March 2012

Da Vinci, The Leonardo, and Critical Thinking

Dr. Joe Andrade, science advisor for The Leonardo Museum in Salt Lake City, was the speaker for our well-attended Darwin Day celebration meeting in February. Dr. Andrade explained that one of the missions of The Leonardo is to stimulate critical thinking. He said the museum is for adults and for kids “who respond to being treated like adults,” and encouraged the Humanists of Utah to plan an activity to see the facility. The current exhibit, “This Light of Ours,” looks at the civil rights movement through the eyes of the photographers who documented it.

Dr. Andrade’s presentation was informal, touching on multiple topics and interests. He was enthusiastic about the amount of information available to us on the internet, sharing the websites of the Darwin Centre in Wales, the Natural History Museum in London,, and Universal Leonardo ( Suggested reading included “Leonardo” by Martin Kemp.

Dr. Andrade has a website,, with lots of information about Leonardo Da Vinci, including PDFs, videos, etc. Some of the insights he shared: It’s believed by scholars that up to two-thirds of Da Vinci’s work is not accounted for. He had an insatiable curiosity, but also a terrible reputation for not finishing jobs. He had no respect for religions, ideologies, bibles, etc. He was illegitimate and therefore wasn’t allowed to attend school, being apprenticed out instead. His writings are voluminous and sometimes amusing—a shopping list written in the margin of a serious work. He wrote in his famous “mirror” writing (from right to left) probably because he was left-handed and wouldn’t smear ink that way

Dr. Andrade clarified that there is no “Da Vinci Code,” as imagined in the recent book and movie, but there is a Da Vinci code in his technical drawings. He shared with us a small model of one of Da Vinci’s inventions—actually the first self-propelled vehicle! One of Da Vinci’s many occupations was as a designer of theater sets; the vehicle was used as a stage prop in theaters and was spring-powered. The founders of have many models available of Da Vinci’s inventions, some of which they’ve been able to recreate by having unraveled the “code” in his technical drawings.

After the presentation, Dr. Andrade stayed to answer questions and visit with HoU members.

On his website Dr. Andrade says, “My current interest and concern is that the belief systems and structures imposed by traditional Abrahamic religions make their ‘true believers’ much less accepting of knowledge and education—in all spheres—and thus less capable of functioning as responsible, informed, educated, and rational citizens. Strong ‘believers’ tend to be susceptible to scams, pyramid schemes, propaganda, advertisements, charlatans, TV evangelists, charismatic talk-show hosts, pundits, and ‘prophets.’ My goal is simply to encourage/facilitate more intrinsic curiosity, questioning, and thinking.”

Also of note, Dr. Andrade is running for Utah’s second congressional district as an independent. Check out his website: https://sites/

—Susan Fox

Favorite Time of Day:

Many thanks to all of you for sending in your thoughts after such short notice and making this article possible! This month the humanists chime in on their favorite time of day. Our group seems to be overwhelmingly morning people. And I have to say, this compilation is so very life affirming! I love our group so much! This month’s contributions makes me want to go on a round-robin and spend mornings with our friends.

  • My favorite time of day is breakfast, after I’ve stretched and exercised and I sit down to eat and read the paper.
  • My favorite time of the day is morning. It usually starts with a brisk 20-25 minute walk, then home for a shower, and then the rest of the morning sitting and reading while enjoying instrumental jazz and a hot mug of coffee. Ah, retirement.
  • Morning. My eyes are less tired from reading. I am more receptive.
  • Morning, early, moonset over the Sangre de Cristo mountains, then coffee in bed with husband, two Scotties and cat. A humanist’s heaven.
  • My favorite time of the day is first thing in the morning. I am virtually always the first person in my family up and so I have the whole house to myself. The coffee pot is on a timer so my first cup is ready as I take the time to prepare for my day and look at the news on the internet and read the Tribune. Traditionally I have always done my best thinking in shower where many of my best ideas have been born; this is my excuse for taking a long time enjoying the hot water.
  • I have no favorite. I like that I am alive by chance and so any time I think about it is the right time of day.
  • My favorite time of the day is early morning, 5:30 until 8:00. This is the time I feel most energetic and creative. I’m rested and my juices are flowing as I make reminder notes and plan my day’s activities.
  • My favorite time of day is late morning, like around 9:00 or a little later. I like how the light looks then and how it still feels fresh and full of all kinds of possibilities, like potential energy of a day waiting to be discovered and unwrapped. Also, it’s past that too crisp (for me) shady morning time.
  • I don’t really have a favorite time of day. However I do have memories of very special moments that seem in retrospect to be the product of a unique time and place. One is the very early morning sunrises I saw as a young man working my first job as a farm worker in northern Utah. Summer sunrises came very early and long before the sun would clear the tops of the Wasatch Mountains the sky would be flooded with light and any clouds would catch all the colors of a sunset and fling them brightly down over the fields in which I worked. Salmon pink and glowing golds were mine alone to see. The rest of the world lay sleeping still in their beds and time stretched out not so much with promise or with purpose but with chance and the beauty of nature’s profligacy.

—Lisa Miller

Central Government

I thought our nations experiment with a weak central government and strong state theocracies ended June 17, 1788 when New Hampshire was the ninth state to ratify the new United States Constitution establishing a strong central secular government with the power to coin money, regulate commerce, and form a federal military force among other federal governing powers.

I also thought these principles were reinforced when the northern states won the vicious civil war in April 1865.

