Archive for March, 2010


Batchelor and Gerstein

Two articles of local interest in the British newspaper, The Guardian:

Mark Vernon discusses Stephen Batchelor’s appearance at the Harvard Humanist chaplaincy to talk about the new Buddhist atheism.

Denis Campbell interviews Boston humanist Joe Gerstein about Smart Recovery, a non-theistic alternative to Alcoholics Anonymous.


Harvard and Religion

Harvard and Religious Courses

A couple of weeks ago Newsweek magazine had an article about Harvard University and Religious courses. It seems that there are certain professors who believe that for a person to be “well-educated”, they should understand how religions play such an important role in much of many societies. However there are others who feel that religion should not be taught on the same level as science and other courses of higher learning. Here is a link to the article:

I found it interesting that they didn’t discuss the approach that seemed to be the most logical to me: teach it like they used to teach Greek and Roman mythology when people studied to receive “The Classical Education”. It used to be that education included the Classics of Latin as a language, and Greek and Roman Mythology. This provided a basis for studying the Classic Literature. One cannot understand (to say nothing about appreciate) John Milton’s Paradise Lost without a good grounding in “the Classics”. So why not present today’s religions in a secular university like Harvard, the same way that Edith Hamilton presented the Greek and Roman myths?

I had a friend recently tell me that he was showing the movie Elmer Gantry to a group of Japanese young women engaged here in an immersion program. He stopped the film and asked if they understood what was going on in the movie and they confessed they did not. He then found out that they did not understand the concepts of heaven and hell nor of a preacher. When he asked them what religion they were, they didn’t know how to answer him. Finally one student said she guessed she was Buddhist. The teacher realized then that these students should be taught religion if they are going to understand what goes on in our society.

The various religions are better understood as stories rather than conflicting facts and we can (and should) understand not only Christianity but also other religions that are a major part of other societies.

David Kimball


Having Your Own Facts

In an article in Nature (limited access), there is discussion of how people not only have their own opinions, but recognize their own facts–and forget about the science.

People endorse whichever position reinforces their connection to others with whom they share important commitments. As a result, public debate about science is strikingly polarized. The same groups who disagree on ‘cultural issues’ — abortion, same-sex marriage and school prayer — also disagree on whether climate change is real and on whether underground disposal of nuclear waste is safe.

The ability of democratic societies to protect the welfare of their citizens depends on finding a way to counteract this culture war over empirical data. Unfortunately, prevailing theories of science communication do not help much. Many experts attribute political controversy over risk issues to the complexity of the underlying science, or the imperfect dissemination of information. If that were the problem, we would expect beliefs about issues such as environmental risk, public health and crime control to be distributed randomly or according to levels of education, not by moral outlook. Various cognitive biases — excessive attention to vivid dangers, for example, or self-reinforcing patterns of social interaction — distort people’s perception of risk, but they, too, do not explain why people who subscribe to competing moral outlooks react differently to scientific data.

The implications for Humanism, it seems to me, is that people will be resistant to accepting the obvious implications of science in discrediting the supernatural unless secularlism can provide for the emotional needs which are currently being satisfied by a combination of religion and materialism.