Friday, September 25, 2009

Skepticon 2

Last year I spoke at Missouri State University (in Springfield) alongside P.Z. Myers, for the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, on science, religion, and morality (video of the whole event is available on YouTube). They weren't sure if they could make it an annual event, but lo and behold, they exceeded their wildest dreams. Now Skepticon 2 is on for Friday and Saturday, November 20 and 21 (2009). And boy, are they amping up the dial to 11! Check out their official event website for all the information and updates as planning develops. And for more details about the MSU campus and the group hosting the event, see last year's blog.

Though an exact schedule is still in the works, the roster of speakers they've secured this time is already incredible to behold. Instead of just two of us for a half-day event, this time it will be an amazing two-day conference. The emphasis is on exciting content, so I doubt any of it will be boring. There will be at least eight speakers: apart from myself, Richard Carrier (more on that below), you'll also get to see Dan Barker (who is always an entertaining speaker), D.J. Groethe (a freethought radio personality who is also a real pro), P.Z. Myers (if last year is anything to go by, he'll definitely be fun to hear), Joe Nickell (I was on a panel with him some years ago and I can vouch for him: no matter what he talks about, you'll be riveted), Robert Price (he rankles some, but let's be honest: the guy is funny, and a master of words--even if you don't agree with him, you will not be able to deny you enjoyed hearing what he had to say), Victor Stenger (I've not heard him speak yet, but if his last book is anything to go by, you won't want to miss him), and Rebecca Watson (by all accounts definitely no dull speaker she).
Richard Dawkins is still a possible addition--he was interested, but scheduling conflicts will likely nix an appearance this year. For more background and links on all these speakers visit the Skepticon II Speakers Page.

There is also a strong possibility of a panel debate with local heads of the Assemblies of God (their national office is located just down the street), on which I and a few of the other speakers will be representing the godless side. And of course many speakers, myself included, will be selling and signing our books throughout the event.

The whole conference is going to be free and open to the public, a rather amazing feat. To do this they need help with funding, and are asking anyone who believes the Midwest needs this sort of thing to donate small amounts, just five, ten or twenty dollars (you can even send it through PayPal). If enough people do even as little as that, they can cover all their costs, and they won't have to break anyone's bank. I think this is a great event and really deserves your help. If you want to support it, go to their website and donate now. The more donations they receive, the more likely this event will be continued in future years, and perhaps inspire other godless events in Midwest, where a dose of good sense is often much in need.

Since it's the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, I prefer to be more humorous in my presentation. This year I'll be delivering a reprise of the well-received comedy-talk I first gave at the West Coast Atheist Meet in San Francisco in 2006 (which I then expanded and delivered again in Las Vegas in 2007): Where the Hell Is Jesus!? Weird Stuff from the Gospels to the Apostles.

The title's a bit different because I've extended it even more, with additional material, no longer focusing solely on the book of Acts. Basically, I humorously examine why Acts is so odd if Jesus really existed as the Gospels claim. Though the facts presented in this speech are entirely true, and the conclusions are not unwarranted, it's by no means be a complete or systematic case for the non-historicity of Jesus. It's meant more to be fun than convincing, falling in the category of "Things That Make You Go Hmmm..." Nevertheless, I'll have a Q&A session afterward, where the issue can be discussed further. In connection with that, well before then I shall have sent two new updates to my donors on the Historicity of Jesus book I've been engrossed with perfecting for far longer than I expected!

Update: video of my talk at this event is now available on YouTube.

17 comments:

AIGBusted said...

This sounds cool! I hope they record it like they did last year!

Gilgamesh said...

With this lineup of speakers, I just might have to make the drive.

WAR_ON_ERROR said...

It's gonna be a blast. :D

WAR_ON_ERROR said...

I do have one nagging question though about your topic. Perhaps just a slight clarification will do on the angle taken. If you ask "where the hell is Jesus?" in Acts, the obvious answer is "he ascended into heaven." So, I don't mean to be rude, but your talk sounds pretty stupid on the face of it. I only say that because I imagine I'm not the only one who has jumped to the wrong conclusion. I'm sure you mean something else more nuanced about the nature of the evidence apart from Biblical supernatural literalism, but it would be nice if I didn't have sit with that abrupt "what the hell is he talking about?" for six months at a time. So without spoiling the punchlines can you clarify slightly?

