Kia Ora: Amid all the pressing concerns which assail us we can take a moment to look forward to Matariki. The Matariki cluster set on the 27 May and will reappear from the 25-28 June. The physical appearance of Matariki in the sky was traditionally used by a tohunga as a forecast of the year ahead. Clear and bright stars signalled warm and productive seasons, and hazy or shimmering clusters meant a cold winter was coming and ground for crops was prepared accordingly. Today Matariki is generally seen as an important time to celebrate the earth and show respect for the land. It is also a time to acknowledge those who have passed away and plan for the year ahead. The 29th of May is the day that Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary first climbed Everest in 1953. 2019 is also the centenary year of Edmund Hillary, born 20 July 1919. “If you have plenty – more than enough – and someone else has nothing, then you should do something about it.” This quote from Hillary could be seen as a kiwi definition of humanism. We have concerns about the retrograde developments in the US. Alabama, Mississippi, Ohio, Georgia, Missouri, Kentucky, Arkansas, Utah and Iowa have all passed anti-abortion laws with horrific penalties. It is time to consider again when life begins, a scientific debate already settled. Below is an article “Is the fetus human” by Rochelle Forrester, which recapitulates this debate. With the planned formation of a faith-based political party in New Zealand and concerns of hate speech, it is timely to remember that a principle of humanism is to respect and care for all persons. Ideas will always need challenging to absorb and adapt to new information and discovery. Humanist International colleagues, hosted by Sidmennt (the Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association), are converging at Reykjavik, Iceland, for a conference “Ethical Questions of the 21st Century” and the 2019 General Assembly. Greetings from Humanist NZ, twenty-six hours’ flying time as the bird flies, and 17,000 kms distant.
Humanist Catch-Up Monday June 10 @ 6.30pm until 9.00pm
Indian Humanist Babu Gogineni’s NZ visit.
Babu will speak in Wellington (June 10), Napier, (June 12), Auckland (June 14)
Babu Gogineni is currently Ambassador of the South Asian Humanist Association. Prior to that he was Director of the London-based Humanists International, UK, and in that capacity he worked with the UN (New York & Geneva), UNESCO(Paris) and the Council of Europe (Strasbourg) on Human Rights issues and on international Humanist activism. He has worked on issues related to Democracy, Freedom of Speech and Blasphemy Laws, Caste and Gender Discrimination, and Children’s Rights.
Babu is a regular commentator on Indian TV. His TV debates have attracted much attention, and some of his exposes of Astrologers and other purveyors of Superstition on live TV have additionally attracted well over 2 million views on Youtube.
His year-long weekly TV show ‘The Big Question with Babu Gogineni’ in Telugu on 10 TV is a Humanist view of Science, Culture and History, and it achieved top weekend prime time viewership ratings.
Called ‘India’s Carl Sagan’ by the Times of India, his work in science popularization, anti-superstition activism, and Human Rights became even more popular after his 60 day participation in the reality TV show BIGG BOSS, a family-viewing Indian version of Big Brother, where because of his clashes with the invisible but authoritarian and irrational BIGG BOSS, he was nicknamed BIGGER BOSS.
All interested people are welcome, Society members and members of the public – bring a friend.
§ Wellington Venue: Thistle Inn, 3 Mulgrave St in the George Room
§ Napier Talk: June 12, Host: Karl Matthys, 120 Kent Tce, Taradale, Napier 11am -12.30pm First Session/ break for lunch/Second session 1.30pm-3.00pm.
§ Auckland Talk: June 14 Host NZARH, Rationalist House, 64 Symonds St, 7pm
Synopsis for Babu’s talks
WELLINGTON, NAPIER, AUCKLAND
Ø Defending Reason and Humanism in India
In the 1800s winds of change started blowing in the Indian sub continent. Humanist in essence, these changes brought about religious reform. Several social reformers challenged caste privileges, called for abolition of Untouchability, advocated modern values, established schools for girls, and even advocated widow remarriage. When India became independent in 1947, several of its early leaders were Humanist, such towering personalities as Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, Dr. Ambedkar, the Architect of the Constitution of India, M.N. Roy, the Philosopher Revolutionary. MN Roy, in fact, was also the Founder Vice President of Humanists International.
Compared to the 20th Century, India of the 21st Century is less hospitable to Humanism and Rationalism, what with the introduction of religion into politics and the rise of deeply influential, immensely rich religious cults operating on propagation of superstition. As Rationalists expose fraudulent claims of miraculous powers and advocate separation of Religion and State, they are routinely subject to hate speech and physical attacks. Four prominent Rationalists have been murdered in recent times. Labelled anti-nationals, victims of frivolous and vexatious cases filed against them by vigilante groups, how is the Humanist movement coping with this new situation?
Ø NAPIER: India’s Humanist Heritage
The religious and spiritual contributions of India are celebrated world-wide, but not much is known outside the country of her glorious non-religious, or atheist heritage. Some of the world’s first Atheists can be found in India, and these thinkers preceded the Buddha. India’s ancient Atheist philosophers challenged the existing beliefs and they also offered alternatives. The Carvaka freethinkers, the Lokayata tradition, the Samkhya and Vaisesikha schools of thought are remarkable achievements of the time. But what happened to them, and what influence do they have today on the modern Humanist movement in the country?
· New Zealand Association of Rationalists & Humanists Hawke’s Bay & East Coast branch
Invitation to visit Pathumrungsiwatanaram Monastery 3.00 pm Sunday 7 July 2019 382 Farndon Rd Clive
Phramaha Chayapol Khemapanyo will provide an introduction to Theravada Buddhism as practiced in Thailand, with opportunities for questions. Chanting and meditation will be part of the experience.
· Gathering in courtyard then welcome to Chanting room
· Greeting by Phramaha Chayapol Khemapanyo
· The journey to Clive, Establishing the monastery, Future plans.
· Introduction to Buddhism as practiced at the Monastery
· Opportunity for questions
· How did you feel? Thank you by those present
· Shared tea
· NZ Humanist Charitable Trust: \
Letter of appreciation from the 2019 recipient of the Humanist Society of New Zealand Eileen Bone Scholarship, Tiaki Huria.
To my generous donors
My name is Tiaki. This year, I started a Bachelor of Arts at Victoria University, with majors in maths and philosophy. It is a huge honour to be the recipient of this award – when the news came I couldn’t believe my ears. No longer did I have to worry about my monumental textbook prices.
I think the most immediately helpful use for this money, however, was public transport. Textbooks would not be much use to me if I couldn’t attend any lectures or tutorials. I am incredibly grateful for your selfless donation which has allowed me personally to pursue a higher education.
Of course, my journey will not end with a Bachelor’s degree. I intend to go further, and one day attain a Doctorate in one of my current majors. Maths or philosophy, I haven’t decided yet, but both possible subjects interest me greatly.
Thank you for providing to me a stepping stone on my arduous journey to where I’m meant to be.
Yours sincerely Tiaki Huria
· Seminar & AGM Basic Income New Zealand: 2 pm 15 June. O Building: Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology, Mokoia Drive, Rotorua. Speakers will discuss “BASIC INCOME and how it is perceived in the Welfare Expert Advisory Group Report & the 2019 Wellbeing Budget” for detailed information see https://www.basicincomenz.net/
· Ministry of Education Release Final Draft of Guidelines for Religious Instruction (2019 Review)
Dave Smyth from the Secular Education Network has put together a short review of the new Religious Instruction (RI) Guidelines. Excerpts of this review follow. The whole document can be found at https://religiouseducation.co.nz/moe-release-final-draft-of-guidelines-for-religious-instruction-2019-review/
The Ministry of Education has released guidelines for religious instruction in New Zealand state primary schools, intermediate schools and ngā kura. The guidelines have been a long time coming, with previous guidelines quashed in 2006 and this current implementation initiated in 2015.
It should be noted that this is not a review of the law allowing religious instruction and as such, the MOE make no comments about the appropriateness (or otherwise) of teaching religious faith in secular schools. To me, this means that some of the advice they give contradicts other legislation and education policy, which promotes inclusiveness, non-discrimination and the right to secular education. The obvious hypocrisy of providing guidelines on how to teach religious faith in a school where “…teaching in all state primary schools must be entirely of a secular character (non-religious) while the school is open.” is not lost on the writers as they repeatedly point out that the school boards do not have to allow religious instruction into the school at all.
Aside from the obvious contradiction mentioned above, the worst thing about these guidelines is that they are only guidelines. Evangelists are still able to use their position on a board of trustees to implement their own religious agenda and continue to discriminate against those children and families not of their religion and close the classroom to promote their own religious views. This would be wrong no matter what the view was, whether Christian, Muslim, Atheist or something else.
v What Did They Miss? David Hines from the Secular Education Network has pointed out a number of other gaps (in bold) that the guidelines failed to address.
v It’s not compulsory and not monitored by the Ministry – People who are already actively discriminating against families who don’t share their religious views are not going to be concerned with following some suggestions that have no consequences.
v There is no detailed guideline for religious observances – One example of this is the very common practice of prayers in Kapa Haka classes.
v There is no guideline for secondary schools or teaching about religion in the curriculum – While teenage students are not the favoured prey of the evangelical (they ask too many questions), there is no legislation limiting religious faith teaching in secular state high schools.
v The information doesn’t include giving parents and public inquirers a copy of the syllabus material – As mentioned above, this is very hard to come by. I have asked our school 2/3 times and got nothing. I’ve even asked the Churches Education Commission directly and also enquired of Bible teachers but they stay silent and prefer to keep it a secret.
v It doesn’t cover karakia – Again, it is very common to have Christian karakia under the guise of respecting Maori cultural observance. (only around half of Maori are Christian)
v Where to Now? What we should expect now is for schools to adhere to these guidelines and to “reset”. This means;
1. A serious review of how appropriate it is to promote any religious views in the school.
2. Providing accurate and detailed information to parents.
3. Initiating community consultation to inform parents of the new guidelines and canvas opinion.
4. Requiring new opt-in signed consents from all parents and not relying on out of date enrolment forms.
5. Seriously considering moving RI outside of schools hours (this would probably end parent complaints about it)
6. Offering a valid, quality alternative syllabus if RI continues within school hours. (Philosophy for Children NZ is a great option)
v What about the Long term?
As religious affiliation declines in New Zealand, it is inevitable that religious instruction classes will disappear. The legal challenge by David Hines and Tanya Jacob has been approved and will possibly be heard later this year. Regardless of the outcome, it will be another nail in the coffin of religious privilege. Our society is rapidly becoming more diverse. The non-religious sector of our population will soon be over 50% and is an increasingly vocal group. The lack of criticism that religion has historically enjoyed is disappearing.
As people feel more able to criticise long-protected religious privileges, we see more and more complaints about prayers in parliament, charitable status for religion, religious-based laws and especially recently, religion in politics. Some Christians tend to see this as “persecution”, which is ironic, considering they have held all the power for so long and all that is happening is a rebalancing of the scales.
Abortion: is the fetus human?
This paper addresses the question of whether the fetus is human and its effect on the abortion debate. It investigates the concept of “human” and asks whether the concept of human has an essence or is best understood by the idea of family resemblance. It asks whether DNA is the essence of humanity and concludes that it is not and that humanity is best understood using family resemblance involving a range of attributes common to humans. It concludes the fetus does not have the range of attributes that would make it human.
The world-wide debate about the ethical status of abortion has largely been conducted on the assumption that the fetus is human due to its DNA and that at some point in time the fetus becomes a living human being. The fetus can be considered to be a living human at any time between conception and birth with some considering the fetus as a living human at fertilization, implantation, segmentation, the beginning of a beating heart, neuromaturation, the start of fetal movement, the time when the fetus can feel pain or is capable of cognition or can live outside the womb or is born. There has been much debate as to which of these stages in fetal development can be considered to be the start of human life. The debate usually assumes the fetus is human from the start and the question is when life begins. The question, however, is not just when life begins, but whether the fetus is human or not human. It must satisfy both criteria in order to obtain protection as a human being. The assumption that the fetus is human is usually based on the fact that the fetus has the same DNA as postnatal human beings. But why should DNA determine what is a human being and what is not a human being?
Those opposed to abortion often assume that there is an essence to being human, something that we have, which if it was taken away from us, we would cease to be human. They assume the essence of being human is the sequence of DNA that is unique to humans. But the great majority of the DNA is also shared with many other species. Only some particular sequences are unique to the human species.
There are however many characteristics unique to the human species and any one of them could be considered to be the essence of humanity. A certain level of rationality, language and culture could be considered to have as good a claim as DNA to be the essence of humanity. If any one of these was considered to be the essence of humanity, then a fetus would not be considered human as a fetus does not have language or culture and would hardly be considered to be rational. Why should we prefer DNA as the basis for deciding what is human and what isn’t. It is possible to come up with many other ways in which humans are different from other species. Why do we focus on the DNA and not on the many other ways humans are different from other species?
DNA is a molecule that contains the genetic instructions used in the growth of all living organisms. DNA is what causes us to go through certain physical changes, but it does not make us human by definition. There are two different meanings to the word “make”. One meaning relates to the process of development or creation for example your make something. This is a verb, a doing word or action word. The second concerns what makes us a member of a group by definition, which is a noun, a naming word, for example it is what defines us as what we are or as a member of a group. DNA certainly contains the instructions that cause us to grow and develop in a certain way, but it does not decide that we are human by definition. That which causes us to have certain characteristics, for example DNA, does not determine whether we are a member of a particular group. DNA is like the instructions in a manual of how to put together a bookcase, but the instructions of how to put a bookcase together do not define what a bookcase is. The physical process of creation is a quite different thing from the intellectual question of whether or not you are a member of a group. DNA does not make us a human being. It makes proteins and causes us to grow and go through a physical process of development. These are purely physical events not at all related to the intellectual question of what we mean by the word “human”.
What is it that defines us by species, if it is not DNA? Ludwig Wittgenstein suggested the best way to understand many concepts such as being “human” is through the idea of family resemblance. Family resemblance considers that an idea such as human applies when there are a large number of items with many features in common so they can all be considered to be members of the same family. About the only things a human and a fetus have in common is DNA and they are both made up of atoms and cells and they are alive and growing. A cat is alive and growing, made up of atoms and cells and has a lot of DNA in common with humans although not as much DNA in common with humans as a fetus does. However a cat has a great number of other features in common with humans that a non-viable fetus does not have. Yet despite the many features a cat has with humans, it is plainly not human so why should a fetus which has much less in common with humans be regarded as human?
If I compare a human, a cat, a plant and a non-viable fetus I will find out a human has far more in common with a cat, than with a fetus. A cat, to some extent lives in the same world we live in, it sees and hears much of what we see and hear. We can observe its reactions and it can observe ours and there is at least a partial understanding of what is going on between us. If there is a loud noise and the cat runs off, as it often does with loud unexpected noises, I know it is the loud noise that has scared it.
Cats have brains similar to those in humans. They both have cerebral cortices with similar lobes and both have surface folding and are divided into different areas for carrying out different tasks. The different areas in both cats and humans have many connections and share information in order to create a complex view of the world enabling cats and people to react to and manipulate their environments. Cats’ brains have areas such as the neocortex, the thalamus, hippocampus, the amygdala, frontal lobes, the corpus callosum, anterior commissure, pineal gland, caudate septal nuclei and the midbrain all of which are also part of the human brain. Cats have memories good enough to enable them to adapt to new environments by using memories of past environments. Memories and learning abilities decline with old age in cats just as it does with humans. Cats have dreams while sleeping just as humans do.
Cats’ bodies function in a similar way to human bodies, as they eat, drink and breathe in a similar manner to humans. They have similar organs such as hearts, kidneys and livers as humans. Their hearts pump blood carrying nutrients to the various different parts of their bodies, just as human hearts do. They take in food and drink and excrete waste products in solid, liquid and gaseous forms just as we do. Cats suffer from many of the same diseases we have, such as cancer, diabetes and rabies, and suffer upper respiratory diseases caused by viruses and bacteria just as we do. This is hardly surprising as their bodies work in a similar fashion to our own.