Now more than 200 years later many congressmen, senators, governors and state legislatures are still trying to reverse the decision made by delegates at the 1787 Constitutional Convention and go back to strong theocratic state governments controlling the power to coin money, control commerce, immigration, and other national operations as well as granting religions strong influence in civil affairs.

Will the Tea Party and Libertarians ever admit the Articles of Confederation were abolished and the North won the Civil War?

—Flo Wineriter

This was originally submitted to the Salt Lake Tribune, but never published.

Uselessness of God

On the evening of February 29th, I had the pleasure of attending a presentation given by renowned theoretical physicist and science explainer Brian Greene. The occasion was the annual Nature of Things lecture at Kingsbury Hall at the University of Utah. I have been a fan of Greene’s since 2003, when, as a first-year college student majoring in physics at The Ohio State University, I saw a PBS television special created and hosted by him called The Elegant Universe, which was based on his book by the same name. His other major books include The Fabric of the Cosmos, and The Hidden Reality. His presentation was a great introduction for a lay person to modern conceptual theories of physics and cosmology, including Dr. Greene’s trademark humor and some stunning visualizations.

The reason I am writing about this topic in this forum, aside from the fact that so many freethinkers/humanists/atheists/etc. have an appreciation and even a reverence for science, is that the topic of a divine creator of reality cropped up during the question and answer session that followed Dr. Greene’s presentation. A member of the audience asked Dr. Greene about how God fit into all this.

Dr. Green presented the argument that bringing God into the equation of reality really adds nothing to reality, but rather only serves to unnecessarily complicate matters. If science is capable of forming explanations about the universe and reality without introducing a concept of a deity, then why bother with such a concept at all? In other words, God is useless when trying to tell a story about how the universe came into being and what it is.

Dr. Greene did say a few things on the topic of God that I found disturbing, especially coming from a scientist. First he said that science has nothing to say about the existence of God. While this might be true when talking about a generic “God” that has nothing to do with the universe after having created it, the classic Deist view, it is not true of gods that are described by organized religions. Dr. Victor Stenger explains this idea very well in his book, God: The Failed Hypothesis. In fact, one of the greatest aspects of science is the ability to falsify claims that rely on empirical evidence to support them, either by finding contradictory empirical evidence or by not finding supporting evidence that necessarily follows from such a claim. So, contrary to what Dr. Greene said, science does often have something to say on the topic of God’s existence.

The other puzzling notion Dr. Greene mentioned was that we rely on faith in the power of mathematics when describing and making predictions about the universe. Unless he operates on a very different definition of faith than I do, the power of mathematics requires no faith whatsoever. In fact, it has been demonstrated time and again, from the geometric and trigonometric calculations made by the ancient Greeks to the complex orbital calculations that put spacecraft into accurate orbits and trajectories today. There is abundant evidence to support the power of mathematics to describe the universe and all that occurs within it, so there is no need to have faith in it.

Jason Cooperrider

Website of the Month
Utah Rivers Council

Founded in 1995, the Utah Rivers Council is a grassroots non-profit organization dedicated to the conservation and stewardship of Utah’s rivers, sustainable clean water sources and natural ecosystems for both Utah’s people and wildlife.

President’s Message

“Personhood,” jeez folks, how many ways will the religious right use in their quest try to erode the rights of individuals in regards to our reproductive lives? I suppose the answer is, “every way they can find.” Year after year they pass or try to pass some legislation anywhere and everywhere possible that prohibits, restricts, or mandates some intrusion into our sex lives and our reproductive choices. “Personhood” of the fetus at the time of conception is one of their most recent efforts and another is to try to force women, seeking an abortion, to have intrusive procedures performed that are meant only to intimidate and humiliate. Not to mention the waste of time and resources these procedures represent that would be better used where actually needed. These people also work to make contraception options unavailable or hard to get. Additionally, they are having success restricting, even further, sex education. It is all quite maddening.

I was contemplating expanding on a couple of these specific items, when I began thinking, jokingly of course, of going with the trend. Maybe we should get on the band wagon and support having government control our sex lives.

So, If we are going to have government dictate that you carry any and all pregnancies to term, then we sure as hell should be willing control all the other aspects of our sex lives, so that we are able to say “You are only allowed to replace yourself,” that is, only two kids per couple. After that, mandatory sterilizations will be undertaken on everyone. Plus, let’s not forget that your sex life includes your sex education, which will naturally be nil to very little. And that education will be summed up perhaps this way: Avoid sex like the plague, until you are married, then, only to procreate. Procedure as follows: Under the covers, in the dark, no talking, man on top, get it over with quick.

Sorry folks but I just can’t help being a little snide these days. I’m really getting sick of these people. A good example is when we see a member of our dominate LDS religion in Utah dictating to the legislature. She is so powerful and feared by legislators that they give her a seat on the dais! Then some clown insults our intelligence by writing an op-ed stating there is no Mormon influence on the hill. But if we should dare oppose them they start whining about the “War on Religion.” But it is not a war on religion; it is a war against the attempts by the religious to destroy our secular society and the separation of church and state.

There are far too many of the religious who deny the need for or the very existence of a separation of church and state. They can’t understand that it is what insures that we can worship or not as we please.

Here is a thought for our Mormons neighbors or any other small religious group. If for the sake of argument, let’s say that the United Stated government in the early 1800s was a theocracy controlled by the Catholic religion. Do you think they would let a religion like Mormonism get off the ground or flourish? I don’t think so. The inquisition would be in full bloom. The only government that can insure freedom of religion is one that is neutral and favors none.

—Robert Lane
President, HoU