ISSUE: April 2001
Edited by Dave Peterson
NOTE SPECIAL TIME AND LOCATION: April 22, 1:30PM at the College of CharlestonPeter Singer is one of the most controversial figures in American public life today. He has been, since 1999, the Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University, an appointment that led to much protesting by people opposed to his views on abortion and euthanasia. Singer first impacted on the American consciousness with his book Animal Liberation, which argued for a moral status for certain animals, not a popular view. His statements in favor of infanticide under certain conditions, though, are what have really roiled the pot of the pro-life movement. His latest book is Writings on an ETHICAL LIFE, which our book discussion group ia currently reviewing.
Peter Singer was born in Melbourne, Australia, in 1946, and educated at the University of Melbourne and the University of Oxford. He has taught at the University of Oxford, New York University, the University of Colorado at Boulder, the University of California at Irvine, and La Trobe University. He was appointed to a chair of philosophy at Monash University, in Melbourne, in 1977, and subsequently was the founding Director of that university's Centre for Human Bioethics. Peter Singer was the founding President of the International Association of Bioethics, and with Helga Kuhse, founding co-editor of the journal Bioethics. Outside academic life, he was for many years President of Animal Liberation (Victoria) and later served as President of the Australian and New Zealand Federation of Animal Societies, a peak body for animal welfare and animal rights organizations in Australia and New Zealand. He is the co-founder, and President, of The Great Ape Project, an international effort to obtain basic rights for chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans, and President of Animal Rights International, an organization founded by the late Henry Spira.
He is the author of many books as well as the major article on Ethics in the current edition of the Encylopaedia Britannica.
Peter Singer is married, with three daughters. His recreations, apart from reading and writing, include hiking, bodysurfing, and cross-country skiing. SHL is co-sponsoring, with several departments at the College of Charleston, Dr. Singer's talk.
You will note that the talk in not on our usual third Sunday of the month,
but on the fourth. Also, the time is different: 1:30 pm. After the talk, we will go back
to Gage Hall (4 Archdale St.) for a discussion of the talk. After that those interested
will go for an early supper at Vickery's restaurant just up the street.
HUMANIST BOOK DISCUSSION
By Sharon Strong
On Sunday, May 6, from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m., the Humanist Book Discussion
Group will gather to talk about "The Gnostic Gospels," by Elaine Pagels.
This is a concise and very readable account of some "heretical" texts of
the early Christian movement and how they shed light on the political origins
of orthodox Christianity. We will meet at the Barnes and Noble store
on Sam Rittenberg Blvd. in West Ashley. The book should be available
by April 13 in the "Staff Recommends" section at the same Barnes and Noble
(at a 20% discount!). The Humanist Book Discussion meets on the first
Sunday of each month from September to May at that same Barnes and Noble.
Everyone is welcome to participate or just come to listen. For more
information, you may contact Sharon Strong at 853-3976.
SOUTH CAROLINA SECULAR COUNCIL...
By Herb Silverman
About a month ago, I was at a Coalition for the Community of Reason (CCR) meeting of several national organizations, where we discussed ways to help local communities.
One successful project in Minnesota, initiated by Marie Castle (President of Atheist Alliance) was suggested as a program that all states might adopt.
She formed the Minnesota Secular Council, a loosely connected group of freethought organizations in Minnesota. There are no bylaws or officers or anything that could get them bogged down in organizational matters.
The purpose was to find a sympathetic politician or governmental body who would meet with the Secular Council about specific issues of concern to its membership. Politicians are more likely to meet with a group that represents many different organizations.
Governor Jesse Ventura agreed to meet with the Minnesota State Council, which had a representative from each of 8 different organizations. They requested action on two issues: a state-level appeals process to deal with proselytizing teachers when atheist parents get stonewalled at the local level, and a Full Disclosure requirement for Catholic-controlled hospitals so patients know about the religious restrictions on health care up front. Ventura said to call his office directly when proselytizing teachers become a problem. He also voiced support for a Full Disclosure law and they are currently working with a supportive state senator to introduce a Full Disclosure bill.
Here is what CCR concluded: "Members of the CCR will suggest to their local chapters that they ally with groups from other organizations in their state or region to form a loosely organized secular council. The purpose of the secular council will be to approach state officials or elected bodies in order to create a friendly relationship and express specific concerns about issues of secular-religious concern. The secular councils may also decide to jointly do other things."
