***If you want instant updates, I suggest reading the #TAM8 Twitter feed***
Thanks to @UAJamie for the great pictures!
First up: David Javerbaum, the (now-departed-to-pursue-wonderful-other-career-options) Executive Producer and head writer of The Daily Show.
Between him and emcee Hal Bidlack, they have an average of 5.5 Emmys. Hal has zero. You do the math.
I’m so excited for this
David begins with a silent prayer. We laugh. He moves on.
“You know, as I was being rational at 3:30 last night at the blackjack table… drinking logic juice…”
He says (and I paraphrase):
Holding TAM in Las Vegas makes more sense than the Vatican because the architecture is less gaudy and the illegal sex is consensual.
There are about a million soundbytes I wish I could share with you and I just can’t type them fast enough.
When one female asked about the Jezebel debacle, David responded (I paraphrase):
The issue of whether we are anti-feminist often is asked, especially by chicks like you. (Laughter) Uppity chicks like yourself.
He spends some time debunking the entire Jezebel article, explaining where their sources came from — that is to say they weren’t credible at all. (The female staffers of TDS responded in their own way.)
A question is asked about what “mainstream” news shows could learn from TDS. Without giving a specific answer, David says they’ve had years to do it, and they haven’t changed, so why think they’d do it now?
FOX News Channel and MSNBC are all pretty bad about straight, impartial news. And CNN?
“CNN has no fucking idea what they want.”
Question: Should we watch TDS or The Colbert Report? Why choose?!:
“Jon voices the irony and Stephen is the irony.”
Question: You have had many conservatives on your show.. Do all the ones you ask come on?
We’ve asked Bush. We’ve asked Cheney. They said no. As well they should…
Question: Is it harder to get people to do taped interviews for the segment on TDS?
“People. Love. To be. On television. At the expense of their dignity, shame, intelligence. People in the modern world… feel they do not exist until they see their [image] on TV… We’re happy to perform that service.”
What a perfect person to have speak at TAM. The Daily Show goes after hypocrites and liars. They don’t care which party does it. Just like skeptics, they go after all sacred cows. (David acknowledged Republicans have been the butt of their jokes more often, but he added they were also in power most of the past decade.)
Incidentally, I did an interview with David before he went up on stage and I’ll be posting excerpts from it when I get back home.
Next up: James McGaha, a UFO investigator.
He says that more people in America believe in UFOs than accept evolution. Frightening.
He’s talking about how UFO conspiracies began and why people still believe in them.
Some interesting ideas, though I wonder whether it matters how/why the myth formed that aliens exist even though there’s no evidence in favor of that — who cares unless it’s going to help us debunk those ideas. I’m not hearing anything about how we solve this problem.
Meanwhile, the Twitter stream has slowed down considerably. Seems like people are either uninterested or just not paying attention. (For what it’s worth, David Javerbaum was a near impossible act to follow. I wouldn’t want to be in McGaha’s shoes right now.)
Jen here again. Hemant has escaped McGaha’s thrilling presentation to seek out caffeine. I have no idea what this guy is talking about since I skipped out about two minutes in like most people. I came back in thinking he was done, but he’s gone 15 minutes over. Weeeee.
The panel on Paranormal Investigations is here to save the day! It includes Julia Galef (moderator and sister of Friendly Atheist contributor Jesse Galef), James Randi, Joe Nickell, Karen Stollznow, and Ben Radford.
Randi notes that he goes in to investigate, not to debunk. Nickell explains that it would be like assuming all deaths are by suicide instead of other causes. You shouldn’t start with an agenda. Radford agrees, adding debunking should be the end result, not the process.
Galef asks why people with supernatural claims go through with tests or investigations like the Million Dollar Challenge. “Don’t they know they’re going to fail?” But plenty of these people are innocent and really believe they have special powers, even though Randi can almost instantly recognize what the special trick is since he’s seen it so many times before.
