The Cowtown Humanist
The Official E-Mail Publication of the Humanists of Fort Worth
http://www.hofw.org; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
A chapter of the American Humanist Association,
and allied with the Council for Secular Humanism
June 2003 Volume 5, No. 3
E-mailed June 20, 2003
Fort Worth Humanists Elect NEW VICE CHAIR
EDITORIAL RESPONSIBILITIES TO BE SHARED
EVOLUTION STUDIES BEGIN; TO CONTINUE ON SECOND WEDNESDAYS
HUMANISTS TO PICNIC AT TRINITY PARK JUNE 22, 2:00 p.m.
HARRISON RESIGNS AS VICE CHAIR; CHEATHAM ELECTED
Fourteen members participated in the May 20th meeting at which a new vice chair was elected. Jim Cheatham takes over the responsibilities of the vice chair albeit he voiced the expectation that someone else would subsequently be found to edit the newsletter in view of his inadequate computer skills. Subsequently, Michael Rivera volunteered to help with those duties. The newsletter, thus, will be a joint responsibility.
The new team wishes to congratulate Wallace on a job well done. He will be sorely missed. We wish him well in his new endeavors. Your new editors do not aspire to replicate Wallace's inimitable style and intellectual heft. We do, however, have ideas of our own concerning format and substance that will be implemented over the coming months. In the meantime, we ask for our readership's indulgence for any and all failings. We will improve as we go along. We will welcome any feedback, voiced or written, on the virtues and shortcomings of our efforts. We also urge members to contribute either with pieces of their own on some aspect of humanism that we may be missing or with comments that will alert us to how this publication can better serve the humanist community of the area.
The next HoFW meeting will be a picnic at Trinity Park June 22 at 2:00 p.m. Bring your own food and drink. Let's try for a good turnout to celebrate the summer solstice.
The next regular HoFW meeting will be July 15 at West Side Unitarian Church. Our own Dick Trice is the featured speaker. Mark the occasion down in big red letters on your calendar.
Following the business session, the members were treated to the first two video lectures on evolution. Lectures three and four were attended on June 11 by 11 persons. Following is a description:
Theory of Evolution: A History of Controversy
Darwin, Voyage of the Beagle, ch.19.
An Intellectual Revolution
Scope: On the Origin of Species spawned an ongoing revolution in human thought. In it, Darwin does not "prove" his theory of evolution by natural selection. Rather, he argues that his theory offers a better explanation for the origin of organic species than creationism. In his later book, The Descent of Man, Darwin carries this argument on to provide a materialistic explanation for the origin of the human species and such supposedly human traits as love and consciousness.
The implications of Darwin's theory provoked immediate controversy. Although accepting his theory did not preclude belief in God, it did dispense with the need to believe in a supernatural creator of species. Further, it undermined natural theology by suggesting that species evolve through random chance and a struggle for survival. As extended in Descent of Man, Darwin's thinking dispensed with God as the creator of humans, love, and consciousness. The study of man and nature became an investigation of natural (rather than Supernatural) causes.
Darwin, On the Origin of Species, ch. 14
Darwin, The Descent of Man, ch. 21
The above outlines © 2002, The Teaching Company Limited Partnership
Editorial Note: An excellent introduction for the general reader to Darwinism is Ernst Myer's What Evolution Is. Myer was 96 years old (!) at the time of its publication in 200l. In an appendix he gives short answers to frequently asked questions about evolution. One answer that I had not heard before is: How did human consciousness evolve? ...The answer is actually quite simple: from animal consciousness! There is no justification in the widespread assumption that consciousness is a unique human property. ...Every dog owner has had occasion to observe the 'guilt feeling" a dog displays when in the absence of its master; he has done something for which he expects to be punished. (Mine did this morning!) How far "down" in the animal kingdom one can trace such signs of consciousness is arguable. It may well be involved even in the avoidance reaction of some invertebrates and even protozoans. However, it is quite certain that human consciousness did not arise full-fledged with the human species, but is only the most highly evolved end point of a long evolutionary history.
Check it out. JHC/
DICK TRICE TO SPEAK AT JULY 15 MEETING OF HUMANISTS.
Our very own Dick
Trice will talk about the origins of Christianity at the Fort Worth Humanists'
session on July 15: “CHRISTIANITY;
THE POWER OF RECYCLING AND REPRESSION.”
The success of Christianity rests to a great extent on the repression of its origins. If the faithful only knew that its very dogma was a complete recycling of the ancient superstitions and the terrifying punishments for dissent that had evolved over centuries of trial and elimination, there might be fewer Christians and many more Humanists. We'll take a look at the remarkable sameness of Christianity with pagan religions, of Mithraism, Zoroastrianism, and the Gnostic Gospels discovered in a cave near Nag Hamaddi, Egypt, in 1945, and learn why Christianity's origins are so unknown."
Humanists, as well as the faithful, need to know more about this intellectual stew from which the world's largest religion was formed. Let's all try to give Dick a hearty welcome.
CHALK ONE UP FOR HUMANISTS AT THE SUPREME COURT AND ONE DOWN FOR THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION
A unanimous Supreme Court decision makes it significantly easier for workers to win discrimination suits against their employers in cases where race, sex, religion or national origin is one factor among others in a dismissal or other adverse job action. Such cases of "mixed motive"--a legitimate reason combined with an improper, discriminatory one--are so common as to be the norm in the world of employment discrimination litigation. Congress addressed this category of cases, among others, in 199l when it amended the basic federal employment discrimination law, to counter a series of pro-employer Supreme Court decisions. Lower federal courts, however, continued to require "direct evidence" of discrimination. Disagreeing with that interpretation of the statute, Judge Thomas wrote: "On its face the statute does not mention, much less require, that a plaintiff make a heightened showing through direct evidence." The administration had urged the court to adhere to its direct-evidence requirement. (NYT, 6/6/03)
HOUSE APPROVES BAN ON PARTIAL BIRTH ABORTION.
The House approved, by a vote of 282-139, legislation outlawing partial birth abortion. The Senate approved a similar bill in March. After differences are resolved, the bill goes to the White House for signature. Kate Michelman, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, characterized the bill as sacrificing "women's" health and future fertility on the altar of extreme right-wing hostility." (NYT 6/5/03)
STATE-CHURCH MIXING CHALLENGED IN MONTANA
The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) filed a federal lawsuit in April challenging the funding and merger of two Montana state offices with the "Montana Faith-Health Cooperative, a body managed jointly by the state and the Montana Association of Churches. "The mission of the Montana Faith-Health Cooperative is to foster and promote 'holistic health care', including an emphasis on the spiritual aspect of human beings," the Foundation complaint charges, promoting "the importance and power of faith as part of public health care initiatives." Using state and federal funds to operate a faith-based organization, "whose religious objective is indivisible from any secular objective," advances endorses and promotes the establishment of religion in violation of the U.S. Constitution. "The defendants" actions convey a message that religion is favored, preferred and promoted, in contrast to nonbelief, and the mission of the Montana Faith-Health Cooperative is clothed in traditional indicia of government endorsement." The Foundation is asking for an order enjoining the defendants from continuing to operate, manage or otherwise participate in the Montana Faith-Health Cooperative, or from engaging in any other activities creating the appearance of government endorsement of religion. (Freethought Today, May 2003)
FFWF CALLS FOR RESIGNATION OF "PREACHER PAIGE"
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has called for the resignation of U.S. Secretary of Education Ron Paige, over remarks in April to the Baptist Press, the news service of the Southern Baptist Convention. "All things equal, I would prefer to have a child in a school that has a strong appreciation for the values of the Christian community, where a child is taught to have a strong faith." He denigrated diversity as well as secular public schools noting he favored religious education. Speaking of critics of Bush's public religiosity, Paige responded: "I would offer them my prayers." Paige begins his day with coffee, "Scripture lessons, readings, and my prayer." (Freethought Today, May 2003)
AL-QAEDA WINNING THE DEBATE?