Granted that South Carolina is not Minnesota and we (unfortunately) have no Jesse Ventura in a position of power. However, I think we can all benefit from forming a South Carolina Secular Council.
I have written to the other three organizations that cosponsored our
State Conference last year. We have agreed that it is a great idea, so,
as of this moment the SCSC exists paperwork to follow, which
will be kept to a minimum. There are presently three of us, Texas having
the other council. Since the idea will be pushed at the coming AAI meeting
in Atlanta, perhaps we secular humanists are on our way to having a solid
Is The Post and Courier Corrupt?
By Dave Peterson
Since moving to the lowcountry nine years ago, I have become increasingly convinced that the editors of the Post and Courier are corrupt. If not, they are totally incompetent and should get out of the news business. I read three papers daily and the NY Times on occasion, when I need a real news fix. The other papers I see, The Beaufort Gazette and The Savannah Morning News (together with its independently edited enclosure, The Carolina Morning News) have their evident faults, to be sure.
The Gazette's financial status is such that they have to hire, for the most part, kids straight out of journalism school who still have a lot to learn. Once they've done that they move on to a bigger, better paying paper, leaving the editors to weed the errors out of their replacements.
The Savannah paper is larger and more affluent. Their editorial staff is proudly conservative and says a lot of dumb things. They tend to pick up ideas from national conservative groups, the Heritage Foundation, National Review online, etc., and paraphrase these to their readers. The problem here is that the editors don't know enough about the subjects themselves so a lot of logical mistakes get made; points get redirected at the wrong targets, and internal inconsistencies abound. But, they publish a balanced letters to the editors column and a highly diverse op-ed page. Molly Ivins is a regular contributor, for example.
And then we have the Post and Courier. One of the first things my wife, Yvonne, noticed was editorials dealing with Latin America, her career field for three decades, that came out of the blue. None of the events being criticized had ever been covered in the paper. The reader had no context for any of this; and they were partisan pieces that were published. It turned out, of course, that Robert Cox, now assistant editor, used to run the English language daily in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and he had lots of opinions on Latin America. That many of these were contrary to expert opinion was something the readers of the P&C would never know.
Then it became obvious that the editor's idea of a balanced op-ed was David Broder holding down the far left, Paul Greenburg on the moderate left, Cal Thomas on the moderate right, and William Murchison as mainstream right. (The latter is one of the most intellectually dishonest columnists plying the trade, in your editor's documented view, available on request.)
The letters to the editors frequently present only one side of an issue, the one the paper favors, when I knew for a fact that opposing views had been submitted. Also noted is the virtual total absence of letters critical of the paper itself. The Savannah Morning News frequently runs letters that start, "I don't know what you were thinking of when you wrote your editorial on such-and-such, but it was really dumb." Seen any of those in the P&C?
And then there are the outright dishonesties. Last year, in order to make the argument that the census should be an actual head count with no statistical sampling, the editorialist changed the wording of the Constitution, left quotes around it, and said that's what the Constitution has to say on the issue. The actual wording did not support their argument, of course, which I suppose is why they changed it. When this bit of cheating was brought to their attention, they simply ignored the criticism. I noted that in making a similar argument earlier this year they took the words "actual enumeration" out of context to support themselves. I guess that's marginally better than changing the text to suit.
So what set your editor off today, you might ask. These instances of corruption at the P&C are not new. Let me tell you. On Sunday, the 8th, they published a story by James Glanz from the New York Times headlined: "Evolutionists now are battling intelligent-design theory." When I read it I had the thought, as many of you Charlestonians may have also, that it seemed very one-sided, especially for the Times. It treated intelligent design theory (IDT) as if it were broadly respectable in academia.
Only two opponents of IDT are quoted and then not in opposition: Dr. Eugenia Scott, director of the National Center for Science Education saying that, "The most striking thing about the intelligent design folks is their potential to make anti-evolutionism intellectually respectable." and Dr. Adrian Melott of the University of Kansas, a leader in the fight to restore evolution to the curriculum there, saying that IDT was finding adherents among doctors, engineers and people with degrees in the humanities. Melott is directly quoted once, IDT is "the language that creationists among the student body tend to use now." Note that none of these comments imply that IDT is nonsense, even though I know that both speakers hold just such a position. Further, no where else in the article is there any hint that there is serious opposition to IDT in the scientific community.
