said so before, as Wallace pointed out the majority of the populace doesn’t really know, understand or care; mainly due to lack of information. A film may be the best way to get the message out. A good question came from the floor, regarding the current problem with the church of Scientology and that the government is reluctant to pursue because it may mean they will have to investigate all religions, eg. the ‘can of worms’ problem, Wallace agrees as do I.

I’ve argued this before, and did again with a few people over the weekend, Scientology is the easiest target because it is so outlandish even to Christians. When differing religious groups get together Scientologists are often left out because they are not seen as a deity worshipping “religion”. So if religion’s influence is to be countered, going after Scientology is perhaps the best ‘foot in the door’ we may have. However, despite some politicians around the world wanting to stop calling Scientology a religion, thereby taking away all the benefits of it being a ‘religion’ (eg tax breaks) they are somewhat afraid to because they realise that then all religions, quite rightly, should come under the same scrutinising and possible loss of government and tax support.

Morning tea, mingle, coffee and biscuits. As an aside, the catering at the convention was very good. They had book signings at each of the breaks with different authors (seemed like every speaker had a new book out, but then again they were all doing this for free, so I understand) as well as many other books for sale thanks to Readings book shop. Additionally some of the speakers and a few media personalities were wandering around during the breaks, all of whom seemed quite happy to have a quick chat. PZ Myers said he seemed to have a camera in his face just about all weekend, but he didn’t appear to have been bothered by that.

John Perkins from the Secular Party discussed the need to concentrate on the Muslim faith, ensuring reason and education are used to combat Islamic fundamentalism, not just military strategies and forcing democracy on them.

Following Perkins was Taslima Nasrin who presented a very good speech. It was a heartfelt personal account of becoming an atheist after growing up Muslim, about being run out of her own country and then India because of her non-belief and her outspokenness against religion. She received a standing ovation at the end following her last comment “I have no home but the home of the people who love me”. Very out spoken about Islam, and rightly so, and she does have first hand knowledge of it. How anyone could still be Muslim, especially females, after hearing her speak is amazing; but we know it happens all the time!

Both speakers discussed the necessity to be allowed to criticise the Islamic faith, and all faiths, and to make sure that no faith, particularly Islam which is the biggest culprit, is allowed to introduce their own laws separate from the countries laws in which hey have moved in to.

Both speakers stated unequivocally that Islam is NOT a peaceful religion and it’s stated aims is to basically Islamise the world and the rest of the world should be aware of this.

Lunch, more food, more mingling.

Following lunch a panel of four women chaired by another, who’s name I didn’t get (original panel chair got sick at the last minute), each speaker only had about 10 minutes which for at least two of them wasn’t enough. As the panel chair said at the end, they should each have had an hour like everyone else. They each discussed a feminist point of view of religion, and (if I remember rightly) Leslie Cannold made a good plea for this convention to achieve soemthing constructive from the event. Something I would have liked to have seen followed up by the organisers of the event. I also enjoyed Lyn Allison’s speech, pity there aren’t more people like her in parliament.

Whilst I’m not sure if all of them could have spoken for an hour they definitely needed more time. As it was they went overtime and couldn’t take any questions, which was very disappointing. I would like to see a similar panel next time but given two hours, with each panelist having 15 minutes to speak leaving about 45 minutes for questions. I think we could have got some very interesting responses from the panelists especially from the feminist point of view that the panel was discussing.

The next speaker Tamas Pataki whilst he had a few good points was rather boring and way too academic, his main point that religion can have some benefits for society and that it seems that there is some innate desire to be religious has some validity (to be debated another time). I’m hoping a transcript of his speech is made available.

afternoon tea

AC Grayling talked about the difference between science and religion and that they are incompatible, discussed how religion despite squashing science for many years now tries to use it, and twist it to their own needs and then attempt to use it to make religion look legitimate. Also talked about humanism and spirituality. A good speech and another one I’d like the transcript of. As yet I don’t have any of his many books but I intend to get some, he sounded like a very clever, articulate person. Oh and everyone loves his hair, there’s now even a facebook fan page for it!

Finished with P Z Myers, who started off with with a short video of him talking to god, very funny. An excellent talk about how science and religion are incompatible, with some good references to Carl Sagan, Douglas Adams, and Terry Pratchett. He gave a big serve to Ken Miller a noted scientist who is also a devout Catholic but has some very crazy theories. He also presented a good argument that just because you are one thing and a member of a particular group doesn’t mean everyone in that group is the same. eg a serial killer who is a christian doesn’t make christianity breed serial killers. Something that both sides of the argument (atheists and theists) should remember. Oh, and everyone liked his crocoduck tie.

The end of another day. Sort of.

Race back to the hotel, frock up then back to the convention centre for the formal dinner. See the next post for details.

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Atheist Convention Day 1

Atheist Convention Day 1, plus pre day.

Well it’s been a busy time so far, arrived Thursday afternoon wandered aimlessly around town before heading to the Russell Blackford & A C Grayling book launch and talk at Cinema Nova. Met up with a few AFA forum members, the great Podblack and SeandBlogonaut bloggers and many others including a couple from America here for the Rise of Atheism Convention and their Honeymoon! (How romantic)

A bunch of us headed back into town to Beer Deluxe for drinks and some food. Met heaps more people who’s names now mostly elude me. Drank way too much and stayed up way too late. Missed the bloggers breakfast the next morning at which P Z myers ate a ‘cracker’ covered in Vegemite (poor bastard).

Friday afternoon, prior to the convention starting, a large group of atheists met up at Young and Jacksons pub in Chloe’s Bar for a few drinks and a chat, II was one of the many who said a quick hello to P Z Myers. Unlike some others I didn’t bother buying PZ a drink as he already had a stubby (300ml to 375ml beer bottle for my non-Australian slang readers) in each coat pocket and someone handed him a glass of beer whilst I was standing there. Then we all wandered down to the convention center to sign in and have a bite to eat and another drink,or two.

The convention was officially opened at 7:30pm with the opening speech from David Nicholls President of the Atheist Foundation of Australia and the introduction of the convention MCs Stuart Bechman and Kylie Sturgess (podblack).

The first speaker was Sue-Ann Post who was hilarious. A self described lesbian ex-Mormon comedian you can imagine what her talk / stand-up comedy sketch was about. Despite the humorous nature of her talk she did make some very good points against god and religion.

Then next speaker Mark Tier was a bit dry, but following Sue-Ann Post was a big ask, but it was interesting hearing first hand about religious attitudes in the Philippines. The Catholics over there, and there are lots of them, are very religious, they all have shrines in their front yards and that’s just the start of it.

Next was Catherine Deveny, who was also very funny and incisive, among other things she discussed her Catholic upbringing and beliefs and her conversion to atheism. She did a piece where she recollected a discussion between a friend and her where she tried, vainly, to defend her beliefs. She finished by reading an article she wrote about being banned from Mildura that was never published by the paper.

The show finished about 10pm and after a brief chat with a few people I decided to give my liver a rest and go back to my hotel.

So ended the first day.

Just a note, these recollections of the Rise of Atheism Convention are my best recollections, I did type a few notes in-between each speaker as memory joggers. So some minor inaccuracies may occur. Everything in these four posts is my opinion only and just my brief overview of the event.

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