Durango Skeptics and Atheists

A Community for Critical Thinkers in the Four Corners Region

Category: Secularism

An Evening With Richard Dawkins

Thanks to Member Robyn Baxendale for sharing this awesome experience with us.

An Evening with Richard Dawkins (aka the best night of my life!)

by Robyn Baxendale

It all started with some random guy handing me his parking pass, score! My daughter Lindsay and I then proceeded to walk along Pearl Street Mall in Boulder looking for a unique place to eat lupper (lunch + supper). On our way we stopped by the Boulder Theater to make sure we knew where to go later that evening (yep, I’m getting old) and I took the opportunity to snap a photo of Lindsay in front of the marquee.

Baxendale 01

The breakfast place Snooze tickled our fancy but they had just closed. We went back to the van and perused my phone for restaurant reviews and decided on the French bistro Brasserie Ten Ten known for their generous happy hour menu. It surely lived up to all the fuss, how could it not with cream filled mozzarella? We still had time before Dawkins so we decided to get our nails done. I’ve only had three manicures in my life, all for weddings (including my own!), Dawkins surely deserved the same attention to detail.

It was then time to head over to the theater. The line was long, snaking into the alley, and it was raining but lucky for me my jacket and pants were water resistant. Lindsay was not so fortunate (what a cruel mother I am!) The seating was general admission so we were a little apprehensive about our place in line. Should we have skipped the nail pampering and waited in line for an extra hour to guarantee choice seating?

As we entered the theater I overheard an employee telling some people that the balcony had a great view of the entire theater.  We headed up the stairs and low and behold found seats in the front row!Baxendale 02

Choosing the seats next to us were a pair of recent college grads and one of them offered to buy us drinks. “Umm, this is my 13 year old daughter and I’m her Mom, so no, she will not be having any Jameson in her Coke!” While he was getting our drinks we learned from his friend that an anthropology degree will get you a job as a beer line tech, good to know. Our drinks were delivered just as Dawkins was taking the stage.

Now was the moment we had all been waiting for! Dawkins was questioned for about hour by Annabelle Gurwitch of whom I was previously unaware but am now a fan. This was followed by a half hour of audience questions. I’m just going to list what Lindsay and I can recall from that time (quotes are paraphrased):

On the topic of new age hippie types Dawkins remarked, “They are pernicious but I don’t believe they are viciously pernicious.” In contrast to pernicious conservatives. Pernicious seemed to be his word of the night.

When asked by an audience member why teeth haven’t evolved to be cavity resistant Dawkins replied that he once asked his own dentist, Dr. Sharp, the same question. Dr. Sharp retired so he started seeing Dr. Tack. Dr. Tack asked Dawkins who his previous dentist was and he told him it was Dr. Sharp. Dr. Tack replied, “This couldn’t possibly be the work of Dr. Sharp. I know his work and this is not it!” But why haven’t our teeth evolved to resist cavities? We eat too much sugar! Dawkins wonders why Americans put sugar in everything, even beef stew!

People were asking Dawkins a plethora of political questions. He is an evolutionary biologist and an outspoken atheist so he was a bit perturbed that he was being asked so many questions outside of his expertise and lamented that he didn’t want to, “sit up here and be the wise old man.” That being said, when one audience member used his question time to make a political statement about the importance of getting involved in politics Dawkins chose to emphasize the point instead of brushing him off. Bravo! Dawkins then added that the squeaky wheel usually gets their way.

Dawkins believes that the arc of history bends towards justice but it’s like a saw tooth and we are on a downturn right now. Wah-wah.

He sees climate change as the most important problem we are facing right now. Not that we should ignore other problems but this is the most pressing.

Dawkins noted that our human tribes are more global now because of the internet rather than geographic as in the past. Gurwitch said that her next book was going to be about tribes versus tribalism.

A recovering Southern Baptist thanked Dawkins for opening his mind and changing his life. Dawkins said, “So many people have said that to me and I can’t tell you how much it means to me.” Applause!

Dawkins is tickled that gay marriage and marijuana were legalized around the same time in Colorado. After all, the Bible says that when a man lies with another man he shall be stoned.

Lastly, he was asked about finding meaning in life, ala Viktor Frankl. Dawkins replied that for genes it is simply about survival and propagation. As people, we create our own meaning.

