Last Meeting of Spring 2014!
It's our final meeting of the Spring 2014 term, and it will be filmed by CNN! This will be another series of rapid fire topics, focusing on recent legislation passed by the Georgia legislature.
For the first time in recent memory, we actually had a meeting about religion! We see the destruction that religion causes just about ever week in the news, whether it's yet another instance of political oppression or a terrorist attack or something similar. Many argue that these "extremists" are twisting the words of the holy books. Are they, or are they just taking their religion seriously? Should repeated patterns of violence make us treat our religious neighbors with suspicion? How can we maintain a tolerant society while maintaining appropriate levels of caution? This was a divisive issue for a group of secularists.
Tonight, whilst some of our members were off watching Dr. Neil Degrasse Tyson give his talk at Georgia Tech, the rest of us were engaging in Campus Freethinkers' most feared debate: Free Will vs. Determinism! Could debate that can swallow up hours or days of time be even partially explored in a 45 minute meeting? Sort of. We tackled this most difficult of philosophical questions by getting right to the basics to form a foundation for this argument. Define 'free will'. Define 'determinism'. Define 'choice'. Define 'person'. Define 'mind'. Define 'reality'. Define 'is'. Oops. Out of time. Come back next year when we do it all over again!
Tonight we held officer elections! Three positions and the presidency were up for grabs, and six candidates applied to run for them. After brief introductions by the candidates, our members voted and we now know who will be leading Campus Freethinkers next year! Good luck to all of our new officers. We know (or hope) you'll do a great job!
ANARCHY! No, not the thing that always happens after the meetings end. That was our topic this week! One of our members made the case for anarchy, and the invalidation of the state as a moral concept. For possibly the first time ever, we defined certain critical terms such as 'state', 'anarchy', and 'government'. This made the ensuing conversation go much more smoothly. Unfortunately, we forgot to define 'force'. About half of the subsequent arguments revolved around doing so.
This Tuesday was Game Night! Instead of our usual, formal meeting format we had an informal social event and played various games together. Or rather, we intended to play various games together. We had people bring Magic the Gathering decks, Cards Against Humanity, Apples to Apples, and more. In addition, we intended to try playing chess as a group using the Twitch Plays Pokemon rules. Instead, we just played Cards Against Humanity for the whole meeting before most of us headed off to Geek Trivia Night. The conclusion drawn from this meeting? There's nothing you'd hate to find in your breakfast cereal more than heartwarming orphans.
Ask an Atheist Day
This was the most important Ask an Atheist Day we have ever held, as it was filmed by representatives of CNN who are working on a documentary piece about atheism. If ever there were a chance for our efforts as a group to make a difference, this was it. We were glad for the opportunity!
For this week's meeting, we did a rapid-fire series on family and children's issues, including but not limited to determining rational approaches to the issues of incest, circumcision, passing genetic diseases onto your kids, child labor, exposing kids to secondhand smoke, and public breastfeeding. Each of these could have been a meeting topic all on its own, so condensing them to a few minutes each made the discussions rather tense. Godwin's Law was naturally fulfilled at several points, and it was a fun meeting all around.
Even Snowpocalypse 2.0 couldn't stop Campus Freethinkers! After three weeks of delay we're back on schedule. Tonight we discussed self defense, with a particular focus on the case of Kelly Thomas. What are the bounds of proper self defense? Can you morally defend yourself against actual and/or potential threats? Can you defend yourself against the police? Was Kelly Thomas beaten to death by police brutality, or was it a freak accident brought on by his resisting arrest? What should he and the officers have done differently?
Tonight we had a very special meeting! Bill Nye the Science Guy and Answers in Genesis CEO Ken Ham went head to head to debate the merits of Evolution vs. Creationism, and we got to watch it live via streaming! One might expect a group of secularist students at an engineering school to fall heavily in support of Bill Nye in such a debate...and one would be right! As a group we noted some weakpoints in Bill Nye's presentation, but found his performance overall to be stunning, expecially when contrasted with his competition!
Ask an Atheist Day
Campus Freethinkers set up a table in the Student Center once again, and just in time too! Snowpocalypse 2014 hit the Atlanta area shortly thereafter, shutting down the city for several days.
