Atheist Comedy Night
Saturday, March 11th, Canad Inns Polo Park, 5:30 – 8:30 PM
HAAM and Eggs Brunch
Sunday, March 19th, 10:00 AM at the Perkins restaurant in Madison Square (305 Madison at Ness, just west of Polo Park).
2017 Atheist Film Festival
Saturday, April 1st, Millennium Library (Carol Shields Auditorium, 2nd floor)
Doors open 2:45 pm. Films start at 3 pm.
For more information on these and future events, check out our Events page or click on the event name in the right sidebar.
You can find past events by using the ‘Search this Site’ tool, also in the right sidebar.
Meet our new family members!
Following the presentation by Maysoun Darweesh of the Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council (MIIC) at our meeting in November, my wife Carmen and I have become hosts for a family of new Canadians. They are from the city of Idlib (in red on map), in the Idlib Governorate in Syria, located just 59 km southwest of Aleppo. They arrived in Canada on January 1, 2016.
We applied to and were accepted for the MIIC’s “Host Matching Program”. We will be their newest and, as it turns out, their first Canadian friends! Khaled and Asmahan are parents to three lovely young children ranging in age from 18 months to 8 years old. Khaled was most recently a truck driver at home, but considers himself a construction worker. Asmahan is mainly a stay-at-home mother, but she has some serious bead working, knitting, and crocheting skills that we will be able to tell you more about after we get to know them better.
Their area in Syria and their city saw some of the earliest fighting in the Syrian Civil War. Much of their town has been destroyed in the conflict, including ruins dating from thousands of years ago. My heart goes out to them, already, just for this. Their eldest, a daughter, is in grade 3 at her local school. She wants to be a doctor, a teacher or a paleontologist (she is in her dinosaur phase!). She is very bright and her English is already surprisingly good. The middle child, a boy, attends kindergarten, is shy, and we only saw him get animated after we had been together for about an hour and a half. Their youngest child, another girl, slept most of the time we were together, but we saw her playing with her siblings as well.
Both parents come from large families. Khaled is the youngest of ten, while Asmahan is third youngest of 12. While their surviving parents seem to be still residing in Idlib, their siblings are dispersed across the region, Europe, and now, North America. Their story is not unusual in this respect. They are able to maintain some contact by phone and over the Internet.
During the thirteen months they have been in Canada, they have had no sustained contact with anyone here. We will become their family, since it seems they have none left in Syria, either. I am expecting many people to be called upon to help as needs become apparent. Khaled has applied for a special program at RRC that will give him special instruction in both English and in construction. It will also place him afterward! If he can get into that program, it will be a big step to making this family self-sufficient. Asmahan could sell some of her crafts. I am hoping to help her make those connections. Both parents are studying English at the Seven Oaks Adult ESL school. They have a vehicle, which they do not use very much, and Asmahan is learning to drive.
Our discussions led to us to understand that they already appreciate the secular nature of life in Canada. They were subjected to various kinds of discrimination in their homeland and in Lebanon. They also saw its effects on others. While they are nominally Muslim, I expect the Humanist aspect of our world view will appeal to them as they come to understand how we come to be so accepting of our differences.
We expect to get the family out to do some normal family things, like tobogganing and skating. Other ideas will come as we get to know them better. As far as we can tell, they have never even been to the zoo! It takes a village to support a family, and I know HAAM members are already stepping up to help. I would like to hear from anyone reading this article who would like to be included in the work required to acclimate this young family to their new permanent home.
P.S., They all love cats! That means our Ringo will have more family to contend with now.
Please let us know if you are interested in helping this family. – Rick Dondo
Does Your Advance Care Plan Include Spiritual Care?
With the recent legalization of assisted dying (now commonly known as MAID – medical aid in dying), you may have seen in the news lately that some publicly-funded health care facilities are refusing to allow MAID on their premises because of their religious affiliation. This has led to questions from our members about the influence of religion in public hospitals. Most of us don’t get to choose which hospital we are taken to when we are ill – so how do you feel about being admitted to a faith-based facility?
Just as an ACP (Advance Care Plan) provides for your wishes to be respected in regards to medical care and treatment, perhaps it’s also worthwhile to make your wishes regarding ‘spiritual care’ clearly known if you feel strongly about that. It’s pretty simple to do this. Your Manitoba Health card must be presented whenever you require medical treatment. So if you have an ACP, or any other wishes or requests, just note that in writing and keep it with your Manitoba Health card.
A sample card is shown here (click images to enlarge).
Dying With Dignity used to mail out these cards out with ACP packages. They don’t mail cards anymore, but you can easily make a similar one yourself and include the same information – the names of people to call in an emergency to make medical decisions for you, the name and phone number of your family physician, your signature, and the location of your ACP if you have one. On the back of this one it says “I am an atheist. If I am hospitalized, I do not want any clergy or chaplain visits”, followed by initials.
Making sure your wishes are known and clearly stated can save a lot of grief and hassle later.
We have written about spiritual care in hospitals before – check the October 2016 newsletter if you missed the articles.
Charity of the Month
It’s been several years since the Rainbow Resource Centre was our Charity of the Month, so it’s overdue – and their current need couldn’t be greater. Recent and ongoing political upheaval in the USA is leading members of the LGBTTQ community there to seek asylum in Canada, and as a result, RRC is overwhelmed with calls for information and counselling.
RRC was busy enough even before this latest crisis. Since its inception as the ‘Campus Gay Club’ at the U of M in the early 1970’s, it has been a leader and important resource for the gay and lesbian community, providing community services, education, outreach and political awareness, and activism.
RRC offers support to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Two-Spirit, Intersex, Queer, Questioning and Ally (LGBTTQ*) population of Manitoba and North Western Ontario through counselling and peer support groups; provides education and training for schools, school divisions, and GSA’s (gay-straight alliances); hosts events, workshops, and social activities for clients of all ages; and houses and coordinates a wealth of resources, including a library, a toll-free phone line, and links to LGBTTQ-friendly crisis centres, legal aid, peer support groups, health care, and more.
RRC depends on donations to help keep all these operations going for the long haul, and now to assist refugees as well. Please lend your support to this worthy cause!
Tax receipts are available for donations over $10. If you would like to donate but cannot attend the meeting, you can do so via the PayPal link on the right sidebar. Just include a note letting us know that the money is for the charity.
Partners for Life Update
Have you donated blood yet this year? Canadian Blood Services’ Partners for Life program is a friendly competition among organizations, schools, and businesses to encourage their members to donate blood. We just got our participation report for 2016, and HAAM did really well, especially since we didn’t even promote it until mid-summer. Fourteen HAAM members have enrolled in the program, and those members gave a total of 19 units of blood, or 76% of our goal of 25 units.
Can we reach that goal this year? There have been 3 donations already in 2017, so we should easily be able to get to 25, if
- Those 14 members each donate twice, and/or
- A few more HAAM members sign up.
By donating blood, you can not only save someone’s life (enough reward in itself, right?), but show the world that Humanists are good people (who donate blood).
Upcoming clinics: You can donate at the main clinic on William Ave (across from HSC) during their regular hours (Mon 10-2 and 3:30-7:30; Tues 1:30-7; and Wed-Sat 8-2). Or check the list of mobile clinics at the top of any page on the CBS website.
Video Links from our Darwin Day meeting
If you weren’t at our February meeting, you missed a great presentation by Pat Morrow about how the advancement of science contributes to a Humanistic worldview. At the end, several people in the audience asked for links to the short videos he showed about evolution. Here they are:
The first three are from a video series called Genetics and Evolution, by Stated Clearly.
The last video was a clip of a speech by Richard Dawkins comparing the worldview of someone whose religious belief prevents him from accepting reality to someone whose commitment to truth requires him to reject a long-held belief when new evidence against it is presented.
If you are interested in learning more, there are links to additional videos and other resources, including the complete Genetics and Evolution video series, on our Exploring Nonbelief web page. Check it out!
P.S. If you weren’t at the meeting to get a piece of Darwin’s birthday cake, you can at least see a photo of it in our Gallery.
Book of the Month
It’s comedy month, so here’s something fun. Not all of the books in our library are serious and educational; we also have a few about popular culture, including Me of Little Faith by comedian Lewis Black. Raised as a non-practicing Jew, Black noticed unsettling parallels between religious rapture and drug-induced visions while attending college in the 1960’s, and since then has turned an increasingly skeptical eye toward the politicians and televangelists who don the cloak of religious rectitude to mask their own moral hypocrisy. The more than two dozen short essays in this book include hilarious experiences with rabbis, Mormons, gurus, and psychics. Black pokes fun at every religious figure and issue he can – the Catholic Church, Mormons, people who commit suicide in the name of faith, Jews, and of course Jesus and God. Find it in our Library.
Outreach Report from Houston Atheists
I worked on this newsletter while on vacation in Roatan, Honduras. Here’s a little personal note about that trip.
We booked our flights, via Chicago and Houston, long before we had any inkling of Trump becoming president, so we experienced a lot of anxiety about traveling to the US when the time finally came. I spent an hour before we left deleting all the memes, news articles, and videos I had shared on Facebook mocking Trump and criticizing the US government – just in case my phone or laptop was searched. But we passed through airport security without a hitch, except for my husband being asked for his Social Insurance Number. He did remember most of it, after a couple of attempts; what might the customs officer have asked or done if he had not? I felt guilty, in solidarity with everyone who is not white, about not being stopped and searched.
We spent our layover day in Houston at the Museum of Natural Sciences, figuring that if we were going to spend any tourist dollars in Texas, they might as well be directed toward science and education. The museum’s paleontology exhibit is comprehensive and about the size of a football field. I saw Tiktaalik! (in photo) There were references to evolution in almost every display, and the museum was packed with school children on tours. I heard a guide state that they get 600,000 kids a year through there on school field trips. That just doesn’t jive with what we hear about scientific ignorance and rampant creationism.
In the evening we joined a group of people from the Houston Atheists at a pub. There were about a dozen attendees, so we spent an interesting couple of hours comparing notes about our groups’ activities and ideas. They are a loosely-knit organization that mainly uses Meet-Up to advertise small social gatherings at various venues around the city. Not surprisingly, their main focus right now is political activism and separation of church and state issues. One of their members is a high school teacher, so he was able to shed some light on the religion-in-schools issues we read so much about in the media. He said there’s a huge urban-rural split (sound familiar?) in worldviews, with most of the anti-science attitude and push for creationism coming from outside the major cities. He also explained that there is a huge discrepancy in the quality of the education among public schools, depending mainly on the socio-economic level and ethnicity of the communities they serve; but that generally, what we read about represents the egregious infractions of a small minority.
