Discussion Group Report
Your Inner Fish
By Craig Wilkinson, M.D.
Dr. Neil Shubin is a paleontologist and teaches comparative anatomy at the University of Chicago. He recently discovered a fossil that bridged the evolutionary gap between fish with fins and amphibians with limbs, also called “tetrapods.” It is a 375-million year old fossil discovered in the Canadian Arctic Islands. He named it Tiktaalik. It has scales like a fish, eyes on the dorsum of it’s head like early amphibians, and a “specialized fin” which looks externally like a fin but contains the rudimentary bones of a tetrapod arm. The humerus (upper arm), radius, ulna (lower arm), carpal bones (wrist), and phalanges (fingers) in early stages of evolution could be all be identified in the front “specialized fin.” It truly is a bridge fossil between fish with fins and amphibians with legs. Based on this find he began writing his most recent book, Your Inner Fish, A journey into the 3.5 billion year history of the Human Body.
In the beginning of the book he tells us about his lifelong interest in finding fossils that bridge the gap between fish and tetrapods. Tiktaalik is truly an intermediate fossil between fish and tetrapods and the fulfillment of a lifelong dream for Dr. Shubin. This fossil “gap” that for so long had been held out by the creationists as a fault with Darwin’s Theory of Evolution has now been closed.
Next he explains how we can trace evolution not only in fossils but also with DNA. The molecular biologic history of life on earth is being uncovered at an amazing rate in the past few years. Using the fossil record Shubin explains that our hands resemble fossil fins; our heads are organized like those of long extinct fossil jawless fish. With our recent ability to accurately study, and rather quickly sequence, genomes, we have found that major parts of our genomes still look and function like those of worms and bacteria. For example, the same embryonic “sonic hedgehog” gene tells a fruit fly where to put its front limbs during development, tells a fish were on its body to place the front fins, and also tells the human embryo where to place our arms. In fact, the “sonic hedgehog gene” from a fish, if placed in the top part of the fruit fly head during embryonic development, will produce a fruit fly with a leg coming out of the top of its head, and vice versa. Other examples and evidence outline his case for existence of a “fish within us”: teeth in ancient jawless fish that evolved into modern mammary and sweat glands: and genes, which control our eyes and ears, that correspond directly to DNA found in primitive jellyfish.
Dr. Shubin is also taking a swipe at “creation science.” From the pages of his book it is clear that if a supreme being were responsible for creating life on Earth, from bacteria to humans, He, She, or It didn’t do it flawlessly. Far from being the perfectly crafted handiwork of a deity, our bodies are jerry-rigged patchworks of old bones, cells and genes bolted on to frameworks that creak and groan at every opportunity. Men suffer hernias because their spermatic cords, inherited from ancient fish ancestors, leave them susceptible to gut tissue spilling through muscle walls as the testicles descend from their internal position below the lungs in fish, through the abdominal wall, into their external position in the human scrotum. The evolution of the voice box left us susceptible to aspiration or “café coronaries.” Our diaphragms and the position of the phrenic nerve leave us susceptible to hiccups. Amphibians do not have diaphragms and they use electric signals generated in their brain stems for rhythmic gill breathing. These leftover brain signals in humans are transmitted through the phrenic nerves to our evolved diaphragms and result in hiccups.
Humans have too many un-intelligent designs to be a product of “intelligent design.” We shouldn’t be surprised, says Shubin, “We were not designed rationally, but are products of a convoluted evolutionary history.”
Discussion Group Report
Why Men Believe
By Craig Wilkinson, M.D.
E. Haldeman-Julius was born in Philadelphia in 1889 and died in 1951. He owned a publishing company which published more than 2,200 “Little Blue Books.” The topics of these books included history, philosophy, sex, home economics, poetry, and free thought works by Paine, Ingersoll, and Voltaire, among others. He was not afraid of controversy and one series of books was entitled Appeal to Reason Series. There goal was to bring education to the masses. He was the first to use the postal service to distribute his fifteen cent paper back “Little Blue Books”.
“Why Men Believe,” is taken from his book, The Outline of Bunk circa 1929, page 24. In this essay he reviews what he feels was the essential history of religion. Men originally believed in religion because “they did not know better.” There was no scientific explanation of life. The fantastic dogmas of religion, though puzzling to them, could not be questioned by the stupid masses of men. There was in the first place, the activity of superstitious curiosity and wonder, in the absence of science, trying to explain somehow the mystery of the universe. These explanations would be of the sort that we find in religion: a queer patchwork of supernatural imaginings, myths and marvels. The element of ignorant wonder would sufficiently account for religion. In a word, once his mind got busy, man would awkwardly try to figure out what life meant. And untrained, unguided reflections would result in a religious mess. Religions would produce confusion, and, not least, would evolve into a scheme of power (with rival cults and deities) to be intolerantly maintained.
As for the masses, they were influenced by fear and hope–and susceptible in the first place, through their ignorance. Today hope and fear, while not so intense, still have their part in support of religion. A personal, sentimental hope also induces many to believe, or try to believe, in the promises of religion concerning a future life. Man egotistically rebels against the thought of dying. They surrender a great deal of knowledge and pleasure that is certain for the sake of an extremely dubious, shadowy reward and a hope of living in heaven with their departed loved ones. A belief in religion is only possible, with any degree of satisfying faith, to the simplest type of mind, and even then there is a doubt that is irrepressible, a doubt that is repeatedly awakened by the spectacle of death.
From another viewpoint, to some people, an acceptance of religion is the easiest escape from the wearying necessity of thought. Here is a man who is not equal to reasoning himself to a realistic view of life. Nor is he strong enough to bear what is to him the burden of skepticism. He wants comforting illusion. And without making any intellectual difficulties for himself, without really thinking much about the question, he leans upon a simple, vague, but pleasant faith in religion. Its unpleasant doctrines he forgets and its more attractive promises he choose to believe as a desirous and uncritical act of faith. Perhaps he is not zealous in religious devotion. He is not strong on doctrine; he is not interested in discussion. He has not so much been saved or converted as he has rid himself, in what seems to him the easiest way, of a troublesome problem.
I think E. Haldeman-Julius was as accurate in 1929 as he is in 2008. Faith is really intellectual laziness. Take for example, evolution. When asked how life began, to answer “God did it,” is a cop out. The true story of life was discovered by Charles Darwin. It took him an entire lifetime of study and work. Many other dedicated scientists spent many years of hard work in the trenches, digging fossils and interpreting them, studying the molecules of life including the molecule of heredity that is DNA to find the truth. It was evolution by natural selection on a background of inheritable characteristics and random mutations that, over millions of years, in slow small steps created life on this planet as we know it today.
The religious mindset is characterized by intellectual laziness. On the other hand, it isn’t easy to be a skeptic. Trying to find the truth is a rigorous intellectual exercise. The intellectually honest person must face the truth even when it hurts. The skeptic has a difficult, often thankless, and sometimes painful job. He has the job of bringing reason, knowledge, facts, and most importantly, intellectual honesty to the discussion of the great questions and problems that face mankind. What other choice do we have? Rational thinking based on knowledge and facts must trump a hope or belief without knowledge, “faith.” Vice a versa is just too scary to think about.
Discussion Group Report
What Would Darwin Do?
By Craig Wilkinson, M.D.
David N. Campbell is a retired university professor. He is founder and past president of the Center for Inquiry Community of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Currently, he becomes Charles Darwin for a weekly cable television show and for live performances. He prepared for this over a three year period, reading everything Darwin wrote that was available, including the four volume, From So Simple a Beginning edited by E.O. Wilson. He read Darwin’s On the Origin of Species three times. The article “What Would Darwin Do?” is a synopsis of some of the main points he makes during his presentations.
Quoting from the article: “When people proudly announce, as so many do, ‘I don’t believe in evolution.’ I politely reply, ‘Neither do I. No one believes in evolution. Evolution is science. It is not about believing in anything. We either know and understand–which is why you have these electric lights, and can expect to live beyond the age of 40–or we are in the process of knowing and understanding.'” In just a few words the author summarizes my philosophy of life. I think most humanists, agnostics, and scientists would agree with Darwin. The only message we can hope to pass on after our demise is what science has achieved, how it has transformed all our lives, and how much more there is to know and understand. There are no true alternatives, just a desperate longing for some hope to be spared, to be exempt from the reality we have finally come to know.
Darwin’s life was a transformation from a more standard philosophy of life to that of a scientist. Many people do not know that he completed a degree in theology before he became a naturalist, and before he journeyed around the world on the ship HMS Beagle. He, himself stated that early in the voyage of the Beagle he talked with his shipmates about his natural science studies from a biblical language, but by the end of the voyage he used a more “naturalistic” language.
Darwin struggled with his own religious hopes and yearnings for many years. Quoting again from the article: “There must be ‘something’ beyond this world. There has to be a creator, a mover.” Darwin went through this questioning acutely when his precious Annie died in his arms at age ten. Darwin wrote, “After that, I no longer accompanied Emma to church. I knew for sure then that there was no loving benefactor anywhere in this world or the universe. I was just beginning to understand. What obviously existed was the struggle to survive that I had observed.”
The article ends with Darwin’s admonishing us about others. “I know firsthand, as do all scientists, that it is not easy thinking, and perhaps we should consider the possibility that we can never expect everyone–or even most–to think in this fashion.
I would end with the admonishment; we need to expect others to think rationally, we really have no other choice.
Web Site of the Month
Member Recommended Web Sites
Thomas Paine National Historical Association
This organization was founded in 1884 in New York City and is among the oldest historical associations in the US.
Do you have a favorite web site you’d like to share with other readers of this page? If so please let us know!
Web Site of the Month
Member Recommended Web Sites
Boulder International Humanist Institute
This month’s site is recommended by Flo Wineriter. Do you have a favorite website that you’d like to share?
The Boulder International Humanist Institute’s mission is to search for a way to create a more perfect world, nation, and life. We believe that Humanist ethics offers a better process for a more peaceful world and fulfilling life than the principle alternative world views, authoritarianism and postmodernism.
Do you have a favorite web site you’d like to share with other readers of this page? If so please let us know!
Web Site of the Month
Member Recommended Web Sites
CFI Public Policy Blog
The Center for Inquiry’s Office of Public Policy recently launched an online blog to help keep members informed about CFI’s legislative activities on the Hill. The OPP blog will include press releases, news updates, and action items which will allow readers to learn about and participate in the legislative process.
Do you have a favorite web site you’d like to share with other readers of this page? If so please let us know!
Web Site of the Month
Atheists of Utah
Web Site of the Month
Member Recommended Web Sites
Health Information Initiative of Utah
This month’s website proposes an important step in addressing the issue of health care in our country. One of the main problems with health care is the scattered and splintered nature of individuals’ medical records. Unless you see only one provider, your medical record is very likely fractured. The HIIU group proposes consolidation of individuals’ records as an important step towards providing more efficient and cost effective health care delivery.
Web Site of the Month
Member Recommended Web Sites
The Planetary Society, the world’s largest space–interest group, is dedicated to inspiring the public with the adventure and mystery of space exploration.
Site recommended by Bob Lane
Web Site of the Month
Member Recommended Web Sites
What is a bright?
A bright is a person who has a naturalistic worldview
A bright’s worldview is free of supernatural and mystical elements
The ethics and actions of a bright are based on a naturalistic worldview.
Web Site of the Month
Member Recommended Web Sites
Darwin Day Celebration
This month’s website is Darwin Day Celebration; an International recognition of science and humanity. Check this site out to see what is being done world wide to recognize Darwin’s contributions to science. Next year will the 200-year celebration—expect a real blow out!
Web Site of the Month
Member Recommended Web Sites
Leicester Secular Society
This website claims to be the oldest secular society in the world, formed in 1851.
“Secularists are also called freethinkers, since we like to think for ourselves, and sceptics because we question traditions and all people who set themselves up as authorities or experts, and rationalists because we rely on reason applied to the evidence of our senses. For most matters of everyday life this amounts to little more than common sense.”
Web Site of the Month
Member Recommended Web Sites
World Military Spending
It is amazing how many resources are consumed by the militaries of the world. Site suggested by Bob Lane.
Web Site of the Month
Member Recommended Web Sites
Ben from Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream is the sponsor of the True Majority site that monitors Washington based on the principles of peace, justice, and sustainability.
