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Camp Quest Texas and the Magic of Reality
Wow, what an exciting weekend! This weekend was the Texas Freethought and Atheist Alliance of America Convention in Houston, and Camp Quest Texas hosted a day camp during the conference. Campers got to do exciting things like extract DNA from fruit, discuss philosophy at Socrates’ Café, and go on a scavenger hunt around the convention hotel. It was a great day for having fun and learning, and great for parents who wanted to attend the rest of the conference.
One of the really exciting parts came during the keynote speeches by Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens, while dealing with the effects of cancer and its treatments, came to give a rousing speech and also answered about an hour of questions afterward. One question came from Camp Quester Mason, who told Mr. Hitchens that she was 8 years old and asked for a list of books that he thought she should read. He said if she (and her mom) found him after the Q&A session, he would write out a list for her. Once the questions and standing ovation were over, Mr. Hitchens spent about 15 minutes talking to Mason, recommending good books for her to read. It was a very touching moment for all to see that I’m sure Mason will never forget.
The next morning, Richard Dawkins gave a presentation on his new book, The Magic of Reality. The organizers of the event were gracious enough to reserve the first two rows of seats for Camp Questers and their parents. Along with showing the beautiful illustrations from the book, Dr. Dawkins wanted to show the interactivity of the iPad app (available at the iTunes store), so he invited several of the campers up on stage to play with the interactive experiments on the app in front of the crowd. Several of the campers got to play around to see how natural selection plays a factor in frog characteristics and how Isaac Newton discovered that prisms refract light, not manufacture it.
Once Professor Dawkins’ presentation was done, he took questions from all the campers. The questions were all really great, including “Why aren’t flying dinosaurs considered real dinosaurs?” and “If you could make DNA, what kind would you make?” Camper Logan was even able to stump Professor Dawkins! Logan asked “How did crocodilians survive the ice age?” Professor Dawkins replied, “Well, I don’t know. Do you?” To which Logan said, “No, that’s why I asked you.” This drew a laugh from Professor Dawkins and the crowd, and Professor Dawkins said, “Well, then that is on the list of things I should like to know.” Despite not knowing the answer, it was an excellent teaching moment to show that even the smartest of us don’t know everything, and it is perfectly okay to say that you don’t know something.
Overall, a great weekend was had by all. As always, it is fantastic to see campers growing, learning, and questioning things—and of course, having fun in the process! Many thanks to the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, the Atheist Alliance of America, the Texas Freethought Convention, and the dedicated Camp Quest Texas volunteers for giving these campers an experience that they will never forget.
(Oh, and by the way, if you’re curious as to how crocodilians did survive the ice age, here is a great article in Discover Magazine that will give you the answer.)