Darwin Day Announcement

Good news — the Itasca Community College chapter of the Secular Student Alliance is once again active!  And they want to commemorate Darwin Day (February 12) by showing the film “Inherit the Wind.”  The film is based on a stage play which in turn is based on the Scopes Trial regarding the teaching of evolution in schools.  The names have been changed, but it is pretty easy to discern who each character is meant to represent — Clarence Darrow, William Jennings Bryan, Scopes, and so forth.  The film is well done and is informative and thought provoking as well as entertaining.

Just one wrinkle — they will be showing it at 7:00 PM, and, since the 12th is a Thursday, this conflicts with the GRAF weekly meeting.  But I don’t see this as a problem.  We can just move our location to ICC (room to be announced), and those who wish can retire to a more Dionysian hangout after the film.

I will pass any forthcoming information.

The Philosophy of Happiness – Our monthly meeting on November 25, 2014

We had a presentation by Janet Neurauter from the ICC Foundation regarding scholarship options for GRAF via the Foundation. Then we had a fairly long discussion about our plans for providing a scholarship and decided the best route appeared to be to work with the ICC Foundation. We would offer a single scholarship for $500 in the spring of next year for use by a student in the fall and spring semesters next year. The Foundation requires a minimum of $500 and then provides half that amount in the fall of 2015 and the remainder in the spring of 2016. There is no charge from the Foundation and they handle most of the administration and award process. We can specify criteria for students eligible for the scholarship and make those as exclusive or inclusive as we choose. The Foundation chooses a subject for an essay by the applicants and has a committee review these and make the decisions on the awards based on whether a student qualifies for a particular scholarship. The funds available and the sponsoring organizations or groups are publicized by the Foundation at the local schools, through the Community Foundation and probably through the newspaper as well. We will need to authorize this process by early January and provide our criteria by then as well. Since the Community Foundation charges a fee for handling any scholarships and the ICC Foundation has a minimum amount that matches what we had considered investing in total, it seemed a simple decision to work with the ICC Foundation. An email explaining all of the details again will be sent to GRAF members for feedback.

In addition to discussing the scholarship issue we took a look at the new website developed for the Iron Range Coalition of Reason by the United Coalition of Reason in Washington D.C. This is a regional group in which we are planning to participate. The site can be viewed here. It is still a work in progress and we will eventually be able to edit and add to the site as needed. The coalition is intended to help publicize the presence of organizations like GRAF in this region of Minnesota and help us acquire additional members. Training in how to manage publicity is still being planned, but we don’t have dates or details as yet. It may be the case that much of the training would be done online rather than in a meeting in Duluth.

Given the time required to discuss the items noted above, we didn’t have a lot of time to discuss the video by Alain de Botton regarding the philosophy of happiness. So, here it is and we can discuss it online.

Children and Religious Parents

A few weeks ago, Jerry Coyne had a lot on his blog about children who were denied life saving medical procedures because of their parents’ absurd religious beliefs.  I had this discussion with my students today, and I told them that while I am not trying to get them to think like me, this is an issue I am passionate about.  Imagine a child who by definition is not able to make adult decisions dying because their idiot parent is into a partuicularly pernicious form of woo.  Yet I was surprised that there were those who needed convincing that this was not a matter of relgious freedom, but of children’s rights.


I wonder if this is a topic we could bring up at the CPC.

Who’s Lying, Who’s Self-Justifying – Our Monthly Meeting on August 26, 2014

The program at this meeting moved away from topics associated with religion and atheism. We ventured into the sphere of skepticism and critical thinking in the difficult area of sexual communications. Claims of sexual assault are often embedded in a cloud of ambiguities and our reactions are frequently based on preconceptions and deeply embedded beliefs for which we seek confirmation rather than face conflicting evidence.The speaker was Carol Tavris who is a psychologist. She made her presentation at the The Amazing Meeting (TAM) in Las Vegas this summer.

The consensus was that this was a very good and thought provoking talk. Leave your impressions in the comment area.

The Ultimate Question – Our monthly meeting on Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Seth Andrews is the originator and host of the weekly podcast, The Thinking Atheist. In addition to interviewing some of the major voices in the freethought community on his podcast, Seth is becoming a popular speaker at various conferences, conventions and meetings in the freethought community. His skills as a broadcaster and video producer make him a top choice when you want an articulate and passionate voice for a humanistic and secular perspective. The video below won universal praise from those attending the meeting. Seth provides humor, thoughtful observations on his own de-conversion experience and what it means to embrace reason, science and humanism.

The Thinking Atheist podcast occurs weekly on Tuesday evenings and you can listen to it live from the website. There is also an archive of previous shows (there are now 172). Seth recently participated in a mini tour with Matt Dillahunty and Aron Ra (they are all located in the Texas area), called the “Unholy Trinity Tour”. You can see a trailer about this series of talks here. I believe Seth arranged to have them captured on video and as soon as they become available, I may post one or more of them on this blog. At this point I have no idea what the content is, but all three of the members of the unholy trio are worth a listen. Check back for updates to the blog.

Free will – Our monthly meeting on Tuesday, May 27, 2014

This month’s meeting topic was free will and followed the usual path of trying to determine whether it exists or is merely an illusion. John Schirber read some sections of Sam Harris’s book on Free Will to start the discussion. Below is a lecture on the ideas in his book by Sam. Following that will be a lecture by Daniel Dennett on the same topic. They disagree in that Harris feels there is no basis for supposing that we can act freely and therefore “independently” of the material activities of our brains. Harris is a complete determinist. Dennett is a compatabilist and sees room for some level of indeterminacy and freedom in our thoughts and actions. The topic is not light and easy to explore in a short period of time. The Harris video runs 1 hour while Dennett’s runs to 1 hour and 20 minutes.

First we will start with Harris:

Here is Dennett’s take:

Secular Cafe 2

The second Secular Cafe is on the books for next Tuesday, May 13th. That’s a week from today. It will be held in the library starting at 7:00 PM. The topic is “The Ethics of Belief”.

It is often expected that beliefs will influence actions although sometimes we expect people to recognize that the actions associated with their beliefs might not be acceptable. In those cases, the belief might be set aside, but the believer might struggle for a time reconciling their action and the belief. At other times the belief might not require any action at the present and the believer might not need to face the question of whether the action and belief raise problems.

When push comes to shove, all beliefs probably entail a need to consider whether the actions required mean that the belief needs reconsideration or defense. What if there is no evidence to support your belief? Can you justify any action in that case? What if you choose to make no effort to gather credible evidence that your belief is true? Are you morally culpable for the harm that might arise from your failure to investigate?

The questions to consider are extensive and the problems are real if unsupported beliefs go unchallenged or unsupported. This discussion could make for a lively debate. I’m hopeful that Nathan Bergsted’s efforts will help bring some from the believing community into the conversation.

AC Grayling – Humanism – Our monthly meeting on Tuesday, April 22, 2014

This monthly meeting continued the discussion on what comes after religion or replaces religion. While some churches are seeing growth, much of that comes at the expense of other churches resulting in no net gain in the number who ascribe to old superstitions. Facing that apparent decline in faith, AC Grayling, an articulate philosopher from the UK looks at the much older and deeper tradition of humanism as a waiting resource for those willing to make the effort to lead thoughtful and compassionate lives or who worry that giving up on religion will leave them without an ethical, moral or meaningful view of life. As he notes, humanism provides for all of those and does so much better than any religion. The video below contains one of his best presentations on the topics covered in his newest book “The God Argument: The Case Against Religion and for Humanism”.

While AC isn’t quite as well known and as visible in the secular community as folks like Dawkins and Harris, he is a steady source of some of the best thoughts regarding the humanistic perspective. For those still in the grip of religion and full of misunderstandings regarding atheism and the secular community, here is an elegant speaker who can help you understand where we are “coming from”.