September 1995

Humanism and Science

“God and immortality, the central dogmas of the Christian religion, find no support in science.”

–Bertrand Russell
What I Believe

Until the last 200 years very few people were interested in scientific research. This probably explains why it was easy for religions to influence the majority of the world’s population. There is ample evidence that since the dawn of thinking people have wondered where they came from, why they are here, and what is going to happen to them. There were no scientific answers available because there was little research, and what limited scientific knowledge was developed was controlled by religious rulers and withheld from the general populace. The only answers to the mysteries of life came from religions and were designed to keep people in ignorance and psychological bondage.

Some understanding of the scientific method and at least a basic knowledge of the various fields of science is important to becoming an effective humanist. Atheism, the denial of a belief in god, and agnosticism, the lack of knowledge about god, are both negative philosophical attitudes based primarily on a non-belief system. Humanism is a positive philosophical attitude based on a belief in the scientific method. A humanist believes that accurate scientific research has provided convincing evidence that animate and inanimate objects exist naturally. Even humanists without a formal education in basic science believe that scientific research is a valuable tool for discovering truth and put their faith in scientific evidence. For persons who are humanists by faith to become humanists by knowledge requires that they become familiar with the scientific method. Once they have that understanding, they would gain a stronger feeling of scientific accuracy with personal in-depth studies in the various fields of science. Consequently, the more a humanist understands science, the stronger will be their conviction of the humanist philosophy. Organized humanism can best ensure its future growth by encouraging the teaching of the sciences in all grades of public education. School children should be taught the art of reasoning and learn the basis of the scientific method of inquiry as early as possible. A person taught the scientific method will be less vulnerable to the many philosophies based on supernaturalism. Then, as adults, they would also be more apt to intelligently question even the assumptions and conclusions of scientists. It seems reasonable to assume that one educated in the details of evolution is less likely to accept the claims of creation; one educated in the orderly process of astronomy is less likely to believe the claims of astrology; one educated in the natural systems of the human body is less likely to believe the claims of a supernatural influence.

It is important for humanists to have knowledge of science so they can be more effective in countering the claims of religion; to understand the natural process in order to counter the arguments of the unnatural; to recognize the monism functioning of life in order to confront the advocates of dualism.

The exciting progress of scientific research and the various forms of popular communications are making the scientific attitude more acceptable and could lead to a higher percentage of the world’s people coming to accept the humanist explanation of the animate and the inanimate.

Science is the foundational structure of humanism, and consequently the growth of humanism is dependent upon the growth of public recognition, understanding and acceptance of scientific knowledge.

–Flo Wineriter

And a Good Time Was Had By One and All!

That seemed to be the opinion of the 50 humanists who attended the summer social at the Riverboat on August 10, 1995. Before and during dinner Christopher Fair–the magician with a flair, table hopped and entertained the guests. After dinner Earl Wunderli and Anna Hoagland delighted the audience with their poetry. Christopher presented a most excellent magic and juggling show. After an imaginary trip around the Great Salt Lake, the Riverboat docked without one single case of sea sickness!

–Rolf Kay

As a Christian Conservative Might View Humanists

If I weren’t so compassionate I’d give them no time,
But I think that all humanists should heed my short rhyme.
A typical humanist as we’re all aware
Is a hundred and eight and won’t say a prayer.
His or her soul, just between you and me,
Will as sure as the devil be in great jeopardy.
And yet he or she just goes blithely along
With nary a fear that anything’s wrong.
But I can tell him or her in one sentence:
“You are just about out of time for repentance.”
I can’t understand why he answers with laughter
(I’ll use just the masculine pronoun hereafter.)
He scoffs at my warnings of a future of sorrow
And lives out his life like there is no tomorrow.
I would think at one hundred and eight he would try
To get into heaven, for surely he’ll die.
So why does he not have the faith of a child?
Why is he not by all wonders beguiled?
I think I know why. It occurs to me that
He’s a daffy dadblasted guldurn Democrat.
He’s lived his long life as a damned infidel,
So it’s not in his interest to believe in some hell.
“But what,” you may ask, “can you say of those few
Republican humanists?” They’re all liberal, too.
Those guys do not have a good attribute,
Not a Gramm of sense or the brain of a Newt.
At one hundred and eight you’d think they’d want love
And give up free thinking for the great God above.
But such is a humanist, skeptical, tough,
Who just never knows when enough is enough.

–Earl Wunderli

Heathen Humanist

Humanist Humor

(Sung to the Oscar Meyer Wiener Song)

How happy I am to be a Heathen Humanist,
Especially on a lovely Sunday morn.

