This past weekend, I attended Skepticon 5 with my husband and around 1,500 fellow atheists, skeptics, and Freethinkers. This is the second time we have attended the free (yes, FREE), student organized conference in Springfield, MO, and we were not disappointed. For anyone reading who is not familiar with this conference, Skepticon is a free annual convention held each November in Springfield, MO and this was its 5th year running. It was started by the atheist student group at Missouri State University, and continues to be run by an entirely volunteer staff as a labor of love. If you would like to know more about the history and background of Skepticon, there is a full write-up on the official Skeption site.
So, when a bunch of atheistic and science loving folks get together, what do we like to talk about? If you have a picture in your mind of 1,500 people listening to presentations on 50 more reasons god doesn’t exists, then you don’t know us very well.
Topics of presentation included (not comprehensive, just the talks I got to see):
- how to present atheism and the value of critical thinking to children (Phil Ferguson) *this is a clarification on Phil’s topic
- the importance of community to atheists (James Croft )
- how to be more rational in your everyday life (Julia Galef)
- marriage and relationships from a rationalist perspective (panel on marriage and relationships),
- the science and possible medical uses behind hallucinogenic drugs (Jennifer Oulette),
- how to help atheist students thrive in high school and college environments (Hemant Mehta),
- the different ways a genetic mutation can spread though a population over time (PZ Myers),
- the common misuse of evolutionary psychology in popular media (especially how they perpetuate stereotypes about women) (Rebecca Watson),
- the real history and causes behind werewolf and witch history in Europe (Deborah Hyde),
- the basics of what the Higgs Boson is and why is it is so important (Sean Carrol),
- basic historical methods that can be used to examine any claim (Richard Carrier),
- how to be effective in debates (Matt Dillahunty),
- getting over religious guilt and shame about sexuality (Darrel Ray),
- the rights of atheists in the workplace (Amanda Knief),
- and, of course, how to counter common religious arguments (JT Eberhard).
I’m not going to give a detailed description of each talk, since that has been done already on other blogs. Also, all of these videos will be made available on YouTube soon (I’ll post links when I find out they are available.)
Here is a sampling favorite learnings and memories from Skepticon 5:
- JT Eberhard: “We have infinitely more evidence for love than we do for god,” just before he proposed to his girlfriend from the stage.
- I learned from Sean Carrol’s talk that what we know of Quantum Field Theory essentially rules out any scientific possibility of things like telepathy, telekinesis, and life after death. There are still plenty of unknowns, but the possibility of there being undiscovered fields or particles that would result in those types of phenomena have been effectively ruled out.
- Matt Dillahunty’s mix of card tricks and debate tactics. Seriously, I need to watch that again.
- Once again PZ Myers exposes the dishonesty of creationists in misinterpreting scientific findings. Evolution, FTW!
- I learned from Deborah Hyde about the medical, historical, political, and religious history behind the werewolf tales and witch trials (apparently there was overlap between werewolves and witches) in Europe. Did you know that supposed “werewolves” were once thought to have a medical condition called Lycanthropy and people have thought they were wolves on the inside though they looked normal outside? And that lycanthropy tales also played a role in the Inquisition and supposed werewolves were persecuted by the church just like supposed witches?
- I learned from Richard Carrier the basics of how to apply historical methods to historical claims. And how this is important for any citizen to know, to prevent unscrupulous people from either making up history or misapplying history to promote their own ideologies (Christian nation, anyone?)
- The Doctor made an appearance at Skepticon! Somehow, I always knew the Doctor was an atheist. (“Doctor Who?” you ask? Exactly. ;) ). Seriously, there were Doctor Who references all over this year’s Skepticon. Even the ring that JT Eberhard used to propose to his girlfriend had a message in it in Gallifreyan. There is a great picture of it here: Gallifreyan Engagement Ring.
Oh, and as a side note, I came out with shot glasses for the 4 Atheist Ponies of the Apocalypse. Can you tell who is who?
UPDATE: The video from Skepticon is currently available on the Skepticon LiveStream channel.