Upcoming HAAM Events
Monthly Meeting – Stand Up for Science
Saturday, September 14th, Canad Inns Polo Park, 1405 St Matthews Ave, 5:30 PM
We will be welcoming a guest speaker from Evidence for Democracy to talk to us about encouraging evidence-based decision-making in public policy and ways that we can combat misinformation and ‘fake news’.
If you value reason and science-based decision-making in government, then this is a meeting you won’t wanna miss.
HAAM and Eggs Brunch
Sunday, September 22nd, Smitty’s Polo Park, 1017 St James St, 9:30 AM
Meet and get to know your fellow HAAMsters.
New people are always welcome. Details here.
Save the Dates
HAAM and Eggs Brunch:
Check our Events calendar for the latest information on all upcoming events.
Upcoming Community (Non-HAAM) Events
Global Climate Strike
Friday, September 27th, Manitoba Legislature, noon to 5 PM
Hosted by Manitoba Youth for Climate Action and Manitoba Energy Justice Coalition
Event details and more information on their Facebook Event page.
Links to Non-HAAM events of interest to our members can be found on the Community Events page.
‘Charity’ of the Month – Evidence for Democracy
Occasionally we make an exception to the usual criteria for our monthly charity fundraiser, and instead support a cause that carries out valuable work but is not a registered charity. Evidence for Democracy fits this category.
So what does E4D do? They promote the transparent use of evidence in government decision-making in Canada. They engage and empower the science community while cultivating public and political demand for evidence-based decision-making. They run campaigns about issues affecting science and public policy, and they educate Canadians about evidence-based decision-making. E4D’s goals include strong public policies based on science and evidence, engaged citizens, transparent, accountable government, and a culture that values science and evidence.
Organizations involved in activities that might be seen as political lobbying might not want to be registered as a charity, because that can impose restrictions on their work. E4D offers this explanation: “Evidence for Democracy is a federally registered non-profit organization. To ensure we can effectively advocate for transparent, evidence-based public policy decisions, we are not a charity and donations are not eligible for a tax credit.”
Donations for E4D will be collected at the monthly meeting. If you would like to donate but cannot attend the meeting, you can do so via the ‘Donate’ button on our website. Just include a note letting us know that the money is for the Evidence for Democracy. Note that for this month only, tax receipts will NOT be issued.
Calls to Action
Please take a minute to let your federal election candidates know that you want the next parliament to fix the flaws in Canada’s assisted dying (MAiD) law. Currently, advance requests for MAiD will not be carried out if the patient is not capable of providing consent at the time of the procedure, even if they have already been assessed and approved.
Our next Members of Parliament — no matter where they fall on the political spectrum — need to understand that they have a duty to uphold your end-of-life rights.
Dying With Dignity Canada has prepared an automated letter that makes it really easy to show your support. All you need to do is add your name and postal code and click ‘send’; it will be sent to every federal election candidate in your constituency.
Vote for Science
Let your federal election candidates know that you care about science and that you want them to support evidence-based policies and decision-making if they are elected to the next government. Scientific research benefits our health care, education, environment and economy.
Votescience.ca is a letter-writing campaign sponsored by a collaboration of Canadian scientific organizations to let politicians know that we care about science and want them to govern based on evidence and reason. It will only take you a minute to add your name and postal code to the form letter, and then copies will be sent to every federal election candidate in your constituency.
What do Humanists believe?
After our August newsletter was sent last month, we had one angry subscriber who canceled their subscription in response to the article supporting reproductive choice.
If you’re uncertain about what HAAM (as an organization) endorses, please visit our website to learn more. Under the About Us tab, you will find information about Humanism and what Humanists believe. You can also read our Philosophy, Mission Statement, and Position Statements, which were written by members of our exec and voted on by the membership at our AGM several years ago.
Humanists support evidence-based decision-making, empathy, compassion, and fairness. These values generally translate into support for human rights, education, and science, resulting in consensus among most Humanists on a number of social issues. Nevertheless, there is no absolute set of personal beliefs that define Humanism, and no ‘membership test’ required to join HAAM. And of course, our newsletter is public, so anyone can subscribe, whether they agree with our positions or not.
If you still have questions, or would like to discuss any of this, we’re happy to answer – just Contact Us.
