Posts Tagged ‘humanist symposium’

The latest Humanist Symposium is up, which compiles some great posts, plus me.

The latest Carnival of the Godless, likewise.

And on the subject of godless carnivals, I’m hosting the next one of those. So, anytime between now and the end of the month, if you have an irreligiously themed blogpost you’d like to be included in the next round-up, here’s the submission form.

Or you can tweet me a link, or leave a comment, or email me (the name of this blog at hotmail dot co dot uk). However it gets to me, I’m pretty sure to include anything that’s on-topic and timely.

This may be a good time to link you back to my editions of the Skeptics’ Circle and the Humanist Symposium. Two weeks till I hit the trifecta, baby.

Now I just have to write something entertaining for it. Well, shit.

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Okay, I’m trying to get back into some sort of rhythm here, so have a few links.

– Anton Vowl has another fine example of tabloid hysteria being founded on the age-old tradition of making up whatever bullshit suits you. (Spoiler: The Daily Mail don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about, and don’t much seem to care.)

– Speaking of the Daily Mail, Liz Jones can get fucked. I don’t really have anything to add to the Angry Mob’s comment on that, but I’d had some feedback that telling more people to get fucked would be appreciated, and I’m nothing if not slavishly devoted to my fans. [Edit 18/05/10: Here are some numbers. A £3,000 fridge, a £26,000 holiday in Mozambique including speedboat hire, and £8.95 for a tube of toothpaste? And pensioners and disabled people are sending you their money out of pity? I stand entirely by my original abuse.]

– The latest humanist symposium is up, which features me swearing a lot.

– Oh, and today is the International Day Against Homophobia. So remember not to be a dick about people’s sexuality today. Or, y’know, ever.

And because the abbreviation being used for that last event is IDAHO, I’m going to close on a tenuous link to a concert I was at a few weeks ago, and watch a video instead of writing anything. Because I was totally bullshitting up there about being slavishly devoted. I’m actually very lazy. Night night.

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This weekend has been rubbish for wordifying. However, some of the stuff I got done back when I was being productive has featured in a couple of blog carnivals. The latest Humanist Symposium and Carnival of the Godless are both full of fun. Go have a look.

Yeah, that’s it.

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Firstly of all, the latest Humanist Symposium is up.

Nextly, gimpy has a great summary of the forthcoming Evidence Check report on homeopathy from the House of Commons. This is a report due out tomorrow which is likely to call for an end to NHS homeopathy funding, which cost the taxpayer £4 million last year. Which would be good, because they could be spending that on actual medicine for people.

I’m still bugged by stuff like this, when the chief executive of the British Homeopathic Association tries to support his unmedicine by citing things like:

100 randomised controlled trials, and many more on outcome measures, which reflect how patients say they feel.

If those trials on “outcome measures” weren’t also randomised and controlled, then they’re worthless. By admitting they weren’t part of proper trial protocol, you’re just saying “and many more which are complete unscientific nonsense”. I’m sure lots of patients said they felt much better, but that doesn’t mean your magic water did it. It’s called the fucking placebo effect. Goddammit, what’s hard to understand about this?

Also, the current state of the medical literature does not indicate that homeopathy has any effect beyond placebo. Still.

And lastically, here are two rather depressing pie charts. Also some surprisingly idiotic comments showing up in Current’s comment threads.

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– The 48th Humanist Symposium is now up, and I’m in it again, with my rant about Leo McKinstry of the Daily Mail being a twat. Though I am now feeling ashamed that I blathered so much without ever using the phrase “impermissive deontological Othering” to describe what McKinstry was doing.

– Someone I’ve never heard of is apparently a bit mental. We all know how we feel about people who think the LHC will destroy the world – just ask Brian Cox if you’ve forgotten – but I’ve not heard military action being mooted as a counter-measure before. That’s some impressive twattery right there.

– Tim Minchin’s beat poem Storm, the perennial skeptics’ favourite, is being fully animated by a bunch of totally awesome people. You can follow their progress, and see all kinds of concept art and such, on the official production blog. I mentioned in my review of TAM London that Tim’s performance had been a highlight, and the Storm animated trailer we saw there has now been released online.

