Wednesday 17 February 2010

Who's Who at the GAC: The Big Names

It's now less than a month to go before the Global Atheist Convention, and I thought it might be useful to go through the list of speakers and give a bit of a rundown on who's who before we all get there.

There's a good mix of presenters and it looks like it's going to be an amazing weekend (Randi not included), but looking through the list of guests, there are plenty of big names that everyone knows, as well as quite a few lesser known players.

I'm going to see how far through the list I can get at a comfortable pace, providing background info and links to interesting media etc for each of the speakers. My hope is that, by the time the GAC comes around, it may be a bit of a resource for those who want to know a bit more about the people they've paid to see.

For this first post, I'm going to breeze through the big names. These are the people that were probably the draw-cards for most of the attendees.

Richard Dawkins

I'm pretty sure that anyone reading this already has a pretty good idea who  Dicky-D is. With an early career with a strong foot in Biology, Dawkins started to gain public attention with his book The Selfish Gene. Since then, he has written no less than nine books, with a general progression from hard science (The Extended Phenotype, The Blind Watchmaker), through books combining detailed and complex scientific notions with an almost poetic style, by which the most complicated of theories can fairly easily be understood by the lay-audience (Climbing Mount Improbable, Unweaving the Rainbow), to his more recent books, which focus on evolutionary theory and those who are working against evolutionary theory and science in general; most notably fundamentalist religious adherents (The God Delusion, The Greatest Show on Earth). 

Dawkins' website,, is pretty much essential reading for 'the atheist in the know'. With one of the best 'scientific atheism' forums around, as well as regular updates on what Dawkins is up to, and a news feed that seems to pretty much capture all of the most essential atheistic items across the world. If you haven't been, go and check it out. You'll find yourself with hours upon hours of articles, videos, interviews, news and much much more.

Recently, Dawkins has been producing a steady stream of documentaries (well, he's actually been doing it for quite some time, but he's been doing it much more lately), most notably the Four Horesmen round table discussion with fellow 'New Atheists' Sam harris, Christopher Hitchens and Dan Dennett; The Root of all Evil in which Dawkins takes on religious fundamentalism, The Enemies of Reason where Dawkins dives into the world of alternative medicine, psychics and psuedoscience in general; and The Genius of Charles Darwin which is Dawkins' homage to Darwin and his world changing theory of evolution.

Find out more about Richard Dawkins at

PZ Myers
Again, I'd be surprised if people reading this haven't heard of PZ Myers, but just in case...

Paul Zachary Myers is another biologist, who specialised in Evolutionary Development (Evo Devo). He is the author of one of the most popular science blogs (that was carefully worded so as not to upset Phil Plait). His blog is Pharyngula (pronounced: far-eng you-lah), on which he mixes peer reviewed science blogging with his own blend of humorous, caustic, informative and irreverent musings.

PZ is known to be able to crash any online poll by directing his blog readers (pharyngulites) there. One of my favourite PZ moments, was crackergate (see link for a detailed rundown of the full crackergate events), where PZ, in reaction to a story of catholic craziness vowed to abuse eucharist crackers to demonstrate the silliness of believing that a palestinian zombie can manifest in a small piece of bread and be eaten by followers as form of cannibalistic worship.  Lots of religious people reacted with pronounced zeal, and it all ended up rather messy, literally.

To find out more about PZ, visit his blog, Pharyngula at:

Peter Singer
Peter Singer is an Australian ethicist and applied philisophy professor. Well known for his book Animal Liberation, as well as the often controversial nature of his work and public appearances.

Singer is a proponent of a utilitarian system of ethics and approaches difficult ethical situations with an objective, rational and careful style, making his positions sometimes uncomfortable or confronting, but very difficult to flaw.

On a personal note, Singer has had quite a profound influence on my life. I received a copy of 'The Ethics of What we Eat' for Newtonmas in 2008 and adopted a Vegan lifestyle in mid January as a result. Since then I have continued to have a strong interest in secular systems of ethics, a subject of continuing interest for me.

You can find out more about Peter Singer by following the various links from his wikipedia page:, or checking out his homepage on the Princeton University site. (due to the diverse nature of his work, I find that the wikipedia links lead you to a greater range of his works, from early essays to a video of him cooking Dhal!

Originally posted by Critical Mass

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