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Category: UWA (page 2 of 4)

Better hurry and watch this.

Here’s a presentation I made last week for the UWA Atheist and Skeptic Society. It’s called “End of the World… Again” and it’s about the Family Radio 21 May Non-Rapture. If you’re one of the saved, you’ll need to hurry and watch it before you go up, but I guess you won’t really need it. If you’re one of the doomed souls, then you get about five months.

Unfortunately, the video didn’t come through on the feed. All you get is the sound.

The End of the World… Again (Audio) from UWA Atheist & Skeptic Society on Vimeo.

So play the audio, and while that’s going, sort through this PDF for the slides. It’s a bit more work, but what did you expect during the Tribulation?

By the way, what are we going to call this failed prophecy? How about ‘Apocalypse Not’?

UPDATE: I muffed that scripture. It didn’t say ‘Two women will be in a bed.’ It said ‘Two women shall be grinding together’. Which I suppose you could take how you wanted.

Faith Fair at UWA!

Yesterday, UWA held a Faith Fair. You could argue that any fair where you don’t know who assembled the Ferris wheel is a faith fair, but this was a real Faith Fair, and the UWA Atheist and Skeptic Society was invited. What’s a university doing promoting faith, anyway? We’re supposed to be helping people learn to think better, not worse. But we wanted to provide a balance, and I think it’s cool that we were invited, even though we’re not a religion and have no faith.

Our contribution was ‘Ask an Atheist”, which consisted of a bunch of us sitting at a table, waiting for questions. In the first few hours, one guy asked us about the Illuminati, and another couple asked us directions to some other building on campus. Pleasingly, another student signed up with us. That was about it.

Pretty soon, the UWA Christian Union set up their own table next to us, and together we all sat, not being asked questions, and being completely ignored by the studentry.

Here’s a picture of all of us.

Notice the extremely large zone of no people around us.

In short, the Faith Fair was a total bust, and I couldn’t be happier. Students at UWA don’t give a fart for faith, and that’s the way I like it.

There was one interesting bit though, where we asked Scott, the president of Christian Union, about what happens to people who died before Jesus. I know different religions answer this in different ways — and the Mormons have an innovative, if resource-intensive, solution — but I wanted to hear his response.

I think Scott answered this in a thoughtful and careful way. He named a few different ideas people have had over the years — like, the Atonement applies to them retroactively, or if they were ‘good’ they get a pass, and so on — but in the end, he said plainly and honestly that they didn’t know.

“How would you find out, if you wanted to?” I asked.

The only way he could come up with was by… interpreting scripture! Of course, that approach has worked wonders over the years at providing clear, unambiguous, and well-agreed upon answers to great religious questions.

The whole conversation made me feel quite impatient and irked with religion. There’s a question there, and everyone agrees it’s a good question that really should have an answer. But there’s no agreed-upon answer, and even worse, there’s no agreed-upon way of getting an answer.

Wouldn’t that drive you mad? What if we had to work that way in the sciences? Sure there’s a lot we don’t know, but we have an established way of getting the kind of answers that people can agree on. If we had a lot of scientists from different countries and different backgrounds, and we had some scientific question that we wanted to find out about, we may not have an answer right away, but we could at least come up with a research program to work towards an answer.

With religion, you can’t even start. All the answers come from a god who never speaks directly, but has (allegedly) left a lot of mutually incompatible, multiply contradicting (and self-contradicting) holy books whose contents need to be massaged into a comprehensible answer. Even then, the various practitioners won’t agree. You start hitting insurmountable limits just about as soon as you start asking questions.

The religious metaphysical approach is a recipe for stuckness.

Talking to creationists

They could block us from the Creation Ministries International event, but they couldn’t stop saying stupid things.

But why wait until then?

EXPELLED from Creation Ministries International!

So here’s how it went down. CMI was doing its creationist thing at UWA, and then later at Curtin. As members of a guild club (UWA Atheists and Skeptics), we had approval to attend and hand out information about evolution.

We made up quite a crowd — I’d say 15 or 20 of us from the UWA Atheist and Skeptic Society and the Perth Atheists.

It started well enough. Before the event, we had a discussion with Dr Silvestru himself, who is an affable guy, although it’s scary what must be in his mind. Chatting about science with believers was also quite nice. Strangely, the believers seemed to be almost exclusively young and Asian, and they didn’t talk to us. Only the older CMI helpers did.

When it was time for the lecture to get started, the door was suddenly blocked by about five Christian door blockers, who told us we weren’t welcome to attend.

That blur in the middle is Kylie Sturgess, working to secure our entry.

We explained that we just wanted to attend the lecture, assured them that we weren’t interested in causing any disruption, but it was no go. We explained that it was a public event, advertised on campus, and we wanted to hear the lecture. (Even Dr Silvestru had no problem with us attending.) They said it was a private church service. Now don’t you think that if it were a normal church, they’d love the chance to save an atheist like me?

Negotiations were to no avail, so it was off to Curtin for the second round.

Someone must have phoned ahead to warn the organisers at Curtin, because we were greeted by more security blocking us from entry. I guess when they realised that infiltrators were trying to walk right in to a public event, they decided to tighten things up.