Here it is then.

So cool. And as Crispian Jago mentioned on Twitter earlier, it’s going to be interesting seeing what visuals they come up with to accompany the “bollocks for ammunition” line.

Badminton tomorrow night. Might have things to say again on Thursday.

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Alright, settle down, class, settle down. Come on, you’ve had your fun. It’s time for our- who threw that? Come on, who was it? I’ve warned you before about what’ll happen if you keep hurling homeopathic solutions all over the place. What was it, lemon juice? Don’t taste it, Watson, you’ll get scurvy. Or something. Is that how it’s supposed to work? Anyway, why is there even homeopathy in here? This isn’t the Skeptic’s Circle, this is Humanism class. Will you please sit down?

Right. Maybe we can get on with things now. This afternoon, as you know, we’re going to be doing Show and Tell, so I hope you’ve all remembered to bring something in to discuss with the class. Who wants to go first? …Anyone? Oh come on, we’ll be hearing from all of you eventually. No? Well, alright, I’ll break the ice. I’ve brought in a discussion about The Atheist’s Guide To Christmas.

Decorating a tree, exchanging presents, eating a gorgeous roast dinner, spending time with my increasingly half-heartedly religious family… count me in. Even listening to some seasonal carols, and maybe singing along with some songs about Jesus. Whether these are important parts of somebody else’s belief system needn’t concern me at all. Whether I’m having fun (within the limits of my regular, secular principles) is the only thing that I need to feel obliged to.

There you are. So, any volunteers? Ah, Mr Fincke, very good of you. Your item is called… On Meeting People Where They Are. Well, stand up, boy, and speak clearly.

What bothered me about Briggs’s criticisms of Dennett though was that he tried to exploit the awkward clash of beliefs between people who love each other as an unseemly opportunity to try to find some pathetic flaw in atheists. I found his dismissive remark that “atheism has no cubicle for love” really insulting. And I just wanted to stress that it is false and slanderous to say that my or Daniel Dennett’s ideas about how we want to love or to be loved are either weak or cold.

Very good! It’s a shame some people still need it explained to them that loving other people doesn’t need to be presided over and orchestrated by a supreme being. We’re off to an excellent start. Who wants to go next? Ah, some of you aren’t feeling so shy now, excellent. You can go next, I think, Mr Michael. This is On religious interpretation that you want to read from, is it? Well, off you go.

If only followers of religion would accept the human origins of their belief systems and the fallible nature of the writers of their holy texts, then they could take these books in their proper spirit: as attempts to improve human life, rather than as final verdicts on the state of humanity and the universe.

Well done, a nice analysis of some of the problems caused by the dichotomy between strict adherence to the text and allowance for personal interpretation. We’ve set the bar pretty high, so let’s see if Ms Raven can keep up the standard. She’s asking is this fast enough?, but she is doing so rhetorically, Watson, which means you do not interrupt with your stupid answers to the question.

I do not feel comfortable with the idea that our highest selves are somehow removed from our most physical, most HUMAN of selves. I turn away from religion because I believe that being human is, in fact, our highest calling.

That was lovely, Ms Raven. I think that kind of personal honesty and openness is something it would do us all good to aspire to, whether or not we’re trying to decide what some religious traditions ought to mean to us as non-believers. Mr Fridman, would you like to tell us all about The ReBrook Gambit?

As Peter Singer argues in The Expanding Circle, moral progress is about bringing more and more beings into the ingroup – since we can commit atrocities against the outgroup so easily.

I think the reverse is also true: most cases of moral regress seek to dehumanise by drawing a sharp distinction between the ingroup (where you and the speaker are) and the outgroup. They try and contract the circle.