Ben

Pikemann Urge said...

Hmm, Skepticon, eh? One problem with that. Well, several. Firstly, skepticism is hardly a label you want to identify yourself with.

It isn't a worldview in itself, which is fine, as theism and atheism aren't either. But the latter two are actual positions - skepticism is not a position. You can get diplomas in basket-weaving and photography but not skepticism.

It's a mode of thinking. Even then it isn't the most important thought mode for scientists. There are others slightly more important.

Skepticism is just a label for those who aren't good enough to get a science degree but really, really badly want to wave the science/rationalist flag.

When I look at the Bible (NT in my case) I'm not skeptical, I'm critical, analytical and so forth.

Skepticism is a casual and subjective reaction to claims and results we don't like. After that initial stage it's time to get serious.

WAR_ON_ERROR said...

Pikeman,

Perhaps you'd prefer the title Analcon 2? :D I'm sure that would go over smashingly.

Ben

Richard Carrier said...

Pikemann Urge said... Firstly, skepticism is hardly a label you want to identify yourself with.

You don't give any compelling reasons not to. Indeed, surely you are punking me. Do we need a sarcasm emoticon here?

I'll play along, though.

To wit...

It isn't a worldview in itself, which is fine, as theism and atheism aren't either.

If that's "fine" then why would it be a reason not to be associated with skepticism? I mean, dude. Honestly. Is refuting yourself in the same sentence actually considered an effective strategy of argument now?

skepticism is not a position.

It's a phenomenon, a behavior, and an attitude, all of which I endorse. So why am I not supposed to associate with them? I must have missed the argument here. Did a Leprechaun steal it?

You can get diplomas in basket-weaving and photography but not skepticism.

Just curious, but do please point me to where I can get a diploma in basket-weaving.

That aside, no one gives diplomas in democracy, either, but surely that's no reason not to associate ourselves with it.

Hey, did you just invent a new fallacy? Cool!

It's a mode of thinking. Even then it isn't the most important thought mode for scientists.

It's not Science Fest 2. So again, I'll classify this as yet another non sequitur. Quite a batting average here. Has to be a joke.

Skepticism is just a label for those who aren't good enough to get a science degree but really, really badly want to wave the science/rationalist flag.

Grammar would require you to have said "Skeptic is just a label for those," as skepticism is not an adjective nor a label for a person.

Anyway, since many of the Skeptics attending the event were good enough to get a science degree, I'll consider this claim refuted thereby.

Hell, even I have a degree in the history of science, which is both history (in which one can be a skeptic) and about science (and thus about skeptics and skepticism).

When I look at the Bible (NT in my case) I'm not skeptical, I'm critical, analytical and so forth.

I'm critical, analytical, and skeptical. I mean, talking donkeys? Woman from a rib? Guy living in a fish? Whole planet flooded to the tallest mountain? If we shouldn't be skeptical of this, I can't imagine what we should be skeptical of.

Skepticism is a casual and subjective reaction to claims and results we don't like. After that initial stage it's time to get serious.

Like, seriously being skeptical in consequence of thorough, objective analysis of facts and evidence?

:-)

Richard Carrier said...

War_on_Error said... If you ask "where the hell is Jesus?" in Acts, the obvious answer is "he ascended into heaven."

Or by some accounts actually descended to hell, and then ascended to heaven. That's even in some official creeds I think. So "Where the hell is Jesus?" could actually by some accounts be answered, "In hell" (well, you know, at least briefly, but who's to say he didn't get stuck there?).

I'm sure you mean something else more nuanced about the nature of the evidence apart from Biblical supernatural literalism

Nuanced? It's slang. As in, "Where the hell did I put my evil golden monkey idol?" Nuance won't really be the theme of the talk. It's mainly going to be intentional humor.

