Thursday, March 26, 2009

Duped and Annoyed

I'll be leaving for a three day biology conference in Nebraska early tomorrow morning. If the blog is dead, that's why.

On Monday I agreed to be a part of a panel for a class here titled Communicating Across of those required classes everyone loves to take. All I was told is the class was discussing religious oppression on campus, and that needed a non-theist for a panel to answer questions from the audience. I said sure. I asked for more details about what specific questions were going to be asked, but they never replied. I shrugged it off, thinking it was just short notice, and along with my agnostic friend (who was the one who directed them to me), went to the panel this morning.

Unfortunately, I felt like I'd been duped.

Maybe duped is too harsh of a word. I generally like to give people the benefit of the doubt that they're not being malicious, but either way, I was seriously annoyed. I arrived about ten minutes early and sat waiting with Agnostic Friend until class was going to start, with no real instruction from the professor. She then asked us to sit down with the other of which is a middle aged man. Okay, I think, maybe he's in charge of some diversity program.

She introduces us to the class, and says that we're going to take about 5 to 7 minutes to explain why we believe what we believe, and then we'll open it up for questions. Agnostic Friend and I exchange looks of "Eep, wish she would have warned us about that." Unfortunately for him (and thankfully for me), she asked him to start first. He talked for about 2 minutes, basically just briefly defining what it meant to be an agnostic. It was then my turn, and I probably stammered on about atheism for about 3 or 4 minutes. It's hard enough listing all the reasons why you're an atheist in less then five minutes when it's taken you a decade to figure out, but I tried my best. I thought I did a pretty good job for having absolutely no notice about the question.

That is, until the next person spoke. The older guy wasn't just some diversity person...he was a professor and doctor at our student health center. And not only was he presenting the Christian view point, but he had a typed up perfectly organized speech, full of all the usual horrible arguments for God and Christianity (which I will talk about after the biology conference). On top of all that, he's beautifully eloquent, charismatic, and filling his introduction with personal, emotional, funny stories. I know they're horrible arguments, but that they're going to sound amazing to the audience, especially after my improvized talk. To make matters worse, the fourth panelist was a graduate and former head of the Muslim Student Association...and had an actual Powerpoint presentation that he had obviously given many times before.

You can understand why I'm pretty annoyed. The two non-theist junior undergraduates are sitting up there, not even notified what the main question (or even PURPOSE) of the presentation is, while two eloquent, older, and more prepared theists make us look like unprepared fools. It was honestly embarassing...not because I'm not able to make good presentations or arguments (because I can *grumble*), but because I had absolutely no warning while they obviously did. Not only am I personally embarassed, but I regret losing this opportunity to present atheism to a large group of students who 1. probably never encountered it and 2. now won't ever want to encounter it again.

Of course, even if I was prepared, would it really have been fair facing me off against Mr. Professor Doctor "I've Traveled the world and dined with Kings" Former Atheist Saw the Light Jesus Cures What Even Medicine Can't? I'm fairly certain even the brightest 21 year olds with the best arguments will look foolish when debating a charismatic "adult" with horrendous arguments.

The cherry on top was that because the format was Q&A, I never got a chance to refute any of the garbage the Christian and Muslim were saying. I guess that gives me some blogging material for after my trip.


  1. Yeah, you got done over.

    It sucks, but I bet the next time won't be the same.

    There'll be a next time, right?

  2. Sounds like it's time to print about 50 flyers and hang them up explaining how you were blindsided and maybe better detailing your position. Obviously they were afraid of what you might say had you been prepared. They should be worried, nonbelievers are on the rise!

  3. Agnosticism (is there such a word - I mean: "ok, so what if there are lots of gods, what have have they ever done to deserve worship?"), sorry,
    agnosticism and/or atheism are very akin to freedom. You cannot free a slave who is frightened of responsibility. Young women, dumped by boyfriends and terrified of being alone embrace a religion as a surrogate. Men, unable to cope with independent girlfriends, embrace a religion which demands obedience from their wives, etc. ad nauseum. Some "true believers" were brought up to it and are now incapable of freedom - much as Elizabeth Barrett-Browning, after years of lying on a sofa, found it difficult to walk.
    My point - it is unlikely that you would have made a difference to "believers" and the rest felt with you!