I’m not entirely sure the details of a rape trial are appropriate material for the classroom, Mr Fridman, but you make a good point about the ways in which this kind of social division can be used to justify immoral acts. Okay, Mr Chief, why don’t you- Watson, stop chewing that unless you’ve brought enough to share with the whole class. Mr Chief, as I was saying, please- what in Randi’s name are you doing, Watson? Handing out sweets to all your friends? This is a classroom, for pity’s sake! Put them away at once. Right. Mr Chief, I think the interruptions are over for now, so tell everyone what you’ve got to say about Disengaging the auto-pilot.

I think that for most of us, there’s a great deal of what we do which we’ve simply forgotten precisely how we do it or in some cases, are completely oblivious to doing it like breathing. It’s here where ideas such as intuition, gut feelings, psychic abilities and the like come from. Furthermore, I think this is also where the idea of dualism comes from.

A very interesting notion. I think some of us in particular could benefit from switching our auto-pilot off once in a while, and waking up to the world around us, and engaging consciously with our surroundings, and paying attention when we’re being talked about, isn’t that right, Watson? Yes, boy, I’m talking to you. Try and rouse yourself from slumber while Mr Alexander presents A Modern Version of Genesis Chapter 1.

1In the beginning, you dreamed of the heavens and the earth. 2And your dream was dark and without form, but within the darkness, your mind was stirring. 3You took thought of light: and there was light. 4You reveled in the beauty of the light, distinguishing it from the darkness. 5The light was like day, and the dark like night, though day nor night had yet occurred. This concluded the first stage of your dream.

I’m not at all sure whether so much solipsism’s good for you, Mr Alexander. You might go blind. Or maybe you just shouldn’t go swimming for an hour. A thoughtful piece, all the same. Well done. Mr Ray, I believe you want to share your Three Imperatives with the class?

I am an atheist only as long as reason demands that I hold such a position. This means that my conviction in the reliability of reason is a primary absolute; atheism is merely a secondary consequence. To indentify myself as an atheist is not only misleading but it is deceptive – it implies that I hold atheism as a primary absolute. It implies that I start with atheism and try to figure things out from there.

Mystics don’t identify themselves in reference to what they don’t believe – why do we? Of course we are atheists, but it’s not our identity. To identify yourself intellectually or philosophically as “atheist” is tantamount to introducing yourself to a stranger as “not-John”.

You may be ruffling the odd non-believing feather there, Mr Ray, but a good Humanism class ought to be able to handle some internal debate now and then. Yes, alright, you can go next, Ms Chaplain, what’s your item about? Reproductive Privacy Not OK in OK… Well, try and keep it classroom-friendly.

What anti-abortion activists don’t seem to understand is that oppressive laws won’t prevent women from having abortions; they’ll simply drive the activity underground, as it was before 1973 (in the USA). Intimidating laws don’t save babies, they harm women. But, what the hell, maybe they’re just the sort of women who deserve to be harmed.

Or, maybe they’re not.

True, this really doesn’t seem like something that needs to be made any harder for women who are probably having a tough time with it already. Incidentally, it still puzzles me that your parents decided to give you the forename “The”, Ms Chaplain. I imagine it must lead to all sorts of humourous mishaps. It seems particularly incongruous in a school such as this, but no matter. Mr Fidalgo has something for us now, titled Secular Coalition chief to atheist convention: ‘Our efforts are not yet worthy’.

Faircloth called upon fellow atheists to look to fellow nonbelievers and doubters like Thomas Jefferson, Albert Einstein, James Madison and Mark Twain for inspiration, and noted how they would find difficulty being as open about their religious doubt today as they were in their own times. “All we’re asking,” said Faircloth, “is that Mark Twain be included in the American discussion.”

Some important points made, though it seems your friend Mr Faircloth’s imperatives don’t match up exactly with those we heard earlier from Mr Ray. But being free of any rigid, universal dogma is one of our greatest strengths, and our differences of opinion often lead to much constructive debate. What’s going on back there? Watson, are you playing cards? I don’t care if they’re God Trumps, nobody wants to know how daffy your Shi’ite doctrine is. Stop sniggering and put them away. Mr Blackford, I believe you’re going to return us to the idea of disagreement among humanists themselves, and the debate over the most suitable political approach, as you tell us A tale of three generations: CFI and Blasphemy Day.

