cosmos-slice

My favorite fact of science

One of the fan questions in last night’s COSMOS panel (live streamed on Tuesday night ahead of the TV première of COSMOS 2104 on Sunday) was about the panel member’s favorite fact about science. It’s such a huge question that it would be hard to answer on the spot. My answer to this (after some thought), is that science is weird beyond what we can imagine and yet it is everyday, and all around us. Ever think about why, when you put your hand on a tabletop your hand does not just slip right though, although supposedly the atoms both are made of are mostly empty space? It’s because the electrons in the tightly packed atoms of your hand repel the electrons in the tightly packed atoms that make up the table—what you feel is the result of electromagnetic repulsion. I know I’m a big geek but when I first read about that I started tapping my hand against the table and felt slightly giddy with fascination. (NOTE: My understanding of how that actually works is not precise. Feel free to send corrections my way if I have described it incorrectly.)

Then there is that favorite fact that I learned first from my astronomy prof at UofL, and then heard again from Carl Sagan, that we are made of “starstuff.” It’s a bit of a romantic notion since people have long mystified the stars, but there is such an incredible depth to the idea that I never entirely get used to it. It encompasses the Big Bang and the formation of the simplest atoms of hydrogen. Those hydrogen atoms then clump together from gravity (since the expansion of matter from the Big Bang was not entirely uniform) into big balls of gas so massive that the pressure of gravity at their centers started smashing those hydrogen atoms together so hard that they fused together to make helium—producing vast amounts of heat and light in the process. Then the new star took billions of years to burn up all its hydrogen, so it then starts fusing the hydrogen into carbon—the basic elemental building block for life—and then carbon into iron (assuming it was a really massive star) and then exploded as a supernova since a star can’t sustain itself on iron fusion. And the heat and pressure from the supernova (which sometimes outshine their entire galaxy!) finishes the job and fuses the elements that are heavier than iron. *Deep breath, ‘cause that was a mouthful.* The supernova blasted those atoms out into space where they eventually formed dust clouds and new stars and solar systems, and…us. The wonder of massive stars far away and long, long ago, and the strangeness of atoms and nuclear processes, time scales beyond our innate comprehension…that’s what we’re made of. When you really get it, doesn’t it make your heart pound?

For a more technical and in-depth, yet simple and concise, explanation of the life cycle of stars and the building of elements, visit http://burro.astr.cwru.edu/stu/stars_lifedeath.html.

You can also view the panel discussion for Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey online at COSMOS: A SPACETIME ODYSSEY Live Event.

IMG_0359

Skepticon 5: Science, Atheism, and Doctor Who?

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.

Panoramic view of the stage and attendees of the Kentucky Freethought Convention on October 6, 2012.

Kentucky Freethought Convention Wrapup

After long months of planning and preparation, the day finally arrived. Yesterday, Saturday October 6th was the first ever Kentucky Freethought Convention. And what a success it was! While targeted primarily to freethinking Kentuckians, it was about the same size in attendance as the first national American Atheist convention that I attended three years ago. We even had a few attendees who drove all the way from West Virginia and Tennessee. The final attendance is estimated to be over 250.

Panoramic view of the stage and attendees of the Kentucky Freethought Convention on October 6, 2012.

There was a great mix of topics by a variety of speakers both local to Kentucky and nationally known.

Dr. James Krupa, Professor of Environmental and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Kentucky, spoke on the importance of quality education in evolution and science for students who are not majoring in science.

Edwin Kagin spoke about the origins and history of Camp Quest, a summer camp for the children of secular parents which focuses on the importance of science and critical thinking (along with other fun summer camp activities). Camp Quest was started in Kentucky and in the past 10 years has spread all over the United States and to Europe.

Seth Andrews, of the Thinking Atheist podcast and former Christian radio broadcaster, told of his experience of coming out as an atheist and of handling the conflict with family that this can sometimes cause. He also had a bit of fun poking fun at some of the most ridiculous expressions of religion in modern America.

