Author Archive for David Kimball

07
Apr
10

Supreme Court and Secularism

NPR web site has an article about the religious makeup of the Supreme Court. It mentions that of the nine Supreme Court Justices, six are Catholic, two are Jewish, and one has said he will probably retire. So depending on who Obama chooses to replace him, it is possible that the Supreme Court might have no Protestant Justices.

More than a problem of religious diversity, to me, is the problem that not all of the Justices feel the need for a secularist approach. I don’t mind a Justice being religious, as long as he is a secularist on the Bench. As a secularist, they would agree that religion not be banned or outlawed from all Justices, but just that no religious argument would be given consideration when deciding a case. We do not have secularist Justices and so, to me, we do not have real justice.

Shall we set up a pool as to when the first Atheist/Humanist/Naturalist Supreme Court Justice might be picked?

David Kimball

15
Mar
10

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: http://www.newsweek.com/id/233413

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

25
Feb
10

The Sin of Evolutionary Fundamentalism

I feel vindicated. For several years, I have been warning my friends and neighbors of Evolutionary Fundamentalism. I’m defining Evolutionary Fundamentalism as a simplistic argument to explain things in an evolutionary manner that is based on someone’s teachings from a long time ago rather than based on scientific observations – but presenting it as scientifically true. And here I will admit that I’m not sure how much of Evolutionary Fundamentalism is the product of Darwin, or how much is the product of his disciples. Like the fundamentalism of Christianity, Judaism, Muslim, and now even Hindu, much of the problem is the result of the disciples more than the originator of a belief.

Specifically, the Evolutionary Fundamentalism I have been warning people about is the singular explanation for all traits found in all species: “preservation of the species”. Whenever anyone would ask “why do giraffes have long necks?” or “Why do we have oppositional thumbs?” or why to any trait of any species, the answer comes back as “to promote the preservation of the species.” I have always found this argument to be unscientific for a variety of reasons, but because I am not a scientist, I felt I was never effective in my warning. I remember cringing as I read “The Naked Ape” by Desmond Morris realizing that he was passing off stories as science in explaining why and how humans lost their body hair during the evolutionary process.

Now, two scientists have come out with a book which vindicates my feelings. Salon.com had a book review on “What Darwin Got Wrong: Taking down the father of evolution” by Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini – both atheist scientists. (http://www.salon.com/books/feature/2010/02/22/what_darwin_got_wrong_jerry_fodor/index.html?source=newsletter) They show that there can be some traits that are not carried just for the sake of preserving the species. There can be other reasons and we need to make these determinations based on scientific observations rather than on a simplex statement made by a mortal a long time ago. Just as “shit happens”, so too can some things happen just randomly apart from a unifying explanation.

I have used the question of the giraffe’s neck myself and asked why other co-existing species didn’t develop the same long neck, or perhaps necks of different lengths up to the length of a giraffe? These authors also use the giraffe as an example and state that “A creature that has a long neck may have that neck because a different trait was selected, and the long neck came along with it.” Since we do not have observations, we are resorting to the intuitive mind which uses the language of story and metaphor to reveal truths – of which there may be several (including some which are opposite to others). So while there may be a truth in the story, it should not be presented as scientific fact or scientifically true. Science and logic are the languages of the rational mind to determine what is true or not true (one or the other, binary, either/or) and that leads to knowledge.

Just as it is wrong for fundamentalist religionists to take the stories of the bible and present them as “true” rather than possessing truths (like the stories of the Grecian gods), it is also wrong to take some of the “why” and “how” of our observations of naturalism and insist that they are science when they are story. Science is great at defining “what”, but not “why” or “how”.

This article is quoted as saying, “Why are certain traits there? Why do people have hair on their head? Why do both eyes have the same color? Why does dark hair go with dark eyes? You can make up a story that explains why it was good to have those properties in the original environment of selection. Do we have any reason to think that story is true? No.”

We need to make sure that when we are saying something is scientific, that it is observable, repeatable, capable of being negated, and the other aspects that make up science. Otherwise we need to admit that it is story and not fall into the trap of other fundamentalists and presenting story as fact. Otherwise we are guilty of the sin of fundamentalism.