Regardless whether the CFI leadership made the most adroit decision, supporting, or engaging in, acts of blasphemy is not intolerant in the way that Kurtz must mean. I.e., it is not inconsistent with Millian liberalism. The latter requires that we not attempt to suppress religion by force. It does not require that we must like religion, be polite about it, or refrain from protesting against it or making fun of it. Indeed, ridicule is sometimes necessary to get across how absurd a position or practice is. It’s not a method that I prefer, but it has its place in public discourse, and engaging in it to make a political point to the effect that it does have a place, and should not be prevented, is, however undignified, perfectly legitimate speech.

I’m inclined to agree that this kind of brash satire must be allowed to have its place, but the problem of when best to deploy it, and when to tread more sensitively without conceding the importance of your position, is a sticky one. Mr Perlman, what are you getting so agitated about? You want to give your piece on a similar theme next? Alright then, let’s hear about Blasphemy Day: What humanists believe in.

A secular humanist believes in physical reality – in the vast, mysterious, perhaps multi-dimensional cosmos, which continues to amaze us with its complexity.

We believe in the scientific way of knowing – the Way of experience, documentation, verifiability, replicability, and honesty (unfortunately, scientists sometimes fake their data).

Those are the only ways in which human beings have ever made progress, not by torturing or killing those who disagree with the prevailing religious fantasy. And certainly not by prayer and worship.

It’s good every so often to remind ourselves what it is that unites us, and why we’re justified in considering it important. Well done. I think we’re ready to hear from Mr Vjack next, as he shares his Thoughts on the Out Campaign Two Years Later.

I’ve learned to accept the scarlet A, and I continue to support the OUT Campaign (although I do so with the caveat that nobody should be blindly encouraged to “come out” without first assessing the potential risks to their personal safety for doing so). That said, I continue to have one substantive complaint with the OUT Campaign: it continues to me much too closely linked to Richard Dawkins, and I think that this is a recipe for disaster.

Mr Dawkins is another divisive figure among atheists and humanists all by himself. Is it, or would it be, good to have a “Dawkins campaign” to rally around, or should we aim to avoid appointing any such figureheads at all costs? Ms D, feel free to answer or completely ignore this question as you see fit, as you tell us about Rethinking the Evolutionary Ethic: Towards a Scientific Ethics Once More.

We cooperate with most of the bacteria in our gut, and look how well that has worked out! We’ve also cooperated in the past to get our mitochondria and various other organelles, and that’s also been a rather resounding success for all involved parties. We imagine ourselves to be integrated individuals, but the truth of the matter is that every single one of us is a messy zoo of confederates – and this is the lesson: be a messy zoo of confederates at the societal level as well. Diseases either kill us or get killed, and this is the inevitable destructive result of competition. There is risk in cooperation (there is always risk in anything), but the dangers pretty much tautologically come from outside, as any individual who engages in hawkery will be immediately out-grouped because the in-group is defined by conspiratorial lovey-dovery.

Well. A little coarse in parts, but undeniably insightful and well considered. At least, the parts I understood. Watson! Wake up, boy! I know some of these are a bit long, and strain your attention span for more than a few minutes at a time, but you have an opportunity to learn something here. I suspect that few opportunities to acquire such knowledge may be derived from dutifully studying the ceiling with your mouth hanging open. That’s better. I think we’ll have Mr Hallquist now, to speak to us about Marriage, morals, and the green-eyed monster.

One thing that makes Marriage and Morals a good read 80 years later is that Russell got things that most people today still have trouble with. Dan Savage, for example, is fond of saying that human beings aren’t naturally monogamous, which is true, but he routinely ignores the fact that human beings don’t naturally accept our parterns’ non-monogamy. Russell got the need for compromise here, and he got that it wasn’t always easy: I understand that at the time he wrote Marriage and Morals, his wife was openly having an affair. Eventually Russell left her after she had two children with her lover and began saying he didn’t know what to say about sexual ethics.

