That seems like a strange title for this report, but it was a busy August for HAAM as we did two outreach events back to back – at Stonewall Quarry Days and the Morden Corn and Apple Festival. Six days of outreach within two weeks felt like one big long event, and it was hard not to mix up the two festivals. On Friday morning of the Morden outreach, I actually turned up Highway 7 for about 100 m to drive to Stonewall (call it morning fog).
Stonewall Quarry Days was a first-time outreach for us. Stonewall is a small town just north of Winnipeg that is quickly becoming a bedroom community. If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say half its population makes the commute into Winnipeg for work. It’s not part of the Bible belt per se; however, it does have a lot of churches. We met quite a few like-minded thinkers there who hadn’t heard of HAAM, and as a result, I know there will be some new faces at our upcoming meetings and events. One fella I spoke with talked about starting a secular organization in Gimli, which would be terrific, but time will tell.
Responses from the community
Stonewall was a different outreach experience for me. It was first time that HAAM has held an outreach in a community populated with much of my extended (born-again Christian) family. That part actually went well; nephews and nieces stopped by and said hello. What was surprising were the reactions of other people I know in the community – people my age and older who would see me at the booth, make eye contact, and keep walking. One did take the time to stop and call us schmucks, and label Humanism as stupid. He came back the next day and apologized, but knowing the family, I’ll bet his wife made him… After years of talking to believers, it never ceases to amaze me how religious folks can completely lose their composure when they find out that somebody they’ve known for years is an atheist. I’m pretty sure I won’t be invited to barbeques at that guy’s place anymore, and if I am, the visit might take on a little different tone.
Pastor Henry, a well-known retired pastor of New Life Church (the largest church in the community) stopped by the booth and chatted with me. He took the time to write about our conversation in a column in the Stonewall Argus newspaper. His report was relatively accurate, in my opinion; however, so much was left out that it leads one to a completely different understanding of the conversation, compared to what actually occurred. I felt it was worthy of a rebuttal, so I wrote a response to the paper.
Was our outreach in Stonewall worth the effort? Of course – I’m looking forward to seeing some of those new faces at upcoming meetings.
Just a week later we were Morden for our annual Corn and Apple outreach. This was our seventh year there, and as far as I can recall it was our busiest and most productive. I think much of that success was related to the organizers’ decision to place us only two booths away from the Young Earth Creationist (YEC) trailer. This 17-foot tow-behind altar to stupidity, ignorance, and misinformation was a constant source of entertainment and traffic; both the YEC crowd, and our own target audience of humanists, atheists, and other like-minded thinkers. It’s my hope that with all the business cards we handed out for the Pembina Valley Secular Community, they will experience some substantial growth this year.
Being almost next-door to the creationist trailer, it was always interesting to see how they operate their outreach. A mostly friendly bunch worked Friday for the local crowd. In the daytime they set out little plastic dinosaurs and coloring books to entice the children and their parents to come in and see “real science”. On the weekend they changed things up for an influx of out-of-town folks; this setup consisted of a message board and a table where you could talk to a creationist. I spoke to a gentleman about where he got the data on population growth /death rates etc for his “mathematical proof” that we came from Adam and Eve. The best he could come up with was “it’s a conservative estimate”. Personally, after a little more discussion, his answer leads me to believe that it is a conservative estimate arrived at by pulling it out of his colon.
The next question that day was “How do you have 65-million-year-old fossils that contain flesh, veins and blood cells, and DNA?” This was an attempt to misrepresent the 2005 work of Dr. Mary Schweitzer. I asked the gentleman at the booth if he was familiar with the work of Dr. Schweitzer, but he didn’t know who she was. Then I encouraged him to explain his question, asking “What do you tell the folks about blood, veins, and DNA found in the 65-million-year-old dinosaur bone”? After much deflection, I asked him even more directly “What do you think ‘flesh’ is in regards to the question?” “Not bone”, he replied. With a little more questioning and a little more obfuscation on his part, I could see he was getting agitated, because he was getting louder and beginning to Gish-gallop. So I left before causing an electrical fire in his brain.
A very short time later, one of the creationist ladies brought me a free pamphlet that explained exactly what they’re teaching about Dr. Schweitzer’s work. The following is an excerpt from the pamphlet Reality Check: Round 2 – the Dating Game (published by the Somerset Bible Chapel).
“In 2005, Dr. Mary Swcheitzer (sic) an american (sic) paleontologist, was the first to report finding soft red blood cells, stretchy blood vessels, collagen and DNA within the fossilized remains of a T-Rex… No fresh blood cells, soft tissue or intact DNA should be found in supposedly 65 million years (sic) old samples, basic chemistry and physics preclude it. So how can we find such soft tissue in such good condition? Obviously, the time when those animals died and were fossilized is much less than the supposedly 65 million years.” (emphasis mine)
Talking to creationists and reading their literature would lead the layman to believe that, with a little salt and pepper, T-Rex’s “flesh” or “tissue” is ready for the barbecue. The actual science tells a different story. I’m no biologist or paleontologist, but anybody with Google and a modicum of scientific understanding can read about Dr. Schweitzer’s actual findings, and they are truly amazing. In her reports, flesh is not mentioned. The researchers had to dissolve rock and fossilized bone to uncover the structures they were looking at.
