Archive for the ‘American Atheist Conference 2008’ Category
All was not well at the American Atheists Conference. Not everything went as planned, and if I am honest the back stabbing reminded me sadly of many organisations. The clash of egos, the public show and then the sideways bickering when out of ear shot. People jockeying for their ideas and presence to take centre stage.
So to hear that Ellen Johnson is no longer President is not a shock. The way she was “surprised” to receive an award and then produced a speech for it made many of us squeal. When she talked about finishing the “Freedom Walk” it went too far, almost hysterical in the show to garner support. Forgive me if it sounds like I am putting the boot in; what I am trying to tell you is that if you were at the American Atheists Conference it felt like knives were shinning for her and that her performance was not exactly helping the situation.
This does lead me to accept the version of events that she was fired. If you are fighting to save your skin do not present yourself with an award. I hope that things will improve within the atheist movement. I only voice my concerns now because the story is out. There are more stories where people’s egos do threaten to undermine the cause of science education and civil rights and a secular society that protects freedom of expression and personal liberty.
Enough please of the back stabbing and clawing that goes on behind the scenes. This is about a cause and an argument worth advancing. Hopefully all atheist and secularist groups can improve their inter and intra relationships not just so they recognise the benefit of working together (in the past they have competed fiercely with each other for members and status) but realising and releasing the synergy of acting together. Individuals should not get in the way of that process, but groups should not try to protect their status at the expense of advancing the movement as a whole.
It seems people will invent things about the showing that PZ Myers was requested to leave but Dawkins gained entry.
I was asked if I wanted my name put down on the web site by a friend but it did not strike me as something I wanted to watch. Catching up with those from RDFRS that did go, I think that PZ and myself had the better part of the deal. They did not gate crash the event. It was not by invitation only but a free showing you could put yourself and some friends down for.
However this story on the Expelled web site suggests it but then has this to say at the end:
Ben Stein’s “Expelled” is one of the more evenhanded, clever, and well-produced documentaries currently on the market. While the Evolution/Intelligent Design debate can spark much emotion, anyone walking away from this film will be convinced that the merits of Intelligent Design should be on the same level playing field as Evolutionary Theory. This film is about the freedom of speech, the freedom of ideas and ability to express those ideas…not about whether God created the heavens and the earth.
Many scenes are centered around the Berlin Wall, and Ben Stein being Jewish actually visits many death camps and death showers. In fact, Nazi Germany is the thread that ties everything in the movie together. Evolution leads to atheism leads to eugenics leads to Holocaust and Nazi Germany.
I may as well say that voting a foreign Austrian into power will cause this all to happen.
California sleep well tonight …..
Speaking of California, Josh Timonen of RDFRS had a rather different take on the documentary:
Expelled seems to mark a shift in the Creationists’ tactics. Everything they’ve tried to do so far has failed, so now they’re trying to claim it’s a conspiracy. ‘Big Science is trying to keep God out of the classroom, and you’d better do something about it fast or we’re going to have another Holocaust!’ Of course, god-did-it is not science, but I don’t think this matters to the film’s target audience. Expelled is simply a rallying call to religious Americans. It will probably be shown in church basements, and will further insulate those who fear the seed of doubt. The film’s message is so appalling (teaching evolution = the Holocaust) and is presented so crudely that any sane person will see it for the propaganda it is. There was virtually no real scientific content, and I felt stupider for having sat through it.
Of course everyone seems to have forgotton the Flying Spaggehtii Monster in all this, but I am sure the presence of his Noodly Appendage will be felt soon.
Eddie Tabash spoke of the importance of the Presidential election in the USA being about one vote – that of the new Supreme Court Justice that will replace 88 year old Justice Stevens when he retires. At the moment the Supreme Court is finely balanced 5-4 for those that uphold the secular constitution as envisaged by the founding fathers. With one appointment that legacy would be undone, from abortion, religious establishment of prayer, state religion. A move towards a theocratic state where the separation of God and State no longer exists and the state regulates faith in public life.
That is the reality, and it may mean some decisions that secular activists may not want to make. My take on the situation (and I want to make it clear what follows is my own opinion) is this. Obama is the only candidate that the Democrats can choose that stands a chance at defeating McCain. Not least a poll that has Obama winning by 5% and Clinton loosing by 5%.
That however is not enough. The Democrats are loosing ground with the bitter campaigns that are splitting the party down the middle. Even the story that McCain’s people have twice talked to the Democrats about defecting seems like the kind of speculation I had about Obama being McCain’s running mate. It sounds like an idea of bi-partisanship to change the country for the better but it will not only never work but never happen.