Long-time HAAM member Olga Nahirniak died on Sunday August 4th at the age of 94. She had not attended meetings in recent years due to age and health, but she kept in touch by reading the newsletter, and she came to our Summer Solstice party last year (2018), where she can be seen sitting in the front row in a pink T-shirt in the group photo.
Helen Friesen, who knew Olga well, shared this tribute:
I was fortunate to see her and visit with her two weeks before her death at a function at the Unitarian Church. She had been in hospital for a while just before that, but she was in good spirits and enjoyed the afternoon with everybody.
Olga was a special and spunky lady. She had a no-nonsense attitude towards beliefs that didn’t make sense to her, among them being religious beliefs, and she didn’t hesitate to say so over the years.
I’ll remember her fondly.
Olga’s obituary can be seen at Ethical Death Care. Condolences were sent to her family on behalf of all of us at HAAM. She will be missed.
Venue update (again)
After holding three meetings at the University of Winnipeg in the spring, we received mixed reviews from members and had mixed success with the room. There were two main issues:
1. The location – On the plus side, it is central and easy to get to by bus. On the minus side, parking can be a challenge and some members expressed safety concerns about the area.
2. The room itself – On the plus side, the room is spacious, quiet, and private. On the minus side, we had major challenges with furnishings (once arriving to find that almost all the chairs and tables had been removed, and another time, that piles of boxes and paraphernalia from a previous meeting had been left in the room) and equipment (plugging in a coffee pot resulted in repeatedly blown fuses).
On reflection, the executive has decided to move our monthly meetings back to Canad Inns Polo Park for the fall. We will continue to keep an eye out for the ideal venue.
Our goal is to make our meetings accessible to everyone. If you are one of the people who found it easier to get to the U of W, and need a ride to Canad Inns, please let us know (firstname.lastname@example.org) and we will try to arrange one for you.
Book of the Month – The Greatest Show on Earth
This 2010 book by Richard Dawkins has become a classic. He was, after all, a professor of zoology long before he became better known for his outspoken atheist activism. So in this book explaining the process of evolution, he’s really in his element. Lay reviewers repeatedly describe Dawkins’s explanations as clear and easy to understand, with plenty of illustrations and examples throughout.
72% of reviewers on Amazon.com gave this book 5 stars; 5% gave it one star. Guess who those 5% of reviewers were? Hint: They described it as ‘pure fiction’, a ‘diatribe against religion’, and ‘an attempt to brainwash the reader’. Several of them recommended books by creationist authors instead.
This book covers all the questions and topics that people ask about evolution – including missing links and transitional fossils, dating methods, the meaning of the word ‘theory’, DNA, the age of the earth, micro vs. macro, the tree of life, vestigial organs, etc. We discuss all of these and more at our outreach booth in Morden every year.
If you’re not already familiar with these words and phrases, then you owe it to yourself to read Greatest Show on Earth. Dawkins really does make a complex subject understandable and even entertaining.
All our library books and DVD’s are free to borrow for paid HAAM members.
Visit the Library page to request to borrow a book or DVD, and we will make arrangements to get it to you.
It’s back-to-school time
Just a reminder: If you have children attending public school in Manitoba, and you have any questions or concerns about religious exercises or religious instruction, please read our Religion in Public Schools information page.
Every year, we get calls and letters from concerned parents, but most of your questions and concerns should be addressed on that page.
Please contact us if:
- You have questions that are NOT answered on that page,
- You have new information or updates that we should add to that page, or
- Your child is attending a school that is violating the guidelines and you would like advice or support.
Well that’s a wrap – another successful summer outreach completed. Thanks to all the volunteers who staffed the booth. We have uploaded a few photos to our website gallery. A report will follow in the October newsletter.
Upcoming HAAM Events
Stealing Reason: Christianity’s Theft of Human Values
Our own Pat Morrow will talk about Christian apologetic claims regarding the scientific revolution and slavery. His presentation will demonstrate that progress is not due to any gods, but rather to human effort. Details here.
HAAM and Eggs Brunch
Saturday, May 26th, Red Top Inn, 219 St Mary’s Road, 9:30 AM
Our monthly casual get-together. Everyone’s welcome. Details here.