– The “soft red blood cells” mentioned in the creationist pamphlet are actually heme, or the oxidized remnants of iron that was once in the blood. (Oxidized iron is commonly known as rust.)
– The “stretchy blood vessels” are actually base proteins of collagen held together by their chemical bonds in a process we don’t completely understand (yet).
– The “intact DNA” Is actually badly damaged, fragmented pieces of DNA found inside the collagen proteins.
Lying for Jesus
It never ceases to amaze me how far creationists will go to lie for Jesus. If you enjoy reading creationist literature occasionally as I do, you will in short order notice that frequently, scientists’ names are misspelled, common names are used for scientific terms, and logical concepts are changed (e.g. a more obscure term is used, or a name is just completely made up). It’s common enough to cause one to wonder – Are they trying to change the language? Are they stupid? Or are they just trying to make it harder for people to look up accurate information?
Visitors to the booth come in many varieties
We have many visits to the booth by religious sorts, like the drive-by spitters (these people don’t actually spit at us, but their gestures suggest that they’d like to); the Catholics who believe that the church is ordained by God and what priests to do doesn’t matter; and of course, the many who feel that we just need Jesus! Then there are always the doctrinal disagreements that inevitably occur when two Christians from different sects visit the booth together. This year we had one Christian telling us that God sends us to hell, while the other asserted “no he doesn’t; we send ourselves”. They couldn’t seem to iron it out between themselves, but they were united in agreeing that we’re going there… somehow.
But by far the most disturbing visit we had this August was near the end of the festival from a man and his wife? daughter? After his testimonial about how terrible he had been in his earlier life (he was a really bad dude who saw a death and did drugs… yada,yada…), he got Jesus. Right from the beginning this fella kind of gave us the creeps. Our feelings were confirmed when he turned to our outreach worker Tracy and said “Hey, you know you are really a beautiful woman, ya know the only thing stopping me from raping you is Jesus” My jaw was on the ground, but without missing a beat, Tracy says “If the only thing stopping you from raping me is Jesus, then you go right ahead and keep believing in him, and hold onto him tight”. After the guy left and the waves of creepiness dissipated, we all felt we needed a shower.
Finding our people
But outreach is not really about the creeps, the wacky, the delusional, or the intentionally dishonest. It’s about reaching out to our people – Humanists. To that end, I think we greatly increased the number of folks who showed interest in the Pembina Valley Secular Community. We actually found a secular counselor and therapist who resides and practices in the Morden/Winkler area. We even met some folks who would like to help out with outreach. One gentleman I talked to is a geneticist. He mentioned that he had had a conversation with the creationists, in which they asserted that they know something about genetics – and the look on their faces when he told them “actually, I am a geneticist.” I really wish I could’ve been there.
Here’s to our volunteers
Well that was two weekends and two outreaches. I’ve gotta thank all our volunteers: Tracy, Tony, Donna, Lawrence, Blaine, Dorothy, Adriana, Arthur, and Norm. Without all of you it wouldn’t be possible. We had lots of conversations, met a lot of new people, and I think significantly added to our Humanist community.
– Pat Morrow
Diversitas is a series of community presentations held in Morden, Manitoba, designed to educate and inform people about the diversity of humanity. On March 22, the topic was “Can Faith and Science Coexist?”, and the guest speaker was Dr. Patrick Franklin (PhD, McMaster Divinity College), Associate Professor of Theology and Ethics at Providence Theological Seminary, and a member of an organization called the Canadian Scientific & Christian Affiliation.
The event was well attended, with most of the seats filled at the Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre’s Aquasaur Theatre. The title of Dr. Franklin’s presentation was: “Is Christian Faith Obsolete in a Scientific Age?” In his opening remarks, he added other questions, such as “Is God belief obsolete?“, and “Is religion obsolete?“. He mentioned that we would spend some time discussing the Old Testament, and presented a few verses which he thought best demonstrated that Christianity is not in conflict with science. A lot to cover in a 45-minute talk.
For those unfamiliar, the study of conflict between faith and science has a name – conflict thesis, which is a very old idea and well documented. First proposed in the early 1800’s, author and politician Andrew Dickson White took a mighty scholarly whack at it in his two volume set A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom. It was published in 1896, and although a product of its time, is still a good read – especially in light of more than a hundred years of scientific advancement and the slow decline of churches’ power. (It’s available for free download from Project Gutenberg.)
Dr. Franklin began his talk with a quote from Richard Dawkins:
“One can’t be an intelligent, scientific thinker and still hold traditional religious beliefs.”
Although I have been unable to confirm that this as an actual quote from Dr. Dawkins, for the sake of argument we will assume that it is true.
Dr. Franklin described a study in which it was found that 35% of scientists believe religion is in conflict with science, and he then made the assertion that this means 65% scientists believe there is no conflict. Unless the question was asked directly (“Do you believe there is no conflict?“), this seems to be a false dichotomy to me. Another study, by sociologist Elaine Ecklund, in her book Science vs. Religion, showed that, of American scientists interviewed, 34% were atheist, 30% were agnostic, 28% had varying degrees of confidence in God, and 8% believed in some higher power. Ecklund then went on to postulate the reasons for this high percentage of atheism and agnosticism amongst scientists. These three reasons rose to the top:
Scientists who are not religious
- Were not raised in a religious home – children raised in a materialistic, non-religious households were more apt to be curious and gravitate to learning about the natural world
- Had a bad experience in church/religion or with a pastor/clergy member
- Disapprove of the idea of God
Dr. Franklin thought these reasons were interesting because they show that, by and large, the high number of atheists in the sciences is not due to science itself, but to many of the same reasons that other people are atheists. I would tend to agree; however, I have a different take on these points.