However I think that any lead that the polls suggest Obama has will be inflated by two key factors. One is that those who are not strongly inclined to vote will be more likely to choose Obama as their man – and may be less likely to vote. The second is that some Republicans, not least because of the recent press coverage about McCain’s team flirtation with the other side in the past, may be more inclined to suggest they are not voting – but come polling day they will vote for McCain.
This, together with the margin of error in polling of 3% variation suggests to me that in the 4 weeks before Polling Day Obama needs 10% to be certain. Let there be no mistake – McCain is the dream candidate and he is a better candidate than President George Bush Sr. or Jr. His experience, and story together with policy on key issues like national security and health will I believe come into it’s own towards the end of the campaign. There will be a McCain bounce that would be enough in a close race let alone one that misrepresents just how close the two candidates are.
This will be tight with Obama, and a 5% lead may even not be enough – I believe the margin of error could be as high as 6% variation. So to be home and dry you are looking at 10%, because I think McCain can claw back good percentage points in the course of a well run campaign and that also his vote will be underestimated by the polls while Obama’s will be overstated.
What can Obama do? With Clinton fighting to the bitter end there is not much he can do on that score but making bridges with the Super delegates that are behind Clinton will be crucial not least for him to have a Democratic Party that would give him 100% motivated support.
The second is that he needs to keep the margin at least to 6% to win. The key states where voter turnout is low and the State crucial need to be identified and the vote got out. Every vote will matter because the McCain bounce is very real let alone what I consider will be McCain’s underrepresented intended voting.
The third is that Obama must play the one trump card he certainly has over McCain – his youth, energy and having party willing to make reform and change happen. That can only happen if the Democratic Party can unite around him quickly, but also get election fund that they need – already wasted on a Primary between the one that stands a chance and the one that has none.
Finally Obama must not believe the hype that surrounds him. McCain is a real threat even if loosing by 5% points in the last few weeks. Every single vote will count, every activist contribution will matter, the result will be closer than the polls suggest. The future of the United States as a nation of freedom based on principles that defend liberty on a secularist constitution is under threat. This is further confounded if McCain as an over 70 year old candidate chooses either Romney or Huckabee as his running mate.
Not only must the American people realise the danger to the historical legacy of their country, and do the right thing come polling day – the Democrats must do the right thing now as activists. The vote on the nominee to the Supreme Court will have lasting implications. It is for this reason and if one of the two above become McCain‘s running mate, that I have decided that Obama should be the next President of the United States.
My analysis need not hold true if Obama can run an effective campaign achieving the goals I mentioned above. But a bitter campaign between Clinton and Obama, together with a situation that one has the popular vote and the other the delegate count (unlikely – Obama should hold both) let alone super delegates having the final say kiss the White House good bye.
Unforgettable if it means loosing the White House – the race will be tighter then the polls suggest. Unforgivable if it changes the constitution of the nation. One only hopes that Obama is moved by his principles and not his former Pastor Wright, whose rather inflammatory opinions are a further reason to show that when the founding fathers thought that religion and state went against the liberty and freedom of citizens they hit on an idea that is timeless.
Richard Dawkins is not only Darwin’s Rottweiler; he is for many the intellectual heavyweight in the battle for reason and the scientific method over faith based conclusions over the natural world. His talk at the conference was an immediate highlight as the first guest speaker on what really would be a good Friday.
The argument from design is one that not only shows “failure of imagination” but also the ”lamentable state of education”. Darwin’s explanation about the appearance of design is the opposite of chance. The argument that life existing at all without a designer is akin to a hurricane in a scrap yard forming a 747 is fanciful when “god is the ultimate 747″.
The supposed persecution of those that support intelligent design as a credible scientific theory is to be parodied in a film by RDFRS called Expelled: No Storks Allowed that will suggest that stork theory is a credible alternative to sex theory in the propagation of the human race.
In an earlier blog I talk about PZ Myers being expelled from the actual Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed showing at the American Mall. Dawkins commented that the film was utter rubbish in it’s “execution, unartistic and just plain incompetent from a film making point of view”.
There are real scientific controversies that we can discuss: extinction of the dinosaurs, man made contribution to global warming. This really is one that a discussion is taking place and one where arguments and evidence count to reaching a theory which is supported by a body of facts.
Sometimes the savagery in which Dawkins goes for the jugular of creationists makes people wonder if we should be more polite – whether the hammer or feather approach. The feather approach would be one that we can have faith and evolution (Ken Miller) and that Dawkins is rocking the boat (Eugene Scott).
One idea to counter that is this: some religious people claim that evolution and faith are incompatible – if we demonstrate the fact of evolution then we will destroy religion. Yet clearly the fact of evolution has not destroyed faith – it also suggests that the feather school wants a compromise that is not going to happen. The hammer approach is no respect would be unwarranted and that we have the right to question faith claims. One significant way is to encourage comparative religion – especially as fundamentalist christians would hate it as “children learn about faiths, see the incompatibility and draw their own conclusions”.