I thought this odd, so when I picked up the Times that Yvonne had just bought I was pleased to see the article on the first page. As I suspected, Glanz's long article (twice the length of the P&C's plus a large sidebar) was balanced and thoughtful. He brought out that biologists, the people that actually work in this field, think the idea is bogus. He quotes, for example, Dr. Leonard Krishtalka, a biologist and director of the University of Kansas's Natural History Museum and Biodiversity Research Center, as saying, "Intelligent design is nothing more than creationism dressed in a cheap tuxedo."
In explaining the works of prominent IDT proponents, Glanz is careful to quote scientists rebutting those works and, importantly, why the specific work is wrong. If you go to the Times website (nytimes.com) you can verify what I have just said.
So what is one to make of the P&C's very selective editing. Surely the omission of any criticism was not just a random artifact of the editing process. It must have been deliberate. Not content with Glanz's even handed treatment, somebody at the P&C thought they had to load the dice (in God's favor?) so the uninitiated might think there was something to IDT after all.
Interestingly, the religion page, frequently the most biased of sections
at many papers, and certainly so at the P&C before Eric Frazier and
Dave Munday, is now a balanced feature. The top-editors should take note
of that. I fear, though, that they are too mired in intellectual corruption
to make their way to the high ground.
LETTERS TO EDITORS...
Intelligent Design in the Schools
Written to the LA Times by Brent Meeker, a member of the Freethinkers of Ventura County CA
The religious zealots who are trying to push religion into the public schools under the guise of "Intelligent Design" do not even take their own theory seriously. They never even talk about it. They just find things not yet explained by Darwinian evolution and pretend that if there is anything evolution doesn't explain then there must be an Intelligent Designer. I call this the argument from ignorance. The more ignorance the more evidence for intelligent design. However, unlike its proponents, I, as a scientist, have taken a serious look at the theory of Intelligent Design; and what I've found is a lot of evidence AGAINST intelligent design:
The nerves in a mammals eye join the photoreceptor cells at the end facing the pupil. They run across the inside surface of the retina and exit together. Where they exit they create a 'blind spot' in our field of vision. So, first, they partly obstruct the retina and, second, they create a blind spot. Why would any intelligent designer adopt this arrangement? The eyes of squids and octopi are wired the right way around, with the nerves connected behind the photoreceptors. Are we to conclude they were created by a "more" intelligent designer?
A long time ago humans discovered the advantage of wheels in moving over relatively smooth terrain. Why are there no animals with wheels?
Primitive humans discovered the mechanical superiority of metals over bone. Metal prosthetics are now used to replace bones. Metal wires are also five million times faster than neurons in the transmission of signals; yet no animal has metallic nerves. Why did the designer of animals fail to use metal as the structural or neural material of any animal?
People swallow and breathe through a shared passage. A design that results in many deaths due to choking on food.
Women experience considerable pain in child birth because the birth canal passes through the pelvis which must have a small opening to support the pregnant womb but which must then yield and expand to allow birth. This is easily explained by humans' descent from animals. What is the design explanation for this?
The urinary tract of a man passes through the prostate gland, a gland subject to swelling which squeezes shut the urinary track.
As humans have designed vehicles, they have found it best to use two wheels, three wheels, four wheels, six wheels, even 18 wheels depending on the surface and the application. The designer of a larger and heavier vehicle on the softer surface uses more wheels to avoid sinking into the surface. Yet among animals the small ones, arthropods, have six or more legs while the large animals have two or four. What is the design explanation for the absence of large animals with six or more legs?
Arthropods make an elastic protein, rezulin, which is much more elastic than that in molluscs (abductin) and in vertebrates (elastin). Thus a fly can flap its wings with less energy loss than a horse can run or a scallop can swim. Why would an intelligent designer not use the best protein in all three?
When animals with fur get cold, little muscles attached to each hair follicle cause the hairs to stand up, thus thickening the fur and increasing its insulative value. Humans also have these muscles which cause 'goosebumps' when we're cold. This increases our surface area and increases our loss of heat. This is easily explained by our descent From furry animals -- but not by design.