As to the meaning, basically, the question that's going to be raised is why a recent historical Jesus doesn't factor at all into anything that happens from Acts 2 on, nor in any of the trial speeches Acts records. It's as if he has vanished from history and significance (he pops up only in street sermons, and only briefly, yet those are the least verifiable facts in Acts, as there would have been no record of what was actually said on the random streets of yore).

It will also be a double entendre, for reasons related to police procedure that I won't elaborate on here because it will be funnier if it's a surprise.

WAR_ON_ERROR said...

Fine, save your punchline. Geez. hehe

Pikemann Urge said...

You don't give any compelling reasons not to.

Bad, bad choice of words on my part. I should have said: as a label, skepticism is meaningless (but as a tool of thought, it's very useful).

So why am I not supposed to associate with them? I must have missed the argument here.

When you apply the label to a group of persons, it eventually becomes just another preconception. Atheism is simply either 'I don't see good reason to require God' or 'I am not satisfied with the evidence' but it can mutate to 'There isn't a God', a preconception.

No democratic diplomas, but plenty of political science and law graduates around! Actually there's now certificates in human resources of all things. Next thing you know you'll need a diploma to go to the toilet.

I don't know if this basket weaving course is still ongoing:

http://web.archive.org/web/20070930081326/http://www.uca.edu/divisions/academic/honors/pub/vino/0203/vino21_4.1/newDegree.htm

And this probably isn't offered anymore, but who knows:

http://techfaculty.port.ac.uk/tud//db/UnivPort/level_3/1SSHLS3UBW.htm

many of the Skeptics attending the event were good enough to get a science degree

Indeed, PZ Myers is one of the most interesting people in biology today. For him, 'skeptic' is redundant. As it is for Michael Shermer (but hey, you have to call the magazine something).

According to Wikipedia, Shermer "has expressed reservations about such labels [i.e. nontheist, atheist, agnostic], however, as he sees them in being used in service of pigeonholing, and prefers to simply be called a skeptic." Yikes. I don't like the frying pan so I'll move over to the pressure cooker!

Pikemann Urge said...

I've just been informed that the University of Arkansas link was just a joke. Apparently there were such courses on offer at some stage at some universities - no longer, it seems. Without the will to actually make the phone calls (it's so not worth it), I retract the basket-weaving comment.

Richard Carrier said...

Pikemann Urge said... I should have said: as a label, skepticism is meaningless (but as a tool of thought, it's very useful).

Still doesn't work. As a label for a tool of thought it is both meaningful and useful. It is also not meaningless (nor useless) as an attitude or a movement of people who endorse this tool and attitude.

When you apply the label to a group of persons, it eventually becomes just another preconception. Atheism is simply either 'I don't see good reason to require God' or 'I am not satisfied with the evidence' but it can mutate to 'There isn't a God', a preconception.

So? I can do this with every label in the universe. It therefore cannot be an argument against using any of them.

Shermer "has expressed reservations about such labels [i.e. nontheist, atheist, agnostic], however, as he sees them in being used in service of pigeonholing, and prefers to simply be called a skeptic." Yikes. I don't like the frying pan so I'll move over to the pressure cooker!

Thereby proving my point. Enjoying the taste of that foot of yours?

No democratic diplomas, but plenty of political science and law graduates around!

As also of critical thought, philosophy, and rhetoric. Still not the same thing as skepticism, just as neither law nor political science are the same thing as democracy.

A Venn diagram of Skepticism would overlap numerous fields, that's why there is no degree in it (any more than there is a degree in "science" per se). But the fact that a set overlaps many sets does not mean that set doesn't exist or that it's label is inappropriately used as a designator for its common members.

For him, 'skeptic' is redundant.

If it's redundant, it's synonymous, and if it's synonymous, it can't be meaningless, nor can it be inappropriately applied.

But then, contrast Michael Behe, also a scientists, and like Myers, a biologist. Yet "skeptic" would not be a redundant label for him, nor particularly well applied (except perversely).

Pikemann Urge said...

Skepticism is, perhaps, just another way of saying 'critical thinking'. But that's not the effect when you examine skepticism as a movement. When I see the word 'woo' thrown about, I don't think 'critical thought', I think 'Randi groupie'.

