Are there too many atheist meetings?

Maybe it’s because I’ve been sick and grumpy, but I’ve noticed the huge spate of atheist meetings, both past and upcoming, and it’s seemed to me that there are just too many.  I know this is a sign of a successful and burgeoning movement of disbelief throughout the world, and I recognize that they give us greater visibility, and I understand that they serve as a useful venue for people to make connections as well as listen to their atheist “heroes.”  But to me the speakers and talks have often seemed repetitive: the same crew of jet-set skeptics giving the same talks.  And how much is there to say about a movement whose members are united, after all, by only one thing: disbelief in divine beings and a respect for reason and evidence. What more is there to say?

I’ve been to just one of these meetings so far: the Atheist Alliance International meetings in Burbank, California in October, 2009.  I greatly enjoyed that: I got to meet fellow “bloggers” like Brother Blackford and P. Z., relished the talks of people like Dan Dennett, Carolyn Porco, and Lawrence Krauss, whom I’d never before seen speak in person, and was put into stitches by a Mr. Deity skit and Bill Maher’s hilarious (and straight) reading of Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life.

Still, a few things bothered me, most notably the air of self-congratulation (which I excused on the grounds of enthusiastic people finding like-minded folks for the first time), the “fanboyness” directed at some of the famous atheists (they hardly let poor Richard alone, and I’m not sure he liked that!), and the lameness of quite a few of the talks.  Again, how much new can you say about atheism? And though I had a great time, this conference sated my appetite for a long while, and I’ve refused several invitations since. (I will, however, be at the Freedom from Religion Foundation’s meeting this October).

And now atheist conventions seem to be everywhere.  Amazing Meetings, Skepticons, Dragoncons, various local and atheist skeptic groups, etc.  And, sadly, the lineup of speakers is always depressingly familiar.  Worried that I was being too grumpy about this, I discussed the issue with Grania Spingies, the Secretary of Atheist Ireland and the one responsible for a great deal of the organizing for the just-ended World Atheist Convention in Dublin (kudos, Grania!).  She agreed with me on some points, disagreed on others, and wrote me an email about it that I thought deserved posting on its own. I do so with her permission:

Some of the negatives:

- you tend to see many of the same speakers every time
– some of the most popular speakers are showing signs of conference-fatigue for all their obvious professionalism and generosity with their time.
– some (not all) conferences are pricey & therefore exclude a lot of people.
– topics tend to be similar.
– some talks can be predictable in content thanks to previous talks being on YouTube (one of the reasons why the Dublin Conference opted for panel discussions instead)
– encourages fanboi-ism which is embarrassing to watch (and probably really irritating and embarrassing to be the target of) – see this article [note: article is blatantly dishonest as only a tiny percentage of mostly younger attendees did this at the conference; but it gives critics something to sneer at.]
– to an extent, a noticeable percentage of the people attending the conferences are the same each time as well – at least as far as the European ones go. Europeans probably don’t travel to Australia or the States as much though, again mostly due to costs and time involved in traveling.

Some of the positives:
– the extended online community of Gnu atheists gets a chance to meet in real life
– outside of the talks, the after-hours socialising is tremendous fun and often exceeds the amount of time listening to talks
– new friendships are made, conversation is hilarious, always interesting and fueled with beverages of choice.
– new networks are formed (useful for groups lobbying for secular reforms in their respective countries & states)
– you do get to hear some world-class speakers or make contacts that you might not otherwise have the opportunity to e.g. in Copenhagen I heard Victor Stenger, A.C. Grayling and Rebecca Goldstein give talks, I also met people like Paula Kirby; in Dublin I met Maryam Namazie & Aron-Ra.
– the conferences are also somewhat like a themed holiday – on one level it is pure enjoyment of something that I normally can’t do with my non-atheist friends.
– for many people it is the only time they are surrounded by people who will not be offended by their honest thoughts on certain subjects, and it is a very positive experience.

Having said all that, even though I think most people enjoy the non-event parts of the conference as much if not more than the scheduled talks; I can’t see them making the effort to get together across seas and borders if there wasn’t the carrot of hearing famous people give talks.

I don’t know if Conferences are necessary, Gnus have a very well-developed internet network already between websites, blogs, and Facebook. However, I think humans still feel that relationships are that much more “real” if they happen in the flesh, so to speak. Cyberspace still isn’t quite a good enough substitute yet. And we do want community! A great many friendships are struck up inside the internet atheist community. It’s probably a side-effect of the reaction a lot of people must get when they go public about their atheism; and if you can’t get it in your real-world neighbourhood, then you will look for it wherever you can find it.

Smaller more localised groups already meet without needing famous speakers as bait. However, I can’t see people ever traveling long distances to go to meetings without something happening at the end to justify the time & trouble (& cost). Although we got a lot of positive feedback about the panel format we used at the Dublin WAC and as a result a lot of useful-in-the-real-world work is being done (fine legal minds working on Ireland’s blasphemy law, university academics working on lobbying the UN on the lack of non-religious schools in Ireland etc.);  it is true to say that a lot of people turned up at the Conference to see the big names and not because there was the potential for networking. Nevertheless, the networking is valuable and probably worth the price of  the event by itself.

I don’t know if there are too many conferences. There is roughly one per continent per year, so most will only go to one a year at most. On the other hand, if you get invited to every one it probably feels like too many.

Well, contra Grania, North American has far more than one per year—I’d guess between ten and twenty.  But never mind.  I agree by and large with what she said, and thought this might be a good occasion for readers to chime in to answer these questions.  Are there too many atheist meetings, or too few? What would you do to improve them? (I know that a common answer has been “include more women speakers,” and I completely agree with that. But that issue has been covered in extenso at other websites, so perhaps we can concentrate on other logistical issues.)  And maybe organizers of future atheist/humanist meetings might pay attention to what people say here, for it may be salutary.

128 Comments

  1. Legal9ball
    Posted June 10, 2011 at 7:32 am | Permalink

    No there are not too many meetings.

    Theists are meeting at least once every week in every town in the world.

    • TrineBM
      Posted June 10, 2011 at 7:34 am | Permalink

      Like :-)

    • Jack van Beverningk
      Posted June 10, 2011 at 7:59 am | Permalink

      Every town? make that ‘almost every corner in a town': on my short 15 minute drive to work I pass by (counted them the other day) 16 churches! 4 of them are neighbors, and 1 of them is a MEGA church, that causes huge traffic jams around its services.

    • AT
      Posted June 10, 2011 at 8:16 am | Permalink

      Totally!

      Atheists need to meet regularly bewcause they are united by an important trait: respect for reason

      As such atheists are those who will provide the ranks for policimakers of the future: when things get rough and tough only those who have clear mind would be able to understand and _live_ the science

      Spaceship Earth is on the path to decreased biodiversity, polluted air, water and food, and widspread animosity between citadel aristocracies and drone/burden lessersunder them.

      Under such circumstances respecting reason and employing pure (belief-free) science will have evolutionary advantage – “atheists” will have better survival rates because they will have minds better trained with increasing complexity and uncertainty.

      This is why it is imperative to identify, connect and network with those who respect reason, support advance of science and are open minded to further evolution of our socio-economic system from what we have now to sustainable one.

    • gsenski
      Posted June 10, 2011 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, but we don’t have Snake Oil to peddle.

    • Tabitha Woodruff
      Posted June 13, 2011 at 7:59 am | Permalink

      It’s true that theists meet every week, but our meetings are not like theirs. We meet a few time a year to talk about the exact same general topics often with the exact same speakers.

      Why not mimic the theist model to generate the healthy sense of community that is its strong point: let’s have weekly, local meetings where we discuss not just our disbelief, but also how that disbelief can be a springboard to help us develop reasonable, moral beliefs.

      Each week, get into the same sort of topics you’d hear in a theist meeting: How honest should we be, and why? What is a good friend? What is a good spouse? How should we manage natural resources in our daily lives? Should we try to educate theists on the truth, or is “live and let live” a healthier way to go? The difference is that we’re not following mandates from a man in the sky; we’re arriving at answers about our own morality from a place of reason and understanding. In my opinion, that often leads us to a more moral place than some religions allow: we don’t discriminate based on sexual orientation or sex or race, for example. The difference is that without heavenly mandates, discussion and debate is even more important for atheists in the development of our beliefs. We need our own “church” even more than theists do, in my opinion!

      I tell ya, I don’t miss taking orders from an imaginary man in the sky. What I DO miss about church is the sense of community and the honest weekly discourse in a room of my peers about how to lead a good life in line with our beliefs.

      • Simon
        Posted June 13, 2011 at 8:09 am | Permalink

        Why not mimic the theist model to generate the healthy sense of community that is its strong point: let’s have weekly, local meetings where we discuss not just our disbelief, but also how that disbelief can be a springboard to help us develop reasonable, moral beliefs.

        There are many communities across America that do this already. CFI (and other organizations) has branches that do just this: http://centerforinquiry.net/ I don’t know where you live but if you select a branch on the top right drop-down menu there may be something in your area. Here in DC where I coordinate events for CFI we have around 10 monthly events ranging from small (8-15 people book clubs/discussion groups) to large lectures (some just shy of 1000)

      • Theo Bromine
        Posted June 13, 2011 at 10:34 am | Permalink

        Why not mimic the theist model to generate the healthy sense of community that is its strong point: let’s have weekly, local meetings where we discuss not just our disbelief, but also how that disbelief can be a springboard to help us develop reasonable, moral beliefs.