Utah Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons
November’s general meeting found a young, enthusiastic speaker, Danielle Endres, PhD, educating us about Utah Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (UCAN). A relatively new non-profit organization, UCAN informs us that worldwide, there were in 2007, over 25,000 nuclear weapons, 15,000 of them built by the US. Except for 400 in Europe, the rest of them are scattered throughout our country. Most of the remaining 10,000 were built by the Soviet Union and remain in Russia. Others are in other members of the international nuclear club.
According to Endres, the 2002 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) follows Bush’s November 2001 agreement with Putin in calling for a reduction in the United States’ strategic nuclear arsenal from 7,000 to 1,700-2,200, operationally deployed weapons by 2012.
The NPR states that the US should rely less on nuclear weapons and depend more heavily on conventional weapons and missile defense to ensure national security. Most of the reduction, though, will merely be shifting warheads into storage where they could quickly be reactivated.
Endres continued by referring to rhetorician Kenneth Burke who argues that certain phrases color other ways of defining security, phrases like “reasonable preparedness,” “multilateral solutions,” “economic and social justice,” and “elimination of our greatest threats.”
In addition to using national security as justification for nuclear weapons, other common myths about nuclear weapons abound:
Nuclear weapons are too difficult and costly to dismantle, nuclear weapons production and development provides jobs in the US, and we need to compete in the nuclear sciences and to keep scientists employed.
Before addressing these myths Endres said we need to look at some history: Not until World War II were nuclear weapons used in the form of atomic bombs, the first and only time. The Cold War ushered in a nuclear arms race, based on the deterrence theory, which states that rational actors will use nuclear weapons for their deterrent value. The risk of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) prevented the use of nuclear weapons by the US and Soviet Union.
As many of us are aware, the majority of US nuclear testing was at the Nevada Test Site. 928 tests were conducted there between 1951 and 1992, when we entered a moratorium and President Clinton signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
Still, Endres told us, many issues exist, including development of new nuclear weapons like the bunker buster and the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW), a controversial new American nuclear warhead design and bomb family intended to be simple and reliable to provide a long-lasting, low maintenance future nuclear force. RRW, however, presents risks of nuclear terrorism and possibility of nuclear accidents, like the one when US B-52 bomber, armed with several nuclear warheads, accidentally flew from North Dakota to Louisiana on August 30, 2007.
While the Nuclear Posture Review calls for continued adherence to a nuclear testing moratorium, it opposes US ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. By advocating acceleration in the nuclear test readiness posture, the Review brings out the possibility that we might resume nuclear tests.
Already, we are modernizing our nuclear arsenal on several fronts: The US Minuteman ICBMs have received upgraded targeting systems. Two US aircraft, the B2 and the B52H, can carry nuclear weapons. The Pentagon maintains a tactical nuclear arsenal. We have tactical weapons stored on a few attack submarines and 150 tactical nuclear bombs in Europe for NATO use. Fighter-bombers maintain a nuclear capability.
So why abolish nuclear weapons? Chief among the reasons are terrorism, accidents, and ongoing nuclear weapons development and use. Through these reasons, UCAN builds an argument for a moral imperative to rid the world of nuclear weapons.
There are ongoing costs to the nuclear age, but these have been largely out of sight for most Americans. There are immense environmental implications of nuclear weapons development. Nuclear weapons development has had a toll on human health. Congress passed the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act in 1990 to financially compensate people or the families of people who were exposed to fallout from atomic testing.
Some, like Enres’ co-author Mary Dickson, argue that this compensation has not been enough. Richard Miller’s creates a map of fallout from testing in his 1999 book, Under the Cloud: The Decades of Nuclear Testing. Using data from the federal government, he dotted the map every time fallout reached a location, showing the extent of nuclear testing’s potential impact.
What can we do to help abolish nuclear weapons? Write letters to the editor, blogs, and articles. Join discussion groups. Read the literature.*
UCAN is not alone in their advocacy for the abolition of nuclear weapons, concluded Enres. Said former President Eisenhower’s famous admonition about disarmament:
“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.
We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”
* Readings suggested by UCAN website:
A World Free of Nuclear Weapons by George P. Shultz, William J. Perry, Henry A. Kissinger and Sam Nunn.
Complex 2030 Fact Sheet (pdf) by the Friends Committee on National Legislation
New Nuclear Weapons -The Reliable Replacement Warhead by the Union of Concerned Scientists
Nevada Test Site: Desert Annex of the Nuclear Weapons Laboratories (pdf) by the Western States Legal Foundation
“Under the Cloud: The Decades of Nuclear Testing” by Richard L. Miller
“Bomb Scare: The History and Future of Nuclear Weapons” by Joseph Cirincione
Inside the nuclear underworld: Deformity and Fear. CNN – Asia, August 31, 2007
Rocky: U.S. nuke work afflicted 36,500 Americans, Ann Imse, Rocky Mountain News, August 31, 2007
“The Seventh Decade: The New Shape of Nuclear Danger” by Jonathan Schell
Note from article author: One main concern from the HOU audience was how we would defend our country without nuclear weapons. UCAN’s answer is to use conventional weapons of war, believed by some to be effective. Weapons not considered conventional are chemical and biological warfare and nuclear weapons.
Discussion Group Report
Toward a Humanist Foreign Policy
By Craig Wilkinson, M.D.
Carl Coon is the Vice President of the American Humanist Association and a former ambassador to Nepal. In this article he outlines what he feels is a humanist foreign policy that should be adopted by the United States. He starts by declaring that the foreign policy of President Bush is a disaster. On many issues, not just Iraq, he has been wrong. These include global warming, missile defense, population growth, and now Iran. He has had a narrow world view combined with a desire to seek advice only from people who will fortify his prejudices, rather than from the ones who know and understand the issues, and this is a dangerous combination.
He quotes Henry Kissinger who once observed that absolute security for any one country meant absolute insecurity for its neighbors. This point is critical and is least understood by Bush and his accomplices, but by many, if not most, Americans. The fact of the matter is that we can’t have it both ways. We cannot insist on total security for us and us alone, and expect full cooperation from everyone else. Cooperation requires some sacrifices, some concessions, from each of the partners.
There has to be a better way, and of course there is. We need to lead by example, not threats. We need to listen to others, learn what their problems are, and exercise our talents and ingenuity toward finding solutions that help everyone to the extent it is possible. We need to take the dawning environmental crisis seriously and show that we’re willing to make our share of needed sacrifices. Above all we need to recognize that we have to sacrifice some of our national sovereignty if we are to cooperate effectively on global problems with the rest of the world.
Until now, there has been no such thing as a global society. The most complex societies have been nation-states. There is a global authority, the United Nations, but it has no teeth. On the most important issues, a sovereign nation can ignore any UN attempt to constrain or control its behavior. It is true that many international and regional organizations, buttressed by treaties and conventions, bring a modicum of law and order into specific areas of international relations. They are useful and respond to real needs. But on the most important issues, any member of the UN can defy its authority, and the only recourse the UN has is to try to persuade other nations to put pressure on the miscreant. This sometimes works with small and powerless countries but the big ones can behave as the please. When the chips are down, the current global society resembles Dodge City from the mythology of the cowboy movie, where victory goes to the fastest draw.
Mr. Coon then outlines humanism’s role in the evolution of a global society. Humanity, he states, is now in a transitional phase, moving reluctantly from Dodge City to a global society ruled by law. He understands that creating some kind of law and order that will include the whole globe will be an enormously complicated task, one that certainly will not be fully accomplished during the lifetime of anyone alive today. But, he states, it is equally plausible that some such order will evolve eventually, if humanity is to survive at all. Right now we are living in a fool’s paradise, based on an uneasy equilibrium backed up not by an effective international rule of law but by a balance of terror.
He envisions an active, explicitly humanist policy centered on a renewed dedication to basic rules of good conduct amongst nations. This would include the concept of universal human rights. Humanists should support a stronger United Nations and more effective means of controlling conflicts, and especially nuclear weapons.
A world at peace is and should be a primary long term goal of the humanist movement. Most of the rest of humanity is floundering at this point, too involved in parochial concerns to see the big picture. We humanists are unencumbered by religious prejudices and are open to objective consideration of international ethical principles. Let’s get out in front with a defined, well recognized posture in favor of a world at peace, governed by law and not brute force, with the values of universal human rights undergirding the law, and shared by all.
by Robert G. Ingersoll
Thomas Paine was one of the intellectual heroes–one of the men to whom we are indebted. His name is associated forever with the Great Republic; as long as free government exists he will be remembered, admired and honored.
He lived a long, laborious and useful life. The world is better for his having lived. For the sake of truth he accepted hatred and reproach for his portion. He ate the bitter bread of sorrow. His friends were untrue to him because he was true to himself, and true to them. He lost the respect of what is called society, but kept his own. His life is what the world calls failure and what history calls success.
If to love your fellow men more than self is goodness, Thomas Paine was good.
If to be in advance of your time–to be a pioneer in the direction of right–is greatness, Thomas Paine was great.
If to avow your principles and discharge your duty in the presence of death is heroic, Thomas Paine was a hero.
I challenge the world to show that Thomas Paine ever wrote one line, one word in favor of tyranny–in favor of immorality; one line, one word against what he believed to be for the highest and best interest of mankind; one line, on word against justice, charity, or liberty, and yet he has been pursued as though he had been a fiend from hell. His memory has be execrated as though he had murdered some Uriah for his wife; driven some Hagar into the desert to starve with his child upon her bosom; defiled his own daughters; ripped open with the sword the sweet bodies of loving and innocent women; advised one brother to assassinate another; kept a harem with seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines, or had persecuted Christians even unto strange cities.
He died almost alone. The moment he died Christians commenced manufacturing horrors for his deathbed. They had his chamber fill with devils rattling chains, and these ancient lies are annually certified to by the respectable Christians of the present day. The truth is that he died as he had lived. Some ministers were impolite enough to visit him against his will. Several of them he ordered from his room. A couple of Catholic priests, in all the meekness of hypocrisy, called that they might enjoy the agonies of a dying friend of man. Thomas Paine, rising in his bed, the few embers of expiring life blown into flame by the breath of indignation, had the goodness to curse them both. His physician, who seems to have been a meddling fool, just as the cold hand of death was touching the patriot’s heart, whispered in the dull ear of the dying man: “Do you believe, or do you wish to believe, that Jesus Christ is the son of God?” And the reply was: “I have no wish to believe on that subject.”
These were the last remembered words of Thomas Paine. He died as serenely as ever a Christian passed away. He died in the full possession of his mind, and on the very brink and edge of death proclaimed the doctrines of his life.
Paine was the first man to write these words, “The United States of America.” He was the first great champion of absolute separation from England. He was the first to urge the adoption of a Federal Constitution; and, more clearly than any other man of his time, he perceived the future greatness of this country.
The claim that Paine was the real author of the Declaration of Independence is much better founded. I am inclined to think that he actually wrote it; but whether this is true or not, every idea contained in it had been written by him long before. Certain it is, that Jefferson could not have written anything so manly, so striking, so comprehensive, so clear, so convincing, and so faultless in rhetoric and rhythm as the Declaration of Independence.
He has been blamed for his attack on Washington. The truth is, he was in prison in France. He had committed the crime of voting against the execution of the king. It was the grandest act of his life, but at that time to be merciful was criminal. Paine being an American citizen asked Washington, then President, to say a word to Robespierre on his behalf. Washington remained silent. In the calmness of power, the serenity of fortune, Washington, the President, read the request of Paine, the prisoner, and with the complacency of assured fame consigned to the wastebasket of forgetfulness the patriot’s cry for help.
In this controversy, my sympathies are with the prisoner.
Paine did more to free the mind, to destroy the power of ministers and priests in the New World, than any other man. In order to answer his arguments, the churches found it necessary to attack his character. There was a general resort to falsehood. In trying to destroy the reputation of Paine, the churches have demoralized themselves. Nearly every minister has been a willing witness against the truth. Upon the grave of Thomas Paine, the churches of America have sacrificed their honor. The influence of the Hero author increases every day, and there are more copies of The Age of Reason sold in the United States, than any work written in defense of the Christian religion. Hypocrisy, with its forked tongue, its envious and malignant heart, lies coiled upon the memory of Paine, ready to fasten its poisonous fangs on the reputation of any man who dares defend the great and generous dead.
To fight for yourself is natural–to fight for others is grand; to fight for your country is noble–to fight for the human race–for the liberty of hand and brain–is nobler still.
