Friday, July 10, 2009

TAM7 - Part 4

I'm going to continue blogging about the events, but I'm afraid you won't be getting more detailed discussions about each event at this blog. I'm listening to the talks, taking some notes, meeting lots of people and, in order to enjoy myself, I'll be giving a somewhat detailed account of the events at TAM on the next Atheist Experience show and the next Non-Prophets, instead of here.

That said, here's a quick recap of the far:

When I last signed off, Hal Bidlack was giving the opening address. I've got a great deal of respect for Hal, but what I'd really like to do is have a lengthy discussion with him about skepticism and religion. Hal took a moment to strongly make a point (which he evidently made at the last TAM, as well) that every skeptic is welcome here and that while Randi is an atheist, Hal isn't and that we need to be respectful when dealing with the issue of religion.

He didn't go into great detail, which is why I'd like to have a long — on air — discussion about this subject because, I am sincerely interested in how someone manages to advocate reason, critical thinking and skepticism, yet maintain religious beliefs. Please note: I am completely serious. This is not an attempt to promote an argument or beat up on someone...Hal is a genuinely good guy and he holds a position that, to me, clearly amounts to cognitive dissonance — and I'd love to talk about why. I'd love for it to be thoughtful, respectful and informative. I'll see if this can be arranged.

Phil Plait spoke for a bit about the state of the JREF, the wonderful work done by the JREF crew in organizing the event (and they most definitely deserve gratitude and recognition, because things are running smoothly and the event has been wonderful, so far).

James Randi spoke about his recent illness and how he's doing better, very humbled and honored to see that we have more than 1000 people at the event and are expecting more as the meeting continues.

Without addressing every speaker we've seen today, in detail, I'll just say that I've had a great time. Bill Prady gave the keynote address (which gave me ideas to pitch to him for additions to his TV show, "The Big Bang Theory"). Fintan Steele, a former monk, gave a very interesting talk about "Personalized Medicine" or "Personalized Mysticism".

After lunch, Jamy Ian Swiss and James Randi took the stage for a great session of nostalgia from Randi's life. We saw footage from an early appearance on The Tonight Show, footage from a BBC program, the milk can escape and a couple of straight jacket escapes...along with some rare footage of Randi's work with Alice Cooper.

Jennifer Oullete talked about a new initiative to provide Hollywood with easy access to real scientists with the goal of improving the way science is presented to the public - a very important endeavor that I'm optimistic about as so many people get their information from popular programs.

As I write this, we're listening to the anti-anti-vax panel. I'll prompt microbiologychick to write a blog post on this talk, later.

Still to come, today: The Live Auction...Joe Nickell...and the wrap-up by Jeff Wagg.

For those people at the event, some of us are getting together for drinks at the lounge near the Silverado at around 8pm. I've been overwhelmed by the positive response from fans of the show and I'll be trying to spend as much free time as possible with anyone who wants to sit down, have a drink and chat.

If I didn't already absolutely love doing the show, you guys would have made it worth doing simply by saying "Hi, I like the show" and not just because most of you seem to want to fill me with free liquor.

I've been made a card-carrying, T-shirt wearing member of the Society of Edmonton Atheists (though this won't get me free health care)...another fan of the show brought me a book edited by Michael Martin (more on that later, I'd like to read it before I comment) and everyone has been great; posing for pictures, drinking, chatting...if Las Vegas wasn't already my second-favorite city, it would be now.

More details to follow...and I've been informed that we'll be going to the Skepchick party on Saturday night, so there may be a bit of blurry-blogging on Sunday.


  1. Matt,

    You don't owe us ANY details. You're the president of the ACA and the face of the Atheist Experience... but you're also a human being who deserves a fucking day off. Take a day off, take the rest of your time in Vegas off. You don't have any obligation to your audience, or even your friends, to tie yourself to your computer.

    Seriously... you would make me the happiest person reading this blog if you turned off your computer and didn't post again for a week. Enjoy Vegas, enjoy your time with your girlfriend, and forget EVERYTHING ELSE.

    Hell, I'll send you cash if you can just relax. Not MUCH cash, but a little. :)

  2. Agreed.
    Matt, enjoy your time at TAM.

  3. I agree with Joe. You may not remember much of it if you don't write it down directly after but we understand why.

  4. I've met several folks who - while otherwise rational - refuse to apply their skepticism to their theism. My experience is that these folks are somehow immune to the cognitive dissonance inherent in this stance.

    Typically these folks will reject the less tasteful aspects of whichever doctrine they subscribe to - they will be the pro-choice Catholics or the alcoholic Muslims, the kind of folks who say that Evolution is the how but God is the why. At the same time they are typically unshakable on the question of the existence and importance of God.

    Ask them for evidence and you will earn yourself a shrug; they will readily admit that they have no evidence and explain that only faith can get you to where they are at. In my experience this kind of person makes for a very uninspiring evangelist.

  5. Hey Matt, love the show and everything you do. I agree you should relax and enjoy yourself, but I have a feeling at least a small bit of that would entail talking about your experiences in some fashion. Either way, it sounds like you're having a good time, and there is much to be learned/gained from the event, so have at it.

  6. I think there are very good pragmatic reasons for skeptical organizations to stick to empirically testable claims, and the fact that there are religious people who are valuable contributors to skepticism is one of them. Check out Martin Gardner's _The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener_, for example--Gardner's a theist whose views are close to fideism.

    Some big names in science and the defense of science include Catholics Kenneth Miller and Francisco Ayala, who were instrumental in the court victories in Edwards and Kitzmiller. Miller argues for something like Gould's non-overlapping magisteria, that science answers "what?" and "how?" questions, while religion answers "why?" questions. I think that's ultimately philosophically untenable, and that he's choosing to reject ancient tribal wisdom from the realm of science, yet unaccountably to accept it in the realm of religion.

    Also check out this letter on the subject from the _Skeptical Inquirer_ signed by the leaders of a number of local and regional skeptical groups.


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