ISSUE: September 2002
Edited by Sharon Fratepietro and Sharon Strong
Have a Mystical Experience at the September Meeting!
One of our most popular past visitors will return to speak at the SHL meeting on September 15. Dr. Massimo Pigliucci, author and evolutionary biologist, will explain "How to Have Your Own Mystical Experience." The meeting starts at 4 p.m. at Gage Hall next to the Unitarian Church, 4 Archdale St., in downtown Charleston. After the meeting all are welcome to reconvene for dinner at Vickery's Restaurant nearby.
Dr. Pigliucci has sent us this intriguing preview of his coming address: "There has been a lot of talk about the neurological basis of religious experiences lately, with both secular and mystical interpretations of the available results. It turns out that it is now possible to actually replicate mystical experiences with a variety of methods, even under strict laboratory conditions. Does this mean that mysticism is nothing but a byproduct of a brain that malfunctions under unusual circumstances (exposure to drugs, sensory deprivation, brain damage)? Or is there a "god module" in the brain that allows us to perceive an alternative reality? In this talk I will argue for the former and show why science may be about to dismantle the ultimate retreat of anti-materialistbsnot that that will convince any of them, of course."
Dr. Pigliucci is an Associate Professor at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, where he teaches ecology and evolutionary biology. His research is on the evolution of genotype-environment interactions, i.e., on nature-nurture problems. He received his Doctorate in Genetics at the University of Ferrara in Italy, and his Ph.D. in Botany from the University of Connecticut. He is currently working on a Ph.D. in Philosophy at the University of Tennessee. The Oak Ridge National Laboratory has named Dr. Pigliucci several times an awardee for excellence in research. He also has won the prestigious Dobzhansky Prize from the Society for the Study of Evolution, of which he is now Vice President. He has published 50 technical papers and two scholarly books on evolutionary biology. The SHL Humanist Book Discussion Group will remember reading Dr. Pigliucci's book Tales of the Rational: Skeptical Essays About Nature and Science. As a skeptic, Dr. Pigliucci has published articles in several national magazine
Dr. Pigliucci has given lectures for many humanist and freethought groups around the country. Among the theists and creationists he has debated are William Craig, William Dembski, Duane Gish, Ken Hovind, Walter ReMine, and Jonathan Wells. Dr. Pigliucci is also a faculty member of the Institute for Humanist Studies' distance adult education program. He produces a monthly e-column called "Rationally Speaking;" send him an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org to request getting this, or find the columns on the Web at www.rationallyspeaking.org.
Please Consider Going to the Godless Americans March on Washington
A unique event will take place on Saturday, November 2: the Godless Americans March down the Mall in Washington, DC. And if enough SHL members want to participate, we will look into renting a bus or van to travel to the March together, perhaps picking up other marchers en route in Columbia, Greenville, and North Carolina.
The bus would likely leave Charleston on Friday morning (November 1) and return on Sunday (November 3). The cost would be anywhere from $50 to $70 for the bus, depending on how many participate. In addition, a couple of Hilton hotels in the DC area are holding blocks of rooms for the March at about $100 per night, single or double occupancy. The nationwide organization American Atheists is coordinating the March, and much information about the event is available on the Web at www.godlessamericans.org. SHL President Herb Silverman asks you to please read about the March before the SHL meeting on September 15, when we will discuss the event. Because of the need to make reservations ASAP, we will need to have firm commitments with non-refundable bus payment by September 16. In the next column is a brief description of the March from the American Atheists Web site. Be sure to take a look at the entire plan on-line.
Letters to the Editor by SHL Members
The following comment appeared in the Washington Post on May 22:
The Gould Standard
In his appreciation of Stephen Jay Gould [Style, May 21], Joel Achenbach said, "[Mr.] Gould's politics were solidly left of center. He forcefully argued against the teaching of creationism in schools, a position that drew a great deal of fire." However true both sentences may be, Mr. Gould opposed the teaching of creationism in a science class not because he was a leftist but because he was a scientist.
