I dragged my intrepid companion out to the big Northwest Freethought Coalition's Darwin Day bash on Sunday. Neither one of us is much for large groups, but I never get to see the Seattle Skeptics - they're always having meetings when I'm working. Besides, festivities included a birthday cake and Phylum Pheud, so it seemed essential to go.
Loved it from the moment I laid eyes on it:
Charles Darwin his own self was scheduled to attend, but excused himself on account of being dead. I felt he was there in spirit, however, his august countenance gazing benevolently down upon us from a corner of the room.
There was a massive spread of food. People who believe only church groups know how to put on a good Sunday feed, take note: atheists and humanists have officially kicked your arses. ZOMFSM. It's a good thing they had a break between the nosh and the cake, or I wouldn't have had room.
The organizers put on a panel discussion discussing the War on Evolution. I'll do a proper write-up of it when I've got more time. I took notes and everything, just for you, my darlings. For now, let me just say this: meeting Jen McCreight in the flesh was something akin to meeting PZ Myers for the first time, and all the more overwhelming because I hadn't had a clue she'd be there. She was on the panel. Look! I haz proof!
The other two are Bob and Geoff. I didn't get their last names because I'd been too busy finishing nosh to fish out me notebook in time, but I'm sure somebody somewhere will have that info, and when I do the proper post on the panel, I shall be able to tell you more than just, "These two are Bob and Geoff, and they are nearly as awesome as Jen."
After the panel came cake. We all sang Happy Birthday as it was brought out, of course. Just because a man's been dead for nearly 130 years doesn't mean you shouldn't sing Happy Birthday to him. Or waste the excuse to have a really good cake.
Whist acquiring cake, I was able to actually speak with Jen McCreight for a moment!!!11!1!! - in a group with others, o' course, but still. We had two actual biologists and two bloggers who are science fanpeople. It's always good not to be the only layblogger in the group. Although, thanks to you, my darlings, I am no longer so embarrassed by my layblogger status. I'm not a scientist, but the fact I was adopted by the geobloggers means I do a decent job with the science blogging, and therefore, I can hold my head high even when standing right next to Jen McCreight. (However, I am not a graduate student in genome sciences who started Boobquake, so I reserve the right to be a bit starstruck, mkay?)
Anyway. Jen was pure teh awesome. Now that she lives here, I hope to somehow lure her away from graduate studies long enough for a good chat, but I'm not sure how to lure a genome biologist. If she were a geologist, I'd know just what to use: beer. Does anyone here know the proper offering for a biologist?
The only thing that distracted me from Jen's awesomeness was the microbiologist next to me, a very nice and engaging gentleman who tossed a bomb: he likes PZ Myers's blogging, but doesn't think PZ's in-your-face call-stupid-what-it-is style is helpful. Who's convinced by someone getting up in their face and yelling at them?
And so, my darlings, I'm afraid I had to raise my hand and say, "Well, me, for one." I've only seen one other person look so astonished this week, and that was my coworker, who tried to toss me a test phone and ended up plonking me in the forehead with it.
But yes, 'tis true. Granted, I'd already given up on God by the time I ran across Pharyngula, but I still halfheartedly attempted to believe in Odin or perhaps Buddha or something spiritual, because I'd been told all my life that life didn't mean nothing without faith. The furthest I'd go is to call myself an agnostic, because only extremely unpleasant people were atheists, and you could NEVER EVER disrespect religion because religion was good, QED. Sure, you could poke fun at fundamentalists (doesn't everybody?). But that's where you should leave it. And as for "other ways of knowing," weren't there a billion valid ones? And as for science, it was a useful tool and very interesting but no replacement for spirituality, probably on account of NOMA. And alternative medicine was just hunky dory. My darlings, I still believed in Woo. With a capital W. Then along came PeeZee thundering onto my computer, spitting fire in defense of science, attacking weak and wobbly and credulous thinking without mercy, giving absolutely no quarter to religion, proclaiming himself a Proud Atheist, and wielding a rapier wit that cut deep indeed.
