Kia ora:
With the news of the 5.3 earthquake in Victoria, Australia, (20 June), was felt in Melbourne, I am wondering how our Melbourne Humanist friends, unaccustomed to earthquakes, are feeling. Wellington has been wet and cold recently, and Christchurch members are in our thoughts as they deal with the recent snowfall adding further complications to efforts to recover from the 2010 earthquake.

· Monthly meeting: Monday 2 July
Open to the public – All interested people are welcome – bring a friend

a celebration of reason
2012 Global Atheist Convention
Melbourne, AUSTRALIA

From 13th to 15th April, Over 4000 people gathered in Melbourne to hear an impressive line up of prominent speakers including scientists, philosophers, academics, performers, and comedians.

Those participating were: Peter Singer, Leslie Cannold,Dan Barker, Stella Young, Daniel Dennett, Marion Maddox, A C Grayling, Annie Laurie Gaylor, Lawrence Krauss, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Geoffrey Robertson, Eugenie Scott, Richard Dawkins, Catherine Deveny, P Z Myers, Kylie Sturgess, Sam Harris, Emma McKenna, Jason Ball, Fiona Patten, Brian Dalton, David Nicholls, Lawrence Leung, Mikey Robins, Ben Elton, Jim Jefferies, Dick Gross, Colleen Hartland, Derek Guille, Tanya Smith, Craig Foster, Simon Taylor, Shelley Segal, and Tom Ballard.

Members of the Humanist Society who attended this convention will introduce the speakers, give a summary of their presentations, and share their impressions of the convention.

All interested people are welcome, Society members and members of the public – bring a friend..
Refreshments and nibbles provided
Come, share your views, and learn from others
Venue for meeting: Turnbull House, Bowen Street, Wellington.
We meet from 7.30 pm until 9.00 pm

· Radio Access:
Humanist Outlook, 10.30 am, 783 kHz Wellington, on Saturday 21 July, 18 August, 15 September, and 13 October 2012.
Humanist Outlook is broadcast at 10:30 am on Access Radio, Wellington, 783 kHz, every fourth Saturday.
If you are outside the Wellington area, go to www.accessradio.org.nz to listen or to download as a pod cast after the event.

Previous June Meeting:

Previous June meeting: Dr. Prothero left us reeling with the pace of his talk which was crammed with information and fossil evidence for evolution. He is disappointed with the teaching of science in the USA as he feels that the policy of “no child left behind” has led to the concentration on numeracy and literacy at the expense of science. The education debate in NZ, at the present moment, also presents concerns that the teaching of science could be similarly affected!

2011- 2012 Subscriptions:
Thank you to those conscientious members who have paid their subscriptions for the 2011-2012 year.
Subscriptions were due following the AGM on 29th October 2011 and remain unchanged from the previous year.
A subscription renewal form was posted to members last year with a printed newsletter and an email giving details of how to renew your subscription using internet banking was sent on 27 January this year.

Winter Solstice Celebration:

Winter Solstice Celebration on Saturday June 16: A very cold, wet Wellington evening was rendered warm and enjoyable at Mark’s home with viewing and discussing Steven Hawking’s and Lawrence Krauss’s talks on the fascinating subject of the beginnings of our universe. Something from nothing and the “flat” universe. Thank you Mark for hosting this social occasion.

North Shore Discussion Group:
North Shore discussion Group: Warren Atkins, a North Shore Humanist hosts a discussion group on a casual basis in this area. Warren may be contacted for more information on 09 410 3580. Warren is also an author and artist with a website www.warrenkarno.com for you to explore.

Gisborne Lunar Society:
The Gisborne Lunar Society meets once a month on the Sunday nearest the full moon at 11am. Contact John Marks on 06 867 9768 or Kevin Hyde 06 868 5253.

2012 Global Atheist Convention, sumarised thoughts from Victorian Humanist member Geoff Allshorn:
Between 13 to 15 April, the streets and trams of Melbourne were abuzz with people wearing T-shirts with different slogans with an atheist theme, myself with a big red ‘A’ for Atheism. The Global Atheist Convention was in town!
Along with other HSV volunteers, I spent some time at the Victorian Humanist Society table chatting to people and sharing information. Many people seemed unaware of our Society’s existence, or of other aligned groups. Perhaps our groups could benefit from adopting modern forms of communication and activism to reach and enlist younger generations who may share our ideals. It was encouraging to meet a group of young Humanists from Singapore.
Opening night comedians used their banter to revisit the role of medieval court jesters, dispensing biting religious comments without fear of losing their heads. Early morning starts meant that I missed some speakers, but those I heard were thought-provoking and inspiring. Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Geoffrey Robertson both spoke passionately about human rights issues, while a panel of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett and Ayaan Hirsi Ali was a revamped ‘four horsemen’ group following the death of Christopher Hitchens. Lawrence Krauss managed to explain how the universe could evolve from nothing, and I refer you to his book A Universe from Nothing. Jason Ball spoke about his involvement with secular, atheist and freethinking groups at universities.
It struck me that the average convention attendee seemed to be under 40, carrying an iPhone, Blackberry, or laptop, and communicated through tweets, digital photos, and Facebook postings. Though despite this trend towards instant digital communication, there was still the desire to queue for speaker’s autographs.
There was some unscheduled activity on the concourse outside the venue. A group of fundamentalist Christians waved signs informing us ‘judgement’ was coming for church gossips, atheists and drunkards. A group of Islamic gentlemen waved placards likening atheism to cancer and chanting that we were infidels. A young family distributed Christian newspapers while complaining that Richard Dawkins would not debate creationists. All these protests were met with dissent and informed debate. A same-sex kiss sent the Islamic protesters home, and the photo posted on the internet. This incident highlighted an interesting irony – the absence of gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex speakers at the convention – a strange omission, given the presumed intention of the organisers to confront religious prejudice on many fronts.
I congratulate the Atheist Foundation of Australia, for this second convention, confronting religious tradition. Media reports were fairly balanced, varied and objective. I hope for another convention – though suggest costs be reviewed to make the event more accessible. One lasting memory was the eloquent and emotional tribute to Christopher Hitchens. Perhaps this suggests that atheism is evolving into an extended family sharing mutual support and common humanity, and encompassing the Humanist principle that human beings are collectively greater than the sum of all our parts. (Sumarised from Victorian Humanist June 2012 ) l writings showing calendars that go beyond 2012, thus discounting the popular culture theory that Mayan civilisation expected the world to end in 2012.

Gaylene Middleton

Greta Christina

Why Atheism Demands Social Justice

I’m going to go out on a limb here: being an atheist demands that we work for social justice.
A lot of atheists will argue with this. They’ll say that atheism means one thing and one thing only: the lack of belief in any god. And in the most literal sense, they’re right. It’s different from secular humanism in that way. Secular humanism is more than just not believing in gods or the supernatural. It’s a positive, multifaceted philosophy that includes specific principles of ethical conduct. Atheism, technically, means only the conclusion that there are no gods.
“If religious believers are right and this mortal life really is just a trivial eyeblink in the eternity of our real spiritual afterlives, then making this life happy and meaningful wouldn’t be so important”
But conclusions don’t stand in a vacuum. They have implications. That’s true for the conclusion that there are no gods as much as any other conclusion. When you conclude that there are no gods, I would argue that one of the implications is a demand that we work for social justice: an end to extreme poverty, political disempowerment, government corruption, gross inequality in economic opportunity, misogyny, racism, homophobia, and so on. For reasons, that are high-minded and noble and altruistic . . . and also for reasons that are pragmatic and Machiavellian to the point of being crass.
Let’s start with the crass. Machiavellian reasons. (Those are always more fun, right?) If we want to make a world that’s better for atheists, making a world with more atheists would certainly be an excellent step. Safety in numbers and all that. And if we want to make a world with more atheists, an excellent first step would be to work toward a world with greater levels of social justice. According to Phil Zuckerman’s carefully researched Society Without God: What the Least Religious Nations Can Tell Us About Contentment, countries with the highest rates of atheism tend very strongly to be countries that score highest on the “happiness index”: they have low rates of violent crime, low rates of government corruption, excellent educational systems, strong economies, well-supported arts, free health care, egalitarian social policies, and so on.
Now, there’s no reason to think that atheism creates these high levels of social functioning. In fact, it seems to be the other way around. When people are happy, stable, well-educated, empowered, and have high hopes for their children, they’re more likely to let go of their belief in God. A high level of social functioning creates atheism, or contributes to it, anyway.
So if we want to create a world with more atheists—and thus a world that’s safer and better for atheists—it would be very much to our advantage to create a world that’s safer and better for everybody. A world with greater social justice is far more likely to be a more atheistic world. Hey, I warned you that I was going to be crass.
So what are the noble, high-minded reasons that atheists should work for social justice? If you don’t believe in God or an afterlife, and if you think this world is the only one we have … I bet you see where I’m going with this. If you don’t believe in God or an afterlife and if you think this world is the only one we have, then this life suddenly matters a whole lot more.
If religious believers are right and this mortal life really is just a trivial eyeblink in the eternity of our real spiritual afterlives, then making this life happy and meaningful wouldn’t be so important. If we really did live forever in heaven after we died, it wouldn’t matter so much that many children around the world are born into hopeless lives of misery and despair. A few years of hunger, disease, violence, and helplessness compared to a blissful eternity in the arms of the Lord—what’s the big deal?
But religious believers aren’t right. There is no God. There is no heaven. This mortal life is all we have. And if this mortal life is all we have—and there are millions of people whose only lives are hopeless lives full of misery and despair for no reason other than the bad luck of how and where and when they were born—then that is a fucking tragedy. It is injustice on a gruesomely epic scale, and we have a powerful moral obligation to fix it. If we have any morality at all—and the evidence strongly suggests that we do, that human beings have some common moral principles wired into our brains through millions of years of evolution as a social species—then seeing terrible harm done to others through no fault of their own should make us cringe and demand our immediate and passionate attention.
I’m going to be very clear about this. We don’t all have to agree about exactly how social justice should be reached, what our priorities and goals should be in reaching it, or even what the concept means. We don’t have to march in political lockstep. Two of the best things about atheism, freethought, humanism, or whatever you want to call it are that we value lively dissent and that we don’t have any dogma that we’re all expected to agree upon.
So I’m not arguing for any dogma or for any specific political stance. Not here, anyway. I’ve certainly argued elsewhere for specific political stances—fervently and many times over—but I don’t think any of them are automatically demanded by not believing in God. I’m not arguing—here, anyway—for the repeal of corporate personhood, an end to the drug war, same-sex marriage, an end to racist policing practices, globally enforced child labor laws, greater equity in funding for education, restored regulation of the financial industry, or an end to government support of corrupt dictatorships. I’m not saying that when it comes to social justice, atheists need to do any one particular thing.
I’m saying that we need to do something. FI

Greta Christina blogs at freethoughtblogs.com on atheism, sex, and politics.
Reproduced from FREE INQUIRY APRIL/MAY 2012 secularhumanism.org

RICHARD WILSON REVIEWS


Review

Tibor Machan – What is Sound Atheism

So what is this atheism that upsets so many people? It is really just the refusal to believe in God because of the absence of sufficient reasons. It is a nonbelief—not something believed to be the case. Thus there can be atheists with a great variety of different outlooks on innumerable topics. They are all united on just one negative proposition—”I do not believe in God.”

“… Atheism does not imply anything about whether ethics is part of human life. That, too, must be left to be determined by means of science and other naturalist approaches by which human beings study the world.”

Very little follows from this as far as metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, politics, aesthetics, or other disciplines are concerned. However, atheists do all decline to affirm the existence of God and closely related supernatural entities and events.

Another crucial (and controversial) issue related to atheism is whether rejecting belief in God implies anything at all about the world other than that it is completely natural and accessible to study by the means deployed in the sciences and in ordinary understanding. For example, does atheism imply materialism? Does it imply physicalism? Does it preclude mental entities such as minds, concepts, thoughts, etc.? Strictly construed, it does not. Nature could well contain a great variety of stuff; so as far as what exists in the world, atheism is open to whatever type and kind of existence is discovered to exist by rational means.

Furthermore, atheism does not imply anything about whether ethics is part of human life. That, too, must be left to be determined by means of science and other naturalist approaches by which human beings study the world. Some atheists are reductive materialists and altogether deny ethics because ethics presupposes choice, something on the order of free will. “Ought” implies “can,” so that if human beings have various ethical or moral, even political, responsibilities or obligations, it must be the case that they are free either to fulfill or to neglect them on their own initiative. This is precluded if nature is fully deterministic, as reductive materialism takes it to be. An emergent view of nature, however, whereby different types and kinds of beings can exist, not all reducible to just one sort, could make room for choices and, thus, for ethics and other normative realms.

This is also the case where mentality is concerned. Some hold that atheism implies that no minds, distinct from brains, can exist, but that, too, is wrong. Take, for example, the late best-selling Russian-born author Ayn Rand. She was an atheist but did not deny the existence of consciousness, specifically the mind. Whether the mind exists is something we could well discover about nature. The matter is not something we can settle a priori. If evidence shows the existence of different types and kinds of beings—for example, biological, chemical, mathematical, musical, or whatever there might be in the world, including minds, feelings, thoughts, abstractions, and so forth—that would be that. Atheism does not require rejection of any of these realms or reality. That must remain a matter of what the various sciences discover and identify.

A few years ago, two very prominent “new” atheists suggested that atheists might gather into a group, perhaps called “Brights.” A problem with this was that simply too many varieties of atheists are to be found, many of whom would be quite uncomfortable in the company of fellow atheists who hold drastically different philosophical, ethical, and political positions. Secular humanists, for example, tend to hold positions on matters other than whether there are reasons to believe that God exists. If they are atheists (some are agnostics), they are just one variety.

It appears, then, that atheism per se is best not overloaded with beliefs apart from the simple one of nonbelief in God’s existence. The rest is best left to what is discovered to exist—to be true and right and good.

Tibor R. Machan holds the R.C. Holies Chair at Chapman University and is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University, both in California.
Reproduced from FREE INQUIRY DECEMBER 2011/JANUARY 2012 secularhumanism.org