The Rise of Atheism : 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.


About @ndy

I live in Melbourne, Australia. I like anarchy. I don't like nazis. I enjoy eating pizza and drinking beer. I barrack for the greatest football team on Earth: Collingwood Magpies. The 2018 premiership's a cakewalk for the good old Collingwood.
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5 Responses to The Rise of Atheism : 2010 Global Atheist Convention

  1. Robert says:

    “the irrational belief in a diving being”

    A diving being? Now that’s a religion I could support.

  2. Podblack says:

    Disjointed? Why? 🙂

    I did start with (verbatim from my notes): “I’m here today to give you a brief overview of my research project; to tell you of a few new findings that we discovered – and some future directions.”

    That follows the standard ‘this is what I’ll tell you / this is what I’m telling you / that’s what I told you” format.

    If you like, I can send you the entire speech and you can read it for yourself? Let me know.
    Kylie S.

  3. Podblack says:

    …and you didn’t like our MCing. Oh well, you seem to be very much in the minority with that opinion. “Can’t please ’em all…”

  4. Podblack says:

    BTW – no idea who told you about ‘Creative Commons’, but I very much doubt that.

  5. @ndy says:

    Hi Kylie,

    On Creative Commons: one of the organisers. But it was only presented as a possibility, at some point, and not necessarily a likely one.

    Re MCing: No, it’s not that I didn’t like it: it was OK, just not ‘good’. So: the final, closing remarks were perfectly reasonable (as I recall them), just not especially memorable. And of course, it’s very difficult — in my experience — for there not to be some sense of an ‘anti-climax’ at the cessation of such events. This is so regardless of the quality of the final presentation… which is not a presentation as such, but more of a full stop.

    Re your presentation: To begin with, the few lines above do not of course do it justice — they are just my initial impressions. And yes, I understand the overall thrust of your speech, but my impression was that, as it progressed, some of it [that is, the thread of your argument] became slightly lost. Or, perhaps I did. Perhaps this was just my failure, but the person I attended with agreed. (Whether or not others do is of course another story.) Beyond that, I guess that there are two issues — one is the presentation, the other the subject matter, which is of course much broader, touching upon a whole range of issues, but revolving around (as I understand it) the relationship between gender and forms of scientific understanding.

    Anyway, moar later…

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