Kia Ora: Today ANZAC 25th April is sombre. War is futile, bringing destruction of so much, family relationships by death and injury, the destruction of habitat for the myriad life forms that populate our planet. The Sudan is now erupting with the flames of warfare. The world Humanist community waits for the release of Mubarak Bala now entering a fourth year of imprisonment. Mubarak, his wife and young son are denied their right to normal family life.
Monday Meeting 1 May 6.30pm and by Zoom
Watching of a Transgender Documentary, followed by discussion
In present day society there are many hues of thought around sex and gender. However, the science is well developed. The Scientific American article mentioned by Tim in his Notes from the President is dated 13th June 2019. Wikipedia in Transgender History informs us that transgender people have existed in cultures worldwide since ancient times. Critical or scientific studies first began to emerge in the late 1800s in Germany, with the works of Magnus Hirschfeld. Hirschfeld coined the term “transvestite” in 1910 as the scope of transgender study grew. With the World Wars transgender issues went largely out of the public eye until after World War II. In recent years this field of study is again growing in prominence. For this monthly meeting we will look at a small selection of Youtube videos followed with discussion.
All interested people are welcome, Society members and members of the public-bring a friend
Wellington Venue: Thistle Inn, 3 Mulgrave St, Thorndon-upstairs
Notes from the President – Tim Wright
Humanist NZ has long supported LGBTQIA+ rights, and I’m feeling quite depressed about the sheer amount of anti-trans rhetoric that’s currently coming out in the media. As Ross Palethorpe writes: “I am a relatively public transgender person and I received more threats and open hostility in the last week of March than in the previous four years” (https://thespinoff.co.nz/the-sunday-essay/23-04-2023/the-sunday-essay-the-longest-month). With that in mind, I wanted to write something about sex and gender to help counteract some myths.
The points I want to make in this article are:
- Sex and gender are different,
- There are far, far more than 2 sexes,
- Trans and non-binary people are normal, natural, and should be celebrated for who they are
Sex and Gender are different
We often say that Gender is a social construct and Sex is biology. To quote from the WHO (https://www.who.int/health-topics/gender):
“[Sex] refers to the different biological and physiological characteristics of females, males and intersex persons, such as chromosomes, hormones and reproductive organs”
“Gender refers to the characteristics of women, men, girls and boys that are socially constructed. This includes norms, behaviours and roles associated with being a woman, man, girl or boy, as well as relationships with each other. As a social construct, gender varies from society to society and can change over time.”
With such clear definitions, it’s easy to imagine someone who has a sex assigned at birth of male but a female gender because of the role they play in society. Even a CIS male could have a different gender depending on the society they are in.
There are more than two Genders
Given Gender is a social construct, we can reasonably expect multiple genders to exist. This is easily shown by looking at the lovely diversity of different words for different genders in other languages.
Te Reo has a whole lot covering a very diverse spectrum (https://genderminorities.com/2017/09/11/takataapui-over-the-rainbow/#:~:text=Takat%C4%81pui%20%E2%80%93%20M%C4%81ori%20genders%20and%20attractions&text=T%C4%81hine%20%E2%80%93%20mixed%20gender,t%C4%81ne%20%E2%80%93%20trans%20man.)
Other Pacific cultures and languages recognise more than two genders and have words for genders outside the male-female binary. As examples example, Fakaleitī in in Tongan,Ffa’afafine in Samoan and Māhū in Hawaiian (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fakaleit%C4%AB)
The Talmud has 8 words for different genders (https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/the-eight-genders-in-the-talmud/)
There are far, far more than 2 sexes
Even at a biological level, there are more than 2 sexes. This belief that there are only two sexes often comes from a misunderstanding of the genetics behind sex. Even Richard Dawkins has said things like: if your chromosomes are XX then you are a woman. However, the genetics of sex have moved on considerably since I was taught that in high school. And I quite like telling one of the great geneticists that he’s wrong about genetics:
Someone with XY genes can develop as a woman, be assigned as a woman at birth, and give birth (this is called Swyer syndrome). And vice-versa for someone with XX genes. There is a good TED talk about this here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=stUl_OapUso&t=301s
There are many other combinations of those genes – XXX, XXXY. There is more information about these combinations here: https://www.discovermagazine.com/the-sciences/sex-is-more-complex-than-a-simple-binary-suggests
Here’s an article that talks in depth about the junk science people often use to hurt trans and non-binary people: https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/voices/stop-using-phony-science-to-justify-transphobia/
Trans and non-binary people are normal, natural, and should be celebrated for who they are
There seem to be a lot of people who think trans and non-binary people are confused about their gender and (with help) could become happy with their assigned gender at birth. In my mind, this is conversion therapy. Humanist NZ are against anti-conversion therapy practices, you can find our submission supporting the act of parliament that banned conversion therapy practices here: https://humanist.nz/news/humanists-new-zealand-supports-ban-on-so-called-conversion-therapy/
But I’m not going to go into depth as to why conversion therapy doesn’t work. I could bring up all the statistics about the impacts to the mental health of our trans and non-binary friends when people try to use conversion therapy. I could bring up how lots of those mental health impacts occur even without conversion therapy – due to the predominant anti-trans bias in the media and in our culture. But I don’t want to talk about that.
You see, even if conversion therapy worked and even if there was no mental health impact of being mis-gendered and told that they’re wrong about themselves, the right thing to do is love and support people who are different to us. To believe what they say, and to support the way they want to live their life. Because, as humanists:
We affirm the worth and dignity of the individual and the right of every human to the greatest possible freedom and fullest possible development compatible with the rights of others. To these ends we support peace, democracy, the rule of law, and universal legal human rights.
We reject all forms of racism and prejudice and the injustices that arise from them. We seek instead to promote the flourishing and fellowship of humanity in all its diversity and individuality.
From the Richard Dawkins Foundation Newsletter.
Robyn Blumner Executive Director, Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science
Agree to Disagree Apr 20, 2023 https://richarddawkins.net/2023/04/agree-to-disagree/
By looking at the above link there are links within this newsletter post to further extensive thought and information.
“As Steven Pinker wrote recently in the Boston Globe, “The very concept of freedom of expression is anything but intuitively obvious.” He’s right, of course. When we are confronted with ideas, we find disagreeable, dangerous, or downright abhorrent, our first instinct is likely to want to silence those ideas. To banish them to the intellectual junk heap, where they can never bother or threaten anyone ever again.
It’s a natural, very human response. But as we know, it’s also the wrong one. Enlightenment comes from the conflict between ideas, not muzzling those that aren’t ours. We know that ideas such as the right to same-sex marriage or even the right for people from different racial groups to get married were once considered abhorrent by nearly all Americans. It was only the protections of freedom of speech that gave these ideas the breathing space to take hold.
The damaging instinct to silence opposing ideas rather than debate them is a particular concern on college campuses. In a recent interview with Piers Morgan, Richard Dawkins called the current situation “tragic,” reiterating his belief that universities should foster a culture where students and faculty feel free to speak their minds and explore new ideas—including some they may very much not like. (Ever the scientist, in the same interview Richard made it plainly clear there are only two biological sexes even if there can be many self-identified genders.)
With that in mind, we’ll look at a newly created organization at Harvard University called the Council on Academic Freedom at Harvard. This faculty-led council, which Pinker cofounded and serves as one of six copresidents, seeks to defend the classic understanding of academic freedom and provide a counter to the “asymmetric warfare” tactics used to silence differing ideas on campus.
Stifling dissent, of course, is also a go-to tactic of theocratic regimes. In Pakistan, which recently voted to tighten its already strict blasphemy laws, a popular television host called for the government to step up arrests and prosecutions for promoting “blasphemous” ideas. We’ll look at the warning response from ex-Muslim atheist activist Harris Sultan.
We’ll also examine some interesting research out of the United Kingdom regarding potential bias against courtroom witnesses who opt not to “swear to God”—data that makes the case for abandoning the archaic practice of oath-swearing entirely.
If you have any doubt that young adult minds are more than ready to handle challenges to long-standing cultural orthodoxy, we’ll examine some recent data on religious belief among American Millennials and Gen Z adults. Both groups have shown steady, rapid increases in the percentage of those who identify as “atheist, agnostic, or nonreligious”—including nearly half of the Gen Z adults surveyed in 2022.
Finally, we’ll learn about a new web series from the CFI Investigations Group. SkeptiLab: The Bunk Stops Here! sees CFIIG Executive Director Jim Underdown and his celebrity guests reveal the truth behind alleged “powers” such as telekinesis, astrology, and telepathy. In addition to being a fun watch, SkeptiLab is a wonderful example of the power that results when you counter nonsense using science and reason, rather than attempting to mute it entirely.
