This past weekend I attended the Imagine No Religion 2 conference in Kamloops, BC, Canada. It was an amazing event and there were many very interesting and important messages in the presentations. But I want to talk here about something I gleaned from tying together a few snippets from a few of the presentations that rather struck me.
Seth Andrews of the Thinking Atheist reminded us of just how recently it is that information was difficult to retrieve and often inaccessible. Since I was born (in 1976) we have gone from the strongest computer being the Vic 20 and the easiest way to retrieve information being the card catalogue at your local library to having millions of phones in the hands of average people with computing power orders of magnitude greater than early generations of multi-million dollar supercomputers, and with access to more information in a matter of milliseconds than even existed for most of human civilization.
Dr. Andy Tompson pointed out that we are the first generations to be able to look into our own brains with medical technology and understand how our minds evolved and why we think the way we do.
Another presenter – I can’t remember which – pointed out that in most fields of science there now exists a body of literature so vast that no one scientist could even read all of it from just their own field even if they spent their lifetime doing so.
PZ Myers spoke of the fundamental incompatibility of science and religion and how religion hampers science.
David Eberth spoke about the political and social strength of the creationist movement and how it seeks to move society away from science and towards religion.
August Berkshire spoke of the inherent limitations and failings of religious morality compared to rational secular morality.
Dr. Christopher DiCarlo spoke of the need to broaden our scope when we look at problems and their solutions and gave examples of how narrow a band of thinking goes into so many important decisions in everything from education to hospital care.
Lawrence Krauss spoke eloquently of our growing understanding of the universe and its workings, making the “God is the best explanation for the existence of the universe” arguments of the theists from the conference’s opening debate seem even more arrogant and ridiculous in their childish certitude than they had when they were presented.
These stunning indications of human progress were starkly contrasted with reminders of the simplistic and anti-scientific mindsets of the religious and of the continuing bigotry and backwards thinking that shackles much of humanity to a primitive past and a mind-bogglingly egocentric lack of self-awareness from Maryam Namazie, Matt Dillahunty and others.
Representatives of the Centre for Inquiry, atheist Alliance International and BC Humanists told us of the importance of getting involved and the work they were doing, and Desiree Schell taught us how to be effective activists for change.
It seems to me that, quite contrary to the naïve perception I had as a child that all the cool stuff had already been discovered and explored, we are actually living in a uniquely privileged moment in human history. Humanity is reaching adolescence. It is growing up, and becoming more intelligent, but still retains much of the immaturity and childishness of its more primitive infancy. Another analogy that occurred to me is that humanity has built an incredible aircraft that sits on the runway, ready to take us to new heights, but is prevented from lifting off because of all the excess baggage we are carrying that weighs it down. The heights we could achieve if we could only rid ourselves of all the divisiveness, of all the historical problems we have carried with us, of all the biased and intransigent ways of thinking we have inherited from both our evolutionary and cultural forebears! The realization brings both immense hope and crushing despair. Those heights are attainable! They are within our grasp! But we are being prevented from reaching them. Humanity is – as has always been the case – its own worst enemy. But we must not give into despair. We cannot allow our goals to recede. We cannot allow ourselves to be dragged back into the dark ages! We must fight against ignorance, divesting ourselves of as much useless baggage as possible while helping improve the aircraft of rational enlightenment and scientific inquiry that will eventually lift us into realms we can now scarcely imagine!