I’ll give you all the links up front, and all the pictures at the end.
All the pictures are here.
9:20 Phil Zuckerman
10:00 Edward Tabash
10:40 Brian Dunning
11:20 William Lobdell
Lunch 12-1 with ‘Tabletalk’ table discussions
1:00 Michael Shermer
1:45 PZ Myers
2:30 Dan Barker
3:15 Stephanie Campbell
4:00 John Shook
4:45 Joe Nickell
The conference was in Costa Mesa, and I’m in Glendale, feel free to map it, suffice to say it takes about an hour fifteen to do that drive. I decided I wasn’t going to kill myself and try to get there at 9 since I didn’t really know any of the morning speakers and I didn’t want to get up at 6AM on a Saturday. So I got there around 10:45 and got through the whole check in thing to catch the second half of Brian Dunning’s talk. He was talking about the Virgin of Guadalupe and I confess my interest was not sparked by the topic. Which is just as well as it gave me time to get my bearings.
The conference was held in a community center adjacent to a local public library. It was a smallish venue, and everything was contained within one large room. This was a little awkward because the vendors and speakers were in the same room, so if you wanted to go look at stuff you had to do it either as quietly and unobtrusively as possible or in short bursts between speakers.
After Dunning was finished, I met up with a guy I met on Meetup.com who had said he was also going and sat up front with him. So the first talk I sat through entirely was William Lobdell. Lobdell is a very dynamic speaker, and I really preferred the speakers who focused on sort of broader strokes and the whys and what we can do about it, not just simple facts. And I am always drawn to stories of how people lost their faith.
Then, it was lunch time, and I walked across the street to Quizno’s because I’m a picky eater and I doubted they were serving a sandwich I would eat. There was a very strange homeless guy who sort of followed me and I bought him a sandwich. Don’t tell my mother, she gets freaked out by those things. Ran into an interesting guy, I want to say from Riverside, who was also at the conference and eating at Quizno’s. Apparently Riverside has the biggest Atheist community like ever.
I took my sandwich back across the street and there was a seat open next to meetup guy who was sitting with PZ, but first I wanted to say hello to my twin. There was a guy there wearing the same shirt as me, and interestingly enough he and the guy he was sitting with, lime green Alaskan, would end up being the people I sat with at dinner. Anyway I said hello and they graciously offered me a seat but I wanted to go sit with PZ.
So I sat with PZ during lunch, which was really half over by the time I got back with my sandwich. But it was an interesting group. Talked about why we call evolution a theory and why changing the name to something like “law” is letting the terrorists win. Here’s where my former math major instincts made me probably a bit too ferocious about the fact laws involve math equations and there’s no mathematical way of predicting evolution.
Post lunch and it’s Michael Shermer, the aforementioned Jonathan Pryce doppelganger with the arrogant swagger, and I can’t for the life of me remember what he talked about except that it pissed some people off. If anyone was there and remembers, tell me?
Then it was PZ and he went out of his normal field and talked about astronomy and William Herschel. And posed the simple answer to the days topic “Can science and religion coexist? Yes.” And made many many jokes about stepping all over Dan Barker’s time. And then he talked about neanderthals and people having sex. What I like about PZ when he speaks is that he seems like he’s going to be a stuffy non-offensive professor, but he’s someone who’s genuinely at ease with both himself and the realities of human nature. In other words, he likes to talk about sex with neanderthals.
Dan Barker spoke and, again, his was a story of de-conversion so I found it pretty interesting. His book has been recommended to my by Amazon but it didn’t strike me as interesting til I saw he talk. He spoke mostly towards lawsuits, particularly the one against the National Day of Prayer. As someone who finds the intricacies of constitutional law interesting (nerd!) I thought this was interesting.
I did not find Stephanie Campbell that interesting, not because she’s a bad speaker, but because her talk was so focused on the facts of the case of Texas Education and not about anything broader reaching. The entire thing ended with a Vote for your School Board plea that I guess was somewhat universal, but it felt very much like a lecture. And this is a topic, education and the south, that I find generally interesting, but I guess it was just that it was all about Texas and not about why it was happening, or the players involved, or how it impacted people. Just the facts, ma’am. I was also sad that there was only one woman speaker. Where are all the ladies at? Clearly I need a book deal so I can be invited to conferences to be snarky about religion.
John Shook surprised me and was, I thought, the most interesting and compelling speaker of the entire event. He was so interesting that I briefly entertained the idea of sitting with him at the speakers dinner instead of PZ. He’s a philosopher and is of the opinion that philosophy, not science, is the natural opposition to religion. And he used a term “a-theology” as that which is most directly opposed to theology. He recognized that the more insidious religious ideas are those that are constantly moving the goal posts, because they accept science and then turn it into religion. Anyway, if they end up selling DVDs of this or it ends up on youtube, I’ll link to it.
The day ended with Joe Nickell who talked about the Shroud of Turin. PZ had just talked about it, so I was up to date on the facts. He’s an interesting guy. After he spoke, I talked to him when we walked over to dinner and he’s one of those guys who is determinedly open minded. In a way where you worry that they’re too open minded, but he’s dedicated enough to the scientific method that he seems all right. But he doesn’t judge things as a whole, only specific incidents. Like if a woman is possessed, he would go and look at her specifically rather than looking at possessions as a whole. He doesn’t consider himself a debunker, but rather an investigator of supernatural claims. It’s a fine distinction, and I’m guessing it wins him points with the people he’s investigating, but I found it interesting that he is so committed to not being dismissive of people’s bizarre claims.
And then was dinner, which I’ve already talked about, and after dinner I went home because it was a long drive and I didn’t want to spend another 50 bucks to stay for the rest of the program and not get home til one in the morning.