Intuition is a useful tool. But as scientists, skeptics, and freethinkers, we must be able to prioritize the need for and value of free expression over any instinct to the contrary. That is how we will ultimately evolve as a society and the only lasting way to dispense with bad ideas and dangerous nonsense.”
SET Mubarak Bala, President Humanist Society of Nigeria, FREE
28th APRIL 2023 marks THREE years of IMPRISONMENT
Humanist communities and individuals around the world are calling for Mubarak’s release. On 18th April the UK Government debated ‘freedom of religion or belief in Nigeria’, expressing concern for Mubarak sentenced last year to 24 years imprisonment for a blasphemous post on Facebook.
Excerpts from Humanists UK’s briefing paper to the UK Government ahead of the debate
SUMMARY OF THE SITUATION IN NIGERIA
- Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ‘protects theistic, non-theistic and atheistic beliefs, as well as the right not to profess any religion or belief’.
- Nigeria is one of only 13 countries where blasphemy or apostasy remain punishable by death.
- Expression of core humanist principles on democracy, freedom or human rights is severely
- The non-religious are so severely persecuted by state and non-state actors it is not possible to be openly non-religious. The severity of persecution also makes it very difficult to calculate what proportion of the population is non-religious.
- State legislation is partly derived from religious law or by religious authorities
- In April 2022, Mubarak Bala, President of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, was sentenced to 24 years in prison for posting alleged ‘blasphemous’ content on Facebook.
- Alarmingly, the Illegal Immigration Bill includes Nigeria on its list of ‘safe’ third countries where asylum seekers can be deported to.
FREEDOM OF BELIEF FOR THE NON-RELIGIOUS IN NIGERIA
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). This is supported by the UN Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief. General Comment No 22 adds:
‘Article 18 protects theistic, non-theistic and atheistic beliefs, as well as the right not to profess any religion or belief. The terms “belief” and “religion” are to be broadly construed. Article 18 is not limited in its application to traditional religions or to religions and beliefs with institutional characteristics or practices analogous to those of traditional religions.’
Nigeria has ratified the ICCPR without making any reservations or interpretive declarations. It is therefore party to this provision yet FoRB continues to be under threat. FoRB violations often also impact on a number of other rights, including the right to freedom of expression and, to some extent, the right to freedom of assembly and association. There is also a strong correlation with discrimination against women and LGBT people.
PERSECUTION OF THE NON-RELIGIOUS IN NIGERIA
Nigeria is one of only 13 countries where blasphemy or apostasy remain punishable by death. Nigeria is a primarily Muslim and Christian country, with most Muslims living in the north of the country and most Christians living in the south. While laws and treatment may differ to some degree state by state, life for non-religious people in Nigeria remains challenging and dangerous. Every year Humanists International compiles the Freedom of Thought Report: A Global Report on Discrimination Against Humanists, Atheists, and the Non-religious; Their Human Rights and Legal Status, which we contribute to. Nigeria received the worst rating of ‘grave violation’ in all metrics within the report. The latest edition of the report says with respect to Nigeria:
- ‘Blasphemy’ or criticism of religion is outlawed and punishable by death
- ‘Apostasy’ or conversion from a specific religion is outlawed and punishable by death
- Expression of core humanist principles on democracy, freedom or human rights is severely restricted
- The non-religious are persecuted socially or there are prohibitive social taboos against atheism, humanism or secularism
- State legislation is partly derived from religious law or by religious authorities
- Systemic religious privilege results in significant social discrimination
While the Nigerian constitution protects freedom of religion or belief in theory, the state enforces several anti-secular and theocratic policies. Notably, Sections 275-279 of the constitution allow constituent states to establish Sharia courts on civil matters. Until 2000, this was restricted to personal status and civil law, but criminal law is now under the jurisdiction of Sharia courts in twelve northern states. The constitution prohibits constituent states from adopting a state religion, however, this is not the case in practice. State Governor Nyesom Wike pronounced the state of Rivers a Christian state in a June 2019 speech. In addition, in many of Nigeria’s northern, Muslim-majority states, Islam is often regarded as the de facto state religion due to its pervasive influence on the allocation of public funds. Politicians have also been known to refer to religion when justifying their stance on legislative proposals. Some states have the death penalty for blasphemy under Sharia law, while some also confer prison sentences on blasphemers. Such laws, while at odds with the constitution, will stand unless someone convicted under them takes a challenge under the constitution to the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
EXAMPLES OF PERSECUTION
The Humanist Association of Nigeria was founded by humanist activist Leo Igwe. It took 17 years to achieve an official registration as a formal organisation from the Nigerian Government. It focuses on speaking out against the death penalty, in favour of LGBT rights, and campaigning against violence related to ‘witchcraft’ beliefs, for which its members have faced physical attacks and the threat of court action.