Because our enemies are for the most part more enthusiastic about horizontal prayer than we are, and see absolutely no difference between church and state--indeed, want to make them the same--it is alarming to reflect that they may be having more success bringing us around to their point of view than we are at sticking to our own traditional American beliefs about freedom of religion. When Ashcroft and his enemies both begin their days with displays of their godliness, do we feel safer after they rise from their devotions? Movie critic Roger Ebert, (Chicago Sun-Times, 3/5/03)
DEFENDING THE ORIGINAL PLEDGE
A federal appeals court is right: The words "under God" should be removed from the Pledge of Allegiance recited by millions of schoolchildren.... Our one nation, indivisible with liberty and justice for all, was founded by people who fled the oppression of state religions in Europe. The founders understood the distinctions, however galling that might be to the devout. Seattle Times editorial, (3/9/03)
HITLER NEVER RENOUNCED THE FAITH
And what remains the best-kept secret from the Second World War, because it is so embarrassing, is that Hitler was a Christian, and that his swastika was a Christian cross made of axes, an apt symbol of a political party for Christians of the working class. And there were simpler, unambiguous crosses on all Hitler’s tanks and planes.
Author Kurt Vonnegut (In These Times)
FFRF 2003 CONVENTION IN WASHINGTON
The 26th annual convention of the Freedom from Religion Foundation will be held in downtown Washington, D.C., at the Washington Court Hotel, Capitol Hill, 525 New Jersey Ave., NW, Washington DC 200l, on the weekend of Oct. l0-l2, 2003. Receiving "The Emperor Has No Clothes Award," honoring public figures for "plain speaking on religion," will be Natalie Angier, the Pulitzer Prize-winning science reporter for The New York Times. Ms. Angier wrote a recent piece for the New York Times Sunday Magazine, "Confessions of a Lonely Atheist." She says: "Of all the things I have written over the years, nothing generated as much response as did the atheism piece. I received hundreds of letters, e-mails, phone calls, faxes--and 98% of them were supportive..."
COUNCIL FOR SECULAR HUMANISTS WANTS TO SHARPEN YOUR WITS
For anyone interested in debating, in print or in formal oral debates, against religious spokespeople, theologians, Christian-nation mythologists, or others of similar mindset, come to the first ever Debater's Toolbox, to be held in Amherst NY on 31 July through 3 August 2003. (Also for those who want to learn more about debating these opponents, even if you never expect to debate yourself.) Thanks to a generous supporting grant from California attorney Edward Tabash, the cost of this workshop, including coffee breaks, lunches, and a dinner is only $69. (Center for Inquiry, 1310 Sweet Home Rd., Amherst NH, 14228, Tel: l-800-458-1366.)
"1984" IS NIGH
Recent government "data mining" proposals have bought the prospect of a Big Brother "total surveillance society" near. Most Americans may suspect that a Total Information Awareness (TIA)" program administered by Admiral John Poindexter of Iran-Contra fame is up to no good, but may not understand precisely what data mining is and why they should worry about it. Although TIA's implementation has been limited by Congress, research into the tool itself is ongoing, and there is a danger that once perfected, the power to monitor Americans' lives on a mass scale will emerge in some other way. A prime example is the CAPPS II program, which is based on the premise that the government can catch terrorists by looking into the lives of millions of Americans for "suspicious" patterns. This concept is faulty not only because terrorist "patterns" will prove impossible to detect, but because so much of the underlying data is faulty in the first place.
Americans have yet to feel the full potential of data-mining technology because of government and business inefficiency. Most large businesses and government agencies have hundreds of data bases that can't talk to each other. But inefficiency won't protect our privacy forever; government and businesses are getting better every day at sharing data, in fact, the government is perfectly positioned to impose standards for weaving together information from disparate sources--and that is why programs like TIA and CAPPS II must be shut down. (National Newsletter, ACLU)
WHEN SHOULD WE SPEAK OUT?
...should secular humanist organizations such as the Council for Secular Humanism take positions on the burning political issues of the day? ...I would submit that we have a responsibility to speak out on issues that we consider vital to our scientific humanist outlook. Indeed, I would submit that doing so is an important part of our educational mission. ...Primarily, I submit, we have an obligation to make ourselves heard when vital moral issues are at stake. ...That there is an intrinsic continuity between ethics and politics is a classical idea. ...Accordingly, secular humanists should speak out and act when they believe that their cherished values and beliefs are at stake; they should seek to persuade their fellow citizens about the principles that they consider important to endorse and defend....Getting our theories straight is important; but it is praxis, the practical consequences of our actions, that is the best test of our efficacy and influence. Purely theoretical humanism is a mere abstract concept, without content, of no moment for the real life of humans as lived; thus, the relationship of humanism to praxis is central. (from Paul Kurtz's editorial in Free Inquiry defending his decision to editorialize (the previous issue) about the immorality of preemptive war against Iraq. FI, Summer 2003).
