In the spirit of moving past yesterday’s minor manufactroversy, I’d like to say a few positive things about what happened over the weekend. Contrary to general sentiment on one side of the so-called “deep rifts” I still believe Skepticon is an awesomely good time. Just going to put that out there, so you know where my biases lay. If you think Skepticon blows, the odds are really good that you’ve never actually been there and you’re just going off of nasty internet chatter, which has proven to be an abundant and renewable source of negative psychic energy in the form of heat rather than light. Anyhow, on to my lessons learned, in no particular order:
- Dogma Debate is a great show, run by fun people having a good time. Their live show covered a bunch of creationist twaddle, critically deconstructed some country music, talked over the problem of evil with a real live Christian apologist, among other things. I bought the t-shirt. Seth Andrews’ show (The Thinking Atheist) is awesome too, but I assume you probably already know about it. Interestingly, Seth was unsure whether he going to release this weekend’s recording, because he was feeling fairly under the weather at the time. Time will tell.
- Demarcation is problematic. The relationship between science and philosophy is still a matter of some contention. This question came up explicitly during the live broadcast of Dogma Debate and during most of Richard Carrier’s talk, and implicitly during the two science talks. I’m personally in favor of a stronger demarcation between science and metaphysics, but got the sense that Dr. Carrier favors a far fuzzier neo-Aristotelian standard which would make science a subset of the general philosophical project.
- Watch your intake. Some fraction of the con-going fraction of the atheist community has a bit of an issue with ethanol titration and self-restraint. Usually this is not terribly troublesome, but a few people are going to do regrettable things when they get boozed up. I don’t have an easy answer to this, but we might need to throttle back somewhat on glorifying drunkenness, at least within the con-going atheist subculture.
- Subject matter and focus has shifted significantly for Skepticon. It has become much more about social justice and meta-level atheist/humanist movement issues of late. I’ll rerun my old quantitative rollup soon to try to illustrate how much things have changed this year, but suffice to say for now that maybe two talks fell firmly into the science/skepticism category. I don’t really see this as a problem, it seems to me that rationalists are most likely going to make their attendance decisions mostly on the speakers list and the listed talk titles, along with extrinsic factors such as distance and costs, rather than going entirely off the name of the event. Incidentally, if you’d like to quickly get a sense for the entire weekend, I put together a little Storify which covers most of the main stage events. Left off the Friday workshops and most of the embarrassing after-hours antics which lead to the inclusion of point 3 above.
- My favorite speakers over the weekend were Debbie Goddard from CFI and Monica Miller from IHS. I had the privilege of interviewing Debbie at length three Skepticons ago, and I have been consistently impressed with her ability to push for social justice in an uplifting and affirming way. Her talk was about her personal faith journey, leading into a series of anecdotes and recommendations about how to move effectively secularism forward. As to Dr. Miller, I doubt you will ever find someone so well-qualified to closely read and critically analyse how the categories of hip-hop and religion have been socially constructed and culturally situated. She told me this was her first Skepticon, hopefully we shall see much more of her in the future. It is always refreshing to be challenged by treading into unfamiliar conceptual terrain.
- The friendly vibe at Skepticon has not diminished in the least, despite all the hostility that we’ve seen generated online from the usual critics. With only a couple noteworthy exceptions, everyone was just as friendly and welcoming as in previous years, and we had the good fortune of running into loads of folks that we knew from before, most of whom hailed from Tulsa this time around. (Where are my OKC people? Probably at a bylaws meeting or something.) Anyhow, the reason to attend a conference lies in the connections we make, rather than the information we absorb. We have Hambone Productions‘ excellent YouTube videos to refresh ourselves on the talks whenever we like, but Blue’s blue bottle of mysterious and possibly toxic intoxicants is something that has to be tasted to be rightly understood.
I have more good things to say about the Skepticon experience, and perhaps a couple constructive criticisms as well, but these will have to wait for tomorrow.
Bonus video clip: