By SEAN JELINEK.
The atheist community is growing exponentially around the world and nothing shows this more than the huge attendance at the 2012 Global Atheist Convention making it the largest indoor event of its kind ever held.
Compared to the 2010 event, which attracted approximately 2500 people, the 2012 convention saw over 4000 attendees, making it the largest indoor event of its kind on the planet.
The Atheist Foundation of Australia, a group that provides support for atheists and agnostics alike, organized the convention.
Matching The Atheist Foundation of Australia’s ethos of promoting free thought and rationalism, the 2012 Global Atheist Convention was sub headed, ‘A Celebration of Reason.
The event ran for three days in April at the Melbourne Convention Centre in Southbank and featured over thirty speakers from all different backgrounds; scientists, academics, intellectuals, and comedians, each providing entertainment and intellectual stimulation.
Some notable speakers included renowned cosmologist Lawrence Krauss, philosopher extraordinaire A.C. Grayling, evolutionary biologist and notorious atheist Richard Dawkins, comedian and Triple J radio presenter
Tom Ballard and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a former Muslim woman and researcher of the relationship between Islam and the West.
Philosopher and neuroscientist Sam Harris gave a notable presentation, managing at one point to have the 4000 strong atheist crowd closing their eyes and meditating together.
Prominent Islam critic Ayaan Hirsi Ali took to the stage, only to receive a standing ovation from the passionate crowd.
Ali gave a moving presentation on women and Islam, at one point stating, “Muslim women can not go to hell,
because they already live in it”.
Despite the impressive lineup of speakers, there was a noticeable hole left by the recent passing of public intellectual and infamous journalist Christopher Hitchens from esophageal cancer.
This hole was filled by a video tribute to the man, his outstanding wit, brazen attitude, and moral aptitude.
Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss lead the tribute, following the video with their personal reminiscences of Hitchens and the impact he made on them.
The good nature of the event was slightly spoiled when a little piece of Adelaide made its way to Melbourne.
Adelaide’s very own evangelical preachers, Street Church turned up on the Saturday, espousing sentiments such as: “Hell is horrible, no warning is too strong” and picketing outside the venue.
These protests were matched on the Sunday, when a group of Melbourne-based Muslims protested at the event, with signs including: “Ayaan Ali Hirsi, burn in hell forever”.
The convention attendees challenged and mocked them both groups outside the venue.
One gay couple protested the Islamists’ extreme beliefs by romantically embracing in front of them.
Police and security turned up to deal with reports of one of the protestors physically attacking a convention attendee.
Aside from these superficial dramas, the 2012 Global Atheist Convention was a big success and, if the growth in attendance in anything to go by, will only get bigger and better in years to come.