Dr. Gretchen Mann, Chef Medical Officer at the Louisville Military Entrance Processing Station, discussed how she, along with the Military Religious Freedom Association and Louisville Atheists and Freethinkers put a stop to the active proselytizing by the Gideons of military recruits at the MEPS centers all over the country.

Annalise Fonza, former United Methodist clergywoman and current member of Black Nonbelievers of Atlanta, spoke about her past as a member of the clergy, the issues faced by nonbelievers in African American communities, and the importance of diversity in race, gender, and sexual orientation in the atheist movement.

Former Minister’s Panel.

As the last speaker for the day, Will Gervais,  Associate Professor of Social Psychology at the University of Kentucky. spoke about the recent psychological studies on societal perceptions of atheists, and the connection between analytical thinking and non-religious thought. I don’t have a picture for Dr. Gervais, but when I have one I will post it.

We all had a great time and made great connections with one another. I am looking forward to next year’s convention!

Dawin_profile

Questions from Ky State Fair Visitors

 

Tonight I had my second shift volunteering at the KySS/LAF Kentucky State Fair booth. It was a great evening, and there was lots of great conversations with both believers and unbelievers alike. Somewhat in contrast to last year, we have gotten less of the “drive by’s” (as described in my last post) and more Christians (and one Jewish guy) coming to chat and ask a lot of questions. I’m not sure if it is because we are doing something different a bit different this year or if the visitors at the fair are getting more used to our presence, but I have detected less hostility this year and a lot more of apparently honest and curious questions from the religious.

This is a sampling of the questions that fair visitors asked me while this year (and a brief version of my typical answer):

  • Are you atheists?

Yes, we are atheists.

  • Why don’t you believe in God?

Lack of any evidence or reasons to believe that such a person or being exists. This is not how I worded it, and I went into rather more detail in the booth, but it essentially comes down to this.

  • How do you know what is good without God?

We define “good” in human terms. We don’t need a god to know what is good.

  • So you believe the apes came first? (I had to pause a moment to avoid laughing at this one.)

Yes, I accept the theory of evolution as the best scientific explanation we have of how we came to be.

  • What does he (referring to the Darwin statue) have to do with the rest of this (referring to the rest of the booth)?

Darwin was an agnostic atheist (during at least the later part of his life) who made great scientific contributions to the world. Our booth features atheists and freethinkers who have contributed to the sciences, arts, and the advancement of human rights.

Watching unsuspecting state fair visitor’s reactions to the very lifelike statue of Charles Darwin standing in front of our booth…priceless.

  • What do you think happens when you die? (I was asked this at least 4 times by different people tonight.)

I think that when we die we cease to exist, same as the state we were in before we were born. The only part of us that lives on is the change that we made in the world. And I am totally content with that.

  • If there is no God then where did we come from?

Generally though natural scientific processes like evolution, but I don’t really have a quick and easy answer to that question. And I don’t need to have a quick and easy answer to that question. Just because we don’t know all the answers does not mean we should fall back on “God did it.”

  • If there is no God where did the universe come from?

I don’t know. And answering a question that you don’t know the answer to with “God did it” is a very poor way of dealing with the question.

  • Do you believe in the Big Bang?

I understand the Big Bang as the best supported scientific explanation so far of how the universe came to be. And then I explained some about the cosmic background radiation, expansion of the universe, the predictive power of scientific theory, and a bit about why scientists mostly accept the Big Bang today.

EDIT: Here are a couple of questions I was asked by a couple of Christian teenaged girls that found their way to our booth. (They also repeated some of the questions above.) I forgot to include these last night but that I don’t want to leave them out.  

  • Why are you here (that is, why do you have a booth at the state fair)?

Our primary reason for being here is to reach out other atheists and freethinkers who are surrounded by religion in their daily lives and may not know that there are other people in this state who see the world the way that they do. The social and psychological pressures on atheists can be enormous in a situation where we must hold our thoughts to ourselves for fear of judgment or worse, sometimes from people like parents and bosses who hold a lot of power over our lives.