        As Simon says, there are groups doing just that. In Ottawa, Canada, CFI has a get together for group discussion (in a pub :) every Sunday morning. We have 2 parallel threads running on alternate weeks – “Living without Religion” is a kind of support group for those who want to talk about challenges they are encountering with family, friends, etc, and share experiences and suggestions. On the opposite weeks, we have an “UnSermon”, so named because instead of having one person standing up telling everyone how to behave and what to believe, we have an opportunity for everyone in the group to talk about their ideas, pose questions for discussion etc. [Begging Ceiling Cat's indulgence to continue with further promotion - new people are always welcome, and anyone in the area who is interested is welcome to check us out at events.cfiottawa.com, or send an email to cfiottawa@gmail.com.]

  2. TrineBM
    Posted June 10, 2011 at 7:33 am | Permalink

    Interesting. I was (obviously since I live in Copenhagen) at the Copenhagen Conference last year, and decided not to go to Dublin, because of the overlap in names/speakers/subjects. IF there had been a more specific overall subject I might have considered it more sincerely. (Women and Atheism, Morality and Non-belief, Atheism in Africa/Asia are subjects that would have drawn me, I think) By that, I’m not saying, that the talks in Dublin weren’t essential and excellent, but simply that the cost/timerelevance priority didn’t add up for me.
    I did have a bad case of miss-o-phobia when I read about all the fun and the good guinness, though ;-)

    • Martin
      Posted June 11, 2011 at 10:11 am | Permalink

      And so you should !

  3. Posted June 10, 2011 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    Too many? Not too many? It’s a non-issue. Even if you’re feeling jaded and bored with the many conferences, as long as there are people who still look forward to something at their next conference, or still look forward to their first, there’s a valid reason for holding them.

    When everyone starts feeling bored with them, they’ll decline to a sustainable number. It’s natural selection. It’ll take care of itself.

    “And how much is there to say about a movement whose members are united, after all, by only one thing: disbelief in divine beings and a respect for reason and evidence. What more is there to say?”

    That particular comment is a bit wacked. It comes close to the theist charge of “how can you have meetings about something you say doesn’t exist?”

    Atheists are united by a stance toward a huge, very real thing: religion. Religion still exists big-time, and as long as we have fundamentalists stuffing dogma into laws, creationists stuffing myth into science classes, extremists stuffing bombs into cars, and so on, there’s more real-world trouble for atheists to discuss and deal with than a host of conferences could cover.

    • Astrid_H
      Posted June 10, 2011 at 9:01 am | Permalink

      “Atheists are united by a stance toward a huge, very real thing: religion. Religion still exists big-time, and as long as we have fundamentalists stuffing dogma into laws, creationists stuffing myth into science classes, extremists stuffing bombs into cars, and so on, there’s more real-world trouble for atheists to discuss and deal with than a host of conferences could cover.”

      Not only that, but there are other humanist issues that unite us, eg. science, feminism, scepticism, gay rights, etc..

      I would also say that simply getting more speakers that are less famous might bring some new perspectives to these meetings and some interesting arguments that we haven’t heard yet. Just have one or two big names and let the rest be someone new.

      The panel discussions seem like a good idea. I like that the format is more conversational as opposed to the lectures.

  4. Posted June 10, 2011 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    Are there too many atheist meetings?

    I can’t say. I haven’t bothered to attend any of them. They sounded as if they would be a bit boring.

    Honestly, people are free to decide to attend, or to stay away. I don’t see that there is a problem. If nobody showed up to the meetings, then there would probably be less of those meetings. As long as there are people interested to attend, I don’t see the problem with having the meetings.

    Are the meetings getting too much publicity? If you only look at the blogs, it might seem that way. But I have not heard them mentioned on NPR nor on the local CBS radio outlet.

    In short, I think you are overreacting.

  5. HP
    Posted June 10, 2011 at 7:55 am | Permalink

    It’s a question of perspective.

    Like what I assume are the vast majority of atheists, I’ve never been to one of these meetings. Your question assumes that people have the time, money, and opportunity to travel to where the meetings are.

    There has yet to be a major atheist conference announced within a day’s drive of where I live in southwest Ohio. So for me, atheist meetings are something I know of only from eyewitness reports on the Internet and blurry photographs that might show anything. And we all know how reliable that kind of evidence is.

    • Posted June 10, 2011 at 11:28 am | Permalink

      Same here. I’ve never been to one. Can’t possibly afford it.

      • HP
        Posted June 10, 2011 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

        Ophelia — how is it possible that they are not paying you to go to atheist conferences?

        Oh, well. Apparently, Rebecca Watson is cute.

        I’ve been staying out of the gender/diversity discussions, but Ophelia Benson hasn’t gone because she can’t afford it? That’s shameful.

        — signed, just another White Beardo, whose presence is not required

        • satan augustine
          Posted June 11, 2011 at 4:09 am | Permalink

          Ophelia should be ask to speak at all of the atheist/skeptic conferences. I really admire her wit, intelligence, and occasional sharp tongue. : )

          • Martin
            Posted June 11, 2011 at 10:15 am | Permalink

            Well, Rebecca Watson asked for donations before last year’s Sydney TAM event IIRC.
            The prices are an issue, they are too high. I know that the Dublin conference made a compromise between price and number of attendees for any given price, and they broke even with a price significantly lower than that of say Copenhagen or the Melbourne GAC. So it’s possible to keep it cheapish, and organisers should try their best to do so. Those conferences should not become events for a financial elite.

    • pulseteresa
      Posted June 10, 2011 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

      HP – Check out Skepticon 4: http://skepticon.org/

      I live in southwest Ohio as well. Skepticon is in Springfield, Missouri It’s 10 hours away (11 or 12 once you figure in food and bathroom stops). Last year they had PZ Myers, Greta Christina, Victor Stenger, Rebecca Watson, Richard Carrier, Amanda Marcotte, James “The Amazing” Randi among others: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skepticon#Guest_Speakers_3

      And did I mention it’s FREE! And there are discounted hotel rates (I think it was $89 per night for 2 twin bed or 1 king bed rooms last year).

      Actually everybody check out Skepticon. It’s free and it’s awesome!

      • pulseteresa
        Posted June 10, 2011 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

        Ophelia – it would be awesome if you spoke at Skepticon!

        • satan augustine
          Posted June 10, 2011 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

          I don’t know why that posted as pulseteresa. I changed my name to satan augustine some time ago.

      • satan augustine
        Posted June 10, 2011 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

        Oops, I forgot to mention Dan Barker was there too!

  6. Ilya
    Posted June 10, 2011 at 7:55 am | Permalink

    I have to say that I don’t see much point in ll the atheist meetings. As Jerry pointed out, it is a movement that is united by only one thing – disbelief in supernatural and a respect for reason. And there isn’t much to say about it that hasn’t already been said.

    Furthermore, living in Europe, I don’t get any pushback about my atheism, most of my friends are atheists anyway and religious people feel the need to band together because they’re feeling alienated. So, to be honest, I can’t really understand why anyone would go halfway across the planet to congratulate him/herself on understanding fairly basic point – there’s no evidence for divine beings.

    At this point in time, atheism is just as basic as arithmetic (in the course of human history, things that were difficult for ancients to do, like counting, now are a common thing to perform in your mind). And you don’t see people understanding arithmetic getting together to congratulate themselves on their ability to square numbers.

    Now I don’t want to say that atheist meetings can’t be useful as opportunities to network with people in order to push back the encroachment of religious organizations on freedom of speech (blasphemy), teaching science in schools and not theology, access of women to abortion and other medical procedures etc. However, I think most of these issues are somewhat restricted to several countries where religions hold a big sway over public life and I’m sorry for the people who live there and have to fight for their rights but I don’t think me travelling from another continent to discuss these issues will make much difference on the ground.

    • Hempenstein
      Posted June 10, 2011 at 9:23 am | Permalink

      Very much my sentiments, too.

      • bric
        Posted June 10, 2011 at 9:50 am | Permalink

        Ditto

    • pulseteresa
      Posted June 10, 2011 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

      Must be nice to live in Europe. Here in the U.S. we NEED these atheist conferences.

      • articulett
        Posted June 10, 2011 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

        I think the fact that these meetings are so well attended attest to that. I don’t go to many, but I have thoroughly enjoyed being around so many brilliant, funny, like-minded people from all over the world when I have gone– and I enjoy being able to talk freely and be the nerd that I am. As I overheard Julia Sweeney say at one TAM, “These are my peeps!”

        I love hearing peoples’ stories and seeing people enjoy meeting up with like minds and online friends and heroes for the first time. For many people, these meetings are the only place they are out of the closet as non-theists and these meetings replace some of the community they lost when they left religion. Also, lifelong friendships and partnerships have resulted from these meetups.

        I think we can trust natural selection to decide when there are too many. If I had the money, I’d go to more.