We took this as a challenge to see if one of us could get inside. Kylie tried brazenly walking in, but got stopped and was subjected to a long grilling. David from Perth Atheists was able to breach the first level of security, but was nabbed by the more vigilant second tier. Curses!

The hilarious thing was that Asians were admitted without question, while any Caucasians — even Christians who had no idea what was going on — were given the third degree by security. (Where are all the Asian atheists, by the way? Must remember to get some.) They were actually asking people what church they belonged to! One guy refused my handout, but was then interrogated at the door. I heard one guard say, “Are you sure you go to Victory Life?”

I think it’s revealing that they don’t seem to think that their view can sustain the mere presence of non-believers. So much for peer review.

I’d say it was successful. We handed out all 200 flyers. The CMI people were even complaining that in the UWA lecture, people were reading the flyer all the way through the service, instead of watching the presentation!

I don’t know if we changed anyone’s mind, but that wasn’t the point. The point was to raise the cost of spreading misinformation, which we did.

And we didn’t have to attend a silly and fact-challenged lecture.

UPDATE: Ash from UWAASS questions the legality of the church’s actions. Kylie Sturgess gives her take, and I’d like to say that she stole part of my title, right there as we were having coffee. Atheists have no morals.

CMI event at UWA, Curtin

Okay, Perth crew — I have an action item for you.

The Creation Ministries International talk will be at UWA campus, Social Science lecture theatre tomorrow — that’s Sunday, 10 April 2011 — at 9 am. (Friggin’ early birds!)

I’ll be there (along with many members of the UWA Atheist and Skeptic Society and probably Kylie Sturgess) to greet any interested parties with information about what evolution really is. Come and help me have an enjoyable, well-tempered, and good-natured chat with the fundies and the undecided.

Here’s the Facebook event. See you there!

Creationists coming to UWA?

Creation Ministries International (the Australian arm of ‘Answers in Genesis’) is coming to Perth this very weekend. They’ve got their sights set on UWA and Curtin, two universities in Perth. Why would they target universities? Two possible reasons: they’re trying to convert uni students, and they’re trying to borrow the credibility of institutions that do scientific research.

I’m writing a letter to ask UWA to consider whether they really want to be hosting this thing. Not because I want CMI’s views suppressed — I’m happy for them to spread their religious misinformation in church where it belongs. But universities are busy teaching according to the best evidence we have available, and they do not have an obligation to promote anti-science views that undermine their work.

Here’s my letter:

I am writing to raise some concerns about an event by Creation Ministries International, slated for the UWA Crawley campus on Sunday, 9 April. The event is called “Solid Answers for the Real World.”

Creation Ministries International are Young Earth Creationists who teach that the Earth is a few thousand years old, contrary to geological evidence. They attempt to undermine the theory of evolution, which is the basis of the biological sciences. These are fringe views, not supported by evidence, and not generally held by the hard-working and knowledgable members of the UWA faculty who teach in these disciplines.

I would like to ask that the University of Western Australia consider whether hosting this event is appropriate. CMI are, of course, free to espouse their views, but the university is not an appropriate venue for them to do so. By having this event on its campus, UWA could be seen as giving implicit endorsement of the views of CMI. It would allow CMI to trade on UWA’s credibility.

The University exists for the purpose of education and research. It has no compelling interest in hosting an event designed to promote disinformation. And on a personal note, as a lecturer, I find it particularly galling that lecturers at UWA work throughout the week to teach the facts about biology, geology, and science, only to have this work be undone on Sunday.

Thank you for your consideration.

Daniel Midgley
Assistant Professor, Linguistics

What happens if no one listens, and the event goes ahead? Or — gasp — what if I draw more attention to it?

That’s okay, too. In that case, I’ll be there on the day, helping to hand out information, explaining to people what evolution really is, and why the creationist clown show they’ve just seen is nonsense.

O-Day Hijinx: Part 4 – Faith or death

When I was trolling teh Mormonz, one of them said something terribly sad and abhorrent.

This is what I really hate about religion. These guys have been carefully taught that their life is meaningless if they lose their faith. They now believe that their own reason for living isn’t good enough, and they’ve replaced it with the Church’s reason for living. This is sick dependency — it’s not the way to build self-reliance. Do not let this happen to you.

It also doesn’t seem to help you to think your way through an argument.

O-Day Hijinx: Part 3

O-Day Hijinx: Part 2 – Stealth Christians!

Sometimes people don’t start out all witnessy, but sneak up to it gradually instead. They always reveal their true colours sooner or later, though.

Another data point for the Salem Hypothesis.

O-Day Hijinx: Part 1

I talked to a lot of interesting people at UWA’s Orientation Day. It’s a day when university clubs have their big membership drives. Religions, eager to counter the effects of learning, have their booths as well, and — oh joy — one was a contingent of Mormon missionaries. So I took some time off helping the UWA Atheist and Agnostic Society to have a chat.

They’re fun to talk to, but I can never get used to how uniform their thinking is. You could get the same line of patter from any of them. I suppose atheists say the same things, too.

Here’s the first in a multi-part series: Trolling teh Mormons.

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