Kia ora: “do we care about other species, particularly endangered ones?” Well! After the June meeting we did feel concern for our fellow creatures who are feeling the pressures that are impinging on their habitats and their very lives. It was shocking to learn that to provide the luxury of shark fin soup in China, sharks are caught, their fins cut off, and the shark thrown back into the ocean. As China’s economy has improved, the demand for this soup has increased, increasing the demand for shark fins. But, shark fin has no taste, just contributing a ‘consistency’ to the soup, which could be obtained using other non animal ingredients. We all felt differently about sharks after learning this. Black Bears are being poached for their paws, which are also a food delicacy. Europe regularly exceeds fish quotas, and fails to stop internal trade in endangered species. During discussion, Jared Diamond’s Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive, was mentioned as a worthwhile reading exercise.·

July monthly meeting: Monday 5 July

How YOU can be involved in amateur astronomical research – investigating the EXPANSION of the UNIVERSE!
Or – why amateur observers have an important place in serious astronomy!
Venue for meeting: Turnbull House, Bowen Street, Wellington.
We meet from 7.30 pm until 9.00 pm

Speaker John Homes, a Humanist Society member, will talk to us about his involvement as an amateur astronomical observer in the Variable Stars South organisation, its history, and two of their current projects: the Bright Cepheids project and the Equatorial Eclipsing Binaries project. John will describe the type of star, why it is of interest, the observing techniques that are used, and the results that are being discovered. John will also talk about the kind of equipment that interested persons will need, if interested in becoming involved. The Wellington Astronomical Society will be meeting Wednesday 7 July. John hopes that some may be enthused by this interesting celestial research and join in.

· Radio Access: Humanist Outlook, Future broadcasts at 10.30am on 783 kHz Wellington, on Saturday, 24 July and 21 August, 18 September, 16 October, and 13 November.
Please note: the new time slot. Humanist Outlook is now broadcast 10:30 am on Saturday mornings from Wellington on 783 kHz every fourth Saturday.
If you are outside the Wellington radiobroadcast area, go to www.accessradio.org.nz to listen or to download a pod cast after the event.

• Atheist Bus campaign:
We have not yet received a decision, however, at present; our case is being considered by Te Tari Whakatau Take Tika Tangata – The Office of Human Rights Proceedings.
For updates see: www.nogod.nz . Follow the links to Face Book and Twitter.
You can express your opinion. So far 92.5% of people have said that the NZ Bus decision to ban the adverting is unfair and discriminatory. See: http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/national/3366649/Atheists-claim-bias-over-rejection-of-No-God-ads
You can also vote on the existence of god!
http://www.stuff.co.nz/oddstuff/3149823/Theres-probably-no-God-coming-to-a-bus-near-you . To date 58% have said that there is no God.

• Atheist Billboard campaign:
Because of delays in the Atheist Bus campaign, nogod.org.nz has decided to divert some of the money donated, towards the placement of billboards in Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch. Keep a keen eye out for both the billboards and press releases announcing their appearance, in the near future!

Stop Press:

Eight large Billboards, measuring eight metres by three metres, have now been erected – three in Auckland, three in Wellington, and two in Christchurch, where they will be displayed for an initial period of one month. It was intended that they would all be erected in time for a press release on the first of July, but one appeared a day early in Auckland, and one a day late in Wellington!
There are three different billboards, each featuring a different slogan, but all of them also carry the original message:
“THERE IS PROBABLY NO GOD. NOW STOP WORRYING AND ENJOY YOUR LIFE.”

The three new slogans, designed to be educative and to provoke discussion were selected by the “No God” advertising group from a short list of possible slogans.

The new billboard slogans are:

1. IN THE BEGINNING MAN, CREATED GOD.

2. GOOD WITHOUT GOD? OVER ONE MILLION KIWIS ARE.

3. WE ARE ALL ATHEISTS ABOUT MOST GODS. SOME OF US JUST GO ONE GOD FURTHER.

See: www.nogod.nz for the press release and the layout of the billboards.

If you live close enough to the three main centres you can see them for yourself. The locations of the signs are as follows:

Auckland: Parnell Rise, Newton Road, Newton, and South Eastern Highway, Mount Wellington.
Wellington: Waterloo Quay (visible to southbound traffic), Boulcott Street (visible to uphill traffic), and the Willis Street Lambton Quay corner (visible to north bound pedestrian traffic on the East side of Willis Street.)
Christchurch: Whiteleigh Avenue, and Lincoln Road – both located at the level crossings.

Following requests that the billboards also be displayed in provincial centres, fund raising has opened again. Now that eight Billboard canvasses or “skins” have been printed, the skins can be removed and reinstalled at another location without incurring extra printing costs but some money is required for the relocation.
All donations are welcome. Go to the www.nogod.nz website to donate. Donations are tax deductible.

The advertising campaign has also been fortunate in obtaining very much discounted non-commercial rates for the rent of the billboard locations. This means that we have been able to display the billboards at well below the rates a commercial advertiser would have to pay, but with the proviso that we will have to move the signs if the locations are required by a commercial advertiser.

The Waterloo Quay sign in Wellington is brilliantly located just opposite the entrance to the Stadium and visible day and night to a significant percentage of road traffic entering Wellington, but it may have to be moved because of the bigotry of the CEO of CentrePort. CentrePort control the land where the sign is erected. Make sure you see it before it is moved.

The Humanist Society extends its congratulations to everybody involved in this project. It is great to see the signs in place. They provide a balance to the incessant religious advertising that we are all exposed to. The Humanist Society provides administrative support for this project.

• World Humanist Day & Winter Solstice Celebration:
Sunday 27 June from 4 pm: A pleasant warm evening was enjoyed at Lachman and Elsabie’s home. We thank them for their hospitality. We watched a video, The Fog of War, documenting the memoirs of Robert Strange McNamara, who was US Defense Secretary during the presidencies of John F Kennedy and Lyndon B Johnson.

· 2009/2010 Subscriptions: subscriptions remain unchanged and are now due. Renewal forms were included with the newsletter posted to members last year. A pdf version is attached to this email newsletter and may also be used to renew your subscription but be certain to put your name and address on it.

All addresses have been checked with the Post Office and some have been amended. Please check that your details are shown correctly on copies mailed to you and provide corrections as necessary.

Gaylene Middleton

• Humanist World-View: by Rosslyn Ives

reprinted from Victorian Humanist June 2010 Vol. 49, No.5

“Many of the values of Humanism-individual autonomy, freedom of thought, individual rights and responsibilities – date back at least 2,500 years to the ancient Greeks. At that time thinkers developed a human-centred approach to leading a good life which also included values such as kindness, generosity, goodness and justice. They believed that with these values and a thoughtful, reflective approach to living, individuals would thrive and communities would be cohesive. They were sceptical about the claims of religion yet tolerant of its practices and appeal to others.

This reason-based, open-minded world view was much admired by many thinking Romans, who amplifies and augmented the Greek ideas, particularly through the various schools that flourished throughout the Greco-Roman world for hundreds of years.

However, as the Roman Empire crumbled, western civilisation lost its confidence in and tolerance of this reasoned, human-centred approach to living. Through fear and ignorance the majority were drawn to the promises of salvation in a heavenly afterlife. Such was the intolerant fervour of christians that the philosophy schools, where the humanistic ideas had been nurtured, were closed down, the last one in 529 CE.

Fortunately many of the Greek and Latin texts were not lost. Some were held in Islamic centres of learning, while others, though banned by the christian authorities, were stored rather than destroyed. Hundreds of years later (1300-1500 CE) these ancient writings were ‘rediscovered’, giving rise to a rebirth or a Renaissance of human-centred ways of thinking and living. A few hundred years later the Enlightenment thinkers took hold of these ideas and gave a further boost to the world-view of humans standing on their own and thinking for themselves. It was from this last burst of reasoned, sceptical thinking that modern Humanism developed.

Humanism then, has a proud and ancient heritage. It is an ethical world-view that relies on the best qualities of human beings as intelligent, creative, thinking beings. It is a world-view which is continually being reinterpreted in the light of new ideas and new ways of understanding ourselves and the world around us. It lacks fixed creeds and dogmas, discredits claims of absolute certainty and is tolerant of human foibles and failings, so long as they do no harm to other sentient beings. However, when harm is done, Humanists condemn injustice, violations of human rights, ill treatment, unfairness and gross inequalities.

Our task as Humanists is to ‘sell this message’ whenever an opportunity arises. Our focus ought to be on the life-enhancing features of the Humanist world-view, rather than the flaws and problems of alternative world views. We are probably never going to be a majority, but we can be a significant, reasoned, secular voice.”

Realising Secularism Australia and New Zealand

The new book, Realising Secularism, is a look at the secular history and future of Australia and New Zealand. Contributors to the book include: Bill Hastings, John Kaye, Muriel Fraser, Helen Irving, Bill Cooke, Lloyd Geering, Max Wallace, Nicky Hager, Jane Caro, Iain Middleton, Jim Dakin, Ken Perrott, and Lewis Holden.

Copies of Realising Secularism may be purchased at wholesale price from the Humanist Society of New Zealand for $25 plus $4.50 for postage and packaging. Make cheques payable to the Humanist Society of New Zealand.

Leading Questions

Taking a Stand for the New Atheists

A Discussion with Victor J. Stenger

Victor J. Stenger is a particle physicist and author who has written nine books on physics, cosmology, quantum mechanics, religion, and pseudoscience. He recently discussed his new book, The New Atheism: Taking a Stand for Science and Reason, with D. J. Grothe, associate editor of FREE INQUIRY.

“The New Atheism … says that there are too many evils resulting from religion requiring that we speak out more forcefully than before.”

FREE INQUIRY: Isn’t the New Atheism just the same old atheism?
VICTOR J. STENGER: Yes and no. The New Atheism is more popular now, and I think it takes a harder line. It says that we shouldn’t be treating religion with kid gloves or avoid offending moderate Christians merely because we need their support for various science education battles, such as the fight over evolution being taught in the schools. It says that there are too many evils resulting from religion, requiring that we speak out more forcefully than before.

Fl: For many years, you weren’t primarily a critic of religion but of the paranormal and pseudoscience. Recently you have focused more on religion. Why the shift?
STENGER: The one leads to the other. My book Physics and Psychics, for example, while it focuses on the beginnings of the scientific study of psychic powers, examined how various religious beliefs undergirded paranormal beliefs. William Crookes, a famous and important physicist in the nineteenth century, had religious reasons for his psychic research.

Fl: Do you mean that the same skepticism that you apply to ghosts, psychics, and spirit communication should be similarly applied to the God question? You are an equal-opportunity skeptic.
STENGER: Definitely. Many of the claims made by religious apologists that science proves religion are exactly the sorts of claims believers in the paranormal make. Of course, those claims are misleading at best, whether they come from religion or paranormal belief.

Fl: Another thing that sets the New Atheists apart is that they make scientific arguments for their atheism, as opposed to merely philosophical or theological arguments.
STENGER: Yes, because the atheists have historically been too easygoing on this issue, unwilling to take a strong stand. Carl Sagan, for instance, was reluctant to take a hard line against religion, as was Stephen Jay Gould. Sagan was often quoted as saying “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” There is no scientific evidence for God, but I would argue that in fact, there is scientific evidence against the God claim—absence of evidence is evidence of absence. I think we can make positive statements beyond a reasonable doubt that God does not exist—not all conceivable gods, mind you, but the God that most people believe in. That God should have been detected by now by science and that he hasn’t is evidence that he does not exist. The New Atheists write more from a scientific perspective, rather than that of theology or philosophy.