    • Posted June 10, 2011 at 10:45 pm | Permalink

      WTF? Atheists united “only by one thing”? Haven’t you guys noticed that that top-level domain has a few thousand sub-domains of which many are *critical* to the well-being of the planet and us? Not to mention the reasons for *why* we are atheist; rationalism, skepticism, humanism, and then blend that with where in society those things could be better used?

      Are you friggin’ kidding me? We need a stronger, wider array of topics (seems a lot of it is gods-bashing, yes) for sure, but we certainly need more of these meetings; spread not just atheism, but why we need it, why we ourselves have it, and all those areas of our lives in which we require more of it.

      Snap to it!

  7. Jack van Beverningk
    Posted June 10, 2011 at 8:09 am | Permalink

    I don’t think there are too many. If you GO to all or most of them, then yes, maybe you’re overdoing things. But it’s like standards in the computer world: it’s nice to have so many to choose from.

    Look at those meetings as movies: lots of them have the same kind of plots and have the same actors in ‘m, and they play in every town.

    Just pick the one, with the plot and actors that you like, and is closest to you.
    From a consumer point of view, there aren’t too many at all.

  8. Posted June 10, 2011 at 8:12 am | Permalink

    If seeing the same speakers over and over is a problem, then you don’t have to solve that by having fewer meetings. There is another simple solution: invite different speakers. More specifically, invite more diverse speakers, so you could solve two problems at once.

  9. Neil
    Posted June 10, 2011 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    Too many meetings? Compared to what? The number of church meetings? I don’t think so.

  10. Michael Fisher
    Posted June 10, 2011 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    Legal9ball has said it for me

    You Jerry are privileged to be making a living in an academic environment where there are many opportunities for ‘elevated’ social discourse should you want it. You worked to get where you are, but also I imagine that you come from roots that valued educational achievement & where discussion of abstractions was the norm (or at least not regarded as peculiar)

    I am in a work-a-day non-academic environment where I might join ONE discussion a month on ‘stuff’ that’s not about the weather, X factor, Eastenders, cars, Eurovision, football or my lovely, little grand daughter & her teething problems. As fascinating as the latter subject is it’s not meat for the mind

    Count your blessings Sir ! No one in my circle expresses a strong opinion about the non-immediate ~ climate change, population, resource depletion, consumerism, ecology, theism, feminism, equality, justice.. it’s all off the radar

    There’s a LOT of work to be done. In that regard atheist conferences are irrelevant & over-specialised sideshows. I would like to see events with a much wider agenda – let’s try to draw in the types of people who haven’t stepped inside a library for 30 years

    My greatest wish is for our young people to be taught the skills of critical thought – the atheism (etc.) follows on naturally from there like a cart behind the horse

  11. JustAGuy
    Posted June 10, 2011 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    I think it is important to remember that every conference is someone’s first conference and they may not have had the opportunity to meet people and listen to speakers if it were not for that conference.

  12. Posted June 10, 2011 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    - you tend to see many of the same speakers every time

    The way to fix this is to do as Laden and Myers have suggested and to specifically target more guest speakers of diverse gender and racial backgrounds. The speakers’ pool can be broadened until the lesser knowns become the speakers in demand, the headliners, the draws. Time marches on and as Myers and Dawkins and others get older and less interested in heavy travel to the multitude of conferences then others will be able to justify ticket prices and demand.

    For us hoi polloi, the conferences have a benefit if only for the in-person social networking. It’s nice to have atheist facebook friends and tweeples, but it is a greater pleasure to have lunch, beer and conversation with fellow atheists from different places.

  13. Posted June 10, 2011 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    Maybe the problem with the US is the lack of de facto secularism. I, as an outside observer, get the impression that atheists in the US are still a discriminated-against minority who feel the need for mutual support. Hitchens and Dawkins seem to have found a ready market for their views.

    As a decadent European (I live in France) I honestly can’t recall the last time anyone approached me about my religious belief. It just doesn’t crop up in normal conversation. Yet I hear that a declared atheist would have no chance in gaining a nomination as presidential candidate, let alone stand any chance of election.

    • lordfenriz
      Posted June 10, 2011 at 9:24 am | Permalink

      I agree. I live in Palo Alto, California, one of the most liberal places in the United States, and yet the only time I’ve ever seen another person wearing an “A” pin or shirt was during the Dawkins/Krauss discussion over at Stanford. I still have door to door preachers knocking on my door occasionally. It’s depressing sometimes. I’d love to go to one of the atheist events, but they’re usually way too expensive to attend.

  14. Insightful Ape
    Posted June 10, 2011 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    Actually I enjoyed the video of PZ v Muslim apologists, though it was a but too long and boring. My suggestion for livelier meetings: talk more about Islam. It us no small problem.

  15. Posted June 10, 2011 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    All good comments; I think that there is also an age/maturity-in-the-discipline factor that affects one’s perspective on meetings and conferences. For example, cytometry meetings were extremely important to me early in my career and their importance gradually diminished over the decades. Currently I am enjoying a bluegrass camp on the back side of Pikes Peak and I cannot imagine a better conference for me at this particular time :-)

  16. Adam K. Fetterman
    Posted June 10, 2011 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    They’re too expensive. I am a poor grad student. There was one a couple states over and I still couldn’t afford it. Although, there was a small one in my hometown, but it seemed a bit steep for the size of it (I really regret not going…come back!).

    Though, my guess is that there are many of them, so that they can be as accessible as possible. I rarely get to discuss this stuff with flesh and blood humans.

  17. karen
    Posted June 10, 2011 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    Privileged meetings/conferences for privileged people. I worry about feeding my son, finding a job, and whether or not I can pay my rent this month. I will content myself with reading blogs and let those who can afford it, worry about whether they can stomach another viewing of Dawkins, Myers etc.,

    • AT
      Posted June 10, 2011 at 9:18 am | Permalink

      are you by yourself or you have a partner/husband?

      if you don’t – the meeting could be a way to meet someone with who you can connect on the intellectual plane

      of course this would not be the only goal you would want to go to a meeting

      humans are social animals; one of our kernel property is congregational sexuality: two humans in communion will superceed two humans that do not communicate

      and face-to-face communication will remain superior to written word for very long long time, evolutionary long time

      this is why getting together is important and it is very sad that you cannot afford it

      • Posted June 11, 2011 at 4:50 am | Permalink

        AT, AT, AT

        I am not sure if you realize what you are suggesting, here. So, Karen should go to an Atheist Conference (something she suggested she is not interested in anyway,) to “git her a man to take care of her?”

    • articulett
      Posted June 10, 2011 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

      I know what you mean. I feel fortunate to just see the clips of the lectures people post online. I also feel fortunate to be part of the online atheist community.

      Many of these meet ups have scholarships of some sort to help with attendance, and so I’ve had the privilege of attending a few; often, they were the highlight of my year.

      I am envious of those who get to go these meetings often– I can also get the lectures on line… but I miss being in the physical presence of the really cool people who attend these conferences. I would love to go to more of these meetings and wish I could be part of the lecture circuit so I could have the luxury of thinking there are too many– ha!

      • Posted June 10, 2011 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

        Same here.

        • Screechy Monkey
          Posted June 10, 2011 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

          Wait, why aren’t conference organizers inviting Ophelia to speak?

        • articulett
          Posted June 11, 2011 at 2:21 am | Permalink

          I’ve known people who start as speakers by presenting papers at these events… You’ve written a book; I would think you’d be readily considered as a speaker if you let the organizer’s of such meetings know of your interest.

          Your blog gives you a fan base of supporters. I would love to see you complaining about too many atheist meetings in the future!

    • Mike
      Posted June 11, 2011 at 4:24 am | Permalink

      The only conference I have ever been to was in the city across the river from me. I didn’t have the money for a ticket in, but I hung around in the lobby near the conference rooms and actually got to have conversations with some of the guest speakers.

      I found that once the queues for the book signings are done, then authors and speakers are often left standing on their own and hoping for some actual conversation beyond “I loved your book.”

      But, yeah, travel for me is right out for a conference and a low priority in my limited budget.

  18. Patrick
    Posted June 10, 2011 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    I suspect that for a lot of people these conventions are part of personal growth. They’ve either just deconverted, or else are just starting to come out of the closet, and want to celebrate and do something to commemorate their freedom. A convention is a particularly nice way to do that because its public, it involves interacting with people who will understand, and you may even get to meet some of the people who’s writings and speeches helped you along the way.

    Which is to say, I completely get why these would become a trial for repeat attendees, and for atheist authors. That moment of personal growth that people are going through at these conventions is something that only really works once or twice, and you’re being put it many times a year, and on someone else’s behalf.

  19. Marta
    Posted June 10, 2011 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    The atheist community, for me, is a completely on-line experience. I suspect this is true for a sizeable number of us, and while the on-line experience is satisfying, I would like to meet these people I’m coming to think of as friends, in person.

    Additionally, I feel a great deal of respect and affection for PZ, who is seemingly tireless, gracious and generous about appearing at these events, dealing with the same stupid questions, again and again. His appearance is affirming to people who will be important later, in unanticipated ways.