Overall, we experienced no trouble on our one day in Texas; but like several members of the Houston Atheists warned – venture outside the city limits and it’ll be a different story. Not one I’m particularly yearning to read.
One final note – I was asked to toss in a fish picture, so here’s a photo of a seahorse from Roatan. They’re a rare and special sight, and we saw several. Fun fact – when seahorses mate, the female deposits the eggs into a pouch on the male’s abdomen. His body swells and he incubates the eggs until they hatch. Now doesn’t that sound like ‘intelligent design’? – Dorothy Stephens
HAAM Takes On Apologetics – Part 2
Two of our members were recently interviewed by a pastor for a church conference designed to teach Christians how to defend their faith to non-believers.
If you missed Part 1, go back and start there first.
Welcome to Christian Apologetics
Fellow HAAM member Tony Governo and I were invited to the recent apologetics conference held at Riverwood Church after being interviewed in preparation for it. The title of the conference was “(Un)Apologetic” and its sub heading was “Rational, Gracious, True.” I will say our hosts were gracious, so, as I was about to find out, one out of three isn’t bad.
The parking lot was filling up fast even though I got there early, and just inside the doors it was shoulder to shoulder at the registration desk as people figured out what line they were supposed to be in. The fella beside me nodded in greeting, and I offered a “good morning”, to which he replied “hey, aren’t you the atheist guy from last week?” (referring to the Apologetics video in which I had appeared the previous Sunday). I replied yes, and gave a proper introduction. He thanked me for coming even though I was probably “out of my comfort zone”, to which I responded “actually no, I speak to religious people all the time, though the web and our organization’s outreach programs; and besides, Christians haven’t burnt one of us at the stake in over 200 years, so I feel quite safe”. He laughed.
So began my first Christian apologetics conference. I picked up a cappuccino and strolled over to the book table. Lots of books on apologetics and Christian living, and lots of authors I hadn’t heard of, which is not unusual; even if one pays attention to apologetics, the Christian publishing industry is prolific. In North America there are just under a hundred exclusively Christian publishers pumping out books. One name stood out for me, though – Paul Copan – only because he’s one of those apologists who defends the moral character of the god of the Old Testament. Defenders of genocide stick out in my mind and turn the stomachs of humanists. I picked up his book When God Goes to Starbucks: A Guide to Every Day Apologetics. I opened it to a random page and saw the following: “Lesbianism, though more complex, is often motivated by seeking protection from unsafe men – often because of sexual abuse or witnessing domestic violence.” Eeuw! This is standard apologetic thinking, and it gets worse from there – but not worth the $18 to see just how bad. It was time to refresh my coffee, meet Tony, and head in.
The conference was led by apologists Steve Kim, who holds a masters in Christian apologetics from Biola University, and Dan Rutherford, a pastor/author who gives lectures on apologetics but currently works as the manager of marketing and business development at Fast Air. They use a Ravi Zacharias/William Lane Craig style of apologetics. For those who are not familiar with that, it just means lots of words with not much substance; the basic principles of logic are co-opted when useful and discarded when not.
The conference centered around these two apologists and 4 questions.
1.Why is God hiding? Or maybe he doesn’t really exist?
2.Doesn’t science disprove God?
3. The Bible is full of myths, mistakes and contradictions! Then how can anyone trust the Bible?
4. There are 4200 different religions! How can Christians claim that their way is the only way to God?
A Few Basics about Apologetics
Before we get started on these questions, there are certain points that should be mentioned for the benefit of folks who are unfamiliar with this type of Christian apologetics.
Apologetics is not meant to change the mind of a nonbeliever; instead it’s an attempt to reinforce supernatural belief in those who already believe. No one becomes convinced of the existence of God by the ontological argument, the teleological argument, or the transcendental argument. In my opinion, Christian apologetics is wasted on the rational thinker if conversion is the goal. We can see the gaping holes in their reasoning and arguments, but to be clear, we see these holes not because we are any smarter, but because of how we approach the subject. Humanists/atheists/sceptics approach apologetics with a critical eye and a hope to understand, whereas religious believers are looking for information that will reinforce their preconceived ideas of what is true. For the believer, adding a healthy dose of conformation bias to Christian apologetics seems reasonable and reinforces their beliefs.
Apologists very often work with incorrect assumptions about us (atheists and Humanists).
- First, they believe that atheism is the active rejection of their God; for them, atheism is an assertion, or a blanket statement that God does not exist. This is strange to me because I have never encountered an atheist who holds this position. (Atheism is merely a lack of belief in gods or the rejection of theistic claims.) This tactic is simply an attempt to shift the burden of proof, because in order for many forms of apologetics to work, shifting of the burden of proof is necessary.
- Second, they believe that atheism is also a philosophy, although I don’t know where they get this idea from; and when you ask them what the philosophy of atheism is, they can’t tell you.
- Third, they also assert that atheism is a religion – or at the very least, a worldview.
- Finally, the most important concept that one has to understand to truly grasp Christian apologetics is: The Bible is true (except when it’s not), and this is based on each individual’s interpretation of Scripture. Some get it right, some not, and there’s no empirical way to tell the difference…
With those explanations out of the way, welcome to apologetics.
Speeches from the Apologists
Question 1: “Is God hiding? Maybe he doesn’t exist?” – Apologist Steve Kim
Probably one of the most powerful arguments for atheism is divine hiddenness. Steve Kim saves this primary question to the last 10 minutes of his 40-minute talk. Most of his time is spent offering personal testimony, and explaining how the Big Bang theory proves Genesis, and quite a bit of time is spent on William Lane Craig’s Kalam cosmological argument. Various other arguments get a mention, such as the ontological argument and the argument from design. In the rationalist community we often refer to these arguments as P.R.A.T.T. (Points Refuted A Thousand Times). I won’t cover them here but if one is interested in looking up the arguments (and learning why they fail), the Iron Chariots website is an excellent resource.
In the last ten minutes, we finally get to the primary question “Why is god hidden?” Kim breaks it down to three points:
- Somehow seeing god would take away our free will. God will not mess with our free will because that would turn us into automatons (or some such thing). Because of his beauty we will have no choice but to serve him. (Christians assume that free will is given to them by god, but they don’t define it, nor can they demonstrate what they mean by it. Humanists and atheists, on the other hand, are generally determinists. We believe that free will doesn’t exist except in a very limited sense, because that’s all we have evidence for.)
I’ve always found this a strange counter to the problem of divine hiddenness, since God made himself known to several characters in the Old Testament. Lucifer himself has personal knowledge of God “in the flesh” so to speak, and it didn’t seem to affect his free will. Unless of course we are to make the assumption that God is controlling Lucifer?
- This one was surprising – God is hidden because, to quote apologist Steve Kim directly, “if your heart is already hardened, it may be impossible for God to turn you around”. This one begs many questions. All people are not saveable? There are things that are impossible for god? Kim ends this point by using Richard Dawkins as an example of a man who has chosen to go to hell.
- Even if god showed himself, many would still not love him. Kim relates the story of Moses coming down the mountain with the Ten Commandments. After everything God did to free the Israelites, they rejected him and built themselves a golden calf; a false god. All I could think of after Kim made the point was: why would I want to worship a god with such low self-esteem issues?
Kim finishes up by telling us how God has already revealed himself through his invisible attributes, infinite power, and general and special revelations though scripture. And he proves his point thoroughly by using scripture. If our readers are wondering what that means, in the real world we give it a name; we call it nonsense.
Question 2: “Doesn’t science disprove God?” – Apologist Dan Rutherford
I found this question rather strange, as I’ve not heard any one make the claim that it does. A much better question, in my opinion, would be “Does Science disprove the claims of the bible?” But hey, not my conference. I suppose it is easier for an apologist to answer the question if you ask a question that nobody is asking.
The wording of this whole talk was cringe-worthy; it was full of half-truths, blind assertions, and incomplete information, such as:
- Modern science was started by Christianity, and many scientists are devout Christians (we heard this throughout the conference whenever the topic of science came up).
- Absolutely no mention of the religious oppression of rational thought throughout history – Copernicus hiding his manuscripts of Heliocentric theory from the church, Galileo’s imprisonment, Giordano Bruno’s burning at the stake, none of it.
The actual talk had very little to do with the question presented; most of the time was spent trying to demonstrate the compatibility of religion and science. I really hope this speech will be posted publicly; it is so bad that it would make an excellent teaching aid for counter-apologetics.
It’s not without its humour though. In an attempt to discredit Richard Dawkins’ definition of faith, Rutherford offers his own definition – “Faith is an evidence-based commitment established on the empirical and experiential realities, such as history, testimony, revelation, and inference”. Richard Dawkins’ definition of faith comes directly from common usage and the Bible (Hebrews 11:1) – “Faith is belief without evidence; very often belief in spite of the evidence”. The humor comes a little later, when Rutherford cautions the audience not to use ideas that are “unbiblical”; rather ironic, since Rutherford’s definition of faith can be found nowhere in the Bible. For more on biblical faith and how it’s used by Christians, I recommend this excellent article by Aron Ra.
Question 3: The Bible is full of myths, mistakes and contradictions! Then how can anyone trust the Bible?
Question 4: There are 4200 different religions! How can Christians claim there is the only way to God?
The last two sessions were simply a combination of apologetics and a Sunday sermon, grounded in circular reasoning and weak-to-nonexistent evidence. This took the form as arguments such as:
- We know that some of the places and characters in the bible existed; therefore, its true.
- We know that Jesus rose because they found the tomb empty.
The last talk, by professional apologist Steve Kim, mostly compared Christianity to other religions, discussed the supposed historical accuracy of the gospels, and ended with an emotional and graphic description of Jesus having his flesh ripped open by a cat ‘o nine tails and full details of crucifixion.
Now crucifixion, as the ancient Romans practiced it, is grotesque, and represents the pinnacle of human cruelty. If you’ve read about it in historical records, you can’t help but be emotionally moved. I would actually not recommend reading accurate historical accounts of this torture process if you have a weak stomach. Apologist Steve Kim used a graphic account of this torture to elicit an emotional response in the congregation, in order to sell his religion and make it seem more real. I found that despicable and at the same time ironic, as Christians the world over celebrate this slow torture and agonizing death as a good thing.
One part of the conference I was really looking forward to was what they called a “panel” (not to be confused with a discussion, as there was little of that). It was about a half an hour long and consisted of myself and four other panelists: a Sikh, a Buddhist, a Jew, and a Muslim. Each panelist had previously been sent a list of 10 questions that may or may not all be covered, so that they could prepare. During the briefing immediately before the panel, this was reduced to two questions, one of which wasn’t even in the original 10. It was also explained that we had a minute (an actual minute) to introduce ourselves and explain the core of our religion. I did suggest that a minute was cutting it quite thin, and corrected Dennis as I have had to do every time he brought it up … Humanism is not a religion.