Some say I’m really in need of a psychiatrist,
And, indeed, they talk about me with obvious scorn.

But my wondrous thoughts might be for them a catalyst,
Creating the path for them to be reborn!

On that enlightened day,
They too will say:

How happy I am to be a Heathen Humanist,
Especially on a lovely Sunday morn!

–Anna Hoagland

Establishing Boundaries

Nancy’s Corner

The Lion, the Mouse, and the Fox

A lion, fatigued by the heat of a summer’s day, fell fast asleep in his den until a mouse ran right over his mane and ears, and rudely woke him from his slumbers. He rose up and shook himself in great wrath and searched in every corner of his den to find the mouse. A fox, seeing him in this state said, “A fine lion you are, to be frightened of a mouse.”

“Tis not the mouse I fear,” replied the lion, “I resent his familiarity and ill-breeding.”

–Aesop’s Fables

Sometimes, the so-called “little liberties” we take with others have a negative impact. We learn this through our testy experiences in life. The following are a few of my favorites:

  1. Grandma Beatrice secretly takes her baby grandson to her priest and has him baptized because her daughter-in-law is not of her faith.
  2. Mother Clara admonishes her married son for not taking his wife and children to church anymore. She tells him, “You know it’s what the Lord wants you to do.”
  3. Son, Scott, asks his parents to keep the wine out of the refrigerator when he brings his family for a visit, so his children won’t be exposed to “evil.”
  4. A public high school choir director chooses a steady repertoire of Christian music to be sung by students, and arranges the choir to sing in Mormon places of worship where students must listen to prayers, sermons, and testimonies. When some students write a letter of complaint, the director rebukes them and ignores their request to consider other options.

Just like Aesop’s mouse, the one commonality the main characters share in the above vignettes is that someone has overstepped a boundary and invaded another’s territory. Lions and other such animals set their boundaries by urinating in certain places, warning other animals to tread lightly, or not at all. Hopefully, we humans can set our boundaries by exercising our language skills.

Setting boundaries is important in distinguishing our individuality and protecting ourselves from pain and anguish. Like sturdy fences between neighbors, they mark the place where one reality ends and another begins. Boundaries also provide a foundation for respectful and mature relationships so we can live in peace and autonomy.

In our dealings with others, whether they be bosses, friends, casual acquaintances, or intimate relationships, we sometimes find ourselves in uncomfortable circumstances. Rather than feel stymied, and later resentful for not saying anything, it would be better for us to respond in an assertive, yet sensitive way that would affirm our personal convictions without distancing ourselves emotionally.

Dr. Charles Whitfield, in his book, Boundaries and Relationships, believes that recognizing our comfort level is a determining factor in setting limits. He asserts, “A boundary or limit is how far we can go with comfort in a relationship. It delineates where I and my physical and psychological space ends, and where you and yours begins. Boundary is a concept that provokes a real experience within us. Therefore, the boundary is real.”

So, the easiest way to recognize an overstepped boundary is to “go with your gut,” so to speak. The above mentioned stories are examples that provoke real emotion within us. We somehow know a line has been crossed because we feel hurt, anger, pain, and/or resentment. Our feelings give us a clue that “something is amiss.” We feel offended and sense that our personal space has been invaded, or worse, violated by another person’s words or deeds.

What is the best way to react when our feelings tell us our boundaries have been stepped on? First, we need to become acquainted, or re-acquainted, with our personal belief system, and feel confident with it, in spite of the beliefs of the majority. Then we need to recognize those times when our boundaries are being invaded, by tuning into our feelings and identifying an emotion, such as anger. Finally, we need to learn productive ways to speak for ourselves and our principles. This, of course, is a life-long process, but at particular times in our lives we need to declare our individual boundaries firmly so others won’t invade our space and stay there. For instance, in story #2, when Mother Clara admonishes her grown son for not taking his family to church, he could say to her:

“You know mother, you raised me well, and one of the important things you taught me was to think for myself, and I’m doing it. It is my choice not to attend church, and I feel comfortable with it.

“There are many subjects we can talk about when I come to visit you, mother, but religion is not one of them. So I’m setting down a guideline. If you want to continue our relationship, let’s not talk about religion. It gets too personal, and it’s disturbing because we see life differently. In the heat of emotion I don’t want either of us to say things we don’t mean, or end our visits on a negative note. Can we agree to that?”

Now, if Clara starts to cry and carry on, or threatens to disinherit him, her son can politely state:

“Mother, I can see you’re upset, so I’m going to leave now, and hopefully you can come to terms with this issue, because I really care about you and want to have a friendly relationship. I respect you and your belief system, and I hope you can do the same for me.”

This type of firm, yet friendly stand sets a personal boundary in a way that preserves the dignity of both parties. The trick is to mean what we say and stick to it, even if it means having a strained relationship for awhile.

In our day-to-day encounters, we have many opportunities for growth by declaring ourselves. But, as you can see, setting boundaries doesn’t “just happen.” It takes thoughtful preparation, and “script-writing.” It also takes a fair amount of courage, and an ability to tolerate the anxiety and guilt associated with setting limits. Sharing our struggles with an understanding friend or therapist can be most helpful.

Confrontation is a challenging road to walk because there is risk–risk at being misunderstood, dismissed, ostracized, and even retaliated against. The following statements reflect the powerful counter forces that can sometimes develop:

  • What’s wrong with you?
  • Why on earth are you doing this?
  • If you loved your family, you wouldn’t do this.
  • You’re not a team player when you defy the system.
  • We’re supposed to respect authority. Listen to it!

It takes perseverance and strength to become oneself. Sometimes we backslide into old behavior patterns. As we regain our ego-strength, then we can begin to restate our convictions repeatedly, if necessary. It takes time for some people to finally get our message. Once they do, life flows a little easier, and we become more authentic and respected.

–Nancy Moore

Letter to the Editor

The following is in response to Nancy’s Corner published last month.  Editorial letters on any subject are welcome.

I was struck by an incongruity in the August issue of The Utah Humanist. Nancy’s Corner synopsized an article in the Harvard Mental Health Letter to the effect that “realism and depression are significantly correlated,” and yet the Happy Humanist symbol appeared more than a dozen times in the same issue. Are we trying to convince ourselves that we’re happy?

Since I don’t have the Harvard Mental Health Letter itself, I can only rely on Nancy’s synopsis of it, which raises many more questions than it answers. But as I read her article, she did not say that realists are likely to be depressed, but only that depressed people are likely to be realists. There’s a big difference. Men are not likely to be criminals, but criminals are likely to be men.

–Earl M. Wunderli

Evolution vs. Creationism

Richard Layton’s Discussion Group Report

The second part of the PBS program on evolution and creationism was presented and discussed.

Creationists depict the theory of evolution as directly opposed to the Bible and thus as representing a rebellion against God. A private educational institution that is a leading advocate of creationism is the Christian Liberties (sic) Academy. It teaches that instruction in evolution produces a “different kind of citizen,” who advocates a relativistic morality rather than the absolute moral principles set down by God. This viewpoint, it says, has led to the moral decline in our nation. A Christian morality is superior because it holds the individual responsible to God for his actions.

Space exploration provides a considerable amount of evidence supporting evolution. The supporting data are recorded in the new Biological Sciences Study by the National Science Foundation.

Some ways of debunking creationism are:

  1. Is it necessary to invoke intelligent design to understand natural phenomena?
  2. Creationism does not explain phenomena, rather it is a subterfuge to promote religious dogma.
  3. The US Supreme Court ruled that “creation science” is religion, not science.
  4. Creationist history books are filled with factual errors.
  5. Evidence against evolution is formulated by creationists rather than scientists.
  6. Evolution is the glue that ties all of science together–biology means nothing without it.

Creationism garners most of its support from suburbs and small towns. It can be difficult for people to take an objective, rational look at evolution because there is not an inherent offer of salvation.

Science education is in serious trouble in the United States. College science professors are not impressing upon their students, particularly those training to be high school teachers, the crucial role evolution plays in the interrelationship of all the sciences. The natural consequence is that secondary school teachers in general are not doing an adequate job of introducing evolution to our youth.

Philip Johnson of the University of California at Berkeley criticized evolution scientists by saying they bring and then conceal their own philosophical assumptions to the discussion of science. Their motivation, according to Johnson, is a fear of losing power over science. He claims to be raising theistic questions, for example, can we get along without a creator?

Leonard Kristallen points out that scientific discovery has shown that humans are not the center of the universe and that all life is based upon a common genetic code. Evolution provides answers to biological questions from paleontology to anatomy. Simple observation reveals change, and humans, like all other forms of life, will eventually become extinct unless cultural adaptations work to ensure survival. Science, too, changes; it is an enterprise to explain how and why the universe is constructed.

Creationism is culturally, religiously, and morally racist, since it teaches that only the Christian interpretations can be true. It holds that death did not exist before Adam and Eve but is a result of the Fall of Man. If death had existed previously, there would be no need for redemption. Death, then, is a sin that has to be punished and expiated.