For many years religious journals and ministers have been circulating certain pretended accounts of the frightful agonies endured by Paine and Voltaire when dying; that these great men at the moment of death were terrified because they had given their honest opinions upon the subject of religion to their fellow men. The imagination of the religious world has been taxed to the utmost in inventing absurd and infamous accounts of the last moments of these intellectual giants. Every Sunday school paper, thousands of idiotic tracts, and countless stupidities called sermons, have been filled with these calumnies.
While theologians most cheerfully admit that most murderers die without fear, they deny the possibility of any man who has expressed his disbelief in the inspiration of the bible dying except in the agony of terror. These stories are used in revivals and in Sunday schools, and have long been considered of great value.
I am anxious that these slanders shall cease. I am desirous of seeing justice done, ever at this late day, to the dead.
When Thomas Paine was dying, he was infested by fanatics–by the snaky spies of bigotry. In the shadows of death were the unclean birds of prey waiting to tear with beak and claw the corpse of him who wrote the Rights of Man. And there lurking and crouching in the darkness were the jackals and hyenas of superstition ready to violate his grave.
After all, drinking is not as bad as lying. An honest drunkard is better than a calumniator of the dead.
To become drunk is a virtue compared with stealing a babe from the breast of its mother.
Drunkenness is one of the beatitudes, compared with editing a religious paper devoted to the defense of slavery upon the ground that it is a divine institution.
But suppose, for the sake of argument, that Paine was poor and that he died a beggar, does that tend to show that the Bible is an inspired book and that Calvin did not burn Servetus? Do you really regard poverty as a crime? If Paine had died a millionaire, would you have accepted his religious opinions: If Paine had drunk nothing but cold water would you have repudiated the five cardinal points of Calvinism? Does an argument depend for its force upon the pecuniary condition of the person making it? As a matter of fact, most reformers–most men and women of genius, have been acquainted with poverty. Beneath a covering of rags have been found some of the tenderest and bravest hearts.
Owing to the attitude of the churches for the last fifteen hundred years, truth telling has not been a very lucrative business. As a rule, hypocrisy has worn the robes and honesty the rags. That day is passing away. You cannot now answer the arguments of a man by pointing at holes in his coat. Thomas Paine attacked the church when it was powerful–when it had what was called honors to bestow–when it was the keeper of the public conscience–when it was strong and cruel. The church waited till he was dead then attacked his reputation and his clothes.
What crime had Thomas Paine committed that he should have feared to die? The only answer you can give is that he denied the inspiration of the Scriptures. If this is a crime, the civilized world is filled with criminals. The pioneers of human thought–the intellectual leaders of the world–the foremost men in every science–the kings of literature and art–those who stand in the front rank of investigation–the men who are civilizing, elevating, instructing, and refining mankind, are today unbelievers in the dogma of inspiration. Upon this question, the intellect of Christendom agrees with the conclusions reached by the genius of Thomas Paine. Centuries ago a noise was made for the purpose of frightening mankind. Orthodoxy is the echo of that noise.
The man who now regard the Old Testament as in any sense a sacred of inspired book is, in my judgment, an intellectual and moral deformity. There is in it so much that is cruel, ignorant, and ferocious that it is to me a matter of amazement that it was ever thought to be the work of a most merciful deity.
Upon the question of inspiration Thomas Paine gave his honest opinion. Can it be that to give an honest opinion causes one to die in terror and despair?
Have you in your writings been actuated by the fear of such a consequence? Why should it be taken for granted that Thomas Paine, who devoted his life to the sacred cause of freedom, should have been hissed at in the hour of death by the snakes of conscience, while editors of Presbyterian papers who defended slavery as a divine institution, and cheerfully justified the stealing of babes from earth to the embraces of angels? Why should you think that the heroic author of the Rights of Man should shudderingly dread to leave this “bank and shoal of time,” while Calvin, dripping with the blood of Servetus, was anxious to be judged of god? Is it possible that the persecutors–the instigators of the massacre of St. Bartholomew–the inventors and users of thumb screws, and iron boots, and racks–burners and tearers of human flesh–the stealers, whippers and enslavers of men–the buyers and beaters of babes and mothers–the founders of inquisitions–the makers of chains, the builders of dungeons, the slanderers of the living and calumniators of the dead, all died in the odor of sanctity, with white, forgiven hands folded upon the breasts of peace, while the destroyers of prejudice–the apostles of humanity–the soldiers of liberty–the breakers of fetters–the creators of light–died surrounded with the fierce hands of fear?
In your attempt to destroy the character of Thomas Paine you have failed, and have succeeded only in leaving a stain upon your own. You have written words as cruel, bitter and heartless as the creed of Calvin. Hereafter you will stand in the pillory of history as a defamer–a calumniator of the dead. You will be know as the man who sad that Thomas Paine, the “Author Hero,” lived a drunken, cowardly and beastly life, and died a drunken and beastly death. These infamous words will be branded upon the forehead of your reputation. They will be remembered against you when all else you may have uttered shall have passed from the memory of men.
He who attempts to ridicule the truth, ridicules himself. He becomes the food of his own laughter.
There is nothing grander than to rescue from the leprosy of slander the reputation of a good and generous man.
At the age of seventy-three, death touched his tired heart. He dies in the land his genius defended–under the flag he gave to the skies. Slander cannot touch him now–hatred cannot reach him more. He sleeps in the sanctuary of the tomb, beneath the quiet of the stars.
A few more years–a few more brave men–a few more rays of light, and mankind will venerate the memory of him who said:
“Any system of religion that shocks the mind of a child cannot be a true system.”
“The world is my country, and to do good is my religion.”
–Robert Green Ingersoll
Joyce Carol Oates was honored with the current American Humanist of the Year award. The announcement in the Humanist magazine noted that she is a prolific author with nearly 40 published novels in addition to a large number of short story collections, novellas, plays and some nonfiction. I was embarrassed to admit that I had never even heard of neither her nor her work.
I went to the local bookstore and picked a book pretty much at random. I was really impressed with Ms. Oates’ writing style and her character development.
The book is told from the point-of-view of several characters. Each of the new narrators overlaps with the previous speaker, explaining the events from his or her own perspective and then moves the story forward. The result is a fascinating tale of Americana.
The setting is Niagara Falls where a newly wed couple who are both rural, perhaps a little too old for marriage, and children of Presbyterian ministers travel for their honeymoon. Their wedding night at the motel in Niagara Falls is perhaps less that successful and so the groom, feeling disgraced, throws himself over the observation point. The bride waits a full seven days for his body to be found–apparently it really takes that long to surface.
During this ordeal she is observed by a gentleman, a presumed bachelor for life, of an old established local family. He is totally taken with the abandoned bride and they end up marrying and raising a family. He is a lawyer by vocation and accidentally meets some early victims of Love Canal. He decides that he must pursue justice and fights against the establishment, who are his friends and family.
The couple progresses from early marital bliss to being somewhat estranged and then at odds over the direction of their careers. The children are left to cope with being odd and outcast.
I really enjoyed this book; its insights, style, and readability are truly remarkable.
Taking the Constitution Seriously
I am going to talk about the Constitution, the rule of law, and simple honesty-all subjects obviously related one to another.
The Constitution today is not the Constitution of 1787. That document had no amendments. We now have twenty-seven. Note the first three words, “We the People.” The meaning today is so far different, blacks were used for counting and then only 3/4 value and women were excluded from participation. What the today’s originalists don’t acknowledge is that times change. “We the People” then is entirely different from “We the People” now. Numerically “We the People” is different as well from 3 million to over 300 million. Geographically we differ too; a seaboard of 13 states vs. a continent of 48 and two outlanders. We have grown, we have grown better, and with bumps along the way, including some in our day, we have grown more free.
Quite obviously, the Constitution with amendments is not the same document as that which was produced in Philadelphia in 1787. It is a much better document.
As a child I was taught to take the Constitution seriously. Some in my community asserted that it was a divinely inspired document which should be respected, revered and followed. After all, the creators of that document were persons of experience, learning and wisdom who had thought deeply about how government should be structured, and how power should be divided. As a U.S. District judge, I have admired and cherished their history-tested insights.
The framers, with their bitter experience of colonial status, their natural mistrust of undue power in the hands of one man, deliberately fractured governmental power into three great departments-legislative, executive and judicial-each to balance or check the power of the other. Miraculously that fundamental structure has endured for more than two hundred years.
Look at the structure of the document. In the allocation of governmental power, the Founders placed the power to declare war in the legislative branch. The words of the Constitution are plain. Section 8 of Article 1 says “Congress shall have the power to declare war.” They did this deliberately and with full appreciation of the hard lessons of history, particularly British, French, Roman, and Greek history. The design was to limit the power of one man to take the nation into war. They taught that the decision to start a war, and the inevitable cost in lives and treasure, foreseen and unforeseen, required that the nation make such critical decision through its representatives in Congress, and to announce such a group decision by a declaration.
The President has no power to declare war. The judiciary has no power to declare war. The legislative branch and it alone has the power to declare war.
As of this date, the Congress has not declared war against anyone, including Iraq. Yet the President calls himself a wartime President. The Congress has funded a war, off budget, that has yet to be declared. The failure to declare implicates international treaties and agreements, including how we treat prisoners.
Nowhere in that hallowed document, the Constitution, do we find that the President may declare war. In 2002, the Congress passed a resolution which in effect delegated to the President the power to make war:
Nowhere in the venerable document do we find the power of the Congress to delegate its responsibility to another, President or not. The Congress cannot amend the Constitution by legislation or resolution.
One of the reasons for removing such a critical decision from one man was to slow the process down, to enable those charged with the responsibility for decision to examine with care the reasons, the facts supporting such a decision, and to make sure that the facts that drive the conclusion to start a war are real, not illusory.
By delegating the decision to the President and thus avoiding their responsibility, the Congress skipped that careful process and relied upon others to make an examination of the underlying facts and reasons-which now appear, with belated after-the-fact examination, to be thin, flawed, non-existent, or just plain wrong.
It is elementary that the power to conduct a war, which is the responsibility of the President as the Commander in Chief, is different than the power to start a war, which under the Constitution, is the responsibility of Congress.
Some may point to ‘precedent” that in the past some Presidents have indeed acted contrary to the Constitution and the Congress let them get away with it. On occasion the members of Congress have been complicit in abdicating their responsibilities under the Constitution. But their historic actions in no way obliterate the words and the wisdom of the document.
The people are owed “due process” in a different sense than usually employed, that is to say, a Congressional process which carefully and completely examines the factual footing for making a momentous and far-reaching decision as to whether we should or should not initiate a war. And if Congress decides we should, the Congress must have the courage to declare that decision to the entire world with a specified and named foreign state in mind. The Congress should then be prepared to defend such a decision and be answerable therefore, including the consequences which flow there from, including the cost in lives and public treasure.
Absent that, the people are shortchanged by their Congressional representatives and as a result appear to have been victimized by an executive process which has been wanting in care and in depth.
I have long wondered about the failure of the press and other media to examine the war power clause in any depth within the context of our current state of affairs.
I have long lamented that the avowed “strict constructionists” are leading the charge of those who would ignore the plain language of the Constitution.
The founders were long on brains and experience. An imperial presidency was dangerous and they knew it. That’s the very reason they built in a Constitutional check to guard against it.
To our sorrow it goes ignored.
–Judge Bruce Jenkins
Society Must Protect Its Children
A recent study by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that at least one in four teenage girls in the US has a sexually transmitted disease. Utah is reported to have the fourth highest Chlamydia rate in the country. Sex may be a moral issue to many but to society it is very much a health issue. Our schools have the responsibility to teach health; nutrition, exercise, and the prevention of communicable diseases are legitimate subject matter. Sexually transmitted diseases are as much a health issue as is any communicable disease and teaching its prevention even more critical since we have reached the pandemic stage.
Society has long accepted the responsibility of protecting its children from abuse and neglect. We have rampant child neglect in the US when one in four or our young girls have contracted a preventable STD. If they have been intentionally deprived of the information they need to protect themselves, it rises to the level of child abuse.
The new slogan emerging from the religious right concerning sex education in school is that morality should be taught at home. The argument is that schools should teach the bare minimum concerning the process by which babies occur but anything further must be reserved to the parents. Realistically, the significant majority of a child’s formative years are under the direction and control of the parents. Morality, or the lack thereof, has always been taught at home and at church and the implication that they somehow need authorization is absurd. Unfortunately, this training, direct or by example or omission, even when in conjunction with a church, is often ineffective, unpersuasive or even corrupt and the rest of us have to protect society from the results.