In the DNA of all living things there are sequences which have no effect on the development or function of the organism. Collectively these are called 'junk' DNA; its only function is to replicate itself. What is the explanation for this design?
Why did the "intelligent designers" of life on Earth start with simple forms and proceed to more complex forms slowly over millions of years?
In short, if people had been designed by General Creators Inc., the company would be facing the biggest product liability law suit the world has ever known. Of course none of this fazes the ID crowd because they already know ID is religion and religion doesn't have to make sense.
MARCH'S SPEAKER: Massimo Pigliucci...
Last month, in a well attended return engagement to SHL Professor Massimo Pigliucci spoke on the subject of "intelligent design" theory (IDT), which is the latest rubric under which creationists are attempting to justify their beliefs. After showing a Rube Goldberg cartoon as an analogy to IDT, he gave us a little history of the theory David Hume's 18th century rebuttal of the argument that Bishop Paley would trot out in the 19th century, i.e., that if you found a watch in the woods you would assume a designer; so it is with the universe.
Asking the question, "Is the universe intelligently or naturally designed, he led us through the arguments of the modern day ID theorists: Philip Johnson, Michael Behe, et al. At this point, we had a short group discussion about what it would take to demonstrate the validity of the idea to us. We found it hard to come up with one short of a revelation from the creating god.
The next step was an analysis of the "proof" that Michael Behe proposed in his book, Darwin's Black Box. Dr. Pigliucci then rebutted Behe's arguments with the presentation of counter evidence to what Behe was claiming. A strong argument used the idea of scaffolding to show why Behe's idea of irreducible complexity didn't work: a masonry arch looks like an irreducible design, yet it was put up with scaffolding that is now gone. Similar processes took place in biology.
We then looked at the arguments of Michael Demski. Pigliucci showed that his organization of types of design left out several pertinent possibilities that made more sense and at the same time left Demski's ideas fatally flawed. Massimo is one of those speakers who keeps your interest and still manages to cut to the heart of a sophisticated scientific subject so that you understand it. I would not want to debate him.
A lively discussion followed. It is impossible to summarize the ideas involved here in a few short paragraphs. Those who are interested are invited to go to Dr. Pigliucci's web site for a detailed look at the subject. (http:/fp.bio.utk.edu/reality). For a look at all the players the following site is recommended:
FEBRUARY'S SPEAKER: Katherine Prevost...
SHL members attending February's meeting were exposed to the intense, personal recollections of fellow member Katherine Prevost of her life during the period of World War II. Born into a family with a Catholic father and a Jewish mother, she grew up in a secular Jewish household after her mother remarried. She was 15 when the nazi influence in Hungary changed her life.
She detailed, first, the ghettoizing of the Jews in Budapest, and then the forced removal of her and her sister to a labor camp. Throughout the war, she was shuttled from one camp to the next, each time under more horrible conditions, until she ended up in the Dachau complex of camps where she remained until liberated by the allied forces in 1945.
One of the interesting threads of narrative that ran through her talk was the behavior of the people around her, both prisoners and captors. She related how you had to eat what little you got right away and not to save anything for later because by then you would have lost it by theft or force. The need for survival does not seem to put a premium on altruism.
She also told us of her experiences after the war living in Germany,
and the readily found, still existent, ugly anti-semitism. Her life changed,
though, when she was able to come to America, partly because of what was
here, and partly because on the boat trip over she met Arthur Prevost,
then a crew member, who was to become her husband. It was a deeply moving
experience she shared with us that day, and we thank her for expanding
our knowledge of those terrible days.
DIIULIO BOMBSHELL: WE MAY PAY FOR "FAITH-BASED" BRICKS-AND-MORTAR, PRESERVATION REPAIRS...
From American Atheist News, April 7, 2001
Faith-Based office czar John DiIulio last weekend, in a little publicized event, announced that government funds could be used to rehabilitate thousands of churches and other religion-affiliated structures which are "civic assets" and serve as outreach centers for social programs.
It is the first time that a Bush administration official has suggested that tax money be used to fund bricks-and-mortar style repairs to dilapidated houses of worship. Until now, DiIulio, head of the new White House Office for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, has said that funding would go only to the secular component of social services operated by religious organizations.
At a banquet held in Philadelphia last Sunday by an obscure group known as "Partners for Sacred Places," DiIulio joined religious leaders and some preservationists in lamenting that the public is "behind the curve in thinking of our older religious properties as civic assets."
"When those building crumble," he said, "when the deferred maintenance catches up, the preschool and the prison ministry and the day-care center and the after-school latchkey learning program .. crumble and go away, too. They just don't move to the Ramada Inn."
A story in today's Philadelphia Inquirer notes that DiIulio hopes to challenge a 1995 administrative ruling which banned the use of federal National Park Service preservation money for rehabilitating or maintaining any religious properties. He said that the White House would consider that rule an "unfriendly" social policy.
"We don't view it as historic preservation. We view it as community use and stewardship," gushed DiIulio. He added that since inner-city churches are often cash-poor, President Bush wants to use a "compassion capital fund" to make grants to houses of worship for "infrastructure improvements."
DiIulio is the first government official on record as trying to link public funding and the new faith-based initiative to the "problem" of deteriorating churches and other houses of worship. For DiIulio, if religious groups are to operate social programs, government must also take a role in maintaining the physical "infrastructure" those programs are held in. Sunday's soiree was also the first time of record that government involvement is being seriously solicited in the effort to supplement private contributions and foundation grants in order to maintain or enhance church-affiliated property. The latter has been a goal of Partners for Sacred Places.
Diane Cohen, an official with the Partners group, told the Inquirer that foundations and other granting agencies have several concerns: "Fear of supporting religious institutions in general, fear of favoring one faith over another, and the belief that they just don't support capital improvements." She estimated that 800 congregations in Philadelphia alone are trying to maintain facilities that are over sixty years old; about 200 are in "dire condition," she added.
Indeed, "deteriorating sacred places" is becoming the buzz-phrase in the faith community and those seeking to expand the largesse of government in subsidizing religious programs and institutions. In 1997, Cohen's group issued a white paper, "Sacred Places At Risk" that chronicled the contributions of urban ministries and the decaying infrastructure of the inner-city church. John DiIulio, then a professor at Princeton, boosted the report in Washington and, according to the Inquirer, "said the findings helped lead to Bush's faith-based agenda." DiIulio was also part of a panel at the National Press Club where the "Sacred Places" study was released. Other participants included William J. Bennett, the former Secretary of Education; Sen. Joseph Lieberman; and Rev. Eugene F. Rivers III, pastor of the Azusa Christian Community in Boston, Mass. and a key point-man in the Bush faith-based initiative.
Pleas for government grants and other forms of aid seem to be coming From these cash-poor ministries which want to operate social programs, but simply cannot afford to costs of maintaining buildings to a safe standard. The director of Hispanic Clergy of Philadelphia, Rev. Luis Cortes, said that his group's 60 churches have a difficult time simply meeting city code requirements. He cited a Baptist church which opened a day-care facility which failed to obtain licensing when the city insisted that a sprinkler system estimated to cost $50,000 be installed.
"This is about local codes that stop service," Cortes said. "If the government demands sprinklers, there has to be a way government can meet that. The outcome here was no service at all for the community."
Pennsylvania and New Jersey both use preservation trust money to provide restoration for religious properties that are included on historic registries. Diane Cohen told the Inquirer that she would like to see banks, foundations and other sources expand that program by providing discounted "bridge loans" or outright grants. Everyone, though, is waiting to see if the government will get involved, Cohen added.
Money for bricks-and-mortar aid to churches is a dangerous step, said Ellen Johnson, President of American Atheists. "Already, the government wants to tax millions of Atheists and freethinkers in this country in order to subsidize faith-based social services. If that isn't enough, now Bush and DiIulio want us to pay for the buildings these religion-affiliated outreaches operate in. Where does it end?"
For further information:
http://www.atheists.org/flash.line/faith1.htm ("Bush signs executive orders for faith-based programs," 1/29/01)
http://www.atheists.org/flash.line/faith5.htm ('Religion Tax' office opens as fringe groups poised to demand cash," 2/21/01)
http://www.atheists.org/flash.line/faith6.htm ("Lieberman praises 'new spiritual awakening,' reaffirms support for faith-based legislation, 3/4/01)
http://www.atheists.org/flash.line/faith9.htm ("Philly faith-based director charged with theft, but Mayor expands controversial program," 3/17/01)
Choice, Faith-Based Partnerships and the Public Funding of Religion")
Jokes and Quotes
GOOD THAT COMES FROM THE BIBLE...