It's no different to the trivialization of psychology - all of a sudden, because one has read some Freud, one thinks one has 'solved' the problem of why we dream. "It's solved. Move along, nothing to see here..."

"If it's redundant, it's synonymous"

I can't agree, because science is not skepticism and vice versa. Skepticism is but one tool in a big bag.

"I can do this with every label in the universe."

Only to a degree. The only preconceptions in science are that we live in the universe and that we can benefit from knowing how it works.

IMHO the preconceptions in A.I. research are possibly responsible for why it's not progressing as quickly as we assumed back in the late 20thC. It's way above my head, though.

"Thereby proving my point. Enjoying the taste of that foot of yours?"

I don't want to tax your patience here but there ain't no foot in my mouth. I think *I* was the one who made a point here (about labeling)?

And I'd be surprised if students of history or political science didn't study communism and democracy. Howwever, critical thought should be encouraged for sure, as one should not take anything for granted.

As for Behe, I respect his philosophical challenge to evolutionary theory and would welcome his work to be studied... in a humanities class.

Stargazer said...

Looking forward to the updates on the Historicity of Jesus book. Hope all is going well! And sorry I won't be able to attend Skepticon 2--one of these days I have to get to an event!

Richard Carrier said...

Pikemann Urge said... Skepticism is, perhaps, just another way of saying 'critical thinking'.

Not as a synonym. Critical thinking is one thing a skeptic believes in and uses, and thus one thing "skepticism" encompasses, but not all critical thinkers are actually skeptics, nor is critical thought per se the sum of skepticism.

But that's not the effect when you examine skepticism as a movement. When I see the word 'woo' thrown about, I don't think 'critical thought', I think 'Randi groupie'.

This must be a joke that went over my head. I have no idea what "woo" means in this context, or what connection it has to fans of James Randi.

It's no different to the trivialization of psychology - all of a sudden, because one has read some Freud, one thinks one has 'solved' the problem of why we dream. "It's solved. Move along, nothing to see here..."

I fail to see any valid analogy here. You've lost me.

"If it's redundant, it's synonymous" : I can't agree, because science is not skepticism and vice versa. Skepticism is but one tool in a big bag.

So now you are refuting yourself? Ahem, you are the one who said it was redundant. Redundancy entails synonymity. If now you are admitting you were wrong to call it redundant, then that's your own rug your pulling out, not mine. You must really like the taste of your feet.

"I can do this with every label in the universe." : Only to a degree. The only preconceptions in science are that we live in the universe and that we can benefit from knowing how it works.

But the only valid analogy here would be 'scientism'. And if you don't know the problems vexing that term, you're really out of touch.

Science is not a movement or an attitude or a behavior. Thus it is not a label you attach to a person or a movement.

We're talking about the latter. Keep up.

[And also please spare the hyperbole: science actually relies considerably on methodological naturalism, as well as compartmentalism, i.e. many scientists are only skeptical in science, and completely credulous in politics and religion. Indeed, if you are going to single-out field-specific preconceptions, as you did for AI, then you are refuted all the more: every scientific field has an analogous set of additional preconceptions all its own. So you really aren't getting anywhere here.]

"Thereby proving my point. Enjoying the taste of that foot of yours?" : I don't want to tax your patience here but there ain't no foot in my mouth. I think *I* was the one who made a point here (about labeling)?

Then you weren't paying attention. Go back and read what you actually said, then try to figure out why my reaction is what resulted.

And I'd be surprised if students of history or political science didn't study communism and democracy. Howwever, critical thought should be encouraged for sure, as one should not take anything for granted.

Encouraging critical thought and the critical stance that justifies and motivates it, in conjunction with all the results that then ensue, is exactly what the word "skepticism" denotes when referencing a movement or general attitude or behavior.

Pikemann Urge said...

"I have no idea what "woo" means in this context, or what connection it has to fans of James Randi."

An aside: lest anyone think I'm knocking Randi - and I can picture some of his fans ready to pounce on the keyboard - I'm not.

"Then you weren't paying attention. Go back and read what you actually said, then try to figure out why my reaction is what resulted."

If you are correct, I'm not getting it. Mea culpa!

Richard Carrier said...

Fair enough. :-)