Save the Dates
June 15-17 – Outreach at the Summer in the City Festival (Steinbach)
June 23rd – Summer Solstice Party
Details for all upcoming HAAM events are on our Events page.
Upcoming Community (Non-HAAM) Events
Interbelief Reasoning Dialogue: “What Weaponizes Beliefs?”
Thursday, 3 May, St James Assiniboia Public Library (note change of date)
Presented by the Winnipeg Circle of Reason.
Advance Care Planning – what you need to know
Saturday, May 12th, St Boniface Public Library, 1:30 PM.
Learn more about your rights as a patient, and how to increase the chances of your wishes being respected in a health crisis and/or at the end of life. Registration required. More information here.
Winnipeg Pride Parade
Sunday, June 3rd, Manitoba Legislative Building.
Rally at 10 AM and parade at 11.
More information and links to all these non-HAAM events are on our Community Events page.
Charity of the Month
Just in time for Mothers Day! They say you can’t spoil a baby – but let’s try.
You Can’t Spoil a Baby has been providing baby supplies to Manitoba families in need since 2011. Its goal is to show families that they are valued by their community by providing them with no-strings-attached gifts to help them care for their baby.
YCSAB is run 100% by volunteers. The concept is simple:
Donors can either contribute their once-loved baby items to one of YCSAB’s more than 40 drop-off spots for volunteers to combine into gifts, or follow guidelines provided by YCSAB to make and deliver their own gift using items they collect. Each gift includes items that will help a family through their baby’s first year – a set of newborn to 18 month baby clothes, one ‘big-ticket’ item (like a crib, stroller, or exersaucer), a few other helpful accessories (like feeding, bathing and diapering supplies, blankets, and toys), and a big sibling gift if the family has other children.
Families who need assistance need to apply for a gift early in pregnancy (the wait list is close to 6 months). Most of the expectant parents who apply do not have friends or family to give them baby items, are single parents or young couples living on Income Assistance, are newcomers to Canada who are starting over, are leaving abusive relationships, or have had a series of tough breaks and need help. In addition to the gift of baby clothes and baby items, YCSAB provides families with an online list of local resources to help with the high costs of raising children.
YCSAB accepts money as well as gently used baby items that help with the first two years of life. Their highest need items are always sleepers/pajamas in sizes 6-18 months. Used items are encouraged to promote reuse, but they won’t turn away new ones. A list of accepted items can be found on their website. Please check it carefully, as some items must comply with safety regulations. You can bring your donations to our meeting. If you have very large items, or cannot make it to the meeting, let us know and we’ll arrange for pickup and/or transport of your items.
Donations for the Charity of the Month will be collected at the meeting. 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 ‘Donate’ button. Just include a note letting us know that the money is for the charity.
Call to Action
There’s a new petition to the House of Commons urging the government to re-examine the ban against gay men donating blood.
The current law makes anyone (male or female), who has had sex with a man who has had sex with another man within the last year ineligible to donate. Obviously, this is a sensitive issue and there is a lot more to the law than just politics. Blood donation regulations need to be evidence-based, in order to protect us all. That’s why the screening for prospective donors includes questions about drug use, travel history, tattoos, and whether their job involves caring for monkeys.
But when it comes to sexual practices, the law focuses on demographics instead of behaviors – banning ALL gay men, even those in monogamous, long-term relationships, from donating blood. On the other hand, straight people are not excluded from donating regardless of the number of sexual partners they have had – as long as the donor believes that all those partners are also straight. Doesn’t this seem illogical?
The rationale for the current guidelines and the history behind them are clearly explained on the Canadian Blood Services’ website here and here. In summary, the rules used to be much stricter – a lifetime ban on gay men donating blood was in place until 2013. Since then, CBS has gradually been relaxing the standards as more data is obtained. The current one-year ban was initiated in 2016. Of course, we all want to avoid another fiasco like the tainted blood scandal of the 80’s and 90’s that made people sick, cost millions of dollars, and diminished confidence in the safety of Canada’s blood supply.
But it would make more sense to screen all donors for at-risk practices instead of just banning a whole group of people, and it appears that CBS is gradually moving in that direction. Recently, donors were given a survey asking if they would be willing to answer more detailed questions about their sexual practices as part of donor screening, or whether such intimate questions would discourage them from donating at all.