People have to come up with a rationalization with why their powers don’t work because they don’t want to admit they were wrong. They didn’t sleep well, it was a Tuesday, Jupiter was in Sagittarius, etc. When someone competes in the Million Dollar Challenge, they can reapply after a year to try again under different circumstances – but no one ever has.
Karen Stollznow: “They think using scientific tools is the scientific method. They’re not the same thing.” So true. Just because you wave a geiger counter around doesn’t mean you’re using it properly or testing anything.
Ooo, someone who is asking a question says they’re applying for the challenge. He’s a pharmacist and thinks past challenges have been ridiculous. He looks at numbness in breast cancer survivors – he claims in thirty seconds or a minute he can restore sensation without touching them at all, even over the phone. Will be interesting if he gets selected…though I kind of hope not since he’s rambling on forever. Seriously, people who use mic time and don’t ask a question should have a trap door open up underneath them.
At least he was polite and not like the rambling aggressive moon-hoax dude. (PS, I keep typing moan hoax. That sounds way more interesting)
Side note: Awesome that Karen Stollznow is included on the panel. Not so awesome that she can’t get a word in edgewise.
D’awww James Randi needs a giant stool to be tall enough to use the podium. Jeff Wagg just got a special award for all his hard work organizing TAM.
It’s nice to hear a talk that focuses on religion after so much on homeopathy, UFOs, and the like. Let’s go after the head of the monster
Hecht gives a summary of her book:
The history of doubt is older than every faith.
Hecht says she tried to keep her own beliefs out of the question when she wrote her book. In fact, she says she gained respect for religion at the end of it, partly because so many brilliant minds had believed.
But is doubt enough? Not at all.
It’s not enough to come out of the closet. You have to eventually leave the house.
Love that quotation. Be active. Be vocal. Get others to see the truth.
The first atheists, by the way? They can be documented back to India. (You’re welcome, world. I take full credit for that.)
Hecht mentions: English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley got kicked out of Oxford for writing “The Necessity of Atheism” and spreading it around.
I didn’t hear the full context for this, but it sounds quite poetic:
“A wave is the universe waving, an apple is the universe appling, and you are the universe youing.”
Beautiful. Feel free to analyze and write essays on that.
A questioner just corrected a myth that we’re the end product of evolution by correctly saying we’re the current product of evolution. I think Hecht just said we’re not evolving because there’s no mechanism for it. Say what? Weird… and inaccurate. I’ll try to get clarification.
The show is described like this:
THE GREEN ROOM WITH PAUL PROVENZA offers comedy fans the chance to see the world’s greatest comedians in a roundtable setting, speaking off-the-cuff and uncensored in front of a studio audience. No rules, no agenda, no censors… just some of the funniest people around, riffing on and ripping each other apart.
It’s been about a minute and already there are some choice quotations:
“TAM is like a dog park and I just want to sniff everybody’s ass.”
“I can now say I’ve opened for Richard Fucking Dawkins.”
Provenza is amazed that there’s a difference between skeptics and atheists. He asks: If you’re a skeptic, how can you not be an atheist? Frankly, I agree with him. God may be one of the toughest sacred cows to take down, but not believing in the supernatural means not believing in god, too.
Provenza also says being a “devout atheist” is as silly as being a “devout Christian” — He doesn’t define what a “devout atheist” means. I assume he’s referring to a person who says God absolutely does not exist as if they know that for a fact.
He’s reading passages from his book ¡Satiristas!: Comedians, Contrarians, Raconteurs & Vulgarians — it has a number of passages about atheism.
He quotes comedian Dana Gould who doesn’t embrace the term “atheist” but certainly accepts our ideas:
Provenza cites a number of comedians who are bent against religion (or used religion in their act) and have gotten shit over their religion jokes. Lewis Black, Robin Williams, Margaret Cho, Stephen Colbert, the Smothers Brothers, etc.
Every passage he reads is getting huge laughter from the crowd. It’s very intriguing to hear comedians analyzing and explaining how religion plays a role in their acts and where the laughter has come from.