- Yes, children who grow up as freethinkers and not indoctrinated into religion will be more curious and gravitate to seeking out their own answers – but this is a good thing. Don’t indoctrinate your children and they will learn more.
- Yes, people have bad experiences in church and with clergy; not a week goes by that I don’t see a story in my newsfeed about another priest diddling little boys, or embezzling money; and of course there are those who need money to paint their private jets. I think this point says more about the authoritarian nature of religion, and how its true colours become exposed in a modern freethinking society. It’s a no-brainer that many people don’t want any part of it.
- As for disapproving of the idea of God – well of course, if you’re of a scientific-thinking mind, you seek out answers and explanations; ones that are demonstrably true and useful. The idea of God is “disliked” because it is none of these.
Dr. Franklin then went on to present a list of some 15 scientists, complete with mentions of what they do/did; all, of course, Christian. Everybody from Nicholaus Copernicus and Isaac Newton to Alister McGrath (and some he knows personally). It is worth noting here that even though professional scientists may be theists, this does not demonstrate the compatibility of science and religion, but simply that a person may hold contradictory beliefs. During that segment it was interesting to note that Dr. Franklin was quick to point out which scientists on his list were evangelicals (his denomination), which prompted a member of the United Church I spoke to later to say “the way he was talking, you would think all Christians who are scientists are evangelical”, which was exactly what I was thinking.
So where does that leave us so far? Dr. Franklin believes the evidence shows that the statement “One can’t be an intelligent scientific thinker and still hold traditional religious beliefs” is just wrong. On the surface it looks like he is correct; however, if we dig a little deeper we find that scientists who are religious or spiritual leave their religion or spirituality at the door when walking into the lab. In the lab they are not testing their hypotheses by faith, while in church they are not looking at religious claims using the scientific method. Some do attempt to test religious claims, but they often end up believing things that are not part of traditional religious beliefs.
Dr. Franklin believes the scientific evidence for climate change, genetics, geology, the age of the earth and what science can tell us about the natural world. He is very much a scientific thinker, and for this I give him great credit. But when it came to the Q & A portion of the talk, I asked him a question that went like this – “Through our understanding of genetics, paleontology, evolutionary biology, anthropology, geology, and other sciences, we know that at no time in the past was the human population down to just two. There was no genetic bottleneck that would show that there was an Adam or an Eve. If Adam and Eve aren’t possible, then there was no garden of Eden; no Original Sin; no need for Jesus, human sacrifice, or redemption; and essentially no need for Christianity. How do you make your scientific understanding comport with your supernatural Christian beliefs?” The question was sidestepped. Dr. Franklin did suggest a couple of books I could read (Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture after Genetic Science, and The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say About Human Origins), and mentioned the possibility that Adam and Eve were some sort of king and queen of a tribe or population of about 10,000, many, many years ago (it was all very vague). The thing is, through the science of genetics, paleoclimatology, archeology, and geology, we know that our human population was reduced to about 10,000 individuals as early as 70,000 years ago. Due to climate change, humanity was almost wiped off the face of the planet, gone extinct like so many other species. What’s funny is that apparently, some of this information was discovered through Christian theology shortly after it was discovered by science… it’s a miracle!!!
In my view, Dr. Franklin is the embodiment of the Dawkins quote. He is a scientific thinker who is unable to hold onto traditional religious belief – in this case the traditional belief that one man named Adam and one woman named Eve started it all. The next day, I received a links from Dr. Franklin to his blog and ten more resources on the subject… I was hoping he would just answer the question.
The next section of his talk was about how science is limited, how the scientific world view can’t provide ‘comprehensive knowledge’, and how scientific reductionism is a harmful and vast oversimplification of reality. This is an argument that is usually trotted out by the slimiest of Christian apologists; unfortunately, it seems to have gone mainstream.
I think the reason this argument bothers me so much is that it’s an attempt to discredit science by faulting it for doing what it is designed to do. The perception of beauty is not a scientific question; nor is what music someone finds pleasing to the ear a scientific question. The concept of ‘comprehensive knowledge’ is just a smokescreen, as later, apologists will try to wedge God, Jesus, and spirituality into ‘comprehensive knowledge’. They will argue that science reduces concepts such as love and beauty to mere biochemical reactions (which they are). But that’s what science does – reduce concepts to their simplest form in order to better understand the whole. This process actually results in real knowledge, and for me, more knowledge increases the appreciation of beauty. As the great physicist Richard P. Feynman said, ”Poets say science takes away from the beauty of the stars – mere globs of gas atoms. I, too, can see the stars on a desert night, and feel them. But do I see less or more?…” (full quote here). See also Feynman’s Ode to the Flower.
Finally, near the end of his talk, Dr. Franklin spoke of God’s two books. One was, of course, scripture; the other was the metaphorical book of nature, or what we can learn from nature. To illustrate how these two books go hand-in-hand, he offered Psalm 19. These poetic lines in the Bible describe the beauty of the natural world, and Dr. Franklin believes that this Psalm tells Christians they should learn more about the natural world and how well science goes with Christianity. Admirable, but I listened carefully to see how he was going to juggle the verses. He read beautifully verse 1 through 5, skipped 6 (this was not an oversight, as he said “skipping ahead to 7”), and then moved onto 7, 8, and 9.