Mubarak Bala is a Nigerian human rights activist and President of the Humanist Association of Nigeria. In April 2022, he was sentenced to 24 years in prison for posting ‘blasphemous’ content on Facebook. He was originally arrested from his home in Kaduna state on 28 April 2020 and held without charge for more than a year. He faced charges before the Kano State High Court in connection with Facebook posts he is alleged to have made over the course of April 2020, which are deemed to have caused a public disturbance due to their ‘blasphemous’ content. In addition to being arbitrarily detained for over a year before he was charged, there have been several other violations of his rights to a fair trial, which include being denied access to his legal counsel until October 2020, failing to comply with a Federal High Court order to release him on bail, and consistent attempts to obstruct his legal team. He has also been denied medical treatment in violation of his rights and has had court dates repeatedly delayed.
Bala’s team is now appealing his sentence, having pled guilty to charges of ‘conducting himself in a manner likely to cause breach of public peace’. We understand that Bala was subjected to pressure in order to secure a guilty plea.
OTHER NOTABLE BLASPHEMY CASES
Leo Igwe is a leading human rights defender and humanist in Africa, having formed the Humanist Association of Nigeria in 1990. Igwe has fought for reason against superstition and witchcraft for years and started the campaign Advocacy for Alleged Witches that has helped many victims accused of witchcraft throughout Africa. In 2020, Igwe received a letter from lawyers acting on behalf of Helen Ukpabio. Ukpabio organises deliverance sessions where she identifies and supposedly exorcises people, mainly children, of witchcraft. Headquartered in Calabar in Southern Nigeria, her Liberty Gospel Church has grown to be a witch hunting church with branches in Nigeria and overseas. Igwe was accused of making statements prejudicial to Ukpabio, which have impacted her social and economic standing. The lawyers demanded Igwe to retract all articles deemed defamatory, publish an apology in all outlets in which his writings have been published, and pay 20 billion Naira (approx. £36.5 million) in compensation. In 2020, some state authorities escalated enforcement of blasphemy laws in comparison to previous years. Some particularly egregious examples of how individuals accused of blasphemy (or those who represent them) are treated are: In August 2020, a Sharia court in Kano State convicted Yahaya Sharif-Aminu of blasphemy for insulting the Prophet Muhammad in a private WhatsApp message and sentenced him to death. A higher court later invalidated the conviction and demanded a retrial. Kano authorities also found 16-year-old Omar Farouk guilty of blasphemy and detained him throughout the year, although his conviction was overturned in early 2021 and he was released. In parts of Nigeria, those thought guilty of blasphemy, whether rightly or wrongly, are also at risk of
social persecution, including intimidation, threats and extreme violence. A 74-year-old Christian market trader, Bridget Agbahime, also from Kano state, was publicly murdered in 2016 by a mob of over 500 people following a false accusation of blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad. Despite promises from State authorities of ‘a meticulous investigation and speedy prosecution of arrested suspects’ as their trial neared on the advice of the State Attorney General all five accused of her murder were freed as having no case to answer.
Please consider a donation to this worldwide campaign for the release of Mubarak. Humanist NZ have set up a GIVEALITTLE Page and donations received will be sent to Humanists International.
To donate see our GIVEALITTLE Page https://givealittle.co.nz/cause/humanists-at-risk
New Zealand Skeptics Challenge
We’ve got $100,000 to give away!
At the beginning of this month, we launched our $100K paranormal challenge. The idea is that if somebody can demonstrate a paranormal ability or product, they get to claim the $100,000.
Where is the money coming from? Well, NZ Skeptics have some money that we’ve built up over the years, currently on term deposit. We’ve earmarked $50K for this. As well, the New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists (NZARH) are coming to the party for the other $50K. Of course, we believe the likelihood of actually having to pay out the money is extremely low. And, were somebody to be able to successfully and conclusively demonstrate one of these abilities, it would be earth-shattering news!
There have been challenges in the past. Famously, the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) ran their Million Dollar Challenge, which was similar in nature. With the retirement of James Randi (and, his death in 2020), that challenge ended. The Center for Inquiry (CFI) based in California, has a similar challenge where people could win $250K.