There is a fatal flaw in the “morality should be taught at home” and the “abstinence only” concepts. These do not work in the absence of a moral system sufficiently persuasive to a significant number of children. No matter how many religious slogans or promises are in place, abstinence programs don’t work if the children don’t have the integrity necessary to abstain. The religious right all but admits this weakness when they fear cervical cancer vaccines or sex education in school will encourage promiscuity (and these are nothing compared to the challenges our children face from peer and biological pressures); they know that even vague outside influences will triumph over the system of morality their children learn at home.
The resolution of this problem will start when society ceases to rely on slogans and parents and churches actually accept responsibility for teaching their children morality rather than blaming the school system when their children fail. Despite all efforts to the contrary, our children will be tested by influences outside our control and catchphrases wouldn’t substitute for a well trained, self disciplined conscience.
The following is a page from Steve Allen’s book Dumbth, The Lost Art of Thinking. The book is one of my favorites and I revisit it every now and then to enjoy his wit and wisdom.
Part of this book is a list of a “101 ways to reason better and improve your mind.” One of the ways or rules that I like is as follows.
Know that reason need not be
“When some people hear reason being endorsed they assume that, if the amount of rationality in the world is increased, it must inevitably follow that certain increments of sensation and emotion will decrease. The supposition–or fearful concern–is, of course, groundless. Certain things will indeed be decreased if the domain of reason is enlarged, but they are such things as foolishness, fanaticism, brawling, fear, ignorance, bigotry, and racial, ethnic, and religious prejudice.
“As for the enjoyment of the senses, as for the warm, beautiful, endearing emotions, two things are possible: Either they will be unaffected by an increase in the reasoning faculty or–as seems more likely–they will be enhanced since the increased exercise of reason will to a certain extent decrease those negative emotional factors that now limit the sensible joys of life.
“Almost by way of underlining these observations, as I sit dictating them on the breeze-washed patio of the open-air dining room of the Outrigger Canoe Club on Waikiki Beach in Honolulu, I perceive in the distant background enormous white clouds, blue sky, low mountains; off to the right the tall waterfront hotels of the area curving around the long beach; in the middle distance sailboats, catamarans, curling white waves on turquoise-blue water, surfers, and bathers; and, in the immediate foreground, palm trees, bright green shrubbery, a remarkably beautiful Hawaiian woman seated at a nearby table, and a kingfisher-like bird, with a lipstick-red head and brown body, that flits among tables looking for fallen crumbs. In a moment–it is hoped–I shall enjoy the equally pleasant prospect of my wife, for whom I am waiting. All such wonders of physical nature, and the appreciative emotions to which they give rise, need not at all be dulled by the improvement in the power of reason.”
Religion = Tobacco?
Religion is a lot like tobacco, isn’t it? Some people can use it for most of their lives with no apparent ill effects. Others become seriously sick while refusing to acknowledge, or even staunchly defending, the cause of their disability. Some folks become so seriously addicted that they cannot imagine life without it. Some are able to keep it, and the effects of it, to themselves while others insist they have not only a God-given right to use it, but that their right supersedes the rights of others around them.
Perhaps it would be more correct to say that religion is in much the same position as smoking was about 40 or 50 years ago. Back then, it was considered polite to offer someone a cigarette, and blowing smoke in someone’s face wasn’t seen as anything very serious. Some people knew, or at least suspected that smoking was bad for humans, but most insisted that there was no compelling evidence. Of course, those who were the most addicted and those who stood to lose the most money were the most fanatical in both denying the harm of smoking and defending the “right” of smokers to light up wherever and whenever they wanted to.
The “Imagine No Religion” billboards that have gone up recently in Chambersburg and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania are a bit like the first anti-smoking messages that appeared in the 1960’s. While non-smokers welcomed a positive message, the addicts and pushers were outraged that someone would have the unmitigated gall to suggest that the world might be a better place without cigarette smoke.
We need more messages advocating the positive benefits of kicking the habit of delusional thinking while embracing reality and rational thinking.
Presume Not God to Scan
True to itself, the subject of humanism is things human. Humanists ground values in human welfare, shaped by human interests, circumstances, interests and concerns, and extended to the global ecosystem and beyond.
Humanists find wonder and awe in the joys and beauties of human existence. Humanists rely on the rich heritage of human culture and the life stance of humanism to provide comfort in times of want and encouragement in times of plenty. Humanists hold to the informed conviction that humanity has the ability to progress toward its highest ideals. The responsibility for our lives is ours and ours alone.
Humanity is, at last, becoming aware that human beings, not deities, are responsible for the realization of the world of humanity’s dreams. Humanism can give purpose and inspiration; it can give personal meaning and significance to human life. It is not a proposition about anything supposed to be greater than human. It is an ethical process through which we all can move above and beyond the particulars, dogmas and creeds of past religions–and beyond merely negating them.
Humanists affirm a set of common principles that can serve as a basis for united action–positive principles relevant to the present human condition. The existence of a supernatural is either meaningless or irrelevant to the question of the survival and fulfillment of the human race. We humans are responsible for what we are and for what we shall become. Our concern is not whether or not deities exist; we affirm that no deity will save us; we must save ourselves. Moral values derive from human experience. Humanism affirms ethics, based on the firm ground of human experience, not attempting to build on the shifting sands of alleged theological or ideological sanction.
Ethics stems from human need and human interest. Any denial of this distorts the whole basis of life.
Humanism, then, is occupied with what is human. A hundred years ago, thinkers seeking to cultivate liberated minds were much occupied with God. Today, humanists have showed successfully that it is more productive of useful conclusions to be occupied with humankind.
Yet there are some who are still thinking like those who were striving to win their freedom in the Victorian era, when God, not man, was more appropriately their object of attention. Humanism has long since moved on, as has mainstream Christianity and Judaism. Theologians advanced the study of God in the twentieth century, although the fundamentalists remained behind, fearful of “modernism.” Today it makes no sense for freethinkers to lag behind with the fundamentalists and argue old issues held to be important in Queen Victoria’s time. Humanism is a philosophy of and for the twentieth century and our own new century.
Some websites, and some people, apparently supported by some humanists, are regressive. They appear to identify humanism with buggy-whip theological issues. By its complaint of “…all the endless God talk…” they deplore that “God” is so much discussed–but in fact that is true mostly of fundamentalists, not of humanists nor of modern mainstream Christians. Then they add to this perceived problem by proceeding to discus’s God even more! Billboards erected alongside highways now pose its yawn inducing pseudo-questions of whether or not one of the undefined Gods of humankind is “believed in.” They mistakenly identify humanism as an ethical atheism, which it is not and never has been. Humanism is beyond all that. Humanism is not about God but about humanity and human concerns, things known by human experience.
–Freethought Forum, Newsletter of Humanist Fellowship of San Diego
Thursday, September 11 will be Humanists of Utah’s first Thomas Paine Day. I have mentioned before that this will be another special event to compliment Darwin Day.. We will start modestly this year, and work to make it a larger happening in future years. This year we will have a viewing of a one-man show video of Thomas Paine produced by KUED and featuring Hans Peterson. I remember seeing this video several years ago and enjoyed it quite a bit. I have heard from a few of our members that they remember seeing it and felt it would be a good idea to view it on our Thomas Paine day.
I will also be bringing a few handouts for those in attendance on Thursday. One is a biography of Paine that I feel is one of the best. Which is no surprise because Robert G. Ingersoll authored it. One thing that did surprise me was finding another biography by Thomas Edison, and learning that Edison was the first Vice President of the Thomas Paine National Historical Association and that Edison broke ground in 1925 for the Thomas Paine Museum in New Rochelle, New York.
Having a Thomas Paine day on his birthday is somewhat problematic for us because his birthday is on January 29, which is only a couple of weeks before our “Darwin Day with Humanists of Utah.” So perhaps our September meeting is as good a time as any to have this event.
I offer the first paragraph of Paine’s The Crisis No.3
As I write this president’s message, the national election is just a few days away. It has been a long election season and is one of the most important elections I can remember. I have been trying to avoid the campaign as much as possible. I have been avoiding it because I am sick and tired of the “politics of sleaze.” But during this campaign, avoiding the nastiness is about as easy as avoiding traffic on the freeway at rush hour.I realize that there is criticism that can be aimed at both sides of this presidential election process, but the Republicans appear to be the real professionals at mudslinging. As I have mentioned to a few friends, I find it somewhat humorous and at the same time disgusting to read letters to the editor or to see some Republican whining about negative ads by liberals. This, coming from the party of Richard Nixon and his “dirty tricks,” the party of Watergate, of Lee Atwater and Carl Rove, of the Willie Horton commercial, of Iran Contra, of almost unparalleled deception used to send us to a bogus war in Iraq, of Rush Limbaugh, and the party of the swift boaters. I could go on and on, but doing so would turn this into a tome. It really drives me crazy, so that is why I try to avoid most of what you see in the mainstream media, where there is more crap than substance.
While I’m getting things off my chest, I would like to say something about the separation of church and state. As you know, as a nonprofit organization, we are restricted from endorsing a candidate in the election process. It is the law and I feel it is a proper law. It is the price our society puts on nonprofits such as our humanist chapter and tax-exempt religions. Why should I, for example, be allowed to endorse a candidate or a ballot issue using our chapter’s resources (speaking at our meetings, using our newsletter and web site, etc)? Who am I to speak for the entire membership of our organization?
But a number of religious groups are doing just that, endorsing candidates from the pulpit, in defiance of the law, and hoping that somehow the law will be changed or redefined to allow them to use their church resources for political purposes. One example is the LDS church’s involvement in California’s Proposition 8 contest. Here they are doing the same sort of thing, except they are more careful to do it in ways that skirt the law rather than in direct defiance of the law. The sad thing about this religious intolerance is the richness of diversity they are missing out on by pursuing this myopic viewpoint. The gay people I know and have known have been delightful people, who are friendly and loving and a joy to be around. They deserve all the same rights as every other citizen.
In any event this is an exciting time. As I write this, there are just three days before Election Day. I think I can speak for all of us that we are anxious for it to be over, and to soon know the results of this historic election.
On a final note, the November speaker, Danielle Endres, will be speaking about Nuclear Weapons. It should be quite interesting. Personally, I have some not very “liberal” views about nuclear weapons and I hope to engage in a spirited discussion after the presentation. I hope you can come and join us on November 13 at 7:30 p.m., and bring a friend.
Summer is rapidly approaching, and Humanists of Utah will be heading into our recess for June and July. We will not be having a general meeting or a Discussion Group during these two months. While we call it a recess, many of us have a hard time giving up our activities, so we have in the past had a “Movie Night.” This year we plan to have two movie nights on the same night that our regular meeting would be on. Suggestions are welcome, and so far we have a few movies in mind, Monty Python’s The Life of Brian and Waking Ned Devine. The movie choices and time and place will be announced in the June Utah Humanist. I’ll be bringing my decadent popcorn (plenty of salt and butter) and we’ll have some other treats–you can’t have movies without goodies. Please join us for a relaxing get together.
Although activities are cut back, the Darwin Day committee members will be getting busy with planning and working on the 2009 bicentennial Darwin Day event. Again I ask that you consider helping us with the many tasks that are part of making this event a success. Please contact any board member if you can assist. Also, it is my pleasure to announce that the AHA Chapter assembly approved our grant application and sent us a check for $2000.00 to use for our “Darwin Day with Humanists of Utah.” This will be very helpful to our efforts, but hosting an event of this kind requires considerable financial resources, so we also ask that you consider a donation to help with our efforts.
I don’t often get much feedback from you folks out there, so I was happy when I did get a couple of emails and a call or two in favor of the suggestion that we have a “Thomas Paine Day” as our other special yearly event. Setting the record straight about the founding fathers and their activities in our history is important. This event will be smaller in scope than Darwin Day and is still preliminary in planning.
Several people have asked about a dramatization of Thomas Paine they saw on KUED a few years ago. I found and purchased a copy of the KUED production “Thomas Paine” which was done by Hans Petersen. Perhaps a showing of this can be part of a Forum about the Constitution. In January 1995 Hans presented a version of this one-man-play to Humanists of Utah. A report is available on our website. Go to the Site Map, choose 1995 index and you will find it under January.
I’m looking forward to the summer and the events we are planning and hope to see you soon.