The survey question asked: Please state how comfortable you would be answering questions on these topics in order to donate blood or plasma:
– Saying the number of partners you have had in the last 6 months
– Saying if you have had ANAL sex with anyone in the last 6 months
– Saying if you used a condom every time you had sex in the last 6 months
– Saying if you used the internet or social media (eg Facebook or Tinder) to seek a partner for sexual intercourse in the last 6 months)
– And several more similar questions
The answer choices were ‘completely comfortable’, ‘somewhat comfortable’, ‘somewhat uncomfortable’, ‘completely uncomfortable’, and ‘this would stop me from donating’.
If having to answer these questions deters some people from donating, wouldn’t it stand to reason that most of those who are deterred are those who participate in high-risk behaviors? And wouldn’t that be a good thing? It’s interesting to think about.
If you support encouraging CBS to focus on behaviors rather than on demographics in their donor screening, please sign the petition. It’s open for signature until July 17th.
And if you ARE currently eligible to donate, please do. HAAM is a member of CBS Partners for Life program. Learn more about it here, and sign up now!
Your Health Care – What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You
According to the Health Care Directives Act of Manitoba, a health care directive (HCD) is a legal document that must be respected by your medical team in the event that you can’t speak for yourself. Also, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that all competent adult Canadians have the right to refuse or discontinue treatment.
But did you know that both your HCD and your right to refuse treatment can be ignored by your medical team under certain circumstances? For example, you might have comfort in the fact that you’ve written down and signed your wish not to be resuscitated, in the event that you collapse and someone calls an ambulance. However, what paramedics have told us is that not only will they not take the time to stop and read a HCD when treating a patient in an emergency, but they also can’t respect your request. That’s because they can’t verify your signature, your state of mind, or your competency when you signed it. To be considered valid, a DNR (do not resuscitate) order must be obtained from and signed by your doctor (and even then, there is still some uncertainty about whether it will be followed). And once the patient arrives at the hospital, and let’s say regains consciousness, the patient’s request to refuse treatment could be ignored by staff until a psychiatrist confirms the patient’s competence. So even if it’s your worst fear to wake up in hospital hooked up to machines, that could be exactly what happens in spite of your best efforts to communicate your wishes.
What can I do about this?
So what can you do to prevent such a situation from happening? Well, first of all, do you HAVE a signed HCD in the first place? If not, you can download one for free from End of Life Planning Canada (via DWD Winnipeg chapter), make sure you’ve chosen a proxy who is willing to get LOUD if your wishes are not being respected. Neither of these will likely help with the paramedics, but they will certainly help once you arrive at the hospital. Second, do you have a card in your wallet that states who your proxy is and where to find your HCD? And finally, have you discussed your end-of-life wishes with all of your friends and family? The more backup you have, the safer it will be (legally) for medical staff to respect your proxy’s instructions.
What about MAID?
It is currently not legal to list Medical Assistance in Dying as one of your requests in your health care directive, since your HCD only comes into effect if you can’t communicate, and you can’t have assistance to die unless you’re able to consent when the time comes to administer the drugs. The DWD Canada blog states
“In 2016, an Ipsos Reid poll of 2,530 Canadians found a surprisingly strong level of support for allowing MAID in our HCDs, with no statistically significant regional variations. Approval was high among supporters of the three leading federal parties, especially supporters of the New Democratic Party (84%) and the Liberal Party of Canada (83%). Three out of four Conservative supporters (74%) were in favour, too. 78% of Catholics and 73% of Protestant Christians support allowing Canadians with a grievous and irremediable illness to make advance requests for physician-assisted dying. Sample sizes for people of other faiths weren’t large enough to allow for statistically significant comparisons.
Other poll questions presented different possible scenarios involving advance consent for assisted dying. About eight in 10 (82%) Canadians said they would support physician-assisted dying for patients who have a scheduled assisted death, and were competent at the time of the request, but who lose competence before the request can be carried out (for example, in the case of a patient who falls into a coma just days before the scheduled provision of aid in dying). Seven in 10 (71%) Canadians would support allowing a patient without a diagnosis for a grievous and irremediable illness to make an advance request for physician-assisted dying that would be honoured if certain pre-stated conditions were met.”
