While casually scanning the daily news on the internet early in the evening of Monday 20 August, I was disturbed to find the following Newstalk ZB item on www.nzherald.co.nz : ‘Associate Education Minister John Banks says he believes the Genesis account of the start of life on Earth. According to the Bible, God made the world in six days, with Adam and Eve being his last act of creation. John Banks told Radio Rhema that he has no doubts the first chapters of Genesis are true. “That’s what I believe, but I’m not going to impose my beliefs on other people, especially in this post-Christian society that we live in, especially in these lamentable times.” “There are reactionaries out there, humanists in particular, that overrun the bureaucracies in Wellington and state education” Mr Banks says he’s too old, these days, to be ‘judgemental’. Bible scholars are divided over whether this is a literal description or an allegory to help people understand how the world came into being.’
Monthly Meeting: Tuesday 4 September
Open to the public – All interested people are welcome – bring a friend
Ayaan Hirsi Ali
*** Please note the change of day and venue ***
Mark Fletcher will speak to us about Ayaan Hirsi Ali, of whom Richard Dawkins said “This woman is a major hero of our times.”
Christopher Hitchens, who wrote the foreword to her autobiography Infidel, my life says ‘Infidel shows that a determined woman can change more history than her own.’
Ayaan was a speaker at the 2012 Melbourne Atheist Convention. Ayaan has written a second book Nomad where she continues her story. Ayaan is a Somali-Dutch feminist and atheist activist, writer and politician known for her views critical of Islam, and the practices of circumcision and female genital cutting. Her screenplay for Theo van Gogh’s movie Submission led to death threats, and the director’s murder. When she was eight, Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s family left Somalia for Saudi Arabia, then Ethiopia, and eventually settled in Kenya. She sought and obtained political asylum in the Netherlands in 1992. However, political controversy led to Ayaan leaving the Netherlands and she is now resident in the USA.
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:
Thistle Hall, 293-295 Quba Street, Wellington.
We meet from 7.30 pm until 9.00 pm
The venue and date have changed because the Department of Conversation staff suddenly informed us, just days before, that Turnbull House will close from Friday 24 August for earthquake strengthening and will not be available for at least 2 years. We have been fortunate to find Thistle Hall at such short notice.
We welcome suggestions for other venues.
Humanist Outlook, 10.30 am, 783 kHz Wellington, on Saturday 15 September, 13 October, 10 November, and 8 December 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 August Meeting:
Johnny Aqell gave us a very informative and interesting talk on the history of the Jehovah Witness Society, his early life with this group, and separation from the organisation. We thank Johnny for his talk and for allowing us a glimpse of how and why he changed his mind and left, though it meant leaving his family behind.
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.
AGM: Saturday 29 September 4.30 pm:
Mark Fletcher’s home 28 Meadowbank Drive Belmont. Please contact us if you would like to join our committee. We would be pleased to welcome you.
Seminar: Sunday 30 September 1.30pm:
Professor Jim Flynn, Otago University: Humanism and Philosophy
Professor Flynn has recently published Fate & Philosophy, July 2012. Chapter headings include “Is the good society possible?” and “Is free will possible?” We will hold our seminar at the Kingsgate Hotel. Hawkestone St, Wellington, with a light meal afterwards.
More details next newsletter.
Professor James Robert Flynn PhD FRSNZ (born 1934), Emeritus Professor of Political Studies at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, researches intelligence and is famous for his discovery of the Flynn effect, the continued year-after-year increase of IQ scores in all parts of the world. His discovery was profiled in a 2007 article in The New Yorker magazine.
Originally from Washington DC and educated in Chicago, he immigrated to New Zealand in 1963. The Flynn effect is the name given to a substantial and long-sustained increase in intelligence test scores measured in many parts of the world. Test score increases have been continuous and approximately linear from the earliest years of testing to the present. In an interview in July this year Professor Flynn said that he has now found that women’s IQ scores are rising faster than men’s, but he’s not sure why.
One possible explanation is that women have a slightly higher potential intelligence than men and are only now realising it. Another is that women’s lives have become more demanding as they multitask between raising a family and going out to work. But Wellington poet Laurice Gilbert, a member of high-IQ society Mensa, thinks it could be because more women are coming out of their shells and embracing their intelligence.
Professor Flynn has written a number of books. His research interests include humane ideals and ideological debate, classics of political philosophy, and race, class and IQ. His books combine political and moral philosophy with psychology to examine problems such as justifying humane ideals and whether it makes sense to rank races and classes by merit. The Torchlight List published in 2010 proposes the controversial idea that a person can learn more from reading great works of literature than they can from going to university.
NZ Humanist Society and NZ Skeptics member Peter Clemerson will give a set of seven evening presentations on Evolutionary Psychology from Wednesday 3rd October at VUW. They will cover such subjects as: The Descent of Humanity, the Evolution of Morality, Our Emotions, Cognitive Abilities, and Sexuality and Mate selection. In other words, how and why did we become the human beings we are? Peter thinks that to understand our world we should know something about evolutionary psychology. He graduated BSc at Manchester University, Manchester, and worked in the information technology industry. Peter recently completed an MA degree at Massey University and continues at Massey as a PhD student. The sessions are from 6pm until 8pm with a break for refreshments. More details can be found at:
Female Genital Mutilation:
We have had two responses to our enquiries and will give details in the next newsletter.
Have you been keeping up with developments?
P Z Myers
Atheism’s Third Wave
The gods are all dead. Science killed I them. When beliefs are tissues of I fantasy papering over ignorance, all it takes is honest inquiry to destroy them … and what we’re seeing now in the centuries after the Enlightenment is an erosion of god-belief. As a scientist, it’s hard to avoid bursting out in laughter at the absurdities of sacrificial gods, gods that wobble between interfering prudes who fuss over your sex life and benign cosmic forces that helpfully hold your atoms together. Every public debate on the existence of gods that I’ve seen is a great joke, consisting of one side sensibly arguing for the obvious, that there is no evidence for divine beings, while the other cavorts entertainingly in twisty flights of convoluted rhetoric and naked appeals to hoary traditions and wishful thinking. It would be hilarious if it weren’t for the sad spectacle of so many believers taking bad logic so seriously.
Religion is ridiculous and corrupt Beyond the concept of a god, the institutions supporting god-belief seem to be imploding in embarrassing ways. The Catholic Church has been exposed as a monstrous organ of depravity that cultivates child rapists. The Protestants have splintered into a thousand sects, most of which seem Elmer Gantryish, dedicated to fleecing the flock and reinforcing their own privileges. Islam spends its time trying to wind the clock back to medieval ignorance, trying to prove that it can be more barbarous than the West, then lashing out violently every time someone points out that it has a habit of lashing out violently. All religions seem focused on enforcing the morality of a century ago, railing against the morality of the now and insisting that they are in charge of morality.
If gods and religion are dead issues, then the activist atheist might wonder, “Well, what are we going to argue about now?” The old arguments will still be useful and important as long as there are believers. Which, I fear, means that the fight will go on forever… and it’s a good fight, one that steadily exposes people to the unreason of faith and the strength of reason. But there are also new battles to be fought, and I want to argue here that atheists should take these battles seriously and engage in the struggle for social justice—not just as an avocation but as part of our identity as freethinking, rational human beings.
Classical atheism is a narrowly defined style—we focus on the logic of religion and argue in a very bounded way about, for instance, biblical exegesis or internal contradictions of dogma. The “new atheism” (which isn’t actually new) invokes science heavily, not just to demonstrate that religious beliefs are wrong but also in a positive, celebratory way—who needs myths when we’ve got an awesome reality to enjoy? The new atheists also added strong public advocacy to our tactics: religious beliefs matter, they do harm to our culture, and we must oppose them.
I propose that we adopt a, third wave of atheism, a socially conscious,,,activist atheism that combines humanism with the assertiveness of new atheism, that joyfully embraces science and reason and uses them to advance society. And by advancing society, I mean much more than the material advancement of science and technology—we need greater equality, and we need a deeper appreciation of diversity. We need everyone to participate in building a stronger, more peaceful, more progressive culture—one that recognizes that all of us should have equal opportunities.
