Sunday, November 15, 2009

Back from the Texas Freethought Convention with Keynote Speaker Victor Stenger

       Well, it's Sunday morning, and I'm happy to say that I attended the 2009 Texas Freethought Convention in San-Antonio yesterday and I thoroughly enjoyed it. There was a good turnout, about 200 people, A good panel of speakers, an open bar (free booze...*yay*, even though I didn't drink), and plenty of time in between presentations to schmooze with presidents, co-presidents, and representatives of some of the largest atheist and freethought community organization and activist organizations in the country, including  as well as atheist celebrities such as the keynote address by author Victor Stenger, Matt Dillahunty (and other Atheist Experience Co-Hosts and crew).

          The first speaker was Kathleen Johnson, Vise President of American Atheists, as well as the Vice President and Military Director for American Atheists, and the Founder of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers (MAAF). She was in the military for 23 years and was even an MP. Now she works for the military running an evidence room and doing crime scene technician work (collect ing evidence, etc.). She has been working on the scene of the recent Fort Hood tragedy, and the first part of her speech was explaining what happened, though not much can be said for sure yet because investigations are still in progress, and highlighting the heroic actions of the officers that brought the situation to an end and the emergency medics who saved many lives. She also talked about the religious discrimination in the military as well as what she and the MAAF have been doing as far as advocating for adherence to the military's equal opportunity regulation, and how the military has a strong history of oppression against anyone who is not an evangelical christian. She also talked about how much the military proselytizes, which is actually illegal.
          I was distracted, therefore I only had limited notes to the details of Kathleen Johnson's speech, but she gave a very good speech, then took questions from the audience about various aspects of her military experience as a woman, MP, atheist, and activist.

           The keynote speaker was Victor Stenger, author of many books including God: The Failed Hypotheses, Quantum Gods, and his newest book,  The New Atheism.
          He started his talk mentioning kids preaching and proselytizing in school as an example, and talked about how we, as atheists really have no objection to this proselytizing when it is confined to church and religious institutions. We do however, object to it when it is pushed in our face, when it comes to school, and when it causes death. He spoke briefly of the beginnings of the movement now termed the "new atheism", which jump-started with the publications from the five most popular authors of the movement, Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennett, Harris, and himself over the last ten or 15 years.
,           Stenger pointed out how, even in the population of atheists, there are even many prominent atheists who disagree with this "new atheist" movement, in terms of it's attitude and methods, as well as some prominent scientists. The discenters tend to disagree with our openly disagreeing with and confronting of religious beliefs.
          He pointed out that what the new atheists are advocating is for everyone to stop giving special treatment to religion (as it has been treated as an off limits subject, beyond questioning with science and reason). However, Stenger points out, we are in a time in our society where religion and religious leaders are looked to for answers to difficult decisions, even by the top officials in our government. Faith is given this high value of wisdom to be looked to, whereas faith is really belief in the absence of evidence,
and a mind who holds this type of reasoning highly should not be looked to for huge decisions.
          Moving on to Stengers discussion of his new book, The New Atheism, he mentioned how a common argument from believers is that "a lack of evidence is not evidence of absence". However, Stenger states that in his book God: The Failed Hypotheses focused on showing how a lack of evidence is actually absence! His book showed how the universe looks just like it should if it was not designed according to all the evidence we have from the sciences, astronomy, physics, biology, neuroscience, etc.
          Stenger went on to state that "if faith is belief without evidence, then science is belief with evidence", which uses rationality to examine what is what. What is rationality? It is making observations, analyzing the data, looking for evidence, etc.
          Stenger mentioned the claims from theists and the NAS that science cannot look at the supernatural. He argues however, that Science can however, look for the observable effects that would pertain to claims of what these supernatural things do. He then covered many of the common claims such  as the argument from design, the argument that material things cannot produce immaterial things (such as thoughts), the argument based on the anthropic principle, and the cosmological argument, all of which fall apart under the observation of the scientific evidence concerning these claims. (if you want to know what these arguments entail, they can be found here, at The evidence plainly presents a strong argument that the laws of nature, as well as all of observable nature came from natural means. Also, the only reason that these arguments are still used is because the proponents of these arguments know that most of their audience does not have the technical knowledge to see through the arguments.
          Stenger closed stating how physics shows us that something is really more natural than nothing, because nothing is highly unstable. He then took audience questions about these topics. All in all, stengers talk was engaging, informative, and inspiring, to keep on fighting for rationality, science, and living in reality, instead of a fairytale. I had the opportunity to meet Stenger personality, he is a really nice guy, and wonderful to talk to. I'm also happy to say that he signed my old copy of God: The Failed Hypotheses, and took a photograph with me, which I'll post later.

          If you are interested in reading Victor Stenger's new book, you can find it on, or probably at your local bookstore. There were also two other wonderful speakers at the convention, which I will write about in a later post because I have somewhere to be right now and I'm running out of local group, Bryan/College Station Atheist and Freethinkers group is meeting this morning. Also, I should mention that if anyone is in the area and interested in hanging out with likeminded people, email me, or leave a message. We'd love to see you there..........

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