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July 31, 2011


The Thinking Atheist Shines at the FreeOK Convention

by juju2112

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?

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11 Comments Post a comment
  1. Jul 31 2011

    Favorite part: Questions from the audience. Really, really, really great questions– I wish people would stop prefacing them with ‘This might be dumb…’ cause I got *no* dumb questions, either in my Q&A, the panel Q&A, or in after-talk conversations.

    Ive gotten really dumb questions from YEC audience members in ‘debates’, and those have to be handled… ‘delicately’… But with this group, every time someone asked a Q in my head I was like “AHH THATS SUCH A GOOD QUESTION!!!”

    Im so glad you all had fun!

    • juju2112
      Jul 31 2011

      My wife has anti-vaxxers as a part of her mommy meetup group. It drives her crazy. She’s not a rock-the-boat type like, me, though. If I was part of their group, I’d be all up in their business telling them about herd immunity.

      Your talk did spur some interesting evolutionary discussions at our lunch afterwards. A few members of the group aren’t knowledable on a lot of the basic biology concepts, so we we explaining it to them. See how the chain reaction starts?

    • Holly Scott
      Aug 15 2011

      Hi, it’s been interesting to read your posts. I hate to be the person to ask about your anti-anti-vaxxer opinions, but that’s who I am.

      From the outset, I would like to clarify that I am not anti-vaccine. I am, however, not comfortable with the information that’s presented to me as a consumer regarding the safety of the current vaccine schedule recommended by the CDC. The CDC and the medical community at large reassures me that the schedule is completely safe, and if I STILL have “concerns” about it, I should ask my pediatrician. I don’t have kids of my own yet, but I have several friends who do have children. A common occurrence for parents with “concerns” about the current vaccine schedule goes like this: they ask their pediatrician if they can maybe spread out some of the shots, or hold off on one or two. Generally the response is, “Sorry, but if you’re not going to vaccinate the way I do it, I’m not going to see your kid.” There’s rarely any wiggle room. One friend found a pediatrician who was willing to spread out the shots, but only because the child was born at 24 weeks and has had various health problems that may not respond well to receiving multiple vaccines at once. What I don’t understand is how any open dialogue can be had if the answer is almost always going to be “it’s my way or the way out of my office and don’t come back.”

      I want to also make clear that I understand and respect the importance of herd immunity. What I don’t understand and don’t really respect either, is why the CDC tells me my [future] children need X number of vaccines and definitely in this order, and that it’s assuredly safe or else talk to your doctor [who probably will humor you by listening but then tell you he won’t see your child if he’s not “caught up”], but then on its vaccine safety information link tells me that vaccine safety is determined by the number adverse events reported through VAERS. And then it goes on to tell me that not only does it take a formal scientific study to determine whether a vaccine actually played a causal role in any given adverse event, but further that it’s “rarely possible to say for sure whether a vaccine caused a specific adverse event.” ( )

      Really what I’d like to know is, why is it not okay for me to not want to give my [future] hours-old infant a vaccine for a disease that’s primarily transmitted by having sex with an infected person or through sharing contaminated needles to inject drugs ( ? The other way is for a newborn to acquire it from an infected mother. If I don’t have Hepatitis B and don’t plan on exposing my child to contaminated needles, blood or semen, why would I want to vaccinate her fresh out of the womb, and well before her blood-brain barrier has formed? I’m all for logic and reason, and the logic of vaccinating my kid for a disease she is unlikely to contract any time in the next ten or more years just escapes me.

      I want to make sure you know there is a middle ground on this vaccine thing. Just because someone isn’t all for it (like me) doesn’t mean they’re entirely opposed (not me at all).

      Unless herd immunity somehow applies in the case of the HepB vaccine (though I don’t see how, since sexual transmission and sharing contaminated needles are the primary means of contracting it) … I just don’t get it.

      I think the point of this is to see if you have any explanation for the logic behind and/or importance of starting the HepB series at birth. It seems we’re just a little immunity-happy.

    • juju2112
      Aug 15 2011

      I don’t really have an opinion on the order or timeline vaccines should be taken in. I know they’re important and I trust the consensus of the medical community. I doubt they picked the timeline at random. I’d be curious to know the answers, too.

  2. Jul 31 2011

    (oh, and Im at the University of Oklahoma :P dont feel bad, all universities in the area have the exact same name, just rearrange the words. i dont ‘get it’ either, lol!)

    • juju2112
      Jul 31 2011

      Thanks, I fixed it. I was just quoting what the site said! I can’t believe that website lied to me. :::shakes fist:::

  3. Jul 31 2011

    Isn’t the University of Oklahoma the same as Oklahoma University hence the acronym OU? If not, my apologies! I think it was a great read and I understand not having enough energy to talk about Dillahunty and AronRa. Great write up about Seth and Abbie. Thanks, Abbie, for coming. The Thinking Atheist still needs your power point for the video and will be contacting you soon.

  4. Jul 31 2011

    The singalong with Seth was both awesome and frightening. Frightening because twenty-five years after I left Christianity, the songs are still stuck in my head.

  5. Aug 2 2011

    Huh, so that’s what the Thinking Atheist looks like. He does some amazing work. I’m glad he get’s out and speaks lives.

    Although Zeitgeist isn’t perfect, the section on religion was influential in my discovery and further reading about the origins of Christianity and of notions of God in general. I’m glad Matt was there to offer his perspective.

  6. Dec 9 2011

    Good short post friend! Continue very good work and go on to keep making post just like it.

    • juju2112
      Dec 11 2011

      Thanks. And BTW… nice name!

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