Darwin Day 2013
The theme for Darwin Day this year was a “Celebration of Science.” Of course, what would be better than to focus on the central theory of all biology: evolution. The Utah Coalition of Reason, with the generous support from the Humanists of Utah, planned a series of events to commemorate the holiday. The night began with a showing of Creation, the BBC theatrical biographical film on Charles Darwin’s life as he was writing the Origin of Species. After the screening, the event went into intermission for one hour so the guests could browse all of the various freethinking organization tables present. Once intermission was over, Dr. Alan Rogers, Professor of Evolutionary Biology at the University of Utah, gave a brand new lecture on human evolution. The night concluded with the cutting of Darwin’s Birthday cake and book signing by Dr. Rogers.
In spite of one of the worst snow days of the season, the event generated an audience of approximately 150, was a spectacular success! Darwin Day also was the first major event that united the freethinking organizations of Utah, being sponsored by the Humanists of Utah, Atheists of Utah, and SHIFT. With group participation from the Post Mormons, and the Utah Friends of Paleontology. New technology was also involved, with the Utah Coalition of Reason accepting pre-registrations for the event. In total, Utah-CoR received 138 pre-registered individuals!
Commentary for the attendees was overwhelmingly positive, with many looking forward to next year. The groups that tabled at the event also received more outreach to the general public. With future collaborative work, we are well on our way to make Darwin Day a major event for the public of Utah.
Utah Coalition of Reason
I was born into a hybrid religious family. Mom was 100%, no question about it ever, pioneer-stock mormon. We grew up hearing stories of our great grandparents crossing the plains in the mormon treks. Dad was from the “east coast” with a catholic background (yes “east coast” was always spoken of as something in quotes). But the biggest influence of catholicism in our lives was primarily the levied judgment from our paternal grandparents that my brother and I had been born in sin because our parents hadn’t been married correctly by church authority. Oh, and most of my life was spent in Utah – though we did escape for the occasional vacation with the catholic (smoking, coffee-drinking, non-church-going) relatives in Maryland and an amazing 2 year relocation to Alice Springs, Australia when I was in high school.
But the church raising decision was my mom’s. And my basic nature of obedience mixed with not wanting to ever be in any kind of trouble kept me tightly in the arms of my family’s official religion.
I have always been very interested in the world at large. In grade school my favorite thing ever was drawing maps and doing reports out of the encyclopedia on states and countries. National Geographic was a holy book of the amazing and exotic. With maps! My favorite books–and I was constantly lost in one book or another – were about “other places”, past or present. Just after getting my first real job, I started a subscription to World News Report: translated articles from real places in the world, all over the world, like Egypt and Indonesia and Russia! And what an eye opener of different points of view that was. Travel was the other thing I was practically born to do. I loved finding out and seeing for myself, up close and personally, the “new and different.”
Like so many others, I think the first doubts about religion come with that cognitive dissonance over knowing, playing with, and laughing with people outside your faith who are supposedly damned. Your brain starts to squiggle around the edges of how unfair, arbitrary, and just plain ridiculous that is. Another huge dissonance for me has always, always been the problem of suffering. And the better read I was and the more I became aware of things really going on in the world, the more religion didn’t come even close to being able to answer that problem. Even something to the level of the many parasites and viruses that exist and cause horrible suffering. These things are at a level truly under the control of a god–not in the realm of “free will.” And yet, they exist and would, under most god-philosophies, have been “created.” Or at least nothing is done by god-power to eradicate it. The randomness, the depth of suffering, the cruelty, is too much for me to reconcile with a so-called “loving god.”
I pushed myself through college and with a high state of anticipation started looking for jobs that were “anywhere but in Utah.” I needed to get out and explore. So I went off to a job and an apartment in Maryland and through gleeful exploration and discovery knocked down even more of the isolationist walls that mormonism tried to maintain. I spent many, many weekends doing day trips in the area. Many, many trips to downtown Washington D.C. soaking up history and culture, arts, and politics as a thirsty, thirsty sponge. Eventually I pushed out even further and started traveling on my own to foreign countries.
All of this amazing growth and experiences, self-expression and reflection… and still in the mormon church. I was growing too big for my container and I started on a long slide into a very serious depression. My religion was not even close to the right fit for me, yet that was the life framework I was handed. Trying to accommodate the conflict between something purporting to be ALL truth with no wiggle room and a life being lived that was not working at all for me was excruciating. A final tipping point was a trip to Croatia. I felt like a bona fide grown-up while on tour, with passions and personality and a future. Coming back and having to slip back into my life in Utah was unbearable. It was my breaking point.
Leaving my religion was both hard and not hard. I still had a lot of entrenched programming, and running what I felt against what I was indoctrinated with made it hard to trust which way was “up.” But sometimes you reach a point where you have nothing to lose and it’s worth jumping off the cliff into the unknown. Tired of a life being lived in so much fear and guilt; tired of a world of rich experiences not open to me; tired of living in a reference frame that didn’t match logically, rationally, or emotionally with the world my eyes witnessed; tired of sitting on the sidelines to “things in books”–a world of science and maturity and deep, rich living. I remember thinking often throughout my life that I wanted “to be like the people in the books.” When I was at my absolute point of desperation the time was ripe for all the pieces to come together. The sum total of life experiences and observations finally won out and crashed my “things put on a shelf.” I put in many, many hours of compulsive research in areas formerly off-limits, following in others’ footsteps of study, and I finally concluded once and for all that my religion was not what it said it was. At all. I officially resigned from the church as a statement to myself and to those who had been pulling levers of authority over me all my life. I was 41 years old and somewhat heartbroken over what felt like so many lost years and wasted time, but the escape from those bonds is a feeling that can’t even be described. After that it felt like I was living in a fireball of light, like walking from the darkest, deepest, dankest dungeon and chains out into sunlight and fresh, sweet air and wide-open spaces, no chains weighing me down. Once I was officially not-mormon, then the fun really began: so many things to learn, so many thoughts to explore, so many discussions to have, so many new things to try. Coffee!
One morning while driving to work, I remembered that I had heard something somewhere, sometime, about Secular Humanism. Secular Humanism. I tumbled the words over in my head and it seemed like exactly where I was as a philosophy. So I turned to trusty Google and looked it up, also looking to see if something like that existed in Utah. It did! It does! Everything I read was like a check list of things I had already affirmed for myself. From my very first meeting with the Humanists of Utah I knew I was in a place I belonged. I could feel it in the people who were there. An emphasis on humanity–all of us sharing the planet together. Exploring the world–finding the answers science and reasoning and dialogue have given us. Changing as we learn more and from our cumulative reasoning and awareness. Making room for other people at the table. Being excited about life. Enjoying the beauties on offer–magnificent nature, expressive art, human interaction and friendship. Recognizing the reality of bad stuff and not ignoring it. Taking stewardship of the planet and for each other. I am a humanist. I am delighted to have found fellow humanists to engage and share with. And Life is a wondrous thing.
Chapter member Polly Stewart died February 3 in Salt Lake City of intestinal cancer. She was born July 27, 1943 SLC to Justin and Martha Stewart. A brilliant girl, she attended Wm. M. Stewart School, East High, and University of Utah, taking part in plays and musical productions and developing abilities as a folksinger. Her significant work in the fields of folklore, feminism and local history is documented in a series of works she edited, essays, articles, monographs and book and journal reviews . In 2006, inspired by
reminiscences with folk singer Utah Phillips, she spearheaded the Urban Pioneers 1960’s Folk Music Revival Concert, a Utah Humanities Council granted-funded project which also interviews local folk musicians, notably Rosalie Sorrels, Utah Phillips, Polly and the Valley Boys, Hal Cannon and many others. Polly supported the activities of Humanists of Utah, Utah Pride Center, American Folklore Society, Salisbury University Nabb Research Center, Salisbury University Wildfowl Museum, University of Utah School of Humanities, University of Oregon Folklore Program, Southern Poverty Law Center, ACLU of Utah, Human Right Campaign, and Unitarian Universalists. She was a member of the Salt Lake Choral Society with a stellar soprano voice. Polly was a lode star and mentor to countless people in the Gay Pride and AA communities.
Memorial service, March 17th, 2-4 p.m., First Unitarian Church, 569 South 1300 East, SLC.
“Now sleep the crimson petal, now the white” – Tennyson. Rest well.
Science should matter to us not only because it helps us to control parts of the world, but because it shows us things we will never master. Thus we do well to meditate daily, rather than as the religious do on their God, on the 9.5 trillion kilometers which comprise a single light year, or perhaps on the luminosity of the largest known star in our galaxy, Eta Carinae, 7,500 light years distant, 400 times the size our sun, and 4 million times as bright. We
should punctuate our calendars with celebrations in honor of VY Canis Majoris, 5,000 light years from earth and 2,100 times bigger than our sun. Nightly, perhaps after the main news bulletin and before the celebrity quiz, we might observe a moment of silence in order to contemplate the 200 to 400 billion stars in our galaxy, the 100 billion galaxies and the 3 septillion stars in the universe. Whatever their value may be to science, the stars in the end are no less valuable to mankind as solutions to our megalomania, self–pity and anxiety.
