W/ECAS Presents: Journey to Skepticon IV
On Friday November 18th, Shawna, Ryan, Ashley, and Nat embarked on a 15-hour journey to the Skepticon IV conference in Springfield, Missouri. Prior to this, we applied for and were granted a $250 travel grant from Secular Student Alliance. Funds went toward transportation (gas, tolls, etc.) and our costs for staying at Best Western hotel for two nights. Thanks to Secular Student Alliance, we are fortunate to have been given the opportunity to attend this conference and partake in such a valuable learning experience.
We are members of the Windsor/Essex County Atheist Society from Windsor, Ontario and are proudly an affiliate of Secular Student Alliance. On our way to Springfield, Missouri, we navigated through beautiful cities such as Indianapolis and St. Louis. We knew we were on the right path to the ‘Bible Belt’ as we passed by an abundance of churches and giant crosses displayed near the highway. In contrast, were excited to see Ozarks COR’s “Don’t believe in God? You are not alone” billboard (and were relieved that it was not vandalized J). Despite several instances of car sickness, our Flying Spaghetti Monster simulacrum dangling from our rear-view mirror ensured that we arrived safely at our hotel, around 1:00 a.m.
As we trekked to Day 1 of the conference, we knew we were at the correct location when we saw a parking lot full of cars with bumper stickers and decorative emblems featuring Darwin’s evolve fish. We stood outside Gillioz Theater and were absorbing the warm weather when a man commented “T-shirts on a day like this? Look at those polar bears.” Once we explained we were from Canada, no confusion remained. Despite not being local, we were eager to learn how separation of church and state, for example, is implemented in American politics.
Methods to evaluate evidence for beliefs were discussed in many of the speeches. As a graduate student in clinical psychology, Shawna was excited when cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) techniques, such as Thought Records, were incorporated in Julia Galef’s discussion about rationality and emotions. Likewise, Spencer Greenberg explained how cognitive distortions may lead to emotional experiences that cause irrational thinking, affecting one’s ability in self-skepticism. Bayes Theorem was a method that Spencer Greenberg and Richard Carrier described. One can use Bayes Theorem to examine the strength of evidence supporting a hypothesis by mathematically evaluating the probability that an empirical claim is true. Additionally, the conference did not fall short of information about genetics (P.Z. Myers and Jen McCreight), a topic that was most appealing to Ryan, who has an undergraduate degree in biology. The group eagerly took notes from all speeches, which ranged from serious and motivational (Greta Christina’s “Why are you atheists so angry?”), reflective (Dan Barker), and informative (Darrel Ray’s “Sex and secularism”). Something valuable was learned from every single talk. Shawna took 14 pages of notes before she realized that the entire conference was videotaped. (Please refer to the videos uploaded on Youtube by Hambone Productions.)
Shawna was interviewed for a documentary on atheism. She shared her story about how she converted from a devout Roman Catholic into a nonbeliever. She also discussed social perspectives about nonbelief and difficulties atheists face in Canada.
We safely returned in Windsor on the morning of Monday November 21st, feeling more than satisfied with the variety of information we gained at the conference. Again, we’d like to thank SSA for giving us the opportunity to travel to and attend the Skepticon IV conference. It was of great benefit to our group members and definitely motivated us to discover more about secularism. Our potential as a group has been heightened, and the information we gained can be used in discourse with believers at our upcoming “Ask an Atheist” booth. We learned so much, and we cannot wait to share our experiences with our 130+ members at the Windsor/Essex County Atheist Society’s next meeting.
This trip would not have been possible without financial assistance from the Secular Student Alliance. Thank you!
Your friends at the University of Windsor