I just got back from attending the American Atheist National Convention in Minneapolis. This was a very successful convention, with, I believe, the most attendees ever.
The first speaker, and probably the main reason for the high turnout, was Richard Dawkins, the author of such books as _The_Selfish_Gene_ and _The_God_Delusion_. His talk was an overview of the latter work. I talked to Dr. Dawkins briefly later, and he didn’t remember commenting on the Vernon display on his website, but I thanked him for it anyway.
The next speaker was Lois Utley, who talked about health care restrictions in Catholic hospitals, and the fact that recent mergers are resulting in many more hospitals being run by Catholics and under Catholic restrictions than before, including some which aren’t obviously so. Later there was a panel discussion among some activists about to what extent American Atheists should align itself with other causes which have a church/state component, such as gay marriage. American Atheists currently tends to avoid such alignments, with some exceptions. I personally mostly agreed with the panelists in favor of greater alignment.
The final presentation on Friday was by author Mary Stanton about Bill Moore, an Atheists civil rights activist who was murdered in Alabama in 1963 while on a walk across the South which was to culminate with handing a letter to the governor of Mississippi. Several men who had been arrested soon after while trying to complete Bill Moore’s march were brought on stage. Finally Ellen Johnson, the president of American Atheists, revealed that she herself is going to complete the walk this spring.
Saturday’s first speaker was David Eller, the author of _Natural_ _Atheism_ and _Atheism_Advanced_, speaking about the latter book. He claimed that the reason pointing out that religious beliefs are nonsense doesn’t work is because people don’t really base their religion on belief, but that religion is a frame for their worldview, and we should be working to change that frame.
The next speaker was Robert Lanham, a former Evangelical who wrote _The_ _Sinner’s_Guide_to_the_Evangelical_Right_, which is a catalogue of the leaders of the Evangelical Right movement.
The next speaker was Eddie Tabash, a lawyer who is a long-time activist, pointing out the importance that a judge sympathetic to the separation of church and state be appointed to fill the next Supreme Court vacancy.
The next speaker was Rene Salm, who presented the case that the town of Nazareth did not exist in the first half of the First Century CE.
The final speaker was the physicist Lawrence Krauss, who was in my opinion the best speaker of the convention. He spoke about the history and current knowledge of the origin, state, and future of the universe, concentrating on the cosmological constant, dark matter, dark energy, the limits of knowledge, and the implications of all this for the cosmological “proofs” of the existence of God. Not only does this subject fascinate me, but Dr. Krauss was an excellent and entertaining speaker. He was able, for instance, to explain how the angular measurement of regions of different temperatures in the very young universe can reveal the curvature of space in such a way that it made sense to a layman like me.
The final event on Saturday was a panel of experts, including Dr. Dawkins, answering questions which had been submitted by attendees.
On Sunday there was a debate on the proposition “The Jewish god exists”. Taking the positive was Dennis Prager, who is a radio personality apparently of some fame, and taking the negative was Frank Zindler, a Biblical scholar and the head of the American Atheist Press. Prager’s case mostly consisted of the argument from lack of imagination; he couldn’t see how there could be morals or Beethoven without God. Zindler spent much of his time reminding Prager that he hadn’t even defined what his god is. It was a mostly polite debate, although Prager lost his temper once when discussing modern art, which is somehow the result of secularism. (Don’t ask; I don’t understand it either.)
Besides all of those presentations and other sessions, there were dinners, a movie, book signings, and many, many informal discussions during breaks and well into the evenings about Atheism, activism, politics, and every other subject that friends talk about when they get together, because, as I’ve found, even if you have no friends at the conventions when you arrive, you do when you leave.
Dennis Paul Himes
Connecticut State Director, American Atheists
Coordinator, Connecticut Valley Atheists
Nisus ait, “Dine hunc ardorem mentibus addunt,
Euryale, an sua cuique deus fit dira cupido?”
- P. Vergilius Maro