The drive from Cleveland to Columbus was punctuated frequently by heavy rains, which made the trip something less than enjoyable, though the 120 miles passed without incident.  Approaching the Wexner Center, there was a considerable queue of people in front of the building, waiting for the doors to open (it was over an hour to show time).  I secured my car in a nearby garage and joined the line, and we chatted a bit before 6 PM arrived and we were admitted to the auditorium.  I quickly learned that my sojourn was one of the shorter ones among the attendees.  A mustachioed gentleman who had stood behind me had seen this same program in Chicago.  Two young men who sat to my left had come from Iowa, and the woman and her party to my right had flown in from Dallas!  There could be no doubt that the magnetic pull of the two men who were the foci of the evening had a very long reach indeed.

Finally it was 7 o’clock and the leader of the local Students Secular Alliance stepped to the podium to introduce The Unbelievers.  For those of us who have gotten to know Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss through YouTube and other presentations, this film is really nothing new, though there were moments which interested and sometimes fascinated me.  Krauss walking to a lecture he was to give to a mostly Muslim group and seeing a clutch of them on the lawn, bending toward Mecca in prayer (“Hmm, that may be my audience!”), Dawkins’ astonished reaction to Cardinal Pell’s assertion that Homo sapiens likely descended from Neanderthals on the television program, Q&A, Krauss’ effusive statement to a radio interviewer that “No one should be intimidated by science!”, a quiet scene in a hotel room where Dawkins is participating in a phone interview, mostly silent, then punctuated by statements like: “That’s the most horrible idea I’ve ever heard!”, these were snippets, fragments of the quest taken on by two very brave and ambitious men.

The high point of the film for me was less the Reason Rally, which still stood a close second, than it was the Global Atheist Convention, a “Celebration of Reason” held in Melbourne, Australia, two years ago this month.  The hall was enormous, as were the crowds attending, and the featured guests no less so, from Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett and Ayaan Hirsi Ali to our friends, Lawrence and Richard.  To hear each of them speak, put their ideas in the atmosphere and to feel those in attendance respond, both on the screen and in the hall, there could be no doubt but that We HAVE Something here, something essential, powerful, and important.  It’s not very often that this old curmudgeon can say he was moved by something, but in that place and at that time, I was.

Credits roll, Cameron Diaz, Woody Allen, Bill Pullman and Tim Minchen among others give their own take on what atheism means to them, the lights in the theater come up and There They Are

Immediate, instantaneous standing ovation, accompanied by applause and cheers which should have shook the building.  This is the real treat, to see these men we so admire, to talk to them and listen to their answers in a spontaneous environment.  A teenage girl from southeast Ohio asks about how to deal with her largely theistic companions.  “Start conversations,” offers Krauss.  A high school biology teacher faces students who want to talk about Answers in Genesis rather than evolution.  “Cut them off,” Dawkins asserts, “They’re wasting your time and that of the rest of the class,” with an addenda from Lawrence that we need to teach science more as a PROCESS than just FACTS.  A young woman asks how to deal with depression in the face of the insignificance we represent by comparison with the whole of creation.  Krauss initially demurs at the question (“I don’t wanna sound like Dr. Phil!”), but suggests that embracing our own lives and creating our own purpose can be a counteragent to that depression, though clinical depression wants the attention of a specialist.

The last question was good, the last answer even better.  A gentleman talked about the future, the possibility of a coming “singularity,” Artificial Intelligence and machines that may be come conscious and evolve past man, and asked Dr. Dawkins for his impressions.  Richard acknowledged the possibility of such a development, though he doubts the likelihood of the “singularity” and noted that with current technology, duplicating the human brain, which requires a mere 10 watts to operate, would entail a system which would consume 10 terawatts!  Still, one day it might happen, Richard mused, and it may be that humankind would be overrun.  And then, perhaps a few thousands of years from now, some cyber-creatures in exploring their history would stumble onto records of a race of odd, “wet” beings who came before them, who supposedly designed and built the precursors which gave rise to them, to which they respond with disgust and dismay:

I didn’t come from THAT!!!

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Comment by Steph S. on April 11, 2014 at 9:14pm

Enjoyed reading about your experience - how wonderful you got to attend.

Comment by Loren Miller on April 8, 2014 at 3:01pm

I guess I reserve my blog at least mostly for personal experiences, observations, and issues which don't easily categorize elsewhere.  I have no doubt that someone who surveys my blog will find frequent and obvious exceptions to this "rule," to which my answer is: "So?"