If you’d like to be fully informed and complete your HCD, join us for our next workshop on Advance Care Planning, May 12th at the St Boniface Library at 1:30 PM. Become an empowered patient! For more information, and to register (required), contact DWD Winnipeg Chapter. – Cheri Frazer
Event Review – Debate: Morality
In April I attended the Feakes vs. Kay morality debate held at Winnipeg’s New Life Sanctuary Church. Darren Kay is a local Humanist writer with an interest in the big questions. John Feakes is the pastor of the aforementioned church. He’s a Young Earth Creationist with a master’s degree in theology from the Columbia Evangelical Seminary (readers are free to look that one up).
The debate question was “How should we live our lives?”. It asks which is the better framework for forming an ethical morality – Christianity or secularism.
As far as the calibre of the debate, this was not Wilberforce versus Huxley. Part of the problem was the nature of the question. Feakes was tasked with arguing for the proposition that “Christianity is ethically superior to secularism” whereas Kay was tasked with the negative “Christianity is not ethically superior to secularism”. Taking the negative put Kay in the situation of having to disprove Feakes’s position and at the same time argue his own. In addition, neither position was clearly defined – whose version of Christianity? and what do we mean by secularism? Feakes did try to define secularism in his rapid-fire slideshow, by displaying every definition of it from many sources.
For me, the quality of any debate is in its opening statements and initial rebuttals. I found this debate quite formulaic and pre-scripted (or maybe I’ve just watched far too many of them). Feakes opened with the standard creationist shotgun debating technique (AKA the Gish Gallop). Kay did a good job of trying to explain the nature of secular morality, but with the limited time available I think some points were not as clear as they could’ve been, and were therefore missed by the folks who most needed to hear them.
In formal debate, after the opening arguments come the rebuttals. This is a chance for one to respond to the arguments that were just presented by one’s opponent. Great debaters such as Christopher Hitchens would often do their rebuttals from memory or with just a few notes. The rebuttal requires debaters to think on their feet, although on occasion, visual aids could be incorporated if one is familiar enough with their opponent’s points to anticipate them. However, in this debate, both sides used fully prepared PowerPoint presentations, which offered the odd spectacle of each of them rebutting arguments that their opponents had not presented. As a result, the rebuttals were disappointing. At some points the evening took on a lecture feel rather than a debate.
You can find the full video of the evening here on YouTube. It will help those unfamiliar with the moral argument to become better informed, but if you’re looking for the thrust and parry of a traditional debate, this may not be for you. – Pat Morrow
Library News – Interlibrary loans now available
The Eastman Humanist Community (EHC), based in Steinbach, is growing and now has its own small library. It makes sense to pool our resources – sharing is what Humanists do, right? So HAAM and the EHC have recently reached an agreement to allow inter-library loans between the two groups.
Our own HAAM library is now up to almost 250 items (books and DVD’s), available to all paid members. So check it out! But if we don’t have the book you are looking for, you are now welcome to check out the EHC’s library as well. If you find something there that you would like to borrow, contact HAAM. We will make arrangements with the EHC to obtain the item for you the next time someone from either group is traveling between Steinbach and Winnipeg.
Book of the Month – Bad Science: Quacks, Hacks, and Big Pharma Flacks
If you’re concerned about the current anti-intellectualism trend that is making people vulnerable to propaganda, advertising, and quackery in medicine, religion, and politics, then you’ll find this book encouraging.
Ben Goldacre writes in easy to understand language about the importance of learning to think critically when evaluating scientific claims, in order to separate promotional propaganda from reality. He covers research topics like placebos, double-blind studies, and sample sizes, so that you can recognize bad science when you see it.
Read about detox baths, ear candling, ‘whole brain learning’, homeopathy, the MMR vaccine scare, cosmetics, vitamin supplements, anti-oxidants, cognitive bias, the misuse of statistics, celebrity endorsements, and more. It’s an entertaining book for anyone interested in the practical uses – and abuses – of science.
All our library books and DVD’s are free to borrow for paid HAAM members.
Visit our library page if you would like to borrow this book.
