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Atheists, agnostics gather for convention in Springfield MO

November 20, 2010|by Mike Landis, KY3 News | mlandis@ky3.com

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Thousands from across the country are in the city to talk about religion. But it’s their take on faith, or lack thereof, which makes this a gathering like no other in the Ozarks.

Skepticon, now in its third year, has grown to become one of the biggest gatherings of atheists and agnostics in America.  Organizers project this weekend’s attendance may push it to become the nation’s largest; 1,600 attendees were registered by Saturday afternoon.

Some are surprised to see such an event in a city dubbed by many as the "buckle of the Bible Belt."  Organizers say that status is exactly why they chose Springfield for the event.

 “If there is a region of the country that needs vocal skepticism, I’d say this is the one.  I don't think the goal so much is to convert people to atheism so much as it is to convince people to be reasonable,” said JT  Eberhard, organizer of Skepticon.

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Leading atheists, agnostics, and skeptics shared why they lost their religion, or never found it up to begin with.

“This event is one amazing evidence among many evidences there is a big change in this country.  This generation of young people is the least religious ever,” said Dan Barker. 

The former Assemblies of God minister is now a leading expert in the atheism movement.

“The motivation that drove me into the pulpit was to know the truth and speak the truth.  The same motivation drew me out,” Barker said about his journey away from his Christian beliefs.

A recent study suggests the number of atheists is on the rise.  The research by Trinity College revealed a 50-percent increase between 1990 and 2008 of people claiming to have no religion.

Not everybody at this Skepticon was faith-less.  Dan Parris was one of a few Christians to attend the event.

“They assume I am an atheist and say stuff that I obviously can’t smile with.  And it makes me clarify that I am a Christian,” Parris said about his dialogues with other attendees.

In an ironic twist, Parris said he actually came to Skepticon hoping to strengthen his faith.

“I believe that, if Christianity is true, it can stand up to any question and it can be defended. And I don’t have to be afraid of their questions.  By understanding what their issues are, and understanding their arguments, I [decided I] need to go back and study it," he said.

Skepticon continues through Sunday morning at the Springfield Exposition Center on E. St. Louis Street.
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