  20. Posted June 10, 2011 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    Jerry, I think the rapid growth of these conferences reflects a general tendency of us atheists: we tend to be very reflective intellectual types who like talking about ideas, and one of the bad things about this is that our talk-to-action ratio isn’t as good as it should be. Sure we should make a point of hanging out and socializing and building those bonds that a movement needs, but we should also challenge each other to identify concrete damage that un-critical-thinking is doing in our local communities, and then put plans together and COMMIT TIME to doing something about them. So to readers: in your county or city, what are the biggest such problems that you can identify? How much time have spent last month working on it? Or, what’s an action you took because of your skepticism/atheism? Otherwise, our beliefs aren’t affecting our actions.

  21. Troy
    Posted June 10, 2011 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    How can there be too many atheist meetings? Unbelievable. :P

    That’s a bit like saying there are too many TV channels. You don’t *have* to watch them, and you don’t have to attend the atheist meetings.

    Indeed, I wish there were more atheist meetings, in more places. I have never been to such a meeting since AFAIK there haven’t been any near where I live (a backwater town in the Netherlands), and I can hardly afford the travel expenses to more remote meetings.

    No offense, but it’s an elitist complaint.

  22. Posted June 10, 2011 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    I think this needs to be looked at from two different angles.

    The first is the point of view of an in-demand speaker such as yourself. Yeah, if you’re getting a dozen invitations a year to speak at atheist conferences, it’s going to seem like a bit much.

    But look at it from the point of view of a more “average” conference goer. It’s personally difficult for me to get to conferences that are very far away, so I’m very glad when the FFRF has a conference in the Midwest, where I’ve lived my entire life.

    Though, if the part of the point of these conferences is to help people network, you don’t want people spread too thin.

  23. Patrick
    Posted June 10, 2011 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    Found your soulmate, Dr. Coyne!

    LOL!

    • Dominic
      Posted June 10, 2011 at 10:44 am | Permalink

      What exactly does she love???

      Brilliant!

    • gsenski
      Posted June 10, 2011 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

      OMG…She really loves cats…
      I mean, she really loves cats…
      Like,… more than PZ loves squidly things.

    • nick bobick
      Posted June 10, 2011 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

      Thanks so much for posting this Patrick. I’ve been periodically giggling about it all day since I viewed it earlier. This young lady has a bright future in comedy.

      I went to youtube and noticed it had 1.25 million views since being posted 6 days ago! And of course, most of the idiots who decided to post comments thought it was serious. I fear that our hopes for a large contingent of critical thinkers in the world is a lost cause.

  24. Steve
    Posted June 10, 2011 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    I think some would quibble about some of meetings you listed being not really being atheists meeting.

  25. Dominic
    Posted June 10, 2011 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    I agree with you – I queued up to get RD’s signature on The God Delusion when he gave a talk at the Institute of Education in London but I hate fawning worship of heroes atheist or otherwise. Most of the people I revere living or historical are great people but also with faults. My atheist/agnostic friends who came along were highly critical of the hero worship. I have never been to an obvious atheist meeting or felt the need to go to one – perhaps because the UK is not ‘in your face’ religious.

    • Dominic
      Posted June 10, 2011 at 10:39 am | Permalink

      PS Radio 4 comedy The Now Show just took the mick out of the AC Grayling new university college

      http://tinyurl.com/5rpqc2t

      he is starting in London. They had RD doing the theology course – Module One “There is NO GOD!. That concludes the course. The exam will be in three years”.

  26. Greg Esres
    Posted June 10, 2011 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    I’d like to see a better distribution of these conferences geographically; I live in the southern US, and all of these conferences are a big journey.

  27. Simon
    Posted June 10, 2011 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    Q: Are there too many national meetings in North America?
    A: Absolutely not. For the most part Jerry mentioned annual conferences of national organizations with thousands of members: AAI, AA, AHA, CSH, CSI, JREF, FFRF + Skepticon. (please let me know if I left anything out). The US has millions of atheists. Average attendance at these conferences is around 500 (TAM and Skepticon I believe get considerably more, but this is at most 1500).

    Dragoncon gets around 40,000 attendees overall but the Skeptrack portion is maybe 200-300.

    By sheer numbers alone it is evident that the national meetings only attract but a small portion of both existing members/donors much less atheists/humanists/skeptics. And these numbers if anything underestimate demand since they are often sold out, meaning more could have attended if the venue size allowed.

    Q: Are the same topics and big speakers repeated too often?
    A: Possibly, although I’m not sure that this is perceptible to the average attendee.

    Again, how many people attend multiple conferences? How big of a factor is an individual talk? I’ve yet to see indications of large numbers of negative feedback or people not attending one of the conferences (keep in mind attendees tend to be donors and members so they do have an allegiance to the organization’s goals) due to repetitive content.

    This question is very similar to the conundrum that rock bands face when deciding their setlist on a given night when on tour: do we play the new or rarer songs and please the long-time fans? or do we play the same old classics and please the casual concert-goers? How much do we vary the setlist from city to city?

    • Simon
      Posted June 10, 2011 at 11:11 am | Permalink

      I meant to say “By sheer numbers alone it is evident that the national meetings only attract but a small portion of both existing members/donors much less all atheists/humanists/skeptics.”

  28. Posted June 10, 2011 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    Are there too many atheist meetings, or too few? What would you do to improve them?

    To improve them I would have them INVITE ME! There are too many that don’t INVITE ME and too few (as in, none) that INVITE ME!

    :- D

    • Simon
      Posted June 10, 2011 at 11:21 am | Permalink

      Ophelia, you got our CFI invitation for DC next fall yes?

      Just checking :-)

      • Posted June 10, 2011 at 11:31 am | Permalink

        Next fall? You mean June 2012? That next fall? :/

        • Simon
          Posted June 10, 2011 at 11:37 am | Permalink

          Oops, meant to say next Spring :-) See my email offline shortly! :-)

          • Posted June 10, 2011 at 11:55 am | Permalink

            Anyway, larger point is correct – CFI has in fact invited me, to more than one thing, so that “none” was…an exaggeration.

            Nobody ELSE has though.

            :- D

            • Graham Martin-Royle
              Posted June 10, 2011 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

              That’s def. not good enough, I’d love to hear you speak.

              On the subject of too many conferences, I just attended the WAC in Dublin. It was the first such convention I’ve ever attended and I had a great time. Like a lot of people here, I’ve never been able to afford to go before. I’m certain that there must be more people like me, wanting to go but couldn’t, who finally make it to one. If there were fewer conventions it would be even harder for the likes of me to attend.

              As for the speakers, yes it’s good to have a couple of top names to draw the crowd, but the majority of speakers were unknown to me before I got there. These speakers need to be invited to more such events so that, not only do they get more exposure, but they also get practise at speaking.

            • articulett
              Posted June 10, 2011 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

              I’d love to hear you talk about how anti-atheist bigotry may be fostered by the gnu bashing of the accommodationists. I think it would make a good contrast to the the DBAD speech. I think fellow skeptics need to be aware of how their own “faith in faith” might affect the perception of us all. (Heck, I’d worm my way in and make the powerpoint if it meant it would cover the expenses of going to such a meething.)

  29. AT
    Posted June 10, 2011 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    doing something only makes sense once we understand the root causes of the phenomena we want to “change”
    do you think a lot of people understand how “human condition” came to be?
    do you think a lot of people understand what “human condition” means?
    there is profound _lack_ of forensic integrity in all discussions, scientific and otherwise because people start talking about things before defining their terms
    no wonder than the conversation ends up in poorly defined territory and people find it difficult to aggree on a courtse of action
    this is why it is more important to develop a _proper_ discourse before we can even approach policy making
    we (mankind as organism-whole) are pushing so -called technology and progress _before_ we have coherent understanding of whole-planet dynamics completely _ignoring_ population strategy nationwide and globally
    science profoundly lags behind our diasporation and will never be able to deal with our “problems” before we understand ourselves (“human condition”) from evolutionary perspective
    in view of this talking is more important than doing;
    consolidating scientists to be scientists not only in their labs but also when they step out of their labs is more important that political action
    clean the science of beliefs is more important than anything else
    natural selection will take care of the rest

  30. SWH
    Posted June 10, 2011 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    Speaking as one who has organized a number of meetings (scientific, not atheist) I would expect that market forces will prevail. Meetings are expensive and time consuming to put on. As a result they are generally expensive to attend. If the price is too high or the interest level not high enough then attendance will not meet projections and you lose money (which is bad even if you are only aiming to break even). So the number of meetings will settle out at whatever turns out to be a level sustainable by the market, as influenced by the number of quality speakers available and the choice of topic. Like a number of commentators here I’m happy to hear about this stuff online – I’m fortunate (or unfortunate) to travel enough not to want to add trips to my calendar and happy with the level of professional and private discourse.

  31. jay
    Posted June 10, 2011 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    Can’t see that there are too many, or even that there is a problem with some of the same speakers… it’s often different audience members.

    To some, it’s also a form of recreation, a kind of vacation as an alternative to a cruise or a week at the shore … hang out with people you identify with, socialize, interact, a time away from home. Really it’s not different from many other types of vacation activities. True there is expense, but that’s no different from other recreation choices. We all go through times in our lives when money is short.

    I have some friends who do several a year, others who are just as atheistic who do none. Personal choice.