I, too, know Psalm 19, but for different reasons. This is verse that he skipped:
In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
5 It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
6 It rises at one end of the heavens
and makes its circuit to the other;
nothing is deprived of its warmth. (NIV)
Verse 6 clearly states that the sun orbits the earth (“makes its circuit”). It is one of many verses that was used by the Catholic Church to justify the charge of heresy against Galileo, his imprisonment, the re-canting of his scientific work, and his eventual house arrest. If you understand church history, this verse becomes one of the best examples of how Christianity has retarded scientific progress.
Unfortunately, the Q & A was dominated by a sizeable contingent of YEC’s (Young Earth Creationists). Dr. Franklin handled himself admirably as he explained why “creation science” is not science, and of course he answered the all-important question “If we evolved from apes, why are there still apes“? After it was all over, I was hoping to chat for a couple of minutes with Dr. Franklin; however that was not in the cards. I did thank him and shook his hand. As I left, I could see that he was surrounded by a whole lot of creationists and some United Church members, having a discussion about Adam and Eve’s kids, incest, and the origin of the human species. I didn’t hang around to listen.
Regarding the question from the start of the evening, Is Christian faith obsolete in a scientific age?, I would have to say yes – to everybody except, it seems, Christians. As for the conflict between religion and science, it will always be there. I will leave you with a quote from Joshua Cuevas’ excellent article in last years New Humanist:
“Ultimately, there is no conflict between religious claims and science. The conflict is in the mind of the theist who desperately attempts to preserve his or her belief system.”
– Pat Morrow
Winter Solstice Party
Saturday, December 17th, Heritage-Victoria Community Club, 950 Sturgeon Rd, 5:30 pm – 9:30 PM
New! We now have a liquor permit for the party. Important details here.
And don’t forget to bring money or a food item for the Christmas Cheer Board.
Are You Recovering from Religion?
Saturday, January 14th, Canad Inns Polo Park, 1405 St Matthews Avenue, 5:30 PM
We will begin with our meet-and-greet time at 4:30 PM in order to accommodate our AGM at 5:00. Dinner will follow at 6:00, and then our regular meeting and speaker at 6:45. Please join us for the AGM – we need your support and input as we plan for the coming year!
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.
Celebrate Human Rights!
December 10th often goes by unnoticed in Canada. With the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, it seems to pass with no mention. But it’s a special day, a day that was 2500 years in the making*. December 10th is International Human Rights Day. On this day, we celebrate the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) – a document so important that its 30 articles are woven into our Canadian Constitution. You can read the full text of the UDHR here.
The UDHR was established by resolution in the United Nations General Assembly in 1948, and ever since that auspicious day it has stood as the first major stride forward in ensuring that the rights of every human across the globe are protected. The UDHR is far superior to, and more moral in every way than any religious text. Developed after the carnage of World War II by people from all backgrounds, it remains a document to which our species must aspire.
Many of us in Canada have enjoyed these rights for so long we couldn’t imagine our lives without them; others simply take them for granted. This year’s slogan for International Human Rights Day is “Stand up for someone’s rights today“, and with recent developments in our political climate, the message couldn’t be more timely. So this December 10th, take some time to appreciate what we have and the effect that this resolution has had on your world and your life. Look around your community and see its effects on a local scale. We all must understand that universal human rights are a gift for us, and to us, and they must be protected by us.
Here are two easy ways to promote human rights:
- Watch and share this 10-minute video.
2. Explain the UDHR to young people.
Let’s reaffirm our common humanity. Wherever we are, we can make a real difference by stepping up to defend the rights of those at risk of discrimination or violence.
“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home…” Eleanor Roosevelt
*About 2500 years ago, Cyrus the Great conquered most of the Middle East (and then some). Up until that time, defeated soldiers in battle were typically either killed or enslaved. Cyrus offered the losers a different deal – they would not be taken into slavery (personal freedom), and they would be allowed to keep their religion (freedom of religion), provided they remained peaceful. In many cases he repatriated the dispossessed back to their homelands (freedom of citizenship). Many of these new rules were recorded on the Cyrus Cylinder, which is considered to be the first declaration of human rights.
Can You Help Us Help a Refugee Family?
At our last meeting, we listened to a short presentation from Maysoun Darweesh, from the Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council. A former refugee herself, Maysoun is now helping current refugees (mainly from Syria) adjust to life here in Manitoba.
Maysoun explained that refugees arrive in Canada in two ways –
Some families are directly sponsored by groups (usually churches) who commit to supporting and providing for the them until they get established. This requires a substantial commitment of both time and money from the sponsors, as refugees require food, clothing, and shelter, and most need to learn English and settle in before finding they can find a job and become independent of the sponsoring organization.
The second way that refugees arrive is through government sponsorship. In this case, basic necessities are provided by the government, but the family has no direct, personal connection to a Canadian family or group that can help them with all the other things they need to learn. Because of the large influx of refugees in the last year, quite a few families in Winnipeg arrived this way.
Government sponsored refugees have a harder time becoming comfortable in their new environment because they don’t have friends to practice their English with, or to ask questions of, in the hours between their scheduled English and other settlement classes. They go home to their apartments and speak their own language, and many hesitate to venture out alone into the world of shopping malls and entertainment complexes they don’t understand.