Tonight we discussed artificial intelligence, with the topic facilitated by one of our officers. We were presented firstly with some of the more recent progress towards achieving artificial intelligence, made more interesting given that some of our members have had experience in this field. We were then posed the long established and long debated moral dilemma. Were we to create an artificially intelligent machine, would it be a person? Would it have rights? A minority of those present made the case that no, they would not be people and no, they would not have rights. Why? Because then we couldn't use them for forced labor. We should draw a sharp line between humans and nonhumans, considering the former people and the latter not. The majority of those present opposed this position, noting that if we can look at one intelligent thing and convince ourselves that it isn't a person, there isn't much stopping us from doing that to other intelligent things, like certain groups of people.
First Meeting of 2014
At this week's meeting, we attempted to demonstrate how totally rational people can make obvious mistakes in logic and judgement. Our brains have a tendency to think too fast or too slow, a fact that we took advantage of. Hopefully, members will be able to use the mistakes they made to adjust their biases in the future and avoid making similar mistakes.
Last Meeting of 2013
Tonight we talked about the holiday season, and all of the issues which arise from this most wonderful (or soul crushing) time of year. Did Europeans have no right to steal Native American land, or were they justified in taking some lands? Do you say Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays? Is Black Friday a celebration of our economy or an unhealthy worship of consumerism? All in all, a great discussion to end the year on.
Tonight we talked about art. What is art? How do we define it, create it, evaluate it? Is Jackson Pollock's work art? What about those sculptures they put up all over campus? After a long discussion, the consensus seemed to be that if you call something art, then it is art. That doesn't mean that its good art, of course.
Campus Freethinkers tried out a game tonight. We call it "Name that Logical Fallacy". We can generally tell when there is something wrong with an argument, but identifying the exact problem can be more difficult. This exercise was intended both to entertain and to practice at picking apart claims to get at the fundamental problems, building, as Carl Sagan put it, an integral part of our bologna detection kit.
This week's meeting was a little different. Instead of discussing a topic by itself, we performed a bit of a thought experiment. Hypothetically, if you could do just one thing - pass one law, make one change, convince the world of one premise - what would that be? We each were given time to ponder this, after which we paired off to discuss our ideas. Each pair then chose the better of their two ideas. We then moved onto groups, and so on, until only three ideas remained standing, the best plans we could come up with to improve the world. These were:
We took each of these ideas, which were fleshed out in more detail than presented above, and ranked them based on the following criteria.
In the end, we decided to terraform Mars. The reason? It's more feasible than convincing every human on Earth to think rationally. Oh, and the originator of this idea received a $10 Amazon gift card, an incentive to come up with good ideas.
This week we discussed Hell Houses, places similar to haunted houses except that they're put on by fundamentalist Christians, and the imagery is of people being tortured in Hell. The issue? Some people bring their children there. Is it right to expose young children to that sort of gratuitous horror? Is it any of our business what the parents do? What responsibilities do parents have with regards to their children, what kinds of ideas and imagery should they expose them to, and what forms of discipline are acceptable for children? We reached a consensus on at least one point: don't kill your children. As for everything else, there was a divergence in viewpoints.
This week we talked about evolution, the discussion being led by a knowledgeable CF member. What, precisely, is it? What is it not? Why do we know that it is true? What are the problems with the arguments against it? For a group of students majoring in everything else but biology, it was an interesting conversation which we rarely get to have.
Our Response to Hate Speech on Campus
It happens every year. Like clockwork, during Pride Week, Georgia Tech is visited by a fervently anti-LGBT group of Christians. They spend the day, or three days, in Georgia Tech's free speech zone shouting hate filled rhetoric, quoting the bible, bashing gays and others, and holding up inflammatory and offensive signs.
What was the response of Campus Freethinkers to this hate filled invasion of our beloved campus? For the first time, we were forced to assemble the Emergency Skeptic Squad [sic], coverge on the scene, and...play Street Preacher Bingo with the people who came by to watch.
Perhaps more impressive than our own response was the rapid and spectacular response of the rest of the Georgia Tech community. It is really amazing to see so many people, straight and gay, Christian and atheist, stand side by side and tell hate mongering crazy people in one voice, "You're hate mongering crazy people. Stop spreading nonsense and start doing something productive."
Did you know that Georgia Institute of Technology has an observatory? Well, it does! The physicist in charge of the observatory agreed to host members of Campus Freethinkers and give us a tour of the heavens. It was a beautiful night with clear skies, about as good as you can get in the middle of Atlanta. Our members got to view a double star system, the Ring Nebula, and the planet Uranus among other objects, with a particularly stunning look at Earth's Moon. An interesting discussion ensued with the professor afterwards. If Earth didn't have a moon as big and beautiful and visible as ours, where would our science be? Would we have advanced as far as we have without the Moon? It has been a valuable research subject, proving many important facts about the universe. It seems we're lucky to have it there.