    • satan augustine
      Posted June 10, 2011 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

      Agreed!

  32. Donovan
    Posted June 10, 2011 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think there are too many meetings, but big meetings? I don’t think we need to drag out the red carpet so regularly. I also think speakers need to be changed up a bit. If Richard just did a major conference this year, don’t invite him to a similar one next year. And try to limit your choice for speakers to people who have just published something new. Sam Harris, for instance, would be happier for the press to plug his book, and would give the attendees more to talk about. I would love to meet Richard, but could really give a damn about hearing another talk by him at the moment. I’ll wait until he comes up with something new, or enough others do that he has something to say about that. There are plenty of atheists and scientists out there who would love to give a talk and who would have new, fresh ideas to share. Once a year, one place and one time, we should give the best our full attention. Working together, we can keep costs down, too. That way, many poor college students will be able to find there way to one at some point, given enough desire.

    I think we need far, far more small meetings, though. My adviser and I are trying to start up a Skeptics at the Pub monthly meeting since there’s nothing similar for 100 miles around. Every town should have a reality defense team. With this format, everything is casual and if a big speaker does happen to pass through, like Jerry, and agree to stop by and say hi, the fanboi pestering is less oppressive: there’s only, maybe, 20 people there. How many will be reduced to drivel even by the four horsemen combined? It also serves as a testing ground for the Matt Dillahuntys, Karen Stollznows and Aron Ras of the world.

  33. Randy Lyman
    Posted June 10, 2011 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    Your appearance at the FFRF in October is for one of the most long time established organizations that provides litigation and protection against the constant onslaught of religion into government.
    Hope to see you there. (I won’t be a “fanboy”)
    Randy Lyman

  34. satan augustine
    Posted June 10, 2011 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    Nope, not too many atheist meetings.

    The problem is that there aren’t enough meetings that are affordable and/or nearby. Some conferences move around (AA, AAI). Others are always in the same place (FFRF, The Amazing Meeting, Skepticon). It would be great if they coordinated things so that, say, the 15 or so the US has a year would be in 15 different states, preferably scattered as dispersedly as possible, and then switch locations every year.

    This is, of course, will never happen. But I can dream.

    And as many have mentioned, most of them are too damned expensive. I’ve mentioned before that SKEPTICON is FREE! It would be nice if others followed suit or in the very least lowered their prices a bit.

    • Posted June 10, 2011 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

      Erm, FFRF moves their convention around quite a bit. In 2010 it was in Madison; this year will be in Hartford, next year in Portland, and I believe the 2013 convention is still a toss-up between Phoenix and North Carolina.

    • John-Henry Beck
      Posted June 10, 2011 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

      Part of the problem is that different meetings have different purposes.

      Skepticon is a student group putting on the conference for the sake of the conference, for the socializing and spreading information.
      Many of the others are about fund raising for an organization.
      So, unfortunately, we can’t expect them all to be free. Though I understand the AA meeting recently dropped their price for students quite a bit.

  35. Henry
    Posted June 10, 2011 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    Some meetings should exert more control on the content abd quality of plenary talks to make sure they match the audience. For speakers with a more narrow topic, breakouts are the best format, especially panel discussions and roundtables that encourage audience input.

    We need more talks about practical issues and far fewer about how silly believers are. For example, Rebecca Watson does a talk about trying to blunt the political attacks from the religious right on women’s health and civil rights. I’d like to hear more about efforts to reduce Christina privilege, such as generous church tax exemptions and the legal bias in favor of ministers for officiating at weddings.I’d also like to hear more about atheist parenting, workplace discrimination, holidays, and dealing with insidious evangelizing by teachers and public officials.

    However, I’m sure that over time the negatives will be resolved. Every professional conference struggles with the same issues, and I’d bet that believer’s meetups and conferences do too, and there are a LOT of those going on all the time.. So, no, we don’t have too many meetings, but the ones we have need to improve..

  36. Posted June 10, 2011 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

    I think it’s important when considering whether we have “too many” atheist/skeptic conventions or whatever that we remember that we don’t live in a static universe. At every one of these things there is going to be some new person who has never before been in a huge room full of people who agree with him on this; “one thing: disbelief in divine beings and a respect for reason and evidence.”

    I don’t think we can underestimate the importance of that experience, especially since the enemies of reason get it every sunday.

    • satan augustine
      Posted June 10, 2011 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

      Like!

  37. Posted June 10, 2011 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    Too many meetings? No. Maybe we could do with a larger pool of speakers and a wider variety of formats, but the sheer number of religious believers and the political force they wield makes these sorts of meetings entirely necessary. The real audience isn’t merely the handful of people attending these conferences in person, but the billions who will have access to the resulting lectures via YouTube and other resources long into the future. I, too, attended the 2009 AAI meeting in Burbank and found it hugely beneficial; however, it was apparent that the attendees represented a rather narrow, self-selecting group of people who were already of an atheistic mind set. The people who are likely to benefit the most from the information presented that weekend are those who are unable to attend such events. The young teen who secretly doubts her parent’s religious convictions. The college student who finds his science classes presenting ideas directly opposing the evangelical dogma he was force-fed as a child. The grandparent who quietly questions the truth value of a lifetime of merely-asserted religious belief. These people are the real beneficiaries, not the choir of non-believers happily attending (and financially supporting) meetings like those presented by the AAI. Will I attend more meetings in the future? YES! Not because I need a non-religious alternative to church, but because I want to support the AAI in the hopes of reaching a greater number of people who might otherwise experience little more than a cacophony of religious noise. The more quality lectures we produce, and the more broadly we share them, the greater the number of potential opportunities we generate for helping others to question their religious beliefs. As long as religion remains such a powerfully divisive and harmful influence, these meetings are entirely necessary.

  38. rogerivanhart
    Posted June 10, 2011 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps some of our more illustrious and eloquent speakers could run courses to encourage more speakers to attend meetings? Perhaps there could be a fund set up to help with travel costs? I notice Cristina Rad is to speak at a couple of meetings this year; I’m sure she would be grateful for help with the cost of attending. The more the merrier, I say.

  39. Sigmund
    Posted June 10, 2011 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    There are too few smaller meetings. I live in Stockholm and would love to meet up with fellow atheists (a skeptic in the pub style activity sounds ideal rather than a major international conference with talks by the usual suspects).
    Martin Rundqvist of the blog Ardvarchaeology used to arrange meetings a couple of times a year bit I think I’d prefer something more frequent and more open to expats whose fluency in Swedish is not that great.
    Any Stockholm WEITers here?

    • Posted June 11, 2011 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

      Sigmund, I seem to recall that I’ve seen references to a Stockholm version of Skeptics in the Pub, but if not, I can recommend starting your own.

      I have, together with TrineBM, who comments here, and the head of the Danish Atheist Society, started a Copenhagen version of SitP. While it took some work finding contact information to people and a place to hold the meetings, the response has been really great (we had our first meeting Wednesday, with more than 40 people participating).

      Also, I hope you’re aware of http://skepchick.se/ – I think some of them operate out of Stockholm.

  40. Posted June 10, 2011 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    I think in the end it come down to face to face human communication. When I first met up with my group it was like the bee girl in Blind Melons No Rain video. If you are like me and have no family or friends. to have a rational conversation with. It’s like a breath of fresh air. I say the more conferences the merrier.

  41. Posted June 10, 2011 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    There are all sorts of meetings.

    Campus meetings of freethinkers societies under a variety of names.

    Meetings like the only one I’ve ever been to, about 25 Brit members of a message board, with a few people coming in from Europe.

    And the bigger ones, like the recent one in Ireland, which had lots of positives.

    The CEMB rep’s speech has gained a lot of online coverage, via PZ, and passed on like the DB I frequent. It was good stuff, I thought.

    The Irish Times printed a lot of the speech of Michael Nugent, who was in involved in getting the event up and running.

    Also good stuff.

    Generally such events are good for good fellowship, and good for making those who see superstition and ignorance as things to not be passed over in silence more visible.

    More is good, more still is better, I think.

    David B

  42. Jeff Sherry
    Posted June 10, 2011 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

    Are there too many meetings? I don’t know, but at least a community of meetings exist so that atheists don’t have to be loners all of their lives. For the majority of my life there hasn’t been a community and I have missed socializing with people that have similar views.

  43. Dawn Oz
    Posted June 10, 2011 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

    You exist in a rarefied zone at a university where you probably run into atheists in the corridor. We had one Australian meeting in Melbourne last year and it booked out in hours. Whilst I’m in a rarefied group of highly educated friends, I still would have loved to have been there….just once. Part of it would have been to see Richard Dawkins (like some sort of groupie), and part to just have those conversations over coffee with like minded secular-souls. Take care with your grumps, you work very hard; and thank you for your list which I enjoy every day.

  44. John-Henry Beck
    Posted June 10, 2011 at 9:46 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think there are enough meetings.

    I would like to see more of the regional meetings. Rather than large fundraisers, the lower cost (and priced!) meetings to give far more people the chance to go.

    Heck, I think it would be good for visibility too, if more cities got used to seeing atheist and skeptical events there in their own town rather than something far away.