One lesson to come from all this: Comedians are perfect people to shatter the glass house religious people like to isolate themselves within. They can poke fun at the major faiths, raise your awareness about the irrational things you believe in, and make you feel guilty for agreeing with religious leaders. And somehow, you’ll still pay to see them.
One great anecdote — there was an MTV show that wanted to make fun of religion. The censors at the network told them the following:
“You can make fun of God because he doesn’t exist, but you can’t make fun of Jesus because he’s God’s son.”
Wow. This book sounds awesome.
Finally tonight, we have JREF President D.J. Grothe interviewing Richard Dawkins.
I’ll try to quickly recap the Q&A:
Question: Is it more important to be a Skeptic or an Atheist?
Answer: It’s hard to be a skeptic without investigating testable claims of theism — performs miracles, answers prayers, speaks from burning bushes. Those should be fair game for skeptics. The only reason not to investigate religious claims? Fundraising
(Hemant says: How many theistic skeptics are in the audience? I’d love to know how they justify that. I’ve heard some arguments but I still don’t get it.)
Question: What about atheists who are not skeptics in any other way? The ones who talk about UFOs or Chakras or anti-vaccination types like Bill Maher or Joe Rogan?
Answer: Maher is a eloquent spokesperson for atheism, regardless of his other views. But that’s a separate issue. It’s a fact about humans that we can hold incompatible (or “curiously compatible”) beliefs.
Question: Is there a hierarchy of woo?
Answer: God is the “big one,” isn’t it? Compared to something like Bigfoot… If someone discovered a “Bigfoot” somewhere, that would be fascinating and it wouldn’t shake my worldview. “It’s not a big deal. It’s not like God.” But there are also “intermediates” like psychic powers.
Question: What about alien life in the cosmos?
Answer: Statistically, it’s plausible there is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. To say otherwise is to say that this planet, of the billions and billions of planets out there, is so improbable that it only happened once. That’s suggesting that any chemist who bothers to speculate about the origin of life is wasting her time. I don’t believe that.
Question: In the light of evolution, wouldn’t possible alien life forms appear like “God” to us?
Answer: When you look at the age of the universe compared to the age of the earth, there are two more life cycles of our developmental age that could have occurred. They would not “be gods” though, because they would have developed via evolution (or something like it).
Question: Are fairy tales, science fictions, or fantasy books like a “gateway drug” into religion?
Answer: Well, if you believe a frog can turn into a prince, it’s not a stretch to say water could turn into wine. But I don’t want to go so far as to say fiction is harmful. I read and enjoyed those stories as a child. We want the imaginations of children to float free. I’m more ok with science fiction than fantasy fiction.
(Hemant: Dawkins says he’s never read the Harry Potter books. I’m shocked by this… you know… all things considered.)
Question: How did you end up becoming “Richard Dawkins” with that “liability” of believing in magic or fairy tales as a child?
Answer: “I just grew up.”
Question: In one case I know of, a younger family with kids came to a meeting of an older atheist group. The boy in the family was scolded by an atheist because he was holding a Harry Potter book — as if reading that would make the kid not a good skeptic.
Answer: That’s ridiculous.
(Hemant says: Atheists shouldn’t read fiction? Who thinks that? I’ve never heard that argument before… and I’ve never known it to be true.)
Question: You new book (to be published in 2011) is called The Magic of Reality.
Answer: It’s my first children’s book and it’s rather difficult to write. I hope my language is accessible… I’m assuming my reader is not allergic to dictionaries. If there’s a word I think my readers ought to know, I’m not afraid of using it. Each chapter is stand-alone: Who was the first man? What is day and night? What’s an earthquake? The chapters open with the myths and then comes the science — what’s actually happening. My hope is that the science will be even more colorful and appealing and magical than the myths are.
And with that, the day is over. *Phew*
Thanks again to Jamie and Jen for helping out! And special thanks to Bryan for getting me a cord that I needed!
See you all tomorrow morning for the paper presentations — Jen will be speaking about Boobquake early in the day!