  • (As a followup to the question above) What was the reaction from your family when they found out you were an atheist?

In answer to this I briefly recalled the story about how my Mom found “infidels.org” in our computer history and asking me why I had chosen the “church of the infidel.” Yes, my newly-found perspective on the truth was not well received in my childhood home, though I know of others who have received much worse from going against the religious opinions of their parents. It caused a lot of tension until I finally moved out and got my own place, and it was helpful for me to find other people that I could talk to about it. Fortunately today I have a good relationship with my Mom and we generally avoid talking about our disagreements on religion.

In general these were nice, productive exchanges and I have a feeling that several believers left the fair with at least one positive experience with an atheist.

 

SkeptiCamp Kentucky, Part 3

This post is a continuation of speaker summaries and my review of SkeptiCamp Kentucky 2012.

Space elevators – Bob Malcolm

Bob Malcom’s talk was about space elevators–how they would work in principle and how they could be used to make space exploration cheaper and more efficient. Space elevators work by using a line suspended by a platform in geostationary orbit.

Cost of transporting a cup of water via space elevator versus traditional means of transport.

Bob then discussed  how heavy elements are created in supernova explosion. Most of those elements in the earth are probably in the center of the earth, but some of these elements on the surface came from meteorites. One argument for space elevators is that they can be used to help mine asteroids. NASA, Google and Japan have plans to mine asteroids. Even now, calls have been sent out by those who are planning such trips to find people who are willing to spend the rest of their lives of Mars.

Parasites – Melody Ward

Melody is fascinated with parasites,  not just for the gross factor, but for their amazing and crazy adaptations to their hosts.

Several examples are given, such as the pain killer and anticoagulants in leeches used to prevent detection, disinfect the blood (to keep the food good for itself, but it also helps prevent infection), and prevent the blood from clotting.

The tapeworm has different life cycles for living in vector and in host.

Sacculina is a barnacle that paritisitizes a crab. It uses the crab female to protect and groom it’s eggs, and then controls the male crab to make it act like a female to build and groom an egg sack.

Cymothoa exigua actual replaces a body part of its host.  It kills the tongue of the host by sucking the blood out of it until it falls off and then the parasite becomes the tongue.

Next are nest parasites, such as the brown-headed cowbird. They lay their heads in another bird’s nest. The impostor egg is easy to point out because it is black speckled. However the host bird still cares for it with the others. This is an important adaptive behavior for the species because cowbirds are adapted to follow cattle herds and they cannot take their nests with them.

Coocoo birds, another nest parasite, will actually push the other eggs out of the nest before they hatch. Also will push out the other chicks if they are small.

Leafcutter ants and the Phorid fly. Fly lays it’s egg inside the ant. The flies have been used for fire and control. Leafcutter ants use guards to protect against the flies.

Parasites are especially interesting from an evolutionary perspective when you see the ways in which they are constantly needing to adapt to their hosts, as their hosts adapt to fight them off. The Red queen hypothesis states that parasites and hosts have to continue to adapt (keep running) just to stay at an equilibrium with each other.

Parasites have also played an important role in our own evolution. Sickle cell anemia, for example, is a defense against malaria parasite. Chloroplasts in plant cells and mitochondria in animal cells were once parasitic bacteria that developed a symbiotic relationship with the cells of other organisms. (This is why mitochondria have their own DNA.) Retroviruses, which use parasitic genes which insert themselves into the host’s DNA, are inherited though the family line can can be used to trace a species’ ancestry.  Autoimmune diseases which affect many of us such as allergies and arthritis evolved as a response to parasites.

One of the most interesting points made in Melody’s presentation is the way that  parasites can be involved in the development of social behavior. There is a monkey that lives in an area where it could be a parasite called a screwworm in any opening in it’s skin.  This prevents the monkeys from fighting since they don’t want to get scratches due to the risk of screworms, and leads to a much more peaceful environment than might have otherwise developed in the monkey colonies.