Most of the ideas I'd ever held dear, he called stupid. Ridiculous. Ignorant. Dangerous, even. But I didn't feel he was attacking me, or my intelligence, only these ideas. He was funny and fascinating and a good person. He had moral values. He cared for people. Cared enough to spare no feelings. Combine him with the fact that I'd just learned how concerted the creationist attack on evolution was, and my thinking changed very nearly overnight. I'd been an idiot. I'd thought I'd understood science, but I hadn't; my thinking on religion had been hopelessly muddled; I'd been lying to myself; I'd fallen like a fool for foolish things.
So yes, the short, sharp shock sometimes works. Mealy-mouthed accomodationism would have allowed me to go right on being fuzzy and fluffy and very crunchy indeed. It wouldn't have hooked me on science. You see, PZ showed me how entirely awesome science, even biology with it's squidgy bits, was. He made me fall in love with it with a fierceness and passion I'd never before felt. And science was under attack. That shook me out of complacency. It made me focus on science, really see it clearly for the first time in my life, and vow to defend it. More than that, understand it. It wasn't comfortable any longer to be fuzzy and fluffy and crunchy. PZ forced me to rethink assumptions and wrestle with some very difficult truths. He showed me it was okay to examine where, exactly, my belief trajectory had been going, and on that night I calculated my God Delusion Index and had to face up to the fact that, yep, I surely was an atheist, because of PZ, I didn't feel that was a bad thing to be at all.
PZ's the reason I found out about Seattle Skeptics, because of a talk he gave in Seattle. He's the reason I became a science blogger rather than staying with the potty-mouthed politics I'd begun with. He, more than anyone else, made me the skeptic and atheist I am today. And it's because of that style of his, which so many otherwise wise atheists and skeptics seem to think will drive absolutely everyone away.
So, as I told the microbiologist (forgive me, I forgot your name): there's a place for a PZ Myers. Different people respond to different things. I happen to be in the subset who can watch people call very nearly everything I'd thought of the world wrong and heap scorn on the remnants of cherished beliefs, and instead of getting all defensive, go, "Hmm. You know what, he's right."
It doesn't work for everyone, though. There's a place for the friendly types. Just don't try to tell me that friendly and unconfrontational is the only way to win hearts and minds. My heart and mind would still be stuck firmly in woo if I'd only been surrounded with people singing Kumbaya. I'd have thought there was no problem with all my mushy-gushy beliefs and my appalling misunderstanding of science, because no one was up in my face telling me I'm a fool. The most that would've happened is that I'd have thought atheists weren't so evil, after all. And then I'd have gone right on wasting my life in search of the supernatural, hence missing out on the mind-boggling awesomeness of the natural.
(I feel it necessary to insert Orac into the discussion here. PZ did a lot to firebomb ignorance out of me, but Orac's the one who delivered the death blow to my appreciation of alternative medicine. And he did it by being a complete dick, not by being all nice and politely disagreeing. But I wouldn't have found Orac without PZ. Funny how that works.)
My goodness. That turned into a longer rant than I intended, but I'm just fed to here with people thinking PZ is driving people away in droves and that shouting never accomplishes anything. I'm going to have to purchase a Gnu Atheist t-shirt and start wearing it to these functions, along with something squid-related. Perhaps I should have a button designed with some pithy slogan.
Right. Well. That was fun, and then it was time to return to the table to munch cake and watch Phylum Pheud for a bit, which was hysterically funny. My intrepid companion amused himself with the party favors. I present to you his masterpiece: dinosaurs fleeing the surging cake glacier:
So that was a little bit of all right, then. We did, however, scarper off early, so I don't know if Mollusca kept its early and overwhelming lead, or if Chordata stiffened their backbones and beat them out later.
We had a wonderful ramble round Juanita Bay, which I shall share pictures from a bit later. All in all, a wonderful way to spend Darwin's 202nd.