February was a busy month, starting with our annual membership meeting and social. We enjoyed an evening together with excellent food and some lovely music performed by Anke Summerhill and Bill Stoye.
On February 12th we had our first annual “Darwin Day with Humanists of Utah.” I’m happy to report that it was a great success. There were about 80 people at both of the featured lectures.
Planning this event was a first for most of us on the Darwin Day committee, and we worried about the size of the crowd. So the number of people who actually showed up, gave us a sigh of relief and let us enjoy the happenings.
Professor Kristen Hawkes and her associate Henry C. Harpending, started with presentations about Anthropology and Genetics. In the afternoon we showed an excellent video on the life of Charles Darwin. Our evening speaker Professor Scott Sampson gave a presentation focused on the need to address scientific illiteracy. We ended the day by celebrating with a birthday cake with the likeness of Darwin on it.
I want to thank the many people who made this event possible: the Board of Directors of the Humanists of Utah who believed in and approved this event, and the Darwin Day committee members who worked hard for many weeks to make everything happen: Cindy King, Sarah Smith, and John Chesley. Special thanks are in order for Dr. Craig Wilkinson for arranging the speakers and for his work and enthusiasm for the event. I’d also like to give special recognition to Julie Mayhew, for all her work in coordinating our efforts with the various entities at the University of Utah. We also had many volunteers, whom we are very grateful for and appreciate their help. Lastly, I wish to thank the Utah Friends of Paleontology for their fine display of fossils and for being there with us on Darwin Day.
At this point I want to include a portion of my opening remarks for Darwin Day with Humanists of Utah, so those of you who didn’t attend will know why I advocated for this event.
“Today, February 12, 2008, is the 199th birthday of Charles Darwin. We are here to celebrate this milestone, his life in general, and most importantly, his invaluable contributions to science. I can think of no better way to honor this great man than by our being here today. I think Mr. Darwin would be proud that we are here, on this campus, acknowledging the role science plays in our lives and the importance of keeping it at the forefront in all that we do.
When one thinks of Charles Darwin, of course evolution is the first thing that comes to mind. As we all know, evolution is not just a theory or an idea, it is a fact, and as part of that vast body of knowledge we call science, is one of the greatest discoveries ever made. This alone is a great reason to celebrate.
But there is another reason to have events like this one, and that is to advocate for science. Science is always under scrutiny, and rightly so. But recently it has faced not only scrutiny, but also outright attacks, which alarmingly are on the increase. I suppose that there have always been those who have a hard time with new information that supplants the old. That is understandable.
However, to those who say the earth is only 6000 years old, I say, NONSENSE!
When they say that the Grand Canyon was carved by the Flood, only a few thousand years ago, I say NONSENSE! I could go on and on. And I will, saying one more thing while I have the bully pulpit.
When a Creationist web site states, and I quote, “the harmful consequences of evolutionary thinking on families and society (abortion, promiscuity, drug abuse, homosexuality and many others) are evident all around us” I am unwilling to take this crap lying down. We must be willing to combat this nonsense and these false accusations. I think events like this today are an important way to do just that.”
And now we start planning for next year. On March 9th the Darwin Day committee will meet and begin working to make Darwin’s bicentennial birthday celebration a grand event. We already have people from other departments at the University of Utah expressing a desire to be a part of next year’s celebration, as well as individuals at Westminster College. There is much to be done in order to make this expanded Darwin Day a success. With that in mind, I ask that you consider joining our committee and help us make it truly a grand event. Also please consider making a donation to help finance this event. Hosting an event of this kind requires a substantial commitment of resources of both time and money. The budget we can put together for this event will determine how “grand” we can make it.
The board of directors is also hoping to host one other event each year, perhaps a forum on the U. S. Constitution or the separation of church and state; an event on a subject other than science. Suggestions are welcome.
Pondering our plans to have a “Thomas Paine Day” I had to admit to myself was that I really have not red, I mean really read, much of his writings. I had scanned and read parts of several of his more famous pamphlets and letters, but it isn’t anything you could call thorough. So I am starting that process now, carefully reading everything from The Rights of Man to Common Sense as well as many of his other political writings; some of, his writings on agrarian matters don’t appeal to me very much.
But for the purpose of our “event,” I think Paine can be a point of focus in exploring the beginnings of our nation. While today Darwin and his contributions are attacked and degraded outright, it seems that Thomas Paine has been “shelved,” still there but kind of ignored. I think we need to bring him out of the archives and help put him back where he belongs, alongside the other founding fathers. He stood up to the tyranny of the monarchy and to the tyranny of the church, who were often in cahoots with each other.
Having said that, when one reads his Age of Reason it becomes apparent why the religious didn’t like Paine. In “The Author’s Profession of Faith” in Age of Reason, there is a sentence I like, and one that I’m sure is still upsetting to many: “All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian, or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.”
Rather to the point, and I certainly agree with him. However, I don’t want to get mired down in a debate about religion, except where it is germane to our discussion of separation of church and state or perhaps as part of an exploration of the make up of the early colonies.
However we decide to proceed with a Thomas Paine event, I hope that some of you will think about it and make suggestions. Send us your ideas; we would love to hear from you.
On Thursday, June 12, we will have our first Movie Night (with others planned during the summer). We’ve chosen Monty Python’s The Life of Brian. It will be shown at 7:00 PM. in the little theater in the Student Union Building at the University of Utah. I will bring my decadent popcorn and there will be other goodies to enjoy. Please join us; The Life of Brian is a classic.
It is the middle of our summer recess and things are somewhat quiet with Humanists of Utah. However, on Thursday, July 10, we will be hosting another “Movie Night”, showing Waking Ned Devine in the little theater at the University of Utah Student Union Building. We will again have the usual goodies–popcorn, candy, and beverages–for moviegoers. Please join us for a fun evening to enjoy each other’s company, and to view a movie delightful and funny movie. Special thanks go to Julie Mayhew, for securing the little theater for us for our screenings.
Another item for your calendars is our August Potluck BBQ, which is not that far away on Thursday, August 14. Last year’s BBQ was quite enjoyable. We had a very good showing of members and friends, with lots of delicious food to sample. We plan to follow last year’s model, with the chapter providing items such as hamburgers and fixings, and asking our board members to bring some of their favorite dishes. I hope that you will reserve this evening to join us in formally ending the summer recess with good food and good company. Watch for further details in the next newsletter.
This month I want to use some of my space in the Utah Humanist to plug another organization that I belong to, The Planetary Society. I have been a member for many years and always look forward to receiving my copy of their bi-monthly publication, The Planetary Report. It consistently has excellent articles and photographs about planetary sciences, general astronomy and space exploration. The July/August 2008 addition is dedicated to planet Earth, with four wonderful articles, any one of which would be excellent as a discussion group topic. I’ve suggested to our discussion group that we address some or all of the articles in the months to come. I contacted The Planetary Society and they are sending me 15 free copies of this special issue. For those of you who would like to participate in the discussion of these articles, contact me for a copy-I think you will find it interesting and informative. And if, like me, you enjoy Astronomy, planetary sciences, and space exploration, then you should also take a look at Planetary.org to see what they are involved in and promoting. They are a “scientific minded” organization that deserves support for all they do in their endeavors.
I hope your summer will be a good one, and look forward to seeing you all soon.
Happy New Year to everyone. 2008 is under way, and hopefully it will end with the election of a new president who won’t make us grimace. In my opinion the last seven years of this administration have been simply horrid, to say the least.
Anyway, I am quite enthusiastic about our organization’s schedule of events. As you may remember, we made some changes to our schedule last year and will keep that same basic schedule again this year, that is: take a break from our regular general meetings and discussion groups during June and July and have a couple of movie nights instead. In August we will have our summer BBQ.
Also, as I announced last month, we are hosting our first annual “Darwin Day with Humanists of Utah” celebration, which will occur each year on Charles Darwin’s birthday, February 12. I want encourage you to join us at the University of Utah Student Union Building from 12:30 to 8:00 P.M. for a “Celebration of Science.” A more detailed schedule of the day’s events will be in next month’s newsletter and on our web site.
But I am getting ahead of myself, as we have a couple of happenings before Darwin Day. We will start the year with an excellent speaker at our January general meeting where we will feature the Honorable Judge Bruce Jenkins, who will speak on the subject, Taking the U.S. Constitution Seriously. I’m anxious to hear what someone of his stature has to say about the Constitution, and plan to ask a few questions.
In February, along with the Darwin Day celebration we will have our annual membership meeting also at the U of U Student Union Building, in the Crimson Room. However, please take note that because the second Thursday of February is Valentine’s Day and only a couple of days after the Darwin Day event, we have decided to hold it on the first Thursday, February 7th, rather than the customary second Thursday. The usual invitation with a request for RSVP will be sent soon.
Mentioning Judge Bruce Jenkins’ appearance reminded me of something I have been meaning to talk about, that is our agenda for the Humanists of Utah chapter. Because science is an area I have some competence in, this is where I have decided focus my efforts. I feel that more than ever science needs advocates and people willing to defend it in the face of the ongoing attacks. There is a lot of nonsense out there that needs to be confronted. However, I don’t want other areas to be neglected. That is why I am hoping that along with Darwin Day, we can have another non-science special event. Perhaps an event that has something to do with the philosophy of humanism, or the U.S. Constitution. I am open to suggestions.
Of course this larger agenda with special events requires us to use our limited financial resources, so I ask that you consider a donation to help us make these events happen. There is a lot of work to be done in order to “get the word out” about what humanists stand for. Donations, suggestions, criticisms, and volunteers are always welcome.
Hope to see you soon.
Thomas Jefferson said in 1809, “Nature intended me for the tranquil pursuits of science by rendering them my supreme delight,” I heartily agree. The accumulation of knowledge is a wonderful thing. In my life I have enjoyed an interest in science and a curiosity about nature. For me it is profoundly gratifying to look at images of galaxies some 14 billion light years away and be able to perceive and understand how vastly large and complex the cosmos is. It is also gratifying to have some understanding of the infinitely small, and how matter works. All of the other sciences, from geology to biology are equally fascinating in their own way.
As Carl Sagan put it, “we are a way for the cosmos to know itself.” With just a little thinking and curiosity, we can, in a conscious way, look around and perceive the universe the way it is. Wondering, asking questions, and seeking answers is very satisfying to me.
Darwin Day with Humanists of Utah is fast approaching (February 12), and things are coming together. The members of the Darwin Day Committee and I are quite excited about our first annual event. As you can see from the schedule in this issue, we have planned what will be an enjoyable and enlightening day.
I believe that this event will accomplish a number of objectives. For our chapter, it is a way for us to get out and be more “in the public” to advocate for humanism. We hope it will not only attract interested people in general, but young people in particular to humanism and the world of freethinkers (one reason the event will be held at the University of Utah.) The world desperately needs to promote science and by disseminating factual, scientific information we can assist in this important endeavor.
These things, along with the enjoyment of getting together, meeting new freethinkers (we hope!) and celebrating Charles Darwin’s birthday and his contributions to science (and the celebration of science in general) will make for a great day. Please come and join us-I don’t think you will be disappointed.
I am having one problem with Darwin Day, though. We have purchased a variety of “Evolve Fish” merchandise to sell (magnets, stickers, T-shirts, caps and much more-about 35 different items) and I want one of each. I’ll just have to cool it for now so that others can have a chance to shop, although you might see me in a new T-shirt. And I will see you on February 12.
In my message last month, I mentioned that it was against IRS rules to endorse any candidates in our newsletter because of our tax-exempt status. But now that the election is over, I see no reason why I can’t say, YAHOO! Way to go, Obama! Not just a victory, but also a huge defeat for Republicans in general. It has made me willing to say to people I talk to that for the first time in nearly eight years; there is a reason to nurture a seed of hope for the future. As the President-Elect has said, “It won’t be easy,” but I think we as Americans can start making some progress in turning things around. But not just progress with new ideas and programs, but reversing as much as possible a lot of the damage done by (in my estimation), the worst presidential administration in my lifetime and quite possibly all of U.S. history. It is also extremely encouraging to hear Obama speak to the public and show that he has a brain in his head, which thinks and speaks clearly and truthfully.