Freethinkers Movie Night! On Tuesday evening, we met in the usual spot. Instead of having a discussion topic, though, we watched Collision: Christopher Hitchens vs. Douglas Wilson. This film is essentially a compilation of scenes from a series of debates between prominent antitheist Christopher Hitchens and Christian speaker Douglas Wilson, heavily edited and set to background music. The music itself was met with mixed results by those attending. Hearing Christopher speak while backed up by rap music was perceived as entertaining at least, while the use of rock music near the beginning seemed out of place to some. Amongst the strongest criticisms from our members were of Christopher Hitchens, who failed to properly answer his opponent's question of "Where do you get your morality from?". The response from some other of our members? He probably did answer, but the answer was hidden beneath the shoddy editing job. Also, there was Papa Johns pizza!
GT Coming Out Week
On Monday, October 17 Georgia Tech's LGBT groups came together for an event on Skiles Walkway in support of LGBT rights and to support LGBT students in coming out. Also invited to participate were some of Georgia Tech's LGBT friendly student organizations, including Campus Freethinkers. We were more than happy to show our support. Also, in the event that we receive another visit from the anti-LGBT, "God Hates Fags" type street preachers in response to Pride Week, we will be mobililizing the Emergency Skeptic Squad (name pending approval) and playing Street Preacher Bingo with other bystanders. It's almost something to look forward to.
Ask an Atheist Day
On Friday, October 4 Campus Freethinkers tabled Skiles Walkway. From 11am to 2pm, some of our atheist members were available to answer questions and open up conversation with curious passersby. Among the highlights were a forty-five minute conversation with a group of passing Christians and a woman near the end of the day who gave an alternative account of the Exodus and the parting of the Red Sea. It involved volcanoes.
We discussed transhumanism and Google Calico. The former is the philosophy of using science and reason to fundamentally improve the human condition and exceed the existing limitations inherent to being human. The latter is a new company being formed by Google in order to combat aging and related diseases. After a presentation by a CF member, the discussion centered on prospects for human life extension and the consequences of such world altering advances. Will the world become quickly overpopulated? Will humanity stagnate? Interesting questions that led to interesting discussion.
Officer elections were held, and the position has finally been filled! This meeting's topics were "Sovereign Citizens" and the idea that people can "opt out" of government. A presentation by our club president focused on groups of conspiracy theorists with strange ideas (to say the least) about what government is, what government does, and why our names are capitalized on government documents. We came to the conclusion, though not quite unanimously, that these people are probably insane.
Nominations were taken for the recently vacated officer's position! Voting will take place very soon. In addition, we watched an episode of Penn and Teller's "Bull****!". In short, Penn and Teller took prominent religious figures (Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and the Dalai Lama) who are generally revered even amongst secularists and revealed little known but horrible facts about them which portray them as being very far from the moral paragons we commonly view them as. What followed the video was a long and lively discussion amongst CF members about how valid Penn and Teller's criticisms are, how much of their claims are verified, and what this implies for our perceptions of them.
Campus Freethinkers tabled Skiles Walkway! From 11am to 2pm on 13 September, CF members had a table set up with a wonderful sign and stacks of informational items graciously provided by the Secular Student Alliance. We promoted Campus Freethinkers, recruited a few new members, and held fascinating discussions with passersby on everything from secularism to physics to firearms (all interesting subjects, whatever your stance on them).
After being kicked around for a few weeks whenever someone wanted to commandeer our meeting place, we have finally settled comfortably into Mason 3133. This meeting began with a wonderful presentation by a CF member on alternative sexualities (such as polyamory, BDSM, and others) and events and organizations working to promote acceptance for them. The main meeting topic concerned online privacy and related topics, such as the NSA's online surveillance programs. This included another thought provoking and informative presentation, this time by our club president.
Campus Freethinkers members discussed their experiences at both the Secular Student Alliance's annual convention and DragonCon, which has a dedicated skeptic track. Afterwards, those present at the meeting were prodded for feedback and to provide suggestions for what they would like Campus Freethinkers to do more (or less) of this year.
First meeting of the year!
An introduction to Campus Freethinkers was provided for the benefit of new members, after which the discussion was diverted to baby farming. That is, we discussed a situation in which a family conceived a second child in the hope that this child could be a donor to their first child, thus providing a cure to that child's affliction. Needless to say, this discussion got interesting quickly.