To help these people, the MIIC has developed the Host Matching Program – a modified form of sponsorship that doesn’t require a financial commitment. It’s practical for small groups like ours who would like to help but don’t have the financial resources required for private sponsorship.
The program involves matching a government-sponsored immigrant family with supportive Canadians who are willing to help them settle in. These people do not need money or food. They need Canadian friends. They need someone to speak English with, answer their questions, go with them to Tim Hortons or the bowling alley, or the beach or toboggan hill, and teach them about Canadian pastimes, customs, culture, and relationships.
What is required of the sponsors? In order to take this project on, HAAM would need a core group of 3 or 4 people, or a couple of families, who are willing to sign up for the program and go through the screening and orientation process (including child abuse and criminal record checks, which are free). Once that’s set up, other families and friends can become involved as additional supporters. Most of the families in need of sponsors live in or near the downtown area.
Maysoun’s presentation met with a positive response and a great deal of informal support, and our HAAM exec would like to pursue it, but we need people to come forward and commit to it before proceeding. If you are interested, please let us know.
Is the Holiday Season Stressful in Your Family?
If you struggle to deal with your religious extended family, and the prospect of getting together with them over the upcoming holiday season is a major source of stress, you might find some helpful advice in a post called “Coping With Religious Family Over the Holidays” on the website Journey Free – Recovering from Harmful Religion.
The author is Dr Marlene Winell, a psychologist dedicated to helping people transition out of harmful religions, recover from trauma, and rebuild their lives. She has been working in religious recovery for over 25 years and originated the term ‘Religious Trauma Syndrome‘. She is also the author of Leaving the Fold: A Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving Their Religion. (Editor’s note: This was one of the first books I read after leaving my church in the early 90’s, and it was immensely helpful. We don’t have it in our HAAM library, but the Winnipeg Public Library has a copy; probably the same copy I borrowed over 20 years ago. D.S.).
You’ll find some more good advice from Libby Anne, an ex-evangelical Christian who blogs at Love, Joy, Feminism. She addressed a recent post to those facing Trump-supporting family members at holiday gatherings, but the advice applies to more than just political differences. Check it out.
And if all else fails, look for some humor. Here’s a Religious Family Bingo card you can play.
Books of the Month
Thanks to some generous members, we have two new books! Catherine Kreindler has donated a copy of Thinking, Fast and Slow (a study of critical thinking skills and cognitive biases), and Joan (last name withheld) gave us her copy of A Brief Candle in the Dark.
Thinking, Fast and Slow is a best-selling book by Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics laureate Daniel Kahneman. The book’s central thesis is that there is a dichotomy between two modes of thought: fast, instinctive and emotional versus slower, more deliberative, and more logical. The book discusses the cognitive biases associated with each type of thinking. From framing choices to people’s tendency to substitute a difficult question for one which is easy-to-answer, the author highlights several decades of academic research which suggests that people place too much confidence in human judgement. Surprise, surprise.
Brief Candle in the Dark: My Life in Science is the second volume of the autobiographical memoir by Richard Dawkins. It covers the second half of his life, after the publication of The Selfish Gene (also in our HAAM library) in 1976. In this book, Dawkins discusses his scientific work, travels and conferences, his Royal Institution Christmas Lecture (Growing Up in the Universe, in 1991), his work as Professor for the Public Understanding of Science in Oxford, and his documentaries (such as The Root of All Evil?), as well as his personal life and his books.
New Brochure Aimed at Creationists
If you’ve read any of the reports from our Outreach booths in Morden, you already know that we get a lot of visitors who subscribe to Creationism (aka Intelligent Design). But this year, there were more than usual – buoyed, no doubt, by the presence of a new trailer devoted to materials from Answers in Genesis (the group that built the Ark Encounter theme park in Kentucky). Their people swarmed our booth in unprecedented numbers, asking nonsensical questions and spouting scientific impossibilities and general misinformation.
One area of misinformation and confusion stood out among the rest – few (if any) of these Creationists understand the difference between Cosmology, Abiogenesis, and Evolution. In fairness, that’s probably not uncommon; even among those of us who don’t believe the claims of Creationists, a lot may have never considered the difference or given it much thought.
The answer is really quite simple: Cosmology is the study of the origin of the universe; the branch of astronomy that includes Big Bang Theory. Abiogenesis is the natural process of life arising from non-living matter, or more simply – how did life originate? Evolution is the change in characteristics of living organisms over time, or, in the vernacular, how did we arise from monkeys? Abiogenesis deals with how life began; Evolution deals with changes in life that already exists; and neither of these subjects is related to how the earth came to be in the first place.
But do you think we could explain that to Creationists? Not a chance! They persisted in asking who created the world, and who created life, and where do people come from if there is no Creator; followed by their conclusion of “Tada! If you don’t know, then evolution is false!” When we pointed out the errors in that logic, they simply moved on to another question or topic. We might as well have tried to nail Jell-O to a wall.
For visitors to our booth who are actually seeking information, or who are at least curious enough to want to know what we have to say, our executive has prepared a number of brochures covering the most frequently asked questions we receive. A quick look reveals that they fall into two categories – Humanism/atheism, and science/evolution. (In case you’re wondering why there is a whole pamphlet devoted to trees, it written specifically to address the most commonly cited claim we hear for evidence of a Creator – “look at the trees!”)
