Wanted: Suggestions for a conference talk topic

I have been invited by to speak at third annual Pennsylvania State Atheist/Humanist Convention to be held in Pittsburgh on August 29-31, 2014 and have accepted. The invitation is quite flexible. The conference has no theme as such and they are giving me the freedom to pitch my own topic, although suggesting that one based on an earlier talk based on my series Why Atheism is Winning may be suitable.

I have given that talk before but it was three years ago and I think that the novelty has gone since the evidence that atheism is winning is now increasingly clear.

So I want to ask readers of this blog what kind of talk they might like to hear from me, if they had the opportunity. I like talks to have some educational component to them. Given the venue and audience, it should involve some aspect of atheism and skepticism of course, so a talk that is purely about science such as on the Higgs mechanism may be out. A talk dealing with the Age of the Earth may work. I could also do one on The Logic of Science.

I have been thinking that the evolving legal situation with all recent court cases involving the Establishment Clause, Free Exercise Clause, and RFRA may be topical and new enough to people. Since I am not a lawyer, I will have to check if they have a lawyer who is more competent to speak on this as one of their roster of speakers.

What do you think?

I am not part of the atheist/humanist conference circuit so this will be an opportunity to meet some people whom I know just by name.

Thanks in advance for any suggestions.


  1. Alex says

    You’re a physicist, so how about something along those lines: an introductory bit about quantum woo for example,
    and then a segue to a more general discussion how some attempt to justify religious claims by abusing science or using fake science etc, and how to tell the difference

  2. mck9 says

    How about the fine-tuning argument? It’s one of the few arguments for the existence of God that wasn’t refuted a thousand years ago.

    I know it has already been addressed by Victor Stenger among others, but it might be useful to have another physicist’s take on it.

  3. wtfwhateverd00d says

    Given it’s recency and it’s name or misnomer as the god particle, I’d love to hear a physicist lay out what the Higgs boson does and where particle physics goes from here.

    But you also might speak to personal experience: what it’s like moderating a blog during the time of the great schism.

    Or discuss the critical importance of freedom of expression and listening to others to skepticism and to widespread adoption of atheism.

  4. invivoMark says

    You could really piss off a couple of your readers and talk about Israel or men’s rights. 🙂

  5. Some Old Programmer says

    I’d like to hear about the evidence supporting evolution in non-biological disciplines. Creationists commonly seem to think that they can carve out the foundation of modern biology and stuff in their own “goddunit” like a Leggo brick. But I don’t think it’s widely appreciated how much physics (e.g.) and other disciplines are relied upon. I am not a physicist, but I have the impression that physics would have to change radically if radiometric dating methods (for instance) are wildly off.

  6. hyphenman says

    Good morning Mano,

    Perhaps you can find some inspiration from this letter-to-the-editor in my hometown newspaper this morning.

    The Atheist movement is now complaining about Christmas carols being sung by our children in schools across the country. Why in Heaven’s name are we letting these people infiltrate our Christian belief? Don’t we have the right to our beliefs, just as they do? Seems as our elected officials go along with them, and has removed God from all of our schools, and numerous other things. You know, just recently they complained about a portrait of Christ being displayed in a local school. Yes, the school officials got scared and removed it. What a shame. Of course if they hadn’t removed it, our judge’s, and our elected law enforcement would no doubt have brought legal action against them. I ask, what harm do we do in excepting Christ into our lives, schools, and communities? What harm do we do to these Atheist’s who keep complaining about anything connected to God? What are they trying to accomplish? You know, I sometimes wonder down the road what this country will come to be!

    Robert D. Carnes


    Do all you can to make today a good day,


  7. Reginald Selkirk says

    I suggest you find some topic that incorporates your own experience. If you give a generic talk on separation of church and state for example, my reaction would be “anyone could have given that talk.”

    Likewise with books. One of my favourite recent books on evolution is Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin. have you read it? I recommend it highly. Instead of reciting the usual list of evidences for evolution which we have read in all the other books, he draws from his own experience in 1) finding and characterizing ancient tetrapod fossils (he’s one of the Tiktaalik guys) and 2) teaching human anatomy. It’s a book no one else could have written.

  8. Mano Singham says


    Shubin’s book is excellent and I take your point about the personal adding a valuable element to the talk.

  9. Mano Singham says

    @some Old Programmer,

    Actually, the logic of science topic deals with precisely that. All scientific theories are interconnected and you cannot just will-nilly change one to suit your purposes and go on your merry way. Changing radiometric dating sets in motion a whole sequence of effects that have to be addressed but that creationists don’t do.

  10. readysf says

    How about practical tips for how to come out as an atheist? I don’t think many people actually believe the mumbo jumbo, but it is hard to go against the tide….

    It is empowering to be rational, and humiliating and subjugating to be taught that challenging blind belief is somehow not “normal”…which it isn’t since it is still against the norm.

    So, how does one play a part in changing the norm? How did you deal with all the “coming out” issues? What prescriptions can you share?

    We may not be professional scientists, but we all seek freedom from belief imposed explicitly or implicitly, and the right to use our senses and our brains without being indoctrinated…

  11. Mano Singham says


    This is a great topic but one for which I have little expertise. It is better dealt by people who have either had a difficult transition themselves or helped others through them, neither of which applies to me

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