The 19th was a full day of talks, starting with a panel on alternative medicine that included Desiree Schell (we’d see more of her later) and Vancouver’s very own Ian Cromwell. They discussed how to deal with the quacks that grow like mushrooms in Vancouver, and one solution is simply to be visibly skeptical. Vancouver skeptics have done very well there, with the 10:23 overdose, and protesting the presence of Deepak Chopra and James van Praagh. Also, I learned that Aristolochia, used for thousands of years in traditional medicine (to help in childbirth, to cure arthritis, among other functions) is in fact a serious carcinogen and toxic to the kidneys. Also also, PZ Myers responded to one of my tweets, so that was kind of a fanboy moment.
August Berkshire talked about morality both with and without god. The bottom line (as I remember it) is that god-inspired morality really isn’t that reliable since it relies too much on obedience and/or unexamined tradition, where Jehovah is either daddy or Santa Claus (referring to Lawrence Kohlberg’s stages of moral development). So far so good. But the part about godless morality… Yes, it’s true members of many species cooperate and help each other (there was a touching anecdote about a group of elephants freeing caged antelopes), but using evo-psych to justify altruism is a bit problematic. Especially if you define altruism so broadly as to allow for altruistic bacteria.
After lunch, Desiree Schell picked things up with “So You Want to Change the World?” I didn’t take a lot of tweet-notes, but I remember she talked about her own personal reactions to the Elevatorgate kerfuffle, and the need for diversity in the atheist/freethinker community: “If you want to attract people of diversity, you can’t just pay it lip service.”
Matt Dillahunty of The Atheist Experience was next. Again, I only took a few notes, but part of his talk was a call back to the previous night’s debate. The theologians’ assertion that all you have to do is seek God with an open heart is not only wrong, it’s insultingly wrong. It dismisses the experience of people like him, who honestly tried so hard to reach God, but God was silent. And I quote, “Any god who expected more from me, can kiss my ass.”
Andy Thomson followed with a talk on singing and dancing and religion. Religion, he asserted, is built from the functions of many different modules of our brain, from begging to our parents, to methods of solidifying memory and behaviours. He led us into a brief little chant that seemed increase the pain threshold of some of the participants. Pretty neat!
And then PZ Myers does something sciency. No, really, that’s the title of his speech. Mostly it was a thoroughly entertaining rant about stupid creationist/religionist arguments that have been thrown at him over the years. A good way to cap off the day.
The banquet and comedy show that followed was quite good. I drank about a third of a glass of white wine, which I think is more than I’ve ever drunk in one sitting. And I was feeling kind of buzzed, but that may have been psychosomatic. Anyway, the food was quite good, and the 2 of the 3 comics were very funny. I know this kind of thing can be very hit and miss; apparently last year’s comics were pretty bad.
Only one picture from this day: