The Individual As Scientist:
Descartes’ Method in Reason and Science
My purpose today will be to relate some information about the methods of science that Descartes advocated and used during his lifetime. I hope that you will see this talk as a continuation of the one delivered two months ago which focused upon Copernicus and the problems of astronomy in his time. That talk attempted to show how inappropriate it would be to expect that Copernicus’ near contemporaries should have accepted his theory. Partly because the scientific evidence for the theory was not unequivocally on his side, especially for physics and astronomy. And partly because it seemed quite right to many of them on both sides of the Copernican debates to find a role for the Bible in their assessments of scientific value.
This discussion of the character of scientific reasoning will consider Descartes, a particularly interesting figure. Not only was he a historically important mathematician and scientist, developing theories about physics, cosmology, optics, physiology, psychology, and more; he also was a philosopher, and particularly important to this presentation, a philosopher of science.
So, something about his science itself, to give some idea of what the science he put forward was like; and a view about his philosophy of science and his ideas about how science should be pursued. And, with any luck, to complete the parallels with the earlier talk, there will be an opportunity to mention another interesting and enjoyable squabble between religion and science in which Descartes was involved.
An Introduction to Descartes’ Early Life
Rene Descartes (1596-1650) was, as a youth, a bright but not an especially noteworthy character. He studied at the College of La Fleche, a boys’ school, until about 1613; he then attended law school at Poitiers. After law school, by his own reckoning, he was a licentious young rake of a soldier. He found an intellectual companion in Holland late in 1618 in Isaac Beeckman, who encouraged him to pursue studies in music and mathematics (for which he showed a great aptitude), as well as physics, navigation, and many other scientific investigations. We find in his notebooks a very self assured young man; the author of a small collection of notes and thoughts, one of which is the abstract for the ‘Treasure Trove of Polybius’, a book that most doubt was ever written. I think this piece of text provides a fair enough vignette of the young M. Descartes:
“This work lays down the true means of solving all the difficulties in the science of mathematics, and demonstrates that the human intellect can achieve nothing further on these questions. The work is aimed at certain people who promise to show us miraculous discoveries in all the sciences, its purpose being to chide them for their sluggishness and to expose the emptiness of their boasts.”
Descartes was working upon problems of mathematics and methods for scientific inquiry, though finding little success with anything so ambitious as the treasure trove. On the 10th of November, 1619, Descartes had a dream/vision that apparently changed his life. Among the visions was one of a book with ‘what road shall in life shall I follow?’ written on it. Looking back in his autobiography of 1637, perhaps embroidering on his experiences a little, Descartes explains the change in his thoughts:
“I stayed all day shut up alone in a stove-heated room, where I was completely free to converse with myself about my own thoughts. Among the first to occur to me was the thought that there is not usually so much perfection in works composed of several parts and produced by various different craftsmen as in the works composed of one man…And so I thought that since the sciences contained in books…is compounded and amassed little by little from the opinions of many different persons, it never comes so close to the truth as the simple reasoning which a man of good sense naturally makes concerning whatever he comes across.
“Admittedly, we never see people pulling down all the houses of a city for the sole purpose of rebuilding them in a different style to make the streets more attractive…But regarding the opinions to which I had hitherto given credence, I thought that I could not do better than undertake to get rid of them, all at one go, in order to replace them afterwards with better ones, or with the same ones once I had squared them with the standards of reason.”
This passage suggests several of the essential elements of Descartes’ method. He chooses what road he will take, and is set to rebuild opinion into knowledge; but first he pauses: his autobiography continues with a bit of the Cartesian humility we find in the passage about ‘Polybius’:
“I thought that first of all I had to try to establish some certain principles in philosophy. And since this is the most important task of all, and the one in which precipitate conclusions and preconceptions are most to be feared, I thought that I ought not try accomplish it until I had reached a more mature age than twenty three…”
Method and the Meditations
After a few more years of travel during which Descartes performed more scientific investigations on such diverse topics as anatomy, rainbows, and physics, he felt able to publish his musings on method along with the autobiography, at the ripe age of forty one.
Descartes distilled his method into four rules, quite reminiscent of his musings concerning his experiences of eight years before:
“The first was never to accept anything as true if I did not have evident knowledge of its truth: that is, carefully to avoid precipitate conclusions and preconceptions, and to include nothing more in my judgements than what presented itself to my mind so clearly and so distinctly that I had no occasion to doubt it.
“The second, to divide each of the difficulties I examined into as many parts as possible and as may be required in order to resolve them better.
“The third, to direct my thoughts in an orderly manner, by beginning with the simplest and most easily known objects in order to ascend little by little, step by step, to knowledge of the most complex, and by supposing some order even among objects that have no natural order of precedence.
“And the last, throughout to make enumerations so complete, and reviews so comprehensive, that I could be sure of leaving nothing out.”
Descartes’ Meditations are an attempt to carry out such a project, showing a sort of order of re-discovery for newly-secure knowledge on new foundations. As he stated in another passage of writing, it was to be a method like dumping all of the apples out of a basket, replacing them one-by-one so that none would get by that could spoil the rest: no rot at the base of knowledge. He attempted to provide secure foundations of knowledge by instituting the following test: for any candidate for the beginning of a chain of knowledge, can I doubt it?
On these ground rules, Descartes comes to doubt almost everything we would consider ourselves to know. The work is divided into six sections, six meditations. In the first, he brings this project of doubt to its full development. In the second part, he finds one thing he can be certain of: that he himself exists, whenever he is thinking that he exists; for how else could the thinking occur without a thinker? Hence the famous dictum: “I think, therefore I exist.”
An interesting point, for how can one doubt it?
Method, Order, and Science
The point is not to tell all of Descartes’ metaphysics nor all of his science; it is to clearly represent his professed method and the way in which this method affected his progress in science. The method is to allow doubt to intrude wherever it may and build certain knowledge only upon the basis of prior certainties. These prior certainties came to be delineated in a very particular order, however. Descartes felt reason to believe that they had to be; and so there is much to tell about the influence of his method on his scientific thought.
We can see the importance of this method when we consider the next several certainties that Descartes develops in the Meditations, and how they affect the rest of his scientific system. After the certainty of his own existence, Descartes came to the certainty that he was not a body: for since he knew through thinking that he was, and yet did not know on this account anything about his body, or even that he had a body (for example, he did not know that his ‘body’ wasn’t just the result of a bad dream), it seemed reasonable to him to conclude that this thing that he did know wasn’t a body. This was the (unfortunately bad) argument that Descartes used to show that he was an immaterial soul: the argument that lies at the center of the famous ‘Cartesian Dualism’ of body and soul. Of course, Descartes did not invent the dualist conception of the person, but he played a great role in entrenching this belief in our culture. He wove much of his scientific investigation of psychology, morality, and physiology around this prior certainty; for if it was built first in Descartes’ system of knowledge, it remained a tenet to be built around thereafter.
Descartes’ second certainty about the world around him also had great scientific significance, for it was his certainty about God’s existence. Descartes felt it necessary to prove God’s existence and explain God’s nature before proving anything further since the existence of a good God would ensure that what his senses told him about the world was neither erroneous nor fantasy. Indeed, he appears to have honestly felt that a divine being’s power might be so great as to allow that being to change the truths of mathematics from what they are. Descartes, then, had to prove the existence of a good God who wouldn’t try to deceive us in this way, in order for any further knowledge (in the sciences, for example) to be certain. Proving the existence of no Gods at all might have done the job for him, but that wasn’t an advisable approach in 17th century Europe.
Descartes’ systematic construction plan for certainty should certainly not be taken to be representative of how he in fact inquired into subjects of science; at least, not entirely. He certainly was engaged in scientific activity long before he proved his own or God’s existence, and we should not really believe that he went about destroying all of his knowledge about science and built it up again upon these certain foundations when he did finally come to these conclusions. Nonetheless, this method that he espouses in his writings does stand, for him, as an ideal for all knowledge, including scientific knowledge. Ideally, all knowledge would be connected back to indubitable first principles, and any that is not is that much the less certain, and that much the less worthy of the title ‘knowledge’.
Realistically, we can also see much of his reasoning in science as representative of the ideal of systematicity: for his science is quite systematic. It is a reasoning from rational principles, from the simple towards the complex, from mystery towards truth. Descartes presents in his writings something of a deductive analysis of science from prior principles, but not the strict deduction of a logician. Observation, he finds, is only necessary for determining the details of science and is not relevant to decision regarding framework.
A quick example of this aspect of Descartes’ science can be found in his arguments concerning the ‘geometricization’ of matter. Descartes presents a striking effort to explain what matter is, and he finds, partly on the basis of his understanding of geometry, that the ‘essential property’ of matter (or ‘corporeal substance’) is extension. This leads him to the conclusion that space and matter are only different modes (modifications) of the same thing. Space is a ‘corporeal substance’, a corporeal substance lacking most but not all corporeal properties.
Another reason behind these conclusions runs as follows: each of the other characteristics normal to matter can be found to be missing from some. Glass is colorless. Fire is not hard. But all matter must have extension. Further, since space doesn’t disappear when a stone is moved out of it to another place, matter must just be space, with some different (extra) qualities added in.
Very odd and interesting reasoning but it does represent some of Descartes’ ‘scientific method’ and argument from first principles rather well.
Descartes’ approach should not be considered a ‘failure’ because it is superseded by the quantitative approach of Newton. Descartes did do useful, quantitative, more long-standing work in optics. His approach to physics (dynamics, terrestrial and celestial) and astronomy was grand and fascinating. It was a great system, but less worked out and less detailed for it did not come into close contact with the details of observational astronomy at Descartes’ time. Newton exploited this mismatch very well in his theoretical reply to Descartes in the Principia Mathematica.
Descartes and the Eucharist
There is much to be considered regarding Descartes’ scientific findings. I would like to close by offering a little extra, interesting piece of history concerning one of his scientific battles just to show how some of the connection between religion and science mentioned in the Copernicus lecture still hangs on for Descartes.
You have already heard about how Descartes felt it necessary to prove the existence of God before many other things, and you also heard, I hope, an interesting logical reason for his doing so. Another area in which Descartes’ science and theology connected, perhaps even clashed, is the miracle of the Eucharist. That miracle, as any good Catholic will tell you, is the genuine change of substance, or transubstantiation, of the eucharist cracker and holy wine into the body and blood of Christ. It is supposed to be a genuine miracle, one that happens (according to one account) as the host hits the tongue.
But how could this intersect with Cartesian science? If matter and space are indistinguishable, excepting certain accidental physical properties, and if body and animate soul are as distinct as Descartes’ arguments suggest they are, then how could such a transformation take place? That is, if matter only has a ‘geometric’ essence and properties added on, how could anything, once it is detached from Christ himself, be legitimately considered to be ‘Christ’s body’? At best, the only way to distinguish a piece of Christ’s body, without a soul attached from anything else, would be to find out whether it once was attached to Christ’s body. But a cracker is a cracker, not Christ’s body–so how does it become so? This problem, at the interface of religion and science, was one that exercised Descartes a great deal, and one that he could not solve to the satisfaction of many intellectuals of his time.
So runs a rather interesting scientific problem of the 17th century concerning a specific phenomenon that a physical theory of the time would have to be designed to accommodate. And it is not a minor one, since, as one historian has argued, the problem of the Eucharist, and not Copernicanism, may have been at the root of Galileo’s condemnation by the Church.
A note on useful sources
Quotations from Descartes’ writings are from the translation of Cottingham et. al., in Descartes, The Philosophical Writings of Descartes. J. Cottingham, R. Stoothoff, D. Murdoch, and A. Kenny, translators and editors, 3 vols., Cambridge, U. K., Cambridge University Press 1984-91. William Shea, The Magic of Numbers and Motion, gives a fine intellectual biography of Descartes and his times.
–Dr. Eric Palmer
Sixty Years Of A Humanist Manifesto
May 1st, 1993 marks the 60th anniversary of the publication of A Humanist Manifesto, which was published in the May-June, 1933 issue of The New Humanist, Edwin Wilson, editor.
Among the books in the collection which Ed Wilson gave to the Chapter was the May-June, 1953 issue of The Humanist, successor to The New Humanist. Edwin Wilson, who was editor of both magazines and at that time the executive-director of the American Humanist Association, published in that 1953 issue a Symposium titled “The Humanist Manifesto, Twenty Years Later.” In his preface to that article, he states:
“This present re-appraisal is a continuation of the constant effort to keep Humanism a dynamic movement. Humanists do not look back to a faith delivered once and for all time at a particular moment or during a particular period in history. They rather look forward to a constantly growing synthesis produced by the interaction of many minds relating the increasing discoveries of science to human fulfillment.”
Following this introduction, the Manifesto was reprinted, followed by observations from a number of the then living signers. I thought it would be interesting to include some of those comments in this issue of The Utah Humanist, also begun by Ed Wilson.
I include the historical notes of Raymond Bragg, one of the original four editors, which tell of the history of the composition of the Manifesto and the responses to the original circulation which led to its first publication. Most of the names cited are not recognized today, and were probably Unitarian Ministers. (Where possible, I have included their identity.) In reading the notes of Raymond Bragg and the l953 responses of the original signers, I was struck by a similarity between what they wrote in 1933, as reported by Bragg, and what they said in 1953. In the main, their comments concerned words and phrases which they thought should be different, and criticisms of content which reflected more a change in perspective than outright disagreement in philosophy. It was refreshing to read the 1953 comments of Robert Morss Lovett of Chicago, who wrote: “I think the Manifesto is fine. I would change nothing.” Therefore, I include the statements which make the most positive contribution to the understanding of this remarkable document.
I also include the substantive notes from John Herman Randall, Jr., because of his status as Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University and author of “THE MAKING OF THE MODERN MIND, A Survey of the Intellectual Background of the Present Age”, (Columbia University Press, 1926, 1940). This text has been used by many Universities, and was part of my course of study at George Washington University in 1953. The last quote is from the lead article of the Symposium written by Roy Wood Sellars, who composed the first draft of the Manifesto.
AN HISTORICAL NOTE, by Raymond B. Bragg, Kansas City, Missouri
“For a year or more prior to the publication of the Humanist Manifesto in May, 1933, there was occasional talk of its preparation. In January of that year the talk reached the project stage. The Chicago group, once it had agreed on publication, realized the difficulties of composition by committee. Unanimously it was agreed to ask Roy Wood Sellars (Professor of Philosophy, University of Michigan) to prepare a draft that the undertaking might by launched.
“The frame of the Manifesto as finally published is essentially what it was when received in the first draft. The correspondence, however, makes clear the extent of revision in terminology and order of the theses.
“The committee–Reese, Wilson, Haydon, Bragg–spent unnumbered hours in successive sessions culling, refining, reordering the statement. Then it was returned to Sellars whose rejoinder was in effect: ‘You fellows have done a good job.’
“The first circulation to potential signers was then prepared. The resulting correspondence was torrential. Some of the commentators viewed with alarm a statement so haphazard, while others found in it only the clearest of phrase and thought. Several wrote detailed comment; a few revised the statement (and its meaning) point by point. A half dozen lost their copies and made their replies out of faulty memory; the cautious asked for an additional copy.
“The editorial task at this time emerged as a full time undertaking. While no thought was given to abandonment of the project, despite discouragement by a few honored skeptics, it was necessary to deal fairly with every thoughtful suggestion. There was consideration given to postponement until approval was close to unanimous. The prospect was suggested that in a document involving the thought of thirty or forty or fifty minds we could expect no final, detailed formulation satisfactory to all. We could hope only for approximations, not ultimates.
“How many editorial sessions were held in drawing up the final draft, I do not recall. They were not few and they were lengthy. In the latter part of March the draft was mailed to about fifty individuals and each was requested to authorize the use of his signature. April 10 was the deadline.
“There was another flood of mail in response to this ‘final’ request. A few sought postponement; and a few abandonment. The first response, I recall, was from John Dewey who ignored the form provided for signature authorization and signed his name to the mimeographed copy of the Manifesto. Robert Morss Lovett(Teacher, Editor) wrote, ‘I am proud to be able to sign the Humanist Manifesto, so sound in thought and admirable in expression.’ One dissenter, on the other hand, wondered at the lack of form and still further at the complete ignoring of literary values. His substitute manifesto is available in the file of The New Humanist (now The Humanist).
“Such is the trial of preparing a statement meant to express a consensus of many minds. There were light responses, and some made no response at all. F.C.S. Schiller(Philosopher) noted that ‘your Manifesto has 15 articles, 50% more that the Ten Commandments, and one more even than President Wilson’s Fourteen Points,’ Harlow Shapley(Astronomer) stated that excursions of other scientists out of the realm of science had embarrassed him—he would forego participation in religion.
“There were a few men who refused to sign and stated their reasons. Some of these reasons were published in the May (1933) issue of The New Humanist, the issue in which the Manifesto first appeared, Harold Buschman found in the document the exclusiveness of a creed rather than a new inclusiveness. John Haynes Holmes objected to the spirit of the Sixth Thesis for, ‘You are arbitrarily ruling out from our thought something about which you know absolutely nothing at all.’ Max C. Otto(Professor of Philosophy, University of Wisconsin) expressed his fear for the Manifesto as ‘one of those theoretical gestures which leave with some persons a feeling that something has been done when all that has been done is that something has been said.’ James H. Hart was reluctant to go on record about ‘continuous processes.’ Arthur E. Morgan wrote that his hesitance to sign grew ‘out of the questions of emphasis rather than of explicit disagreement…Humanists are not, he said, ‘characteristically strong in faith, hope and love.’
“The Manifesto had a wide press coverage. Time, The Literary Digest, The Christian Century, the Associated Press, religious journals representing a variety of denominations sent it into every corner of the country. The late Clarence Skinner thought it might some day rank with Luther’s more extensive theses. Catholic journals presented it as the logical outcome of the centuries of Protestant thought.
“The immediate aims were achieved: to stir up discussion, to prompt debate. The editorial note accompanying the publication was explicit on that score. And, for the greater part, that spirit was carried in the reporting of the document.
“To revise the Manifesto, in my estimation, would be misfortune. If Humanists in 1953 or 1954 want to restate the position, let it be done in today’s terms. Twenty years ago the editors were careful in their designation. The document of 1933 was called A Humanist Manifesto. Each living signer has pondered many meanings since that time. Nonetheless, in 1933 he stood by what he signed, whatever qualifications he may have made in his own mind or for the informal record.
“A new formulation may be in order. May the vigorous undertake it!”
Comment by J. H. Randall, Jr., New York City
“I originally signed the Manifesto in a spirit of general agreement, without quibbling over details. My own philosophical views I have long preferred to call naturalistic rather than humanistic, and while for the purposes of stating a religious position the differences are minor, they are there. Thus in Point Five, while there certainly has been discovered no ‘cosmic guarantee of human values’ I have always wished that there were some emphasis on the fact that such values are and must be rooted in the natural conditions of human life. Religion has always seemed to me truncated when focused too narrowly upon man alone, without a sense of the encompassing presence of the nature that has generated man and his concerns.
“On two points on which the Manifesto failed to satisfy me I have come to feel more strongly. First, there is lacking any expression of a tragic sense of life. ‘Joy in living’ (Point 12) is not the only attitude religion must foster. There is also such a thing as humility. The inevitabilities of frustration and the evil that men necessarily do must be seen in proper perspective, but they must be seen. There is no reason why supernaturalism should be allowed a monopoly on the religious expression of this tragic sense. Humanism can do it more effectively because more sanely. Thus, in the last paragraph, ‘man has within himself the power for the achievement of the world of his dreams,’ has always sounded insensitive and brash. Man has the power to work toward it, and there is no other power. But…
“Secondly, there is insufficient recognition of the need of imagination in religion, and of the role of religious symbols. The traditional Christian symbols are no longer adequate—though they seem much more relevant to present-day experience than to that of a generation ago. But no religion that tries to get along without any imaginative embodiment of its basic attitudes and values is likely to attract many. Humanism should face seriously the very difficult problem of creating more adequate imaginative symbols. It should at least recognize the need even if it cannot yet satisfy it.
“Both these points demand much further elaboration, especially the second, to which I have given a great deal of attention and thought. But I think the problems suggested will be sufficiently indicated to any one who has lived through the last twenty years with some sensitive attention to the direction of religious feeling and thought.”
NATURALISTIC HUMANISM: A Framework for Belief and Values,
by Roy Wood Sellars (Professor of Philosophy, University of Michigan).
“It goes without saying in detail that I have read and thought much about religion in the abstract and in the concrete since those already far-off days when I first sought to make explicit to myself and others the perspective called religious Humanism…
“Much has happened since the formulation and the publication of the Humanist Manifesto. Under able and vigorous leadership in this and other countries, Humanism has become an international stream of thought and commitment aiming at a basic revision of the human outlook and a revaluation of values. I still think the adjective, naturalistic, best symbolizes the perspective of religious Humanism since it calls attention to its rejection of supernaturalism. Modern naturalism is, inevitably, evolutionary in its premises. And I can quite understand why the distinguished English biologist, Julian Huxley, selects this latter term and speaks of evolutionary Humanism. As I see it, it is all a matter of accent. The essential thing is to have a common framework.
“Is Humanism a religion, perhaps, the next great religion? Yes, it must be so characterized, for the word, religion, has become a symbol for answers to that basic interrogation of human life, the human situation, and the nature of things—which every human being, in some degree and in some fashion, makes. What can I expect from life? What kind of universe is it? Is there, as some say, a friendly Providence in control of it? And, if not, what then? The universe of discourse of religion consists of such questions, and the answers relevant to them. Christian theism and Vedantic mysticism are but historic frameworks in relation to which answers have in the past been given to these poignant and persistent queries. But there is nothing sacrosanct and self-certifying about these frameworks. What Humanism represents is the awareness of another framework, more consonant with wider and deeper knowledge about man and his world. The Humanist movement is engaged in formulating answers, with what wisdom it can achieve, to these basic questions.
“It would be absurd to expect complete novelty in either framework or answers. Many people throughout the ages have had a shrewd suspicion that established beliefs were insecurely based. Humanism at its best represents a growth and a maturing of its perspective…I fear that the orthodox idea of religion is something static and given—once for all. The Humanist thinks of his answers as responsible ones, that is, responsible to the best thought and knowledge on the subjects involved. He [they are] is always ready for honest debate…
“…I want to contrast the perspective of Humanism with that of traditional rationalism…There is no Humanist who does not appreciate with respect and admiration the moving story of the Gospels. Seen as one of the culminations of Judaism in the setting of the Roman Empire, it speaks to us of nobility of soul, human love, pity, and comradeship; and this among everyday people fired by moral and religious leadership of high quality. The heroic and the earthly touch meet, and mingle; and so it has been ever since.
“What have the intervening centuries made possible? The gradual disentangling of ethical principle and example from both the early framework of belief and the later ecclesiastical development of power and dogma which supervened. But the notes of love and self-sacrifice remain as perennial chords. This also, is greatly human.
“The older rationalism was on the defensive. And so it expressed itself too often in negative terms: not this; not that; not God; not revelation; not personal immortality. What Humanism signified was a shift from negation to construction. There came a time when naturalism no longer felt on the defensive. Rather, supernaturalism began, it its eyes, to grow dim and fade out despite all the blustering and rationalizations of its advocates.
“Now this was a change in dominance, long prepared in both philosophy and science, and beginning to manifest itself in everyday life. To use a homely expression, the shoe was on the other foot. Instead of feeling that he had to disprove the existence of a God, special revelation and the general mystique of a supernatural realm, the naturalist simply began with good reason to feel that the job of proving these pivotal assumptions rested with the supernaturalist. And he knew that both theologians and philosophers in the past had never been able to develop satisfactory proofs. In short, the strategic situation had changed.
“As I conceived it, then, the Humanist Manifesto expressed this change of dominance as a sort of declaration of independence. And I imagine that Wilson and the others who supplied the comments and suggestions which went into its making had something similar in mind. Naturalism was maturing into a humanistic phase. The old supernaturalistic framework no longer possessed its former intrinsic prestige. There were now two competing frames of reference for both belief and values. The time had come for a reassessment all along the line. If possible, a friendly debate was indicated. Let the premises or theses be stated and the arguments, pro and con, be entered. To the best of our knowledge, what kind of a universe are we in? What can man [humankind] expect? Is man [humankind] now his [its] own worst enemy? What are the complexities of human nature? In what fashion are these tied in with cultural arrangements? What can be done about it?
“I have recently read over the fifteen theses. On the whole, I think they sketch the essentials of a framework which is both naturalistic and humanistic. There is, of course, nothing sacrosanct about any of the formulations. New conditions will bring new emphases…Every framework needs clarifications and a rational grounding if it is to function satisfactorily. And this process is, as we all know, well under way both here and abroad. It will continue. The annihilation of civilization alone could stop it as well as all progress.”
Tribute To AHA Founder
A memorial service for Dr. Edwin H. Wilson, founder of the American Humanist Association, the Fellowship of Religious Humanists, and the International Humanist and Ethical Union, was held Saturday, April 10, 1993 at the First Unitarian Church in Salt Lake City. Dr. Wilson had been the Minister for this congregation for three-years, 1946 to 1949.
Featured speaker celebrating the life of Dr. Wilson was Reverend R. Lester Mondale, retired Unitarian Minister and one of the original signers of Humanist Manifesto I. Reverend Mondale recalled his first meetings with Dr. Wilson at the University of Chicago in the early 1930’s. He told of his conversion to Humanism and reminisced about the many meetings of the Humanist Founders and Ed Wilson’s leadership that led to the publication of the Manifesto. Reverend Mondale is now the sole survivor of the thirty-four men who signed the 1933 document that forged a new philosophy urging a secular, rather than a supernatural, approach to the problems of life and living.
Beverley Earles, Ph.D., a Unitarian Minister and a Board Member of the American Humanist Association, told of meeting Ed as a resource person while writing her thesis and praised him for the encouragement he gave her to pursue a career in the ministry and the Humanist movement.
Flo Wineriter, President of the Humanists of Utah, reflected on Dr. Wilson’s efforts to organize our local Chapter and the personal friendship that developed between them.
Family members shared some of their intimate memories of the private life of their famous father and grandfather.
Reverend Tom Goldsmith, Minister of the First Unitarian Church in Salt Lake City, conducted the hour-long tribute and Susanna Karrington played piano selections that Dr. Wilson particularly liked.
Following the service, Lorille Miller and Martha Stewart organized a reception including food and beverages in Eliot Hall. More than 100 people attended the reception and exchanged personal recollections of Dr. Wilson’s influence on their lives and talked about his impact on the world.
The tribute to Edwin H. Wilson was video recorded and a copy will be presented to the American Humanist Association for their archives.
Hindu, Rabbi, and Critic
While traveling separately through the countryside late one afternoon, a Hindu, a Rabbi, and a Critic were caught in the same area by a terrific thunderstorm. They sought shelter at a nearby farmhouse.
“That storm will be raging for hours,” the farmer told them. “You’d better stay here for the night. The problem is, there’s only room enough for two of you. One of you’ll have to sleep in the barn.”
“I’ll be the one,” said the Hindu. “A little hardship is nothing to me.” He went out to the barn.
A few minutes later, there was a knock at the door. It was the Hindu. “I’m sorry,” he told the others, “but there is a cow in the barn. According to my religion, cows are sacred and one must not intrude into their space.”
“Don’t worry, said the Rabbi, “Make yourself comfortable here. I’ll go to sleep in the barn.” He went out to the barn.
A few minutes later, there was a knock at the door. It was the Rabbi. “I hate to be a bother,” he said, “but there is a pig in the barn. In my religion, pigs are considered unclean. I wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing my sleeping quarters with a pig.”
“Oh, all right,” said the Critic, “I’ll go sleep in the barn.” He went out to the barn.
A few minutes later, there was a knock at the door. It was the cow and the pig.