The Council for Secular Humanism, publisher of Free Inquiry magazine, celebrated its thirtieth anniversary at a sold-out gala conference at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel Los Angeles. Some 370 people packed the grand hotel's ornate meeting rooms on October 7 - 10 to hear presentations by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Lawrence Krauss, Robert Wright, Eugenie Scott, Paul Kurtz, the Amazing Randi, PZ Myers, Barry Lynn, Jennifer Michael Hecht, and many others. You can view streaming video of selected conference sessions.
Attendees packed the historic Biltmore Hotel's lavish Gold Room.
At the conference banquet on October 8, the Council for Secular Humanism bestowed the first and only Robert Craggs Prize upon biologist and bestselling author Richard Dawkins, recognizing him as the individual who did the most to further the cause of rationalist thought during the year 2009. Dr. Dawkins arrived moments after taping an episode of HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher to accept a check in the amount of $45,225.09 payable to the Richard Dawkins Foundation (US). This extraordinary, onetime prize was funded through the legacy of Canadian freethinker Robert Craggs, who directed the Council to disburse its share of his legacy in that manner. and recognized the work of Dr. Dawkins and his foundations in America and the United Kingdom. Dr. Dawkins then made remarks on the distinction between ridicule (which he celebrates) and abuse (which he abhors) in the criticism of religion.
Richard Dawkins holds up the giant check (in both senses of the word) awarded to his foundation by the Council for Secular Humanism. Free Inquiry editor Tom Flynn (left) and Council for Secular Humanism CEO Ronald A. Lindsay look on.
Also at the Banquet, the Council bestowed its prestigious Forkosch Awards for the years 2008 and 2009. Established in 1988, the Morris D. Forkosch Award recognizes the best humanist book of the year, and carries an honorarium of $1000. The Selma V. Forkosch award recognizes the year's outstanding article in Free Inquiry magazine and carries an honorarium of $250. The Forkosch Award for Best Book of 2008 went to Susan Jacoby for The Age of American Unreason (Pantheon). The Forkosch Award for Best Article of 2008 went to Larry Hickman for "Citizen Participation: More or Less?" in the October-November 2008 Free Inquiry.
The Forkosch Award for Best Book of 2009 went to Jerry Coyne for Why Evolution Is True (Viking Adult). The Forkosch Award for Best Article of 2009 went to Alexander Saxton for "The Great God Debate and the Future of Faith" in the December 2008-January 2009 Free Inquiry.
Authors Robert Wright (left) and Sam Harris listened to audience questions following their keynote dialogue.
Other conference highlights included a freewheeling debate on the proper relation between science and religion featuring evolution campaigner Eugenie Scott, author Chris Mooney, physicist Victor Stenger and superstar science blogger PZ Myers, a critique of the Templeton Foundation by physicist and bestselling author Lawrence Krauss; and a keynote dialogue between authors Sam Harris and Robert Wright. Harris (The End of Faith, The Moral Landscape) arrived under tight security including an LAPD presence and private bodyguards for what swiftly became a debate with Wright (The Moral Animal, The Evolution of God) on links between Islam and terrorism.
Jennifer Michael Hecht chaired an eagerly-awaited session on science and religion featuring (left to right) Chris Mooney, P. Z. Myers, Eugenie Scott, and Victor Stenger.