What the Heck is ‘Evolutionary Creationism’?
At the beginning of the documentary Losing Our Religion, philosopher Daniel Dennett says “Religion Is going through a profound revolutionary period and we’re right in the middle of it”. I agree, and I think this is happening on many fronts and in many religions. Just recently, I had a front row seat to view a small part of this revolution. I attended a lecture titled Beyond the ‘Evolution vs Creation’ Debate, hosted by the Canadian Scientific & Christian Affiliation, at the U of M.
The speaker was Dr. Denis O. Lamoureux, who holds three doctoral degrees (in dentistry, theology, and biology). No one who attended could forget that, as he brought the point up several times in his lecture. He’s a self-admitted Bible-believing, born-again, Evangelical Christian. He is also an evolutionary creationist, which, as he stated during his talk, “sounds like an oxymoron” (probably because it is). Evolutionary creationism is defined by Dr. Lamoureux as the claim that “the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit created the universe and life through an ordained, sustained, and design-reflecting evolutionary process”.
Dr. Lamoureux explained that the lecture he was presenting that evening is one he gives to his first-year university (theology?) students. It is specifically designed to help Christians who struggle with the concept of evolution. That point that would become blatantly obvious during the course of the evening. We were given handouts to follow along.
A Few Definitions
Before we go much further, we need to review some of the definitions included in Dr. Lamoureux’s handout. Curiously, I found some of them just accurate enough to support his argument.
|Dichotomy||Division of an issue into two simple positions
Caused by ‘black-and-white’ & ‘either/or’ thinking
|Secular Humanism||Belief that humans alone determine morals|
|Conflation||Sloppy blending of distinct ideas into one simple idea|
|Teleology||Belief the world has plan & purpose|
|Dysteleology||Belief the world has NO plan & purpose|
|Evolution||Scientific theory that natural processes over billions of years produced all living organisms, including humans|
|Creation||Belief that the world is the product of the Creator|
A False Dichotomy?
Lamoureux began with the problem of conflict between science and religion that he believes many people become stuck in, and he spent the bulk of the lecture attempting to explain how this is a false dichotomy. He didn’t clearly define either religion or science, other than to state that one tells the how, the other tells us the who. Nor did he define another popular word used throughout the lecture – faith. This would have been a helpful clarification; instead, this oversight allowed him conflate all three into one sloppy mess. If one were to believe the ideas put forward in this lecture, every idea is faith-based to varying degrees – religion, science, even atheism – thus validating his assertion that the religion vs. science debate is a false dichotomy.
But science vs. religion is NOT a false dichotomy. Science is a process used by humans to give them an accurate picture of the universe. Data (evidence) from this process contributes to the body of knowledge that we also call science. With that knowledge, we can build a better mousetrap, or a better, more moral society. Religion, on the other hand, is a belief system based on assertions, moral proclamations, and faith. Faith, as defined in the Bible, is belief without evidence.
Science in the Bible
I think Dr. Lamoureux understands that religion and science are very different things. To his credit, he stated several times during the course of the lecture that the Bible is not a book of science. But then he confused the issue by claiming that the Biblical model of a three-tier universe (with waters below, a flat circular earth, and more water above, held in the sky by the firmament) can be considered “ancient science”, when in fact it’s not science at all but ignorance. The writers of the Bible knew nothing of hydrology, geology, or the laws of planetary motion. For them, the earth was a flat circle, because that’s what it looked like. The ocean was blue and so was the sky. Water fell from the sky so there must be an ocean up there. Such beliefs were considered common sense at the time, but they were not based on science. The authors of those passages didn’t test their observations or engage the scientific method. Opinion and navel gazing are not science.
I can see why Dr. Lamoureux developed this lecture for Christians struggling with evolution, because when you believe you have the one true religion, you’re stuck in a simple either/or position. Many Christians find themselves in the uncomfortable position of having to choose either reality or superstition. Dr. Lamoureux tries to remedy this cognitive dissonance by blending reality and superstition – often with absurd results.
Does this look like it was well-designed?
One of the possible solutions Lamoureux offers is that evolution is teleological (with a plan and purpose). He gives no evidence for this, of course. I believe that evolution is dysteleological (without plan or purpose), as this seems to be where the evidence leads. One just has to look at the laryngeal nerve in a giraffe, and see how it makes a 15 foot round trip from the brain, down the neck into the chest cavity, and back up to the larynx. From a design point of view, this makes absolutely no sense whatsoever – but it makes perfect sense when one understands evolutionary biology. There are thousands of other examples which demonstrate that if there is any divine design, plan, or purpose to biological evolution, the designer is confused (or just an idiot).
Are Scientists Still ‘Keeping the Faith?’
Lamoureux frequently made statements like “This scientist believes in God and he’s a Christian” or “That theologian believes in evolution”. I suppose that was for the benefit of the crowd of Christian attendees, but really, science doesn’t care what you believe. I wasn’t surprised at Lamoureux’s Christian bias; he made it clear that he’s a Christian and that the lecture was intended to help Christians. However, I was surprised at the lack of effort spent on attempting to understand science vs. the time devoted to explaining theology. He did finally get to some science… kinda. He cited a study which he claims shows that 40% of leading American scientists believe in a personal God. The study (Larson and Witham, 1997) was published in the journal Nature. I was unable to read the original article as it is stuck behind a $200 pay wall. However, I was able to garner information from one secular source and the many, many Christian sources that reference this study, and they generally concur.
The study was titled “Scientists are still keeping the faith”. Larson sent out 1,000 surveys to randomly chosen scientists listed in the index of “American Men and Women of Science”, a database of more than 120,000 leading scientists in the USA and Canada. The report of the study indicates that “more than 600” of the surveys were returned; since we don’t know the exact number, we’ll go halfway between 600 and 700 and say that 650 were returned, for a response rate of approximately 0.54% of the 120,000 scientists the study defines as leading. So Dr. Lamoureux is basing his claim that 40% of leading American scientists believe in a personal god, on a 20 year old study with a less than 1% sample of said scientists.
Personally, I would feel less than honest, extrapolating to that extent using an old study with such a small sample, and without knowing more about the methodology (perhaps religious scientists were more likely to respond?). But I can see where faith would help one to believe it.
Does any of this even matter?
During the talk, I found myself wondering “What’s the point of bringing up so many scientists?” The theme of the lecture was science vs. religion, not scientists vs. religion. Science is the best process for discovering what is true about the natural world, and it is a self-correcting method that consistently gives us accurate, reliable results. This is in contrast to religion, a faith-based process that relies on the unfalsifiable to assert a ‘truth’ that could mean anything. What people believe on faith has little or nothing to do with testing what we can know though reason, evidence and experimentation. If this lecture taught us anything, it is that human beings are quite adept at compartmentalization and carrying two or more contradictory beliefs with little discomfort.
Another sizable part of the evening was spent listening to Dr. Lamoureux speak about his personal journey. This was also where the presentation started to take on the feel of a standard Christian apologetics conference. Like many apologists, throughout his lecture he used Richard Dawkins as a yardstick to measure all atheists by, and to represent what they believe. Which I suppose might not be so bad, except that he often got what Richard Dawkins believes, wrong.
We heard how young Dr. Lamoureux left Christianity and became an atheist, just like Richard Dawkins. In his own words, “by 1977, I was Richard Dawkins“. His journey to atheism started in his early university at dental school. He relayed the story of how he treated women badly (“If anyone was to treat my sister the way I treated women, I would phone up my three brothers and go see this guy”). Then there were the drugs and parties that left him feeling his life was vacuous, empty, and unclean. He found Jesus while in the army, and apparently sealed the deal by reading the Book of John. He later discovered young earth creationism, but in 1994 settled on his present theological position as an evolutionary creationist.
Nothing New Here
Lamoureux’s story is remarkably similar to other apologists who relate stories of when they were atheists – all their stories carry the same account of immorality and emptiness. This is not to doubt his own account of his life, but his testimony is so common that one could turn its major points into a checklist (and some of us do!). It would be my suggestion that Lamoureux’s ill-treatment of women and feelings of emptiness were not due to his atheism, but possibly that he was simply a misogynistic asshole in his younger years.
The Q & A
A good Q & A can add greatly to the substance of the presentation. Through unscripted answers, one can get a feel for who the presenter is and the quality of their argument. Points that I like to consider in a Q & A are
- are the questions answered directly?
