Sunday morning we enjoyed the final two presentations, prior to heading back to sunny Mexico. Jonathan Kirsch gave a very interesting, very scary presentation on the Long Shadow of the Inquisition. He defined the Inquisitorial Toolbox as set of techniques, thoughts and methods that had been defined during the original Inquisition and that are still in use by the Church and by governments around the world today. He pointed out that the Inquisition caused suffering due to habit of mind (i.e., the Cathars were persecuted because they did not believe in transubstantiation) and that only Christians were persecuted (although once a Jew or Muslim converted to Christianity for any reason……..they were fair game too). Kirsch, too, was on an book tour. Although in the Q&A session he recommended his God Against the Gods: The History of the War Between Monotheism and Polytheism as his best book overall, he told us he’d prefer it if we’d all buy a copy of his newest book (from which the material for the presentation was taken), The Grand Inquisitor’s Manual: A History of Terror in the Name of God. Kirsch gave several example of tools from the Inquisitorial Toolbox being used today and pointed out that the power of being able to persecute someone based solely on the fact that they had different ideas or thoughts still came in quite handy for Authorities of all types. He ended his presentation with a powerful story about watching Arthur Miller’s The Crucible on Broadway right after 9/11.
Richard Dawkins introduced the final speaker, Eugenie Scott, as a hero in the fight for teaching science in the science classroom and as someone he admired greatly. This was very interesting to me, given the amount of discussion in the blogosphere of late re the accommodationist stance of the Scott’s National Center for Science Education. Scott made no reference to this in her presentation: Creationism: Still Crazy After All These Years. She gave a brief review of the history of creationism and intelligent design attacks on evolution in the classroom, then focused on current tactics including “teach the controversy” and the “either/or” approach. She pointed out that attacking evolution is just the tip of the iceberg. Attacking evolution is attacking materialistic science. Attacking materialistic science is attacking materialism (non-dualism). Kind of a scary thought, given the subject matter of Kirsch’s presentation right before this. She closed her presentation with some pretty sobering stories about what’s going on in Texas right now with their science textbooks. Currently, the creationists are abusing the meaning of the phrase “academic freedom” as one means to try to teach religion in the science classroom. Since Texas purchases so many textbooks, what they choose to purchase is usually what all the other states have to purchase. So the content of the science textbooks chosen by Texas has a huge effect on science education all over the US.
Conference Summary: This was a great conference. The speaker list was incredible. Everything else about the conference was fine, but it was the caliber of the speakers that really set this conference apart from the last few TAM’s (for instance). For me, it was fun to see many of my favorite thinkers and authors in the flesh and it was very stimulating to listen to them in the context of this conference. Very refreshing. I’ll close with some random links (of variable value) to other bloggers’ thoughts on the convention: Linda Ward Selbie, Jerry Coyne, Russell Blackford, PZ Myers, Humanist Network News, Kate Lovelady and Jim Lippard.