Moving on, I would like to comment on an issue that has been discussed by some of our chapter members and was one of the agenda items at our last board meeting. Members of our chapter may or may not be aware that the American Humanist Association has embarked on a campaign of advertising. This advertising has been on some billboards and buses in several large cities. One ad in particular states, “Don’t believe in god? You’re not alone,” and contains contact information for the AHA. I have not viewed all of the messages, but they appear to have an atheist flavor. You may well know that we humanists come from various viewpoints to our humanism, including, among others, atheists, agnostics, and Unitarians. As such, this campaign is seen as a good idea to some and a bad idea to others. I myself feel the message quoted above is a good one and that speaking up and coming out of the closet, so to speak, is also a good thing to do. At the same time, I agree with many of our members that our primary goal as a humanist group is to foster the ideals of humanism that are found in the manifestos and aspirations that have been formulated over the years. It is why I have advocated that we stand as a chapter of AHA, without affiliation to other groups.
Having made those disclaimers, I wish to express my opinion on a few points. I have always believed that being civil towards others is most often the way to go and a good thing to do. I don’t feel it is necessary to try to change anyone’s mind about their belief in a god. But I will challenge them when they try to insert their accompanying ideas into secular institutions, such as creationism in schools. Nor will I stand silent when a religious group works to deny fellow citizens of their constitutional rights, as we have seen lately in California. For me, having respect for someone’s religion is my choice, which I base on my understanding of that religion, and I decide whether they deserve that respect. For example as I write this, a recent incident is still clearly on my mind. A few days ago, a group of 15 female students and their teacher were walking in Afghanistan, when several Islamic men rode past on motorbikes and threw acid on these women. The reason? For the horrible “crime” of trying to become educated and to better themselves. I ask you: does the religion that spawns this kind of sickness deserve respect? Does a religion that, for the most part, looks the other way when these things occur deserve respect? Does a religion that discriminates and works to deny civil rights to citizens deserve respect? I think not.
Additionally, when we are verbally castigated and vilified by the religious, I would ask: when was the last time an atheist, humanist, or freethinker strapped on explosives and went into a pizzeria and killed a number of people or delivered a car bomb? I think probably never. That appears to be the way of religious zealots.
Our August 14, start of the season BBQ is next event on our chapter schedule. I’ll be heading to Costco for the hamburger “makings” and I’ll be putting together a large batch of my world famous (in my mind) potato salad. Other board members will be bringing a nice variety of beans, salads and side dishes. It will be held at the residence of John Young, 2127 South 1900 East, Salt Lake City, Utah. We thank John, his daughter Cindy king and their family for hosting our BBQ in his lovely back yard again. I hope you can join us starting at 6:00 PM. As always, it will be enjoyable.
At the BBQ we will ask chapter members to vote on the bylaw changes that were approved by the board and presented in last month’s newsletter. The changes are to allow us to make the December general meeting our Annual Membership Meeting, where we announce the board election results and do a little business.
Taking this action enables us to not only end the year smoothly, but also allows us to concentrate on our annual Darwin Day event in February. A plus is that it will make the Membership Meeting more enjoyable-after a few minutes of business, we will be free to socialize and catch up with one another, and eat the yummy food to be provided by board members. More information about the December meeting and Darwin Day will follow in subsequent newsletters.
I’m excited to begin our new season of events. We have a lot to do, and we will be looking for a couple of you to join the board of directors and a few volunteers to help with our second annual “Darwin Day with Humanists of Utah” on February 12, 2009, the bicentennial of his birth. Please consider helping us out.
I am sometimes dismayed by the way that many of the religious groups in this country vilify secularism and consider it a threat to their beliefs. The fact that all of the different religions in the United States can worship how they wish without some government-imposed religion is the result of our secular government. The most important question we can ask is, “If religion and state are to be combined, then which religion?” Religious freedom is dependant on a secular government, that is, a government that does not interfere with religion, for or against–one that is consistently neutral.
I think one of the most important things that many or most of the founders of our government knew was that mixing religion and government was bad for both. We don’t want Protestants, Catholics, Muslims, Jewish or indeed any religion or confederation of religions in charge. They would rule over, not govern for, the people.
In keeping with this idea, one of the agenda items for our Board of Directors has been the idea of hosting a second yearly event, (similar to our recent Darwin Day, only smaller) in addition to our regular meetings. One idea being discussed is to have a forum with discussions, presenters and a Questions and Answers session. As with Darwin Day, the purpose of the forum would be to educate the community, and perhaps potential Humanists of Utah members, on timely and relevant topics, for example, the U.S. Constitution. Other topics being considered are the separation of church and state, and an overview of the Founding Fathers. If such an event comes to fruition, I would like to give Thomas Paine the consideration he is due, something he had been long denied because of his views on religion. His writings are so very important to this Republic of ours.
Your views on the subject matter of such event, or of the chapter in general are solicited and welcome. We do not get much feedback, and the Board would love to know what is on your mind: ideas, concerns, suggestions, etc. I also ask that you consider volunteering for a committee for one of these events, or for one of the other many needs of the chapter. We would also like to see more of you submit letters to the editor of our Utah Humanist newsletter. Please take advantage of our newsletter to voice your opinions; I’m sure Wayne Wilson would love to have material to “fatten up” the newsletter. Give it a try–you may start liking it and become a regular contributor. I certainly find it enjoyable to express myself in our newsletter.
On a final note, I was saddened when I was informed that Dr. William Mulder had died on March 12, 2008. He will be missed. However, upon further reflection, I was buoyed by the knowledge that his was a life well lived. Any perusal of his life reveals many accomplishments in a number of areas of endeavor worldwide. I knew Dr. Mulder for only the last several years, but in the few times I heard him speak and the times we conversed, it became obvious to me that I was talking to a man of great intellect, wisdom and compassion. I was honored to have known such a warm and friendly man.
Discussion Group Report
The Post Theological Umbrella
By Craig Wilkinson, M.D.
David Niose is a lawyer in Massachusetts. He is a board member and the treasurer of the American Humanist Association and facilitator of Greater Worcester Humanists.
He believes that the non-theistic character of humanism is one of the biggest barriers keeping humanism from being a more prominent force in the United States. Most Americans just don’t feel good about openly rejecting belief in a divinity. A University of Minnesota survey in 2006 found atheists are the most distrusted and disliked minority group in the country. An American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) from 2001 indicates that over 13% of the population identifies as secular/nonreligious, but only 1% identify as atheist, agnostic, or humanist.
For humanist activists trying to advance their world-view in a culture that discourages open non-theism, there have traditionally been two ways of dealing with this issue. Some do so by trying to hide the non-theistic nature of humanism, avoiding discussion of non-theism with the hope that maybe nobody will notice it. This approach rarely works, however, because most discussions of humanism with non-humanists inevitably result in the question: So are humanists atheists? Another way to address the issue is to attempt to improve the public’s perception of the atheist identity. This is a worth goal, and surely it should be encouraged. Give time, the image of atheism in America might improve, as people slowly realize that atheists are more likely to be found in research labs than in prisons or drug hideouts. But this approach, even if it works, will take time, and one must consider whether other strategies might be possible.
The question of atheism, and specifically how the public’s poor image of atheists makes the advancement of humanism difficult, became a topic of discussion with a friend at a recent conference. Her response pointed to a third way to address the issue: “When people ask me about atheism,” she said, “I just tell them I consider myself “post theological”. The brilliance of this idea is that by calling oneself “post theological” you aren’t making rejection of God-belief the key ingredient in your identity. You are pointing out that, from a historical perspective, theological inquiry itself is no longer a valid means of finding truth or morality.
The historical facts confirm this as an accurate world view. Before humans reached the level of intelligence necessary for theological inquiry, our ancestors were in what might be called the “pre-theological” stage. Like other animals, our distant ancestors lacked the intelligence necessary to achieve theological thought. But at some point in our historical development humans became intelligent enough to ask deep questions about the world, such as: How did we get here? Who made this place? Why does the sun rise, and why does lightning strike? What happens to us when we die? These are big questions that can only be asked by an animal with remarkable intelligence.
Interestingly, though the human animal became smart enough to ask such deep questions, it wasn’t smart enough to answer them accurately; that’s where theology came in. Lacking true scientific knowledge to answer these deep questions, humans instead speculated, inventing myths, superstitions, and tribal doctrines to provide answers. In doing so, they left the pre-theological stage and entered the theological stage of their development.
As the human race continues to acquire knowledge and understanding of the universe, we find that we are now answering many of the these deep questions, Questions of life’s origins and evolution through science and studying the evidence of natural history all around us. We have discovered and now understand the great forces of the universe, like gravity, electricity, magnetism, nuclear energy etc. We understand what lightning is and why the sun shines. We now know that we are not the center of the universe. We have filled many of the “gaps” in our knowledge and can replace myths and stories with facts. We find more and more that the theological approach to these deep questions no longer has relevance. We are reaching the “post theological stage” of human development.
Open rejection of a divinity is very difficult for most Americans because “God” has personal characteristics that are often etched deeply into the psyche. But an indirect rejection, via the embrace of the post theological way of thinking, is less personal and perhaps allows for the psychological wiggle room that many find necessary.
The post-theological identity should be seen as an umbrella term, one that includes not only those who openly identify as atheist, agnostic, and humanist, but also many of those 13%, and possibly more, who are simply ambivalent and apathetic about religion. With these natural allies joined under the same umbrella, movement-building can only be made easier.
Summer Picnic Report
The summer picnic was well attended and enjoyed by all who were there. We had a nice mixture of old standbys as well as a few people who enjoyed their very first Humanists of Utah event.
The food was good and the conversation congenial. Cindy King managed to keep up on the barbeque, Bob Lane’s famous potato salad was as good as it’s reputation and the desserts that Sarah Smith brought were absolutely divine! Wayne Wilson read Kurt Vonnegut’s short story “Unready to Wear” and there was a short discussion about the life and works of the former honorary chair of the American Humanist Association.
Patient Focused Health Care Reform
Many options to reform healthcare are being offered, e.g. employer and individual mandates, expanding prevention programs, chronic disease management, pay-for-performance, state high-risk pools, primary care networks, association health plans, tax credits/vouchers, expanding Medicare, and on and on.
If any part of this heady list is implemented, the resulting reform can still be improved with a coordinated medical record.
An average person’s healthcare record is scattered among at least 13 different locations. Patients and physicians need to rely on memory, repetition and guesswork at every care site. Fragmentation is a major contributor to the high incidences of misdiagnoses, inappropriate medications, duplication of tests, frequent emergency room visits, unnecessary hospitalizations and fraud.
Coordinating patient records can produce a single, comprehensive, privacy-protected, patient-controlled record which is available every time a patient is seen, no matter where.
Modeling this medical record after the credit card industry, demonstrates the technical feasibility of establishing such a system for our healthcare. The credit card system captures information from numerous disconnected sites, coordinates it in a central location, keeps it secure, and distributes it efficiently at the end of each month.
Of course security, privacy and confidentiality are major concerns. The system must be protected by a first-tier data processing company such as IBM or EDS. These companies are in the business of keeping large amounts of data safe and secure. There is no reason to believe that a coordinated information system will be less secure than the fragmented systems that currently exist.
Some healthcare providers may argue that they already have sophisticated electronic medical record systems. However, it is not that their systems are electronic that is important. Their systems aren’t comprehensively coordinated with all your doctors, your hospitals, your pharmacies, your laboratories and radiology centers, to name a few. Your record must be consistently available anywhere you present for care. Just ask to see your current medical record at any healthcare site. It’s frightening how fragmented it really is.
Some providers may argue that they do not want to share their information with others. However, no healthcare provider has any proprietary information. In the 21st century, patients should have the right to control their own medical record.
From two demonstration projects in Michigan, which created a coordinated healthcare record for about 100,000 patients in each project, the cost of establishing and maintaining the information system was shown to be about 15%, considerably less than the sum total of what was being spent on the numerous fragmented information systems that were currently in use.
Allocating a small portion of that savings to maintain a coordinated medical record, allowed the rest to be used to lower healthcare costs for the individuals paying for care. More individuals can afford care when it costs less. Decreasing healthcare costs also allows the same government programs to cover more people. Data allows us to make better public health decisions as well as identify appropriate healthcare costs for increased savings in the future.
Coordinating our medical records doesn’t require any other change first. We can start with this step. It can, and should, be incorporated into almost any change we devise in the future. In fact, if we get to universal healthcare, we will need a coordinated record in place. Let’s start with it.