Fl: You believe there is actually evidence from physics and biology that God doesn’t exist, as opposed to just a lack of evidence that he does exist.
Stenger: Exactly. You could say there is no evidence for God and actually think that is not evidence against God. But the lack of evidence is actually a kind of evidence. If you look at living organisms, there is no sign of design; organisms look like a Rube Goldberg machine, all these leftover parts, enormous waste. Life is a mess, and examples such as using the same hole for eating and breathing is positive evidence for there being no designer. These are not logical deductions; these are presentations of evidence that should be evaluated as in a court of law.

Fl: Before Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and you wrote your New Atheism books, two women wrote best-selling books skeptical of God: Jennifer Michael Hecht wrote Doubt and Susan Jacoby wrote Freethinkers. Should these women be considered New Atheists as well?
Stenger: The New Atheism shouldn’t be a boys’ club, of course. I am sorry if they should have been included but weren’t mentioned. In fact, / wasn’t even originally included; people talked about “the Four Horsemen.” I think that what defined the New Atheists was that they got a lot of publicity and awakened people to the idea. These fine books by these women just didn’t get the same amount of attention.

This is only a small part of DJ. Grothe’s interview with Vic Stenger. To hear the rest of the conversation, go to www.pointofinquiry.org. This is Grothe’s last Leading Questions. He has been named president of the James Randi Educational Foundation.
Republished from Free Inquiry April/May 2010 secularhumanism.org

Tom Flyn – Why I Don’t Believe in the New Atheism

I’ve been meaning to write this column for a couple of years. In the blogosphere, in the pages of other freethought publications, even sometimes in FREE INQUIRY, people chatter about the “New Atheism” as if it were a movement. They gossip about New Atheists as if such people exist. However belatedly, allow me to perform for my fellow secular humanists the public service that it’s said the New Atheists seek to perform for humanity at large, namely, dispelling a falsehood. There is no such thing as the New Atheism. It follows, then, as surely as junk e-mail follows an online purchase, that there are no such persons as New Atheists.

So how did the idea get abroad that such unicornish entities exist?

In the beginning, there was Sam Harris. (Though it wasn’t the beginning at all. But I get ahead of myself.) In August 2004, W.W. Norton published his fiery The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason. Beyond question, it was the most radical and blistering attack against religion released by a major publisher to that time. In February 2006, Viking published Daniel C. Dennett’s Breaking the Spell, a thoughtful, scholarly tome that further developed themes he’d explored in previous books, including Darwin’s Dangerous Idea. Because Dennett called for religion to be treated as a human phenomenon—that is, under the assumption that its supernatural claims are untrue—Breaking the Spell came to be seen as an unlikely companion to The End of Faith.

In September 2006, Richard Dawkins unleashed his own ninja strike at religion, The God Delusion (published in the United States by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), and the die was cast. In an article in the November 2006 issue of Wired titled “The Church of the Non-Believers,” Gary Wolf, a journalist best known for profiles of cyberworld icons Ted Nelson and Steve Wozniak, wrote: “The New Atheists will not let us off the hook simply because we are not doctrinaire believers. They condemn not just belief in God but respect for belief in God. Religion is not only wrong; it’s evil. Now that the battle has been joined, there’s no excuse for shirking.

“Three writers have sounded this call to arms.”

You guessed it. Harris, Dennett, and Dawkins were “the New Atheists.”

In May 2007, this estimable trio gained a fourth: Christopher Hitchens, whose God Is Not Great was published by the new high-luster imprint Twelve. Pundits dubbed Harris, Dennett, Dawkins, and Hitchens “the Four Horsemen,” releasing “New Atheist” to be taken up by anyone who’d been touched by the Horsemen’s writings. A movement was aborning, or at least being written about with feverish energy.

