Friday, November 19, 2010

Skepticon III: Day 1

Today started far too early. The first panel was at 11:30 and for some reason, we decided to get up around 9:30... after being up talking with old friends until nearly 5am. Oops.

We were a few minutes late to the first panel on Skepticism on sexism which was essentially a review of all the bad reasons people are sexist. The speaker noted that those against women's reproductive rights are "mostly Christian". It's the new focus of conservative groups formed in the 1960's to oppose desegregation.

But aside from the blatantly religious motivations for sexism, she noted that there were several pseudo-scientific reasons people bring up to justify their sexism. It often attempts to justify sexism by implying that it's not truly present and simply a result of unequal abilities in the first place or that people want it. They claim women are genetically inclined to be nurturing. It just so happens that men's "natural" abilities tend to be for high paying fields.

She argued that sexism hurts women by allowing them fewer opportunities, gives them socialized reasons to have low self-esteem and fear of being assertive, and burdens them with lower incomes, more depression & more likely to be abused.

It hurts men by forcing them into a constant battle, encourages "emotional stunting" (like in Jackass), and lowers their lifespan.

It also hurts society because we lose out on half the human race's talents. Investing in women also pays more because they tend to invest more in families and their economy.

Overall the talk was pretty good.

The second talk was by David Fitzgerald, pimping his new book, "Nailed" which reviewed the historicity of Jesus. It essentially had 3 main points:
1) No contemporary sources of Jesus' life mention him. The ones that are cited were well after Jesus.
2) The Gospels are mostly plagiarized and contradictory.
3) Other sources have no corroborating evidence.

His conclusion: There's no reason to believe that Jesus really existed.

David was a hilarious speaker and went ~15 minutes over time, but no one seemed to mind.

The third talk was by Debbie Goddard regarding diversity in the skeptical movement. In general it was a large recap of much of the discussion on Blag Hag with Ms. Magazine.

It also examined differences in minorities and beliefs. It found many superstitions fall off with age. Exceptions were religion, ESP, communication with the dead, ghosts, and aliens.

The skeptic community tends to attract people with high levels of educations, leisure time, no young kids @ home, some disposable income. Blacks don't have disposable income and are most religious. Surprised?

Not really. But should we care?

Debbie says yes. Otherwise we'll be laughed at in the same way we laugh at the Tea Party for lacking diversity (heaped with their rather blatant racism). Additionally, critically thinking is improved by diverse ideas, diversity breeds diversity (like biodiversity), and humanism, skepticism and critical thinking should be universalizeable, good for all. Getting young people is also important since young people are the future of the movement.

Debbie seemed pretty disorganized as a speaker and it wasn't especially engaging. Sadly, it was the lowlight of the day.

Fourth was John Corvino speaking on the parallels between the gay movement and the atheist/skeptic movement and coming out in both.

John said coming out isn't an event; it's a process and often has to be repeated. In his experience, coming out as an atheist has been harder than as gay since the gay movement has gone public in a far greater respect than atheists have for a good while now.

The response from the religious right hasn't been a real argument, it's been a panic. Skepticism, John says, is a methodology by which forces people to calm down and look at the facts. All in all, he found 10 parallels between the two forms of coming out:
1.Deep personal significance
2.separate “mental book”
3.possible bad reaction
4.Marked as “flawed”
5.need for community: We cant' count on parents for wisdom and support if parents aren't gay/atheist
6.“Dumb” questions
8.“dropping hairpins” - letting out hints
9.confidence matters

John also touched on the accommodation discussion stating "I cannot remain silent because I cannot forget what happens when they think they have infallible backing for their fallible prejudices."

The last two segments were discussion panels. The first was on accommodation.

In general, the panelists were pretty unified. Accommodationism is worthless. While it may score some quick points, the idea that we can cut out any of our points is to sacrifice the principles on which skepticism as a movement has been founded.
As John put it: " Integrity means being true to yourself but not necessarily saying it every time you can as loud as you can."

While de-emphasizing portions may be a tactical choice in some situations, that's not what accommodationists are calling for.

John told a good story in which a theist wrote Dan Savage regarding how to help with the recent spate of gay suicides without having to respect being gay because being told to would hurt the writer's feelings. Savage's response was "Fuck your feelings."

John said this wasn't his style and he wouldn't have responded the same way, but I think Dan had it exactly right: When it's someone's life and liberty vs. your feelings, based on lack of critical thinking and superstitions, your feelings should get no respect. If people think they should, they're not really working to treat the problem, merely treating a symptom. On the gay suicides, while downplaying the criticism of the religious bigotry might get us allies to find a few bullied kids helped, it doesn't fix the problem of why they're bullied in the first place.

Another sub topic that kept coming up was whether or not the NCSE actively pushes theism. PZ claimed it does. John disagreed but couldn't explain why. PZ meanwhile, noted that the NCSE only has material that supports the notion that religion and evolution are compatible, but not that evolution can be compatible with religion, thereby lending its credibility only to the fuzzy sort of watered down theistic evolution.

Regardless, we can accommodate somewhat on some issues, but to sacrifice integrity for some quick victories is folly.

The last panel was on whether or not skepticism leads to atheism. Again, the panelists were pretty agreed: Yes.

It's not a 100% guarantee, but if you're honest about skepticism, then it should.

The only even remote bit of dissent came from James Randi who said he didn't have much of a problem with a friend of his who, being skeptical in every regard, still consciously chose to believe in theism because it made him feel better, yet still admitted that he had no evidence or logical reason to do so. Randi accepted this because the person was at least intellectually honest enough to admit it was an irrational position and it was based solely on utility and didn't harm his critical thinking in any other regard.

Overall, it was a good day of talks and I'm looking forward to Saturday.


RBH said...

PZ meanwhile, noted that the NCSE only has material that supports the notion that religion and evolution are compatible, but not that evolution can be compatible with evolution, thereby lending its credibility only to the fuzzy sort of watered down theistic evolution.

I don't follow that "evolution can be compatible with evolution" phraseology.

And the friend that Randi mentioned was Martin Gardner.

Jon Voisey said...

Thanks RBH: It was supposed to read "evolution can be compatible with religion". Trying to compose my notes into a post when dyslexic and sleep deprived doesn't always work so well.

Debbie Goddard said...

I'm glad you blogged about some of the points I offered in support of the movement paying attention to diversity--and I appreciate the honest criticism. In my defense, though, I'll mention this: because of a series of strange communications, I was only confirmed as a speaker the Sunday before the conference, so it was a rush to get everything together.

This is the first blog I've run across with such a thorough report of the conference! I'm sharing with pals who couldn't make it there.

- Debbie

Jon Voisey said...

Hi Debbie. I wasn't aware that you had only so recently been confirmed as a speaker! I'd assumed that, even had someone been added more recently, that they'd choose a talk with which they were already familiar with (as I suspect some of the other speakers did).

Regardless, I think your talk was good if unorganized and it only strongly stood out because of the quality of the other speakers.