    But since most of us can’t travel long distances or pay large fees to attend all those large conferences, I sincerely believe that more of them in more places just increases the opportunity to attend something and make those in-person connections with a larger community of like-minded people.

    In some ways maybe we only have the lack of belief in gods as a central factor. But I think practically speaking there’s a lot more overlap than that to share.

  45. PZ Myers
    Posted June 11, 2011 at 6:18 am | Permalink

    I’ve noticed that every meeting I’ve attended has PZ Myers as a speaker, and he does get tiresome. But no, there isn’t an excess of meetings, and they don’t all have one subject. They have talks about science, law, politics, history, philosophy, even economics — and they’re also about socializing. And lately, every meeting has a comedy session, it seems.

    One suggestion I have, though, is invite fewer of the big name atheist/skeptics (which saves money, too), and promote more of the local talent. That builds the pool of representatives and also increases the diversity of voices.

    I often tell them they need more Ophelia Benson. I’ve said that to some of the organizers here in Ireland and the UK as I’ve been traveling around. Sorry, Ophelia, I guess I just don’t have that much clout.

    • Posted June 11, 2011 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

      :- )

      Thanks for the attempts, PZ!

    • Posted June 11, 2011 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

      Well, at least they don’t invite that PZ Meyers guy who seems to get everybody’s goat up.

      (Oh, more seriously – I definitely second the call for Ophelia Benson as a speaker)

      • astrokid.nj
        Posted June 11, 2011 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

        +1 for Ophelia

  46. Martin
    Posted June 11, 2011 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    I liked the format of the panel discussions, although I do think that someone like Dawkins is slightly wasted in that setting.
    Agree with PZ that these conferences should make an effort to attract more local talent as speakers and contributors, and also the media might want to consider inviting someone other than PZ/Dawkins into radio shows and to newspaper interviews.

    Personally, I have been to 3 of these conferences now (I didn’t go to TAM Sydney because I thought it was too expensive), and while I will often listen to the talks with one ear from a back row, the main attraction is the social networking, the making friends and being with friends that goes on when the speakers finish for the day.

  47. Posted June 11, 2011 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think there are too many conferences, but I’d definitely love to see more variety in the choice of speakers, since I’d love to hear new voices and different perspectives.

    Regarding costs, I come from a field (IT) where conferences are much more expensive, so I don’t find the prices as high as many others. But then, I don’t pay to go to IT conferences, while I have to pay my own way at atheist/skeptic conferences.

    One thing which is worth remembering, when speaking cost, is that the conference cost is only part of it. Paying for a place to stay is also a large cost for many people. This is an area where locals can help during the conference – during the Copenhagen conference, I had five people staying at my apartment, making it possible for them to participate. I definitely recommend doing this if possible.

  48. Posted June 11, 2011 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    It’s interesting to hear the comments about some of the meetings being too expensive. I recently was on the (volunteer) organizing committee for a railroad hobbyist convention, and one of our main goals (that we accomplished) was to limit costs to keep it affordable for as many people as possible. Personally, I don’t think chandeliers in the ceiling do much to add to a speaker’s credibility. However, I have seen a number of people in the atheist community express the sentiment that expensive events are necessary if we don’t want to appear “cheap”, and if we want to be taken seriously (eg by the media and potential big-ticket donors).

    • Henry
      Posted June 11, 2011 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

      Speaking of lighting quality, the Millenium Biltmore in Los Angeles, where CFI held it’s October 2010 meeting, has a lot of really nice chandiliers. I agree. The speaker’s credibility was not affected.

  49. Susan
    Posted June 11, 2011 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

    I thoroughly enjoyed the first atheist conference I attended (the AAI conference in Dublin last week). Acknowledging the many comments on this thread about seeing the same speakers and hearing the same topics discussed at atheist conferences, I would like to suggest that we spend some time brainstorming when large groups of atheists are together. I think this would be helpful, especially among international groups, because we could talk about how we can pool our resources and work together to create radio programs or other ads that aim to encourage critical thinking and rational behavior. Everyone has access to the web; why not create a web-based logic-emphasizing video game for children? It doesn’t have to bash any god, but getting people to THINK is the first step in getting them to evaluate their beliefs and discard those that are not reasonable and rational. Religions focus on indoctrinating children; why shouldn’t we reach out to children as well, and tell them that it’s ok to use their brains in all parts of life!

  50. Posted June 11, 2011 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

    I’ve written at length about conferences on my site – about sourcing and encouraging local talent, encouraging diversity (NOT just tokenism or the online-celebrity-of-the-month), and the importance of supporting those who wish to build on their skills and demonstrate a range of talents – which will then hold us in good stead for future events and resources. This means encouraging those not only with an established track record, but those less naturally-putting-themselves-forward people who will go under the radar otherwise. Do speak up and be sensible about recommendations to event organisers, as many may truly be unaware of issues that seem obvious to us and they honestly may not be aware of what exists out there as a new drawcard.

    I contribute a (often it seems) ridiculous amount of time and money to travel, develop resources, teaching and lecturing – and I have yet to find funding for _anything_ I do beyond the kind efforts of only one convention out of the many that I’ve worked at. :) For example, I’m going around the world for the fourth time this year to work backstage at Dragon*Con – while still teaching school and funding it all on my own! I’ve also donated to help other young people attend events. My efforts aren’t helped when I am rarely – if ever – mentioned or sometimes seemingly ignored by some of the ‘bigger names’ in skepticism and/ or atheism, but I don’t let myself be discouraged (much). :) I hope others never feel this way about individuals and organisations and can find supportive people who have the courage to speak up on their behalf.

    In addition, I do support the idea of seeking additional funding from outside the attendees / groups that run these events. I was very pleased to notice that the state of Victoria saw the tourism-draw of the Global Atheist Convention in Australia as something worth helping out with and I sincerely hope that will be used as an example for other conventions in terms of finding resources.

    If people think that there is ‘too much’ in terms of events out there, consider that I come from one of the most isolated cities in the world: in my town, there is nothing beyond the two atheist/skeptics groups I’m a part of and that’s what I work on changing in what rare free time I have (when not teaching Philosophy, podcasting, blogging, writing, et al)! Making a difference starts with us, after all.

    Looking forward to seeing people at the Global Atheist Convention in Melbourne, 2012. :)

    • articulett
      Posted June 11, 2011 at 10:44 pm | Permalink

      “Like”

      Getting to hear you and meet you was one of the great things that happened to me at TAM!

  51. Diane G.
    Posted June 11, 2011 at 9:11 pm | Permalink

    And IME, nearly every meeting speaker has a book to sell…or something. Call me cynical, but JAC’s post speaks for me.

    I have to agree with Douglas E @ # 15, too. Back in my party-hearty days I might have felt differently. Now I’d rather go birdwatching.

    But aside from my personal feelings, I’d say as long as there’s a market for meetings, why not have them? As long as there are some people want to speak and some who want to listen and many who want to socialize–go for it. We’re a big tent…

    • Posted June 11, 2011 at 11:26 pm | Permalink

      Diane, I think you’re confusing cause and effect. The speakers are invited exactly because they have a book to sell.

      • Diane G.
        Posted June 12, 2011 at 12:33 am | Permalink

        I suppose you’re right. :- ) And I should add that I usually do buy their books; if I don’t already have them, that is. (Even sometimes when I do!)

  52. Someguy
    Posted June 12, 2011 at 5:35 am | Permalink

    What I find upsetting about the proliferation of these overpriced Atheist Meetings is that it seems like a dog & pony carnival show. The organizers have recognized a group of suckers who will pay outrageous amounts of cash to repeatedly hear the same material regurgitated by the same people time and time again, and they soak it to the suckers for high $$$ tickets.

    The Amazing Randy once made a career out of exposing charlatans who bilk idiots out of their cash, but now he bilks over-educated, but gullible Atheist suckers out of more Ticket Money to Attend Amazing Meetings, than the Charlatans he used to expose as shysters ever managed to extract from the hicks who went to have their palms read and the like.

    The only Amazing thing about TAM is that so many otherwise intelligent Atheists would shell out so much cash to attend the damn things all the time. Are they so starved for affection and affirmation in their disbelief that they need to have their NON-Beliefs buoyed up all the time by others.

    Randy once quoted someone else as saying that there is a sucker born every minute, and he himself said that intelligence is not a sufficient defense against being tricked. Going by what he has managed to swindle so many atheists into falling for time and again by charging multiple hundreds of dollars for a ticket to attend TAM I have to say he is sooo right in his observations of Suckers.

    You learn the obvious at TAM & other over- priced Atheist Meetings that gods do not exist, & when you attend the next and the next one you learn that they still do not exist, and for that wisdom you are reguired to fork out hundreds or even thousands of dollars once travel, and hotel expenser are included in with the hella-high-priced ticket costs that any other scam artist would be ashamed to charge their customers.

    Rock stars, and sporting events could only dream of swindling their fans out of that kind of cash for a ticket, but at least at those events you are receiving a fresh product, and not the same rehashed and reheated fact that “Yes Gods still do not exist” message that you hear at every one of the meetings.

    Get your checkbooks out you pathetic Suckers, the next TAM is on the near horizon, and there are people there who want to tell you how not to fall for swindlers. The irony is truly AMAZING!