–Dr. Lauren O. Florence, MD, President
Science is NOT Just a Matter of Opinion
The wonders of the Internet; overcoming dreaded diseases such as polio; our first steps to explore space; the ability to locate anything on Earth to within a few feet with a global positioning system–all are powerful reminders that science and technology can change the world in a most positive manner. They have a wonderful opportunity to play in shaping the society we live in–but they cannot do that successfully if science is allowed to become simply a matter of opinion.
Just look at what has been happening in regard to scientific questions about the environment, global warming and evolution. Why is scientific opinion so often disregarded, or even scoffed at? The answer is the growing public sentiment that science is only one of many ways of viewing the world. All of us should be troubled by this trend, because it threatens to make our nation less competitive at a time when the globe is shrinking.
–Richard N. Zare
Misrepresentation of Freethinkers
Individuals of the nonreligious segment of humanity, especially those of notoriety, often have their nonreligious stance questioned and misrepresented by the religious. It is a tactic of the religious to put forth the notion that someone is really religious at heart, by pulling some phrase or sentence out of context to try to give credence to the lie. Or perhaps they will say that someone professed their “faith” on their deathbed.
This misrepresentation has been the case for Albert Einstein. But the following piece written by Einstein (one of many regarding religion) is, I feel, pretty good at setting the record straight about what his views on religion really were.
“When I was a fairly precocious young man I became thoroughly impressed with the futility of the hopes and strivings that chase most men restlessly through life. Moreover, I soon discovered the cruelty of that chase, which in those years was much more carefully covered up by hypocrisy and glittering words than is the case today. By the mere existence of his stomach everyone was condemned to participate in the chase. The stomach might well be satisfied by such participation, but not man insofar as he is a thinking and feeling being.
“As the first way out there was religion, which is implanted into every child by way of the traditional education-machine. Thus I came–though the child of entirely irreligious (Jewish) parents–to a deep religiousness, which, however reached an abrupt end at the age of twelve. Through the reading of popular scientific books I soon reached the conviction that much in the stories of the bible could not be true. The consequence was a positively fanatic orgy of freethinking coupled with the impression that youth is intentionally being deceived by the state through lies; it was a crushing impression. Mistrust of every kind of authority grew out of this experience, a skeptical attitude toward the convictions that were alive in any specific social environment–an attitude that has never again left me, even though, later on, it has been tempered by a better insight into the causal connection. It is quite clear to me that the religious paradise of youth, which was thus lost, was a first attempt to free myself from the chains of the ‘merely personal,’ from an existence dominated by wishes, hopes, and primitive feelings. Out yonder there was this huge world, which exists independently of us human beings and which stands before us like a great, eternal riddle, at least partially accessible to our inspection and thinking. The contemplation of this world beckoned as a liberation, and I soon noticed that many a man whom I had learned to esteem and to admire had found inner freedom and security in its pursuit. The mental grasp of this extra-personal world within the frame of our capabilities presented itself to my mind, half consciously, half unconsciously, as a supreme goal. Similarly motivated men of the present and of the past, as well as the insights they had achieved, were the friends who could not be lost. The road to this paradise was not as comfortable and alluring as the road to the religious paradise; but it has shown itself reliable, and I have never regretted having chosen it.”
Letter to the Editor
I have a few issues with Rolf’s logic. First, the AHA campaign never mentions the “A-word.” The idea is to find people who, like us, prefer a rational approach to life and reject the supernatural; aka: God.
And even if the “atheist” word were included, I personally don’t have a problem with that either. I do not refer to myself as an atheist just as I don’t call myself a non-black, a non-gay, a non-Mormon or a “not” anything. I prefer the moniker “humanist” because it says what I am instead of what I am not. However, if you define an atheist as someone who rejects the notion of supernatural beings called “gods” then I guess I am an atheist.
Perhaps most troubling to me is Rolf’s rejection of atheism and the atheist movement. Yes, I think that sometimes some atheist go overboard in their radical attacks of organized religion. Much like, in my opinion, reactionary televangelists and their ilk treat freethinkers. I have little patience for either. However, I submit that going after the atheists is wasted energy that could be better spent challenging craziness on the other side. Senator Butters is submitting a resolution to the State Senate to “encourage” businesses to use the phrase “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays.” He even went so far as to declare the US a Christian nation. Apparently he isn’t familiar with the US Constitution with its treaties. The freethinking family includes humanists, atheists, brights, and others who place value in rational thinking and rational behavior. Let’s try to get along with each other.
Letter to the Editor
Humanism is NOT Atheism
Long time chapter member Rolf Kay is offended by the AHA campaign involving the phrase “Don’t believe in God?” Here is a letter he submitted for publication and sent to the AHA:I am still in a mild state of shock and confusion. I recently receive your request for my annual dues. In the envelope was a blue sticker that said, “Don’t believe in God? You’re Not Alone.” What message are you trying to send? The Humanist Manifestos contain many, many positive thoughts and the fact that most of us do not believe in the supernatural is a minor point in my estimation.
I have been a member of Humanists of Utah for more years than I can remember. Atheism is negative and counter-productive. If you make atheism your main goal I predict that you will not gain any new members but instead, you may lose some like me.
I believe that it is just as invalid for the Pope to say that there is a God as for an atheist to say that there is no God. Both are based on faith alone with no scientific proof.
I would have been very pleased if the sticker said, “Don’t’ believe in God? You can still be a humanist!” I think that would attract more interest in humanism than as it now stands.
A Humanist Ho, Ho, Ho!
‘Tis the season to be jolly, and drink some hot cocoa,
Our wreaths are hung, our lights are lit, our houses are aglow,
Parties go on all around. Libations freely flow,
Norman Rockwell’s captured just such scenes as these, although
We are among the fortunate whose breaks in life we know.
No man is an island, as John Donne wrote long ago.
By sheer good luck we’re Americans and living now, you know,
For this we thank our founding fathers for reading Diderot,
We thank the brave explorers like John Glenn and Marco Polo,
And we thank all those before us who heeded “Westward-Ho,”
We thank the great historians who’ve informed us apropos
And all the great scientists like Newton and Galileo,
Orators and statesmen like the great Greek Cicero,
Painters and sculptors like the Italian Donatello,
Playwrights and authors like Harriet Beecher Stowe,
Our public schools and patient teachers, both which need more dough,
Doctors and, dare I say it, the lawyer Clarence Darrow,
And let’s not forget our chapter, where ignorance we outgrow
All these and more enrich our lives; to them a debt we owe
Because we all live better than old kings in a chateau,
A world in which the struggling Jane and ordinary Joe
There is no need tonight to be like Woody Allen, though,
So as we party here tonight and bask in winter’s glow,
In light of service members’ stories of aggressive evangelizing, the ostracizing of nonbelievers, and the failure of the military to investigate complaints by non-theists of discrimination, the Secular Coalition of America (SCA) and the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers (MAAF) are asking the incoming Obama administration to consider changes to military regulations to protect their rights and ensure the implementation of procedures for investigating complaints.
Although a military directive prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion and affirms the right of service members to practice a religion, it is “silent on how to handle nonreligious Americans who make up 21 percent of the armed forces,” said SCA Executive Director Lori Lipman Brown. “Non-theists have no recourse when religion is forced upon them in both formal and informal settings affecting their daily work and their careers and, in some cases, their safety.”
According to Jason Torpy, president of the MAAF, most people who contact his organization “fear reprisals and don’t speak up publicly.” Prayer, he added, “bookends nearly every military ceremony…and exhortations to find faith and attend church are common.”
“We need an overhaul and it needs to come from the top down,” said former Army 1st Lt. Wayne Adkins, who served as a public affairs officer in Iraq and witnessed disparagement of nonbelievers by chaplains and officers to members of the press. “Atheists don’t ask for much. What we do ask is that our leaders refrain from publicly disparaging us, from calling us liars, cowards, lesser soldiers, simply because we don’t share their belief in the supernatural.”
The Ethics of Economy
At October’s general meeting, Dr. Michael Minch, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Utah Valley University, spoke eloquently and knowledgeably about The Ethics of Economy. It was not possible to include all of his remarks In the print version of the Utah Humanist ;but here we can include the ideas and data that I think you might find intriguing, and possibly, a little disturbing. From my own studies into poverty, I found a stunning figure: Each day, Americans eat roughly 200 billion more calories than needed–enough to feed 80 million people.
An economy is an order of exchange. Such an order can be based on various presuppositions, and various values, and have various ends. For example, an economy can be based upon the following premises. People are radically autonomous agents who act as rational calculators in their own interests both naturally and as an expression of learned behavior. The purpose of economic activity is therefore to profit, primarily in terms of capital, or monetary wealth (which, in turn, increases autonomy and the range of calculations one can make). This order of exchange depends on competition, which hones our skills and defeats less efficient and productive rivals; thus strengthening the entire order towards greater efficiency and productivity. These are standard premises of the order of exchange conventionally known as capitalism. Note that morality is exogenous to this order.
Here are premises of an alternative order of exchange. Human beings are equal in the moral sense of a categorical commitment to such equality. What is unequal about us is most interesting, but what is equal about us is most important. The universality of moral claims and judgments that we find in Kant, in human rights theory, and in some theological moral systems, hold. What is morally acceptable for one is morally acceptable for all, what counts as moral failure for one counts as such failure for all. Thus, when persons and groups exchange goods and services, the basis of so doing is this equality. This means that competition takes place in the larger context, culture, structure, and politics of cooperation. Persons are not radically autonomous, but rather, our autonomy takes place in a larger context, culture, social reality, and politics of communality, or our interdependent natures.
Whereas achievement is a sacramental notion in the capitalist order of exchange; the notions of gift and sharing are foundational to the alternative order I am here outlining. Whereas scarcity is a premise and fear in the capitalist order; bounty and grace are premises of this alternative account. Whereas morality lies outside of economics in an intrinsic sense in capitalist economics; in this alternative account, morality is its very basis and core, its driving energy. Morality simply defines what is permissible, it defines the boundaries. Whereas in the capitalist order virtues such as equality, freedom, gracefulness, compassion, justice, peaceableness, love, and forgiveness have no intrinsic role, and are seen as personal options which individuals can incorporate into their economic lives as they wish; in the alternative account such virtues are the very mortar and brick we use to build the walls at the boundaries of acceptable and lawful economic behavior. Such virtues also ground and constitute the programmatic purposes, strategies, and policies of a just economy. Let us call this order of exchange a democratic order. It is democratic because it places the order of exchange in the service of the demos. That is, the people- all the people- get to decide what policies and laws, what expectations and premises, serve them, as a people, based upon the moral foundations I’ve mentioned. Equality being the foundation of all of it. Historically, this economic model has usually been called socialism, but because socialism is so egregiously misunderstood, and the word suffers from horrendous abuse, I suggest we use the word democracy. Many people have nicer feelings about democracy than they do about socialism, although they are, in the end, the same thing.
The democratic understanding of democracy is built on the premise that an order of exchange cannot be its own justification. An order of exchange is, after all, nothing but a tool or a set of tools. A hammer can be used to build a much needed home, or it can be used as a murder weapon. Economic systems function in the same way. They can be built to help, to cooperate, to serve, to protect and promote humanity, and human values and ends; or they can be built to murder. Markets are tools, they can serve some moral functions as long as they are controlled and regulated and used with care, guided by moral concerns; or they can be used to kill.
The market without moral values to guide and control it, or more broadly, capitalism, does not simply allow poverty, harm, and death to occur. Such a claim is, in fact, uninteresting in that capitalist advocates themselves would acknowledge that capitalism has no proper reason to, or purpose in, diminishing poverty, harm, or death. Capitalism does not simply allow human diminishment, disenfranchisement, and death. More importantly, capitalism kills. And it does so by design. Poverty is systematically produced by capitalism. (1) Capitalism thrills in the new markets that are concomitant to the proliferation of arms sales. Capitalism glories in the marketing of needless products that divert precious resources away from needed goods. Capitalism calls for political obstacles to full employment. The day AT&T laid off 40,000 employees, their stock skyrocketed. Karl Polanyi quotes William Townsend’s Dissertation on the Poor Laws by A Well-Wisher of Mankind, “Hunger will tame the fiercest animals, it will teach decency and civility, obedience and subjection, to the most perverse. In general it is only hunger which can spur and goad [the poor] on to labor…Legal constraint [to work] is attended with much trouble…whereas hunger is not only peaceable, silent, unremitting pressure, but as the most natural motive to industry and labor, it calls forth the most powerful exertions…and lays lasting and sure foundations for good will and gratitude.” (2)
This 1786 document states bluntly the ethos of capitalism in our own times. Indeed, it is almost certainly the case that Townsend’s views were more scandalous in the eighteenth century then the facts of the production of poverty and violence are now. If Naomi Klein is even half right in her book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, (3) to take but one example of research on this question, this is a conclusion hard to avoid. Capitalism is, perhaps more than any other one thing, an idolatry of ideology. It is an order of exchange only on the surface, but it is an ideology of radical autonomy and egoism independent of moral considerations, most deeply. Of course, this does not mean that capitalism does nothing well. One thing it is spectacular at doing is producing wealth, measured only as monetary amounts in the aggregate. But morally one does not care about the mere aggregation of wealth, one cares about the distribution of wealth and the ends to which it is put.