Review and Conclusion

There were more speakers after this, however, I was not feeling well on that day and opted to leave a bit early, I have only provided summaries of the speakers that got a chance to hear. The time that I spent there was a good time, I learned a lot, and I am looking forward to next year.

Skepticamp Kentucky 2012, Part 1

Here is the promised post from three weeks ago about SkeptiCamp Kentucky 2012. I will be reviewing the speakers that I heard, though unfortunately I wasn’t feeling well that day and missed the last four talks.

First, an explanation of what a SkeptiCamp is. These are small mini-conferences put on by skeptics groups all over the country. Rather than calling in big names from out-of-town for speakers, the organizers of these conferences call on local volunteers who would like to research and present on a topic of their choosing. As a result these conferences are very low-cost to host, and attendance is typically free. For more information on SkeptiCamp, and to see if there are any in your area, visit the SkeptiCamp Wiki.

SkeptiCamp Kentucky 2012 was the second annual SkeptiCamp hosted by the Louisville Area Skeptics. Local guest speakers presented on topics including how to think clearly, global warming, parasites, and the challenges faced by atheist kids in southern Indiana schools.

Darshwood the Conjurer

The first speaker was Darshwood the Conjurer, and the topic of his speech was “Making the Impossible Possible.”In his talk, he explains how anyone can accomplish seeming impossible tasks using the MUST system: Motivation, Understanding the problem, using a system System, and having Time to prepare. He demonstrated this principle by reciting the alphabet backwards fluently, and then showing how it could be done using a story about a “Man named ZY who is an X Warrior Viking…” and so on. It went a bit too fast for me to get the whole story in my notes. Anyway, the idea is that if you could remember how the story went (and stories are always easier to remember than a string of numbers) then recalling the story in your head would allow you to recite the alphabet backwards with no mistakes.  A volunteer from the audience accepted the challenge and did succeed in using the story system to recite the alphabet backwards from the stage.

Darshwood Handing Out Cards

Darshwood Handing Out Cards

Christopher Graney

Next in line was Christopher Graney, who spoke about a classroom study of climate change in Kentucky that was conducted using basic data analysis from physics to analyze climate science data.

Christopher Graney

Students checked for trends in temp and precipitation in Frankfort, Bowling Green, and Williamstown though they found no major overall changes in temperate over 120 years. The practical conclusion from this is that the average Kentuckian has no personal experience of climate change within their lifetime. Most people either accept or reject climate change based on the authority of scientists or media (mostly media).

Christopher also had a point to make about passion and data. While the experiment was in progress, both a student who is a climate change denier and one who strongly supports climate change stated that they would not change their opinions regardless of what the data says. I would understand anyone thinking that the results of this experiment would not be conclusive either in favor or not of the existence of climate change, so some skepticism of the results as expressed by these students is understandable. However, it would be hard to deny that there are political and social factors that play a huge part in whether anyone accepts or denies climate change regardless of what the scientific data actually says. This is a bias that we all need to be aware of.

Shelly Henry and Sarah Henry

Shelly and Sarah are a mother/daughter pair who gave the next presentation for the day. Their talk was on countering religious bullying in public schools.

They started off with a brief history of court cases that touch upon the question of the separation of church and state in public schools such as

  • Engel v. Vitale (1962)
  • McCollum v. Board of Education (1948)
  • Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe (2000)
  • Good News Club v. Milford Central School (2001)
  • Ahlquist v. Cranston (2012)

After the brief history lesson, they came to what I found to be the most interesting and engaging part of their presentation: Sarah’s own experiences of being an atheist in a Floyd County public highschool. In one incident, Sarah got a “letter from god” in her locker which was targeted at her as a atheist. School administrators would not consider it as bullying even though such religious bullying is acknowledged in school policy. The person who did it was caught on camera, but the school administrators ignored the incident because it was not done with “malicious intent.”