    • Posted June 12, 2011 at 5:53 am | Permalink

      Translation: “I, Someguy, don’t enjoy the content and the networking, and I don’t see anything of interest, and I don’t want to go… therefore, anyone thinking differently from me is a pathetic sucker.”

      Paint-by-numbers trolling. Yawn.

      Next…

    • Simon
      Posted June 12, 2011 at 6:17 am | Permalink

      Translation:

      -Atheist and humanist thought is confined to simply repeating “there is no god”. Riiight.
      -Don’t support organizations that share your goals. Never mind that their Form 990 is public information and anyone can see the “rock star” salaries being paid. Hint, they’re anything but.
      -Stay home
      -Do nothing

      PS “Amazing Randy”?…possible troll here.

      • Someguy
        Posted June 12, 2011 at 7:06 am | Permalink

        I am not trolling at all, but rather engaging in Free-thought! I am an Atheist who unlike many other Atheists am not so very needy of having my disbelief bolstered by the presence of others who will confirm that I am right not to believe in the existence of gods & willing to be bled like a sheep for the privilege of being told what I already know about the existence of gods.

        It is easy for those of you who are needy to dismiss those like myself who express concern over the commercialization of non-belief sideshows as trolls, because that conveniently sidetracks any legitimate criticism we may put forward, but it is dishonest and cowardly of you to do so. I am not trolling but merely saying what some others have hinted at for some time regarding these money-grabbing atheist carny acts.

        I recognize the commercialization opportunity being capitalized upon by Randy, and the SGU entertainment promoters and their like who have tapped into a heretofore untapped vein of punters with gold & platinum credit cards burning a hole in their pockets, but the willing victims have not yet realized that they are having their DEEPLY plundered by people they trust.

        If is said that a fool and his money are soon parted, but it is hoped that after having repeatedly parted with so much in exchange for absolutely so little NEW information, an intelligent person might finally recognize the scam as a money grabbing shell-game, but again, Randy had it right about Intelligence not being an antidote to being tricked.

        Line up suckers, line up & disgorge your overripe wallets into the bank accounts of those who have your number, line up to be fleeced, and then line up again to be told & sold the same sweet NOTHINGS again at the next sheep shearing event.

        • Theo Bromine
          Posted June 12, 2011 at 7:47 am | Permalink

          Someguy: There are more motivations to get together with like-minded people beyond just having one’s beliefs bolstered. One reason that religion has been so successful for so long is that it provides a ready-built community that people can hook up with, not only to share the fun, but also to get support in times of need. Finding an alternative to that ranges from difficult to impossible. Local meetings are a good place to start, but it’s a challenge to get the word out. Larger meetings with lots of publicity have a collateral benefit of bringing people and organizations together who otherwise might not even have known about one another’s proximate existence.

          Perhaps I am naive, but it is my understanding that many (if not most) of the speakers at these events are not getting rich off of their speaking gigs. Those who have a dayjob with the atheist/skeptic/freethought organizations are paid only modest salaries. Those who have “regular” dayjobs often put in unpaid time and their own personal resources without any financial compensation. In the course of setting up meetings for the fledgling CFI Ottawa, I have contacted a number of potential speakers who only ask that they be reimbursed for their cost of travel and accommodation, but do not charge any additional fees.

          • Someguy
            Posted June 12, 2011 at 9:30 am | Permalink

            There may indeed be good and worthwhile reasons to attend a gathering of Atheists, but to be preyed upon by money leeching vultures charge these prices http://tinyurl.com/atheist-gouge and who in the next breath will warn you to not be taken in by shysters trying to sell you bunk products or services which deliver nothing, such as magic wristbands, and non-medicinal homeopathic medicines is just beyond the ironic pale.

            Randy used to make a living out of trickery when he was a magician, and now makes his living doing essentially the same thing to people who are distracted by all the hand waving misdirection into exorbitantly paying through the nose, over and over again for the same empty product. Poof, he makes large sums of money disappear from your bank account, and appear in his pocket just like magic.

            This whole business of capitalizing on the gullibility of lonely, trusting, unsure of their position atheists and plundering their wallets so deeply for overpriced tickets is shameless and unseemly.

            Up to $800 dollars to attend the events including the must see pinnacle of Atheist enlightenment known as Rebecca Watsons Variety Show.

            Where are the clowns and dancing bears I wonder, oh wait a minute I know exactly where the clowns are. They are the audience who paid $800+ lodging+travel to attend the dog & pony show.

            • Theo Bromine
              Posted June 12, 2011 at 10:03 am | Permalink

              Ok, up to $800 for the most expensive late registration, but for a more typical advance booking, the cost would be about $500. It’s a 4 day conference – $125/day for speaker sessions and workshops, with some meals included doesn’t seem that unreasonable to me. By comparison, professional conferences cost 2-3x as much.

              But sure, show me the evidence that folks like SGU and Randi are making exorbitant profits off the backs of poor skeptics and atheists, telling them that they are morally obligated to spend their money in that way.

        • Simon
          Posted June 12, 2011 at 9:30 am | Permalink

          Says Someguy:

          I am an Atheist who unlike many other Atheists am not so very needy of having my disbelief bolstered by the presence of others who will confirm that I am right not to believe in the existence of gods

          If that is the case, then why are you reading this blog? Surely all the reinforcement of unbelief via Jerry’s blog post and commenters must be soooo tedious for you.

          • Someguy
            Posted June 12, 2011 at 10:41 am | Permalink

            Simon, I am doing you and the others here a public service by throwing a bucket of ice-water into your faces in hopes of waking you up to the reality that you are being suckered into plopping down up to $800 for full tickets to an entertainment event, and potentially a further $1000 dollars to sit at a table with Randy or Dawkins to have a bite to eat.

            Dawkins is a nice enough guy, and Randy too, but I would not pay either of them any money to sit down with me for lunch, nor would I expect them to pay me for the honor. I might buy either of them lunch if I was in the mood for lunch and they happened to be to hand, but I do not worship or idolize these guys or anyone for that matter, and I just think it’s silly to pay either of them $1000 dollars just to be near them.

            Everything I want to know from Dawkins, I can get from reading his books, and watching his videos, and I do not care to know what he smells like, or if he slurps when he eats soup or whatever the $1000 lunch date with him may reveal. They are money grubbing shysters for charging people $1000 dollars to sit with them for lunch, after charging UP TO $800.00 for the show.

            It is shamefully excessive greed, but if as Randy says there are suckers willing to pay to be fooled then why shouldn’t he be the one who relieves them of their excessive money.

            I am attempting to open eyes and save you/others the expense and embarrassment of wasting perhaps in excess of $2000 dollars once travel and lodging is included to attend one overpriced atheist variety show after the next, so do try to be a little more grateful of my efforts.

            I am not charging you for this advice, and that is why I am not spell-checking or proofing the comments for errors at all as you may have noticed. I will however for the Low, Low Introductory special Atheist discounted Price of three easy payments of $49.95 charged to your credit card, send you an electronically corrected copy of my commentary suitable for framing after printing on your very own printer paper so act quickly befor the price goes up, just like at TAM.

            • Simon
              Posted June 12, 2011 at 11:05 am | Permalink

              When someone pays $1000 for the lunch with Dawkins, Randi (with an “i”!), Penn&Teller, etc. at TAM this is basically a donation to JREF. That is why $900 is a tax deductible contribution and this is clearly stated on the receipt. The money goes to support the mission of JREF: http://www.randi.org/site/index.php/about-the-foundation.html

              Are you saying people should not donate to JREF?

              There are many folks out there (myself included), that believe that JREF does important and valuable work and that it is worth supporting. If someone has the capacity to do it then more power to them.

              JREF is a charitable organization, and pretty much ALL charitable organizations raise funds in a similar fashion.

              • Someguy
                Posted June 12, 2011 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

                POerhaps then you might like to have them charge $15 hundred for the variety show, and $3 thousand for soup with Dawkins. That might be good. More money going to the vital work of enriching those who feel no compunction whatsoever with suckering the gullible out of large wads of their cash for questionable reasons.

                I guess it is not much worse than the religiously gullible sending in offerings to Peter Popoff or others, who may maintain their charitable status by sending a token amount to build a community well somewhere so by all means dig deep like sheep. Perhaps it’s as well for you to be fleeced in this way as be fleeced in other ways.

                As long as there are suckers, there will be people to take advantage of those suckers.
                To paraphrase James Randi, Intelligence is no guarantor that people can’t be fooled! I believe he also indicated that intelligent people are sometimes even easier to trick, and it sure looks to me like an awful lot of atheists are having their pockets picked by this Amazing sleight of hand & not only that but they are all dewy-eyed over the prospect of being fleeced all over again by the same bunch saying the same things all over again in a few months or a year at yet another Atheist fleecing event.

                I have pretty much said what I wanted to say on this topic, so I will not bother you further with rehashing the same or similar points all over again. If I repeat the same stuff over again, I would have to send you an invoice which you would no doubt be eager enough to pay, but unlike the atheist leeches who take advantage of you, I am just to selfless to do so. Goodbye!

              • whyevolutionistrue
                Posted June 12, 2011 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

                Don’t let the door whack you on your way out. . .

