The Imagine No Religion 2 conference

This past weekend, around 250 atheists, agnostics, humanists, heretics, freethinkers, and apostates gathered at the Kamloops Convention Centre for more than 2 days of heresy and community building. The entire event was a rousing success, thanks to the tireless efforts of Bill and Kathy Ligertwood of the Kamloops Centre for Rational Thought.

I’ll give a brief overview of each of the presentations below, in program order.

Friday, May 18th

Does a God or Gods Exist? Public Debate

I was lucky enough to get to open the conference with the BC Humanist-sponsored debate on the existence of god. This sold-out event made the front-page headline of the Kamloops Daily News and the online article has attracted over 100 comments.

On the “no” side were Atheist Experience host and Atheist Community of Austin president Matt Dillahunty and philosopher Christopher diCarlo. Standing up for god were Trinity Western University philosophers Michael Horner and Paul Chamberlain.

The debate generated a lot of questions and the debaters were passionate, interesting, and most importantly concise.

The theists didn’t present any novel arguments for God and resorted to telling Matt he didn’t try hard enough to believe in God and calling Dr. diCarlo a “moral nihilist” – a label he wore proudly.

After the debate, all conference attendees were invited to a reception, but there was no sign of the Christians.

Saturday, May 29th

Alternative Medicine Panel – Dr. Ian Mitchell, Ian Cromwell, and Desiree Schell

Saturday started off with a full house (it always amazes me when attendees make the first session) for the alternative medicine panel.

Skeptically Speaking radio show host from Edmonton, Desiree Schell moderated the panel and played devil’s advocate. Dr. Mitchell brought his experience as an ER doctor, while Vancouver blogger Ian Cromwell brought his own point of view from writing and working in the BC Cancer Agency’s health economics division.

While the panel was arguably one-sided, it did explore the issues and offered time for some audience Q & A.

Pat O’Brien – CFI Canada

As one of the principle sponsors of the event, CFI Canada chair and Vancouver resident Pat O’Brien spoke on the value of CFI Canada and their continuing work.

August Berkshire – Morality With & Without God

Minnesota Atheist president August Berkshire presented arguments for a secular morality and against a Christian morality.

David Eberth – Creationism in Alberta

Royall Tyrrell Museum geologist David Eberth gave some insight into the creationist movement he is dealing with in Southern Alberta. He highlighted that the same set of core ideas that can lead to creationism can also cause other irrational beliefs – global warming denialism, vaccine denialism, etc. We need to be able to identify the sources for this irrationality in order to fight back effectively.

Stuart Bechman – Atheist Alliance International

Stuart Bechman provided a brief overview of what activities the AAI is up to around the world. He highlighted the case of a Filipino man who is in jail facing blasphemy charges. AAI is offering legal aide, but due to the Islamic-inspired laws, their best hope is a reduced sentence of five years.

Desiree Schell – So You Want to Change the World?

After lunch, Desiree returned to the stage to share some tips from her experiences union organizing in Alberta. Using evidence from other social change movements, she argued that the angry vs soft (confrontation vs accommodation) debate is misguided and that different tactics are required for different situations. She suggested using a checklist to identify what the objectives of any action will be and whether one approach will work better. She also called for greater diversity, not just to improve our own group’s image (as in not all old-white-men), but because different voices can offer different perspectives, adding value to the movement.

Her speech was definitely a highlight for me and I think there’s a lot we need to think about in order to make our movement optimally effective.

Matt Dillahunty – The Atheist Experience

Matt’s return to the stage was, in his own words, an opportunity to rebut the remarks made by the Christians at the debate the previous evening. He reaffirmed that he searched as hard as anyone could for God while on the way to the priesthood, and upon finding no compelling evidence or reasons, became an evangelical atheist.

Andy Thomson – Why We Believe in God(s), and Sing and Dance to Solidify Belief

Richard Dawkins Foundation trustee and practicing psychiatrist Dr. Thomson gave a compelling exploration of the clinical research of where belief in God comes from in terms of evolution and neuroscience. Few complained that his talk went a bit over-time.