Dennis explained that there would be a rapid-fire round of yes/no questions, but no Q & A afterward. Of course, from a humanist perspective, I found the questions fairly easy to answer. However, they were not easy for the other folks on the panel. The question “does your religion offer salvation” is not a yes/no answer for the Sikh, Buddhist, or Jew, and even the Muslim put her hand up half way. The final question, which was the same for all of us, was “How does your religion help us going forward?” This question was incredibly vague, and I had to ask for clarification. I must say it give me great pleasure to tell Dennis on stage that again, Humanism is not a religion.
Impressions and Conclusions
Overall, Tony and I found that this apologetics conference was kind of what we expected – self-serving and predictable. At various points during the conference we found we knew the answers, including the apologetics arguments they were going to use, before they used them. If they had allowed liquor, Tony and I could’ve made an awesome drinking game out of it. I guess if I had to choose the one thing that bothered me the most, it was the feeling of disingenuousness. I do realize that the purpose of these conferences is to equip religious believers to defend the faith; however, what they’re being equipped with is neither rational, gracious, nor true. Many of the folks I spoke to during the breaks, much to my delight, could see the missteps and the logical fallacies in the apologists’ arguments. Of course, there are still plenty of credulous people in the crowd ready and willing to believe. I don’t believe that apologetics helps the average Joe in the pew understand his religion any better; it’s probably closer to a form of mental masturbation for the true believer. In fact, not being honest with parishioners may be a detriment to their religious belief in the long term.
Two odd points to note. First, during the conference there was no mention of Humanism other than on the panel (discussion), and I was the one to mention it. A Humanist appeared in one of their videos and on their panel. But neither apologist touched Humanism with a 10-foot pole.
Lastly, I’ve come to the conclusion that apologists, at least at this conference, either hate Richard Dawkins or think he is the pope of atheism. His name came up a lot, in quotes from his books and films. Keep in mind that the two apologists spoke four times for 40 minutes each time, and in that time Dawkins cropped up either by mention or direct quote 23 times (yes, I counted). Contrast that with quotes from other atheists – Lawrence Krauss, and Bertram Russell got one quote each, and Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris got a mention each.
In the end, I can’t speak for Tony, but this will be probably be my first and last apologetics conference. If it is ever the case that I’m invited to another, I’m going to have to ask for equal time.
(Un)Apologetic was an effort for Riverwood Church to explore a “robust defense” of their faith. It consisted of the conference and a series of six videos which have just been completed. If there was ever any doubt that apologetics suffers from internal conflict, it was revealed for all to hear in the words of the speakers as they contradicted each other.
As explained in Question 2 (above), apologist Dan Rutherford claims that faith is based on evidence and reality. But in the last two minutes of the final video (Evil and Suffering), Riverwood’s pastor, Todd Petkau, states (paraphrased) “After logic, reason, theories, and evidence, we still need faith”.
It seems that Pastor Petkau has a different definition of faith than apologist Dan Rutherford. Petkau’s faith appears to be based on something other than reason and evidence. Looks more like belief without evidence.
Pastor Petkau ends the series with the question “Is Jesus enough for you?” As a Humanist, I can honestly say no. We can do so much better.
– Pat Morrow
The Theory of Evolution in Humanistic Thought
Saturday, February 11th, Canad Inns Polo Park, 1405 St Matthews Ave, 5:30 – 8:30 PM
HAAM and Eggs Brunch
Saturday, February 25th, 9:30 AM at the Original Pancake House in the Forks Market. Note the time change – we’re meeting an hour earlier to avoid the rush.
For more information on these and future events, check out our Events page or click on the event name in the right sidebar.
You can find past events by using the ‘Search this Site’ tool, also in the right sidebar.
HAAM Condemns Religious Violence
The Humanists, Atheists, & Agnostics of Manitoba wholeheartedly condemn the violence that has devastated the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec. We strongly believe that no matter what our ethnic origins or our religious beliefs (or non-beliefs), we are all unique human beings, and none of us deserve to undergo such horrors.
The actions of the gunman do NOT represent the views of the vast majority of Canadians. Our sympathies go out to the family and friends of all the victims, as well as anyone who is now feeling unsafe in their own house of worship. We are thinking about you.
Meet Your Executive Team for 2017
The following board members were elected at our AGM in January:
President – Donna Harris Vice-president – Pat Morrow
Secretary – Rick Dondo Treasurer – Henry Kreindler
Members at Large:
Tammy Blanchette Norm Goertzen
Tony Governo Sherry Lyn Marginet
Dorothy Stephens Jim Taylor
New this year!
We will be adding two new ex-officio (non-voting) members to our executive, to liaise with our rural chapters.
Helen Friesen has stepped down from HAAM’s exec after 20 years (thank you Helen!), but will now represent the Eastman Humanist Community (Steinbach area). The rep for the Pembina Valley Secular Community (Morden-Winkler area) is yet to be decided (and will likely need to remain anonymous).
Charity of the Month
In keeping with February’s theme of evolution, it’s fitting that we help our fellow creatures, since we share so much of our DNA with them. Wildlife Haven Rehabilitation Centre has been helping Manitoba wildlife since 1984.
Their mission is to
- Rehabilitate injured, sick and orphaned wildlife for their return back to the wild, and
- Educate about awareness, appreciation and peaceful coexistence with wildlife.
Rescue. Rehabilitate. Release.
Wildlife Haven is permitted to rehabilitate and care for injured, sick and orphaned birds, including raptors (eagles, hawks, owls, falcons); mammals, including rabbits, squirrels, bats, foxes, coyotes, raccoons, bobcats; and amphibians/reptiles (turtles, frogs, salamanders, snakes). People finding these animals can call for advice, or to arrange pick-up or drop-off of the animal to the centre. More info is available on their website.
Wildlife Haven also runs an educational program, featuring wildlife ambassadors such as owls, hawks and falcons, and reptiles and amphibians, suitable for schools, service clubs, community events, senior living centres, etc.
Volunteers started Wildlife Haven out of their backyards before moving to the University of Manitoba’s Glenlea Research Station in 1993. In 2008 it moved to a retired dairy barn in Île des Chênes, and in 2015, construction began on a permanent home with a wildlife rehabilitation hospital and education centre. Future plans include a waterfowl overwintering enclosure, a variety of outdoor wildlife enclosures, raptor flyways, a natural wetland pond, a prairie tall grass site and a fruit orchard for wildlife and humans to enjoy. Let’s support this valuable work!
Tax receipts are available for donations over $10. If you would like to donate but cannot attend the meeting, you can do so via the PayPal link on the right sidebar. Just include a note letting us know that the money is for the charity.
HAAM Receives a Bequest
We recently received two whole boxes of books donated by a friend of Helen Friesen‘s who passed away last fall and left his entire collection to HAAM. His name was Hank Neufeld, and Helen says that “he was a very outspoken atheist and he had a lot of books”. She traveled to Swift Current, Saskatchewan to preside at his memorial service, and brought the books back with her.
This is an interesting collection, dating back many years. A number of the books are about religious persecution and politics, and several are polemics against the Catholic Church. Quite a few have historical value, and/or are about religious history. Some bear a stamp indicating that they once belonged to the now-defunct Society of Prairie Atheists in Biggar Sask.
Our sincere condolences go out to Hank’s widow, Joyce, and all of his family, along with a huge thank-you for this wonderful donation. You can find the list of new books on our Library page.
Outreach Report: World Religions Class
January brought us out to Green Valley School in Grunthal, Manitoba for what has become a biannual visit to Michael Zwaagstra’s high-school class. This was a first for me of sorts, as we usually meet with his Ethics class; this was our first time speaking to his World Religions class. It was also the first time I teamed up with fellow HAAM member Tammy Blanchette. I hope to see more of Tammy in outreach. When it came to the Q & A portion of the class, I often found myself thinking “Geez, I wish I’d thought to answer the question that way.” As has been mentioned in the past, we do these classes in pairs (just like the Mormons). This is not so much for mutual support or even safety, but because Humanism is a very diverse belief system – if you’re just beginning to understand it, it helps to hear different perspectives.
The demographic of the Grunthal area is Christian, and the students we have talked to over the past five years or so are exclusively Christian. Michael Zwaagstra himself is an excellent educator, and judging from his personal writings and the exchanges I have read and engaged in with him, he is an unabashed Christian. Knowing that, and after reading a previous syllabus from his class, I realize that these classes have a definite Christian bias. But I still have to offer kudos to Mr Zwaagstra, as he is giving young people the opportunity to meet many who don’t share their worldview. He has had Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and yes, Christians, come visit his classes. In the Manitoba school system there are a few other schools that offer a world religions-type class, but to my knowledge no one else brings in guest speakers who allow the students to, as they say, “get it from the horse’s mouth”. In today’s world, it’s imperative for each of us to understand at least the basics of each other’s beliefs, and it baffles my mind that more schools don’t make comparative religion a requirement. Mr. Zwaagstra and other educators are working to remedy that.
The class was about thirty students this time. Most every year they are asked to look into Humanism and check out our website before our visit. Much to my delight and surprise, this year they actually did (that has never happened before). Based on their questions, it seems that most of them stuck to just the website, which is unfortunate. Humanism has a deep, rich history to be explored. I would have preferred that they learn more about the humanistic ideas of the ancients, spanning the great societies of Greece, Rome, India, and the Far East. Or they could take a more modern approach and examine ever-evolving documents such as the Humanist Manifesto (I, II, and III). And of course, the Amsterdam Declaration of 2002, which covers the fundamental principles of Humanism today.
Over the few years I’ve been doing this, the classes seem to follow a pattern – Introduction, Presentation, and then a Q & A (to which no one ever wants to ask the first question). Once the first question is out there, the gates open, but this too follows a pattern – about 30% of the class asks 100% of the questions. I often wonder about the students who remain silent. Are they indoctrinated to the point that they think we are ‘of the devil?’ Are some of them closeted atheists who fear they might be outed if they ask the wrong question? I suppose it could be that some kids just don’t like asking questions, or possibly don’t even want to be there. But the latter I find hard to believe, since this is an elective course.
Tammy and I fielded all the usual questions – where we come from, the Big Bang theory, morality, and what we do in outreach. Since it seems they kept their research primarily to HAAM’s website, we spoke about some of the content of the site, such as a public exchange about faith and the historicity of the exodus between myself and Mr Zwaagstra. Some students had questions regarding the article I wrote about Southland Church’s connection to churches that support the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Act (better known as the kill-the-gays bill). This was of special interest to a few of the students who attend Southland Church.
As these conversations go, they sometimes turn to the unusual. We talked about such concepts as speaking in tongues and being ‘slain in the spirit ‘. Both are backed by the ‘solid evidence’ of personal experience and what some believe is empirical evidence in the form of this Nightline video.
These parts of the discussion can be quite difficult, especially when talking to young people who have had these ideas reinforced for most, if not all, of their lives. This is why just talking about what we believe and why we believe it in outreach is so important. We’re under no illusions that we can change the minds of believers; it’s their right to believe what they choose. But through discussion and debate we can light the spark of critical thinking and rational thought. And that will create a better world for all of us.
HAAM Joins Human Rights Hub
We are now listed as a member organization on the new Human Rights Hub of Winnipeg. The Human Rights Hub provides a central space to coordinate and promote the events and activities of the many individuals and groups in Winnipeg taking action on human rights issues! Their website includes a calendar for human rights events; current employment and volunteer opportunities; profiles of Winnipeg organizations active in human rights issues; and a blog to learn what organizations are up to in our city. Check it out!
Our First Brunch was a Big Success!
What a lovely, bright morning at the Forks. It was Pat Morrow who said “I’m going to invite folks to a brunch. Doesn’t really matter if anyone shows up, I’ll be there.” Well, the night before the RSVPs totaled 22 people. By our count, 27 Humanists showed up at the Original Pancake House at the Forks! Pat had the wait staff scrambling to seat all of us.
It was a great opportunity for good food and good conversation. We had a mix of long term members, a few who we haven’t seen in a while, and some new faces as well! Grant and I sat by a young couple with their toddler. They were really kind and interesting. Let’s hope they come out to a regular meeting.
By a fluke/coincidence, we also met another new person, just because there wasn’t room left for her to sit! She was there to join another Meetup group, but they had no more seats at their table. She asked if she could sit with us and we all said sure!! Turns out, she’s one of “us”. And according to Mandy Wood, she was “amazing” and a pleasure to talk with. Click here for a photo of a few of the attendees.
We’ll definitely do a brunch again. Thank you to everyone who came out! And special thanks to Pat for organizing the morning. – Donna Harris
We’re Standing Up for Sexual Health and Reproductive Rights Worldwide
On January 23rd 2017, in one of his first acts as President, Donald Trump re-enacted the Global Gag Rule, prohibiting foreign NGOs receiving U.S. assistance related to family planning and reproductive health from using non-U.S. funding to provide abortion services, information, counseling, or referrals, and from engaging in advocacy for access to safe abortion services. Trump’s version of the Global Gag Rule is even more extreme than past administrations, and will extend to all global health assistance provided across US departments.
In response, Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights drafted a public statement calling on the Government of Canada and other sexual and reproductive rights allies to increase development financing in this area and to champion these issues within diplomatic efforts. The statement will be shared with Prime Minister Trudeau, Minister of International Development Marie-Claude Bibeau, and Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland.
HAAM has added its name to the list of signatories who support the statement.
Call to Action! Please write to your MP to add your individual support. Click here for a template letter.
Book of the Month
In The Bonobo and the Atheist, primatologist Frans de Waal relates personal accounts of his work with primate species. He has spent years studying the similarities and differences between primate social societies and our own, concentrating mostly on morality, empathy, sympathy, altruism and a few other behaviours that many mistakenly deem as solely human attributes.
As a result of these studies, De Waal argues that moral behavior does not begin and end with religion but is in fact a product of evolution. His research demonstrates that human kindness is a biological feature of our species and not something that has to be imposed on us by religious teaching.
Nevertheless, De Waal defends religion in this book, (even although he is an atheist himself), referring to it as cultural scaffolding that builds upon and enhances biologically innate moral rules. He appears to accept the view of science and religion as ‘non-overlapping magisteria’. This has resulted in some interesting critical reviews, particularly from non-believers who are angry with him for giving religion a pass.
Is De Waal too soft on religion, or are his critics just bitter, as De Waal’s defenders claim? Why not read it and decide for yourself? Find it in our Library.
HAAM Takes On Apologetics
Two of our members were recently interviewed by a Christian pastor who wants to understand the worldview of non-believers so that he can coach his parishioners to refute it. That experience makes for a very interesting report from Pat Morrow.
Invitation to an Apologetics Conference
HAAM was recently contacted by Pastor Dennis Maione of the Riverwood Church Community. He was looking to interview Humanists/atheists with the idea of coming to a better understanding of what we believe, and exposing his fellow Christians to ideas that may be foreign to them. Or, as he put it in his letter:
“Many of the people who go to my church have little to no significant contact with people who do not share their beliefs; and if they do, there is rarely open dialogue between them. So I am looking for people who would be willing to talk on camera (one-on-one interviews with me) about the foundations of their view of the world.”
To me that sounded pretty good; as a Humanist actively involved in outreach, open dialogue with people who don’t think the same as me is something I enjoy and right up my alley. Tony Governo also offered to participate, so we did separate one-on-one interviews. My interview would take place at Pastor Maione’s coffee shop, and it would be simply a discussion with no debate – again, right up my alley. Truly a conversation worth having.
I figured something was amiss when the coffee shop turned out to be a church with a coffee shop in it – part of the Riverwood Church Community. While reading through their website, I made a mental note that they have an apologetics conference coming up… Hmmm. So I met with Dennis at Riverwood and found that they were shooting for a conference and video series called (Un)apologetic. To be fair, he did give me the final yes or no on how the video would be used, but fostering a better understanding is quite different from appearing in a video promoting Christianity. Thing is, if they had been straight up I would’ve done the interview anyway! But at least now I know that this really wasn’t about open dialogue and a better understanding; it was about defending the faith with apologetics, specifically Christian apologetics. I went ahead with the interview.
For those unfamiliar, the word apologetics derives from the Greek word apologia or apologize – to speak in defence. Now everybody at some point engages in apologetics; speaking in defence of one’s worldview is a right closely tied in with freedom of speech. However religious apologetics is a different kettle of fish. Most forms of Christian apologetics are grounded in what’s known as confirmation bias (including the evidence that agrees with your view and discounting or ignoring the evidence that doesn’t). It also relies on logical fallacies such as the strawman argument (misrepresenting someone’s argument to make it easier to attack). Obfuscation is also popular, but at its worst, Christian apologetics just makes shit up.
Case in point: The first video of the (Un)apologetic series “Where did we (and everything) come from“, hosted by Pastor Todd Petkau, is about he origins of the universe. At the nine-minute mark we finally get to Big Bang cosmology. If you have even a basic grasp of physics, the pastor’s explanation of Big Bang theory will make you cringe. The pastor then asks: Where did the Big Bang came from? This is a question much studied by cosmologists, physicists and astronomers. For the answer he offers video clips from some of the world’s leading scientists – Richard Dawkins (PhD in evolutionary biology), Peter Atkins (PhD in chemistry), and Lewis Wolpert (PhD in developmental biology). See the problem? If one has hemorrhoids, one does not consult a dentist.
The most dishonest and frankly humorous part of this apologetic video is a clip cut from a William Lane Craig vs Lewis Wolpert debate in 2007. At 20:30, with proper set up and clever editing, Wolpert is made to look as though he is offering the idea that the creator of the universe is a computer. Wolpert then gives this computer all the same attributes that Craig ascribes to his creator god; to which Craig complains that these attributes are impossible – not coherent and a contradiction in terms. In effect, Wolpert just had Craig agree that the attributes of his own God are nonsense. How this clip got by the producers of the apologetics video, I have no idea. The apologetics video then continues to drag on for quite some time, misrepresenting evolutionary theory, atheism, and humanistic moral theory. (If you would like to look at the original debate that the Wolpert clip is mined from, and view it in context, you can find it here, with the relevant part at 1:16:15 to 1:19:00. In that clip you will find that Dr Wolpert does give his very honest opinion about what started the universe – he simply doesn’t know.)
The second apologetics video “How can you worship a God that commits genocide” is pretty bad, too. I know – I was lucky (or unlucky) enough to watch it in Riverwood Church. And I came to a full understanding of the reason why church services never have Q & A. In this second video you will learn that genocide really isn’t genocide (we’re not using the word correctly), that parts of the Old Testament are hyperbole (but we’re not told which ones), and my favourite – that the wars to wipe out the Midianites, Amalekites, and Canaanites were not genocide; they were Israel’s armies engaging fixed military positions. He offers the fallacious idea that these were soldier-to-soldier battles, when we know that Yahweh commands the death of every man, women, child, and in some battles even the livestock. (“Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.” Numbers 31:15-18 See also 1 Samuel 15:3). Does this sound like a strictly military engagement? I suppose Pastor Petkau is counting on his parishioners not actually reading the Bible. You can watch the second apologetics video here.
You might be asking yourself why the hell Tony and I would take part in the project if apologetics is this weak and frankly dishonest. Well, any exposure atheists and Humanists can get with religious believers dispels some of the myths they have of us. The video in question will be produced by Dennis Maione, the gentleman who interviewed me, and we have some creative control so I’m fairly comfortable with that. Finally, many of the folks who will be taking the apologetics course will swallow the information (and misinformation) hook, line, and sinker – without ever talking to people who think differently than they do. Participating in these interviews has given us a chance to talk to these folks where they are most comfortable, since the kind folks over at Riverwood were nice enough to give Tony and I free tickets to their (Un)apologetic conference February 3-5th… So in a nutshell, the Vice President and one of the lead outreach members of a provincial Humanist/atheist organization are going to a three-day apologetics conference along with 200+ evangelical Christians – and they know we’re coming.
I, for one, am looking forward to talking to a professional Christian apologist. I just hope there’s a bar.
– Pat Morrow
Continued in HAAM Takes on Apologetics – Part 2
Pat’s and Tony’s original uncut interviews can be seen here
Jesuit priest and astronomer Dr. Richard D’Souza recently presented this lecture at St Paul’s College. Rick Dondo attended it, hoping to be treated to images of the night sky and some scientific explanations of them. That turned out to be hardly the case, but the evening was interesting nonetheless.
If you’re curious about how religious scientists try to overcome cognitive dissonance and reconcile their supernatural beliefs with their scientific endeavors, you’ll find his observations fascinating.
This event, on November 24, 2016, was planned to be in the school’s main lecture hall. Attendance was such that it was moved to the chapel, which barely held the crowd and where the sound system was notably awful.
St Paul’s College announced this presentation with the following description:
“The evening lecture by Jesuit priest Dr. Richard D’Souza, SJ will explore his work at the Vatican Observatory, the connection between faith and reason, and question about the origins of the universe. For anyone interested in the Catholic Church and scientific discovery, this lecture will incredibly amazing.”
Putting aside the spelling and grammar mistakes in that description, this review will demonstrate that the evening, for this attendee, was far from memorable and far from amazing.
As part of the introduction, the MC for the evening indicated the talk would illustrate the relationship between science, faith and reason. I suggest and hope to demonstrate that it failed to do so except to the most initiated / indoctrinated believer.
For this review, I have used a structure that largely reflects the talk:
- The first part is an elaboration of Dr. D’Souza’s work in science
- The second part is an attempt to convince people that science and belief can coexist comfortably, or in his opinion, should coexist
- The final part is reserved for my observations and personal conclusions.
This review is an abbreviated version of a longer document which is available on request.
Describing Dr. D’Souza’s Work
After a short preamble or introduction of the scope of the Universe (see my observations below), he provided some background into the various ways galaxies form. He mentioned two methods, the first was “Spontaneous”, involving the collapse of dust and gases. The second was “Accretion” or “Cannibalism” wherein galaxies collide and coalesce.
He indicated this latter was his area of expertise, specifically using models to determine the ways these collisions contribute to the various types of galaxies we observe (i.e., “shell accretion”) and how that can help us understand their histories. As is the case in cosmology, he then stated that we can now know more about the history of our own galaxy, the Milky Way, because of this work.
Why an Observatory at the Vatican?
This was, in fact, the longer part of his presentation. His launching point was the premise wherein the believer assumes God. Now what? How do we answer the very human questions that arise such as Why? How?…
After several earlier iterations in The Vatican and surrounding parts of Rome, the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope (VATT, alternately, here) is established at Mt Graham, AZ and has been in operation for 25 years. It includes a 1.8m mirror and considerable software that allows it be continuously upgraded to keep it able to meet the challenges of the research being done.
The work is not about proving the existence of God. The foundation of the mission is that they want to embrace the commands in the Bible, i.e., doing science is an act of worship. Twelve or thirteen Jesuits are involved; six in Rome, six at the telescope near Tucson, and others in related roles.
D’Souza noted that The Vatican has a major collection of meteorites. When the question was asked, “What would be the maximum value to science?” for these rocks, they chose to measure the meteorites. This was providing fundamental data that could be developed with the unique circumstances of the team, i.e., no funding or time constraints.
On outreach efforts by The VO Foundation, they get the same amazed reactions around the world when they show people the planets and stars via a portable telescope. He explained this as a common human characteristic and as a shared act of worship. In other words, for the speaker, the “Wow” experience of surprise was evidence of God.
He noted that Pope Leo had stated in his letter “Motu Proprio” (a personal decree) establishing the Vatican Observatory in 1891: “the Church and her Pastors are not opposed to true and solid science, whether human or divine, but that they embrace it, encourage it, and promote it with the fullest possible dedication.” He contended that over time, the people at the observatory had lost sight of the “anybody” aspect. Now, they see it as important that they show the church is not opposed to science.
The common reaction is “But what? Is not the church opposed to science?” He then proceeded to provide a brief and selective history of the ways in which active Christians had made significant contributions to Science.
- Roger Bacon, friar, 13th century; study of nature via empirical methods
- Christopher Clavius, 16th century; Julian to Gregorian calendars; good friend to Galileo
- Francesco Maria Grimaldi, 17th century; free fall and diffraction
- Roger Joseph Boscovich, 18th century; developed a precursor of atomic theory
- Pietro Angelo Secchi, 19th century; astronomical spectroscopy
- Georges Lemaître, 20th century; expanding universe; big bang; cannot use physics and science to prove God
He specifically addressed the case of Galileo Galilei, concluding with the arguably dismissive statement that Galileo was a hothead and that may well have contributed to the animus against him.
He stated that, with the Observatory, the church wants to start a new narrative. The mandate is to do good science. Then, he launched into the real apologetics of the talk…
He put the focus on an Einstein quote in which Einstein stated “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” He provided no further discussion of that quote but carried on. (See my comments on this under Observations and Conclusions, below.)
Per Dr D’Souza, Science is about explanation (storytelling via the scientific method) while religion is about meaning. Science takes things apart, where Religion puts things together to see what they mean.
Per Dr D’Souza, Science describes natural phenomena to weave into a consistent story with other theories. Per the speaker, Faith is not certainty; rather, it is the courage to live with uncertainty. Further, Faith is not accepting a bunch of facts in the absence of evidence; instead, it is making choices in the absence of all the facts.
He discussed the roles of assumptions and axioms in the scientific method. He also touched on Gödel’s “Theorems of Incompleteness” to illustrate the fact we must know some things to advance.
He mentioned briefly what he referred to as “The Conditions of Science”:
- A Real universe
- The Universe has laws
- It is worth the effort to learn the laws
He noted that some cultures do not include that last element and suggested that, as a result, they have not made much scientific progress.
As an example of the way scientific theories change, he chose the various ways in which humans have described gravity: Ptolemaic, Newtonian, and Einsteinian models have shown the advances made through the introduction of new tools, new observations, and new data.
He noted that reality does not change, but the map does.
His last thought: Religious language is symbolic and mythic, while scientific language tries to be empirical and objective.
He then took questions
In one response (inaudible to the bulk of the attendees in the room), he again cautioned against taking the Bible literally. To understand its symbolism, one should study theology.
When asked about the Church and the possibility of Extraterrestrial Intelligence, he responded that the probability tells us that yes, there is other life in the Universe. Is it intelligent? To that, he had only a response of “No comment”.
The last question was about the incomprehensibility (to the questioner) of the 11 dimensions of string theory and the suggestion that it is valid to ask: “Has science hit a wall?” His response was that such models are meant to provide maps to understanding reality and to permit predictions about it. He noted that Quantum Theory arises from mathematical constructs and that to date its place in science is unsure. It explains nothing in the real world and has yet to allow any predictions and as such, it is not considered to be a fully accepted scientific theory even if much research is being done in the field and other results rely on it to make explanations.
Observations and Conclusions
My general observation about the evening’s events is that the speaker was presenting to what I can only characterize as a room full of “the converted”. If there were any other skeptics in the room, they, as did I, failed to make their presence known in the formal portion of the event. A show of hands indicated there were, just the same, several people in the room studying the sciences, in general, and astronomy, in particular.
If he was questioned at all in a skeptical manner about the content or the intent of his material during the unstructured reception afterward, I cannot say. I did not stay long enough to observe it.
Some background on our speaker is available here (his sparse profile as a researcher at the University of Michigan) and here (his profile as a member of the Vatican Observatory staff). The latter offers insight into his published work. His sparsely populated Facebook profile offers some insight into his employment history and his timeline indicates some of his interests.
The longer version of this document contains much more detail on these highlights (or lowlights, as you prefer):
- Dr D’Souza was sloppy with his numbers on several occasions
- He used an approach to relating Science and Religion that showed a tendency to want to subsume and control its output to ONLY align it with Church dogma and doctrine
- He showed an approach to life, unsurprisingly, given his vocation, to downplay the value of Science to people’s lives while glorifying the role of Religion, specifically: “Science and religion are equal but different tools for understanding life and the Universe”. This extended to muddled efforts to demonstrate the superiority of Religion by appealing to faith, hope and trust.
- I was frankly appalled at his disingenuous attempt to co-opt Einstein in defense of religion. That quote about religion vs. science was taken out of context and this article by Dr Jerry Coyne provides the reasoning behind the argument that this quote does NOT mean what he presented it for in defense of his position. And just as telling, is Einstein’s own demolition in 1954, a year before his death, of any understanding of ANY of his writings as a defense of religion.
- The limited selection of priest scientists seemed to me to be a self-congratulatory pat on the back… As has been the case for some time, it did not sway me from my conviction that these people were scientists by nature and Christians, even priests, by necessity. At the time, heresy was punished by death. That is a serious motivator by itself. Also, only a rare few had the personal earthly resources required to support such inquiry and joining an order was an established path to gaining access to them. The rest is arguably a matter of convenience and circumstance, not a willful choice to justify any ersatz belief in a deity of any kind.
- Making choices in the absence of facts is more aptly characterized as “risk taking”. I fail to see how the modern technology or discipline of risk analysis applies in any way to the dogmatic following of any religion. I see religion as a prescriptive way of controlling people’s lives in a way intended to eliminate any risk that the people will rise up and take control of their own lives and their outcomes.
- His characterization of faith also failed to move me. It is simply and demonstrably ONLY “belief without evidence”. None of his other attempts to expand on that definition swayed me in any way.
In the end, I was disappointed by the content of the talk, since it spent so little time on the galaxies and so much time on the “god” part of the title. I was hoping for some unique content, only achieved via the VATT. There was none. For that part of the result, I have only myself to blame.
My personal conclusion
This talk was another demonstration of the cognitive dissonance required to hold the two concepts in one mind, especially when one is a practitioner of the scientific method. The presupposition of the existence of a deity to justify the resulting dissonance and the failure to be intellectually honest about the fact that neither answers the main question: “Why?” defeats any attempts at the rigorous application of logic and reason. Since this was the main point of the talk, then I consider it to be a complete failure.
Film Screening: A Better Life
Wednesday, October 12th, Millenium Library, 6-9 PM
International Outreach: Humanist ‘Missionaries’ in Uganda
Saturday, October 15th, Canad Inns Polo Park, 5:30 PM
Book Club Meeting – Secular Parenting
Wednesday, November 24th, 7 PM, location TBA
For more information on these events, check out our Events page or click on the event name in the right sidebar. You can find past events by using the ‘Search this Site’ tool, also in the right sidebar.
Humanists Celebrate Thanksgiving, Too!
Do you celebrate Thanksgiving without thinking too much about who you’re thanking, now that you have left religion? Do you struggle to explain the holiday to children?
The very name of the holiday implies giving thanks, but if you no longer believe in a god – or never did – you might need to pause for a moment to think about who the recipient(s) of your thanks might be.
Humanists have just a much reason to be thankful as anyone else – and real people to thank. We can be thankful to each other for family and friendship, thankful to the people who grew and prepared the feast, and thankful to nature for all that it has provided.
If your family gathering includes a traditional Grace and you’d like to switch it out for something a little more inclusive without disrupting the peace, there are lots of options. Here’s one example:
We are grateful to the men and women who planted the crops, cultivated the fields and who gathered in the harvest.
We thank those who prepared this fine meal and also those who will serve it to us.
Yet amid this plenty may we not forget the many of our brothers and sisters, and especially their children, in our own country and elsewhere, who do not share in our good fortune, who are hungry, cold, sick and troubled by the bitter burden of poverty, the curse of war, and the despair of hopelessness.
So may our enjoyment be graced by understanding and tempered by humility.
Let us be kind to one another and to all those with whom we share this brief existence.
Privacy Issues in Spiritual Care
Who gets access to patient information?
It has come to our attention that some hospital patients are still being subjected to prayer and proselytization without their consent. Much of this is informal, mainly in the form of well-intentioned but misguided remarks made by visitors and staff; but some of it falls under the guise of ‘spiritual care’. We wrote about this before in our November 2015 newsletter – and now need to correct/clarify that article. Strictly speaking, it’s not hospital chaplains who are no longer allowed to visit patients without their consent – it’s community clergy who are restricted.
Traditionally, community clergy have considered hospital visits a part of their ministry to the sick, and many churches hold weekly services for patients in their local hospital’s chapel. Up until a few years ago, a priest could just stop at the hospital’s information desk and get a printed list of all the patients who identify with his denomination, so that he could ‘pop in’ for a visit or invite them to the service. And that is what’s no longer allowed. Visiting clergy no longer get access to patient names unless the patients consent to have their names released – and so they are asked about this on admission. (The WRHA policy on this is here.) But this restriction applies only to community clergy – not ‘spiritual care’ employees (hospital chaplains). In practice, if patients don’t state a religion on admission, or say that they don’t want their name on the clergy list, spiritual care staff don’t usually visit. But because spiritual care workers are employees of the hospital, they are considered part of the health care team, so they can be consulted or gain access to patient charts in the same way as members of any other discipline (e.g. social workers or physiotherapists).
What’s a ‘Spiritual Care Provider’?
‘Spiritual Care Provider’, or ‘Spiritual Health Care Practitioner’, is the new name for ‘hospital chaplain’. The term is more inclusive than ‘chaplain’, because it encompasses multiple faith/belief systems, in some cases even Humanism and atheism. But let’s face it – ‘spiritual care providers’ in Manitoba – and across North America – are overwhelmingly Christian clergy. In cosmopolitan cities, it’s quite likely that there are staff who will serve people of various faiths and beliefs, including Humanism, but in a small rural community, or anywhere in a Bible Belt area – good luck with that.
The Role of PHIA in Spiritual Care
When Manitoba passed the Personal Health Information Act in 1997 (current version is here), the privileges of all these religious practitioners (both hospital chaplains and community clergy) became restricted. Community clergy were no longer allowed access to patient information without consent, but the role of hospital chaplains was a little less clear. Initially they were technically out of the loop, too – but a 2004 amendment added them back in. According to a letter of explanation regarding that amendment, the term ‘health’ was redefined as being sound in ‘mind, body, and spirit’ – so spiritual care providers are back on the health care team, and health care ‘expressly includes spiritual care’. The letter goes on to state that since PHIA restricts the collection of personal health information to only that which is required to carry out care, patient information should be released to spiritual care providers only if the patient requests the service, or if a referral is made (emphasis ours).
What does this mean for Humanists?
It’s that last part (about referrals) that has some HAAM members concerned. The intent of the amendment to PHIA is that as with any other health care service offered by a health care facility, spiritual care will be provided pursuant to a referral or request. But often, referrals are made without asking or notifying the patient. Usually this is just routine. Most patients with fractures, for example, get a referral to physiotherapy, and the doctor may not even think to mention it. When the therapist shows up, the patient doesn’t question it, either – it’s an expected part of care. Likewise, a nurse who hears a patient expressing concerns over family, finances, or employment while in hospital may call the social worker to assist – again, perhaps forgetting or not even thinking to inform the patient ahead of time. But what happens when a patient expresses sadness, loss of hope for the future, or grief over a poor prognosis? Oftentimes, staff ask a spiritual care provider to come and offer support. That’s where, as stated in last November’s newsletter article, a certified mental health professional or counselor might be a better choice than a chaplain – but there are usually none available, because hospitals employ chaplains instead of counselors. So a well-meaning staff member refers the patient to the spiritual care department – again, sometimes without their knowledge or consent. Staff in a predominantly religious community, or who are religious themselves, may not even think of this as controversial – they believe that the referral is appropriate and that they are helping. And so a chaplain appears at the beside.
You may find the spiritual care provider helpful, or not, depending on his or her beliefs, preparation, and skills, and your needs and personal preferences. Most of these ‘chaplains’ are genuinely caring people, used to conversing with all kinds of different folks, and their mandate is to provide support to all patients who need or want their services, regardless of belief system. You can read a description of the ‘competencies’ required to be a spiritual care provider in Manitoba here. It’s a pretty broad field, and the document implies that almost any ‘spiritual practice’, including reiki, therapeutic touch, and other forms of woo, is legitimate.
What can I do?
The bottom line, of course, is that just like any other treatment or test, patients can refuse spiritual care – but they would have to know to do so, and in particular, they would have to know to tell staff that they don’t want chaplains to have access to their personal information. Or, alternatively, they would have to know enough to ask (or demand) a Humanist – or at least a person who is flexible enough to include Humanism as part of their repertoire of worldviews – as their spiritual care provider.
As with any other aspect of health care, it’s not always easy to request or decline a treatment when you’re ill – that’s what Advance Care Plans are for. So the same guidelines apply to spiritual care requests that apply to ACP’s. Put your requests in writing ahead of time, and the written document will speak for you if and when you can’t. Patients who are admitted acutely ill or unconscious are not asked on admission about their religion, so their family might answer for them, or the spiritual care worker may pop in at some point just to see if he can be of service. If you want to avoid this, here are some suggestions:
- Make sure your family knows your wishes about spiritual care (if they are willing to honor them).
- Make your health care proxy aware of your wishes about spiritual care as well as health care.
- Write your requests on a card and put it in your wallet along with your Manitoba Health card, Advance Care Plan, and Organ Donor cards (you do have those, right?). ID is one of the first things that emergency responders look for when they are called to a scene.
- Add a note about your spiritual care preferences to your Advance Care Plan and ERIK kit and have those readily available, stuck on your fridge with a magnet.
Charity of the Month
In October we’ll be raising funds for John Bogere’s annual tuition and the Kasese Humanist Primary School.
Book of the Month: One Heartbeat Away
This month’s featured book is a little different. For starters, it was a gift – from a very earnest, soft-spoken young woman who pressed it upon our volunteers at the Outreach table in Morden last month. No small gift from a total stranger; it sells for $15 on Amazon.ca. But she was very insistent, and so we accepted it to add to our library.
The book is One Heartbeat Away – Your Journey Into Eternity, by Mark Cahill. And why was our visitor so insistent that we accept it? Because to her, it’s a very special book. It’s the book that will guide us to the Truth. She agrees with the author’s assertion that “once you know the truth about the Bible, creation vs. evolution, heaven and hell, sin, and the cross, there is only one logical decision to make”. Cahill claims that he has evidence for biblical truth and that it will compel the lost to come to Jesus Christ for salvation.
This book answers the question “What do you think will happen to you when you die?” by describing the most often cited ‘evidence’ in favor of the Christian answer to that question. Cahill describes experiences recalled by people who have been resuscitated while dying, as well as those who experienced hell while dying, and he mourns the terrible loss that occurs every time that a soul is lost to God.
What qualifies Cahill to make such a claims? Is he a biblical scholar like Hector Avalos? A psychologist like Michael Shermer? A neuroscientist like Sam Harris? None of the above… Here’s an excerpt from the author’s biography on amazon.com: “Mark Cahill has a business degree from Auburn University, where he was an honorable mention Academic All-American in basketball. He has worked in the business world at IBM and in various management positions, and he taught high school for four years.”
If you have escaped a fundamentalist form of Christianity, you probably won’t want to read this book – and don’t need to. You already have a pretty good idea of what it says. But if you grew up secular, or in a liberal Christian denomination, and you’re looking for some insight into the fundamentalism, this book will be enlightening. Or hey – if you’re open-minded and willing to see if it convinces you, check it out! And if you find Jesus and convert, be sure to let us know.
You can borrow this book, or any of the others in our library, at the October meeting. Check here to see a complete list of the books in our library. If you find one you’d like to read, you can reserve it online and we’ll have it for you at our next meeting.
Harmonizing Humanists are Recruiting!
Who’s interested in singing for fun? HAAM has a small group of singers who perform at events when we can get enough people together and prepare something suitable. Repertoire varies – almost any genre goes, and may include traditional religious music with parody lyrics, or anything that might be entertaining or inspirational to a secular audience.
Our next gig will be (hopefully) at the Winter Solstice Party. Because we only get together sporadically to rehearse, we are hoping to get some people who read music and can learn most of it on their own. But we need people to support the melody line, too. If you like to sing and can stay on the notes, we’ll find a part for you!
Here’s a great opportunity for anyone who misses singing in their old church choir! If you are interested, contact HAAM.
City Hall Prayers Violate Rights
In this issue:
- Support the Partners for Life blood donation program
- Why do people still attend church? Creating strong Humanist communities
- What happens at a secular wedding (or other celebration)?
- The god of cancer – does prayer work?
- and more…
HAAM recently received this letter from an anonymous email address containing the word “Jesus”:
Hey guys, I found your site while googling pix for Bible stories. As the Messianic rabbis say, “Coincidence is not kosher!” Anyways, I write to offer perspective.
Your issues with Bible contradictions are explained pretty easily. First, the gospel writers did not all necessarily tell the life of Jesus chronologically like we would. Remember, they thought Jewish.
Some events that seem the same were really two different occurrences. Do you believe Jesus only gave the Sermon on the Mount one time, and one time only? He probably told that one scores of times.
Luke’s gospel was probably narrated to him from Mary, Jesus’ mom. Her take would be unique to her. She would be impacted by things differently than say, Simon Peter, which we believe is the guy who narrated the story to John Mark. Peter, being an action guy, gave us a gospel of action that reads like a shooting script. Levi (Matthew) was a civic official and tax collector, and by trade needed to be adept at shorthand. I think you’ll find his quotations to be the longest, most detailed of the four.
You say the four contradict one another; really, they complement one another. When they record the same event, everything they all wrote is true. One writer was simply selectively editing out small details that another thought added impact. If you put four street guys in a room and asked them to describe a scene acted out from “Henry V”, they would never be identical, and yet, they would all be correct.
Each gospel writer had a unique perspective and point to emphasize. Of course they aren’t identical!! The four gospels are a mosaic: Matthew describes Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, Mark describes Jesus as a servant, Dr. Luke shows Jesus as the perfect Man, and John writes Jesus as the Son of God. Unique; different, and yet, all very true.
Here’s a bonus: every atheist points to the Old Testament God as being a genocidal maniac (Flood of Noah, Joshua taking the Holy Land). No one ever answers you guys well, so I will. Both stories had one thing in common: there were Nephilim in the land, and Nephilim are not human. When the Bible says “Noah was perfect in his generations”, the Hebrew word is the same as an unblemished animal. Noah had no Nephilim DNA, nor did his kids or daughters-in-law. It ain’t murder or genocide to kill a hell-spawned, cannibal half-breed. Look it up.
How do we respond to comments like this? For starters, we look on the bright side – the writer looked at our website and read some of the Bible Study notes. For example, he probably looked at the section called ‘homework assignment‘ and its accompanying Excel file listing contradictions in the gospel narratives.
Our Outreach Coordinator, Pat Morrow, has the honor of replying to our website messages. Here is his response:
Thank you for your perspective. I hope you’ll appreciate that as Humanists we come at it from a different perspective. For us, whenever we read stories, whether in the local paper or scripture from ancient times, some things may be true, some things may be false; but in the end, if a story is to have a modicum of truth to it, it has to at least make sense. We run into a little bit of trouble with the Gospels.
First, the four gospels contradict each other irreconcilably. If four guys watched Henry V, and you asked them to describe it after, they would each have a different account, but they would all be correct because they all watched the same play. Their accounts might contradict each other on minor details, because their memories are not perfect. But the gospels contradict each other on major points, such that if one account is true, the others cannot be true.
Here are a couple of these irreconcilable differences:
According to Matthew, Jesus was born during the reign of Herod the Great (Matthew 2:1). According to Luke, Jesus was born during the first census in Israel, while Quirinius was governor of Syria (Luke 2:2). This is impossible because through multiple historical sources we know that Herod died in March of 4 BC and the census took place in 6 and 7 AD, about 10 years after Herod’s death.
The story of Jesus’ ascension is also a bit of a mess. According to Luke 24:51, it took place in Bethany, on the same day as his resurrection, but Mark placed it in or near Jerusalem, after supper (16:19). According to Acts 1:9-12, the ascension took place at Mount Olivet, forty days after Jesus’ resurrection. In Matthew there is no ascension; the book ends on a mountain in Galilee. This seems like a pretty important part of the Jesus story for Matthew to miss.
Your email seems to indicate that you believe Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John actually wrote the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. I can assure that you most every biblical scholar, theologian and textural critic worth their salt understands that the Gospels were actually written by anonymous authors, and probably more than four. This information is available in most Bibles and Bible compendiums.
Regarding your statement “It ain’t murder or genocide to kill a hell-spawned, cannibal half-breed.” Fictional Nephilim giants aside, statements like this have been used to justify the genocide of millions of people throughout the ages. Ancient Romans used this idea to persecute the tribes of Europe, and more recently it has been used to justify the genocides of Jews in the 1940’s and Bosnian Muslims in the 1990’s (both by Christians), and the Tutsi tribe of Rwanda in the 1990’s by the Hutus. If you demonize your opponents or call them inhuman it makes it easier to kill them. This is a truly sick way of thinking but it has worked well for religions and governments throughout the ages when trying to do an end run around human empathy and natural goodness.
In the absence of any empirical evidence that these cannibal Nephilim giants actually existed (and even if they did), I and many others would still hold the God character of the Bible to be a genocidal maniac.
Regards, Pat Morrow
The apologist responds
My son, be careful of what you know to be true. For centuries, the self-proclaimed experts said the Bible was crap because it talked about a non-existent Hittite empire. The acting king of Babylon, Belshazzar, was also a well-known Bible error.
Herod the Great’s year of death is in dispute, largely based on conjecture of what eclipse Josephus spoke of. Of course, I favor arguments for the 1 BC date.
Your inventory of Bible scholars, theologians, and textural critics must be cherry-picked and very small. You hurt your case and affirm a lack of research when you make such statements as “most every Bible scholar …worth their salt…”. It simply isn’t so. You need to get out more. I’d encourage you to explore the work of just two men: Chuck Missler, and L.A. Marzulli. One of Missler’s gems is a $4 apologetics book I’ll give you if you supply a mailing address. And Marzulli has been uncovering Nephilim evidence for 15 years. His new “Watchers X” will either tick you off or blow your mind.
If the Son of Satan shows up in our lifetime, how will he convince Canadian atheists, Chinese Buddhists, American Catholics, Israelis, and Saudi Muslims to all change their allegiance and worship him as God? Many of us suspect he’ll play the alien/hybrid card, proclaiming the panspermia ET gospel. Don’t fall for his lies, son. Do your homework now!
A final reply from Pat:
Just one more note because I thought your last email was worthy of a response, and maybe I can clarify further where I and other Humanists are coming from. There’s actually very little we know to be true. Often our beliefs have to be based on what is most likely true.
Take the year of Herod’s death. There were a few lunar eclipses around that time; we’ll just consider the ones in 1 BC and in 4 AD. Josephus mentions the eclipse occurring about 25 days before Passover; this lines up with the one in 4 AD. We also know from Roman records that in Herod’s will his empire was divided up between three of his sons, and this also lines up with the 4 AD date. There is more, but overall the evidence seems to favour the 4AD date. In order to justify your preference for 1 BC, you will need more evidence than just that an eclipse happened in that year. In the end it really doesn’t matter to most of us as we have no money in this crap game. But if minds are going to be changed it will be done through reason and evidence.
When I use statements like “most every scholar … worth their salt …” I’m referring to the general consensus of academic scholarship by men and women who have spent years in schools of higher learning immersing themselves in ancient languages, studying ancient cultures, and trying to tease out what the writers meant and how they lived. This consensus represents a great many men and women, not a cherry-picked few.
I am quite familiar with Chuck Missler and his work. Although he may call himself a theologian, he is no biblical scholar or textual critic. He’s a Christian apologist. There is a very big difference between scholarship and apologetics. Scholarship is interested in expanding human knowledge. Apologetics means defending a point of view in spite of expanding human knowledge.
As for as the other fella, L.A. Marzulli, I admit I had to look him up. I hope when he gathers all this information and evidence about chemtrails, prophecy, and the human/demon hybrids known as Nephilim, he will write a research paper on them. It would stun the world of science when his evidence is tested and verified.
Finally, regarding the son of Satan, his return is not something we worry about because there’s no evidence for it and therefore no reason to worry about it. You can choose to believe in gods or devils, but reality will always come down to reason and evidence.
If you would like to know more about nonbelief you can find lots of information here.
First a brief glossary of some of the references in these letters:
- Nephilim are a race of giants mentioned in the Bible (Genesis 6:1-4).
- Chuck Missler is an evangelical Christian who speaks about Bible prophesy and is known for his “peanut butter” argument for creationism. (Quick summary – we don’t see new life form inside a jar of peanut butter; therefore no new life has ever evolved.)
- L.A. Marzulli is a super-naturalist who speaks and writes on the subjects of UFOs, The Nephilim, ancient prophetic texts, and chemtrails. He claims that there has been a massive cover up of what he believes are the remains of the Nephilim, that they will return to earth, and that a breeding program has already begun!
- Panspermia is the theory that life on earth originated from microorganisms or chemical precursors of life present in outer space and able to initiate life on reaching a suitable environment.
What’s happening here is that, like many religious apologists, our letter-writer believes that if only we read the Bible, or heard it interpreted according to their own particular sect, we would accept it as the truth and believe. They don’t realize that reading the Bible is, in many cases, what led atheists to abandon their religious superstitions, and that we have heard all these same tired arguments multiple times before.
Because this scenario is so common, we recently added a new reference page, called Exploring Nonbelief, to our website. It contains links to many common topics of discussion and debate between theists and atheists, including the Bible, apologetics, evolution and science, morality, and living without religion.
We invite this letter-writer, and anyone else who’s curious or questioning, to have a look. And also don’t forget that all the archived notes of our Atheist Bible Study – complete with illustrations, animated videos, music, and a little humor – are available as well.
- Our Outreach team discusses stories and hot-button social issues with high school students
- A new interfaith group springs up in Winnipeg – does it live up to its name?
- We’ll be considering the health of our local lakes at our next meeting
- And MORE…
- How does Humanism differ from Unitarian Universalism?
- Our U of M Outreach proved a little unusual this year…
- Can saying the wrong thing land you in jail?
- and more…
At our May meeting, University of Manitoba philosophy Professor Arthur Schafer was asked whether it is ethical to try to talk people out of their religion if it gives them comfort. He answered the question decisively by emphatically stating that not only is it ethical to talk people out of superstitious beliefs; it is actually unethical to be religious.
In the excellent presentation that followed, Professor Schafer explained his answer in much more detail, but the gist of it is this: A populace that doesn’t think critically is a big risk to society. When people allow themselves to believe whatever makes them feel comfortable without examining and testing the evidence, they will be led to make decisions that are wildly irrational. False beliefs lead to actions based on those false beliefs, which in turn causes harm to ourselves and/or others. Poor decision making can occur in relation to all sorts of issues besides religion – medical treatment, politics and government, finances, lifestyle choices, and more. People who are gullible seldom limit their gullibility to one area or belief. However, in societies that experience prejudice and persecution, these attitudes are almost always based on false beliefs – usually based in religion.
Regarding the reasons that people turn to religion, Professor Schafer noted that it is most likely because they fear chaos and disorder, and seek security and comfort. However, there is much more disharmony in the universe than harmony, and certainly no evidence for an all-loving deity. Nevertheless, the fact that there is no intrinsic meaning in the universe doesn’t mean that we have no meaning in our lives; it’s up to us to create our own meaning. We have to learn to live with some uncertainty, and learn to make the best decisions we can based on the available evidence. We CAN live without illusions and old superstitions, even ones that give us comfort.
If you missed that meeting, the entire speech can be viewed here.
Response from a Christian:
Professor Schafer’s presentation prompted the following response from Michael Zwaagstra, a high school teacher and city councillor in Steinbach, Manitoba. It appeared in his weekly column “Think Again” in the local newspaper, The Carillon.
Earlier this year, someone sent me the YouTube link to a lecture given by Dr Arthur Schafer, an ethicist at the University of Manitoba. This lecture was delivered to the Humanists, Atheists, and Agnostics of Manitoba (HAAM) at their May meeting, and was entitled “Is it unethical to talk someone out of their faith?”
Schafer began by saying that not only was it ethical to talk someone out of their faith, it was unethical to be religious at all. This was obviously a bold claim and I was curious to hear what evidence he had to back it up.
The examples he put forward were interesting. First, he described the Trudeau government’s decision to enact the War Measures Act in 1970 even though the evidence later revealed that this was an unnecessary intrusion of civil liberties. He then outlined the cases of two Aboriginal girls whose parents removed them from chemotherapy to pursue alternative treatments. One of those girls later died.
Schafer claimed that even though these two scenarios were very different from each other, they had one thing in common – belief in the absence of evidence. In other words, it is morally wrong to believe in something when the evidence does not support it. Since Schafer believes that religious faith lacks evidence, it is unethical to be religious.
It’s certainly a neat and tidy proposition when you put it that way. However, it suffers from two fatal flaws – an incorrect definition of faith, and unsubstantiated allegations about what the evidence actually shows. Let’s take a look at both in turn.
The Christian definition of faith can be found in Hebrews 11:1, which states “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen”. So while it is true that faith requires belief in something we have not yet seen, it is not correct to say we are expected to believe in things with no evidence. In fact, each of the heroes of faith listed in Hebrews had solid reasons to trust God.
For example, Moses was commended for leading the Israelites out of Egypt by faith. However, we also see quite clearly in Exodus 3 that God gave Moses good reasons to believe. From the burning bush to the staff that turned into a serpent, God provided Moses with plenty of evidence before sending him out to free the Israelites. So even though Moses needed faith to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, it was not a blind or irrational faith. It was built on a solid foundation.
The second major flaw with Schafer’s argument is that he incorrectly summarizes the evidence. To categorically state that there is no evidence for religious faith is not only an exaggeration, it is demonstrably false. From solid philosophical arguments for the existence of God to concrete archaeological evidence supporting the accuracy of the Bible, to a strong historical case for the resurrection of Jesus Christ, there are many reasons to accept Christianity.
The evidence for Christianity may not convince skeptics like Schafer. Even one of Jesus’ own disciples, Thomas, refused to believe that Jesus rose from the dead until he saw him in person (John 20:24-29). However, by doing so Thomas rejected a significant amount of eyewitness testimony from the other disciples that was corroborated by an empty tomb. In other words, he chose not to accept the evidence that was available to him.
It takes faith to believe in Jesus’ resurrection. But that does not mean there is no evidence that it happened.
Thus, Schafer is wrong to conclude that faith is unethical. To the contrary, it makes sense to have it.
Rebuttal from HAAM:
HAAM’s Vice President and Outreach coordinator, Pat Morrow, provided this rebuttal in a letter to the editor which was also printed in The Carillon:
Depending on who you talk to, there are many different definitions of faith. In Mr. Zwaagstra’s column “Think Again”, he offers us a definition of faith from Hebrews 11:1, and he agrees that faith is belief without seeing but not belief without evidence. This is simply a distinction without a difference.
Mr. Zwaagstra offers the story of Exodus from the Bible as evidence. Dr. William Dever (ret) and Dr. Israel Finkelstein (University of Tel Aviv) are just two of many, many Biblical and Middle East archaeologists who, after exhaustive research, consider the Exodus never to have happened and the story to be an entirely fictional narrative. Archaeologists have been coming to the desert since the 19th Century and have simply found no evidence of the biblical Exodus. It seems that Mr Zwaagstra has demonstrated that Dr Schafer’s definition of faith coincides with the Bible’s definition of faith, since he believes the story of the Exodus without evidence.
Zwaagstra mentions the “solid philosophical arguments for the existence of God” and “the concrete archaeological evidence that supports the accuracy of the Bible”. He must be privy to arguments that I am not aware of, as without fail, all the major arguments for the existence of God since the time before Aquinas have fallen apart under the weight of their own built-in logical fallacies. As far as concrete evidence and accuracy is concerned, there is none that would prove the bible to be true to any great degree. I wonder if Mr. Zwaagstra gives as much weight to the archaeological and historical evidence that demonstrates many of the stories of the Bible are completely inaccurate and couldn’t have happened.
In the end, not only is faith belief without evidence, it is also belief in spite of evidence. Faith is not a path to truth – in fact it very often gets in the way of truth. Faith is what we rely on when we have no good evidence. And that is why it is, as Dr Schafer explained, not ethical.
Second Response from Mr Zwaagstra:
After Pat’s letter appeared, Zwaagstra responded again in his next weekly column:
Looks like my previous column got the attention of the Humanists, Atheists, and Agnostics of Manitoba (HAAM). In a letter to the editor last week, HAAM’s vice-president, Patrick Morrow, challenged my definition of faith and said there is no difference between belief without seeing and belief without evidence. In his words, “This is simply a distinction without a difference.”
However, there is a very big difference indeed. Suppose for a moment that the resurrection of Jesus initially appears to all of the disciples except for one – Thomas. Since Thomas had not yet seen Jesus, he needed faith in order to believe in the resurrection. But does this mean there was no evidence available?
No, it doesn’t. Thomas had eyewitness testimony from his fellow disciples as well as independent confirmation from several women who also followed Jesus. He had an empty tomb he could visit and specific predictions from Jesus himself that he would rise from the dead. Thus, while Thomas needed faith in order to believe, it most certainly was not a blind faith. There was plenty of evidence for him to consider.
To take a more contemporary example, anyone who has attended a wedding has seen faith in action. The bride and groom pledge to be faithful to each other until death, and, by all accounts, believe that the other person will keep this promise. This is a leap of faith since neither the bride nor the groom has actually seen how the other person will live for the rest of their lives.
But that doesn’t mean it is blind faith. Assuming the bride and groom dated before their wedding, they spent time getting to know each other before deciding to get married. In other words, they gathered a lot of evidence and it helped them determine whether or not to put their faith in that person. In contrast, blind faith would be two random people getting married without knowing a single thing about each other – generally not a good strategy.
Now I recognize that Morrow and other members of HAAM believe there is no evidence for the reliability of the Bible. Obviously I disagree with them. As a case in point, Morrow says there is no evidence for the biblical account of the Exodus and he cites two archaeologists who hold the same view. He then concludes that I am exercising blind faith by believing in the story of the Exodus.
What Morrow doesn’t mention is that scholars are split on this issue. Some advocate for an early Exodus date (c. 1446 BC), some argue for a later date (c. 1250 BC), while others believe the Exodus never happened at all. Morrow selectively references two archaeologists who happen to agree with his position and leaves the false impression that the scholarly debate is over. It isn’t.
Incidentally, Morrow provides a good example of faith in his letter. He trusts the word of two archaeologists who say there is no evidence to support the story of the Exodus. Now I suspect that Morrow has not personally reviewed every piece of evidence that these archaeologists examined. Instead, he has faith in what these archaeologists have written, despite not seeing all the evidence himself.
The reality is that all people, even members of HAAM, exercise faith at times. We cannot make many decisions in life without it. Instead of condemning all faith as unethical, HAAM members would do better to recognize the difference between reasonable faith and blind faith.
Not all faith is the same. On this point at least, we should be able to agree.
Second Rebuttal from Pat:
I could agree with Mr Zwaagstra that not all faith is the same. In fact, in talking to the religious, I’ve found that the definitions of faith are about as varied as religious believers. Faith as described by Mr Zwaagstra in Hebrews 11:1 is “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (KJV).
If seeing is a form of evidence, than that makes the biblical definition of faith, belief without evidence. In the world outside of the more, shall we say, devout believers of any religion, faith with evidence is not faith – it’s evidence.
Of course not all evidence is the same. On the high-value end we have empirical or scientific evidence; evidence that can be demonstrated and tested. On the other end of the scale we have evidence that is hearsay or stories of a personal nature. Often this evidence is so weak that we give it a different label – anecdote. Anecdotes may or may not have a seed of truth to them; however teasing out this truth is often impossible and renders the anecdote essentially useless as a source of evidence for evaluating truth claims.
Mr Zwaagstra offers us yet another biblical anecdote to demonstrate that faith is belief with evidence, and in doing so he displays the exact opposite. Outside the Bible there are no contemporaneous extra-biblical written accounts that could offer any evidence that this Jesus figure ever existed, let alone that he was resurrected. Even if the Bible could be considered an account of the resurrection, the stories were written later, and we have no originals, just copies of copies, and they contain many points of contradiction. Zwaagstra believes those stories without good evidence; that is to say, he believes on faith.
The doubting Thomas story is an interesting choice. Maybe Thomas understood that the empty tomb was not evidence of the resurrection, but evidence only of an empty tomb. He wasn’t swayed by the personal testimonies of the other disciples. He waited for the evidence, then tested it before believing. A true skeptic?
Zwaagstra’s second or modern example doesn’t get much better. The couple getting married obviously would have a history together, over time developing a bond of trustworthy of a life-long union. Maybe this couple has witnessed other successful lifelong unions. This would not make their marriage a leap of faith, but rather a reasonable expectation based on evidence. Of course, for the couple that have never met, marrying would be a true leap of faith. In this, Zwaagstra and I are in agreement.
It’s unfortunate that in the last half of his letter, Mr Zwaagstra has to resort using equivocation and generally misrepresenting my argument. I “say” there is no evidence for the Exodus and confine my argument to the scientific pursuit of archaeology, its scholarship and what it has to say about the Exodus. It is the general archaeological consensus that there is simply no empirical evidence that the Exodus ever occurred. I can furnish him with plenty more names of archeologists if he likes. I suggest he read “The Bible Unearthed” by noted archaeologists Finkelstein & Silberman. Or check out Dr Baruch Halpern – Talmudic scholar, archaeologist, and Professor of Jewish Studies at the University of Georgia. His lecture on the Exodus can be found here:
There are also many other problems with the story itself, such as how it doesn’t fit into Egyptian history (or reality for that matter).
I can assure Mr Zwaagstra that anyone basing their beliefs about the Exodus on just two renowned biblical archaeologists would be rather silly and is a gross misrepresentation of my argument. He claims that scholars are split on the date of the Exodus, or even if it happened, implying that there is a division within the archaeological community. This is simply incorrect; the multiple dates offered for the Exodus are unscientific and largely (if not totally) theological, with just a smattering of historical markers to make them interesting. Theological evidence is of little value due to its unfalsifiable nature. To test this, one just has to ask a Christian the value of theological evidence offered by Hindus, Muslims, or Sikhs.
Finally, Zwaagstra insists that we all have faith and that we “cannot make many decisions in life without it”. I would disagree. As Humanists and rationalists, we base our decisions and our beliefs on the best evidence we can find, not on faith. Faith is something most Humanists seek to rid themselves of. Apologists can call faith what they like – reasonable, justified, strong, or blind – but one doesn’t have to look far to see results of faith based thinking; it can cause the faithful to fly aircraft into buildings or believe ancient myths as truth. And that is why faith – belief without evidence – remains unethical.
In this issue:
- We’re gearing up for our Summer Outreach in Morden and River City Reasonfest in September
- An apologist responds to Dr Arthur Schafer’s speech about the ethics of religion, and HAAM provides a rebuttal
- Updates on Outreach and Religion in Schools
- and more…
Upcoming this month: our Annual General Meeting, a book club, a multi-faith panel discussion… and more!
Our own Diana Goods (pic on right) will be participating in a public Panel Discussion. You can show your support by attending!
Click the link below to read…
It’s Super Secular September in Manitoba!!
- Our transit advertising hits the streets of Winnipeg
- We announce our Bus Photo Contest
- Volunteers venture out to Morden and live to tell the tale! (that’s Dorothy and Diana in the pic to the right)
- We still have great events happening this month, so read on!