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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Freethought Convention Reflection

Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because if there be one, he must more approve the homage of reason than that of blind-folded fear. -- Thomas Jefferson

"Hey, the first raffling is coming up in ten minutes. Those autographed Daniel Dennet books look sexy. Let's go get some tickets," she says, as we are waiting in our seats having just heard Blair Scott of the American Atheists Alabama speak. As we walk to the front to buy some tickets, we approach Matt Dillahunty. With a sword in a hand that he had been carrying, he is speaking with the event's organizer. Matt raises the sword above his head, leans his head back, opens his mouth and slides it down. With it swallowed, he bends over taking care to keep his spine straight.

We proceed to buy our raffle tickets. "Are you familiar with Guy P. Harrison and Daniel Dennet?" the attendant asks. Smiling, "Of course we do." We buy six tickets and head back to our seats.

As I pass by Matt again, I turn to my friend and marvel "Here we are attending an event of interesting lectures and we see someone swallow a sword!" She is silent for a few moments and remarks "You really believed that? My skeptic sensor went off."

The Texas Freethought Convention was enjoyable. We heard from:
  • Joe Zamecki
  • Zach Moore, North Texas Church of Freethought
  • Matt Dillahunty, President of Atheist Community of Austin and host of The Atheist Experience
  • Blair Scott, American Atheists Alabama
  • Kathleen Johnson, Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers
  • Terry McDonald, Chairman of Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex Atheists
  • Clare Wuellner, CFI Austin & Secular Family Network
  • Geoff Henley, author of Beyond Reasonable Doubt: A Lawyer's Case for Disbelief in God
The speakers were all very informative and dynamic. I particularly enjoyed Geoff's presentation. He argued we should approach others who are in our fields and professions and apply concepts and standards in our fields to their religious beliefs. For him, he related the claim of God's existence to the plaintiff in a trial and our position as the defendants: the onus is not on us to disprove his existence; the onus is on them to prove his existence beyond a reasonable doubt. When they make their claim, all we need to do is create reasonable doubt. He made many more comparisons, such as relating Pascal's Wager to a contract of adhesion. I didn't buy a book there, but it's on my list now.

My main, and MAJOR, criticism of the event is the schedule. It was such that after every speaker/even there was 15-30 minutes of downtime. Further, most speakers didn't even use their full 30 minutes, so we wound up having at least 20-25 minutes between each event with nothing to do. It was great in the beginning as it gave us a chance to check out the booths, speak to people, and network. A third of the way through, though, I had met everyone and looked at everything.

I suspect many others did too as people began leaving in large numbers after the fourth hour. They accomplished in nine hours what should have been done in no more than six.

I forgive them this, though, as it was the first convention and these types of problems are to be expected. The speakers were good and the event was nice exposure to people. In the future I would recommend have speakers present in 2-3 blocks, and then allow for 30-45 minutes of networking between each. Also, for one of the breaks allow about an hour for a meal break.

All-in-all though, it was a really good experience. The only big problem was the schedule, so without that I would describe it as fantastic. I look forward to next year, anticipate an even greater pool of speakers, and hope for a better schedule.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you had a good time at the TFC. I also enjoyed the event and the speakers. A lot of great people came from all over Texas to attend and in the long run, they are the most important aspect of any convention: state or national.

I do agree with the scheduling comment and know the Committee will be taking advice like yours to heart as they begin planning next year's event!

Blair Scott
National Affiliate Outreach Director & Alabama State Director
American Atheists, Inc.