  4. Don't let this go.

    Contact your university's student ombuds and ask for advice on how to handle it.

    If that happened to me, I'd email the professor who organized the thing, explain that you were obviously set up to fail, and ask them how they plan on rectifying the problem. Depending on the response, I'd carry the conversation on up the professor's chain of command (department head, dean, etc).

    I'd also write an op-ed for the student newspaper while I was doing that. Explain the set up, and the general (and obvious) unfairness of pitting two non-believing students against two pro theists. Either they did that because they hate nontheists, or they did that because it honestly didn't occur to them to ask any biology professor to do the job. Neither looks good on them.

    I'd make a lot of frickin' noise about this.

  5. If this happens again to anyone, I would strongly suggest giving the following statement:

    "I was told this event was to be x, I prepared for x and only for x, therefore I am not in any way prepared for anything else."

    Done. Puts it right on the table, and if you do end up proceeding, at least you've warned everyone you aren't entirely up to speed- through no fault of your own.

  6. That's not that bad, in fact.

    A few weeks ago, our atheist club was contacted by the Christian faculty forum about giving a talk comparing the Christian and humanist morals.

    It was to be presented as a talk, because both parties agreed how 'debate' sounded too antagonistic.
    Officially, the idea was to present both moral systems and show how they are not so different finally.

    Of course, it was nothing but a trap and the Christian dude spend two hours saying as to how we were nothing but moral relativists (even after the atheist speaker said at least three time that it was not the case) and how we were so much likely to steal; rape; do drug; consume pornography and have abortions.
    I was furious, especially as how there was little time for questions, I could only ask one (that he never really answered).

  7. In addition to not giving you adequate information about what you were expected to do, and putting you up against a doctor, they also put you up first so that you couldn't make your impromptu speech address some of the points of the speakers who were actually given time to prepare, keeping you further in the dark due to presentation order? It seems like the perfect storm of attempting to handicap you, and I can't really imagine how it could have happened by accident...

  8. Seems to me that the theists are afraid of giving equal time for the rational thinking that we Agnostic/Atheists are capable of doing. If they are able to resort to such infantile forms of withholding information as to the nature of the forum then this only supports the fallacy notion of their theological claims. You have no need to feel bad about not being prepared for such an obvious show. I would however look at this as an learning opportunity to have "canned answers" like wishful non-thinking theists do.

  9. Definitely unsportsmanlike conduct on their behalf.

  10. I strongly urge you to *start* by contacting the professor's department chair and dean to formally complain about the way you were treated. Setting you up for some kind of debate-like format against a professor, when you agreed to nothing more than to answer a few questions, seems nothing short of abusive.

  11. I appreciate TFarrell's instinct, but don't complain. Seriously. If you complain, then you really *will* have cause for embarrassment. It will look like you can't take the hit and have to complain to daddy.

    You've got nothing to feel bad about here. I say this as someone closer to one of those professor types. Your fellow students would probably know the situation better than you think, and they knew they would have been less prepared than you. You were understood as the underdog going in, and my guess is that there were those in the audience who wondered why they stacked the deck against you so badly.

    The good news is that next time, you'll be readier for whatever they may throw at you. Time and logic are on your side. Give 'em hell.

  12. What an underhanded thing to do. I also would like to see you pursue this up the chain of command, or whatever avenue is available to you.

  13. It sounds like the professor who ran the class was covertly promoting religion. S/he pitted two theistic professors against two non-theistic students (no disrespect intended), and gave the non-theists inadequate information. You were clearly a token atheist used to mask the theistic intent of the class. I strongly urge you to take this up with your Dean. BTW, I am a professor and Undergrad Director, and I would not allow a class like that to take place.