HAO member Mark Fournier (who doesn’t post nearly often enough) has put up an excellent essay on the materialist basis of ethics at his blog Tachyphrenia. The next time someone tells you atheists can have no morals, just send them that URL. A sample to whet your appetite:

A recent study has shown that almost 40% of Americans consider atheists to be the worst part of their society. This perception hangs upon several convictions: 1) atheists have no morals; 2) atheists are materialistic; 3) atheists are elitists, and 4) atheists represent the worst of modernity.

To the first, that atheists have no morals: in the absence of divine authority, atheists are required to revisit moral questions in naturalistic terms. This effort has been rewarded on several fronts. First, as the natural order represents no divinely ordained moral order, you cannot get an ought from an is–that is, the status quo is not morally sufficient simply because it exists. There is always room for improvement. This insight is from Hume, a refutation of natural law, though often pressed into dubious service particularly by the religious. Furthermore, absent the interests of a meddling deity, morality is a human concern, subject to human needs and desires. There is no excuse for subjecting the populace to odious measures for the benefit of a mysterious authority, who is in fact the sock-puppet of a theocratic elite. Finally, in the absence of divine omniscience, we are required to establish our own knowledge by submitting ourselves, not to divine authority, but to the authority of evidence. Ours is a harsher discipline, harder won and less forgiving. Believers choose the God who agrees with them, but we do not have the luxury of choosing our evidence. It is what it is, and we must adapt to it. In selecting a deity who is never their opposition, believers are effectively solipsists, alone and unchallenged in their beliefs, which they choose with their God…..

Five Mystical Songs[guest post by Diane Schmolka]

A Puzzle to explore:  Music and Religion. Can we Humanists listen to ‘religious’ music, and derive meaning from it?

Dear Fellow Humanists:

I have been a fan of CBC’s Choral Concert for most of my life. For most of my life, I have been a religious doubter,  then agnostic, then atheist. Why then, do I derive such  joy and meaning, (non-religious), from  listening to choral concert?

Given the fact that I am a musician, and not  all the music presented each week is  ‘religious’, I listen to the structure, tone color, rhythm, and pace of the music. I do not really need the text.

What do you listen for in music? Do you need the text, to listen to choral music or vocal music? Do  we Humanists have an inner ‘spirituality’ which is non-religious? I believe we do. In fact, I think that the deep inner core of most humans is non-religious, but is the very essence of our real selves. For me, choral music touches that core.

Peter [Schmolka, not Togni] warns me continually, not to reveal that I listen to choral music, and attend  live choral concerts in this city, because  you might judge me  to be not a humanist. If you look at our principles, and read our philosophers, you can see that our  philosophy’s core truths touch on our eternal energy to question,  and that  our scientists have a depth of love for  the essences and substances of this earth that no theologian can match.

I  have forwarded in this post, a note about 2 or more of  our world’s most famous western composers, atheist/agnostics, who composed  some of the very best religious music even heard, for choirs. You Tube has all works mentioned in the Peter Togni note, so have a listen and  comment on what you might not ever have heard , had you not explored that possibility.

Hearing is believing  (Posted by Jeff Reilly on Jul-22-10 at 11:06 AM)

Ralph Vaughn Williams was a declared agnostic, if not an atheist. Yet he wrote some of the most interesting and beautiful church music to ever come out of England.

Seems very strange. But he really was one of many composers to write mass settings, and other liturgical music without any belief in the Christian church. Verdi, Berlioz, and Brahms were also openly agnostic if not atheists.

So what’s with that? How can someone write music for the church when they don’t even believe in God?

Good question!

I think the answer lies in looking at music itself. People use music to be part of everything we do, celebrations, ceremonies, movies, presentations, you name it – if people are gathered together to do something, music will be a part of it.

So Vaughn Williams had a chance to write a great piece that allowed him to draw upon 1,000 years of musical development in the Christian church. He had a HUGE amount of material to work with and obviously he found that truly inspiring!

Believer, non-believer? Doesn’t really matter, the music stands up on its own in any context.

Peter Togni says Vaughn Williams mass in G minor is  “one of the great unaccompanied choral works of the 20th century” and its worth listening to!