              • Henry
                Posted June 12, 2011 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

                Thanks for fighting the good fight with Someguy Troll. Now that he has fled, we’ll never know if he was merely a troll or an immature guy who didn’t know how to correct himself once you and others pointed out his errors, but I’d rather remain curious.

              • Diane G.
                Posted June 12, 2011 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

                Don’t let the door whack you on your way out. . .

                Oh, let’s make an exception in this case…

  53. Chris Redmond
    Posted June 12, 2011 at 6:36 am | Permalink

    I attended the convention in Dublin last weekend, and it was my first time at an atheist gathering. I absolutely loved it! As a couple of the posters have pointed out, it is very often the attendee’s first opportunity to meet some of their intellectual heroes (Dawkins and Myers in my case) and engage with like-minded fellow primates. I also thought there was a great variety of speakers and topics in Dublin, with interesting panel groups and a truly awesome keynote address by Maryam Namazie on Sunday afternoon. I met many lovely people and this “fanboyness”, I might add, should not be spoken of in a derisive manner. Very few “fanboys”, if any, acted over-enthusiastically, and the overwhelming majority were so respectful that they actually found it difficult to approach people like Richard Dawkins for fear of annoying him. It is a huge thrill for “fanboys” like me to get my photo taken with Richard or discuss the importation of Guinness and steady decline of the music industry with P.Z. Myers! This “fanboyness”, as I told Richard, should be taken as an enormous compliment and a testament to the amazing work carried out by people such as himself throughout the years.

    P.S., What a delightful man Dan Barker is.

  54. Frank Hamilton
    Posted June 12, 2011 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    No. There are not enough. There needs to be more.
    More people need to share their ideas so that these viewpoints don’t get crystalized and dormant.

  55. Posted June 12, 2011 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    Dublin was my first atheist meeting and for me at least, it was the spur to actually do something (like post comments rather than lurk, for starters) and to add my own voice to the blogosphere…

    While it was great to see the more well-known atheists, it was equally great to hear all these other people I hadn’t come across before.

  56. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted June 13, 2011 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    I’m late to the party and it is a long thread.

    Not to be constructive but at least supportive towards the community effort: I don’t think this is much of a problem. Too much offers tend to level out (since they tend to get diminishing monetary return and/or people willing to make the organizing effort).

    But yes, it is better to be proactive; I salute both Coyne and Grania for that attempt.

  57. Posted June 18, 2011 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

    Bringing like-minded people together with those inquisitive enough to consider using their own minds to look at what spirituality, religion and mysticism really is, well, it isn’t a bad thing. The fact that there are increasing numbers of these meetings just shows that as humanity evolves and educates itself, it is clearer and clearer to more and more people that belief in some supernatural phenomena needing to create the universe is not only unnecessary, but unfounded.

  58. Larry Cook
    Posted June 18, 2011 at 10:59 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been an atheist since I first figured out that I didn’t have to believe them, that my mind was my own, in other words, since I was about 13. I’m 58 now and I’ve never attended a conference or a meeting and probably never will, but I enjoy watching videos of atheist speakers. And it’s nice to know that there are conferences in case I ever feel the need to attend one. But I have no need for anyone to convince me that the religious are wrong, that religion is mostly a scam and that religion does more harm than good. To me it’s obvious. I have no need to convert anyone and I’m not sure anyone can be converted anyway.
    So, I’m glad you’re all out there and I sincerely hope reason prevails, but I have no reason to expect that it will.

  59. cooeerup
    Posted June 19, 2011 at 2:12 am | Permalink

    I have been an atheist for most of my life. I began questioning the importance of what I was being taught when my parents sent us off to Sunday school by our selves so they could have an extra hour or two in bed!

    I am 53 now, and up until the last few years was happily living my life, and happily leaving the religious folks to theirs.

    Then I saw Richard Dawkins on TV (I live in Australia), and heard him ask atheists to come out of the closet and to start speaking out against theism and to stand up for reason and science. My reaction to this was to question why he felt the need to say this on Australian television; why someone British was travelling the world calling atheists to action; and what on earth was going on outside my sphere of reference that I had been missing, had not heard about on the news, or read about in the papers that caused this obviously intelligent man to ask for such a thing.

    So I started investigating, and the more I investigated the more disturbed I became. I found the answers to my questions and agreed with Mr Dawkins. Even in Australia, a supposedly secular nation, a call to action for atheists to start speaking out was definately required.

    I work as an RN in a catholic hospital which made me a little apprehensive about offering an atheistic perspective when religion was discussed at work. I thought the biggest problem I would have would be reconciling my desire to no longer avoid such discussions with patients (which I only do if they bring the subject up). How wrong I was. I have been amazed by the number of patients, especially elderly patients, who quietly reveal their agreement even when the conversation started with them speaking about their supposed theistic beliefs. Most of the friction I have experienced has been from my fellow staff members.

    I have also engaged family and friends in discussion when the opportunity arose and was suprised at the varied belief sets they hold. Some lean towards theism, most deism, with a few who are where I was before I heard Dawkins speak. The theists seem to hold their belief sets mostly because of prior indoctrination that has instilled in them a fear of the finality of death, preferring to hang on to the idea that their “souls” will live on. I found this all quite amazing and interesting and decided to become more active.

    I have joined the Brisbane Atheists Meet Up group, but can only participate online thus far as I live too far away to attend physicl meetings and I post regularly on web sites I come across that I feel capable of contributing to.

    None of these activities have left me feeling satisfied however. I am concerned enough by the ongoing influence the religious have in politics, in schools, and in other spheres that their economic might facilitates that I want to be more of an activist.

    There is a group of religious young people that congregate in the main public area of our states capital, Brisbane, every Saturday evening. Their group named Operation513 (why I don’t know) gather to proselytise to the passing foot traffic. One of our Meet Up members has suggested our group start a Response Squad, to not only engage in conversation with these young people, but also present a rotating theme of subject matter to the public that uses humour and satire to get our message across. Some of his suggestions are: Yahweh’s rather unsettling interest in your genitals; Foreskins, appendixes, wisdom teeth and other “design” flaws; and “ever wondered why Adam and Eve have bellybuttons? The maybe atheism is for you!”

    I have expressed a desire to participate in this and will wait to see if my fellow cats can be herded for the cause. This type of activism, however, does not address the concerns I have about the influences the religious have as I stated earlier. It is for this reason I think large conferences are needed.

    Finally, you say, she is getting to the point! I have registered with the Atheist Foundation of Australia to be notified when tickets go on sale for the Global Atheist Convention next year, once again to be held in Melbourne – a plane trip away from me and my first conference. I am going for two reasons: 1. The Four Horsemen are booked to speak (I hope Hitch makes it), but secondly and most importantly for me I am hoping that national issues of significance for atheists will be addressed and strategies devised to combat the influence theism has in Australia.

    Having read the posts here of people who have attended more than one convention, expressing the view that so much is repeated, has left me feeling somewhat deflated. If the conference topics do not include a discussion of the concerns atheists have about the influence of thiesm in the goegraphical context of where the conference is being held I think it will be a wasted opportunity. Identifying national issues of significance and devising strategies to address them while atheists from all over the nation are gathered together seems like a good idea to me. This also lends credence to why I think these large conferences should continue, until all national theistic influence in the country where the conference is being held is irradicated.
    Once theistic influence becomes a thing of the past there will no longer be the need for these conferences, and there will also no longer be a need to include the word atheism in our vernacular. We can all just get along enjoying life with less wars, smarter kids, and better funding of scientific enquiry.

    Anyway, that’s my take on things. Thanks for listening. I hope I didn’t bore you too much!

  60. idoubtit
    Posted June 19, 2011 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    I go to TAM for the people, the fun, and to learn something new about critical thinking, science-based medicine, proliferation of a paranormal culture and what we can do about it. I don’t go for the atheism. If the speakers are going to prattle on about a no god philosophy, I’m disinterested. So, I’m one who feels the skepticism-atheism themes should be distinct, at least for conference promotion. That will draw some different attendees and speakers dependent on the way it’s marketed.


6 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] Are there too many atheist meetings? (whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com) [...]

  2. [...] what’s left of my spare time, I added a comment to the ever-growing comment bank on the post ‘Are There Too Many Atheist Meetings?’ over at Why Evolution Is True blog and thought I might as well post what I wrote here (mostly so I can keep track of it myself for [...]

  3. [...] this month Jerry Coyne wrote a post that raised an interesting question — Are there too many atheist meetings?: I know this is a sign of a successful and burgeoning movement of disbelief throughout the world, [...]

  4. [...] osserva, sul blog http://www.whyevolutionistrue.com, che in questi incontri di ateologia si respira troppa aria «di autocompiacimento, scarso livello [...]

  5. [...] I went from the sidelines- not even commenting on blog posts- to founding a local group, giving speeches (despite a fear of public speaking), marching and blogging. This is the effect of activist events. Now, I may not be the best example; you may consider my speeches or writing to do more damage than good. But if this effect is not limited to me, then allow me to give my own personal and subjective answer to Jerry Coyne’s question Are there too many atheist meetings? [...]

  6. [...] running across a blog, in which the (atheist) writer complains of there being so many atheist meetings, with [...]

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