A Reason for Reason

March 18, 2010 § 18 Comments

There has been a lot of writing about the “Global Atheist Convention – The Rise Of Atheism” since its completion on Sunday afternoon, so most things that can be said have already been said. There were some good reports in the online media and blogosphere, some great satire, and some really stupid and unfounded criticisms from others, most of whom I doubt their attendance at the conference (as illustrated here). Unfortunately for me, the whole experience was so overwhelming that I failed to write about the conference quickly enough to be one of the first, and it’s still too early to sort the specific issues brought up during the conference as my brian is still working through it all.

There’s no reason for me to give a blow-by-blow breakdown of who spoke, and about what, because that also has been covered by the media and blogs.

So instead, by way of an introduction to my (future) blogs about the issues raised at the convention (there should be several), and for those that missed out, I’m just going to give some of my impressions from the convention as an organised event, and some of my highlights, not related to the content of the speakers’ presentations (as these will be addressed in future blogs).

The venue was the new Melbourne Convention Centre at the far west end of Jeff’s Shed, right behind the Polly Woodside. The building itself was a great place to hold this event, it easily accommodated us. The building itself was new enough that the obvious wear and tear that such high-traffic buildings endure was not yet evident.

With numbers as high as 2500 for the Sunday session, we were all able to get a decent seat, and to see from all vantage points. The food was ample and fresh, and the Saturday night dinner was well worth the dollars spent, even if just to mingle with the others at the conference.

The people were just great. I felt comfortable to just walk up to any person, introduce myself, and ask them what they thought of this or that, be it the food, or the last presenter. All demographics were covered in terms of age and sex, but I must admit it was a very “white” audience. I’m not sure why this is. Any ideas? I met some brilliant people, too, and I now follow a bunch of new Australian atheists/agnostics that I probably would have never discovered any other way. My twitter following jumped 70 people over the weekend.

I brushed shoulders briefly with celebrity, shook hands with Richard Dawkins (though he couldn’t get away from me quickly enough for his liking), spoke briefly with PZ Myers about the debacle that is Health Care Reform in the USA, and took photos of others, for others of the 2 Chasers boys that attended the dinner (Julian Morrow and Craig Reucassel). My own photo ended up too dark, blurry and they were moving.

There was a good number of stalls there too, representing everyone from the AFA to the Australian Sex Party, each who had their own agendas around the ideas surrounding atheism and equality, fairness and anti-discrimination. Most of the books by the individual speakers were on sale in a stall too, and most of the keynote speakers did a book signing at some stage during the conference.

There was hardly any public displays of protest against what I would have thought would have prompted at least some organised reaction (one day there were 3 guys with signs and a table, and on day 3 a Creationist showed up with his wife and kids).

The absolute highlight for me of the entire conference was the amount of reason, rational thought and intelligence displayed by every person I met. I have never been surrounded by so many intelligent, thoughtful and reasonable people. Seldom have I met a better group of people. Obviously I didn’t speak with everyone, but  those I did speak to were as critical of the messages presented by the speakers as they would be with any messages. I chatted well into the night on after each of the three sessions, and it was at these times that I felt as if we could all make a difference in the world. THIS is what I came for, and I was not disappointed.

Thank you to the organisers and fellow attendees for making this one weekend I will not forget in a hurry. Over the following weeks, I will be writing blogs which cover some of the topics raised at the convention, so stay tuned.

(Special shout-outs go to @rachel__joy, @zombiealan, @naehutch,
@happysinger, @purplefae, @ilikeportello, @amydedman, @SeandBlogonaut and @jinohchoi,
among so many more! Love you guys, wish we could hang out more! You are StarStuff of the most awesome kind.)

To read all the media responses to the Conference, look here.

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§ 18 Responses to A Reason for Reason

  • mike00000000001 says:

    All I want to know is what are you atheists going to do to stop the onslaught of the restricting of religious speech in America? We need less Russian Atheists and More American ones and we need that fast. It would also help if you actually established a moral code that rejected abortion, rape, and other injustices.

  • mike00000000001 says:

    You need to reject moral anarchy within your ranks. As long as you don’t establish some moral code, many many lawless minds will continue to feel justified in the name of atheism.

    • There will always be idiots who misunderstand atheism and therefore will ‘feel justified in the name of atheism’ to do bad things, but that’s not a problem atheists really need to care about. Call them out when we come across them, yes of course, but to be honest, I’ve never personally come into contact with someone who was ‘immoral’ and used atheism to justify their immorality. I have, however, come across a ridiculously large amount of theists who seem to run into these kinds of atheists all the time, which leads me to believe that there in some kind of disconnect between atheists, theists, and the example you’re perpetuating.

