Friday, March 8, 2013

Freethought Festival 2: Science Friday

Freethought Festival 2

Reca really needs to get some sleep, but I wanted to do a quick post about day 1 of Freethought Festival 2.  For those unfamiliar with the event taking place this weekend that I'm attending, it is hosted by Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics at UW-Madison (AHA).  The conference is completely free to attend, and is funded by Associated Students of Madison, Secular Student Alliance, and Freedom From Religion Foundation.  All talks were / will be recorded, so I'm assuming they'll be up online shortly after the weekend ends.  Thus, if my ever brief summaries below don't do it for you, watch the full talks online.  I'll provide a link as soon as one's available.

--Friday's Theme: Science Friday--

Speaker #1: Darrel Ray

The shame of it all: Why do we act like Christians?

Darrel Ray (author of Sex & God) began by saying that sexual activities of people across different religions are more or less the same.  Why?  Because sexual activity is biological and we are all human beings, regardless of religious beliefs.  A figure that came up during his talk is that there are 10,000 sex acts (includes masturbation) for every one child birth.  Humans are one of three (or four?) animals that don't simply have sex to reproduce; they have sex for pleasure.  Dolphins are another one, and I believe bonobos(?) are another.

So sexual acts such as masturbation, for example, are normal - but many religions want their followers to feel shame for these acts.  "Sexual guilt" was the term he often used.  And the whole "Why do we act like Christians?" part of his talk referred to the fact that many freethinkers feel some of this sexual guilt or shame, due to the religious majority in society or perhaps because of one's religious history.  Darrel encouraged everyone not to feel guilty, to be open about sexuality, talk about it with your children, talk about it with your religious friends ("ask them if they masturbate" was his conversation starter suggestion).  He obviously has studied this topic for a long time, as was very comfortable talking in front of everyone.  It was quite liberating actually; gave me things to think about.

Here are a few tweets that were tweeted during Darrel's talk:

Sure I masturbate, don't you!? - @drdray132 at #ftf2

95% of all Americans have premarital sex - @drdray132 at #ftf2

Darrel Ray: if you would call someone out for being racist or sexist, why not when they're sex negative? #ftf2

Ask the awkward questions about a hypocrite's sex life. Be honest with your own. #ftf2

Speaker #2: Chris Calvey

Molecular biology, evolution, and god

Chris began with some basic biology background before he got to the meat of his presentation.  It was fun to be reminded of transcription and translation with DNA and RNA, and Chris made it entertaining as well, though this part probably could have been shorter.  Chris is working towards his Ph.D. in molecular biology (I hope I got that right... didn't write it down), and told us three "stories" that support evolution.  The first was about scurvy, which led to learning that the human body is unable to make Vitamin C itself (but most other living species can).  The second story was about viruses, which led to the fact that 8% of the human genome is made of ERVs (endogenous retroviruses).

And I believe the third story was about amino acid sequences (or was it proteins?) in different animals and how they compare to one another.  I didn't jot down any notes during the third story, which is why it's a blur to me now, but all three of his "stories" were evidence of evolution.  Chris was fun to listen to; he was engaging, didn't go too fast, and also had us laughing time and time again.  The talk did run about a half an hour over, which everyone was well aware of by the end.  You'll see evidence of this in the sample of tweets during Chris's talk:

Now @Chris_Calvey is talking about synthetic biology! That is one of my favorite topics! #ftf2

"When life gives you lemons, eat them so you don't die of scurvy." - @Chris_Calvey #FTF2

@Chris_Calvey is taking his sweet time with his talk #FTF2

#FTF2, i love you, but starting the 8:00 talk at 8:37 is bad form.

Speaker #3: Eugenie Scott

Déjà vu all over again: Denialism of climate change and of evolution

And since they were running behind at this point and I had yet to eat dinner, I decided to just stay for one more talk (and skip out on the fourth and final talk of the night).  I'm so glad I stayed for Eugenie Scott's talk, as she was amazing.  Eugenie is the Executive Director of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE).  The non-profit's goal is to defend the teaching of evolution and climate science.

One fact that Eugenie brought to light is that most people opposed to (the teaching of) evolution are from the religious right, whereas most people opposed to (the teaching of global warming) are from the political right.  This distinction is important and makes a lot of sense when you think about it, I just never thought about it before.  If global warming is accepted as true, then it will have many political consequences.  For example, restrictions on CO 2 emissions within factories or laws saying you can only manufacture and sell cars that get x mpg.  These restrictions interfere with free enterprise, hence can you see why global warming has become a political issue?  We should really just listen to the facts and save the planet, easy as that - but alas, politics go and get all intertwined and muddled in the issue. Le sigh.

Okay, let's cut me off and get to some tweets from Eugenie's talk:

Eugenie Scott reminds us how hard it is to get into mainstream science, and that the anti-evolutionists shouldn't be allowed to cheat. #FTF2

Can't I just go to the science czar, and say 'science czar, put my great idea directly into the classrooms' - Eugenie Scott at #FTF2

Listening to some of my heroes at last -- Eugenie Scott up now #ftf2

And Eugenie Scott explains and illustrates the cherry picking of the climate change deniers very clearly at #FTF2

UPDATE: After having attended the morning talks on 3/9/13, I believe the last talk last night got rescheduled to a later time.  Maybe everyone else thought it was getting too late last night as well, and there wasn't a large enough audience.
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