But until now we had no brochure about the origins of life (as opposed to evolution). Spending three days wrangling creationists in Morden inspired Rick Dondo to research the topic and write one. It’s available on our website, and will be on the table at our next Outreach – if any creationists care to actually read it.
Calling All Secular Parents!
Beginning in the New Year, our secular parents’ coordinator, Tammy Blanchette, will be considering different ways to connect families. Distance, busy schedules, and babysitting make it difficult to get together, so online chats, family excursions, or spur-of-the-moment outings (sometimes weather-dependent) may be options. Not all of these will be planned with enough notice to make the monthly newsletter, and some will not be advertised publicly. If you are a secular parent who would like to be included when events are planned, please let us know and we’ll make sure you are notified.
Event Review: God and the Galaxies – A Jesuit perspective from the Vatican Observatory
Rick Dondo recently attended this lecture given by Jesuit priest and astronomer Dr. Richard D’Souza at St Paul’s College. He hoped 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.
It’s Time to Plan for 2017
We’re almost at the end of another year, and plans are underway for the next. HAAM exists to create a supportive and welcoming community for non-believers. Make sure you’re a part of it! Here’s what you can do to help.
1. Renew your membership. We’re no different than any other organization – we need an operating budget just to exist. Whether you’re able to make our meetings or not, if you participate in our online community, and support our advocacy for a just and secular society, our outreach programs, and our general Mission and Position statements, then please help us to continue to our work. Our membership fees are reasonable – and haven’t increased in several years. Note that there is a limited-income option for as low as $10 a year, and you can renew online.
2. Consider volunteering – either by joining our Executive as a member-at-large; or if that’s too much right now, just help out with a specific task, project, or event. Many hands make light work. The number and type of events and programs we offer depends directly on the number of people willing to participate in the planning. Let us know if you can help.
3. Come out and get to know your fellow Humanists! The strength of any community is its members. The one thing that religion does really well is create a social support network; there’s no reason we can’t do the same (but without the superstition and dogma). Don’t be shy! We’re looking forward to meeting you!
- Outreach report from our first Summer in the City
- Bigotry is a lifestyle choice
- Commenting on social media? Think twice!
- Is blasphemy a victimless crime? Stand up for free speech!
- and more…
UPDATED 17 October 2015 (added rebuttal from Nick Martin and additional statement from HAAM)
You may have seen the following editorial, by Nick Martin, which appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press on 9 October, 2015. It refers to a news release that HAAM sent to the Free Press in early September prior to River City Reasonfest. The content of the news release reflected the frustration our members felt at some of the stories we heard from visitors to our Outreach booth at the Morden Corn and Apple Festival in August, as well as from other sources over the past several years. In particular, the number of people who espouse creationism made us wonder how science is being taught in Manitoba schools, what the educational standards for science are, and whether or not those standards are being applied equally in all publicly funded schools.
Here is the editorial in its entirety, followed by the response our executive sent to the Free Press.
How Not to Enhance Your Credibility
I received a news release recently from the Humanists, Atheists, and Agnostics of Manitoba which made a sweeping and astonishing allegation about what Manitoba schools are teaching.
It was done in the context of promoting the Reasonfest conference that the group held.
Here’s what part of the HAAM news release said:
“Did you know that Manitoba schools are producing graduates who believe that fossils are man-made? Did you know that we have a creationist museum here in Winnipeg? Did you know that many religious groups in Manitoba endorse the (legal) beating of children because they’re ‘sinners’? Are you aware of the plight of LGBT and trans kids in the bible belt, or of business owners too scared to be who they are because their community will END their family’s livelihood if they found out? Is this acceptable to you as a Manitoban? A Canadian? A decent human being?”
It’s that first sentence with which I took issue, and immediately contacted the organization. Yes, I’m aware that some people would take issue with some of the subsequent sentences.
Note that the statement is not clarified or elaborated upon in any way. It does not say some Manitoba schools, it does not limit its allegation to a certain number of schools, or name those schools, which might be private schools, which might be among the dozens of faith-based schools, which might be non-funded independent schools… it declares “Manitoba schools.”
I doubt that you’ll find a lot of public schools teach that to their graduates. I think I would have noticed if my kids had come home telling me that the public school teacher had said evolution is a crock.
And when the person on the HAAM executive who sent the email got back to me, we ended up going back and forth quite a few times. Short version, it is not “Manitoba schools” — HAAM is aware of only one school at which it alleges that graduates are taught to believe that fossils are man-made, and the organization won’t name that school, because of fears of repercussions to anyone suspected of having passed on that information.
In his article “How Not to Enhance Your Credibility”, Nick Martin takes us to task for using imprecise language, and rightly so. Referring to “Manitoba schools” rather than “some Manitoba schools” sounds like hyperbole, when in fact it was a short-sighted shortening of a longer phrase.
What we know is that Manitoba is producing some high school graduates who are science illiterate. From what people tell us, sometimes the misinformation is endorsed by the school, sometimes it’s provided by teachers and probably not endorsed by the school, and sometimes confusing information could be coming from church or from home. When people tell us that bad things are happening and ask “isn’t there something you can do?” it’s not always clear that they mean “something you can do that doesn’t involve me coming forward.” We were admittedly caught off guard when we contacted some of them to say “great news, a reporter is interested in looking into this!” and they begged to be kept out of it for reasons we’ll discuss below. We replied to Nick Martin saying we’re working on coaxing people to come forward with a school name or teacher name, but we didn’t know he had a ticking clock and our time had run out. We’re not paid professionals with a PR team, we’re volunteers with day jobs who are trying to make a positive difference in Manitoba and we were hoping he would be an ally in getting the necessary conversations started.