- Is a question sidestepped or given a long rambling answer?
- are concepts explained clearly, or are they obfuscated?
A Historical Adam and Eve?
The first question asked was about Dr. Lamoureux’s stance on Adam and Eve, since we know from genetics, geology, anthropology and other sciences that we did not all come from a single man and woman. (The geologic record shows that there were millions of animal species long before the first humans showed up. If Adam and Eve had been on the planet at the time of creation, human bones should be discovered alongside stegosaurus and trilobites.) Dr. Lamoureux never did answer the question, but he offered several possibilities, none of which he actually committed to endorsing. It’s worth noting that, as a scientist, he still even mentions some of these possibilities, since science has already demonstrated that the Biblical Adam and Eve never existed.
1 Adam and Eve have no connection to evolution.
2 God picks two pre-humans (Australopithecines? Homo habilis?) and instills spiritual characteristics, moral culpability and the Spirit of God
3 Many Adams and many Eves evolved, whole populations of them!
4 The Genesis 2 story is an allegory containing “spiritual truths”, and didn’t actually happen.
It is noteworthy that the only one of these possibilities for which there is evidence either way is the first one. He does suggest a book called Four Views on the Historical Adam to further explain this conundrum, if readers feel so inclined.
Is anyone here a physics major?
We also we heard the standard question “how could the eye evolve” and other similar topics, which I felt that someone with a PhD in biology could have answered quite a bit better. Then we had the still-popular Second Law of Thermodynamics question, asked by an Evangelical high school teacher (for Pete’s sake!). I was saddened to find that Lamoureux, with all his experience and education, was unable to give any answer beyond asserting that evolution doesn’t violate the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Since this this such a common creationist argument, I will offer an explanation.
Creationist argument: The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that entropy (disorder) increases over time. The development of complex plant and animal life from inanimate chemicals requires an increase in order, which violates this law. Therefore, a complex system of life requires a Creator or designer. **Insert chosen god here**
Scientific response: This law only applies to an isolated system, where no energy or matter leaves or enters. The earth is not an isolated system – it is an open system. It receives outside heat and light from sun, allowing life to arise and fueling simple organisms so that they can become more complex. Maybe the ancient Egyptians were right – it’s not the son that is God but the sun is God?
There’s a simple, short explanation of this argument and response in the following video clip.
Misrepresenting an entire Community
Probably the most disappointing part of Dr. Lamoureux’s lecture was his misrepresentation of the atheist / Humanist / secular community – our community. This is where when he went full Christian apologist, and distorted what most of us believe. The misrepresentation starts very early on in the lecture; if you look under the last column (dysteleological evolution) on his handout, he makes some blatantly false assumptions. I’m sure if we searched hard enough we could find an atheist or Humanist who fits Lamoureux’s description, but it would be near impossible. I don’t claim to be a spokesperson for all Humanists, but I can provide a better explanation of our beliefs than the what’s in the pigeonhole that Lamoureux, with his kindergarten-level understanding of atheism, puts us in.
Here are some of Dr. Lamoureux’s assumptions about what atheists believe. I won’t touch on all of his points, just the more problematic ones.
1 There is no plan or purpose to the universe. He’s quite correct on this point – basic elements, noble gases, and rocks have no minds so they cannot form purpose. However, when those elements and noble gases come together to form life, those life forms (such as animals), can form a plan and purpose.
2 Design is a delusion. Nope, we see the appearance of design in many things. We just don’t believe it requires an intelligent designer.
3 The universe and life developed through natural processes and blind chance. Despite Lamoureux’s conflation of Big Bang cosmology and abiogenesis, he’s wrong on both counts. Random chance may play a part, but we simply don’t know how it all started.
We know that abiogenesis (the beginning of life) must have started with simple chemicals. Elements bond together, so it may be that given the right conditions, the development of life is the inevitable consequence of chemistry. If that’s the case, then life will develop wherever those conditions exist in the universe, making this a natural process – not blind chance. There could be thousands of planets with life of some sort; we just haven’t discovered them yet.