The discussions of Sarah’s experiences lead to a discussion among audience members about what does and does not count as religious bullying. It was generally agreed that merely discussing religion and religious belief is not bullying. Sarah even mentioned having mutually respectful discussions about religion with Christian classmates on her track team. However it does cross the line into bullying when the offender tries to force a discussion, makes threats like “you’re going to hell,” or covertly leaves religious artifacts or letters in the atheist student’s locker. Basically, whatever leads to a chilly or threatening environment for the atheist (or other minority) student counts as bullying.

At the end of their presentation Shelly and Sarah offer advice to parents and students for dealing with religious bullying:

  1. First know the bullying policies of your school.
  2. Then make the schools comply with the bullying policies, even though religious administrators may not understand why students pushing religion on a non-believing student would be a problem.

More on SkeptiCamp Kentucky coming up in my next post!

IMG_0789

My Homeschool Story

The Thinking Atheist had a podcast about homeschooling last Tuesday. I wish it had been a day that I could listen to the show live, because I might have called in if it was.

I was a home schooled kid during high school. I had been in the public schools from K to 8th grade. I strongly suspect my parents wanted to homeschool me since they had been listening to Focus on the Family shows about how horrible the public schools are. I jumped on the opportunity because I was having social trouble at school. My peers were a total enigma to me. I didn’t know how to deal with the middle school meanness except to run from it, I was totally ignorant when it came to the music and shows my peers liked, and I couldn’t get why anyone would care all about what clothes I wore or how I did my hair. So I was eager for the chance to stay at home to study and get to take walks at lunchtime when all the neighborhood kids were away at school. Sometimes I think having the socialization of high school would have been helpful to me, but it wasn’t being home schooled that made me an introvert. That’s just the way I was.

Most people whose stories I’ve heard about homeschooling reference a mother who was a housewife and who spent the whole day teaching the kids lessons. That is not how it was for me. I was more self-taught than parent-taught. Mom was the primary breadwinner in our family, and while Dad was the stay at home parent he wasn’t heavily involved in my studies. I would check the assignments on the curriculum list, do the work, and get Dad to supervise if I needed to take a test. I also required his assistance for spelling tests. I did well when it came to things like grammar and reading and book reports. When it came to things like Algebra I barely learned anything…I seriously needed a teacher who was trained to teach math. I didn’t catch up in Algebra until I took some remedial courses in college. But that did not stop me from scoring all A’s in High School, whether I’d truly learned the material or not. Somehow I still managed to score a 27 in the ACT exam, mostly riding on my advanced (for my grade level) reading and vocabulary skills.

My school curriculum was decidedly of the Christian fundamentalist sort…and I mean more fundamentalist than my parents or church. In subjects like math and physics, this mostly meant there were quotes in the introduction of each chapter about how things like math and logic and physics came from God, blah blah blah. The actual material on math and physics was still the same as I probably would have seen in a public school textbook. However, that was not the case for biology. I can’t remember if the curriculum was strictly six-day creationist, but it treated the idea of theistic evolution as a dangerous “compromise with the world.” Almost needless to say, I learned no good information on the theory of evolution but I did read a lot of creationist propaganda. In fact, there was a sizable section of my biology text that was all about how evolution is a lie. It’s a shame that I never had been exposed to much real scientific information about evolution at the time so I didn’t know any better than to buy into the propaganda.

The things I remember from my history lessons were about how George Washington was a devout Christian (highly in doubt) and included a film by David Barton called “America’s Godly Heritage”. What is really funny when I think back on it is that David Barton seriously had me convinced that all of America’s problems started in the 60′s with the sexual revolution and the liberal takeover. When I first saw the film Walk the Line about Johnny Cash, I was shocked to learn that drug abuse existed in the 50′s. This film came out in 2005, six years after I had graduated high school and 2 years after I realized I was an atheist. This is an example of just how sheltered and misinformed I had been. I also recall that my economics textbook was based in the Old Testament, mainly around the leadership strategies of Moses. However, even if it were truthful at all, it was so dense and boring to read that I never understood any of it. Economics was another subject I had to wait until college to learn.