There was one recent graduate not afraid to come forward. Our focus had been in trying to get public school issues brought to light since the parents there would be the most likely to be upset at their kids learning pseudoscience, but this graduate is from Calvin Christian Collegiate. She wrote, “Every science class was prefaced by the fact that we are all created by god and all the wonderful things that we discover through science are because god is awesome. We were taught creationism, and evolution was never brought up. I remember one time we talked about the Big Bang and everyone just laughed and mocked the idea without even a basic understanding of what it meant” and “my whole life I was told a lie… a lie that took away science and sex education.”
A recent graduate of a different Christian school who is not willing to come forward or name her school said that the science teacher would teach his lesson, immediately followed by another teacher who would contradict everything they were just told by saying “that was just one ‘opinion’ but we know X exists in the world because god” (X meaning evolution or the Big Bang, or whatever the case may be). The school is technically fulfilling its educational requirements but also endorsing conflicting messages that understandably leave the students confused. We have other anecdotal evidence involving Winnipeg public schools but the parents are not willing to be quoted; where do we go from here as concerned Manitobans?
Let’s start with the low-hanging fruit, no religious pun intended. Most of Manitoba’s independent private religious schools are publicly funded*, which means we’re all paying to produce ignorant graduates from SOME OF these schools (we’ve also heard that some Christian schools have wonderful science programs). One example, from The King’s School’s website, mentions Adam and Eve in the same paragraph (#13) as it mentions science; page 6 of the Springs Academy student handbook says outright that they teach creationism. According to Manitoba’s education curriculum, a student could go all the way through school and never be taught Darwinian evolution. The foundational theory of biology is not touched on until grade twelve.
When HAAM does outreach work at the U of M each January we meet students (usually from St. John’s and St. Paul’s colleges) who want to argue that fossils are man-made or the devil planted them, or they landed there in the flood that “Noah” survived… when we ask these young adults where they went to high school we’ve heard Winnipeg, Altona, Grunthal, Winkler, and more. Why do so many Manitobans give religious schools a free pass? Isn’t education a right for all Canadians? Don’t the children of religious people have that same right? Is it ok that we’re producing some graduates who are science illiterate? How are Manitobans supposed to compete on the world stage if they’re ignorant?
The British Humanist Association proposes the following goal, which sounds like a good starting point for Manitoba:
“Creationism and ‘intelligent design’ are not scientific theories, but they are portrayed as scientific theories by some religious fundamentalists who attempt to have their views promoted in publicly funded schools. We work for enforceable statutory rules that they may not be presented as scientific theories in any publicly funded school of whatever type. Such rules must also be comprehensive, so that it is clear that any portrayal of creationism and ‘intelligent design’ as science (whether it takes place in science lessons or not) is unacceptable.”
Great Britain agreed and banned the teaching of creationism as science in publicly funded schools in 2014. Such a proposal leaves out home-schooled kids and those in privately funded schools.
The reasons given to us for parents not wanting to come forward or afraid to be identified by deduction are varied and disturbing. The most common reason is that their kids are in school now, and the parents don’t want them ostracized or bullied by the kids of religious people who already have an ‘us vs. them’ mentality toward non-believers. For those who are non-white and come from cultural communities rooted in religion (e.g., we’ve spoken with Filipinos, First Nations people, and Somalis recently), being exposed as a non-believer means the community withdraws its social, financial, and emotional supports, forbidding their children to play with yours, excluding you from family and community events, removing most of your accessible support systems. And of course the rhythm of your life moves to the calendar of religious events, so to be excluded is disorienting to say the least. For those living south of Winnipeg we’ve been told that if you’re found out as a non-believer, entire communities will similarly shun you and your children, spreading the word not to patronize your business (this statement is backed by current HAAM members who are former members of groups that act this way). In our yearly outreach work at the Morden Corn and Apple festival we meet many of these secret non-believers who are relieved to be able to speak freely. What we hear from these encounters forms the basis of the other questions that Nick Martin thought might be objectionable. Here they are, one by one:
- “Did you know that we have a creationist museum here in Winnipeg?” For a comprehensive view of the pseudoscientific garbage that we hear on a regular basis in our outreach work, check out their website.
- “Did you know that many religious groups in Manitoba endorse the (legal) beating of children because they’re ‘sinners’?” The Twelve Tribes group, very active in Manitoba, is quite open about beating (sorry, “spanking”) their children with 5-foot sticks. We’ve heard about parents in a different cult who use corporal punishment that includes a scaled number of spanks in accordance with the “sin,” a single session going well over 100 spanks for a child under age 8 for asking a question. There are other forms of physical punishments from other groups we’ve heard about but we won’t get into it here.
- “Are you aware of the plight of LGBT and trans kids in the bible belt, or of business owners too scared to be who they are because their community will END their family’s livelihood if they found out?” We’ve already discussed the shunning part above. The LGBT and trans kids and young adults who come to us are truly heartbreaking because of their abysmal treatment. We point them to the Rainbow Resource Centre and we’ve started a collection of secular support links on our website so they know where to go if they suddenly find themselves kicked out or disowned.
