- Update : Mysterious rituals of the atheists, Stephen Bullivant and Lois Lee, The Age, March 15, 2010 | Dawkins derides sainthood as Pythonesque, Jacqueline Maley, The Sydney Morning Herald, March 15, 2010 | Questions of Faith, Radio National’s report on the 2010 Global Atheist Convention.
Only a group of atheists would start a convention at this un-Godly hour on a (Death Metal) Sunday.
More blah later, but in the meantime…
- Stuart Bechman ***
Peter Singer *** 1/2
Ian Robinson **** 1/2
Kylie Sturgess ***
Robyn Williams ****
Jamie Kilstein ****
Dan Barker *** 1/2
Richard Dawkins ***
Stuart Bechman / Kyle Sturgess ** 1/2
Stuart Bechman. Lolcats. Atheist charity. Stuff.
Peter Singer made an occasionally amusing but otherwise fairly straightforward case for the possibility of an ‘Ethics without Religion’ (cf. Plato’s Euthyphro). Of note: Singer made reference to the idea that morality may be in some way ‘hardwired’ into human beings, and that this may also help to explain the persistence of xenophobic attitudes (or at least help to explain their origin). He also noted that proximity (in this case geographical) to suffering is an important factor in determining the likelihood of a ‘moral’ response. Otherwise, he failed to properly address the distinction between moral and political consciousness or to answer the question ‘Why act ethically?’ (a question also addressed in his MA thesis (1969)). Oh yeah: Singer referred to evolution which, for some reason — I think maybe ’cause he referenced Gould — prompted me to think of Kropotkin (see : Stephen Jay Gould, Kropotkin Was No Crackpot, Natural History, No.106, 1997).
Ian Robinson was — to my surprise — probably the best speaker and, despite noting that, as students, Singer was one year ahead of him in Philosophy @ unimelb, and joking that Singer was now, philosophically speaking, many years ahead of him, Robinson actually gave a more nuanced address on ‘Atheism as the Logical Conclusion to a Spiritual Quest’. He was much funnier, too. Oh, and I’m not sure, but I think it was Robinson what recommended The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power (1993) by Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad and Feet of Clay: Saints, Sinners, and Madmen (1997) by Anthony Storr.
Kylie Sturgess presented the findings of an academic survey as ‘Sex and Skepticism: A Study of Belief in Australian Women’. An interesting subject, but a somewhat disjointed presentation.
Robyn Williams’ speech was titled ‘In-depth Musings on Existence and Atheism’, which was basically an entertaining journey through some anecdotes drawn from his many years working @ the ABC. As he spoke, I wished I was drinking port and smoking a cigar (after having consumed a rather large dinner).
Jamie Kilstein was funny and profane.
Dan Barker was amusing and profane… but in a nice way. (Of course, both he Kilstein are going to Hell.) He also suggested, rather aptly, that fundamentalist Christians, to which category he once belonged, could best be approached by atheists by way of reference to Biblical teaching — to be precise, by way of its internal contradictions — within an overall context of sensitivity to their emotional and psychological sensibilities. Fun and useful in this context: Ken’s Guide to the Bible.
Richard Dawkins was Richard Dawkins.
A Cartoon Character Buggering A Bald Transvestite. The Evolutionary Biologist. In the program, the title of his speech is given as being ‘How Do I Misunderstand Thee? Let Me Count the Ways’ (whatever that means) but I dunno if that is the speech he gave. My recollection is that he presented a paper giving his views on what might explain the emergence or (better) the persistence in religious belief — which is to say, the irrational belief in a diving Divine being — in terms of its function as an evolutionary mechanism — one which, in turn, was theorised as having something to do with the capacity of human beings to… um… bugger. Having had bugger-all sleep the night before, I was falling asleep at this point in the afternoon, and I’m still very tired, so maybe I’ll return to this subject… later. In any event, it had all the hallmarks of an address most suited to an academic conference on evolutionary biology, not a public conference on atheism. (He was, of course, given a standing ovation nonetheless.)
Oh and finally: all the speeches were filmed, and will be released as a DVD at some point. They may also be released more widely, perhaps under a Creative Commons license. (But then again, maybe not.)
See also : Atheist convention’s first secular success, Barney Zwartz, The Age, March 13, 2010.