It was now time for book signings. No selfies and have your book open to the title page, assembly line style. Dang. We were told to stay in our seats and we would be called up by rows. Well, seems they forgot about us lowly balcony dwellers so we just waited until we could see the end of the line. While in line we met Chauncey from Secular Hub in Denver. They have their own building and serve as a hot spot for all things secular. Check them out at: www.secularhub.org  Also while in line I was given a photo of Dawkins from CFI (Center for Inquiry) to be signed.

With these happy distractions my turn to hit the stage came as a shock. Equipped with a smile from ear to ear and a brain on auto pilot I somehow managed to get my book signed. And then this happened…Baxendale 03.jpg

Me: “Can I have a high five?” Dawkins: “What’s that? Like this?” Did he not know what a high five was or was he asking what I had said?! Either way, yay for me! I then proceeded to introduce Lindsay in the fashion of a spokes model, “Up next, the youngest member of our audience, my 13 year old daughter Lindsay!” Annabelle Gurwitch (apparently amused by my shenanigans) told Dawkins to give Lindsay a high five so that she could take a picture to post on social media. Lindsay high fived Dawkins several times and even got to hold the pose for this once in a lifetime photo op (good thing we got our nails done)!Baxendale 04

On our walk back to the car I was an ecstatic mess. I agreed that I would need to calm down before attempting to drive. After some convulsing, steering wheel shaking, and profusely praising Lindsay for having the foresight to take a video of my Dawkins high five encounter we were off.

Now, it wouldn’t be fair to my husband or kids to name this the best night of my life but…this is one squeaky wheel still grinning from ear to ear. Creating my own meaning with my daughter by my side, it doesn’t get much better than this!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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DURANGO SKEPTICS AND ATHEIST NEWSLETTER JANUARY 2017

 

Next general meeting:

WEDNESDAY JANUARY 18

Meetings are at Irish Embassy, 900 Main St. Durango

Dinner, for those interested, from 5:30PM.

Discussion starts at 6:30

 

The discussion topic for this month:

AI (Artificial Intelligence)

Computerized ‘personal assistants’, androids, machines that learn to play chess and Go, IBM’s Watson, Microsoft’s Tay, self-driving cars and trucks…like it or not, AI is no longer something in the realm of science fiction. AI is here, now. What are the implications? In what ways does AI mirror society’s achievements and its flaws? What happens when interactions with humans turn a machine intelligence ‘racist’? Are machines that are capable of learning autonomously a danger to humanity? ai-004Would the flesh-and-blood robotic ‘hosts’, as depicted in HBO’s futuristic West World, deserve human rights?  What happens when a self-driving vehicle must choose between two bad outcomes? Will future intelligent machines be able to design new and improved versions of itself? The mind reels.

Kathleen O’Conner and Lionel D Giacomo will lead the group discussion to lead off the next general meeting. Ask Siri if you have time to attend!

 

Here are some links to background with some comments by Lionel:

Current state of general purpose AI: I’m very interested in Google’s Deepmind, and although the following video is long, I think he gets across some of the depth and technical aspects of cutting edge AI in a clear way. The first bit mostly focuses on AI in games and AlphaGo, their go-playing AI. The last 15 or so minutes has a lot of the other applications of the general AI they’re developing.
Demis Hassabis, the founder of Deepmind, Nov. 2016 (~45m): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e0NuW1j9RPA

Trusting machines with our lives: Self-driving cars is going to be the first time where most people will find themselves consciously trusting themselves to a machine capable of killing them, in the theory that they are actually both safer than human operators and will safe us time. Here’s a great technical TED talk on the most extreme version of that, where humans are no longer even permitted to drive:
Chris Urmson, head of Googles driverless car program June 2015 (~15m): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tiwVMrTLUWg

AI, automation, and the economy: I’m very interested in how the promise of automation and AI has often been to free up humans, but the result is usually just even richer capitalists. For instance, Uber sees driverless cars as a way to no longer have to pay human drivers. Here’s an article about basic income (Elon Musk has talked about this too, but I can’t find a good video):

Singularity Hub, Dec 2016: https://singularityhub.com/2016/12/13/if-robots-steal-our-jobs-a-universal-basic-income-could-help/

