Saturday, April 10, 2010

Global Atheist Convention: Part 3

The Saturday afternoon session kicked off with the Women's Panel, "Why saying goodbye to God is Good News for Girls and Women". The speakers were Lyn Allison, Leslie Cannold, Tanya Levin and Jane Caro. Each woman spoke for 10-15 minutes and all had really interesting things to say. The problem I had with this 'panel' was that it wasn't actually a panel discussion at all - each speaker gave their talk and there was no exchange of ideas afterwards. I get the feeling that the Women's Panel was actually a bit of an afterthought, its purpose being to include more female speakers to offset all the blokes who'd been given proper full length talks. Anyway.

The speakers were all good and I think that a couple of them should have been given full-length slots, because they certainly had plenty to talk about. Leslie Cannold was particularly memorable in that she was the only speaker at the convention who identified herself as agnostic (and spent a good portion of her talk explaining why). Ultimately, though, I would have really liked to see an actual panel discussion rather than all the speakers just giving independent talks. I hope the organisers do include a proper panel discussion next time the convention is held.

As an aside, I keep going back and reading the ABC Religion blog of the convention, and blimey, they obviously weren't listening. Margaret Coffey, in her summing up of the convention, criticized the lack of "diversity or range - no such stance as agnostic for example". Uh... well... actually there was an agnostic, as I just noted above. She talked a lot about her stance. Did you sleep during her talk? Wake up. Also, what did you expect??? It was the Global ATHEIST Convention - yeah, the speakers were atheists. It wasn't the Global Religion-versus-Atheism Convention, that's just what you wanted it to be, because of course you wanted to see religious folk like yourself represented. Well, tough luck. I don't go to Christian Conventions and bitch about the fact that there's no Atheist presenters. Fuck.

Back on topic. The next speaker was Tamas Pataki, whose talk was apparently quite unpopular (I was unaware of this, but I heard later that the attendees were quite vicious about him on Twitter) (P.S. Twitter? Seriously??? You're around real people all weekend but you'd rather discuss things on Twitter? Weirdos). There were two main things that people disagreed with in Tamas's talk. Firstly, he talked about the philosophical problem of being able to state that there actually is no god, which is a very good point. Of course, we don't know that there is no supernatural creator. For me, my atheism is a conclusion that I have come to after careful consideration of the evidence. Based on current evidence, I conclude that there is no god. However, when I say that, I am also specifying a type of god - the type of god who interferes in our day-to-day lives, the type of god who answers prayers, the type of god who speaks through human prophets, etc. There is just NO evidence for that type of god. On the other hand, there may well be some supernatural being who magicked the universe into existence, who wrote the laws of that universe, and who just watches, but doesn't interfere. There is no way of knowing whether this kind of being exists. I think that was Tamas's point, and I agree. Personally, I would argue that this type of being is unlikely to give a shit about us worshipping it, so I'm not going to sit around and ponder the existence of some hypothetical deity. I'd rather study things that we can actually observe (yeah, I'm clearly NOT a philosopher).

The other major thing that Tamas spoke about was that we don't know what a world without religion would look like, and it could conceivably be worse than a world with religion. It's true that early humans invented religion to try to understand the world, and for many, many people religion is the only thing that gives them hope. I think it's unlikely that a world without religion would be worse than this world, though. I really believe that religion makes more people feel shit than it makes people feel good. It usually oppresses women, usually makes people feel guilty for being human, usually makes people fearful and prejudiced. Imagine the people you know who are happy, and religious. Do you really think that they would be less happy without their religion?

The two final speakers of the day were AC Grayling and PZ Myers. (Hehe, the guys with initials for their first names). AC Grayling is a philosopher at Birkbeck, University of London, and his talk was on Atheism, Secularism and Humanism: Three Zones of Argument. I would urge you to listen to his talk here if you are interested, because he was a fantastic speaker. He's written loads of books and after hearing him speak I'm very keen to read them all. I bought one of his books that weekend, Thinking of Answers, which talks about the philosophy of everyday life. I also had a great chat with him later that night (which I will talk about in my next post), and he's a lovely guy.

And finally, the infamous PZ. Unsurprisingly, his topic was The Inescapable Conflict Between Science and Religion. He was great - the thing I like about PZ is that he totally seems like Your Favourite University Lecturer. He's very likeable. His style of speaking is quite conversational, and I think it ended the day with a nice relaxing atmosphere. His material was very familiar if you read his blog, so nothing particularly novel, but it was cool to hear him speak in person.

Next post: The Convention Dinner!

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