15
Jan
10

Haiti Earthquake

Haitian Earthquake Victim

According to the New York TImes, (bottom of the article) Pat Robertson said that the earthquake in Haiti was a “blessing in disguise” and as a result of the pact Haiti had made with the devil 200 years ago.  According to the same article, Rush Limbaugh adivsed people NOT to donate to charities for the earthquake relief as we already donate through our income taxes.

This, to me, is the epitome of anti-humanism.  I will not judge all religious people to be as crass and unloving as Robertson but I will say that I don’t know which I despise more, the people who make these statements of hate and fear, or the people who listen to these crackpots.  How can anyone who has gone through our 12 years of education agree to follow these cultists? 

Anyone who as a human and is capable of sympathy and empathy should know that the important issues aren’t “pacts with the devil” but rather questions.  I am on the Board of Eritaj which is a foundation set up to provide health and education assistance to the children and adults of Haiti.  We have set up an 800 number for the local Haitians to call with questions about their friends and family.  And that’s what it’s all about right now – questions.  There are no answers coming from a country whose infrastructure, including telecommunications, has been destroyed.  And there are no answers coming from some unseen god.

Those here in the Boston area are wondering if their loved ones are safe, or injured, or dead, or missing.  If safe, are they able to live in their houses or are they homeless?  If injured, are they slightly injured or critically injured?  If dead, is anyone able to take care of their bodies or are they piled up on the street with the thousands of other bodies?  If missing, what will it take to make contact with them?

Anyone who has anything less than sympathy and empathy for these Haitians who are slow-dying, is less than human and has no right to be in a position where people listen to them.  (And these are the same people who will say that Humanists don’t have any morals or ethics.)

12
Jan
10

Humanism and Human Rights

Realizing that there is no hierarchical body of Humanists that can and would speak for the society of Humanists, let me ask each individual reader:  As a Humanist, what are your views on Human Rights?  Specifically, what are your beliefs in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that was presented largely through the efforts of Eleanor Roosevelt through the new United Nations in 1948.

 Just as most “religionists” who insist on posting the 10 Commandments don’t know that most of the Commandments deal with man’s actions with a god rather than other men, most Americans, and I would venture to say even most Humanists, do not know specifically what is included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).  (UDHR at Wikipedia)  The Declaration, as a declaration of the fundamental and inalienable rights of all members of the human family, was approved by the UN General Assembly.  The UN Commission was also tasked with drafting a legally binding international treaty on human rights and with creating effective means for implementing these. 

 For political reasons, the 30 Articles were set up as two Covenants:  The Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; and The Covenant on Economical, Social, and Cultural Rights.  The Soviet Union ratified the Economical/Social/Cultural Covenant but refused to ratify the Civil/Political Covenant.  The United States ratified the Civil/Political Rights but has not yet ratified the Economical/Social/Cultural Covenant.  Jimmy Carter finally signed this Covenant, but Congress has yet to ratify it.

 What does the Economical/Social/Cultural part contain that’s Americans are afraid of?  Here are some examples: Continue reading ‘Humanism and Human Rights’

27
Dec
09

HUMANISM AND RESPONSIBILITY REPORTING

I have just returned from one week of intensive training for Sustainability consulting and Sustainability reporting for Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs).  This was through the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) in Vienna, Austria.  UNIDO is the only United Nations agency tasked with developing jobs and work opportunities in the developing countries.  (The other agencies, like UNICEF, WHO, etc give aid and assistance to people in the least developed countries.)  Of the 20 attendees, 4 were from Croatia, 3 were from Bosnia, and one each from several countries including Ecuador, Moldova, Ukraine, Greece, Austria, Germany, etc.  I was the only representative from the United States and was also the only one there not involved in consulting in a developing country.  I was there not because of my job, but just because I have become very involved in many aspects of the United Nations as a personal interest and as a hobby.  As such, I have become quite involved with the United Nations Global Compact which is the UN’s work with the business sector in assuring that businesses are run in a Sustainable fashion. Continue reading ‘HUMANISM AND RESPONSIBILITY REPORTING’