I just wish my somnambulant muse would show up more often and give me a reason to blog.  This one and the one following were pretty much necessary, considering the evening I had yesterday!

Comment by Pat on April 8, 2014 at 3:00pm

All I can is - I'M JEALOUS! Seriously, I'm glad it exceeded your expectations. Just wish I could've been there.

Comment by Joan Denoo on April 8, 2014 at 2:56pm

A new question? What is the advantage of a blog, how is it different than the groups I have been using? What are the pros and cons of using a blog. I discovered Daniel's by accident and have been missing out on a treasure for years. His blogs are delightful. 

Comment by Joan Denoo on April 8, 2014 at 2:19pm

Loren, when I link your pieces to Twitter by clicking on that link at the bottom of your comment or discussion, the whole string becomes exposed. Anyone who makes a comment will be read by anyone who opens the link. That is what I am trying to avoid. 

Oh! I do hope I am not the one who exposed you because I have been using your comments with your permission, I think for several years, certainly for many months. 

Comment by Luara on April 8, 2014 at 2:19pm

do we now have the tools to say with certainty that something can come from nothing

In loop quantum gravity (which is not a finished theory) spacetime near the Big Bang is 4 spatial dimensions, instead of 3 dimensions of space and one time dimension.

So there isn't any "before", near the Big Bang.  "Something coming from nothing" suggests that "nothing" is before "something".  But the concept of "before" loses its meaning, near the Big Bang. 

Comment by Loren Miller on April 8, 2014 at 2:17pm

For everything I can tell, "something from nothing" is sure a settled question to Krauss and his fellows.  The problem is, as he noted himself during the Q&A, is that it is about a light-year from being INTUITIVE, and herein lies the problem.  There is LOTS that is non-intuitive about quantum physics, and as a result, we have to fight our "common sense" to grasp and understand these concepts.

In the final analysis, something may be intuitive or not, but if that's how it works, then That's How It Works ... and desires to the contrary will be about as effective as the proverbial screen door in a submarine.  Reality is what it is, regardless of what someone WANTS it to be.

Comment by Future on April 8, 2014 at 2:17pm
We do have the evidence that something can indeed come from nothing. Unfortunately, it's a very meager form of proof in that the tiny mass blinks into and out of existence over milliseconds of time. But it does happen, and according to Krauss it happens all of the time, not just under circumstances we create artificially.
Comment by Joan Denoo on April 8, 2014 at 2:09pm

Let me get some clarity here. Cavepeople had their senses to help them explain their experiences. Along came some Arabs and Egyptians who explained their sense of cosmology. Later Copernicus, Bruno, Galileo explained existence from a different perspective and were thrown in jail, put under house arrest and burned at the stake for heresy. Later Newton produced ideas called "Newton's Laws". Telescopes and technology empowered the likes of Halley, Hubble, and then Einstein and his theory of relativity, followed by Sagan, then the young whippersnappers we have today, i.e. Tyson, Cox, Greene and Krauss.

Now, we are getting into quantum mechanics. The old laws of nature don't apply to quantum theory. That is the great frustration I hear from Krauss and the other cosmologists I have been reading. Their theories sound as crazy as something from nothing and yet we know their experiments and the Hadron Collider are proving their theories.

My question is, with quantum theories, do we now have the tools to say with certainty that something can come from nothing ... time to get over the doubts and think in terms of these new ideas?

I know religion can be tossed in the trash can by me. It is the fence sitters who struggle with the question, "Is there a god?" To me, that is a settled question. Can I/we think something from nothing is a settled question, yet?

Another question. I experience a sense of awe when I watch any of these men and women give lectures about the discoveries of the microscope and telescope. The Hubble Telescope and The Hadron Collider put me into a sort of out of body/mind experience. I can't imagine what they show and I think they provide answers to questions we could not answer before.  

Thus, my question, how do we incorporate a sense of awe and wonder without sounding like raving fundamentalist religious?  

Comment by Loren Miller on April 8, 2014 at 1:59pm

Joan, it's pretty obvious that trying to sum up my post in 140 characters is a fool's errand, and the last thing I would want to do is expose someone without their permission.  As you'll recall, that self-same thing happened to me not that long ago, and while I am openly an atheist, I was none too happy about being outed without so much as a by-your-leave.

That said, if you wish to post links to my pieces on Twitter or other media, I have no problem with that, as you well know.  As for the other participants, I will not presume speak for them.



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