If I compare a fetus, say a few weeks after conception, to me, I seem to have little in common with it. It not only doesn’t live in my world, it doesn’t live in any world, as it has no nervous system and no brain. It has no awareness of anything, it doesn’t even know it exists. If the fetus existence ends early on in the pregnancy, it won’t miss anything as it was not aware of anything. Obviously this changes as time goes by, but at least early on the fetus has much more in common with a plant than with a human being. A fetus becomes a human being when it is born alive.
Embryos in a wide variety of species are quite similar to each other, due to their possession of homologous structures, which have the same or similar functions and mechanisms across a wide range of species. This means a fetus, in the embryonic stage, the first eight weeks after fertilisation, has more in common with the fetus of a dog, an elephant or a whale than with a postnatal human.
Over time the fetus develops and organs such as the brain, heart, kidneys and liver are formed. But they are still developing and do not operate in the way in which human and cat organs operate as the fetus is still in the womb. If the fetus was not in the womb it would not be able to survive as its organs would be inadequately developed for survival outside the womb. Even after the fetus has developed organs it is nowhere near as sophisticated or developed as a non human animal such as a cat. Its level of development can be considered to be somewhere between a plant and a non human animal.
If I was to make a list of the things I have in common with a cat the list would be quite long, while if I made a list of the things have in common with a non-viable fetus probably the list would be quite short, basically a similarity in DNA and we are both made of atoms and cells, and are alive and growing. But then plants are made of atoms and cells and are alive and growing, so only the DNA would be significant. There seems to be no reason to regard DNA as the essence of what it is to be human.
There are a number of thought experiments that could be seen as relevant to a definition of “human”. Imagine a being with human DNA but quite unlike us. A brain dead person with blood being pumped through him or her by a machine would be quite unlike a normal human but would still have human DNA. If there was no chance of the person recovering consciousness we would normally turn of the machine which suggests even though the person has human DNA there is no point in trying to keep the body supplied with nutrients.
Imagine a being that is very like a human but with no human DNA, such as a robot human like in the TV programme Humans, or Star Trek or Star Wars, aliens who are as intelligent and as logical as we are, surely we would need to give them full rights equal to humans. This shows the utter irrelevance of DNA. It is not DNA that matters but having a brain and emotions comparable to human beings. A cat or other similar mammal is definitely not human and yet has intelligence and emotions far closer to those of humans than a fetus has at anytime in its development.
The other question is whether it is even membership of a group, such as humans, that should provide the basis for laws limiting abortion. Such laws limit human freedom so there should be a good reason for the existence of laws limiting rights to abortion. It may be that such laws should only exist to protect beings with certain characteristics such as intelligence, emotions and other desirable traits. This would allow the protection of human like robots, Wookies and various intelligent Star Trek like aliens. I don’t know whether we will find Wookies or Star Trek like aliens in the future but we will almost certainly have human like robots. Such laws will obviously not cover a fetus as it obviously does not have characteristics such as emotions and intelligent.
Why do we want to find out if something is human or not? In the context of the abortion debate it is to see whether it merits protection from the law. In other contexts there will be different considerations, but family resemblance is the appropriate basis for classification in the context of the abortion debate. The fetus has no characteristics that would suggest it should have protection by the law. A much better case could be made for the protection of many non human animals.
The controversy over abortion is largely caused by a misunderstanding of the multiple meanings of the word “made”. It is a simple case of a word having two meanings and of people failing to distinguish between the two meanings. Some people make the mistake of thinking that the instructions for the creation of something in a physical sense gives membership of a group when, whether something is a member of a group is simply an intellectual question. We should stop giving DNA a power it does not have. DNA does not make a human being, it simply makes proteins and causes certain physical things to happen within our bodies. To claim DNA makes us human is to give it magical qualities it does not have. The non-viable fetus is not human according to any reasonably definition of human.
The author acknowledges the work of Mary Anne Warren in “On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion” (The Monist, Vol 57, No 4, 1973) in which she discusses similar issues and reaches the same conclusion which is reached in this paper, but by a different process than is used in this paper.
Rochelle Forrester is a Humanist New Zealand member
© Rochelle Forrester 2018, 2019.© Rochelle Forrester 2018, 2019. Anyone may reproduce all or any part of this paper without the permission of the author so long as a full acknowledgement of the Author and New Zealand Humanist Newsletter is made