From Don Bremer (firstname.lastname@example.org) via Charlotte Poe, Freethinkers of Ventura County CA
A businessman was in a great deal of trouble. His business was failing, he had put everything he had into the business, he owed everybody -- it was so bad he was even contemplating suicide. As a last resort he went to a priest and poured out his story of tears and woe.
When he had finished, the priest said, "Here's what I want you to do: Put a beach chair and your Bible in your car and drive down to the beach. Take the beach chair and the Bible to the water's edge, sit down in the beach chair, and put the Bible in your lap. Open the Bible; the wind will rifle the pages, but finally the open Bible will come to rest on a page. Look down at the page and read the first thing you see. That will be your answer, that will tell you what to do."
A year later the businessman went back to the priest and brought his wife and children with him. The man was in a new custom-tailored suit, his wife in a mink coat, the children shining. The businessman pulled an envelope stuffed with money out of his pocket, gave it to the priest as a donation in thanks for his advice.
The priest recognized the benefactor, and was curious.
"You did as I suggested?",he asked.
"Absolutely," replied the businessman.
"You went to the beach?"
"You sat in a beach chair with the Bible in your lap?"
"You let the pages rifle until they stopped?"
"And what were the first words you saw?"
GR O O O O AN...
Contributed by Herb Silverman
A man was passing a small courtyard and heard voices murmuring.
He went in and saw an altar with a large zero in the middle and a banner that said "NIL." White-robed people were kneeling before the altar chanting hymns to The Great Nullity and The Blessed Emptiness.
The man turned to a white-robed observer beside him and asked, "Is Nothing Sacred?"
From the Rationalist Society of St. Louis
There was a tradesman, a painter called Harry, who was very interested in making a penny where he could, so he often would thin down paint to make it go a wee bit further. As it happened, he got away with this for some time, but eventually a church decided to do a big restoration job on the painting of one of their biggest churches. Harry put in a bid and, because his price was so low, he got the job.
And so he set to erecting the trestles and setting up the planks, and buying the paint and, yes, I am sony to say, thinning it down with the turpentine. Well, Harry was up on the scaffolding, painting away, the job nearly completed, when suddenly there was a horrendous clap of thunder, and the sky opened, the rain poured down, washing the thinned paint from all over the church and knocking Harry clear off the scaffold to land on the lawn, among the gravestones, surrounded by telltale puddles of the thinned and useless paint.
Harry was no fool. He knew this was a judgment from the Almighty, so he got on his knees and cried ''Oh God! Forgive me! What should I do?" And from the thunder, a mighty voice spoke:
"Repaint! Repaint! And thin no more!"
TWO QUOTES TWO VIEWS...
In World History for Christian Schools, David A. Fisher describes humanism as "an overemphasis on human worth and ability, leading man to glorify himself instead of God....While its historical forms may vary, humanism inevitably leads people away from God and spiritual concerns. It promotes the false idea that man is good and that he is superior to God. Secular humanism of the twentieth century altogether rejects belief in God and worships man as God. The pride of humanism, however, will not go unpunished.
"Christian morality (so-called) has all the characters of a reaction; . . Its ideal is negative rather than positive; passive rather than active; Innocence rather than Nobleness; Abstinence from Evil, rather than energetic Pursuit of Good . . . It holds out the hope of heaven and the threat of hell, as the appointed and appropriate motives to a virtuous life: in this falling far below the best of the ancients, and doing what lies in it to give to human morality an essentially selfish character . . . It is essentially the doctrine of passive obedience; it inculcates submission to all authorities found established"
APRIL ADOPT-A-HIGHWAY PICKUP...
By Gill Krebs
The second 2001 Adopt-A-Highway pickup will be on April 28.
If it rains on that day, we'll pick up on May 5. We really need more
people to invest a couple of hours on this community service. Six
people (which seem to be the regulars) can't do it all, and the more people
there are, the shorter the time to clean up the highway.