2011

 

What Secular Humanism Lacks

November 2011

I’m a secular humanist who has doubted the claims of religion for many years. Still, I’m glad I was married in the Lady Chapel of St. Patrick’s Cathedral instead of the dungeon-like gloom of the Municipal Building. I am thrilled by Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus”, despite its religiosity, and “Silent Night” and “Ave Maria” at times have moved me to tears. Although I have not uttered a prayer in decades, I am awed by the kaleidoscopic colors of stained-glass windows and the soaring eloquence of Gothic cathedrals.

Religion is wrong about many things, including creation myths and evils such as the Inquisition and deadly suicide bombings. But for countless millennia, religion has gotten some things right: its rituals and ceremonies lend significance to important events, such as birth, coming of age, marriage, and death; and the art it inspires often moves us deeply.

Those are some of the reasons religion has been around since our ancestors began walking upright, and why it likely will remain until the end of time. For while secularism is right about many things, its emphasis on rationalism and science, carried to an extreme, results in a cold, lifeless creed that ignores our strongest emotional needs.

Humanism is meant to address that problem, but does it really? A current organizing brochure of the American Humanist Association defines humanism as “a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.”

These are noble ideals, but some important things are missing from this definition of humanism. How about wonder, joy, friendship, and love? Those things, along with the pursuit of humanistic goals, are hallmarks of a life well lived.

I experienced a wonderful feeling of liberation; it’s true, when I threw off the shackles of religion. But I can’t say my atheism ever inspired me or filled me with a sense of transcendence. Yet I experience such things. Away from the city’s glaring lights, the starry nighttime sky can leave me speechless with wonder and awe. A Beethoven symphony or a soprano’s aria may make me shiver with esthetic pleasure. And the love I share with my wife and daughter is a gift I treasure above all else in life.

Secular humanism, I submit, will never succeed as an alternative to religion until it balances its emphasis on rationalism and altruism with ceremonies and ideas that celebrate humanity’s deepest positive emotions, such as wonder and awe, esthetic pleasure, friendship, and love.

–Walter Balcerak
November
PIQUE

Web Site of the Month

Humanists of Utah

Member Recommended Web Sites

Jen Hancock – Humanist

Flo Wineriter suggests this site which claims that “Being a good person can make you happier.”

Jen Hancock – Humanist


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Web Site of the Month

Humanists of Utah

Member Recommended Web Sites

November 2011

I’m Daniel Florien. I was an evangelical Christian for over a decade…I was wrong. My website is Unreasonable Faith.

Unreasonable Faith


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Web Site of the Month

Humanists of Utah

Member Recommended Web Sites

May 2011

New Humanist is the London based magazine of the Rationalist Association, promoting reason, debate and free thought since 1885. On this website you can find archives going back more than a decade, a blog, and more.

New Humanist


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Web Site of the Month

Humanists of Utah

Member Recommended Web Sites

March 2011

Chapter member Lisa Miller suggests the KickStarter website as a place to spend some cyber-time.

It provides a way for people to get funding for various creative projects. I think it is a fun way to be part of things and help make them happen. Issues that are really interesting to you.

KickStarter


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Web Site of the Month

Humanists of Utah

Member Recommended Web Sites

Elaine Ball’s Blog Spot

Elaine Ball, whose winning entry in this year’s Marion Craig Essay Contest maintains a lively blog.

She describes herself as a “dreamer, a teacher, and a student.” Drop by to see her thoughts and post your comments.

Elaine Ball Blog Spot


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Web Site of the Month

Humanists of Utah

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Mythbusters – January 2011

Mythbusters.com is the official site of the popular TV show where you can find many popular myths “busted” in plenty of different topic areas. Whether you’re interested in credit or fitness, digital photography or the West Nile Virus, or cars or skin cancer–this is the right place.

Mythbusters


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Web Site of the Month

Humanists of Utah

Member Recommended Web Sites

Edge

Chapter member Flo Wineriter suggests the Edge website as a place to spend some cyber-time.

To arrive at the edge of the world’s knowledge, seek out the most complex and sophisticated minds, put them in a room together, and have them ask each other the questions they are asking themselves.

Edge


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Web Site of the Month

Humanists of Utah

Member Recommended Web Sites

The Richard Dawkins Foundation

“A clear thinking oasis.” — New we say anthing more?

The Richard Dawkins Foundation


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Web Site of the Month

Humanists of Utah

Member Recommended Web Sites

April 2011

This month’s featured website is Greta Christina’s Blog. It is all about sex, atheism, dreams, and whatever. Thinking outloud since 2005.

Greta Christina’s Blog


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We Are the Lucky Ones

August 2011

(Excerpted from Chapter 1 of Unweaving the Rainbow by Richard Dawkins)

We are going to die and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they’re never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.

This is another respect in which we are lucky. The universe is older than a hundred million centuries. Within a comparable time, the sun will swell to a red giant and engulf the earth. Every century of hundreds of millions has been in its time, or will be when its time comes, “the present century.”

How it feels to me, and I guess to you as well, is that the present moves from the past to the future like a tiny spotlight, inching its way along a gigantic ruler of time. Everything behind the spotlight is in darkness, the darkness of the dead past. Everything ahead of the spotlight is in the darkness of the unknown future. The odds of your century being the one in the spotlight are the same as the odds that a penny, tossed down at random, will land on a particular ant crawling somewhere on the road from New York to San Francisco.

In other words, it is overwhelmingly probable that you are dead.

–PIQUE, June 2011

It Really is a Small World!

November 2011

Sometimes seemingly unrelated events come together pleasantly in intriguing and sometimes surprising ways. I recently finished reading the book The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt. It is about a Roman poem (On the Nature of Things) written by Lucretius based on the Greek Philosopher Epicurus who had the notion that everything consisted of minute particles called atoms and that the way to happiness lay in finding pleasure. We are all made of atoms just like everything else is and we will be reduced to the same by death and the atoms will be reused. The Lucretius poem was much reviled during the dark ages but copied by some monks in your odd abbey here and there across Europe. Much of Swerve is about how it was discovered and protected from the Inquisition, etc.

There is also considerable space in the book devoted to the current excavation of Herculaneum, an ancient lost city on the other side of Mount Vesuvius. Herculaneum was buried in mud by the same eruption that destroyed the more famous Pompeii. Herculaneum was a sea-side resort that was the home of the rich and famous of the era. One villa in particular has been found to have been the site of intellectual meetings, discussions, and plays. Badly damaged by age and being buried in mud scrolls reference who, what, and where and include short quotes and references to Lucretius’ poem, but not the poem itself, has been found at this site. This past spring my wife and I spent half a day touring Herculaneum. We and visited the villa referenced in Greenblatt’s book!

The other night I decided to watch a movie. With streaming Netflix and Amazon Prime deciding to watch a movie is easy, choosing which movie is crazy…hundreds of choices. While clicking through the selections I came upon a film named Leaves of Grass about twin brothers born in rural Oklahoma and raised by hippie parents (Susan Sarandon.) The one brother can’t stand it so he moves east and becomes a renowned philosopher, writer, and professor. Meanwhile his twin back in Oklahoma builds a state of the art marijuana growing operation. He is highly intelligent too, but has a more practical outlook on life. The gardener tricks the professor into returning home to Oklahoma by sending a message that he had been killed. What the gardener really wanted was to have his long lost twin come back for a day so that he could set up an alibi to go to Tulsa to kill the rich Jew (Richard Dryfuss) who had bankrolled the marijuana farm and was calling for the bill to be paid. The Tulsa trip does not turn out all that well as a number of the characters get killed. The professor delivers a eulogy and quotes an ancient philosopher that the state of death was so different from that of life that the two would never understand each other; hence we should not fear death-yes it was Lucretius!

These three random events fit together in my mind like pieces of a puzzle. There is nothing really profound here but I can recommend without reservation a few hours in Herculaneum the next time you are Italy, The Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt is an interesting read, and Leaves of Grass was a fun movie. The only thing I have left is to actually read On the Nature of Things by Lucretius. I have it on my on my Kindle and it is next on my list.

–Wayne Wilson

Here are some pictures from my tour of Hurculaneum:

Mount Vesuvius seen current ground level above Herculaneum excavation site

Villa Courtyard

Villa Interior

SHIFT Hosts Victor Stenger

December 2011

On September 10, 2011, the University of Utah student organization, SHIFT (Secular Humanism, Inquiry and Freethought), was fortunate to host Dr. Victor “Vic” Stenger, internationally renowned physicist, science and atheism proponent, and author, having written such books as God: The Failed Hypothesis, The New Atheism, and The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning.

Dr. Stenger is currently an adjunct professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado and an emeritus professor of physics at the University of Hawaii. He has also held visiting positions on the faculties of the University of Heidelberg in Germany, Oxford University in England, and the University of Florence in Italy. His research career spanned the period of great progress in elementary particle physics that ultimately led to the current standard model. In his last project before retiring, Dr. Stenger collaborated on the underground experiment in Japan that showed for the first time that the neutrino has mass. The Japanese leader of the project shared the 2002 Nobel Prize in Physics for this very important discovery. Dr. Stenger has had a parallel career as an author of ten critically acclaimed popular-level books that interface between physics and cosmology and philosophy, religion, and pseudoscience.

After welcoming him on his visit to Salt Lake City, SHIFT put on an event in the Orson Spencer Hall Auditorium on the campus of the University of Utah that evening for Dr. Stenger to give a talk he titled “Science and God.” Before the talk began, Dr. Stenger was introduced by Dr. Greg Clark, faculty advisor to SHIFT, who has been a long-time fan of Dr. Stenger’s New York Times best-selling book God: The Failed Hypothesis. The talk centered on how science and religion are fundamentally incompatible, due to the reliance of religion on faith in what cannot be observed by the senses, which is in diametric opposition to the empirically based methodology of science. Dr. Stenger also talked about how religion, by its very nature, serves to stifle scientific advancement, which is detrimental both to humanity’s prosperity and to its survival. Finally, he talked about how the existence of a deity is not outside the realm of scientific scrutiny, so long as there are empirically testable claims made about such a deity and its interactions with the physical universe, which is the case with the deities of many of the world’s major religions, such as Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Judaism. A complete video recording of the event can be found on SHIFT’s YouTube Channel. Following his talk, Dr. Stenger remained to talk with audience members and to sign copies of his books, several of which SHIFT had available for sale at discounted rates.

This enlightening event, which was free and open to the public, was made possible in part due to a donation from the Humanists of Utah, to whom SHIFT is extremely grateful for its generosity. Past SHIFT events since February 2010 that featured former United Nations representative Dr. Austin Dacey, Freedom From Religion Foundation co-president Dan Barker, and popular atheist/feminist blogger Greta Christina, were also partly funded by the Humanists of Utah. The Stenger event was later featured in an article in the Daily Utah Chronicle, which is the University of Utah student newspaper. SHIFT will be hosting Dr. Paul “PZ” Myers in April 2012.

–Jason Cooperrider

Secular Spirituality

November 2011

Of course I have spiritual moments. In a bland sense of that word, I suppose, but I think the right sense. I have times when I am just transported with awe, and joy, and a sense of peace and wonder at, oh. Whether it is music or art or just a child playing or some other wonderful thing off of my sailboat, being amazed at the beauty of the ocean.

I think that people make a mistake in thinking that spirituality is that sense has anything to do with either religious doctrines or with immateriality or the supernatural. The world is a stunningly interesting and glorious place at every scale, and the awe that one can experience because one understands something about how the parts are put together is, I think, far greater than the sort of awe of incomprehension. The universe is much more wonderful the more you know about how it is put together.

–Daniel Dennett
CDHS Humanist Monthly
August 2001

Secular Optimism

January 2011

Barbara Ehrenreich is a humanist writer and activist who promotes secular optimism. Isolated by oceans and habits, we in the USA live in times of great literary riches, with much of the world’s word-wealth translated into the only language we can speak. And many of our homegrown writers travel the many roads of history to bring back gems of insight and encouragement. I’m sharing one of my favorites.

I have a secondary purpose, which is reminding you of the long list of distinguished AHA Humanist of the Year awardees. I’d read her feisty opinion pieces before I picked up Barbara Ehrenreich’s best seller, Nickel and Dimed. The facts she provided in this investigation were gripping. Ehrenreich conducted her research by going under cover (not mentioning her PhD in chemistry or her columns in the New York Times, or any other work experience.) She lived in cramped rented quarters, hashed and scrubbed bathrooms as she studied the life of the working poor. She captured the desperation, the frantic sinking into debt and despair– and the mutual support, the camaraderie that made this bearable. In her next book, Bait and Switch: the futile pursuit of the American Dream she explored the myriad of programs; government and private that promised to help jobseekers. As she shows, these range from the incompetent to the cynical, all meant to prepare the unemployed for middle class jobs already disappearing even before the most recent crisis.

After she was diagnosed and treated for breast cancer, Ehrenreich turned this into another opportunity to inform the public about the inadequacies of our health care system. More recently, she traveled around the world to take part in carnivals and community festivals, then researched the history of ecstatic experience for Dancing in the Streets. Long before organized religion, people everywhere expressed their love of community made music and dance. She describes how European colonizers discredited such rites, demonizing or controlling in the name of religious authority what they couldn’t respect or understand. Music and seasonal rituals have always been part of creating cohesive communities, she says. Lacking these outbreaks of joy we are prone to anxiety, to fear of each other. That leaves us easy prey for self-appointed leaders ready to exploit our needs for their own purposes. Cynical secularists like Hitler and Mussolini, missionaries and priests all share the blame.

–Jeanette Ross
Secular Idaho Newsletter

Rolf Kay Recognized

April 2011

Rolf Kay, a founding and longtime board member of the Gandhi Alliance for Peace, was honored by friends and Alliance members October19 with the planting of a Catalpa tree in Salt Lake City’s Jordan Park.

“We are grateful for Rolf’s many years of service as board secretary.” said Alliance President Deb Sawyer. ”He is fully committed to preserving Gandhi’s memory; he understands the importance of remembering what Gandhi taught. Although no longer secretary, Rolf continues to serve as a board member and hosts the monthly board meetings at his home.

Rolf is a member of Humanists of Utah and also served on its board of directors for 12 years.

In 2006, Rolf received the Volunteer Award from Salt Lake’s Inclusion Center for Community and Justice at its Humanitarian Awards Dinner, an annual event that honors individuals who promote understanding and respect for all people.

Born in Germany, Rolf with his parents and siblings immigrated to New York City in 1929 and moved to Salt Lake City in 1940.

After military service in India where as an Army 1st lieutenant he was executive officer in a heavy automotive maintenance company servicing vehicles active on the Burma Road, Rolf began what would be- come a 42-year career with American Optical, a manufacturer of optical equipment and prescription eyeglass lenses. He began work as a lens grinder, rising through the ranks to become Major Market Manager responsible for the Salt Lake City, Boise and Pocatello markets. He was honored as top salesman and, later, as top branch manager, the only American Optical employee to have received both awards.

When American Optical closed its doors, Rolf turned to his hobby, photography, as a second career. He established Rolf Kay Photography, a freelance business with a clientele that included American Express, Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, Ballet West and Utah Symphony / Utah Opera.

A voracious reader, particularly fond of books on tape, Rolf enjoys biography, history and James Patterson mysteries.

A cat lover, Rolf’s household has included as many as three felines. Currently, he shares his digs with a female cat named Lightning. “Cats are the neatest people in the world,” says Rolf.

The recorded message on Rolf’s answering machine ends with a parting admonition that summarizes his humorous and compassionate approach to life: “And remember, be nice to everyone, no exceptions!” Gandhi would approve.

–Peace Advocate
Gandhi Alliance for Peace Newsletter
March 2011

President’s Message

October 2011

I was going to start my message this month by launching into another rant about politics, politicians, and the financial mess this country and the whole world for that matter is in.

Lately I have been spending time at our family cabin. It hasn’t been getting used much lately, and I wanted to change that. Because it has mostly sat unused the last several years it needs sprucing up. It is a split level three bedroom cabin finished with knotty pine on the inside, with cedar siding on the outside. Plus there is a large deck on two sides that I built back in the late eighties. My parents purchased the cabin in 1960 and it has been the family getaway all these years. It is on the edge of civilization, with the National Forest only a few miles up the highway to Mirror Lake in the Uintah Mountains.

The expression “I want to kick myself in the ass…” is applicable here. To have such a nice place to go, that has such a great retreat since my parents bought it and not make use of it is dumb. It has always been enjoyable to spend time there, relaxing, fishing, hiking, and working on “the cabin.” One of the many things that I often enjoy when I’m up at the cabin is to go out on the deck with a telescope and look at a piece of the sky. At about seven thousand feet and away from the light pollution of urban areas, the sky is usually quite clear. Clear enough to see the Milky Way, clusters and a nice bright planet now and then.

Plus, over the years, the wildlife one sees is another enjoyable aspect of being on the edge of civilization. I can remember seeing numerous deer, squirrels, chipmunks, raccoons, rabbits, a bobcat now and then, all kinds of birds including a couple of eagles in the early years, a few harmless snakes and of course mice. In a setting that is pine trees and quaking aspens, rocks and wildflowers, a creek with trout and all the wildlife is sublime.

I’m going to use that place more and I’ll be heading up there soon to do more “sprucing up”, and laying in more firewood for the winter.

By the way, I don’t think I thought about any politicians or the campaign at all while I’ve been up there.

On a matter of chapter business, the board of directors has been struggling with what to do about the discussion group, which hasn’t been meeting for some time now. We would like to revive the discussion group or some other social activity. In discussing this problem, we decided to ask you the members of Humanists of Utah to let us know what you would enjoy doing. Some suggestions have been: A music night, a discussion at a coffeehouse or the like, more movie/video nights, etc. What do you think folks? We need to hear from you. We also need a couple of people to help organize this social activity and make it happen. So please help us with your suggestions and by volunteering some time.

As always, I’m looking forward to seeing you at our next meeting, hope you can attend, and enjoy the fall weather.

–Robert Lane
President, HoU

President’s Message

November 2011

I am sure that you have all noticed that human population has reached 7 billion. It is a troubling thing to contemplate how quickly we are increasing in numbers. While we have always been unable and perhaps even unwilling to provide a decent standard of living for all human beings, we are still increasing in numbers. It was interesting for me to note that since I was born in 1948, 63 years ago, human population has grown by about 4.5 billion.

In a list of problems which face humanity, Population growth is up there at the top in severity, because it affects almost all of the other problems we as a species face. Natural resources that are already being over used will be exploited even more as population increases. Pollution becomes ever harder to control, as do diseases, conflicts, unrest, and the list goes on.

Controlling population is so difficult to deal with because it is a global problem; it affects all humanity everywhere. Also, because people are divided in so many ways; by family, clan, tribe, religion, state, nation, organizations of groups of nations, etc., it makes it impossible to come to an agreement about any useful policies regarding population control.

Sadly this passing reminder about population is a moment that is only moderately being noticed and will fade away with a few documentaries and a handful of warnings about the perils of such continued growth. I fear for those who will live to see a world with ten or twelve billion or more. Can twelve billion people be sustained? What kind of quality of life will there be? Sobering thoughts in light of the fact that we aren’t doing that well feeding the seven billion we have now.

Another item in the news that caught my eye was a letter by a young student writing about the problem of underage drinking and taking a stand against it. She presents some good statistics and shows how it is a problem in the state of Utah. Underage drinking certainly is a problem and it needs to be addressed continuously. But I think she is wrong when she says that alcohol is a “scary and dangerous thing.” Like any substance alcohol can be abused. But it is the act of the human who abuses any substance that makes it dangerous. A bottle of booze does nothing on its own.

I have always thought it wrong to ban “things” as they are in reality only resources. Laws and punishment for breaking the law is the answer, not vilifying something like alcohol. The prudent use of alcohol is both pleasurable to the taste buds and a compliment to good food and is known to be healthful in moderation.

But to speak more to the idea of it being scary, I believe the cultural taboos about alcohol cause the most harm. I myself am an example, having been raised with the constant cries of the evils of alcohol and how it would ruin your life, and you will become a bum, etc., etc. Never was there mention of the millions of people all over the world who drink responsibly. That is the answer after all, learning to drink responsibly.

If we want to take that route (the scary route) then the world is full of scary things. A bottle of aspirin is scary if you take too many, and if you think about it, getting into a car with a tank of ten to twenty gallons of gasoline under or behind the back seat, should scare the hell out of you.

Well, I’m getting a bit silly, so I’ll say bye for now and I hope to see you at or next general meeting on the tenth of November.

–Robert Lane
President, HoU

President’s Message

May 2011

I’m sure you can all understand that writing a President’s Message each month is easier some months than others. This month was turning out to be one of those difficult times; I’ve been busy, and our newsletter needed to be completed a little earlier this month. So while I was sitting here struggling for something to come up with, I decided to delete some e-mails while thinking of a subject to include in my message.

I subscribe to a number of online newsletters including AlterNet. It often has a link to a Rachel Maddow video. I just watched Maddow on The GOP’s “Small-Government” hypocrisy and it got me going; like one of many recent reports about Republicans that is guaranteed to raise my hackles. The clip is about how the newly elected governor of Michigan has pushed through laws that give the state government the ability to take over local governments that are having financial problems. Then, not surprisingly, developers can acquire chunks of land for their projects that nobody in these local communities can afford; absolutely infuriating.

Today’s Republicans are not about small government, they are about absolute power which is government at its biggest. Republicans work toward a gerrymandering, union busting, rights denying, choice denying, corporation loving, and big brother government. I realize that this is basically the same rant I expressed last month, but I can’t help it.

While conservatives deserve criticism and derision, liberals, progressives, and moderates also need criticism for being inept and seemingly unwilling to fight this kind of government takeover until it is near the point of no return

I too bear some blame because other than these rants, an occasional donation and a record of voting in nearly every election, I do little else to support sanity. I should do more, and I think our organization should do more. Although we must be careful about our non-profit status in regards to politics, we can still be active in many ways. One thing I would like to suggest is that we have speakers and discussion groups that deal with current events more often. Educate yourselves and get involved in any way you can.

Moving on to some chapter news, there are a couple of items to mention. Our affiliation with the Utah Coalition of Reason (UCOR) is progressing well. Its Board of Directors boasts a number of young and energetic freethinkers. The main goal of UCOR is to bring together various likeminded freethought organizations in Utah in order to coordinate and promote our organizations’ events, and also to plan joint events. The event planning committee of UCOR is making good progress in organizing a Darwin Day Festival for next year. There will be other announcements from the committee and a request for suggestions and volunteers. I am excited about their plans, which will include a student science fair with generous prizes for the schools sponsoring the winners. Several other events are being planned for this fest, with an adult get together that will include adult beverages. Watch this space for updates in coming months.

As I announced last month Humanists of Utah has decided to take an active role of supporting the Homeless Youth Resource Center (HYRC). To get the ball rolling, I recently visited the HYRC to get informed about their needs. It was no surprise that they need money for running the center. They also need volunteers to help in a few areas, such as serving meals. Additionally, there is a need for donated goods of various kinds from clothing, sleeping bags, non-perishable food, notebooks, stamps and much more. It is early in our effort, but we will be working to get moving and make it a sustained effort. So watch for announcements and requests for donations. Your personal support will be appreciated by our chapter and put to good use by HYRC.

–Robert Lane
President, HoU

President’s Message

March 2011

This humanist chapter president thing is creeping a little too far into the inner reaches of my mind. Amy and I had a bit of a laugh over a recent dream I had. I don’t remember any past dreams specific to humanists, but this one was. We were all gathered together for some sort of social and everyone was in line with plates at the ready. When I started to speak, anxiety went through the roof as I realized that I had forgotten to purchase and bring the food! There was grumbling and people were starting to leave, even though I said I would go get some pizzas or something. After that it started morphing into something else. As a skeptic I don’t believe that dreams are any portent of things to come. But you never know, as I age my memory isn’t what it used to be. Better bring a granola bar with you next time just in case.

I’d like to report that our Darwin Day celebration was a great success. The venue at Westminster College was quite pleasant with a light lunch and our usual cake with Darwin’s likeness on it; which I did remember to pick up! Professor David Goldsmith’s presentation was very interesting as he provided a historical view of evolution and the scientific method that came before and after his discovery. The movie Creation was excellent with its focus on the struggle Darwin had in deciding to write and publish what he knew would be quite controversial, and to say the least. Earth shaking.

Many thanks go to Board member Dr. Craig Wilkinson for his efforts in arranging the venue, speaker, and video; not to mention his generosity in providing the catering and Salt Lake Tribune ad. Also thanks to Bob Mayhew and Leona Blackbird for helping out with Darwin Day chores.

By the way, Creation was superb–to the point that I recommend showing it again on a future Humanists of Utah movie night; both for those who have not yet seen it and those like me who would enjoy seeing it again.

I now want to write about something that has been on my mind a lot recently: nuclear weapons. I’m not sure why it keeps popping up in my consciousness. While it is an important issue, there are other issues closer to home and more “of the moment” that I could write about. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that when I served in the Air Force during the Vietnam era I went to tech school to learn about munitions and weapons. For four months we studied several hours a day, studying everything about small arms to chemical and biological agents, to nuclear weapons and just about everything in between.

The ratification of the new START Treaty by the last Congress was a welcome and overdue action. In a rather black humored way I would say that reducing nuclear weapons to a point where Russia and the U.S. can destroy the entire world two or three times over rather than six or seven times over is a good thing. But it is also a good thing that we show the world we are serious about arms reductions. Another advantage of the treaty is that eventually the reduction will lessen the economic burden or this enormous arsenal on our struggling economies.

However, I have a problem with those who say that the treaty is not enough and that we should get rid of all nuclear weapons on the planet. While I agree that eventually the reductions should continue to more reasonable levels, I see a few problems with the idea of getting rid of all nuclear weapons everywhere. It is unrealistic to think we could ever accomplish this goal. The knowledge and technology to build them and the growing industrial capability of countries to construct them exist, and it is not going to go away. Plus while we are reducing our stockpiles, other countries are working to obtain them or add to their own caches and delivery systems. I am thinking specifically of North Korea, Iran, India, Pakistan, and Israel. Furthermore, we should not forget that we have a lot of enemies in the world that would love to see us weak enough to risk attacking the U.S. Finally there is a strong desire by terrorists to obtain nuclear weapons.

I think that the prudent thing to do is to make sure that the nuclear weapons we retain are the best, most up to date, and in sufficient numbers to deter any enemies now or in the future.

It would be nice if there came a time when humans were of one mind so that total elimination was possible, but sadly that time is not yet anywhere in sight.

–Robert Lane
President, HoU

President’s Message

June 2011

I have been some serious sitting and messing around with my new computer which includes listening to some music CD’s. While listening to one I hadn’t listened to for a while, I was reminded that it was one that would be on my all-time top ten list. That is saying something when you consider that Amy and I own well over a thousand records, tapes, and CD’s. I was also reminded that the Board of Directors had discussed some possible alternatives to our Discussion Group. One suggestion I had was to have a Music Night now and then. The question then becomes, what exactly do we want to do on these occasions? I think it would be nice to keep it diverse. We could have a performance night if we find someone willing to play. We might try a “Favorites” night where everyone would bring in their own favorite piece. Also, I would like to have a “message night,” with songs that have a message, either serious or silly

I don’t know about you, but music has been a big part of my life. I can remember when I was around 10 years old, my brother who was eight years older than me, would yell at me for listening, and therefor probably scratching them, to his records. He was and is a lover of classical music and he had a lot of records that I would listen to when I could. One was a recording of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, conducted by Arturo Toscanini. Another one that I remember is a recording of Dvorak’s Symphony no. 5 “From the New World.” They represent a couple of many aspects that were part of my childhood years. But my goodness, that is just one of dozens and dozens of ways music has played a part in my life. I’ve been to 30 or more rock concerts, seen several operas, and dozens of symphony orchestra concerts.

Of course, recorded music has been the biggest part of my music experience. Our collection of albums, tapes, CDs and music videos have given me thousands of hours of pleasure. Sometimes I think about how hard it would be to have to choose 10 CDs to take with me to a desert island. I’m sure the more I looked over the collection the harder it would get. I would love to hear from you about this suggestion of a music night and your top ten music list. I’m going to start one that I am sure will need a secondary list of honorable mentions.

–Robert Lane
President, HoU

President’s Message

July 2011

In the last month or so the announcements of intent to run for president by several politicians make me groan. They will be in our faces for a year and a half before the next election. I don’t know about you, but at the age of 63 I’m getting a little tired of what is actually the never ending campaign. In fact I’m down right sick of politicians. Some of them are so obviously stupid that it is depressing to know that they are or will be in positions of authority making decisions for all of us.

We have an idiot Democrat, Anthony Weiner, who, quite literally, cannot keep his pecker in his pants. Then we get a couple of Republican aspirants (Palin and Bachman,) running around making insane statements that are not only idiotic lies or distortions, but are at time delivered in incomprehensible babble. To top it all off Mitt Romney tells a group of people, “I’m unemployed too.” Disgusting.

I realize voting is important, and I haven’t missed a general election in my entire life, but I’m sick of the politicians.

There, I’ve had my little rant, now on to something more positive. As I have mentioned a couple of times recently that we will be involving the chapter in helping the Homeless Youth Resource Center. The needs of these young people are a glaring example of our society’s failure to actually provide adequate safety nets for those in need.

I am hopeful that our efforts will be successful and sustained. One fear I have is that an effort like this may become a once a year or a “holiday” charity event. Let us work to keep it going continuously.

In order to get started, I obtained their “wish list”. There may be an opportunity in the future to volunteer for the group for those willing to give time. But to get started we thought that we would link a “Wish List Drive,” with our end of summer BBQ and have people bring items that we can deliver to the HYRC. Without doubt, they would love donations of money, but I will include the list below so you can pick whatever you would like to give.

  • Canned meals (spaghetti-os, Chef Boyardee, Thick and Chunky Soups)
  • Men’s Boxers (Medium, Large, xlarge, and 2xl)*
  • Canned tuna
  • Tarps
  • Peanut butter
  • Batteries (AAA, AA, C, D)
  • Size Three Diapers*
  • Men’s Undershirts (New, all sizes)
  • Tampons
  • Postage stamps*
  • Lighters (preferably Bic)
  • Plus size clothes and underwear for women
  • Full size body wash
  • Items most needed at present*

There is the list, mark August 11 on your calendar for the BBQ and plan on bringing a donation. But before the BBQ, I hope to see you at the July Movie. Bye for now.

–Robert Lane
President, HoU

President’s Message

January 2011

Sometimes what’s in the news just cries out for a response. Such is the case now that Congress has done away with the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that has been in place in the military for quite a while. It was a bad policy in the first place, as it directed people to be secretive and basically dishonest about their private lives.

With gay and lesbian individuals now able to SERVE OUR COUNTRY in the military and be truthful about their sexual orientation, a number of news items have shown how utterly stupid some members of the military, (active and retired) can be. The story of the Commander of the U.S.S. Enterprise has to be an example of a person who you would think would have the good sense not to make prejudicial, idiotic videos. While he may be a capable commander, it does make you wonder about his overall decision-making abilities. Now his career is pretty much over.

Perhaps this change in policy will help weed out some of the homophobic idiots in the military as more of them open their big mouths and insert their proverbial feet; at least we can hope. This will only last for a short time though, as they begin to realize that they had better keep their mouths shut if they want to finish their careers in the military.

The point has been made recently that the same kind of foolish resistance was present when the military was racially integrated by President Truman, but the sky never fell. And when the military started allowing women to serve in combat units, again the sky never fell.

I can’t think of a way that inclusion and diversity isn’t a good and strengthening thing to demand in all aspects of society, including the military. The only requirement should be is that one is qualified and capable of performing the job.

One final question: If we now allow homosexual men and women to serve in the military as equals with all the inherent rights, privileges, and responsibilities, shouldn’t that translate into our society as a whole?

How can we expect them to fight, be forever changed by the horrors of war, get wounded or even die, then deny them the right to marry whom they love and enjoy those very freedoms they have fought for?

–Robert Lane
President, HoU

President’s Message

February 2011

For Humanists of Utah, February brings our Annual Darwin Day event. I am happy to say this will be our fourth, and I hope one of many more to come–a day we have chosen to celebrate and advocate for science.

As I have been looking at my introductory remarks at past Darwin Day events, I feel a bit guilty about using nearly the same text each time. Yet I keep reminding myself and coming to the same conclusion that the reason we even have a Darwin Day have not changed, and I think a reminder even here in the newsletter is worthwhile.

The idea of science advocacy is an important concept. Disseminating scientific knowledge and making it interesting and enjoyable at the same time is a good goal. We need to do just that as much as possible. I believe I speak for all the Board of Directors (and I hope for the entire Humanists of Utah membership) when I say that Darwin Day is a good time to celebrate one of the most important discoveries ever made, evolution. The understanding of evolution and the later discovery of DNA as its mechanism made our view of biology change in many ways.

Yet evolution isn’t just about biology, it is also basic to physics. When physicists discovered nuclear fusion, they learned that change (evolution) in the creation of other elements by means of fusion in the interior of stars.

How grand it is to look out on the universe and to wonder at images of galaxies far away and to also look inward at the sub-atomic and to know that it has all been changing and evolving for billions of years.

One thing that got me motivated about creating Darwin Day happened years ago when I first used the internet to see what creationists had to say about evolution. While they had a lot of criticisms, there were also statements that evolution was a fraud, it was made it up, etc. It struck me as kind of funny because that made it sound like Darwin invented something. But it was a discovery, not an invention. Evolution has always been there.

I hope you will join us on February 11 for our fourth little act of advocacy, and to enjoy hors’ d’oeuvres, a presentation by our featured speaker David Goldsmith PhD in Paleontology, a video of Darwin’s life and accomplishments, and of course to have a piece of Darwin’s birthday cake.

–Robert Lane
President, HoU

President’s Message

December 2011

Wow, another year has slipped by! December 8th, Humanists of Utah will host our Annual Business Membership Meeting and annual banquet. We will have ham, turkey, vegetarian lasagna, and a number of side dishes provided by board members. I will be making funeral potatoes with one batch made vegetarian style. Members and friends are welcome so please make a note to come and join us for some good food and good company. Also, we will have an open microphone for anyone who would who has something to say. I hope some of you will give it a try; we’d love to hear from you. We will be starting 6:30 PM.

We will also be taking donations for the Homeless Youth Resource Center at the meeting. The Resource Centers most recent call for items includes: money, gift cards, backpacks, bus tokens, hand warmers, hygiene items, headphones, lighters, beanies and gloves. I think that sleeping bags in good condition would be useful as well. We can also give food items to their pantry and kitchen where they serve meals. I’m going to give them some of my homemade jam as part of my donation. It is my hope that we can make this a sustained effort, with a pick-up three times a year: at our BBQ, the December Social, and in May before our summer break.

This month I thought I would try to write my message without criticizing someone or griping about something that has been getting under my skin. That can be tough when there is so much to gripe about. But there was one item that made me happy, and that was to hear that the latest mission to Mars was launched. This voyage has a rover that is on steroids. Curiosity is its name and it is big enough to really get around the Martian surface and do some serious science. As the lover of science that I am, this adventure helps me feel good about science pushing the frontiers. We humans miss such a great opportunity to explore space by squandering so much of our resources on military budgets. Well there I go griping again.

I look forward to seeing you at our social so don’t disappoint and come and join us for the evening.

–Robert Lane
President, HoU

President’s Message

August 2011

While I’ve been thinking about what to say this month, plenty of subjects have presented themselves in the news. I could keep whining about how disgusting politicians are, or about the debt ceiling. I could comment on how clueless and stupid Mitt Romney looks standing there saying “I’m unemployed too.” As if someone like him, born with a silver spoon in his mouth, ever had to compete for or hold down an ordinary job. I could go on about our junior senator Mike Lee stating that we should get rid of Social Security and Medicare, then churches and families would take up the slack. Begging the question, “how would churches and family take up more slack if they aren’t doing it now?” But I won’t go on and on because I want to say something about a Salt Lake Tribune Editorial from a couple of weeks ago.

The editorial by George Pyle “The idiotic things we do to ourselves” was a good article for the most part. He admonishes us to be civil and not to let the fear-mongers have the last word, and also not to abandon our ideals and principles when we become fearful. The arguments about civility have been an ongoing discussion for some time in the world at large and to our humanist groups.

But part of his last paragraph didn’t make sense to me and started to get under my skin a little.

It states. “It’s not that there are not a lot of evil people out there. But whether it was the Nazis that Eisenhower defeated or the Islamists that threaten us today, the real bad guys through history are the ones most hung up on tribal concepts of race, religion, language or some other tiny variation that really makes no difference. The ability to rise above those differences, difficult as it has sometimes been, is the main path on the road to human fulfillment.” (italics: my emphasis)

The more I thought about it, (where he says …”or some other tiny variation that really makes no difference,”) it just kept bugging me.

I thought to myself, “tiny variation?” that “really makes no difference?”

Well I beg to differ. I don’t know about you folks, but I can cite some variations that are not tiny and make all the difference in the world.

The difference and the distance between me and an individual who straps on explosives and destroys himself and as many victims as he can, is a gulf as wide, in my thinking, as the width of the entire universe.

And, the difference between me and that so called pastor Fred Phelps the homophobe who protests at the funerals of fallen U.S. Soldiers, is absolutely enormous.

Additionally, for me as a person of science, the difference and distance between me and those who insist that the earth is only 6000 yrs. old, and that evolution is a fraud is very wide indeed.

We should always strive to be friendly or at least civil whenever possible, but we shouldn’t forget or trivialize the vast differences that exist in humans and the human experience.

Moving on to more pleasant thoughts, I’m excited that our fall BBQ is coming up on the eleventh. As usual we will have plenty of good food, drink and conversation. I also anticipate more young folks from UCoR and SHIFT to attend. Please come and join us and be our guests.

Don’t forget we will also be taking donations for the pick-off of our effort to help the Homeless Youth Resource Center provide needed items for the homeless youth.

–Robert Lane
President, HoU

President’s Message

April 2011

In the past, Humanists of Utah has tried to become involved in some area of social activism within our community. I have to admit that at times the effort has not been what it could be in order to be sustainable and effective.

I don’t want to make excuses but it should be pointed out that at times the failure is also due to resistance by entities that we have tried to deal with. For example, when we started our essay contest several years age we discovered resistance from school administrators who did not always send the materials on to the teachers. Also when Board member Mike Huston died, I tried to have Humanists of Utah, as an organization, take up his cause of maintaining a library for incarcerated youth at a local detention center. After several attempts to create a dialogue with an individual at the facility, I gave up. There are other examples, but the point I am making is that sometimes public entities, school administrations, youth detention center personnel, etc. become “filters” removing things they may see as undesirable. Perhaps they see us as “evil humanists.” I am saying this in preface to a suggestion for a cause that I believe is a worthy one that can be implemented without much interference.

Our March general meeting featured Chloe Noble who spoke to us about the homeless youth in America. Her enthusiasm and compassion were well received by those in attendance. In fact, after her presentation, I had a few people say that “we should do something” for these youth. I felt that way myself, and plan to contact the Homeless Youth Resource Center to inquire how best to help. I think there are several ways we can assist: by donating money, donating goods (gloves, socks, sleeping bags, etc.) and by donating time. Plus there will be nobody “filtering” us out as undesirable.

I hope that our membership will give the thumbs up to this proposal and support this effort any way you can. Please let the Board of Directors know how you feel about this and remember that your ideas and suggestions are always welcome.

Moving on, I want to comment on the news, or what has been in the news. The other day I had to do something that I haven’t had to do very often, and that is to not watch or listen to the news, ALL DAY LONG; a total news blackout. I like staying informed about the world, from next door to anywhere else on earth. But, for some reason the constant, current crop of terrible disasters and political bullshit, etc. was driving me nuts. Between the 9.0 earthquake/tsunami with its overwhelming death and destruction and a radioactive nightmare at a nuclear power plant and problems that continue to unfold, the list goes on.

Then in the political world we get the conservatives trying to dismantle collective bargaining and to some extent government in general. They want to balance the budget on the backs of the average person and struggling Americans while continuing to favor corporations and the rich. They are screwing with the E.P.A., de-funding NPR, trying to eradicate Planned Parenthood,and all this while we pour billions, daily, into endless wars. And the list goes on.

Here in Utah, Republicans continue to write and pass laws that draw attention and dismay from around the world. They want to do away with accountability (for themselves), and further turn the state into a theocratic rightwing totalitarian state, including one where alcohol availability is parsed out by the dominant religion. Again, the list goes on.

If I keep this up I will start to drive myself crazy again, so I’ll give it a rest for now. As always, I hope to see you soon at our next meeting.

–Robert Lane
President, HoU

Personal Library Disposition

June 2011

Richard Layton was one of Humanists of Utah’s most active members. After his death his son Clark offered to donate Dick’s library to our chapter. Unfortunately we do not have the necessary facilities to maintain it.

Flo Wineriter responded the Board’s recommendation to contact the University of Utah Library’s ‘Special Collection’ division to see if they may want to add the Humanist publications to their Edwin Wilson/Humanist library, otherwise we suggest you contact Zions/Sam Weller book store ‘used books’ division. They may be interested in purchasing some of the books or may at least have some way to dispose of them.

Flo went on to write, “I certainly empathize with your disposal challenge because I have a personal Humanist Library of more than 100 books purchased and well-read during the past twenty years and it discourages me that they will probably simply be destroyed when I die. My consolation is each of the books has added to my appreciation of the human search for meaning. I’m reasonably certain your father would have shared my views. He was a true humanist devoted to recognizing the evolution of life

–Flo Winewriter

The One True Band

January 2011

I think the whole god existence question is ridiculous. People who believe in a god are supposed to have faith. Faith requiring proof ain’t faith! Why try? And why do atheists have to “prove” the non-existence of anything?

Does someone need to prove the non-existence of hobbits?–of gnomes?–of unicorns?

We all know the real question is this: how do we keep our society free from intrusions of religious fundamentalists while guaranteeing those same people the freedom to hold their opinions and meetings? All other questions should be null and void.

I think about the essay I read last time I was home. It was from the person who didn’t like to self-apply the term “atheist” because it implied a definition through a negation. It implies that atheists spend their time thinking about the non-existence of God. I think about the non-existence of god as often as I think about the non-existence of vogons–which is to say never. I’d prefer to be thought of as a “non-theist,” or as an “is-this-really-at-all-relevant-ist.”

But for arguments sake, let’s say I self-apply the term “atheist.” To me, that says meaning in my life doesn’t come from a supernatural force. But does it imply that I must therefore rely on science to fill some sort of need for answers to the cosmic questions? No, it doesn’t. I’m fearful of getting lumped in with atheist biologists and physicists. The debate isn’t just GOD OR SCIENCE. I love scientists. But personally, I’m not much interested in science. And I have no need to answer cosmic questions.

I suppose in one way, I’m like religious folks; I fill my life with meaning that is non-tangible and indefinable. I’m completely comfortable with that.

I take much of my inspiration, values, and morality from art, music, poetry, comedy, and other mysterious powers. (I guess you can blame yourselves, my secular family, for raising me in the unofficial Church of the Humanities.) But at the end of the day, if a play, or a film, or a poem, or a song has moved me to tears or to laughter or if it has conveyed meaning, do I need to prove that the events which led to that catharsis actually happened? Is my enjoyment of the film “Harold and Maude” diminished by the thought that Harold wasn’t really Harold but actually an actor named Bud Cort? Is my laughter at a Marx Brother’s film cheapened because Groucho’s moustache wasn’t really a moustache at all, but rather an application of shoe polish to his upper lip? Does the film “Babe” loose its profound message of sweetness simply because the pig wasn’t really talking?

Of course not! Connections with infinite sensations, broad truths and rich experiences don’t need to be defined or proved. (The best experiences can’t be!) Shouldn’t this apply as much to a hymn, a psalm, a scripture, or a parable as it does to a play, a poem, or a film?

Whether or not the story is “true” is generally irrelevant to the message. Anyone who tells you otherwise is trying to sell you something, intimidate you, or control you. Either that or they’ve completely missed the point.

I know my life would be so much more empty and meaningless without Shakespeare and The Beatles. I know Shakespeare and the Beatles can bring truth, beauty, meaning, and help to all. I am so convinced of this, to me, it seems an indisputable fact. And I love to build a community with other folks who, like me, believe this to be a fact. But I’m happy to let it be my own fact. It doesn’t need to be the one true fact. And I’m not going to condemn you if you disagree.

Who am I kidding? Be warned! You will suffer eternal fire and wrath all ye who deny The Beatles are the One True Band!

–Aaron Johnson

Not For Profit

Why Democracy Needs the Humanities

~Book Review~

March 2011

I recently read Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities, by Martha C. Nussbaum. Have you ever wondered where ethics and morals come from? It is not from the various religious institutions; it springs from the understanding of humanities. The various courses that are required in most United States public universities are the very courses that some of the Utah Legislators want to eliminate in all of Utah’s public universities. What is the worth that of all those humanities classes have to society?

Granted, many humanities graduates may not be making the largest profit margins in monetary measures, but in reality they just might save us from total ignorance. Ms. Nussbaum develops a case for the need of pedagogy of humanities, starting even in elementary school and continuing into college. Ms. Nussbaum bases part of her rationale on Rabindranth Tagore (a Nobel Laureate,) and Bronson Alcott (the father of Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women and Little Men,) training of humanities forms that develop the morals and ethics of a society, and makes the case that the religious indoctrination does not develop morals and ethics. Ms. Nussbaum further points out that the lack of the clear understanding of teaching of humanities is what causes societies to falter.

There are several examples of faltered societies and their outcome, including our own society. Ms. Nussbaum does discuss the very point that the Utah Legislators, who are currently trying to limit humanities programs, are concerned with. She concludes that the limitation of humanities to society is too great a cost and actually limits how our society interacts with other cultures, such as in the form of commerce and exchange of intellectual ideologies. The book concludes that the lack of pedagogy for humanities risks leading us into ignorance.

This book can be found in the Salt Lake area libraries.

–Cindy King

My Theory of Life

May 2011

Peg McEntee, Metro Columnist for the Salt Lake Tribune, spoke to Humanists of Utah at our monthly meeting in April.

I see my talk tonight has a pretty grand title: “My Theory of Life,” so, here goes. I see life as the great conversation, not so much the history of philosophy that Norman Melchert and others compiled, but the conversations we have every day. In my line of work, we talk our heads off when we aren’t writing our heads off. In life, we talk in the house, talk in the car, on the phone, and by email. I still write letters, although not very often. I’m on Facebook as a condition of my job, but I refuse to tweet. Life is far more interesting that 140 characters about nonsense, a word that actually begins with a “B.” In my career, I’ve been a reporter, a line editor, executive news editor, Sunday editor, assistant managing editor, and now a news columnist. Some people around the newsroom never have figured out exactly what it is I do.

What I do is listen, and talk, and listen some more. We have passing conversations, snippets of information, just like everyone else. We make bad puns and wisecracks.

But the greatest pleasure is derived from speaking seriously about serious things. A worry about conflict of interest or an ethical dilemma can stump us for a while. For example, when to name a victim of crime, or a suspect? We’ve built a sort of construct–sexually abused victims will not be named unless they actively want to be; nor is a person under 17 who is the victim of or accused of a crime–depending on the nature of the crime.

I can’t tell you how many times we’ve sat around the table and worried away at the complexities of such rules. In general, we go for transparency and an ethical way of getting there–my adopted motto is, first, do no harm–but we nearly always talk about it. One day, we were in the afternoon editors’ huddle when the designers brought in a proposed illustration for a story. It was a noose, made of a power cord. I thought and thought about it, and just before we broke up, I said, “I have a worry about that noose.” Why? Someone asked. Well, I said, it’s a pretty potent symbol of racism, for one thing. The designers were shocked, “It’s about a tech company!” Even some of our top editors promptly disagreed with me. But a couple more people starting taking my part, and we talked some more, and the noose was nixed. (It turned into a frayed power cord.)

As an editor, I’d talk for hours with my reporters, discussing the focus of the story, the shape it would take, the elements it needed. And we’d talk about how the reporter should write it. When she was finished, I’d sit down with her, side-by-side in front of the monitor, and we’d talk it through, line by line, and sometimes hour after hour.

For me, those were some of the most pleasurable and gratifying times–talking it through and coming out with a better, more subtle and well-written story that is the newspaper’s way of talking to readers.

As a reporter, and now a columnist, I try to make my interviews into a conversation, not an inquisition. It is not a “just the facts” deal. It is getting to the core of the matter, the reasons and decisions leading to the news at hand. It is not “how do you feel?” the standard canard for a lot of people when they criticize the way we do our work.

As a young reporter, I had to call the father of a Mormon missionary from Coalville who’d been gunned down in La Paz. I did not want to, but I had to. When I finally made the call his father answered, and I when I told him who and what I was, he threw up the walls instantly. So I said the only thing I could think of: “Tell me about your boy.” And he cried, but spent about an hour telling me about his boy, his work on the farm, his academic excellence, the love his son had for his family and faith, and the love his father had for him.

It was one of many occasions when I had to resist the urge to cry. It also taught me a lesson: listen. It is, after all, a conversation.

In all of life, friendships and love affairs and child-rearing begins with the conversation. On my first serious date with my husband of 28 years, we talked for hours, lubricated by a big bottle of cheap red wine.

My friends and I have running conversations about damn near everything: the job, home repairs, the nature of love gained and lost. Our troubles and good times, our travels, and always about journalism, long and short form, books and poetry.

The last is important because when it all gets to be too much for me, I take down my collection of W.B. Yeats’ poetry and read, in particular, “Adam’s Curse.” There is a wonderful line from a poet who appeared on NPR’s This I Believe: “I believe that a book is a box because a book carries something from some one person to another. And because it is used and can be used to carry ideas across time, which is how ideas build up.” And a book, or a story or a poem or a lyric, is a conversation that can send your mind on all manners of tangents; which is the nature of thinking.

We have a daughter, our only child. My first words to her were, “Well, hello, Kate.”

In the summer of 2007, the year of the Trolley Square rampage, the wildfires that burned hundreds of square miles in Utah, and the Crandall Canyon Mine disaster. Kate was 19 and home from college for the summer. One night, I got home close to midnight, poured a glass and sat down on the couch with her. We started to talk, and that became the first adult conversation we’d had together. We went on for two hours before we finally just had to go to bed. I lay there that night and thought, I’ll never forget this: My daughter and I, not so much parent and child, but friends, talking about serious things. It was, and I use the word carefully here in Utah, revelatory.

There is one more thing about the great conversation that I believe is the meaning of life: I try never to walk up to my husband and say, seriously, “Can we talk?” It scares the poop out of him every time.

–Peg McEntee

Live Your Life

October 2011

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma –which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

–Steve Jobs
Cofounder of Apple
2005 Stanford Commencement Speech

Linguistics and Evolution

First Place Marion Craig Essay Contest

June 2011

This is the winning entry in our Marion Craig Essay Contest. The question this year was “how has Darwinian evolution affected your field of study?” We received several entries and this one was judged to be the best.

In the study of Applied Linguistics, the fact of evolution is readily apparent. Charles Darwin, in 1859, published a work of scientific study that revolutionized how scholars, scientists and even students thought about and observed the world around them. On the Origin of Species was the foundation of evolutionary biology, but all academic disciplines have felt the impact of knowledge that has been uncovered since the publishing of his work.

Cognitive scientist Avram Noam Chomsky began developing his theory of Generative Grammar in the 1950’s and has had such an impact in the fields of Linguistics and Philosophy that he is currently believed to be the most-quoted author alive. As of 2010, he has been teaching consecutively for 55 years at MIT. And without the scientific contributions of Charles Darwin and his evolutionary theory, many of Chomsky’s ideas in modern linguistics would not be relevant.

One idea that has influenced the study of linguistics is that scientists (mostly theologians at the time Darwin was studying) once considered human beings to be vastly different from animals–in the sense that we were divinely created to rule over them. Due to this unfounded idea there was not originally much study in linguistics relating to animal language or the abilities of animals to communicate. The impact of Darwin’s theory of evolution, therefore, has been instrumental in the evolution of the field of Linguistics. Scientists do now study animal behavior, including linguistic behaviors of our closest relatives the great apes, bonobos, and chimpanzees. We have learned invaluable lessons about human language and cognition because of these studies, in addition to being able to better understand the ways in which animals communicate non-linguistically.

Scientists in my field study the speech apparatuses of animals and compare them anatomically to those in human beings. We study child and adult language acquisition and what goes on in the brain when people lose the ability to speak, or when non-human primates never advance in that ability past a certain point. We have learned that what sets us apart from others in the animal kingdom is not a God-given right to reign over the earth, but our evolutionary history of language acquisition.

Many studies continue to be done in the fields of historical, socio-, and cultural linguistics as we attempt to piece together, along with scientists of all disciplines (including archaeology, history, evolutionary biology and the cognitive sciences) when exactly humans began communicating in the ways we do now.

As a graduate of French from the University of Utah, working on my second Bachelor’s in Applied Linguistics and Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, I look forward to a life-long study of languages and how best to teach them. In my studies and experiences teaching, I will always have an open interest in the evolutionary science of my field. I hope through my teaching to also encourage this fascination in budding language-learners of all backgrounds and educational interests.

–Elaine Ball

In The Light

Second Place Marion Craig Essay Contest

July 2011

This is the second place entry in our Marion Craig Essay Contest. The question this year was “how has Darwinian evolution affected your field of study?” We received several entries and this one was judged to be runner up to the best.

“Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution” stated Theodore Dobzhansky in his 1973 essay. In 2011, the truth of this statement has not wavered the slightest. Today Darwin is recognized as presenting us with the most scientifically plausible theory for the diversity of life. Before Darwin, we would see complexity in organisms and their interactions, with no scientific means to understand it. Darwin was able to give this to us. With an understanding of evolution, biologist from different backgrounds can unify their disciplines. Underneath the “light of evolution,” it makes sense why the immune system operates to expel pathogens. It makes sense why some bees will sacrifice themselves to save the colony. Darwin was able to give biology the “why.” Where before we only had the “how.”

Darwin’s theory has allowed biologists to study one organism, and relate the findings to another. Before Darwin, if a scientist wanted to understand how the nervous system of a human worked, they would study humans. Now with the understanding that we all share a common origin, you can study another organism to receive incite onto another. This has allowed biologist to do experiments that would have been otherwise unethical or impossible to do.

For the ecologist, Darwin’s theory gives us the “why” to why some plant will produce toxic chemicals, while others do not. Understanding that all life is under the constant scrutiny of Natural Selection, and that all life is competing for resources. One can use this information to predict what kinds of traits will evolve. Slow growing plants, will produce more toxins than fast growing plants. Why? Because the slower you grow the more valuable your tissues are as you cannot replace them quickly. Under any other theory, this trend lacks explanation.

For the medical biologist, Darwin’s theory gives us the “why” to vaccinations. Every year we are informed by the medical community to get yet another vaccination for the flu virus. Understanding how viruses mutate and the trends involved with it are a result of understanding evolution. A particular medical insight evolution has given us is the understanding of why the AIDS drug, AZT becomes ineffective after a period of time. The biologist knows, because AZT is placing strong selective pressure on the virus, it will have to evolve or die. With this intimate understanding, when the virus survives and begins to thrive within the host we can know why. Medicine as a whole has seen revolutions in treatment because of the light evolution has shined upon it.

For the geneticist, Darwin has explained the uniformity of the genetic code. Knowing all organisms follow the same genetic code is explained only in terms of evolution. Without Darwin, the why to this magnificent discovery would be unanswered.

Scientists as a whole have received new ways of thinking that has been presented to us through the understanding of evolution. Before Darwin, the thought of complexity arising from more simplistic parts was unheard of. All complexity required more complex explanations. With Darwin, we can see our universe anew. The result of natural laws acting along one another to produce staggering feats of complexity and beauty, stretching the bounds of thought.

–Zach Stevenson

Index 2011

January 2011

C-cubed: Beautiful Humanist Wisdom
Twenty Years Ago
First HoU Meeting Announcement
De-Baptism
The One True Band
Secular Optimism
President’s Message
Website of the Month – Mythbusters

February 2011

C-cubed: No Watchmakers Needed!
DNA and the Watchmaker
President’s Message
Website of the Month – Edge

March 2011

C-cubed: Profile of Utah Humanists
Not For Profit – Book Review
Hold Religious Leaders Accountable
President’s Message
Website of the Month – KickStarter

April 2011

C-cubed: Humanists Want To Travel To…
Rolf Kay Recognized
Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism – Book Review
President’s Message
Website of the Month – Greta Christina’s Blog

May 2011

C-cubed: We Are Humanists Because…
My Theory of Life
The Good Book: A Humanist Bible – Book Review
President’s Message
Darwin Day Festival
Website of the Month – New Humanist

June 2011

C-cubed: Humanists of Utah Love the Arts
Linguistics and Evolution
Personal Library Disposition
President’s Message
Website of the Month – Elaine Ball’s Blog Spot

July 2011

In the Light
Experience the World Without Leaving Home
President’s Message
Website of the Month – SHIFT

August 2011

C-cubed: Here’s to Life!
Humanist Wonder – Asher Jason Martinez
We Are the Lucky Ones
President’s Message
Website of the Month – The Richard Dawkins Foundation

September 2011

October 2011

November 2011

December 2011

 
Humanists of Utah
Table of Contents
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Humanists of Utah
Humanists of Utah, founded in 1991, is a chapter of the American Humanist Association. We are a non profit corporation organized to advocate humanism among our membership and the larger community.

Humanism Promotes
Joyful Living, Rational Thinking, and Responsible Behavior.

Utah Humanist – August 2011

Discussion Groups Reports:

Articles:

Chapter News and Announcements
Up Coming Events

Monthly Meeting

Humanists of Utah will hold our Annual Picnic on Thursday, August 11, at 6:00 PM. Check your email and/or printed copy of the August Utah Humanistfor the address. We will be collecting donations of needed items and/or cash for the Homeless Youth Resource Center. Check Bob’s “President’s Message” above for a list of needed items.

Discussion Group

The Discussion Group will meet NOT meet in August.

Freethought Groups Meetings

  • SHIFT, a student group at the Univeristy of Utah has regular meetings. Check their website for details.
  • Saturday, September 10: SHIFT is proud to present Dr. Victor Stenger, author of God: The Failed Hypothesis, The New Atheist, and other works. Time and location will be announced soon
  • Salt Lake Valley Atheists meet the first Sunday of the month.
  • Utah Coalition of Reason
Darwin Day Festival 2012
Planning Committee Seeking Volunteers

The Utah Coalition of Reason (UCOR) is already planning next year’s Darwin Day celebration. UCOR is the Utah chapter of the United Coalition of Reason whose goal is to unite the various freethought communities within Utah. Next year, we are planning a “Darwin Day Festival.”

This festival will be distinctly different than the lecture format that has been presented the past few years. There will be events for all of the family, young and old. One of the centerpieces of our celebration will be a science fair for junior high and high school students. Substantial cash prizes for the winners’ schools science programs will be presented. What would Darwin say? We think he would be very pleased!

This event is in the planning stages, and UCOR could really use your help! We need volunteers willing to organize the sub events of the festival, participate in running them, setting them up, and taking them down. If you are interested in participating please send an e-mail to events at reasonutah.org. This is gearing up to be the largest Darwin Day event Utah has ever had, and you can be a part of it!

AHA Participation
Sign Up Online

The American Humanist Association now has the capacity to offer e-action alerts with links that will allow you to contact your legislators. You can sign up for AHA e-action alerts and/or email. If you would like to receive AHA press releases, please email.

 


Copyright 1991-2011 © Humanists of Utah
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Homeless Youth Resource Center

December 2011

We will be gathering items for the Homeless Youth Resource Center again at our December Social. Please consider bringing something if you can that evening.

The Center is running a “Holiday Fill the Pack” Campaign and wish list items include: New Back Packs (school size), Gift Cards (grocery, fast food, movies…), Bus Tokens, Hand Warmers, Hygiene Items (body wash, razors, shampoo, deodorant … full size), Headphones, Beanies, Gloves (dark colors), and Financial contributions.

They are also looking in general for the following items (aka cold Utah winters): Coats, Gloves, Sleeping Bags, Blankets, Tents (in good condition), Camping tarps, Batteries (AAA, AA, C), Lighters, Gift cards for food/groceries/public transit, Canned goods and non-perishable food, Tampons, New sweatshirts and sweatpants (XL sizes), and Art supplies (Art supplies go to Operation Shine’s art class for youth).

Many of the homeless youth in our area have been kicked out of their homes and otherwise rejected by their families. The Utah PRIDE center, Volunteers of America and Operation Shine organizations are working very hard to be a helping hand and positive impact in their lives.

–Lisa Miller

Hold Religious Leaders Accountable

March 2011

Excerpted from “Faith and Foolishness” in Scientific American, August, 2010

I don’t know which is more dangerous; that religious beliefs force some people to choose between knowledge and myth or that pointing out how religion can purvey ignorance is taboo. To do so risks being branded as intolerant of religion. The kindly Dalai Lama, in a recent New York Times editorial, juxtaposed the statement that “radical atheists issue blanket condemnations of those who hold religious beliefs” with his censure of the extremist intolerance, murderous actions and religious hatred in the Middle East. Aside from the distinction between questioning beliefs and beheading or bombing people, the “radical atheists” in question rarely condemn individuals but rather actions and ideas that deserve to be challenged.

Surprisingly, the strongest reticence to speak out often comes from those who should be most worried about silence. Last May I attended a conference on science and public policy at which a representative of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences gave a keynote address. When I questioned how he reconciled his own reasonable views about science with the sometimes absurd and unjust activities of the Church–from filing false claims about condoms and AIDS in Africa to pedophilia among the clergy–I was denounced by one speaker after another form my intolerance.

Religious leaders need to be held accountable for their ideas. In my state of Arizona, Sister Margaret McBride, a senior administrator at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix, recently authorized a legal abortion to save the life of a 27-year-old mother of four who was 11 weeks pregnant and suffering from severe complications of pulmonary hypertension; she made that decision after consultation with the mother’s family, her doctors and the local ethics committee ¹ Yet the bishop of Phoenix, Thomas Olmsted, immediately excommunicated Sister Margaret, saying, “The mother’s life cannot be preferred over the child’s.” Ordinarily, a man who would callously let a woman die and orphan her children would be called a monster; this should not change just because he is a cleric.

Keeping religion immune from criticism is both unwarranted and dangerous. Unless we are willing to expose religious irrationality whenever it arises, we will encourage irrational public policy and promote ignorance over education for our children.

¹ NPR coverage of this episode made reference to “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services,” issued by The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (November 17, 2009), which includes the following provisions:

“45. Abortion (that is, the directly intended termination of pregnancy before viability or the directly intended destruction of a viable fetus) is never permitted. Every procedure whose sole immediate effect is the termination of pregnancy before viability is an abortion, which, in its moral context, includes the interval between conception and activities of the Church–from false claims about condoms implantation of the embryo. Catholic health care institutions are not to provide abortion services, even based upon the principle of material cooperation. In this context, Catholic health care institutions need to be concerned about the danger of scandal in any association with abortion providers.

“47. Operations, treatments, and medications that have as their direct purpose the cure of a proportionately serious pathological condition of a pregnant woman are permitted when they cannot be safely postponed until the unborn child is viable, even if they will result in the death of the unborn child”

Sister Margaret apparently relied on #47. Bishop Olmsted apparently hadn’t read past #45.

–Lawrence M. Krauss
The Capital District Humanist Society

Humanist Monthly
October 2010

Good Without God Billboard

October 2011

The Utah Coalition of Reason, with financial support from the National organization erected a billboard on Highway 201. It was visible in late August until the end of the State Fair. The picture below includes several HoU chapter members who celebrated the site along with members of other local freethought organizations.

The Good Book: A Humanist Bible

~Book Review~

May 2011

Few, if any, thinkers and writers today would have the imagination, the breadth of knowledge, the literary skill, and-yes-the audacity to conceive of a powerful, secular alternative to the Bible. But that is exactly what A.C. Grayling has done by creating a non-religious Bible, drawn from the wealth of secular literature and philosophy in both Western and Eastern traditions, using the same techniques of editing, redaction, and adaptation that produced the holy books of the Judaeo-Christian and Islamic religions. The Good Book consciously takes its design and presentation from the Bible, in its beauty of language and arrangement into short chapters and verses for ease of reading and quotability, offering to the non-religious seeker all the wisdom, insight, solace, inspiration, and perspective of secular humanist traditions that are older, far richer and more various than Christianity. Organized in 12 main sections–Genesis, Histories, Widsom, The Sages, Parables, Consolations, Lamentations, Proverbs, Songs, Epistles, Acts, and the Good–The Good Book opens with meditations on the origin and progress of the world and human life in it, then devotes attention to the question of how life should be lived, how we relate to one another, and how vicissitudes are to be faced and joys appreciated. Incorporating the writing of Herodotus and Lucretius, Confucius and Mencius, Seneca and Cicero, Montaigne, Bacon, and so many others, The Good Book will fulfill its audacious purpose in every way.

A.C. Grayling is professor of philosophy at Birkbeck College, University of London. He is the author of the acclaimed Among the Dead Cities: The History and Moral Legacy of the WWII Bombing of Civilians in Germany and Japan, Descartes: The Life and Times of a Genius, and Toward the Light of Liberty: The Struggles for Freedom and Rights That Made the Modern Western World. A fellow of the World Economic Forum and past chairman of the human rights organization June Fourth, he contributes frequently to the Times , Financial Times , Economist , New Statesman , and Prospect. Grayling’s play “Grace,” co-written with Mick Gordon, has played to full houses in London and New York, starring Lynn Redgrave; its central debate over the virtue of religion gives Grayling a strong platform for The Good Book . He lives in London.

–Published on CFI Website
Center for Inquiry
Part of CFIs Voices of Reason Series

From Bountiful Utah to a Mississippi Jail

October 2011

Activist Stephen Holbrook kicked off the 2011-2012 season of Humanists of Utah presentations. Steve has been a civil rights worker, anti-Vietnam war leader, politician and elected official, and co-founder of radio station KRCL.

Born in Bountiful, Utah and raised in an active LDS family, Holbrook’s roots lay in Mormon pioneer ancestry. By all accounts, his childhood was a happy one. Yet he wasn’t oblivious to racial inequities that were happening locally and nationally during the 50s and 60s, citing that mixed race marriages were illegal and African Americans were not allowed to purchase certain real estate properties; it is well known that the LDS priesthood was withheld from this group. Holbrook also noted that at Lagoon, swimming and dancing was prohibited to African Americans.

An experience Holbrook shared that changed him profoundly was his LDS mission in Hong Kong where he saw mind-numbing poverty everywhere. Amid this skid-row environment, he learned about the “ugly American” phenomenon first-hand when Lyndon Johnson, then vice-president, arrived in Hong Kong in an Air Force 2 and bought 200 shirts–and when US Aid sent sacks of cornmeal to the Chinese, who had never eaten this product before.

Hot and heavy at the heels of his return to Utah from his missionary work was the Civil Rights Movement. An active member of the local NAACP, he heard about the disappearance of three civil rights workers in Mississippi. He also heard about the Mississippi Freedom Summer that was approaching. “I’ve got to go, he thought; this is not right.”

Robert Freed, owner of Lagoon, helped Holbrook with his expenses to Mississippi. Obviously a progressive, Freed abolished and desegregated Lagoon’s former policy of profiting blacks to swim or dance.

In Mississippi, Holbrook worked in the office of Charles Evers, the brother of the civil rights leader Medgar Evers, who had been gunned down in front of his home a year before. There, he stayed in the home of Ben and Doris Allison; Doris was the president of the Jackson, Mississippi NAACP and a close friend of Medgar Evers. Holbrook told us that the Allisons had a dog named Freedom, who’d bark and warn them in case of potential trouble. After all, this was a period when thousands were arrested and 50 to 60 black churches were bombed or burned to the ground.

Interestingly Holbrook had met in Philadelphia, Mississippi Sheriff Rainey and Deputy Price, who were later charged with murdering the three civil rights workers. At that time, their bodies had not yet been found.

At that time, out of 250,000 potential black voters, only about 18,000 were allowed to vote. To disqualify black voters, Holbrook said that questions were asked of them like discuss the 10th amendment to the Constitution while white voters were asked questions like name the first president of the US. So in addition to working with Charles Evers, Holbrook also helped blacks register to vote.

One day when he was helping two black women register and was waiting for them to complete the process, he happened to have his camera and took a photo of a water fountain that had a sign saying “Whites Only.” Angry and indignant, a sheriff arrested him for so-called breaching the peace.

Put into a cell with another white man, they were jailed in what was called a “hot box.” Mississippi already immersed in sweltering summer heat and humidity, the jail personnel also turned on the actual heater in their cell to create this “hot box.” Not knowing what to do to be released from this ordeal, the two men decided to go on a hunger strike.

Eventually they were freed after a group of Jewish people from Great Neck, New York raised the money for bail. Later Holbrook learned that Charles Evers could have helped him get released sooner but thought that he needed a good jail experience in Mississippi, which turned out to be another experience that changed his life.

Back in Utah he made headline news “Utah Junior Arrested in Mississippi.” He returned to Mississippi the next summer.

With college students experiencing what Holbrook experienced in Mississippi and all of them returning to their hometowns and speaking at schools, civic clubs, and social groups, as Holbrook has been doing, and with media coverage of civil rights activities, and with the deaths of the three civil rights workers, and with countless sacrifices and martyrs, the federal voting rights bill was finally passed.

Holbrook has continued to be active in the local NAACP. In May of 2011 on KUED TV, he was interviewed in the program called “Utah’s Freedom Riders Explore the Civil Rights Movement in Utah.”

Among other endeavors, Holbrook has also worked to reform the juvenile justice system and aid for the homeless in Utah. For more information about this remarkable activist, go to this website

–Sarah Smith

Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism

~Book Review~

April 2011

Do you ever wonder if your public schooling has left out some important people and movements in American history? Well now you can fill in some of the gaps by reading Susan Jacoby’s excellent book Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism. This well annotated volume discusses the views of our nation’s founders, as well as notable leaders such as Abraham Lincoln. The material she presents paints a picture quite different from the popular versions so often cited in textbooks.

The accomplishments of freethinkers such as Ingersoll, Paine, and Whitman are discussed in detail, along with leaders of the feminist movements, such as Anthony and Stanton, and abolitionist movements, such as Douglass. Darwinian evolution’s role as part of modern scientific thinking is explored, along with the efforts (still ongoing) by religious zealots to keep it out of the U S public educational system.

The book concludes with coverage of efforts in more recent history to increase religious influence in public education and government affairs, such as attempts by fundamentalists to re-write history and change the perceptions of the actual beliefs of our country’s founders. The attempt to convince the public that this is a “Christian Nation” is now stronger than ever, and the far right is trying to overturn every progressive piece of legislation that is on the books, from Roe v. Wade to social security. This book presents a view that the founders had intended: a wall of separation between church and state that now shows signs of crumbling.

Read this book and prepare to reclaim our secular heritage.

–Art King

Experience the World Without Leaving Home

July 2011

Ever wonder what you can do to help change the world? This is an opportunity to open your home and family to a high school student from another country and help build bridges of intercultural understanding at a time when the world really needs it. This year, through AFS Intercultural Programs, more than 2,500 young people from 60 countries will arrive in the U.S. to study at local high schools, charter schools and even some private schools. They will live with families just like yours, sharing in day to day activities. Hosting families provide a bed and meals and the same guidance and support they give their own children; students have health insurance and bring spending money with them. All receive the support of local AFS volunteers.

AFS is a worldwide, nonprofit organization that has been leading international high school student exchange for more than 60 years. Each year, AFS-USA sends more than 1,400 US students abroad, provides approximately $3 million in scholarships and financial aid, and welcomes 2,500 international high school students who come to study in US high schools and live with hosting families. More than 6,000 volunteers in the US make the work of AFS possible.

To learn more about our organization and explore opportunities for hosting, studying abroad or volunteering call AFS-USA at 1-800-876-2377, email hosting@afs.org or check out our website http://www.afs.org. Locally you can call Barbara Calney at 801-942-4014.
“As a humanist and former AFS student to Belgium, I can attest to the life-enhancing experience of being a host family or student abroad.”

–Mark Bedel
HoU Member

The End of Eternity

~Book Review~

October 2011

I thought that I had read all of Isaac Asimov’s science fiction novels; however, I recently came across The End of Eternity written in 1955. This tale is a classic Asimov analysis of a mundane concept, Time, that twists and turns in the most imaginative ways possible.

The premise is that sometime in the 24th century a dimension that is called Eternity is created. In Eternity all of the centuries since its creation can be visited. People are chosen to live in Eternity at first to observe and then, over time they realize that they can manage the events of the various “whens” for the betterment of the human race. When a particular civilization steps on the brink of nuclear weapons, a change is made to change the reality of that time. The changes are always subtle, in one case a pail was moved from one shelf to another right below which caused a man, who was looking for the pail, to miss a class which in the current reality caused him to make the cognitive leap to create fissionable materials. Of course this changes many lives and in many cases causes the loss of many lives, but it is always done for the betterment of the society.

People who live in Eternity are not immortal, they live a normal “physiotime” lifetime. They are a society divided on strict status hierarchy based on how well they perform during the Cub stage, when they are chosen to study to join the Eternals. Failing candidates are in the Maintenance caste. Those who pass muster become Observers, they meticulously watch all the societies from 45th through the 70,000th watching for changes that could improve the lot of humanity. Other positions that can be obtained are Technicians who make the actual changes that modify reality, Computers who analyze data from Observers, as well as administrators, sociologists, etc. Moving forward from where you are is referred to going “upwhen” and backwards “downwhen.” The supreme body that manages the entire process is the Allwhen Council.

The novel concerns one Andrew Harlan who has recently graduated from a Cub to an Observer. He proves to be a very skilled at the job and draws the attention of the most senior Computer who also sits on the Allwhen Council. Harlan is almost instantly made a Technician which causes no small amount of jealousy among others in the society. Another Computer is especially upset and sets some traps to trip Harlan up; including a “Timer” female. The plot thickens, twists on itself, and then turns in several different directions. The only thing that remains consistent is the moral dilemmas of modifying reality. Finally a distinction is made between Eternity and Infinity. I found this book to be a delightful read and highly recommend it.

–Wayne Wilson

De-Baptism

January 2011

There is a movement in Belgium among disenchanted Catholics to be De-Baptized. According to National Public Radio on the program PRI’s the World on October 7, 2010 many Belgian citizens are angry about the continuing pedophilia accusations of priests coming to light.

I personally have only minimal experience with the Catholic Church, but I understand the need to have my name disassociated with formal religion. I tried to get the Mormon Church to take me off its rolls for nearly 20 years. I would ask the local Bishop and he would want me to attend a “court” and reread their sacred books. Finally I heard from a friend that requests for removal were being approved. I wrote a letter to the local Bishop who responded that he would grant me a 90-day window to change my mind but after that he would remove my name. It has been several years now and I haven’t heard a word so I assume that he followed through.

I wrote a clear letter that left no options for discussion. If you are like I was and would like to have your name removed from the LDS rolls, I think that you can probably do the same. For your convenience I am including the relevant content of my letter. Feel free to use as much of it as you like.

I really do not have anything in particular against Mormonism, it is no worse nor better than any other Christian denomination. I am a humanist: I belong to the American Humanist Association and am a board member of the Humanists of Utah which is affiliated with the AHA. We believe in relying on rational judgment instead of depending on illusory mystically based dogma. One of our prime directives is to question authority, both secular and religious. This is the founding principle of the scientific method through which all natural phenomena can be understood.

Please consider this letter sufficient to remove my name from the LDS membership rolls. I am not interested in any meetings nor further discussions. I have read the Book of Mormon, Bible and other “holy” literature and understand them for what they are, the works of confused, frightened men trying to make sense of their environment.

–Wayne Wilson

DNA and the Watchmaker

February 2011

For me, the clincher is the fact that the genome is largely composed of junk DNA. I have been programming computers for a living for some 35 years now, and I view DNA as a large program for the molecular machinery that operates cells and drives life itself. DNA, instead of being a long sequence of binary digits stored in a computer memory, is a long sequence of proteins. And DNA, instead of being clocked, word by digital word, into a processing unit for execution like a computer program, is read by special molecular structures(1) to construct messenger RNA. The messenger RNA is like an old-fashioned computer tape which instructs other molecular machines(2) to create the proteins that eventually trigger different cellular functions. The analogy to a computer program is close and interesting. DNA is the program of life.

Large and long-lived computer programs evolve. As the computer user’s environment changes, the software must be adapted to fit that environment. Payroll programs are changed to match new tax laws, operating system software is adapted to run on new computer hardware, and the networking software I develop now is modified to meet the demands of the rapidly changing internet, to list a few examples. When examining an old program, a programmer often sees signs of those adaptations that have accreted over time. Old functions have been rendered inoperable but the code left in place for later reference. Other functions have been modified, often in very awkward ways, to meet new requirements without restructuring the whole edifice.

DNA shows similar changes. Genes that perform one function in one species have been changed to perform sometimes completely dissimilar functions in other organisms. It has obviously been adapted over time. But these artifacts in themselves don’t deny the existence of a “watchmaker”. They just imply that if such a watchmaker exists, he is what we in the software business often call a “hacker”. Such a hacker isn’t malicious; he is just making quick and economical changes to a computer program in the interest of doing a particular job with as little impact on the rest of the system as possible. No, it is the presence of junk DNA that does nothing at all that eliminates the idea of a watchmaker, a divine programmer.

The genome is filled with long sequences of AGCT(3) protein pairs that do not encode RNA. This stuff is just there and is ignored by the cellular machinery. Indeed, the majority of human DNA is apparently such junk. It is as if a computer programmer put large sequences of nonsensical machine instructions between the blocks of real program code for filler. A real designer would never do this. There is no discernable reason for it. Using the software analogy again, it makes the program longer, taking more space and more energy to support. It makes the DNA copying process longer, less efficient, and probably more prone to error. Its presence, along with the other adaptations I mentioned above, seems to shout that DNA wasn’t designed but was cobbled together willy-nilly out of odd bits of this and that over a very long period of time.

And this cobbling has no apparent pattern to it. The useful DNA is interspersed among the junk just as one would expect if random processes had shaped the molecular structure over the ages. The junk DNA is the smoking gun of random mutations. No intelligent designer would build such a thing.

An excellent discussion of the junk DNA can be found on the Panda’s Thumb website.

Footnotes:

  1. RNA Polymerase
  2. Ribosomes
  3. Adenine, Cytosine, Guanine, and Thymine

–Steve Hanka

Darwin Day Festival

May 2011

The Utah Coalition of Reason (UCOR) is already planning next year’s Darwin Day celebration. UCOR is the Utah chapter of the United Coalition of Reason whose goal is to unite the various freethought communities within Utah. Next year, we are planning a “Darwin Day Festival.”

This festival will be distinctly different than the lecture format that has been presented the past few years. There will be events for all of the family, young and old. One of the centerpieces of our celebration will be a science fair for junior high and high school students. Substantial cash prizes for the winners’ schools science programs will be presented. What would Darwin say? We think he would be very pleased!

This event is in the planning stages, and UCOR could really use your help! We need volunteers willing to organize the sub events of the festival, participate in running them, setting them up, and taking them down. If you are interested in participating please send an e-mail to events at reasonutah.org . This is gearing up to be the largest Darwin Day event Utah has ever had, and you can be a part of it!

Darwin Day Festival
Planning Committee

Dane Hall Vigil

October 2011

A vigil was held to bring to light the atrocities of the attack on a young gay man. Chapter member and Humanist Minister Elaine Ball was invited to speak, here is part of what she said:

As a humanist, I define morality as those actions and thoughts that contribute to the growth and dignity of human life; immoral actions and thoughts denigrate and destroy life. The physical and verbal activities that injured Dane and others should not be tolerated by a civil society.

Humanists strongly oppose hate crime and the causing of psychological and/or physical harm to others because of their creed, sexual orientation, skin color, etc. Humanism means understanding humanity’s role on this earth, and striving to achieve its potential for ourselves and our posterity–such that all humans are treated with an inherent dignity, equality, and respect, no matter their creed, sexual orientation, or other quality that causes no harm to others. Society is most benefited when others are embraced for their differences, rather than persecuted for them. Life would be very boring if everyone were the same.”

This is all about conformity, and how extremely damaging it is when we have this idea that everyone has to be forced to be the same or be shunned/beaten/ridiculed out of the group. We aren’t the same. Even within the narrow confines of a same-practicing religious group we aren’t the same. We have different likes and dreams and goals and abilities. Great pain comes as soon as we start trying to force everyone into the same box. The beauty of a humanistic philosophy is recognizing and embracing and loving and encouraging the recognition of differences and the uniqueness of individuals. Embracing it, instead of the far opposite reaction of violence, enforcement, and fear.

Special thanks to HoU Board members Jason Cooperrider, Lisa Miller, Wayne Wilson, and Flo Wineriter for their input.

–Elaine Ball

October 2011

by Lisa Miller

Daily Reading

Our Utah humanists chime in on their favorite daily reading.

  • I read the Salt Lake Tribune, but not terribly closely. The editorials get the same treatment. However, I always read the comics and do the Jumble, crossword and cryptogram. I’ve never gotten hooked on Sudoku.
  • Nothing terribly exciting–but I find it hard to start the day without a look at the online New York Times.
  • I have to jet out the door most days, to teach an early-morning French class, before I have the chance to read anything. Rather than getting my day started with a go-to daily reading, I typically enjoy reading to wind down in the evening, instead. Lately I have been reading about one American President each night, in a book called Pathways to the Presidency – A Guide to the Lives, Homes and Museums of the U.S. Presidents, by Gerald and Patricia Gutek. I only read one a day, then quiz myself the next night to see if I’m remembering their names let’s see if I can do this without looking: George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, James Madison? Wow! I got the first three right! I switched up James Madison and James Monroe, though; I guess I’ll have to keep working on it!
  • I often start by reading articles in one of the magazines I subscribe to: Free Inquiry, Skeptical Inquirer, The Humanist or AARP’s magazine (which is like People magazine for seniors.) All offer me “news I can use” and articles of interest to me. I also like to read whatever books I happen to be reading. I am usually reading several at a time, a habit I got into when a student at the U which I have never been able to break. All while I sip on a mug of coffee. I like history, biographies, some philosophy, social and cultural topics, poetry and literature, whatever suits my mind at any given time.
  • I have a folder in my Firefox bookmarks titled Comics. I choose “open all in tabs” and then read, in order: Dilbert, Doonesbury (being careful not to miss the “Say What?” section,) Non Sequitur, Overboard, Zits, and the Cagel Post of editorial cartoons.

The Conversation for October:

What is some pseudo-science or pseudo-logic that annoys you? For some reason the flu shot superiors really get under my skin. Every time I get my own shot, I’m still met with an unbelievable number of people who claim that the flu shot gave them the flu–the “worst case of the flu” ever–as they laugh at my risk taking in getting the shot. (My apologies if you’re in this camp. I love you guys!) I’m also particularly annoyed at the propagandizing that the “optimal” family make-up is 2 heterosexual, married parents with kids. No other criteria. Just the approved gender and number. It breaks my heart to think of the huge number of abused and neglected children who would disagree. Or the recent willful re-write of history that marriage has always been this sacred, wonderful “union” between 2 people. And so on.

Send your thoughts to Lisa at HumanistsofUtah.org for next month’s newsletter.

–Lisa Miller

November 2011

by Lisa Miller

Pseudo-Logic Top Hits

This month we were discussing the pseudo-logic or pseudo-science topics that are on our lists of most annoying things posing as truth these days.

  • A bit of pseudoscience that annoys me is that immunizations cause autism. Not only has such a link been shown to be false by study after study, the scientist who first reported such findings has been shown to have falsified his data to get the sensational results he was hoping for. This horrible rumor has led to many children becoming ill from preventable diseases and has made it likely that deadly outbreaks of preventable diseases will occur in the coming years, due to diminished herd immunity, which is what allows diseases to be controlled via mass immunizations. Much harm will come from this atrocity and it will only get worse before it gets better.
  • The babble of “intelligent design” versus evolution and the use of the terminology “believe in.” They are some form of “new” religion? Science does not need some form of a belief system, it uses evidence.
  • I am annoyed by the myth of ronald reagan being a great guy and president. He betrayed his fellow actors during the McCarthy era-some of whom were blacklisted. He lied (committed treason) his way into the presidency by making a deal with Iranians to release the American hostages after the inauguration. He waged war on peasants in Nicaragua, he started the decline of the middle class by lowering taxes on the richest of the rich and launched an all-out attack on unions by firing the PATCO strikers. He DID NOT defeat Soviet Russia-they self-defeated by over-extension just as we are now. He started the deregulation of Wall Street that has led to our recent catastrophic economic mess. He ignored Global Climate Change and defunded all the efforts Jimmy Carter had established to make ourselves energy independent. He believed in pseudoscience and used it to waste hundreds of billions of dollars on an insane “defense” project he called “Star Wars.” His wife was a believer in astrology which she used to influence his decisions. He was anti-intellectual and frequently used thinly veiled rhetoric to assail academia. “Great Communicator” my ass. He was one of the most destructive presidents of the American Dream we have ever had, and he was barely literate.
  • I often wonder why people are so confident saying “our country was built on Christianity” and cite all the references on the dollar bill, etc.
  • How about this one: “Everything happens for a reason.” Oh really? Everything happens for a reason? How about the Spanish flu? The San Francisco earthquake and fire? You could make a pretty long list here. Aside from the obvious cause and effect argument this statement is so pathetically ignorant that I always want to react with anger when I hear it. Unfortunately the “everything happens for a reason” statement usually comes out of the mouth of some dear and caring person who is only trying to console a loved one or friend after a very disagreeable incident and it would be a shame to cast a negative pall over the situation by uttering my disbelief. So I just bite my tongue and wonder just how long the human race will have to live with that kind of logic passing for wisdom.
  • So much pseudoscience annoys me it is hard to know where to begin, but one instance that will probably not be mentioned by others was identified by Arthur Caplan, professor of bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, in the August/September 2011 issue of Free Inquiry. It is that “anything that could be done with embryonic stem cells for therapeutic purposes could also be done using adult stem cells.” Closely related is that “modified adult stem cells…could absolutely do the job expected of embryonic stem cells,” which “has now, predictably, been debunked, showing that wishes built on religious desires are not a substitute for rigorous science.”
  • I get concerned when illogical thinking and actions endanger the well-being of others. The anti-vaccination craze is a good example. Not getting vaccinated or having one’s children vaccinated based on fear of a potential or imagined risk of serious side effects poses an even larger risk to the general public. The benefits of vaccinations far outweigh the risks. The fact that people are willing to risk the health of their children and the general public for no good reason angers me, even frightens me.
  • That the inevitable conclusion to the science of evolution is the programs and philosophies implemented by Hitler/Mao/Stalin.
  • It is not so much “which” pseudoscience that bothers me as it is the fact that our society seems to regard opinion more highly than observations. This conundrum is fed by the media who conduct polls that have questions that begin with “Do you believe…” It does not matter whether or not a majority (accurate to plus or minus 0.3%) believe that the earth is flat; objective observation proves that it is not. The example of a flat earth may be facetious but the concept is applied to issues like whether or not our leaders should be religious, or more specifically Christian. Any fair look at governance of society shows that a secular government is much healthier than one tangled with religious dogma. Governmental decisions colored with anything except generic moral beliefs (like murder, incest, etc.) are oppressive and tend to discriminate against healthy minorities. Show me the FACTS!
[Editor’s Note: See this recent story about measles outbreaks that addresses issues of vaccination, etc.]

The Conversation for November:

If you were writing your memoirs, what would its title be?

Send your thoughts to Lisa at Humanists of Utah.org for next month’s newsletter.

–Lisa Miller

May 2010

by Lisa Miller

We Are Humanists Because…

This month the members are talking about humanism and why we’re humanists. Your insightful thoughts make me even gladder I’ve found the philosophy of humanism and you Humanists of Utah in particular.

  • For me it is all about who I am and what I call myself. There are a number of labels that others use that I am not fond of like atheist or non-believer. Both of these, while probably accurate, describe who I am NOT, rather than who I am. Other “accurate” labels might include non-black, non-female, non-homosexual, etc. but please, I for one prefer to be known as a humanist!
  • My favorite aspect of humanism is the goal of being truly human in every role we play each day. Our thoughts, our actions, our personal relations, our community responsibilities. Humanism encourages an increasing awareness of our individual responsibility of developing a peaceful, energetic, cooperative, healthy world ourselves without any supernatural motive.
  • The best thing about humanism is the people. I think of myself as a humanist because the principles of humanist most closely agree with the way I think.
  • Humanism, for me represents freedom. It is freedom to support the civil liberties and rights of all people, irrespective of sex, race, religion or sexual orientation. It is the freedom to have an open mind, to not be confined by dogma, to pursue the answers to life’s problems from all perspectives whether it be through philosophy, mythology or science. It is the freedom to be wrong; any decision I make may have consequences in this life, but there is no eternal damnation. I don’t fear death any more than I fear sleep, which gives me great comfort. To not believe in and fear an afterlife is real freedom. This freedom is what makes me human and a humanist.
  • I’ve been an atheist for all of my adult life and since I am a scientist, most of my colleagues and friends are atheists as well, so I need neither company nor confirmation for my “beliefs”–but what humanism does is set those beliefs in a larger social framework, one that sits comfortably with my personal values.
  • Two things in particular: I like humanism’s commitment to the evidence-based, critical thinking, skeptical, self-correcting scientific method, as opposed to the faith-based, tell-me-what-to-think, gullible, writ-in-stone religion. And I like its commitment to equal human rights for everyone, including women, gays, blacks, and immigrants, as opposed to theologically or ideologically based discrimination against certain groups. Actually, I like everything about humanism.
  • What attracts me to the humanist philosophy is its emphasis on benefiting humanity and its promotion of equality among all people without introducing matters of religion or theism. These are guidelines by which anyone can live his/her life, regardless of one’s belief (or lack thereof) in a deity. This was evident in the charity fundraiser that the UU student group SHIFT put on recently, in which several religious people chose to donate money to the humanism jar instead of one of the church jars, explaining that they would rather our members volunteer two hours at the Homeless Youth Resource Center than attend a church service, which would be the result should the humanism jar contain the most donations at the end of the fundraiser. Such acts give me hope for the future, especially for the future of humanism.
  • Enlightened, scientifically-based humanism raises supreme values of love, respect, brotherly neighborliness and emancipation from the yoke of perpetual serfdom. A serfdom that is the man-made endeavor to enrich the rabbi, the priest, the sheik, etc. etc. at the expense of the poor, used, abused and neglected followers. Religion is organized perpetual and methodical brainwashing, to the detriment of its followers and its detractors and a menace to our humanity. Defeat it with scientific knowledge and vanquish misbegotten fairy tales and myths.

The Conversation for May:

In a previous month I asked about your favorite branch of science. Now how about your favorite liberal arts area? Either as an observer or creator, what is your love? Photography, symphonies, rock bands, paintings, sculpture, poetry, literature, journalism, animation, film, drama?

Send your responses to Lisa at HumanistsofUtah.org for next month’s newsletter.

–Lisa Miller

March 2011

by Lisa Miller

A Profile of the Utah Humanists

From our conversation this month we found these interesting numbers about the make-up of Humanists in our group. It is a privilege to be part of such a distinguished group.

  • Newest humanist: 3 years
  • Longest humanist: 59 years
  • Average years as a humanist: 20.4 years

Average member age: 60.5 years old.

One of the founding members of our chapter, Flo Wineriter, shared this about his years as a humanist: He is a humanist missionary/counselor, has officiated more than one hundred humanist wedding ceremonies, conducted a dozen or so naming ceremonies, conducted a few humanist memorial services, and has spoken to dozens of Utah school teachers about including humanism in their “Teaching About Religion” classes. He is a graduate of the Humanist Institute and is 86-years old. Thank you Flo!

The Conversation for March

If you were given a chance to:

  1. Travel to outer space
  2. Travel back in time
  3. Travel forward in time
  4. Go somewhere at a microscopic level

Let’s stipulate that there will be a return trip and you don’t have to stay there. Which one would you choose?

Send your responses to Lisa at HumanistsofUtah.org for next month’s newsletter.

–Lisa Miller

June 2010

by Lisa Miller

Utah Humanists Love the Arts

This month members talk about their favorites in the liberal arts areas.

  • As a philosophy (humanities) major, I love virtually all of the liberal arts, although not so much the loud rock music and concerts of the younger generation. I particularly like story-telling through plays, musicals, opera, and movies. Messages that are too abstract, as in much poetry, are less appealing, although such abstraction in ballet and great music of surpassing beauty touches my emotions directly. And where genius is evident, as in some architecture and painting, I stand in awe.
  • My favorite liberal arts areas are: Epistemology because knowledge is so helpful in life and possibly a cornerstone of Humanism. Etymology the use of words are helpful in communicating with humans.
  • What is the expression? Jack of all trades but master of none? I don’t consider myself particularly adept at any of the Liberal Arts pursuits so I enjoy sampling almost all of them. I enjoy stories of all forms, reading, movies, or plays; nearly all genera. I play with my cameras and computers but never have, and probably won’t, produce anything of long term significance. What I like about these ventures is that they make me feel ALIVE!
  • I always have a hard time picking “a favorite” in anything. I usually like several things equally. I love to read in the mornings while listening to instrumental jazz and, on occasion, classical music (If I listen to vocals it interferes with my concentration). I read many disciplines including literature, history, philosophy, pop culture, etc. I read popular fiction in the evenings, usually mysteries, science fiction, old and new. I listen to rock, country, jazz and pop vocals later in the day when I’m puttering around the house or driving. In the evenings I like to watch movies. As with Edgar Allan Poe’s praise of the short story, that it was meant to be read in one sitting, the same can be said of film. You get a lot of entertainment for a couple of hours of your time. I watch a lot of genre (popcorn) movies when I simply want to be entertained. These encompass film noir (easily one of my favorites), mysteries, comedies, westerns, war, horror and sci-fi, especially those of the 1930’s 1950’s. When I want to explore the human condition in a more serious manor, I like the Italian neo-realism films, the humanistic films of the Japanese like Akira Kurosawa and Yasujiro Ozu, and the more angst driven movies of Ingmar Bergman and the Americana of John Ford and Frank Capra. If I want to laugh at the human condition I watch Charlie Chaplin, the Marx Brothers and Woody Allen. I also watch many current movies. I am a big fan of directors like Scorsese, Coppola, David Fincher, David Aronofsky to name a few. My granddaughter recently told me I knew much more about movies than I should. She’s not the first one to tell me that.
  • I’ve always loved “the story”. Books and movies that take you away on adventures, show you new worlds, give you glimmers of insight into this human condition. Lately I’ve really been craving the intensity of dramatic theater, and (surprisingly) the form/colors/textures of abstract art and photography.

The Conversation for June:

What would you say would be the ideal human lifespan? Would you like to live 1000 years? More? Or is 100 years enough to do all you want to do? Would you like to have multiple families or just live a really long time in post child-rearing years (or maybe a really long pre child-rearing age)?

Send your thoughts to Lisa at HumanistsofUtah.org for next month’s newsletter.

–Lisa Miller

August 2011

by Lisa Miller

Here’s To Life

Check out these super cool thoughts from our members about what an ideal human lifespan would be.

  • I suppose a good round 100 years would be doable. Enough people live to 100 years now that we can safely say that it is a natural span of time to live. Extending life significantly further would be changing the rules to the extent that life would not be the same experience. Humans seem to have a psychology that evolves through the stages of life: infant, child, adolescent, adult, middle and old age. These stages would last longer, I suppose, and the essential experience would still be the same. My only interest in living longer would be to know the future. We do so many things during our span that are contingent on an unknown future that knowing that future would be of great interest. So, for me, 100 years would be fine, and then near the end a nicely edited view of the future accurately depicting events that will occur in the next few hundred years, music, credits, curtain.
  • 1000 years seems w-a-y too long. I’d say 100 would be about right.
  • I am 86 years old. I have enjoyed a good life filled with a variety of experiences, raised a family, traveled, been involved socially and politically and I am still interested in learning and changing. I want to live as long as my health permits me to continue to be involved in life whether that’s 87 or 100. I would like to die when I am no longer an active, useful, viable person. I think the most important aspect of life is quality not quantity. I don’t believe there is any conscious awareness after death therefore I have no fear of death, no fear of not being.
  • I would love to live to be 1000 but who would want me around? We are currently studying quantum theory and our book informs us that matter or energy is not destroyed, concurring with some Eastern philosophies. That said I guess we all will being living forever in some form.
  • One thousand years seems like a very long time -think of living from the eleventh century until now -and everything is moving much faster now; I can hardly keep up. Even at less than 100 years old, I’ve lived history that my grandkids are studying. And think of all the extended family names I would have to remember if I lived to 1000! Still, 100 years seems too short. I sometimes think I’ve already lived in the best of times, but if the arc of history continues to bend, however fitfully, toward more civilization, and assuming good health, and if we somehow solve climate change and overpopulation and develop sustainable energy, and if humanism continues to expand, then 150 years would be welcome. Otherwise, what we have is okay.
  • We should live as long as we can learn and change. For some that might be 30 years, for others 300.
  • 1500 to 2000 years should be sufficient to experience many multiples careers, love(s) and develop a reasonable attitude toward fellow earth inhabitants so there would be a sane policy toward our incorporation into the natural world and a stewardship based on the knowledge that it takes all living organisms to sustain “OUR” (all inclusive) home, planet.
  • I’m not unhappy with the way it is now. If I live to be 100 and my health is good, I’m okay with that. To live 1000 years would mean we would have to institute a suspension on births. The world would be overrun with senior citizens. How boring. People would likely put off marriage and, when they could have children that would be greatly delayed. I think of my grandchildren and how much I enjoy their company, I would hate to wait 600 or 700 years before they might exist. I say leave things as they are. Do as much of the things you want to do while you can. If you don’t get it all done you won’t even know it or care.
  • When I think about the question my response is that I would love to live a thousand years or more, for several reasons. One of the reasons comes to my mind immediately: I have always been fascinated with the idea of space travel and a long life would allow me to live hopefully until space travel became routine to allow a person to go on expeditions that might take too long for the average human lifespan. I could go on, but that is reason enough.
  • The question about how I want to live got me to thinking about one of my favorite fun authors, Tom Robbins. I especially like his earlier work; the CCC topic this month inspired me to download Jitterbug Perfume to my Kindle. It is the story of a man who doesn’t want to die. It begins a few thousand years ago when he is king/chief of a tribe; a duty that can only be held by the most masculine, virile man of the tribe. Any sign of age means a human sacrifice so he gets very worried when he finds a grey hair on his head. He arranges with his favorite wife the means to escape and runs from death through the rest of the book. He uses foods, an ancient religion from the Himalayas, and other tricks. As I recall, by the end of the book he starts to have second thoughts. So I guess I don’t know how long I want to live. I do think I would like to pass the century mark though.
  • When most people think of living a long time, they think of making it to being 100. And they imagine themselves being mostly blind, full of pain, most of their body not working, perhaps being immobile or at best in a wheel chair. And any time they think of living longer than this, they think of things only going downhill from there. Most people that say they don’t want to live a long time, is because this is the only way they can think of it. Another problem they might come up with is that they always imagine that if they, and everyone else, lived forever, there would quickly be no more room for anyone on the earth. So, again, they say they would never want to overcrowd the earth. And if people don’t get trapped by these two problems, they usually find some other equally silly reason for why it wouldn’t be good to live forever. For example, often times say they wouldn’t want to live after any of their loved ones have ‘passed on’ or many other fantasized reasons. Anyway, obviously I’d like to live forever, forever growing way beyond anything I’ve been able to be, or achieve, to date. And yes, I even hope to someday be able to find a way to resurrect those that don’t make it, as Raymond Kurzweil describes in The Singularity is Near.
  • Reading through your thoughts on the subject, I feel a strange mixture of being really content with life and the time we have (especially sharing this time now with fellow travelers like you) and being sparked with the desire to live through epochs of change and civilization. Of course, with the possibly catastrophic direction that massive population and climate change is hurtling us towards, I may be okay with opting out of that era. One thing is for sure; if we did live longer we would have to have opportunities to revisit college and switch-up careers!

The Conversation for August:

What is your go-to daily reading? That thing that starts your day out (or maybe unwinds the end of your day)? Perhaps an online blog, news site, puzzle, horoscope, comic, editorials, political discussions, local news. Send your favorites to Lisa at HumanistsofUtah.org for next month’s newsletter.

–Lisa Miller

January 2011

by Lisa Miller

Beautiful Humanist Wisdom

Here are some provocative thoughts to start your new year…the answers to what we would go back and tell our younger selves.

  • Question everything and close your mind to nothing.
  • To be less dutiful and more sensitive.
  • Be stronger, trust yourself more, be free of religion and celebrate and laugh each day.
  • To play harder and play at every opportunity.
  • I would ask questions, like: Why does religion imply morality? Why are non believers suspected of immoral activity? Why do I need the comfort of an afterlife to dictate my behavior? I think that hatred and prejudice are like poison on a plant, and like a plant, we flourish with wholesome attention, all of which has nothing to do with theatre, ritual or religion. What would I tell my younger self? Be kind. Do no harm. Seek understanding. Do not judge those whose lives you have not lived. Forgive. Give guidance and support. And know when to be silent.
  • I wouldn’t want to change any specific decisions I made because I could not accurately predict that the alternate decisions would result in significantly more meaningful results. What would I tell my younger self? How about ‘buy Microsoft?’ The likelihood, of course, would be that I would ignore that advice just as I ignored pretty much anything that older people tried to tell me. After all, even though I was an atheist and did not believe in an after life, as a teenager, being 60 or 70 years old seemed an afterlife of sorts. I might just tell myself, “Don’t worry so much, life is short.”
  • I wish that I would have learned to question authority earlier and a little more rationally. When I “discovered” that some of the things my parents taught me were not correct, I assumed that everything they had said must be incorrect. It made living with myself difficult for quite a few of the turbulent years between 18-26 or so. I tried very hard to teach my children that their mother and I are solid and qualified resources for knowledge, but there are also other fountains of wisdom available and that it is not necessary for our children to agree with us on everything; we can still be civil with each other and learn from and respect all of us.
  • I would tell myself to pursue my dreams until I either achieved them or I had completely exhausted all avenues. I think that too often in life we settle for less than what we want and as a result never seem to be happy with where we are in life whether that be our job, where we live, etc. Pressure to be responsible to our family when we get married and have children leads us off the path we wished we had taken. When we are young we can recover from most of life’s pitfalls, so that is the best time to suffer through them when trying to reach those dreams. When we get older we are sometimes disappointed in ourselves for giving up too easy.

The Conversation for January:

What is one of your favorite evidences supporting the idea that there is no “Watchmaker” (i.e. the argument for life being designed based on functioning like it has a designer)? Your answers can be something whimsical or in the realm of scientifically factual.

Personally, I think the existence of horrendous, hideous viruses and parasites like AIDS, malaria, dysentery, and the Guinea worm (as the barest of starts) are plainly ridiculous in a ‘designed’ world. Surely a designer could have made a world without introducing these. (Oops, logical fallacy: nothing compels a good or kind designer, does it? Oh well, run with it anyway-I can’t wait to hear your ideas!)

Send your responses to Lisa at HumanistsofUtah.org for next month’s newsletter.

–Lisa Miller

February 2011

by Lisa Miller

No Watchmaker Needed

This month the Utah Humanists discuss our thoughts on life and no “designer.”

    • Scientists don’t find this a hard question at all. The reason we believe there is no watchmaker is that there is no evidence for one. Besides, Darwin has shown us that life is “designed” by natural selection, so we don’t even need a watchmaker. Or, as Richard Dawkins put it, “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.”
    • My one-word answer is “toenails”-I have had issues with ingrowns, rotten (ie: fungus farms), and since I’ve gotten bigger, I have a heck of time keeping them trimmed. What on earth do humans need toenails for? (Bonus: Do an internet search on “incompetent design”)
    • The point for me is not whether there is any evidence or not, but that we who do not believe it are always having to address disproving the myth in the first place. If we are not taught there is a watchmaker, we don’t need evidence to dismantle the myth. Others need us to uphold the myth for their sake. This is what is so uncomfortable in this perpetual debate: we are not allowed to be comfortable just being our non-believing selves! Here is a recent example: At my mother’s service, I stated in my eulogy to her that, as she was no longer living, she wouldn’t be able to hear me anymore when I said I loved her, but I would say it, all the same. Later, a Mormon cousin approached me and exclaimed, “But, She DOES hear you!” While I realize this was meant to comfort me, I was offended at the disrespectful arrogance. Suppose I had come up to him in his church, after his mother’s service, and ventured to offer him a different version of faith–namely mine? It is just another example of the 800-pound elephant feeling totally comfortable, wherever it finds itself, to spread its message, regardless of how inappropriate or out of bounds its speaker may be.
    • The best evidence for no ‘watchmaker’–humans for centuries are still doing the dumbest things (killing each other) and not learning from the past, but I guess the opposite is true too.
    • One thing that comes to my mind whenever thinking about or discussing this question is deep time. As I became more and more scientific minded the idea that the universe could be 6,000 years old and poofed into existence became useless. Understanding evolution both in the biologic and physics sense is a wonderful thing. An ancient universe that has been changing continuously for over 13 billion years is so much more grand and interesting. It needs no watchmaker.
    • Who in their right mind would put a waste treatment plant in the middle of a recreational facility?
    • I like this question because the first thing it makes me think of is this website: http://whywontgodhealamputees.com. Basically, I think that the best argument for there being no “Watchmaker” is that people claim all the time that a God has answered their prayers in some way. He has healed them of cancer or any number of life-threatening diseases, and they refuse to attribute their healing to any other possible cause. Statistically, there are many reasons why some people experience seemingly “miraculous” cures following onset of diseases. But the easiest explanation is of course, I prayed, or someone who loves me prayed, and I got better, so it must have been because of the prayer. However, as this website amusingly points out, this train of logic ultimately fails when we consider amputees. Never, not once in the entire history of mankind, has God ever “healed” an amputee…that is, we have never seen a missing limb re-grow because someone prayed that they could have the missing part back. Why would he heal cancer patients, or cure brain tumors, but never once allow a missing limb to re-grow? The answer is, when claims are held to scientific scrutiny, we can always come up with myriads of explanations (most of them not based in reality) for things that we can’t see. It invariably becomes more difficult to explain the things we can see, like God choosing to heal some cancer patients but not others, or God choosing to answer your little bitty prayer this morning that you would find your missing keys, while leaving children dying of starvation in refugee camps around the world.
    • As George Carlin pointed out, “…Everything that God (intelligent designer?) makes dies.” I suppose the complexity of life, human and non-human, is something to marvel at. But when someone argues that an intelligent designer had to have created life on earth, and life’s complexity is what supports this condition, isn’t this just rationalization for a flawed design? As Socrates said as he was dying, “To live–that means to be a long time sick.” In other words, we are born terminally ill. Hardly seems like a great design to me. The marvel of life’s complexity is what we have because there is no intelligent designer, and thank god for that.
    • One of the good arguments against creation science is the evolution of drug resistant bacteria. Why would a benevolent God create bacteria that are resistant to our current antibiotics and threaten lives of infected patients. Resistant bacteria are the rare bacteria that develop some resistance to our antibiotics and survive to reproduce. Eventually they become a pre-dominant strain of bacteria (survival of the fittest). This is just as Darwin outlined and predicted. The reason we can see plainly survival of the fittest in bacteria is their rapid life cycles and reproductive rates in hours rather than years. Many generations of the microbes cycle in a matter of days. This is clear evidence for evolution and survival of the fittest. It is evidence against a benevolent, kind, loving God creator.
    • I’ve seen too many different Gods and erroneous beliefs accepted on faith to put any reliance on faith at all. In contrast, the scientific method, while it too, can begin with wrong hypotheses and theories, is at least self-correcting and has overturned many beliefs accepted on faith (although too many people still accept them–on faith.) Thus, ironically, uncertain science has triumphed over the certainties of faith. I’ll put my confidence in science, which explains our world quite well thank you very much.
    • The last Pope (JP II) is seriously being touted for sainthood. If the man who refused to do anything real to stop the pedophiles in the outfit he led for 30 years then there can be no real threat of spiritual/divine/everlasting consequence. Lack of loud, continuous public condemnation of poverty, war, extreme wealth, and economic slavery are also indications that the clergy of ALL faiths do not take their own faith seriously–so why should I?
    • I suppose that for me the best evidence supporting the idea that there is no Watchmaker is that there is, in fact, no watch. The more we learn about our world, our universe and our bodies the more obvious it becomes that the universe is nothing like a watch. It is not linear. It is not logical. It cannot be explained accurately with language alone and is proving to be so arcane to our basically Pleistocene modes of reasoning that we will probably never fully understand it in terms of language. Our first glimmers of understanding about the material world made it seem that a mechanistic approach was possible and lazy thinkers ever since then have clung to the hope that the universe would turn out to be basically that simple. Physicists today still think in hopeful terms of “elegant simplicity” (even as their calculations call for more and more speculative fudge factors.) The idea of a “watchmaker” may always be necessary for some people because of an innate human need for order and a simplified concept of what that order might entail. Santa and his elves come to mind.
    • One of our Website of the Month links points to a great Seed Magazine interview with Don Wise. He refers to a little song he enjoys, sung to the tune of The Battle Hymn of the Republic (best sung when all are perfectly off-key):

My bones proclaim a story of incompetent design.
My back still hurts, my sinus clogs, my teeth just won’t align.
If I had drawn the blueprint, I would cer-tain-ly resign.
Incompetent Design!
Evo-Evo-Evo-lution! Design is but a mere illusion.
Darwin sparked our revolution. Science SHALL prevail!

  • For me, it is all about faith and hope. If there is a voyeuristic God, hiding from us, while there are still evils, like death, then we are eternally screwed and there can be no hope. For even if we become as powerful and good as that God, could we expect to do any better? If there is not yet a God, on the other hand, then there is room for hope and faith that evils, like death and hiding, aren’t that hard to overcome, after all, and that someday humanity might overcome them. We can hope that from then on, no voyeuristic hiding, isolation, death, or any other such evils will ever exist for the rest of eternity. The same thing goes for Jesus being divine. If Gods have to “condescend” to our level, and suffer like us, then that is the worst of all possibilities. If you believe this, it is the opposite of faith and hope–it is abandonment of such. If, on the other hand, when there really are Gods, they can raise all of us up to their level, and easily eliminate all the evil and hiding; that is what I hope for Gods and maybe even us some day, long before we are anything close to being a God. I have faith and hope that most evils aren’t that hard or impossible to overcome. Theists that claim to be people of “faith,” to me, are just ignorant liars. For if there are already gods or even spirits that hide from us, then there can be no faith or hope. If you are rational, you realize what a truly scary thought that is. Atheists are the only ones that can have true faith and hope.

How long have you been calling yourself a humanist? Let me know and I’ll compile some statistics for our chapter: newest humanist, longest humanist, median, mean, and standard deviation…

Send your responses to Lisa at HumanistsofUtah.org for next month’s newsletter.

–Lisa Miller

December 2011

by Lisa Miller

Name That Memoir:

This month we’re thinking up the titles we would use if we were to write our own memoirs. We’ve got some pretty provocative offerings.

  • Me and My Hot Air Balloon. And How Life Begins When You Slice the Rope
  • The Taste of Freedom
  • Is There a Meaning to It All? My Thoughts on Reality and How I Came to Them
  • How to Tell the Truth When Lies Work So Much Better
  • I Didn’t Ask to Be Born, But I’m Glad That I Was.
  • Big Mouth Trap, Caught Talking
  • Tales of a Traveling Teacher
  • Life as a Between-You-and-Me Person
  • Don’t Weigh Me Down with Your Anchors
  • A Cat Lands on Its Feet Nine Out of Ten Times
  • And from Bill Cosby whose latest book is titled: “I Didn’t Ask To Be Born, But I’m Glad That I Was”

The Conversation for December:

What is something you would like to do that is kind of unique, that not many other people may want to do. For example, a friend of mine was saying that he would totally go on a manned space mission to Mars-even if that meant it was a one-way trip and he wouldn’t be able to come back.

Send your thoughts to Lisa at HumanistsofUtah.org for next month’s newsletter.

–Lisa Miller

April 2011

by Lisa Miller

Utah Humanists Want To Travel To…

From our members’ responses on which adventure they would choose:

  • Travel to Outer Space: 1
  • Travel Back in Time: 4
  • Travel Forward in Time: 2
  • Go somewhere at a microscopic level: (none!)

And their fabulous supporting thoughts on why:

  • No question, I’d like to travel forward in time. I’m willing to rely on Nova for exploring our huge and tiny universes, and historians give me a reasonably good look backwards. But traveling to the future, I could see what the warming world will look like, whether we develop green energy before we deplete our oil, whether a consensus will ever develop on the role of government in our economic and social system, whether Citizens United will be overturned, whether our country is in decline, what role both Islam and humanism will play as we move forward, and on and on. Who wouldn’t want to know these things?
  • I think I would like to travel back in time. There is something frightening about knowing the future. And it would spoil all the surprises. By going back in time we could verify the truth or falsehood of religion. Did Jesus exist? Did Moses really part the Red Sea? What about Noah’s Ark? By visiting the past and proving the falsehood of religion we might be able to reverse the damage it has done for centuries. I would also be able to meet people I admire like Mark Twain, Thomas Jefferson, Voltaire, W.C. Fields. I am glad we have the “return trip” option because every period that sounds interesting, the Old West, the 1940’s (I love the Film Noir movies from this period), have many drawbacks that deter from any wish to stay there. As the saying goes, “There’s no place like home.”
  • I’d like to travel back in time. The older I get the more questions I have for family members who have passed away. Hearing about WWII from my dad who spent two years in France, from my grandfather about why he apostatized from the Mormon Church, and from numerous others. Problem is, I may not want to come back if it was possible to relive those times, be younger for a while longer, and then reach 81 again!
  • Since I’m an ‘avid’ history fanatic (religious especially) I’d have to say….back in time, is my choice.
  • I have to go for a trip into space. It actually seems plausible where the other fantasies, while interesting, are most likely just fantasies.
  • I’d really, really like to travel forward in time and see if we ever manage to create a world with more balance against extreme violence and poverty.

The Conversation for April:

Let’s discuss… What is your favorite thing about humanism? What attracts you to the humanist philosophy and/or why do you like to think of yourself as a humanist?

Send your responses to Lisa at HumanistsofUtah.org for next month’s newsletter.

–Lisa Miller

Asher Jace Martinez

August 2011

I am a fortunate 86-year old man sitting on the couch holding my three-week old great-great-grandson admiring this beautiful child and wondering what magic chemical actions of nature created this gazing human who ten months ago did not exist.

I notice the perfect shape of his head displaying thin strands of hair, the perfectly proportioned facial characteristics, forehead, eyebrows, eyes, nose, mouth and chin in perfect relationship. His tiny tongue curling up between his parted lips tasting the air of my home. His eyes not yet focusing but already distinguishing the shadows between lightness and darkness of my living room. His beautifully shaped ears already alert and responding to the differences of frightening loudness and soothing quietness.

His tiny perfect arms testing the air around him. His chest encasing lungs that gently expand and contract to balance the oxygen and blood that nourish and sustain his beautiful body. The muscles of his firm legs strengthened by thrashing within his mother bosom for several months now released and pressing lightly against my hand.

The tiny film of nails that protect the tips his delicate fingers and toes. This perfect human being barely released from a womb that nurtured and protected the miniscule sperm and cell that united just a few months ago and agreed to form this beautiful person.

I believe he senses the love I feel for him and the safety we will provide him as he experiences growing up in a testing world.

I hope he will enjoy the fullness of life that will enable him 86-years from now to hold his great-great-grandchild and marvel at the magic mindfulness of nature.

–Florien J. Wineriter
June 24, 2011
Father of Susan
Grandfather of Angel
Great-grandfather of Cassie
Great-great grandfather of Asher