I know from experience that such a suggestion will be opposed—”atheism is only about the denial of the existence of gods,” some will say, and they will insist that atheism should not be involved in anything beyond opposing god-belief, as if atheism has no deeper implications of any kind. Atheism is treated as a kind of abstract philosophical exercise, a form to be followed, a debating society where the reward is entirely to be found in demonstrating that you are right and the other person is wrong. (It’s curious how, right now, many atheists simultaneously want to claim that they are good without gods while also asserting that atheism is nothing but a simple answer to one question.) Well, those kinds of atheists are wrong. Atheism is profound in its meaning. How can your life not be affected by the knowledge that this life is your one life, your only chance, and that there will be no others? How can you realize that every single person on the planet is in exactly the same position as you are and not Want everyone to have the same shot at happiness you have?
“I want to argue here that atheists should… engage in the struggle for social justice—not just as an avocation but as part of our identity as freethinking, rational human beings.”
Children are raised with a fear of hell and eternal punishment. Women are told their purpose is to serve their husbands as their god and to raise more children to serve as arrows in the quiver of the Lord. People are told to reject science and “Man’s reason” because it contradicts God’s word. We are right to oppose these abuses, and in part it is my atheism that informs my opposition.
But there are so many injustices in the world, and they are not all driven by religion. When poor urban children are denied a good education because their district hasn’t budgeted for new school-books in ten years—while the affluent suburban district next door has the latest texts—I’m appalled at economic inequities. When I see children turned away from science careers because they are told that “girls can’t do math,” I’m appalled at gender inequity. When our government bombs poorer nations to quiet the populace, when children starve or suffer from treatable diseases and parasites, when young girls are sold in the sex trade, when boys are given guns and told to kill and be killed in civil wars, when so many live lives of desperate scrabbling for basic sustenance, I cannot be con¬soled by dreams of amends made in an afterlife or the karmic futility of arguing that people get what they deserve—I’m an atheist There is no benign, paternal source to which I can appeal to take on the responsibility of caring for the unfortunate—I’m an atheist, and only we humans have the power to act.
“Atheism sensu stricto may be a specific assertion about a fact of the universe, but atheism as practiced is a defining idea in a mind and a powerful foundation for a human community.”
So when I hear atheists and skeptics try to delimit our responsibilities, to claim these disciplines only deal with very narrow and specific issues, and that political and social concerns are beyond our purview, I want to rage and tell them that ideas have meaning and power beyond their simplest definitions. Because we are atheists, we have to take care of each other—we know there is no one else to do it.
I hear the same thing about science. Science is neutral on moral concerns; it only describes what is, not how it ought to be. And this is true; science is a tool that can be used equally well for curing diseases or building bombs. But scientists are not and should not be morally neutral, nor should scientific organizations or culture be excluded from defining the appropriate uses of science. Science without humanist moral standards leads to Mengele or the Hiroshima bombing or the Tuskegee syphilis experiments.
Similarly, atheism may be value-neutral, but atheists and atheist organizations should not be. Atheism sensu stricto may be a specific assertion about a fact of the universe, but atheism as practiced is a defining idea in a mind and a powerful foundation for a human community. It has meanings and implications that we must heed and use for achieving our goals.
And what should those goals be? Because I am an atheist and share-common cause with every other human being on the planet in desiring to live my one life with equal opportunity, I suggest that atheists ought to fight for equality for all, economic security for all, and universally available health and education services. Peace is the only answer; extinguishing a precious human life ought to be unthinkable in all but the most dire situations of self-defense. Ours should be a movement that welcomes all sexes, races, ages, and abilities and encourages an appreciation of human richness. Atheism ought to be a progressive social movement in addition to being a philosophical and scientific position, because living in a godless universe means something to humanity.
And now we have something else to argue about.
P Z Myers is associate professor of biology at the University of Morris. He writes the science blog Pharyngula.
Reproduced from Free Inquiry August/September 2012