Here in Aotearoa, we’ve had our own psychic challenge, run by Stuart Landsborough at his Puzzling World in Wanaka, where anybody with a psychic ability to locate a pair of promissory notes, could win $100,000. Stuart recently retired, and with that, ended his challenge, after 8 people unsuccessfully attempted the challenge over the years. Recently, on our Yeah… Nah podcast, we interviewed Stuart, and heard his interesting story.
Our challenge is a little different, having learned from the experience of overseas organisations. The lure of the money appears to attract many deluded people who think they have abilities but can’t actually demonstrate them. Additionally, such challenges seem to attract people who may be suffering from mental health issues. Consequently, these organisations often spend a lot of time negotiating with applications, without a test being able to be run.
In our challenge, we are publicly taking aim at prominent people making paranormal, or beyond science claims. Our criteria are such that we only challenge people who are profiting from their supposed abilities. You can read our post about the challenge here.
So, who are we challenging?
We’ve chosen three relatively prominent people who are profiting from these claims, and issued a personalised email document to each of them.
First up is Kirsten Taylor, a naturopath, and CEO of the Sleep Drops company. Her company sells a range of products that don’t claim to be able to do anything (due to regulations in NZ) but are strongly hinted at being able to improve your sleep. Of note are that the products contain homeopathic dilutions of various herbs, and the recommendation is that one needs only a few drops of the product under the tongue for them to be effective.
Specially, we’ve worded our challenge to Ms Taylor as:
From reviewing statements you’ve made in the past, we think that the claim that low concentrations of flower essences, herbal “medicines” and homeopathic preparations, delivered by a few drops, positively affect a person’s sleep, falls outside what would be considered possible according to science.
As of this writing, we’ve not heard back from Ms Taylor, though I suspect it won’t be until business hours this week that we get a response, if any.
Next, we’ve selected Kelvin Cruickshank, who is a prominent psychic who featured as one of the three on the awful Sensing Murder series on TVNZ a few years back, which (unsurprisingly to skeptics) didn’t actually manage to solve any cases.
Kelvin is pretty active, doing shows around the country and making money out of his supposed ability to talk to dead people.
Kelvin’s pretty hard to contact – I wasn’t able to find an email address for him, and his website only shows a SquareSpace placeholder site. Nevertheless, he has a chat option on his Facebook page, so I reached out via that and chatted with his assistant Gem, giving her a link to the document.
Our wording of our challenge to Mr Cruickshank is as follows:
From reviewing statements you’ve made in the past, we think that the ability you claim to possess: that you can hear and pass on messages from the dead, and talk to deceased people who died a violent death at the hands of another, falls outside what would be considered possible according to science.
So, Kelvin has been delivered the challenge. My bet is that we won’t hear back from him, as it’s unlikely he wants to be exposed as not being able to do what he claims.
Finally, we selected Ken Ring, known for his ability to sucker gullible people into believing he can make super-long-range weather forecasts and predict earthquakes. He sells his predictions through his website, and also a range of pricey almanacs.
Our wording of our challenge to Mr Ring is as follows:
From reviewing statements you’ve made in the past, we think that the ability you claim to possess: that you can make very specific long-range weather forecasts, predictions of earthquakes, and predict weather events with a specificity and over a time horizon that well exceeds the limits of current meteorology, falls outside what would be considered possible according to science.
I delivered the challenge to Mr Ring via the contact form on his website, and did, in fact hear back from him.
The gist of his response was a wide-ranging tirade against NZ Skeptics and science in general which included topics such as anti-vaccine, anti-climate change. He also made the accusation that our challenge wasn’t real, since it was delivered on April 1st, being an April Fool’s joke. I have since written back to him confirming that we are serious about the challenge. Will we hear back from him again? It will be interesting to see. Of the three people we’ve challenged, he does seem to be the one who’s most deeply down the conspiracy rabbit hole, and keen to cherry pick data to support his predictions, and put forward fanciful ideas that fall well outside good science.
Anyway, watch this space. We’ll be reporting on progress with any of these people.
Finally, we are accepting recommendations for people to challenge. If you’ve got an idea for someone who’s making claims and profiting from them that you’d like to see us challenge, you can submit their details on our website form.
Ultimately, we see the challenge as a rhetorical device. When media organisations ask us about a particular person making outlandish claims, we can challenge them to “put up or shut up”.