TAM 9: Critical Thinking in Sin City!

This last weekend, my wife and I took a jaunt out to Las Vegas, Nevada for the 9th annual Amaz!ng Meeting, a skeptics convention.  Great thinkers and skeptics of all shapes and sizes from around the globe came together to discuss topics ranging from public education, space travel, paranormal activities, psychic phenomenon and the origins of life.

At the start of the conference, Thursday morning, I sat in on Defending Evolution in the Classroom and Beyond, and the panel included Eugenie Scott; Executive Director of the National Center for Science Education, Josh Rosenau; Programs and Policy Director of the National Center for Science Education, and Donald R. Prothero; Professor of Geology at Occidental College in Los Angeles, and Lecturer in Geobiology at Caltech.

The discussion (as indicated by the title) centered on defending sound scientific theories, evolution in particular, from uneducated theocrats and defensive zealots who would have us utilize government funds to indoctrinate our children with irrational nontheories derived from ancient, outdated fables.

In this seminar, our esteemed panel discussed the argument of creationists/intelligent design, the obvious differences between said “theories” and actual scientific theories such as evolution, and the importance of defending and preserving our children’s right to an education based in observable facts of the known universe.

Penn Jillette’s Private Rock & Roll/Bacon & Doughnut Party” was hosted by the world famous illusionist, comedian and skeptic himself.  The party included “Stupid Rock & Roll, Obscenity, Scantily Clad Persons, 1200 Krispy Kreme Doughnuts and Gigapigs of Bacon”.  Jillette played bass and belted out a few tunes with the “No God Band” as skeptic party-goers consumed hundreds of glazed doughnuts and pound upon pound of greasy bacon.  Penn clarified up front that this was his personal party, paid for with his money, and nobody was being forced to see it, hear it or otherwise experience it.  Disclaimers firmly in place, the affable Jillette and his No God Band played original songs as well as a few covers, including Viva Las Vegas –complete with sin city staple, the stripper.  Partner in crime, Teller made an appearance as well as pianist extraordinaire Mike Jones.  Overall, this function was wildly entertaining, amusing and delicious!

Saturday my wife and I took in the Ethics of Paranormal Investigation seminar which was both intriguing and entertaining.  Panelists included Joe Nickell; Senior Research Fellow with the non-profit educational organization the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, Ben Radford; deputy editor of Skeptical Inquirer science magazine and a Research Fellow with the non-profit educational organization the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, Banachek; the only mentalist ever to fool scientists into believing he possessed ‘Psychic powers’, and the “Amazing” James Randi; author and tireless investigator and demystifier of paranormal and pseudo-scientific claims.
Moderated by Julia Galef (co-host of Rationally Speaking), the panel shared their views of paranormal investigation, how to ethically debunk charlatans and further, shared several interesting and often amusing anecdotes of their own personal experiences regarding the debunking of ghost chasers, psychics and spoon benders.


I believe I speak for both my wife and I, when I say our favorite speaker was Bill Nye.  The science guy’s charismatic and enthusiastic talk was entitled Bringing Them Around with Our Place in Space.  He discussed space travel from his perspective as Executive Director of  the Planetary Society, personal experiences from his ongoing quest for knowledge from boyhood to college where he studied under Carl Sagan, and finally the future of science and how it will continue to serve humanity.  In his closing remarks he exclaimed “Now let’s go out and change the world”!  …The next night we bumped into him at the Rio and I have to say he was both gracious and accessible.


Heavy weight critical thinker and renowned (often reviled) atheist, Doctor Richard Dawkins, presented on the topic of his highly anticipated children’s book entitled The Magic of Reality.  Illustrated by Dave McKean, The Magic of Reality will present questions intended to foster critical thinking in school-age children, such as “What are things made of”?  All I can say is; it’s been a long time coming.  There should be more nonfiction of this nature for young readers.  I picked up the promotional copy for my children and Doctor Dawkins autographed it for us at the book signing following the lecture.

 

Sunday afternoon, we caught the ever charming James Randi’s sentimental closing statements to a weekend of intellectual titans, thought-provoking subject matter and skeptical thinking.  My wife and I left the hotel with a renewed sense of skepticism, a feeling of real comradery with fellow critical thinkers (whose numbers were greater than we had imagined), and a suit case full of new books that are sure to challenge us to think critically for weeks to come.

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2 Responses to “TAM 9: Critical Thinking in Sin City!”

  1. Excellent read!

  2. Thank you sir.

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