An article on Religion and Business entitled "Keeping the Faith" by business reporter Jim Parker appeared on July 29 in the Charleston Post and Courier. Though the article mainly favored intermingling, it included this alternative viewpoint:
At least one local figure finds religious advertising self-serving, questioning whether they are employing faith as a marketing tool instead of a religious calling. "I think it is utterly crass for businesses to use religion to make money," said Herb Silverman, math professor at the College of Charleston and a self-proclaimed atheist who has protested cases that he believes violate the constitutional separation of church and state. "Legally, private-owned businesses certainly have the right to advertise however they wish. But I am disturbed by the increasing Balkanization of America," Silverman said. "It is a not-so-subtle way of saying, `I deserve your business because I am a Christian.' Or Muslim, or Jew, or whatever. I also wouldn't like to see an advertisement for `a white-owned business.Õ'
The following June 28 letter was sent to the Charleston Post and Courier; it remains unpublished.
In Support of the Separation of Church and State
To be honest, I am not really that concerned about the Pledge of Allegiance either way. Reciting "one nation, under God" as a child did not make me religious. Reciting the Pledge without the second half of this phrase prior to 1954 did not make Americans lose their faith or suffer the wrath of God. However, I am concerned about the Separation of Church and State, a topic that this decision has brought to the forefront. Yes, it is true that one of its roles is to protect those of us who choose to have no religion. Thomas Jefferson makes this clear in his famous notes of 1782 in which he states "[I]t does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg." However, this is not the only function that it serves. Jefferson also wrote a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802, praising the Separation of Church and State as something that protects religious Americans as well. After all, wasn't America largely populated by people seeking escape from religious persecution? Remember, they were fleeing countries with official state religions, not countries like ours with an officially mandated separation between religion and government.
It is in many ways a beautiful thing that our country can be home to so many people of differing religious views, living together peacefully. I agree with the writers of the Constitution that the only way to preserve this wonderfully diverse society is to keep government out of the business of saying what we as Americans do and should believe about God. I agree with the four dissenting justices in the recent Supreme Court decision on school vouchers that removing these bricks from the wall separating church and state risks destroying the very fabric of our society. I urge those of you who disagree to think carefully about your actions, because I am afraid that the consequences may be much worse than you have imagined.
SHL Adopt-A-Highway September Clean-up
By Gill Krebs
The last 2002 Adopt-A-Highway pickup will be on Saturday, September 28, starting at 9:00 a.m. If it rains on that day, we'll pick up on October 5. Our pickup area is Highway 61 starting two miles past Bees Ferry Road and ending two miles beyond that. The start is at Drayton Hall and ends a little past Magnolia Gardens. The Highway Department supplies everything we need -- orange bags for the trash, orange vests, and pointy sticks -- but no gloves, so bring your own work or garden gloves.
The clean-up shouldn't take more than a few hours, and it's a good opportunity for us to carry on our usual interesting conversations while we work. We'll meet at the small parking lot just across the street from the main Drayton Hall entrance on Highway 61 at 9:00 a.m. to pick up the supplies and head out. Please call me at 763-4505 or e-mail me at email@example.com if you plan to help with the pickup. We need bodies: live ones, that is.
Humanist Book Discussion Group
By Sharon Strong
On September 22, the Humanist Book Discussion Group will recommence its regular monthly meetings following the summer hiatus. Continuing on the same schedule as last year, our meetings will take place on the fourth Sunday of the month in the Barnes and Noble bookstore at 1812 Sam Rittenberg Blvd., 3:00-5:00 p.m. This month I will be leading a discussion of the book From Beirut to Jerusalem (Updated with a New Chapter) by Thomas Friedman. The author is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who tries to provide a framework for understanding the psychology and politics of the Middle East. Looking ahead, on October 27 we will be discussing God's Perfect Child: Living and Dying in the Christian Science Church by Caroline Fraser. The author is a former Christian Scientist whose book details the life story of Christian Science founder Mary Baker Eddy. All our books are available at the West Ashley Barnes and Noble. Join us at our next meeting and help us select more good books to read in the com[pany of friends? -ak]