The passage from our news release that Nick Martin quoted was the intro to our announcement about a secular conference we held in Winnipeg in September. The reason we think it’s important to bring together non-believers from across Canada and the USA is so that we can share ideas and strategies for addressing some of these common and disturbing issues.
Getting back to the problem of SOME Manitoba schools producing science-illiterate graduates, where do we go from here? If concerned parents with relevant information and recent graduates are willing, we suggest they send a letter to the Minister of Education and send us a copy too. We can’t do much unless people are willing to start talking.
Our last question from the news release stands: “Is [any of] this acceptable to you as a Manitoban? A Canadian? A decent human being?”
*From Manitoba Education, on Funding:
“The Department provides funding to funded independent schools for expenditures related to operations (e.g., salaries, learning resources), but not for capital expenditures (e.g., building new facilities, upkeep of existing facilities). The amount that each funded independent school receives is based on the number of eligible pupils enrolled at the school. Funding is set at 50% of public school net operating expenditures from two years previous to the current funding year. Funded independent schools also receive curricular materials support which is set at $60 per eligible pupil, $30 of which must be expended through the Manitoba Text Book Bureau.”
Rebuttal from Nick Martin
On 15 October 2015, Nick Martin posted this rebuttal in the Free Press.
That’s the longest diatribe I’ve undergone in a very long time.
I wrote recently about sweeping statements made by the Humanists, Atheists, and Agnostics of Manitoba (HAAM) in a news release a little over a month ago, most specifically a broad generalization that Manitoba schools are producing graduates who believe that fossils are man-made. The last I’d heard back from HAAM, as we went back and forth on that rather startling statement, it was aware of only one school, that the organization would not identify for fear of repercussions for the source of the information.
Last night we received an enormous letter to the editor from HAAM, a link to which you’ll find down below. It’s not running, not because it lambastes me, but because this letter would not only eat up the entire letters section and still barely be into the topic, and because the only thing we run that’s this long is the main story in 49.8 each week.
Yes, atheists attacked me. We’ll pause here while the anonymous on-line trolls, the religious right, the homophobes, all those members of my fan club roll around on the floor laughing.
Which reminds me, I saw a statement recently — with which I heartily agree, anecdotally — in one of the atheist Twitter accounts I follow, that the writer had never met an atheist who is a homophobe. But I digress.
Full disclosure: I am not now nor have I ever been a member of HAAM, and given how %^^%$# the organization is with me, it’s pretty safe to rule out my ever joining after I retire.
It could get uncomfortable if we ever encounter any HAAM members socially, which certainly isn’t out of the question. I’ve found during my decades in Winnipeg that the most adverse reaction I receive in social settings tends to be from those with whom I share at least some values, who despise me for where I work and what I do for a living, and for my crime of thinking there may be more than one perspective…but I digress again.
I’ve written many pieces over the years about school prayer and encroachments on a secular public school system, which aren’t all necessarily connected, but which tend to bring out the same crowd. I once wrote a very lengthy blog about my experiences in Ontario public schools in the 1950s and 1960s when the state imposed the mainstream Protestant churches on the education system, to the point of students receiving corporal punishment and even facing suspension for not embracing that forced faith. It’s pretty clear if you read anything I’ve written, that I believe it is not appropriate for adults to use public schools to attempt to inculcate other people’s children with their beliefs.
And despite all that, I’ve never been met with anything but politeness and welcome when I’ve gone to public schools in Steinbach and Winkler and Altona, and to the handful of faith-based schools which invite media attention.
I’ll talk about just one teeny point before I let you get on with reading HAAM’s diatribe. I did not say in my blog that I found statements made by HAAM to be objectionable — what I said was, that I recognize there are people in Manitoba who might object, which is pretty obvious — if there weren’t, why would HAAM feel the need to exist?
You can read the letter to the editor on HAAM’s website.
I considered reproducing it all below, but decided against it for the same reason I originally asked HAAM to back up its sweeping statement about what ‘Manitoba schools’ teach about evolution.
If you read the HAAM statement on its website, you’ll see that it makes allegations about two public postsecondary institutions and about several faith-based schools, and most remarkably there are statements about three ethnocultural groups which HAAM names and identifies as “non-white…cultural communities rooted in religion” which allegedly openly discriminate against and outright shun non-believers.
Am I saying that HAAM’s statements are false? No. But we don’t publish without proof and substantiation of such alarming and incendiary charges.
If you want to read the names of the ethnocultural groups and schools, they’re all on the HAAM website.
Statement from the HAAM executive
It’s unfortunate that Nick Martin took offense to our reply. That was not our intention, nor was our article written about him. Many Manitobans care about how faith-based beliefs affect our children, especially when it comes to publicly funded education.
The comprehensive, well balanced education of its children is the cornerstone of every modern society. There should always be room to talk about human myths, fables, and stories in our schools, but not to sell them as reality. The truth is that the modern world has real non-mythical problems to overcome, and those that cannot be solved by us will have to be solved by our children.
Teaching myths or demonstrably false ideas such as young earth creationism as truth will make our children less knowledgeable and less prepared to solve the very real problems we face today and in the future. And therein lies the problem.
No society has ever advanced by becoming more religious.