PZ Myers – Something Sciencey

Asked to present on “something sciencey,” firebrand atheist and biologist blogger PZ Myers presented some of the common arguments that theists and creationists often give him. His tone was feisty as always.

Comedy Show

Finally, after some time for book signing and a banquet, the Ha Ha Heathens – Johnny Taylor, Caitlin Gill, and Keith Lowell Jensen – presented their act. While some of the jokes fell a bit flat, the majority of the show was quite entertaining. It may have been the ample wine at our table, but we were laughing through the entire second half of the show.

Sunday, May 20th

Joyce Arthur – Panel Discussion: Abortion Rights

Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada executive director Joyce Arthur led a panel on religious attacks (really the only kinds) on abortion rights in Canada. Joyce was joined by Desiree Schell, Vancouver transgender blogger Natalie Reed, and political scientist Edwin Hodge. During the panel, Canadian audience members were encouraged to sign the ARCC petition against Motion 312 – Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth’s attempt to redefine human life (from birth to something earlier).

Joyce argued that the government allowed this motion to reach the floor as a trial balloon to see whether a backlash would result. Harper then quickly backtracked and disowned the bill when opposition surfaced.

Christopher diCarlo – The OSTOK Project

Dr. diCarlo returned to the stage to introduce his new project that he’s hoping to get funding for – a comprehensive, non-partisan database that takes a holistic and evidence-based approach to public policy. He argued that, especially in areas of health, education, and law, we need to take wider views of both the natural and cultural systems that affect such policies. His “Onion Skin Theory of Knowledge” models knowledge as an onion that has many layers, depth, and breadth to any idea.

Brother Sam Singleton – Atheist Revival

After lunch, Sam Singleton presented his Atheist Revival Show. The show parodies the revivalist traditions and featured the audience saying “walla walla” and “goddamn” on cue. Perhaps my favourite part of the show was the actual sermon provided by Brother Sam, which focused on the lack of thanks that are provided in the Bible – except to God. Sam argued that saying thanks to real people – even when they hold no responsibility – is of more utility than thanking an imaginary deity.

Seth Andrews – Scrabble on the Space Station

The Thinking Atheist host and video producer Seth Andrews had one of the most polished and slick talks of the conference. He emphasized how difficult it was to obtain information just a few decades ago, while now many of us hold the entirety of human knowledge in our pocket. His point was how frustrating getting the same questions from theists over and over was, when many of the answers to their questions are only a Google search away.

Andrews ended his presentation by debuting his latest video, a remake of his tribute to Carl Sagan.

Maryam Namazie – Freedom of Expression, Multi-Culturalism, and Political Islam

Perhaps the post passionate – and contentious – speech of the conference was by UK Council of Ex-Muslims and One Law for All campaigner Maryam Namazie. She was emphatic about the need to defend against radical Islamism in the face of anti-immigrant sentiments of the right and postmodernism on the left.

A self-described communist, Namazie had the crowd give their first standing ovation for her passionate call for all to denounce right-wing political Islamism, while standing up for the rights of individual Muslims. She further questioned whether multiculturalism in Europe was beginning to fail when immigrants are failing to assimilate some universal values of their adopted country.

Lawrence Krauss – A Universe from Nothing

Finally, keynote speaker physicist Lawrence Krauss presented ideas from his latest book – A Universe From Nothing. This fantastic speech argued how matter and energy, time and space, and even the laws of physics themselves could arise naturally from nothing. He ended by giving a glimpse into “our miserable future” where the accelerating expansion of the universe will mean that astronomers in 1 trillion years will have no evidence of the Big Bang and would be justified in believing they lived in a static and eternal universe – the same kind physicists thought we lived in only 80 years ago.

During the talk, Krauss was ready to let us outside to view the solar eclipse but unfortunately it was cloudy.


Imagine No Religion 2 was a fantastic conference featuring a wide variety of speakers, topics, and ideas. I met attendees from as far away as the Netherlands and everyone I met was friendly and passionate about building the secular movement.

We all can’t wait for Imagine No Religion 3.

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