Editor’s Note: This year, Reed Secular Alliance founder and former President, Leslie A. Zukor, had the opportunity to attend the American Humanist Association conference in San Jose, California. It was a great opportunity and her reflections are presented below.
Although I have been to American Humanist Association conferences in the past, each time I attend I have a better experience than the time before. That pattern held true as I attended this year’s AHA conference in San Jose. After going to the Portland convention in 2007, I have been to three out of the past four AHA conferences. From meeting PZ Myers in Phoenix to bracing for Bill Nye’s lecture in San Jose, the AHA’s annual convention has allowed me to connect with the biggest names in secular humanism.
And this year, Bill Nye did not disappoint. Although I had heard him speak before, I loved the experience of getting Nye to interact with an explicitly humanist audience. Both of the times that I’ve seen Nye present, he made it clear that “science [is] the best idea humans have ever had.” In his view, it is the discoveries of science that can give us great insights into man’s place in the cosmos. And it is through employing the scientific method that we can enhance our understanding of even the most mundane of phenomena.
According to Bill Nye, his third grade teacher explained that there were more stars in the sky than grains of sand on the beach. This was remarkable to a young Nye, as he could hardly conceive of that many stars. However, as he got older, he realized that even though we are as insignificant as grains of sand, we are still humans who can understand our role in the cosmos. And that’s what’s so great about science and the scientific method – they are tools people can use to better understand their place in the universe.
In addition to enjoying Nye’s presentation, I was also impressed by the speech of Hemant Mehta. Mehta, known in the blogosphere as The Friendly Atheist, works as a high school Mathematics teacher by day. And in his presentation, he emphasized making math relevant to real-world problems and situations. After all, according to Hemant, it’s not enough to merely plug numbers into equations to arrive at answers. To the contrary, a good teacher needs to make his or her students think beyond formulas.
As someone who is not particularly mathematically inclined, I had always been the student who wanted a quick answer. For me, the goal of math class was to get an “A” – if I were lucky. However, Hemant’s presentation opened my eye to how I was cheating myself as a student who prided herself in critical thinking. Having a greater understanding of mathematics cannot merely be achieved by memorizing formulas and plugging in numbers, but by understanding how math applies to the real world.
In all, I had a great time at the American Humanist Association convention. In addition to meeting Mehta and Nye, I also enjoyed presentations by Tom Krattenmaker on Christianity in sports, Sean Faircloth about secular lobbying, and by Jason Frye on LGBT issues in humanism. I also had the privilege of asking a question on Sunday’s live recording of NPR’s Philosophy Talk, where I inquired about humanistic values and moral relativism. I am eagerly anticipating attending next year’s AHA conference in Boston.