TRASH PICK-UP GOES QUIETLY
Mike Haney reports that six members participated in the rain-delayed tri-monthly trash pick-up on Granbury Road on May 31. The pick-up had been scheduled for the previous Saturday; the elements determined otherwise.
To the 17th Century philosopher, John Locke, is attributed the description of the human mind as a tabula rasa ("blank slate"). Everything in it is furnished by experience, according to the Lockean creed. To this, his great German contemporary, Gottfried Leibniz, famously retorted: There is nothing in the intellect that was not first in the senses, except the intellect itself. Thus began the debate: nurture vs. nature. Defenders of nurture were dominant in American social science in the mid-twentieth century. Its founder, John B. Watson, wrote in 1924 perhaps the most exaggerated claim for the Blank Slate:
Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I'll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select--doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief, and yes, even beggar-man and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors.
The publication of E.O. Wilson's Sociobiology: The New Synthesis, touched off a tempest in the social science. Wilson not only implicitly dismissed the "blank slate"; in the last chapter of his very lengthy book he made what many regarded as heady claims for genetic influences in man's behavior. Foremost among Wilson's attackers were his Harvard colleagues, palaeontologist Stephen Jay Gould and biologist Richard Lewontin. Steven Pinker, Professor of Psychology at MIT, and author of two previously widely acclaimed books, How the Mind Works and The Language Instinct, has entered the fray again with a hard-hitting refutation of the behaviorists' tabula rasa in his recently published The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature. His main point is that the social science establishment has stressed environmental factors to the near total exclusion of our genetic legacy. Pinker's efforts to set things right have not gone unchallenged. His book, albeit written mostly for the general public, has drawn both strong praise and stinging criticism from his academic critics. His thesis is strongly argued; his style is felicitous. I recommend it highly. A better beginning on sociobiology would be hard to find.
Old-timers will recall that about 2˝ years ago Dr. Greg Francois, Chairman of the TCU Philosophy Department, spoke to us on the theme "sociobiology". Pinker's earlier books were among those he recommended we read.
The next HoFW meeting will be a picnic at Trinity Park June 22 at 2:00 p.m. Russell Eleven will reserve a table and signs will be placed in the park to guide members to the correct spot. Bring your own food and drink. Let's try for a good turnout to celebrate the summer solstice.
July Evolution Studies
The next installment of the Evolution series will be Wednesday, July 9, from 7-9:15pm at Westside UU Church.
The next regular HoFW meeting will be July 15 at West Side Unitarian Church. Our own Dick Trice is the featured speaker. Mark the occasion down in big red letters on your calendar.
The next quarterly meeting of the Board of Directors is set for July 14, 2003 at the home of Secretary Reed Bilz.
August Evolution Studies
The August installment of the Evolution series will be Wednesday, August 13, from 7-9:15pm at Westside UU Church.
August HoFW Meeting
The regular HoFW meeting will be Tuesday, August 19 at West Side Unitarian Church. Speaker TBA.
YOUR OFFICERS, AND HOW TO REACH THEM
and Webmaster: Russell Elleven, 6120
Fort Worth TX 76132; 817-370-2171; email@example.com
Vice Chair and Newsletter Editor: Jim Cheatham, 1582 CR 2730,
Glen Rose, TX 76043; (254) 797-0277; firstname.lastname@example.org
Secretary: Reed Bilz, 6316 Walburn Ct., Fort Worth 76133;
Treasurer: Dolores Ruhs, 1036 Hilltop Pass, Benbrook 76126-3848;
Immediate Past Chair: Mike Haney, 924 Roaring Springs Rd.,
Fort Worth 76114; Ph. 817-737-7047; email@example.com
Past Chairman and Programs Director: Jeff Rodriguez,
4901 Bryce Ave., #5, Fort Worth TX 76102; 817-732-4235; firstname.lastname@example.org
Call to Members
Do you have an idea, event, or opinion that you’d like presented in the newsletter? Did you find an error? Has your address changed? E-mail address changing? Would you like to subscribe/unsubscribe to the e-mail newsletter? Send your request to Michael Rivera.