We use our language to disguise our conduct and its consequences, but our political economy in the U.S. and global political economy/global capitalism more broadly, produces poverty as a purposeful part of its strategy of moving resources from the poor to the rich. For example, we talk about “unemployment figures” and “mergers” and the “movement of global capital” instead of making people poor and hungry. We benefit from a global economy which produces poverty, and then we pat ourselves on the back when we go the Food and Care Coalition every once in a while and make sandwiches for the poor. Capitalism kills but the beneficiaries of capitalism pretend to want peace. We sometimes consider tinkering around at the edges of the system and do things like raise the minimum wage by a few cents; but refuse to face up the ideology that is our idolatry. We too, consider ourselves “well-wishers” of humankind, even while we perpetrate and justify and benefit from a capitalist order of exchange that kills.
The Salvadoran Archbishop, Oscar Romero, who was gunned down by a death squad supported by the U.S. government during the Reagan administration, said “It is the poor who tell us what the polis is.” (4) Our political economy, the politics that should control our economics, should be in service to the poor, thedemos, and should be envisioned and controlled by the poor, the demos, and that would be the true test of a moral order of exchange and a moral politics. But everywhere the poor become poorer and the rich become richer. We continuously lie to ourselves that trickle-down economics works, but the evidence is overwhelming that it doesn’t. (Note that John McCain, our latest trickle-down advocate, is tied with his opponent in the polls.) There is more than one kind of hunger. There is the hunger produced by poverty, the hunger of the belly, the gut. But there is also the hunger for truth and justice, for fairness and peace; the hunger for knowledge and for change. And since we are in a university setting, it is appropriate to add the hunger for knowledge we can use to bring the change morality calls for.
I think the financial and economic news about Wall Street’s recent implosion is evidence of my claims here. But I also think those who embrace faith-based economics will express their doubt in my conclusion because for true believers, the only cure for the death caused by the “free market” is an ever-freer market.
Of course I’ve done little in these brief remarks but to note what most people in our planetary human history have recognized. I’ve not offered an argument, only pointed to the obvious. Surely everything I’ve said here is disappointing. I’ve said nothing new or even complicated. I’ve just repeated an observation and a moral sensibility obvious to most people in most times. In terms of global time and space, I’ve made an ordinary claim. If what I’ve said here is unwelcome, this is a warning of captivity to our dark place and dark times. Only people in world-historical dysfunction, in moral isolation, ethical corruption, and the blindness and soul-numbness that wealth and power brings are incapable of recognizing this. Who knew the obvious and ordinary could be so radical and challenging?
1 – See, for example, Thomas W. Pogge, “Eradicating Systemic Poverty: Brief for a Global Resources Dividend,” The Journal of Human Development 2:1 (2001), 59-77. Also in Thom Brooks, ed., The Global Justice Reader (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2008), 439-53).
2 – In The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of our Time (Boston: Beacon Press, 1957), 113. Cited in Stanley Hauerwas and Romand Coles, Christianity, Democracy, and the Radical Ordinary: Conversations between a Radical Democrat and a Christian (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2008), 254-55. See Hauerwas and Coles, 253-76.
3 – (NY: Metropolitan Books, 2007).
4 – Quoted in Susan R. Holman, The Hungry are Dying: Beggars and Bishops in Roman Cappadocia (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 107. Cited in Hauerwas and Coles, 229.
This information was handed out at the April General meeting of the Humanists of Utah by our speaker Jeffrey Nielsen and was prepared by Jeffrey and the Democracy House Project.
Democracy means to me both a form of government and, along with John Dewey and others, a way of public and private life.
As a form of government it means a government formed by consent of the governed and deriving its authority continuously via popular sovereignty from the people–where the ordinary citizen both directly and indirectly through their chosen representatives, exercises the powers of government. Those powers are mediated through a constitution, which both specifies the purposes, functions, division’s and limits of government as well as provides a framework for the rule of law and for basic rights which each person should have equal privilege to enjoy.
As a way of life, democracy is the recognition that the true governing class of society is the ordinary citizen. Ordinary citizens who are regularly engaged in the development of political literacy and who live with the expectation of frequent and meaningful participation in self-government at the neighborhood, local, state and national levels.
As a way of life, citizens in a democracy reject the merely “theatrical role” permitted them by those who claim political power, where citizens may get indignant and protest, while government reserves decision-making and action for itself. Democratic citizens will claim their rightful place in government.
As a way of life, democracy is an important aspect of human life–where we exercise our talents and energies with a healthy sense of power and responsibility.
As a way of life, democracy is acceptance of the following truths:
To begin to create such democratic communities within our country and a democratic community of our country will require three things:
Political Literacy can be defined in the following way:
Democratic Thinking consists of:
Democratic Relating consists of:
Democratic Deliberating means there must be:
Democratic Engaging has five basic points:
For further information and discussion of this vital and interesting topic you can visit the KETTERING FOUNDATION Kettering collaborates with community groups, government agencies, scholars, and activists around the world, much of their work centers around public deliberation and the work of weighing the costs and benefits of various approaches for action against the things people hold most dear.
Also the NATIONAL ISSUES FORUM is a network of civic, educational, and other organizations, and individuals, whose common interest is to promote public deliberation in America.
Darwin Day Celebration!
Our first annual Darwin Day was a huge success. We had two lecture sessions and a movie. All were well attended and remarks and comments were all positive.
Humanists of Utah was joined by Utah Friends of Paleontology (UFOP) at the University of Utah in sponsoring what looks to be the first and not the last celebration of science in general using the excuse of a Grand Patriarch’s birthday.
The first lecture, given by Professors Kristen Hawkes and Henry Harpington, marveled in the prescience of Charles Darwin in being able to describe the process of evolution in such detail when he did not have the tools, such as DNA analysis, that are available to today’s scientists. His insights were virtually all right on target.
They also pointed out that human evolution is far from complete; it is a dynamic process that continues to this day. Example of recent evolution include blonde hair/blue eyes trait and also lactose tolerance. Both of these features happened very recently on the evolutionary time scale.
The movie was from the Biography channel and was an hour exploring the life and time of Charles Darwin.
The final lecture by Professor Scott Sampson emphasized the critical importance of teaching the concepts of Deep Time and Evolution to everyone. He noted that this should start at the university level; nobody should be given a degree with exposure to these topics. We cannot understand our place in the world without at least an introduction to these concepts.
Some more images from the day.
Professor Sampson discussing his remarks with HoU Members Earl, Richard, and Paul
Craig Wilkenson, MD
Committee Members Julie, Bob, and Craig
Bob Lane, President HoU
Collage of Attendees
Collage of Attendees
Darwin Day with Humanists of Utah
12:30 PM — Panorama East Room
1:00 PM to 1:45 PM — Panorama East Room
Speaker: Dr. Kristen Hawkes, Department of Anthropology University of Utah
The Importance of Evolution in Anthropology
1:45 PM to 2:00 PM — Panorama East Room
3:30 PM to 4:30 PM — The Little Theater, University of Utah Student Union
5:00 PM to 5:30 PM — Parlor A, Student Union Building Panorama Room East
Darwin Day 2009 – Time to Get Excited!
This past February we sponsored a highly successful “Darwin Day with Humanists of Utah.” In a couple of months the world will celebrate Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday and Humanists of Utah will be there!
Plans are well underway to celebrate the life and accomplishments of one of the greatest visionaries and free thinkers of all time.
So mark February 12, 2009 on your calendar and plan to join the fun. The basic tenets and core values we will be celebrating include:
The purpose of the Humanists of Utah is to offer an affirmative non-theistic educational program based on developing one’s human talents in order to practice the art of living; to promote meaningful activities and compassionate services that exemplify humanism; and to be an association where humanists can have a sense of belonging to a larger community that supports a positive philosophy of reason, integrity, and dignity.
II. NAME and AFFILIATION
This Association shall be called “Humanists of Utah”, and shall be a Chapter of the American Humanist Association. The provisions of these by-laws are in conformity with and subservient to the by-laws and Articles of Incorporation of the American Humanist Association. Nothing herein shall be interpreted in any manner to be in conflict with the Constitution of the United States of America or the laws of our land required to maintain a tax exempt non-profit educational organization, nor with the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.
Any person shall be eligible to a voting membership who is in general accord with the above-stated purpose and pays the membership dues established by the Association.
The fiscal year will run from January 1st to December 31st of each calendar year.
VII. AMENDING BY-LAWS
Amendments of these by-laws may be initiated by a vote of a majority of the Board members or by those present and voting thereon at a regular membership meeting, or by petition of 20% of the members. Enactment of proposed amendments requires the approval of a majority of the members voting thereon.
Revised July 2008
The Board has proposed some modifications to our chapter bylaws. The simplest are mostly housekeeping items that update the document to recognize the electronic aspects of our chapter. Section IV. 7 adds a Webmaster to the list of appointees the Board can make. Sections V. 2 and VI. 1 add the website and email as means of communication to announce meetings.
Of much more import are proposed changes to the election of Chapter Officers and Board members. This has always been done during our February business meeting. Traditionally we have also had a banquet in conjunction with our elections and reports to the chapter.
There are two reasons that the Board would like to move this meeting to December. Darwin Day with Humanists of Utah 2008 was very successful, but it came so close to our annual meeting that it was difficult to arrange for both events. Secondly, over the years, we have had an issue with our elections being at a banquet which meant having to pay for entry. Several years ago we started doing our balloting via US Mail, but there is still an undercurrent that our annual business meeting would be better if it were totally open without having to pay any kind of cover charge.
With these issues in mind the Board proposes moving the annual business meeting and elections to December. We have a banquet in December, but it is provided by the chapter officers. The Board believes that this change will make the meeting more accessible to everyone and will allow the chapter to really concentrate on Darwin Day.
Bylaw changes include: Section IV. 6 to move the annual financial audit to December, Section VI. 1 & 2 to move the actual election.
A nominating committee will be appointed at our August social.
1915 ~ 2008
“Thank you, whatever comes.”
One hour was sunlit and the most high gods
Gentleman scholar, mentor, bibliophile, Mormon historian, English and American studies professor and advocate of Indo-American scholarship and understanding, Mulder, 92, died Wednesday, March 12, 2008 at his home. He was born in Haarlem, Holland in 1915, he immigrated to the United States with his parents in 1920, first to New Jersey and six years later to Salt Lake City.
Upon graduation from the University of Utah in 1940, he was elected to Phi Kappa Phi and Phi Beta Kappa honorary scholastic societies and returned to the University for his master’s degree in English in 1947. Mulder pursued graduate studies at Harvard University in an American Civilization program and was granted a Ph.D. “with distinction” in 1955.
Bill and his wife Helen spent many years in India spread over a couple of multi-year trips. These experiences reinforced the world view that he already held and made him an even greater teacher and mentor.
Bill was a long time member of our chapter. In March of 2002 he gave a lecture titled, “Problems of the Mormon Intellectual.” Here is an excerpt:
The Mormon intellectual as scientist has a higher threshold than as humanist because, more familiar with natural fact than with social value, as scientist he is more willing to assign matters of value to the area of faith, where religious authorities can resolve doubts and make decisions. His religion is not in conflict with science because they don’t really meet. The Mormon intellectual as humanist, on the other hand, finds himself deeply entangled in kinds of truth not as readily verifiable as in chemistry or mathematics, but relative. In the humanities and social sciences, truth is not so much discovered as created. Social and moral and religious “truths” leave more room for argument and require, in any effort to institutionalize them, greater latitude of interpretation and application.
A more complete report of that lecture is available on our website. Humanists of Utah wishes to extend sincere condolences to Helen and the rest of the Mulder family. Bill is already sorely missed.