To aid in that focus it is crucial that we use our resources on long lasting matters rather then token gestures. That we concentrate on stem cell research, tax free status of faith groups as opposed other groups, and a proper education that is denied in a Madrassa. That rather than Pyrrhic victory that plays into the hands of extremists like defacing dollars or the public situation of the ten commandments. In the Q & A Dawkins accepted that if the use of “In God We Trust” was being used to further encourage religious faith in political discourse because it is on the currency (only since 1950s) then may be it was not a token gesture as he had mentioned.
The issue is that we do not want to come across like the stereo type “fuss pots” being “propaganda for christian fundamentalists”. We do not want to make it easy for politicians ignoring us nor let them get away with it, something which Ellen Johnson touched on. Consciousness raising is what this is about and mentioning the token issues are a good example of that whether the dollar bill or the pledge of allegiance. Just as feminists made us more aware of the language we use, let us make it clear that labelling children by their parents faith is not only wrong but ridiculous and that we should not label children as a christian child anymore then we would a conservative child.
Nor should we feel that we have to use our atheism in making the long lasting cases that will make a difference. This goes back to what Sam Harris said about not lying in the chalk outline that fundamentalists paint for us. There is hope for the future, concentrating on the issues that matter. In doing so we are promoting education, and civil rights.
Ellen Johnson started the American Atheist 34th Conference this Good Friday morning. Her introduction consisted of voting on atheist issues, upholding the constitution with threat of litigation and protest, and to participate in secularist issues to inspire others to do so.
The game of chicken is one of perception to “see who blinks first”. In that sense with 11% of the electorate being atheist her aim is to have a block vote that politicians cannot ignore. The figures she cited had that vote being 43% Democrat, 27% independent, and 20% Republican.
However there was no mention of how intensely that 11% view secularist issues when deciding which political candidate to vote for, or how crucial. The idea that the vote can be mobilized in that fashion is not one that seems practical – issues like economy, education, and health care will be more dominant issues when people cast their vote relative to secularist issues.
However, secularists being more involved with the decision making process would make a difference – and it was good to hear that the American Atheists have a fund that will endorse atheist candidates , whether Senators or people running for local districts. That, together with encouraging individuals to report and take action on unconstitutional activity, is one form of civic action which would make a real difference and seems like an efficient allocation of time and resources.
“Speak softly and carry a big stick”. One way was to be involved in ways that perhaps some atheists would seem perverse like National Bible Week. Yet that is an example where we can have fun – “an important way to do something with less stress” mentioning certain favourite passages (mine being the bears being called on by God to kill children that dared insult his prophet by calling him baldy). It reminded me of a bumper sticker:
I have read the bible. That is why I am an atheist
A big part for Ellen was mentioning that people did not have to feel like a victim, and she conjured up images of Rosa Park and even talked about atheists feeling excluded at gatherings due to religion being used in the public space as “atheist cleansing” to make us leave. I would not agree with the emotional usage of such terms. In no way is the situation comparable to the civil rights struggle, gay rights or indeed ethnic cleansing. True we can learn much from the campaigns but the idea that we are victims is not a mentality I would want seen promoted among us or expect others to agree with.
We are atheists and we do not want government imposing faith claims upon our way of life or in public policy and implementation.
Special thanks to Trevor Haldenby for the photo from the conference.
In case you have not heard the story this may well make you laugh your socks off
I first heard that Expelled was going to be shown at the Mall of America on Thursday night when Healthy Addict (known, to her amusement, in RDFRS circles as Banana Girl for her Richard Dawkins signed fruit that she posed with at the AAI Conference that actually belonged to a guy that played Jesus). The thought of going to see a film that would portray ID as being another different scientifically plausible theory struck me as being as much fun as having a bunch of Jehovah’s Witnesses trying to explain that just because they were wrong to say impending Armageddon they do not lack credibility on telling you these things. Even if free this would not appeal.
So other RDFRS crowd went while I stayed at the hotel to meet up with the other volunteers. Among those going to the film at the Mall of America was PZ Myers. Who was recognised at the showing and told that he was not allowed to view the film. Then later told that he was not allowed to be in the Mall.
What makes this ironic is that his family was allowed in and so was Richard Dawkins.
Met up with PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins and the others in the bar, we had another story to tell. We had gone out to lunch at Brenda’s – an organic, serving vegan desserts kind of place. Going to we passed a ’90s Gay bar that had a Happy Hour but presumably was at least merry the rest of the night.
While discussing life the universe and everything a man at another table asked us all if we were at school then if our parents were paying the bill. This rather bizarre take on us (we are mostly in our late twenties, accept for me always trying to be different at 30) seemed as a way to talk to us as he revealed that he was at a spiritual conference.