      This ‘immoral person using atheism as an excuse’ strawman reminds me an awful lot of the ‘gay people are lecherous child molesters who choose to be bad’ strawman. Perhaps you’re trying to rack up some sort of logical fallacy strawman collection, kind of like those creepy American Girl dolls, only even MORE ridiculous?

    • Um, we’re not Communists… We’re atheists. Politics for us is a secondary factor to any of us under the label of “atheist”. Moral anarchy? I think you’ll find we are morally quite fine, and not anarchic, as far as I know.

  • Noadi says:

    I’m not sure anyone should take someone with your grasp of geography seriously. Last I checked Melbourne, Australia wasn’t part of America.

  • Religious speech in America is keeping its rights. What we don’t like, and usually fight against, is that religious speech has usually more right than it should. Everyone is free do say as they please (even if it is nonsensical), as long as they don’t do it with our tax money, meaning, no intermission from the state. We don’t have a “fixed” moral code, since our morals usually evolve with the society we live in, instead of basing them on a holy text written for a specific time and place. We usually base our morals on what science can tell us and what we can conclude from that.

    And finally, regarding the “rape”, well, christians (especially catholics) are much better with that.

  • SainterSan says:

    @mike00000000001 Mate, we aren’t all communist revolutionaries you know? Atheism is closely related to secular humanism which is far more ethical than anything i’ve ever seen in the Bible. I suggest you look into it before you open your mouth.

  • Oh, so that guy thinks “atheist = russian = communist”. If that is not retarded I can’t imagine what is.

  • Paul Hellard says:

    A better post with better spelling. Will follow you. I wish I had the time (and cash) to go to this convention. Thanks for your wrap.

  • Coran says:

    Nice summary Martin. I for one expected a little more in terms of exhibitors. I’m sure a table full of evolvefish.com merchandise would have done a roaring trade. The vibe was overwhelmingly positive and you’re right about being able to walk up to anyone and just start talking about stuff. In fact, the whole place was buzzing from start to finish. Even when there was criticism, it was thoughtful criticism, not the sort of rambling, mindless rubbish you get from some commenters on the Internet.

  • Wow… you get wingnuts everywhere huh!

    Nice coverage of the Convention too, you’ve summed up a few of my thoughts nicely.

    I especially like this:

    “Seldom in my life have I ever met a better group of people. Obviously I didn’t speak with everyone, but those I did speak to were as critical of the messages presented by the speakers as they would be with any messages. I chatted well into the night on after each of the tree sessions, and it was at these times that I felt as if we could all make a difference in the world. THIS is what I came for”

    Fuckin’ A! I suggested to Jason on Facebook that, in lieu of a second convention, we can just stand outside the MCC smoking and drinking coffee… those moments were some of my absolute highlights.

  • Matt says:

    Nice summary, Martin. I too appreciated the critical analysis and discussions that followed on from all the talks.
    Having been a Christian in a previous life (it *feels* like a previous life, anyway) I can say with certainty you don’t get that level of intellectual conversation at equivalent Christian events!

    And to mike00000000001, I’d avoid buying into the argument that Atheists must have no moral code simply because they reject religion. It really doesn’t make you look very clever.

  • mike00000000001 says:

    Look at our human heart. Does it make any sense? No in fact all of our hearts are full of logical and emotional dissonance when we start out in life. We have moral dissonance. If you want to be a humanist and love mankind and that is your reason for being an atheist, which I doubt, then consider your own moral dissonance. The human heart is a mess. Yet this is what you joyfully turn to as a guide for your morality and compassion. How can you benefit mankind if your heart is morally confused?

    • SkepDad says:

      If I read this ramble correctly, you’re arguing that humans can’t be trusted with morality, because our “hearts” (motivations, passions, preferences) are inconsistent.

      That’s as may be, but it’s the best that we as a species have. Our moral sense has evolved over aeons and continue to evolve by consensus and rational debate. Religious notions of morality are created by a small number of humans (with their own flawed “hearts”) and perpetuated unquestioningly.

      I’ll take evolved groupthink over manipulative fairy story dogma any day.

  • Mick says:

    What about the human heart doesn’t make sense? It’s excellent at what it does, pumping blood throughout the body.

  • joyworldyet says:

    Since the question “what is an atheist?” frequently comes up, and since there seems to be some confusion, here are a few basic facts.

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