This past weekend, 350 freethinkers, including a number of BC Humanists, gathered in Renton, WA for the annual Northwest Free-Thought Alliance Conference. Crystal from our group was able to attend and provided the following summary for those who couldn't make it. A second summary below was provided by Glenn.
The Northwest Free-Thought Alliance Conference (Summary)
March 30 – April 1 Renton, WA
Keynote Speaker: Richard Dawkins
The NWFTA conference was a gathering a free thinkers with about 350 attendees. There was a lively buzz in the air and everyone was commenting that the Free-Thinking movement seems to gathering momentum. A key focus was to get a place at the table on making decisions which affect our society. Atheists need to shine light on the issues such as keeping truth in science and overcoming pseudo-science, promoting the free-thinking movement in our local and national communities, the separation of Church and State and “The Clergy Project”.
THE GENOME AND EVOLUTION
Recent developments in DNA gene mapping have provided evidence that evolution is an undeniable fact. These discoveries will have great impact for systems of conservative beliefs; including all Abrahamic religions.
SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE FOR EVOLUTION:
ATAVISMS – Only about 5% of your genes are active in creating proteins. A second kind of gene is a regulatory switches which can turn a trait up or down (e.g. Chimps and Human have equal numbers of hair follicles but the thickness of the hair is turned up in chimps) A third kind of gene is an atavism, this is an old unused copy of ancestral genes, which is occasionally re-activate in a living organism.
Examples of scientifically documented atavisms:
- A dolphin born with small legs (like its land-based cousin, the hippo).
- A fetal chicken with the teeth and tail of a dinosaur.
- Human beings born with tails.
HUMAN CHROMOSOME FUSION
Human DNA has changed from 48 to 46 genes due to the fusion of the 2 chromosomes. When compared to chimp chromosomes which are still total 48, our 2nd chromosome was obviously formed by the fusion of two genes from a common ancestor of both chimps and humans.
DNA INSERTIONS: ERVs Endogenous Retroviruses & Transposons
Every time a virus or mutation affects a population it leaves a trace marker in the DNA, which every subsequent generation shares. By tracing the evidence back far enough, we find that both humans and the great apes have exactly the same ancestral mutations and viral markers. This could not be a coincidence; it proves the fact of common ancestry.
The Richard Dawkins foundation gave an outstanding presentation. Local director Robin Elizabeth Cornwall spoke about the “Out Campaign” which encourages us to support the grass roots “atheist” movement:
Come Out: Letting the world know your core beliefs, when it is safe to do so.
Reach Out: Form a community and show theists that atheists are nice.
Keep Out: Keep the Church out of Government, Education and Medicine.
Stand Out: Become part of local leadership, school boards, government.
In the 80s the moral majority got very organized and took over politics. In the 60s politicians debated over issues, now they debate about who is more Christian. The result of the moral majority lobby is that Christian biased laws are being thrust upon the entire nation. To combat this disturbing trend, atheist and rationalist groups must ORGANIZE: Form Communities (Local and National), Lobby decision makers, Educate the public, Collect a Legal Defence Fund, and Form a Political Action Committees.
Sean Faircloth spoke about how groups which deny facts about science are doing great harm to the education of children. We must protect children from faith healers, traumatizing faith-based fear and guilt and a false-science education which cripples their future in a high-tech world. Atheists must de-couple the terms of “Faith” and “Virtue” and proclaim morality as the search for truth, based on verifiable evidence.
The Richard Dawkins foundation is helping clergy who have lost their faith. Richard Dawkins interviewed two Clergy members from the Southern States who have faced great prejudice and persecution for their decision to leave their Church. Negative consequences they have faced include the loss of their livelihood and ex-communication by their entire community. The pressure upon many people to “pretend” to have faith is great. Therefore, The Richard Dawkins Foundation is providing physical shelter and career re-training to these brave individuals who have overcome their fears to finally proclaim themselves “atheists”. They greatly praised Richard Dawkins for offering them hope for the future and allowing them to share their story.
NORTHWEST FREE-THOUGHT ALLIANCE
Ninth Annual Conference - Renton, WA 2012
“Claiming our Place at the Table” - A Brief Report
The following is a brief summary of some major features and events which occurred at the above 3-day intensive conference, held on the pleasant campus of Renton Technical College and located just south of Seattle. There were about 350 individual participants representing more than 60 atheist, humanist and other assorted free-thought groups, mostly located in the Pacific northwest region, but one from as far away as Florida. There were about 10 individuals from BC present. The basic format of the conference was plenary sessions held each day, with a variety of smaller workshops to cater to special interests.
The first general session was a wine and cheese no-host reception on Friday evening, after registration and some speeches of welcome. The second session occurred at lunch on Saturday, when Professor Anu Garg gave an entertaining and graphical talk on the extent to which references to various gods have become incorporated into our everyday language. The third general session was a semi-formal banquet on Saturday evening, with musical entertainment by Jim Corbett plus an illustrated report given by Dustin Williams on the 10,000 person “Reason Rally” held in Washington, DC, last month.
The fourth general session Sunday, featuring the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, was the conference highlight. The title was “Working Together for a Secular Society” and the subject matter was elaborated by Dr. Elisabeth Cornwell, Executive Director of the US branch of the Dawkins Foundation, and Mr. Sean Faircloth, a former 5-term member of the Maine Legislature and currently Director of Strategy and Policy of the Foundation. His latest book is titled “The Attack of the Theocrats.”
It was then time for Richard Dawkins to take the podium. He required little introduction judging by the enthusiastic standing-ovation accorded to him by the assembly. However, instead of giving a set speech, Dr. Dawkins outlined a recent program started by the Foundation, titled The Clergy Project. Its purpose is to offer aid and comfort to clergy who have finally acknowledged their doubts about the worth of their personal religious beliefs, but then face an enormously uncertain future in many aspects of their lives, not least of which is employment and family relationships. Dr. Dawkins then introduced two recent apostate preachers, one male and one female, who had become involved with The Clergy Project and proceeded to have an interview/conversation with them right there on the platform. This was followed by a lively Q&A session, with Dan Barker and TheFreedom from Religion Foundation also discussed.
In addition to the general sessions, there were a number of optional workshop/seminars addressing specific issues. The titles included Using Social Media, Chapter Activities, Church/State Separation, Genomes and Evolution, Refuting Christian Nation Adherents, Maintaining Dynamic Organizations, the “Ask an Atheist” Radio Show, Discrimination in the Military/Veterans, Building Leadership, plus private briefings for the Conference Crew. Participants could attend as many of these as timing permitted.
Of course, there were the usual side-bar features of all such conferences, in the form of fund-raising auctions of various consumer items like wine, framed pictures, preserved food items, and so on, as well as booths for the sale of books, disks, lapel buttons, T-shirts and bumper stickers. A special feature was a book-signing session by Richard Dawkins and Sean Faircloth, whose books were available for purchase. A special vote of thanks was made to Robert Sanford of Portland, OR, who was the prime mover and shaker of the successful planning and presentation of the Ninth NFA Conference.