My curiosity was heightened because the lady next to me on the plane was also going to a spiritual conference, and thankfully she told me this and that it was about hearing the voice of God while we landed rather than when we took off (nine hours would have been longer). He produced a card that explained everything:
the slow burning love of god by saying Hu (pronounced Hue) with a feeling of love expelled as you hold the sound. Repeat for twenty minutes and feel the one with the divine.
Glad to be here instead. Rushed blog as need to have shower and set up RDFRS stall. Catch you later!
Arrived safe and well. Slept 11 hours having been at the mall with a guy that is with the Minnesota Atheists (Brad Bolin) - bought Hitchen’s “Portable Atheist” which is an edited highlight of writings in the English language connected with that thought. More bedtime reading. The American Mall is truly something to be seen – no photo can prepare you for the roller coaster inside and the vista before you. It is a stone’s throw away from the airport so last minute shopping will be on the cards before I fly out.
The Marriott hotel is owned by a Mormon – the book of Mormon is next to the Gideon bible. In these circumstances I usually leave a condom where 1 Corinthians 6:9,10 is – no idea where the equivalent passage is in the book of Moron. I have this idea that someone turns to the bible in a moment of temptation – the condom drops out; a sign from the almighty to go forth and not multiply. At the very least it aids safer sex, and I cannot help thinking that contraception in the bedside top draw may actually be more practical to the common good.
Found out that Maragret Downey is going to be at the convention. Have spoken to her about meeting up (she is President of the Atheist Alliance International which ran the conference in Washington DC).
The snow has only just started to melt in the last few days, Brad tells me. Snow piled four foot high in corners but walkways and roads clear of snow. Was actually mild yesterday at 8 Celsius – hopefully I may yet keep my jumpers in the wardrobe.
I am off now to hunt for breakfast and waiting for fellow volunteers to arrive. Not least Josh Timeon and Richard Dawkins. Still with a bar, laptop and a Hitchens book that should not prove much of a chore.
At the Marriott hotel in Minneapolis right now. To get to the hotel cheapest option from airport is use light transit rail. There is a free connection to next part of airport, which at the first stop you alight to get to the proper transit and head down to Nicollet Mall towards Downtown. Costs $2 and I have now $18 dollar coins in my pocket (from a $20 bill be warned!). From that stop just walk in direction you alighted to find 7th street then turn right and the hotel is dead ahead.
Well off to catch up with e mails, have a shower then off out tonight.
It seems like ages ago (December 07) that I was invited to help out RDFRS at the American Atheist Conference coming up over the Easter weekend (21-24) in Minneapolis. Now it is fast coming!
Tomorrow just before midnight I will start my journey down to Gatwick South terminal for my flight to Minneapolis-St. Paul International. Just purchased coach tickets. From hotel, coach, plane tickets all have been done over the internet – the ease of doing these things a welcome to someone that prefers arriving to the travelling. My printer however is making the job more difficult (despite repeated head cleaning only best quality is readable taking 5 minutes a page to print, and even then not really top quality). Out of A4 blank paper so using lined paper. So much of what I get from the internet I save on my computer – as much for saving space as for environment reasons.
Which leaves me needing to get health/travel insurance, not least after having watched Sicko. My hope is that I will sleep on the plane, arriving with the energy and no jet lag to shop at the Mall of America (touchdown is early afternoon local time), and hopefully catch up with other’s who may have decided to arrive a day earlier. Might wear my A shirt hanging out at the hotel so people can recognize me as a delegate. Please feel free to approach – no caution necessary!
As to fun on the last day of conference, idea is to go to the Mall. The Aquarium is open (biggest in the world) Easter Sunday, but I have no idea if transport will be running (half an hour away on public transport) but I imagine it will be. Hopefully answers to these questions will be found on Wednesday as Thursday will be much about organising the stall and meeting up with people. There are some bands performing in the evening with the conference proper starting Friday morning.
If you are attending look forward to meeting up with you – especially if you will be there Wednesday at the Marriott hotel where the conference will be!
Big thanks to all you readers. The site has had so many hits recently so thanks for that. Will be using my camcorder a bit more often to film things. In aid of that will have to get a tripod at some point. Have to say I prefer writing and speaking to people, but will get used to it soon enough.
Materialists go shopping!
With regards the American Atheist Conference March 21-3, one thing we will be doing at RDFRS is a sightseeing tour of the Mall of America on the last day of the conference. Would be after the conference finishes on the last Sunday and the Mall is open till 7:00 pm. Will have more details of when we set off at the conference when I know what time everything is running.
It would seem a good time to help the American economy out spending all the dollars I have thanks to the exchange rate.