FTF1 – Impressions and Evidentialism

I had a great time at Freethought Festival 2012 (FTF1) in Madison, Wisconsin. Y’all. Seriously. If you’re active in the atheist online community and want to get more involved in person “on the ground”, if you’re looking to connect with other freethinkers, if you want to compare notes with other organizations and people from other parts of the country, you gotta, gotta, gotta get to a conference.

I know that money, mobility, childcare and work schedules can be considerations that make it difficult to get to conferences (and I know I’m likely missing other considerations – let me know in the comments, please. I want to be made aware of them so I can keep them in mind for future events to which I might contribute). But if you want to attend there are often resources that may make those considerations more manageable. Contact the conference organizers to see if they can suggest any such resources, like scholarships, student discounts, or volunteer badges. Ask if they’re providing child care or if children are welcome. Ride share, stay with friends or hotel share.

Get out there.

I am riding home from Madison as I write this, and I’m almost bouncing in my seat. I am pumped up with new ideas. I was enthused, entertained, made to question, made uncomfortable (in the “character building” kind of way), made to feel at home. I met all sorts of people with all sorts of stories and ideas about religion, activism, the atheist community, politics, definitions and labels. I’ve been to a handful of skepticism conferences and I’ve heard a number of atheist talks, but this was my first weekend-long atheist conference. There were a lot of different topics presented and many more that we could have heard. What a wide and varied community we are, with so many focuses, goals and areas of interest.

Kudos to the crew of the Madison Coalition of Reason. The room was sufficient for the event (if poorly climate controlled and filled with fairly uncomfortable wooden seats), there were nearby restaurants, and the event appeared to run smoothly.

My one big thought: We can haz more women speakers next year, more presenters who are people of color, and work on diversifying the audience? Four out of 21 presenters were female. I believe Hemant Mehta and Alix Jules were the only two non-white presenters. One of the black attendees with whom I spoke with said she counted SIX black audience members. There were over 600 registrants for FTF1, y’all. Yes, I am going to bring this up on the conference survey.

We arrived late into Madison on Friday, so we missed Chris Calvey’s Morality at the Beginning of Life, Darrel Ray’s Sexy Evolution: What the Pope Does Not Know About Human Sexuality and Veronica Drantz’s The Gender Binary and LGBTI People: Myth and Medical Malpractice. To which I say damn, damn, thrice damn and thank FSM for recording equipment. Video should be available for all of the talks sometime in the near future here.

We saw 17 talks over the three days of the conference. I’m going to present two of the talks tonight as individual posts, and then four or five each day for the next two to three days. The posts will include a short recap of the talk and any impressions or thoughts I want to share about it. And then any comments from you on that specific Freethought Festival talk will be contained within that particular post (yes, I do believe I just explained how blog commenting works. I should sleep soon). If you want a peek at the topics I’m going to bring up, you can see the conference schedule here. Let’s get this started!


The first talk that we saw was by Elliott Sober and was entitled Some Questions for Atheists to Think About. He introduced to us the theory of evidentialism and whether it should be applied to the question “Does God exist?” He pointed out that this depends on how you define “God” and “existence” and indeed, “evidence”. If you are an evidentialist, should you be an atheist, or can you at most be agnostic? Should one be an evidentialist? In the Q&A “burden of proof” was brought up as a conflicting consideration, and that opened up another can of worms! This question got some laughs from the audience: “Okay Mr. Evidentialist – what’s your evidence for evidence?”

Have you considered the issue of evidentialism and does it play a role in how you choose to define yourself?

FTF1 – Impressions and Evidentialism
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One thought on “FTF1 – Impressions and Evidentialism

  1. 1

    I came in late for this talk and wasn’t in the mood to argue, but I did note that those who did question him were respectful, which is always good.

    I have considered evidentialism, and it is fun for philosophers, but not usually of much practical use, especially in the way Elliot used it. My short answer is, he was only saying, “you can’t disprove god(s)”, in a long, somewhat academic and scholarly way.

    What he didn’t do, and as far as I know, no one has ever done is bridge the gap between “god might exist” and “the God of the Bible is that one and only god”. When he says, “an atheist, who hasn’t considered evidentialism, might really be an agnostic”, what is he saying? Agnostic to what? Agnostic about Yahweh? Agnostic about Allah? I have lots of evidence for why those are human made constructs.

    Dawkins made the case for provisional agnosticism in The God Delusion. It includes using the scientific method to continue to attempt to understand the mysteries of the universe. If you want to do philosophy, that’s fine, but it is not science. Don’t get the two mixed up.

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