For many religious people there is comfort in the belief that moral questions have all been answered by their holy books. I can see the appeal of rules and structure, in that following a recipe will lead to the desired outcome. It must be nice for them to be able to open a book and find a specific commandment to suit the situation. From my perspective, life as a religious person must be similar to a trip to Ikea, walking a one-way path with every problem a flat-packed box of building materials and a set of instructions on how to solve it. Even in difficult situations where there is no clear answer, the fallback position is that even though they may not know the correct answer, there is a god who does and at some point, in the afterlife they will know it as well.
Of course, for those of us on the outside of religion we can see that this certainty is misplaced. The evidence for this is the many different religious beliefs and practices even from those who are reading from the same book of instructions. It’s unlikely that in any church, mosque or synagogue that we would find even two believers who have identical views on all moral questions. In addition, it’s a surprisingly pleasant coincidence for the believers that they seem to find a god who agrees with all of their own moral positions. How convenient is that?
For atheists though, morality is not quite so simple. We understand that there is no instruction book and so we look elsewhere for a foundation to build our lives on. For many of us, we recognize that atheism itself is nothing more than a lack of belief in god and so we must go elsewhere for guidance. Whether we identify as atheists, skeptics, or humanists, one thing that we all seem to have in common is a commitment to following the evidence where it leads us. We acknowledge that using science has the best track record for discovering what is true about the world and so we put our trust in science to help us discover those truths.
Science has been wonderful for helping us to answer many questions. Particularly in the types of questions that hinge on finding out hard facts. It’s a no-brainer for us to accept that evolution is a fact, that disease is not cured by prayer. These are the easy questions. And on these types of questions, the atheist community is pretty much united in our positions once sufficient evidence has been examined.
But when it comes to questions of morality, of how we should live, science is not always so helpful. At the very least, not always so certain. When we discuss issues around politics, economics, equality, or justice, sometimes it seems as if the atheist community is just as divided as the People’s Front of Judea. Many of us would identify as believing that a diversity of views is a good thing. In theory, anyway, much more difficult in practise. When questions arise that involve our values, or our identities, it’s very hard to examine the issues objectively, when we personally are the objects of examination.
It’s not that science has nothing to say about these moral questions, as there are domains of science that ask these questions and try to find answers, but the sciences that are best suited to address these questions, are often considered the “softer sciences”, such as sociology or psychology, that don’t seem to get the same level of respect as the sciences that give us more concrete answers. These are the types of sciences that can give us answers about the very issues that seem to cloud discussions of morality or ethics. For example there are studies conducted that demonstrate our human tendencies toward confirmation bias that serve to reinforce what we already think is true. This is quite easy to agree with in theory, even more so, when attributing this tendency to the other person, not so easy to accept when we turn it to ourselves.
Among many atheists that I know, another common value that seems to unite them, that doesn’t seem to be as prevalent in the religious community, is the acceptance of not knowing the answer. When it comes to questions such as how the universe began, or what happens after we die, we seem to be fairly comfortable with accepting that we don’t know, and quite possibly may never know. But when it comes to moral questions, we aren’t as comfortable with ambivalent positions.
With the recent horrific murders of the employees of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo that occurred in Paris, murders committed for the imaginary sin of blasphemy, the atheist community responded with vociferous condemnation of the attacks. But even in their unified position, it appears that the devil is in the details, as arguments went back and forth over questions regarding how to show solidarity for contentious free speech. Talking about a fundamental human right and our responsibilities to each other requires us to examine our values, things that are held very personally and intertwined with our identity and our own perspective, not easily looked at with the same objective rationality that we are accustomed to using with other types of questions. And yet we feel compelled to take a position, even when the answer is not so clear.
A few years ago, Sam Harris wrote a book called “The Moral Landscape” in which he put forward a case for using science to help us answer moral questions. These questions, about human wants and needs, happiness and suffering, have traditionally not been something that appeared amenable to scientific inquiry. Morality has historically been in the unique position of being so complex as to keep the philosophers busy for ages and yet also been so easily solved by each one of us as we negotiate living together in community, convinced that we have the right answers. For myself, I believe that Harris is right, that as we explore the frontiers of neuroscience, adding to the work done in other fields of inquiry in psychology, sociology and biology, and with the commitment to following the evidence where it leads, that we will get closer to the answers that we seek. The only instruction manual that we will have is the one we write ourselves.
– Diana Goods
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