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The Thinking Atheist Shines at the FreeOK Convention

Yesterday, myself and 6 others piled into an SUV to make the drive to Oklahoma’s first freethought convention, FreeOK. On the trip to Tulsa, one of my friends pondered what The Thinking Atheist might look like. I replied that he probably just looks like a regular guy. Many amazing people you meet are just regular people. Indeed, he does look just like a normal guy.

283214_10150254061208339_706773338_7799485_1246545_nBut man, is he ever a good speaker. If you’ve ever heard his podcast, you know he’s really very skilled at oral presentation. That translated very well into his “real-life” presentation. He showed us pictures of utterly ridiculous things religious people believe, stated with his typical matter-of-fact simplicity. It was interspersed with just the right amount of silence, so we could remember how frustrated we felt that anyone could not see the inherent contradictions. Then, he’d execute the beliefs with the just the right amount of incredulity in his voice. It was quite an emotional experience. Childhood indoctrination was also a bit of a theme, and several members of our group were nearly brought to tears.

I think it’s interesting. I could get up there on stage and say the same things word for word that he said, and it wouldn’t have anywhere close to the amount of emotional impact. It’s all in the delivery, I guess. I really hope we see more of this guy in the future.

At one point, with the air of nostalgia, Seth suddenly started singing church songs. The 318 strong crowd sung the songs with him. No one could believe that many atheists knew that many church songs word for word. I didn’t know any of the words, but many did. It was definitely a WTF experience.

If this talk doesn’t make it online, I’ll consider it a crime against humanity. Although I’d imagine it might lose some of its luster watching it second hand. There’s something about the electricity of a crowd of people that’s lost in videos.

Praying_Hands_at_dusk_on_the_campus_of_Oral_Roberts_UniversityAnother speaker was Dr. William Morgan, a former professor at Oral Roberts University. He spoke on his journey from belief to non-belief, and elaborated on the internal politics at Oral Roberts University. He compared Oral Roberts’ mindset to that of a dictator; if you didn’t believe exactly what he believed, you were out. It was interesting to get a glimpse into the bullying that goes on in organizations like this. Believe in the party line, or else.

Dr. Morgan’s presentation, while great, did end with a short clip from the movie Zeitgeist. I was a little stunned that this piece of uninformed drivel would make its way into a talk. But nobody’s perfect, I guess.

During the Q&A, one questioner nervously asked Dr. Morgan how “sure” he was of the facts around that movie clip. Dr. Morgan stated that he was sure. He didn’t have much to say about it, though. After struggling for words a bit, the questioner shakingly asked the rest of the panel for their opinions. Matt Dillahunty then went on to give the most fair and nicest criticism of Zeitgeist that I’ve ever heard him give. Personally, I would have preferred that somebody speak on the factual claims point by point. It felt a little like we were dancing around the topic so as to not offend. But I suppose people can always look that stuff up online.

Abbie Smith, a graduate student at University of Oklahoma, gave a talk on how the immune system develops stronger antibodies using the power of evolution. It was posited that while many atheists are very comfortable debating creationists, they often feel that they don’t know enough about vaccines to challenge anti-vaxxers. She showed how if you understand evolution, then you understand the immune system and vaccines. The content of the talk was sciency-goodness, and it was quite tasty!

AronRa and Matt Dillahunty also spoke, and were excellent as expected. I’d elaborate more on their talks, but I think I’ve wrote enough as it is. So, I’ll open it up to the rest of you. What were your favorite parts of the day?


God Takes Sides in Wars

NPR played a story this morning about a teacher with a master’s degree enlisting in the military. They really played it up like he was an intellectual who decided to serve his country in the military. I was really into it until this one bit right at the end:

“We’ve had some close calls. We’ve had, like, Marines who’ve taken bullets to the Kevlar and abrasions on the back of their head, but nothing more than that. … For me, my faith — God has really been looking over us.

Now, I am totally aware that many intelligent people believe in God. I immediately lost respect for this guy when I heard this, though. How can anyone with good analytical skills not have thought this through?

20110706-091528.jpgAm I to believe God picks sides in wars? That God loves America and not Afghanistan? I’m sure the enemy prays to their God, too. But we’re right and they’re wrong?

What about the thousands of U.S. troops who died? I guess God decided not to guide the bullets away from them? Did those dead troops offend God in some way? Did they not pray hard enough? Why did God let them die? If God is saving some troops but not others, I’d sure as hell like to know why.

Does that mean God is for Americans killing Afghan insurgents? What about “Thou shalt not kill”? Are there exceptions to the ten commandments?

It baffles me that someone who has spent time and effort feeding their intellectual needs has never taken the time to ask themselves these questions. If anyone has an explanation for my questions, I would love to hear it.