So do I regret having homeschooled, and do I think I would have done better had I stayed in the public schools? Honestly, I don’t know. It’s hard to say what would have happened if we had made a different decision. I liked homeschooling in that I could work at my own pace and not have to sit around and wait for the slower learners in a classroom setting to catch up. In most subjects I am perfectly capable of reading and researching on my own. In others, such as Algebra, a good teacher would have helped greatly. Of course, it would have been much better if I had a real biology textbook rather than the Christian Fundamentalist propaganda textbook from the Christian Liberty Academy Satellite Schools program.

For anyone who is interested, here are some picture of my class ring from high school. The images were of my own choosing when I was 18 years old.

Memorable Moments from the American Atheists National Convention

I have the privilege of attending the American Atheists national convention this year after the Reason Rally. Following the trend of the past couple years, AACON 2012 was the best attended AA conference yet. And, if I heard correctly, the largest atheist conference ever! It was too much for me to give a comprehensive report, but below I have posted my favorite parts of the conference with pictures where I was able to get them.

  • Taslima Nasrin describing her story of exile from her native country of Bangladesh for daring to speak out and write about the oppression of women due to religious customs there.
  • Keynote by Richard Dawkins, where he discusses (among other things) the fine line between being too strident and not strident enough.
Richard Dawkins at AACON 2012
  • Christina Rad was totally impressive, and also managed to sneak in two different topics: the state of and importance of religious liberty around the world, and a statistical demonstration of why US criminalization of drug use is failing compared to other countries that do not criminalize drug use.
  • The coming out of the pastors from the Clergy Project, including one on the panel who came out for the first time at the convention. The female pastor pictured below made a surprise coming out as an atheist for the first time using her real name rather than the pseudonym she had been using with the Clergy Project.
  • Impromptu breakout sessions at the last session to help coach anyone desiring to come out as an atheist to their friends and family and painlessly as possible.
  • Lawrence Krauss explaining why it is plausible that our universe came from nothing, because the more we learn about the universe “nothing” is a lot more interesting and dynamic than always we thought it was.

Lawrence Krauss at AACON2012

  • Sam Singleton comedy night!
  • Costume party! And I got to get my picture with Thor (aka AronRa)

  • Poetry by Victor Harris.
  • On the way home: Airport security officer in the DC Airport stopped me briefly to read my convention t-shirt. He approved 100% and was pleased to find out that atheists have conventions.

These are my top 10 favorite memories from  the American Atheists national convention. I am looking forward to next year in Austin, TX!

The Reason Rally: No Fair-weather Atheists Here!

Despite the cool temperatures and intermittent rain, a crowd numbering from 20,000-25,000 gathered on the National Mall to celebrate reason, science, and godlessness. And I was very pleased and proud to be there among them.

My husband and I at the Reason Rally.

It was quite an experience to be at the largest freethought gathering of all time, and I can only imagine what it was like for those who had never come to an atheist gathering. The first time I met another person that I could speak with about atheism, I was thrilled beyond belief. Walking into a room with a few hundred atheists at my first American Atheists convention three years ago was like a dream. But this was an experience beyond all of that.

The speakers were of a variety from scientists and professors like Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers to singers like Shelly Segal and comedians like Eddie Izzard and Tim Minchin. This was a Rally for Reason, but not a dry intellectual unfeeling type of reason. It marks a landmark in a trend I have seen in the atheist movement. We are continuing to move beyond the intellectual halls and into the experience of everyday life. This movement is about reason and intellectualism, but also about community and life and emotion. The life of reason includes all of these things too. This is the “New Atheism.”

Bad Religion rocking the Reason Rally

You can find more information about the Reason Rally, and pictures of the speakers, performers, and massive crowd at ReasonRally.org.