James “The Amazing” Randi spoke at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign a couple nights ago.
It seems to have gone well.
Justin Doran, a member of the Atheists, Agnostics and Freethinkers group that helped bring Randi to the school, wrote a piece about him and (Nobel Prize winner and fellow speaker that night) Dr. Richard Roberts in the Daily Illini:
Randi’s speech focused on one central theme: how reasonable, intelligent people can be tricked. This includes trained scientists. In fact, as Randi pointed out, assuming the world and other people operate in a manner conducive to scientific investigation is a dangerous misstep. We must constantly be skeptical of the world around us, and to do any less would be to backslide on the empiricist tradition that has so greatly propelled the human species.
By far the most important quality exhibited by these two men was openness to the possibility of being wrong. Even though Professor Roberts is probably attached to his personal theory of religion, if its inadequacy could be demonstrated to him I have no doubt that he would abandon it immediately. And this, I think, is the quality that should continue to define atheist communities in the United States.
You can read a much more detailed account of what happened at Action Skeptics. My favorite part of the story is this:
The clear champion [of questions asked], though, was an Asian kid who began, quite ironically, by saying “I’m going to preface my question with a story.” The audience began to groan because, see, we had actually heard professor Roberts speak. I’m going to try, now, to the best of my ability, to recount the first part of his story as he told it.
“A couple of years ago, I was driving down the road and I was involved in a hit and run. I got into the accident and I was just so scared of something happening that I just fled the scene. Later on, when the police came to my house to ask about it, I was just so scared of getting in trouble that I lied to them about it.
“But, even though I was in this terrible situation and could have got in big trouble, through the grace of God I was able to avoid punishment. God delivered me through that situation because of my faith in Him. We are all tied together in faith and in Christ–”
Randi: “Do you have a question?”
Hit-And-Run: “Yes. Can science prove love?”
Randi and Roberts looked at each other, pondered for a second, and then said “No!”
The audience erupted. It was comedy gold.
Hit-And-Run, however, was undeterred. Before they could move over to the other mic for the next speaker, he began rambling even more about faith and Christ and how Jesus saved him and the path was open for us all and Jesus said this and Jesus said that, each met with a “No, a man said that Jesus said that,” from Randi.
What had begun as a collective groan became mass heckling. “Sit down!” we shouted. “Shut your ass up!” “We don’t come to your church and bother you!” “Get off the mic!” I leaned over to Tom and said “Somebody taze him, bro!”
Someone shouted “God bless you!” He was in the minority.
Randi and Roberts kept telling him to give up the mic to someone else, as he had been there for at least five minutes, but he refused. Eventually they just cut that mic. He tried to speak anyway, unamplified, but Randi talked over him and moved to the other mic.
Buddy just stood there, a look of placid, idiot determination on his face, as Randi and Roberts fielded question after question from the other mic. Every once in a while he would try to say something, but, unmiked, his words would fall flat.
Then someone made the mistake of turning his mic back on. “Can I finish my point?”
Randi: “You don’t have one. You’ve been there long enough.”
He tried to speak some more about Christ and salvation and blah blah blah.
Randi: “I think he’s hogged enough of everyone else’s time, don’t you folks?”
The hall resounded with applause and shouting. Hit-And-Run reluctantly and frustratedly sat down, head still held high.
It is hard for me to impress upon you, the reader, the sheer incoherence with which he spoke. It was long run-on sentences, rambling nonsense with no point in sight. He was a Godbot, almost literally, and he didn’t seem to understand that nothing he was saying was going anywhere. He stood there like a moron once they cut his mic, in a display that he and his few Christian supporters probably thought was brave but was, in reality, ignorant and pathetically pigheaded.
I don’t understand where this notion comes from, that the way to make your point is to evangelize to a crowd that wants little to do with your religious beliefs.
Someone tell me how his story had any sort of positive effect on the audience. If anything, they want less to do with Christianity than before.