Reflections on the Lake of Fire at the End of the World: Eschaton 2012


But I get to go home and see my Mary! HORRAY!

I wrote this sitting on the plane coming back from Eschaton 2012. I’m at Chili’s Grill at the Calgary Airport now, waiting for my connection.S0, some reflections on the event and I’m posting a few pictures from my PowerPoint presentation just for laughs and giggles.

The first job is to thank everyone associated with Eschaton and CFI Ottawa, it was great time, and I met some very interesting and intelligent folk. Particular mention must be made of Marlowe Filippov, Seanna Watson and Evan Frank. Also very grateful to Ania Bula driving me to the airport at 5:45 am.


It was quite an honour to be on the bill as Eugenie Scott and the closet cat-lover PZ Myers. Myers did not attend my presentation, which is just as well, as I made this in his honour:

There were a number of good sessions. Mine was the first of the day and ran at the same time as Eugenie Scott’s so we didn’t get much of an audience. Steven Tomlins spoke right before me on Saturday morning. Steve is  PhD candidate at the U of Ottawa and he did a very good job explaining Religious Studies to the crowd. His own research is on atheist communities and so I feel very well ethnologized. I also owe Steven an apology because I got all muddled and paranoid that my PowerPoint presentation would not work, while another fellow was worried about the projector switching off (we had a hassle getting it to talk to my Mac). He went to adjust the machine while Steven was talking, and I touched the mac to make sure hadn’t died and on went my looping introduction… Very bad form.


Steven and I were also on a panel with an ex-Anglican minister, Eric MacDonald who is now an activist for assisted suicide, and Vickie Garrison, a mother of many who escaped the evangelical Christian “Quiverful” movement and now helps other women do the same. The panel was labeled “Scholarship vs. Faith” but none of us really had a clear idea of what we should be doing. Anyway, Steven and I raised a hackle or two and we had some disagreements with Eric MacDonald and some audience members about what religion really is. Poor Vickie was kind left out of the picture.


I felt kind of bad for Vicky. Here she was, a recovering victim of grotesque patriarchal privilege  and she gets put on a panel with 3 guys who get into an debate about how to conceptualize religion and she really doesn’t have a horse in the race.  Her own presentation about the Quiverful movement and the work she does was fascinating, and it really did open my eyes about how abusive that whole movement is: the wrecked health of these women who have to keep pushing out the babies, the shame if they don’t push out enough babies, (think of the LAUNDRY cause by various pushing outs of babies)! the homeschooling chores, and, of course, the poverty. Vicky left when she realized the effect of this on her kids.

Alas. According to Dawkins’ anthropological studies of religion amount to a catalogue of “human gullibility”. But as I’ve said elsewhere, a history of democracy, advertising, or college students’ mating rituals can do the same.

I’m sorry to have missed Ian Cromwell’s (Crommunist Manifesto) presentation on “Discussing race and racism in the zombie apocalypse” but I did see him on a panel on Godless Ethics and Godless Communities with Chris DiCarlo (, author of How to be a Really Good Pain in the Ass), Udo Schuklenk, and Hank Fox.

As we know, today’s unbelievers would never vilify Muslims and Arabs, or boast of shrugging off old “religious” stereotypes while verbally assaulting and threatening atheist women who call attention to sexism in the atheist community… That was sarcasm…

There was a session on Islam that was pretty good. Anila Ashgar from McGill University surveyed some of her research into teaching Evolution in Muslim communities. I thought this was really interesting. As in Christianity, there is a debate as whether Islam is compatible with Evolution. She showed a list of over sixty institutions in predominantly Muslim countries in which Evolution is taught as the ONLY explanation for speciation, although in very many cases there is also a recognition of Allah’s role in creating the system. In some instances textbooks include Qur’an passages that are interpreted in a way to show that evolution is an Islamic principle. It was a great presentation that really undermined the Western atheist stereotype of Islam as utter opposed to science and education. Heina Badabhoy (one of the Skepchic bloggers) is an ex-Muslin and her story of her leaving the faith and her family’s reactions was fascinating.

The unpleasantness and contradictions found in the Bible’s portrayals of Yahweh reflect one peoples’ handling of the contradictions of life that are still with us. Are we fooling ourselves if we think that the Israelites were utterly unlike us? Moreover, the folks who put the now biblical literature together probably never herded a goat in their lives. They were scribes, the egghead scholars of the day, writing elitist literature for an elitist audience. What Terry Pratchett says of Priests also goes for these Temple Scribes: “Many feel they are called to the priesthood, but what they really hear is an inner voice saying, ‘It’s indoor work with no heavy lifting.’”

I had a nice little chat with Eugenie Scott who is one of the most pleasant people on the planet. Had a little chat with PZ Myers about his coming to Lethbridge. Hopefully schedules etc. will work out. His own keynote address at the Ottawa Museum of Nature (which is a fantastic place) was fun: “Chance in Evolution” and educational.

It was nice to meet Veronica Abbas who blogs at Canadian and to hear about her attempt to get the Scarborough city council to drop its “invitiation” to recite the Lord’s Prayer before meetings.  I also met Dan Mayo, her lawyer, who does that kind of thing. They are seeking an injunction and the decision should be made sometime in January.

I also  met Jack Laughlin from the University of Sudbury, another Religious Studies geek, and we drank way too much at the reception, which we closed down ca. 1:00 AM. We then found a bar, which we closed down about 2 hours later. Basically Jack was haranguing a fellow from Toronto on the nature of religion. I forget this fellow’s name but he was cheery enough.


All in all, it was a great time. Very glad I went.

All the talks I believe will be up on the Internets at some point, I think. “Atheist TV” filmed them all.

4 Responses to “Reflections on the Lake of Fire at the End of the World: Eschaton 2012”

  1. Marlowe Says:

    It was a shame about the panel. I was thinking of perspectives, and the social/intimidation aspect didn’t even occur to me until I saw the four of you up there. I was so glad when Ian Cromwell (whose talk was amazing, by the way!) asked a question specifically geared for her to answer. I got the sense that once she was addressed personally, it brought her out a bit, and she did talk quite a bit after that point (at least as much as she did on her Sunday panel, where the errors of Saturday weren’t present). So that was good.

    But yes, I definitely learned quite a bit. Talk about a crash course – I’d never even attended a conference before. No idea whose right idea it was to give me a whole day’s track!

    I’m really glad you made it and had fun!

  2. Dr. Jim Says:

    No kidding. I’ve been running a student conference for the past 10 years. we have lots of it down to a bit of a routine, but there is new stuff every year.

    I really enjoyed Vicky’s presentation.
    It was a great show you folks put on. I hope you do it again (and I get invited back! its way more fun that boring academic conferences).

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