Throughout the lecture, Lamoureux referred to atheism as a world view. I pressed him on this point during the Q & A, as atheism is not, and has never has been, a worldview. According to Lamoureux, he tells his students that atheism is a claim that there is no God, and that it’s a claim based on faith. He asserts that atheism is a metaphysical claim, the same as his Christian faith. This is an incorrect accusation, based on what is known as ‘strawman apologetics’. In an attempt to shift the burden of proof, he completes this misrepresentation by asserting that Richard Dawkins holds this view. I pointed out that Dawkins does not state decisively that god does not exist, and that Dawkins lays out his views quite clearly in his book The God Delusion (page 50).
Lamoureux then went on to explain to me – an atheist – what the word ‘atheist’ means. “’a’ meaning ‘no’, and ‘theist’ meaning ‘God’”, he said; in other words, he defines atheism as the assertion that there is no god. His definition is just correct enough to support his claim. However, the prefix ‘a’ can mean ‘without’ as well as ‘no’, so the word ‘atheism’ only refers to lack of belief in god(s), not necessarily a declaration that there aren’t any. Matt Dillahunty does an excellent job of explaining this on the Atheist Experience TV show.
Other definitions that might be helpful
Atheism: godless, without a god; from the ancient Greek ἄθεος (átheos). Derived from the prefix ‘a’ (without), and ‘theos’ (god). This is the definition HAAM uses in our outreach.
Theism: belief in the existence of a god or gods. Merriam Webster (MW)
Atheism: lack of belief or a strong disbelief in the existence of a god or any gods (MW)
Atheist: A person who disbelieves or lacks belief in the existence of God or gods. (Oxford English Dictionary, dictionary.com, and others)
When we see the way that the Greek prefix ‘a’ used in other words, the fallaciousness of Dr. Lamoureux’s argument becomes apparent. The word asymmetrical (not symmetrical) does not imply that symmetry does not exist, nor does the word atypical (not typical) mean that typicality does not exist. I would ask Dr. Lamoureux – does apolitical (not political) mean there is no such thing as politics?
Taking the High Road
Unfortunately, even after explaining that one can’t make a world view out of a singular disbelief; after demonstrating (and having him agree) that atheists can have fundamentally opposing worldviews; and after demonstrating that Richard Dawkins, the poster child he uses for atheism, doesn’t hold the beliefs the beliefs that Lamoureux claims he does – Lamoureux continues to use his own definition of an atheist.
Despite this obvious dishonesty, we as Humanists will continue to do our best to take the high road and engage with religious people based on what they do believe, rather than what someone may assert that they do (or don’t) believe. Who knows, maybe Dr. Lamoureux will invite me to his church and we can dance and “take up snakes” together – oh wait…
The March of Progress
Dr. Lamoureux opened his lecture with a lengthy quote from Thomas Henry Huxley, known as ‘Darwin’s bulldog’. The quotation was used to demonstrate that Huxley was stuck in a false dichotomy between science vs. faith, when he was really just describing the real dichotomy between science and superstition. A portion of the quote really resonated with me – “…history records that whenever science and orthodoxy have been fairly opposed, the latter has been forced to retire from the lists, bleeding and crushed if not annihilated; scotched, if not slain.”
One just has to look at the various arguments put forward by holy men over the last thousand years. As science has progressed, one by one they have all had to bow to the nature of reality. As scientific discoveries stack up, it has always been religion that has eventually had to adjust to new knowledge; never in human history has it been the other way.
Religion loses every time
Religion, especially conservative Christianity, is losing the battle on every front, and has been for a long time – consider interracial marriage (1950’s/60’s) women’s rights and contraception (60’s/70’s) abortion (70’s), gay rights (80’s), marriage equality (2000’s), or the right to an assisted death (2010’s.) Religion’s loss of the power it once had means that it can no longer dictate what is right, what is true, and what is moral. Religious leaders spend much of their time trying to reconcile their supernatural beliefs with scientific reality.
In this lecture I heard a self-proclaimed Evangelical, conservative, born-again Christian state that Genesis is probably allegory, Adam and Eve may not have existed, and the concept of original sin may be a just ‘spiritual truth’. Talk about being “forced to retire”! Some of the basic tenets of Christianity, which people were tortured and killed over for millennia, are now just fluffy ‘spiritual truths’, to be interpreted freely. Indeed, this religion is going through some profound changes.