If only there were New Atheists.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not claiming that Harris, Dennett, Dawkins, and Hitchens don’t exist. Nor am I suggesting that their books do not merit the attention they’ve received. Far from it. It’s just that, with all due respect to my friend Vic Stenger (see Leading Questions, page 6 [reproduced above]) there’s nothing new about the New Atheism.

Let me say that again in bolder type. There’s nothing new about the New Atheism.

How can this be? The key to the mischief lies in that phrase I used to describe The End of Faith: “the most radical and blistering attack against religion released by a major publisher” [emphasis added]. An “establishment” press releasing a free-thought title in 2004 was a breakthrough. Oddly, the book in question was not The End of Faith (I told you it wasn’t the beginning). Four months before Harris’s book appeared, Susan Jacoby’s magisterial history, Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism, was published by Metropolitan, a Macmillan imprint. It, not End of Faith, was the breakthrough title. But Freethinkers was a sober history, not a polemic, so it fell to the incendiary Harris to make the pundits think something new was afoot.

There is no such thing as the New Atheism. It follows, then, as surely as junk e-mail follows an online purchase, that there are no such persons as New Atheists.

Something new was afoot, but it was only this: for the first time, uncompromising atheist writing was coming from big-name publishers and hitting best-seller lists. You could buy it at the airport. In consequence, people who had never before experienced atheist rhetoric got their first exposure to arguments that had formerly been published only by movement presses. One of these newcomers was Wired’s Gary Wolf. Encountering sledgehammer assaults upon religion that he had never seen before, knowing nothing of freethought’s rich, enclaved history, he thought he was seeing something genuinely new. And the New Atheism was born—out of ignorance, ironically enough.

But it was nothing new. Readers familiar with nineteenth- and twentieth-century freethought literature—which, of course, most people weren’t—knew that everything the Horsemen were being praised and condemned for had been done before. Well. Many times. Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, articulate writers had declared religion untrue, faith a social evil, and the archetypal stories told by the world’s great creeds nothing but clumsy legends. Names from Robert Green Ingersoll to Matilda Joslyn Gage, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Bertrand Russell, Chapman Cohen, Joseph McCabe, and Joseph Lewis come to mind, and I’m only scratching the surface (McCabe in particular drew from the best science of his day tools with which to bludgeon faith no less effectively than Dawkins or Stenger in our own). Then there’s Paul Kurtz’s 1987 The Transcendental Temptation, a rigorous deconstruction of (among other things) the Abrahamic traditions that can stand alongside anything the Horsemen wrote.

The difference is that when “movement” material came from publishers like Watts and Company, the Rationalist Press Association, the J.P. Mendum Company, the Truth Seeker Company, and to a degree even Haldeman-Julius and present-day Prometheus Books, it tended to stay within the movement. The triumph of Harris, Dennett, Dawkins, and Hitchens was to take arguments against religion that were long familiar to insiders, brilliantly repackage them, and expose them to millions who would never otherwise pick up an atheist book. That’s no small achievement. But too many commentators lacking the requisite historical background have treated them as though the horsemen invented atheism. Not so!

That’s why I think it is important to recognize that there is no New Atheism. There are no New Atheists. There is atheism, and there are atheists. A spectrum of national atheist, freethought, secular humanist, and religious humanist organizations already stands prepared to serve unbelievers of many inclinations, without the need for any New Atheist group to hang out its shingle. Atheism and its companion life stances can be proud of roots that extend far, far deeper than (snicker) 2004.

The so-called Four Horsemen deserve admiration for exposing millions of contemporary readers to refutations of traditional religion that our movement has been burnishing for decades, sometimes centuries. We need to do a better job of sharing the rich literary and organizational history out of which these ideas sprang. At the same time, secular humanists need to do all they can to encourage people newly drawn to atheism to make the added journey to the fully rounded, exuberant lifestance we call secular humanism.
Tom Flynn is the editor of FREE INQUIRY and The New Encyclopedia of Unbelief (Prometheus Books, 2007).
Republished from Free Inquiry APRIL/MAY 2010