Yes, very insightful in its own way as well, Mr Hallquist, thank you. Well, who’s left? I think we’re almost there, and a truly intriguing set of thoughts and ideas we’ve had expressed here today. You’ve all done very well. Mr Watson, if you’ve quite finished balancing that plastic dinosaur on its head, its your turn at last. Come on, then we can all get some lunch.

What? For goodness’ sake, boy, you’ve done nothing? You’ve had weeks to prepare something to share with the class here today, you had plenty of forewarning, and you’ve not managed to concoct a single worthwhile thought? What on earth goes on inside that alleged brain of yours, you ridiculous child? I’m almost tempted to give you a passing grade based on the elegance with which you provide a scathing rebuttal for any sort of intelligent design, merely based on the hopeless inadequacy you exhibit as a corporeal being. I said “almost”, Watson, don’t look so hopeful.

The rest of you, splendid work, you can all go and take the afternoon off. Watson, you stay behind and write “In future, I will endeavour to be worthy of the oxygen of which I continually deprive my hard-working classmates” one hundred times. And make sure you spell “endeavour” correctly or you’ll have to do it all again. And for the love of mercy, use chalk on the blackboard this time.

Class dismissed.

There you go. Many thanks for all your submissions. I hope my presentation of them was more or less coherent. And happy birthday to both my dad and Rebecca Watson. I hope that your very different approaches to the celebrations work out well for both of you.

[Edited 18/10/09 to correct the gender of some pronouns. Sorry about that.]

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Reminder: I’m hosting the next edition of the Humanist Symposium blog carnival. If you have anything which you’d like to be featured, email a link to cubiksrube, (at) hotmail {dot} co [dot] uk, by October 17th. Full guidelines for how the symposium works are here, so check those over to find out about the kind of thing we’re looking for.

It’s somehow once again gone from being very early in the evening to being very late in the evening, without anything of note being accomplished in the intervening time. So, I have nothing useful to add, except that the latest Carnival of Evolution is up, and features me looking very out of place amongst all the actual scientists and educators. Very interesting stuff there. Go see. Night night.

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The 43rd Humanist Symposium is up now, over at the Prior Perceptions Blog. I’m going to be hosting the next one, on October 18th.

If you post anything in your blog between now and then which you’d like to be featured, email a link to cubiksrube, at hotmail dot co dot uk. Full guidelines for how the symposium works are here, so check those over to find out about the kind of thing we’re looking for.

This time, I’ll aim to send a quick acknowledgement email reply within 24 hours of each submission received. That wasn’t something I prioritised when I was hosting the Skeptics’ Circle, but it’s probably good form. So, if you don’t hear back from me within a day of sending your link in, feel free to send another email my way, or leave a comment here if you don’t seem to be getting through.

Okeydoke. That should do it.

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Well, holy crap.

I’ve been redrafting a lengthy post on alternative medicine lately, in lieu of coming up with anything new and topical, so I was planning on another quiet day for this place. And then I noticed that my stats were skyrocketing, and I’ve actually had more visitors here today than I’ve ever managed before, by a good margin.

Turns out the latest Humanist Symposium is up, over at Greta Christina‘s blog. And not only am I featured, I’m headlining, baby.

It was my post on feminism in the skeptical community that I submitted, and which had already got a pretty positive response from people. It’s always nice when I try my best to write sensitively about a potentially delicate or volatile subject and it turns out people think I got the tone right – but it’s especially awesome coming from a source like this.

She was extremely generous with her praise over there, and with the attention she drew to my piece, so I’m also going to take the time to point out something of which many of you may be aware: Greta Christina is a fucking legend. There are so, so many things she’s written that just completely nail some aspect of religion, or skepticism, or atheism, or ethics, or philosophy, with a succinct ferocity that continually blows me away. (Cf. The entire section titled “Some Favorite Posts and Conversations: Atheism” in the right-hand margin of her blog.)

It’s bedtime now, but I wanted to get that said, because this really made my day. ‘Night, y’all. Hopefully there’ll be something substantial to read tomorrow.

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