Many religious people, especially in conservative and Evangelical Christianity communities, have come to understand that to remain relevant in the modern world, their unfalsifiable supernatural beliefs need to adapt to what can be empirically demonstrated. For me, this was the take-home point of the evening. Despite the shortcomings of this lecture, I really hope that Christians will continue the conversation. I will share the Canadian Scientific and Christian Affiliation’s work with the many young earth creationists we encounter during our outreach efforts. If they can reason a few more folks out of believing in a literal Bible; if they can get believers to dump science denial and accept the realities of the natural world; if they can help to render Christianity less harmful – then they will accomplish a great deal in making it a better world for all of us.
Honest dialogue is needed
Finally, a few words of warning to those who engage in spreading misinformation and disinformation about non-believers. Atheist and Humanist organizations are filled with former Christians as well as apostates from other religions. Many of those people join partly because they investigate atheism and Humanism on their own, and find out they have been lied to about our community. Atheist, Humanist, and similar organizations are growing. If we want to ever be able to have an honest dialogue and an open exchange of ideas, religious organizations, apologists, and folks like Dr. Lamoureux need to stop misrepresenting who we are and what we believe. Until they’re able to do that, they will simply perpetuate the stereotype of Christians who engage in lying for Jesus.
– Pat Morrow
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.
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.
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!
In this issue:
- A Life Membership Presentation
- Conversations with Believers
- Outreach reports
- Update on medically assisted dying
- 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.
I have long been fascinated with the evolutionary history of humans. The discoveries made by anthropologists and archaeologists are of great interest to me as I seek to learn more about where we come from and the amazing journey we have made. With each new fossil discovery, another puzzle piece is added to the picture of this journey.
One particular story that captivated my imagination when I first heard about it was the discovery of the Laetoli footprints, found by Mary Leakey’s team in Tanzania in 1976. The famous Laetoli footprints, discovered in a layer dated to 3.6 million years ago, show the footsteps taken by 2 or possibly 3 bipedal individuals as they walked in a freshly deposited layer of fine ash from a nearby volcano. An incredibly lucky set of circumstances allowed this fragile evidence of some of our remote ancestors to survive.
The footprints were likely made by some australopithecus afarensis individuals, as fossils of these type have also been discovered nearby in similarly dated layers. Analysis done on the footprints show 2 individuals, one larger than the other, with a possible third walking in the footsteps of the larger one. Some analysis points to the smaller of the 2 appearing to be burdened on one side, perhaps carrying an infant. It is easy to imagine this as a family group taking a stroll. Of course, this family portrait that I see may just be sentimental conjecture on my part, but as an armchair anthropologist, I’m allowed to fantasize all I want.
At the very least, what the evidence does tell us is that 3.6 million years ago, some early primate had already developed the ability to walk upright. Another piece of the puzzle carefully fitted into place, another step on the journey illuminated.
One day recently, I was googling for images of these footprints, and to my surprise, instead of the ancient images I was looking for, I got thousands of hits for a different set of footprints. Pages and pages of images for the well-known poem “Footprints in the Sand” I am sure many are familiar with this poem which describes a dream someone is having of a conversation with God. He is looking back over his life represented by footsteps on a beach and wonders why during his most troubled times, there appears to be only one set. The reply is that, at those times, he was being carried by God.
I have to admit, even when I was a believer, I never cared for this poem. I found it to be an inadequate answer to suffering and God’s reply sounded kind of arrogant. Now that I no longer believe in God, I find it sad that people find inspiration from this poem. When I think about all of the suffering that occurs in this life, ranging from the everyday ups and downs we all experience to the truly horrific things that happen to some people, many of them praying to God for help that does not come, I fail to see what comfort there can be found in a God whose presence is undetectable. Maybe it helps some people to feel that God is with them in their suffering, and I am sure that there are many who would argue that they can feel his loving arms around them. I need a bit more reality than that. As a parent, there were many times when I carried my child. She felt my arms around her and heard my words of comfort. In this poem, God seems to me like a negligent parent.
But back to the real footprints. I can imagine all I want about the ancient family that I see in those footprints. These are stories that I invent to fill in the missing spaces in the puzzle of our history. But I can no longer be satisfied with the imaginary footprints of an undetectable God. The real comfort and companionship of my fellow humans is what I need and it’s enough.
– Diana Goods