“…we should insist that a percentage of all prominently positioned television screens on public view be hooked up to live feeds from the transponders of our extra planetary telescopes.”
–Alain de Botton writing in Religion for Atheists
Robert Green Ingersoll
The Great Agnostic
For a pungent, quotable critique of religion, it’s hard to beat Robert G. Ingersoll, the popular 19th Century orator and author known as the “Great Agnostic”. Here are some examples:
“I do not know – but I do not believe.”
“I believe in the gospel of good living. … I believe in the gospel of intelligence; in the gospel of education. The schoolhouse is my cathedral; the universe is my bible.”
“[T]hey who know the most of nature believe the least about theology.”
“[M]iracles prove the dishonesty of the few and the credulity of the many… .”
“Over the manuscripts of philosophers and poets, priests, with their ignorant tongues thrust out, devoutly scrawled the forgeries of faith.”
“All religions have, with ceremony, magic, and mystery, deformed, darkened, and corrupted the soul.”
“Man did not get his knowledge of the consequence of actions from God, but from experience and reason.”
“God or not God, murder is a crime. … As long as men object to being killed, murder will be illegal.”
“The assassin cannot sanctify his dagger by falling on his knees, and it does not help a falsehood if it be uttered as a prayer.”
“I have but little confidence in any business, or enterprise, or investment, that promises dividends only after the death of the stockholders.”
“Honest investigation is utterly impossible within the pale of any Church, for the reason, that if you think the Church is right you will not investigate, and if you think it wrong, the Church will investigate you.”
“In all ages reason has been regarded as the enemy of religion. Nothing has been considered so pleasing to the Deity as a total denial of the authority of your own mind.”
“It is said that a desire for knowledge lost us the Eden of the past; but whether that is true or not, it will certainly give us the Eden of the future.”
“Mental slavery is mental death, and every man who has given up his intellectual freedom is the living coffin of his dead soul. In this sense, every church is a cemetery and every creed an epitaph.”
“And every life, no matter if its every hour is rich with love and every moment jeweled with joy, will, at its close, become a tragedy as sad and deep and dark as can be woven of the warp and woof of mystery and death.”
“He believed that happiness was the only good, reason the only torch, justice the only worship, and love the only priest.” (From a funeral tribute to his brother.)
“One school-master is worth a thousand priests.”
“A King is a non-producing thief, sitting on a throne, surrounded by vermin.”
Note: All the quotations above come from a book that is free to Kindle users. It is titled Ingersollia: Gems of Thought from the Lectures, Speeches, and Conversations. Many books by Ingersoll can be downloaded free at Amazon.com.
Reprinted from PIQUE
Secular Humanist Society of New York
Web Site of the Month
32 Discordant Metronomes
First of all want to thank Evelin Damian, Zack Stevenson, and Brian Trick of the Utah Coalition of Reason for planning and managing this year’s Darwin Day event. Also thanks goes to Bob Mayhew for manning our table all evening. Additionally, thanks to all who volunteered. Thanks again everyone, job well done.
I would like to relate what was the most rewarding aspect of the evening for me personally. After I spoke opening the evening and after I read a definition of humanism, several individuals came up and thanked me because they had found that many of their feelings and ideas were in line with humanism. One person even said that he had found his niche. That makes me happy and reminds me of one of the reasons to host these events and that is to introduce as much of the public to humanism as we can.
U-CoR is also helping us start the process of creating a foundation for Darwin Day here in Utah. Along with that they will be helping us plan for our participation in “Pride Day” activities, our newest event we have decided to get involved in. We will have a booth of some sort and we will enjoy spending the day supporting a worthy cause.
I mention the weather quite often in my President’s Message, perhaps too often, but I can’t help it. Today the temperature got up to about 60 degrees and enough snow has melted that a little bit of green is showing up here and there. So of course I am all hot to get the garden planted but have to tell myself, “ whoa Bob, it’s only early March, we could end up with more winter yet.” A chilling thought. Anyway, I’m happy that the daylight time is getting longer and the temperatures warmer. It won’t be long before I start complaining about the heat.
Thinking about summertime reminded me that there has been some talk about having a “Freethinkers Picnic” during the summer. It might be nice to meet at a park somewhere for a U-CoR sponsored picnic.
I hope I see you at our March general meeting. See you then.