ADDITIONAL BACKGROUND INFORMATION:

AI, WHAT IT IS AND HOW IT WORKS  https://futurism.com/1-evergreen-making-sense-of-terms-deep-learning-machine-learning-and-ai/

AI IS EVERYWHERE (BUT IT’S NOT UP TO WRITING A MOVIE SCRIPT YET  https://www.engadget.com/2016/12/25/ai-was-everywhere-in-2016/

ON AI AND RACIST ROBOTS    https://techcrunch.com/2016/03/24/microsoft-silences-its-new-a-i-bot-tay-after-twitter-users-teach-it-racism/

MACHINE LEARNING: SIRI GROWS UP https://backchannel.com/an-exclusive-look-at-how-ai-and-machine-learning-work-at-apple-8dbfb131932b#.9vxdggc19

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE AND MACHINE LEARNING  https://ethnographymatters.net/blog/2016/06/20/the-human-side-of-artificial-intelligence-and-machine-learning/

HOW AI TO TRANSFORMED GOOGLE TRANSLATE http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/14/magazine/the-great-ai-awakening.html?smprod=nytcore-ipad&smid=nytcore-ipad-share

Skeptics and Atheists of Durango NOVEMBER 2016 NEWSLETTER

 

Next general meeting:

WEDNESDAY NOVEMBER 16

Meetings are at Irish Embassy,

900 Main Street Durango

Dinner, for those interested, from 5:30PM.

Discussion starts at 6:30

 

The discussion topic for this month:

Group Co-Founder Kathleen O’Conner will make a presentation regarding the First Amendment and the separation of church and state…when it’s followed and when it’s not. Kathleen says: “Some members expressed an interest in becoming more politically active, so we thought this topic would be a good segue way into discussing the possibilities for promoting secularism here in Durango”

 

Happy Reason Rally Day 2012

Today is a special day for Atheists, Agnostics,  and Freethinkers.

For the first time, non-believers are descending upon the National Mall in Washington, D.C. to let our leaders know that we are here and we want representation.

Additionally, this day celebrates living a fulfilled life without  beliefs  in supernatural beings. It celebrates reality and the beauty contained within. It celebrates the clarity found in a rational worldview unsaddled by superstition and fear.

This day is also for those still grappling with the thought of “coming out” with their non-belief.  This is a difficult position to be in, particularly for those raised with religious beliefs.

But you are not alone.

Brandi, one of our members, is at the Reason Rally and will be blogging a full report on this momentous event when she gets back.

In the meantime, here our a couple of pictures she sent:

Tim Minchin

Way to go, Jessica!

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”.

Most of you are probably  familiar with the story of Jessica Ahlquist, a high school junior in  Cranston, Rhode Island who filed a suit against her school after they refused to remove a mural with  christian religous references contained therein.  The case went to trial and the judge ruled for the immediate removal of the mural.

Since then, Ms. Ahlquist has endured an endless barrage of hate mail, death threats, cyberbullying and even being called “an evil little thing” by her own state representative, Peter Palumbo.  Last night, the Cranston school committee  met to decide whether or not to appeal the ruling.  After several hours of public comments representing both sides, the committee members, in a vote of 5-2, decided to let the ruling stand and not appeal the case.

But is this over for Jessica? Probably not. The amount of hatred already thrown at this 16-year-old by teenagers and adults alike, is reprehensible. And these are Christians?? To be fair, there are some Christians that have spoken out against the treatment of Jessica.  I just have a difficult time understanding how people who claim to be Christian would act out in this way. I’m pretty sure that is NOT what Jesus would do (although, back in his day non-believers were most likely burned or stoned to death).  How this behavior is reconciled with a religion that proclaims “God is Love” does not compute.  Here’s a fun fact: florists in the town of Cranston even went so far as to refuse delivery of flower orders made for Jessica. WOW!

So what did Jessica do that warranted so much vitriol and anger? She stood up for her 1st amendment rights. She did what every single Christian in Cranston would have done had the mural been in reference to Allah or Krishna.  Jessica has taken a step for all of us and should be commended for the strength she exhibited, and continues to exhibit,  in the face of so much opposition.

I think  Jon Stewart says it pretty succinctly:

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