So check it out this weekend, Vaughn Williams Mass in G minor with the Elora Festival Singers on CHORAL CONCERT with Peter Togni  this SUNDAY, July 25th   9:00 – 11:00 am, (9:30 – 11:30 NT)

I consider myself a young Humanist. I joined the Humanist Association of Ottawa in June of 2009 and was drawn to the organization primarily due to a desire to connect with other Atheists. At first, I considered Humanism to simply be an attempt at a positive spin on Atheism, but after quite a bit of reading and discussions with other HAO members, I realized that it is a philosophy that attempts to be much more.

Sometimes that “much more” can be hard to put your finger on though. There is quite an expansive debate going on as to what the principles of Humanism actually are, and even more important: whether or not they should even be defined.

I think that tackling some of the complicated issues that religious philosophies typically address is certainly an important task for Humanism. Non-supernatural explanations for things like morality and purpose would be more than welcome, even if the answers that came out would be hard to swallow. It may be a long time (or never) before any widely acceptable explanations actually appear, so I’ve always thought that just having great questions to ponder is more than enough.

As exciting as great questions are, many have proceeded to building sets of principles that define what a Humanist ought to believe. As uncomfortable as I am with that thought, here’s some well known lists by different organizations and individuals. Read them over and see if any one of them resonates with you. Feel free to leave comments and criticisms on them as well.

If there are any important principles lists I have not included that you think should be, please let me know.

Amsterdam Declaration: 12 Principles of Humanism

  1. Humanism aims at the full development of every human being.
  2. Humanists uphold the broadest application of democratic principles in all human relationships.
  3. Humanists advocate the use of the scientific method, both as a guide to distinguish fact from fiction and to help develop beneficial and creative uses of science and technology.
  4. Humanists affirm the dignity of every person and the right of the individual to maximum possible freedom compatible with the rights of others.
  5. Humanists acknowledge human interdependence, the need for mutual respect and the kinship of all humanity.
  6. Humanists call for the continued improvement of society so that no one may be deprived of the basic necessities of life, and for institutions and conditions to provide every person with opportunities for developing their full potential.
  7. Humanists support the development and extension of fundamental human freedoms, as expressed in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and supplemented by UN International Covenants comprising the United Nations Bill of Human Rights.
  8. Humanists advocate peaceful resolution of conflicts between individuals, groups, and nations.
  9. The humanist ethic encourages development of the positive potentialities in human nature, and approves conduct based on a sense of responsibility to oneself and to all other persons.
  10. Humanists reject beliefs held in absence of verifiable evidence, such as beliefs based solely on dogma, revelation, mysticism or appeals to the supernatural.
  11. Humanists affirm that individual and social problems can only be resolved by means of human reason, intelligent effort, critical thinking joined with compassion and a spirit of empathy for all living beings.
  12. Humanists affirm that human beings are completely a part of nature, and that our survival is dependent upon a healthy planet that provides us and all other forms of life with a life-supporting environment.

Council for Secular Humanism: Affirmations of Humanism:

  1. We are committed to the application of reason and science to the understanding of the universe and to the solving of human problems.
  2. We deplore efforts to denigrate human intelligence, to seek to explain the world in supernatural terms, and to look outside nature for salvation.
  3. We believe that scientific discovery and technology can contribute to the betterment of human life.
  4. We believe in an open and pluralistic society and that democracy is the best guarantee of protecting human rights from authoritarian elites and repressive majorities.
  5. We are committed to the principle of the separation of church and state.
  6. We cultivate the arts of negotiation and compromise as a means of resolving differences and achieving mutual understanding.
  7. We are concerned with securing justice and fairness in society and with eliminating discrimination and intolerance.
  8. We believe in supporting the disadvantaged and the handicapped so that they will be able to help themselves.
  9. We attempt to transcend divisive parochial loyalties based on race, religion, gender, nationality, creed, class, sexual orientation, or ethnicity, and strive to work together for the common good of humanity.
  10. We want to protect and enhance the earth, to preserve it for future generations, and to avoid inflicting needless suffering on other species.
  11. We believe in enjoying life here and now and in developing our creative talents to their fullest.
  12. We believe in the cultivation of moral excellence.
  13. We respect the right to privacy. Mature adults should be allowed to fulfill their aspirations, to express their sexual preferences, to exercise reproductive freedom, to have access to comprehensive and informed health-care, and to die with dignity.
  14. We believe in the common moral decencies: altruism, integrity, honesty, truthfulness, responsibility. Humanist ethics is amenable to critical, rational guidance. There are normative standards that we discover together. Moral principles are tested by their consequences.
  15. We are deeply concerned with the moral education of our children. We want to nourish reason and compassion.
  16. We are engaged by the arts no less than by the sciences.
  17. We are citizens of the universe and are excited by discoveries still to be made in the cosmos.
  18. We are skeptical of untested claims to knowledge, and we are open to novel ideas and seek new departures in our thinking.
  19. We affirm humanism as a realistic alternative to theologies of despair and ideologies of violence and as a source of rich personal significance and genuine satisfaction in the service to others.
  20. We believe in optimism rather than pessimism, hope rather than despair, learning in the place of dogma, truth instead of ignorance, joy rather than guilt or sin, tolerance in the place of fear, love instead of hatred, compassion over selfishness, beauty instead of ugliness, and reason rather than blind faith or irrationality.
  21. We believe in the fullest realization of the best and noblest that we are capable of as human beings.

Paul Kurtz’s Neo-Humanist Principles:

  1. aspire to be more inclusive by appealing to both non-religious and religious humanists and to religious believers who share common goals;
  2. are critical of theism;
  3. are best defined by what they are for, not what they are against;
  4. wish to use critical thinking, evidence, and reason to evaluate claims to knowledge;
  5. apply similar considerations to ethics and values;
  6. are committed to a key set of values: happiness, creative actualization, reason in harmony with emotion, quality, and excellence;
  7. emphasize moral growth (particularly for children), empathy, and responsibility;
  8. advocate the right to privacy;
  9. support the democratic way of life, tolerance, and fairness;
  10. recognize the importance of personal morality, good will, and a positive attitude toward life;
  11. accept responsibility for the well-being of society, guaranteeing various rights, including those of women, racial, ethnic, and sexual minorities; and supporting education, health care, gainful employment, and other social benefits;
  12. support a green economy;
  13. advocate population restraint, environmental protection, and the protection of other species;
  14. recognize the need for Neo-Humanists to engage actively in politics;
  15. take progressive positions on the economy; and
  16. hold that humanity needs  to move beyond ego-centric individualism and chauvinistic nationalism to develop transnational planetary institutions to cope with global problems—such efforts include a strengthened World Court, an eventual World Parliament, and a Planetary Environmental Monitoring Agency that would set standards for controlling global warming and ecology.

Dr. Rodrigue Temblay: Ten Commandments for a Global Humanism

  1. Proclaim the natural dignity and inherent worth of all human beings.
  2. Respect the life and property of others.
  3. Practice tolerance and open-mindedness towards the choices and life styles of others.
  4. Share with those who are less fortunate and mutually assist those who are in need of help.
  5. Use neither lies, nor spiritual doctrine, nor temporal power to dominate and exploit others.
  6. Rely on reason, logic and science to understand the Universe and to solve life’s problems.
  7. Conserve and improve the Earth’s natural environment—land, soil, water, air and space—as humankind’s common heritage.
  8. Resolve differences and conflicts cooperatively without resorting to violence or to wars.
  9. Organize public affairs according to individual freedom and responsibility, through political and economic democracy.
  10. Develop one’s intelligence and talents through education and effort.

Christopher Hitchens’s New 10 Commandments:

  1. Do not condemn people on the basis of their ethnicity or color.
  2. Do not ever use people as private property.
  3. Despise those who use violence or the threat of it in sexual relations.
  4. Hide your face and weep if you dare to harm a child.
  5. Do not condemn people for their inborn nature—why would God create so many homosexuals only in order to torture and destroy them?
  6. Be aware that you too are an animal and dependent on the web of nature, and think and act accordingly.
  7. Do not imagine that you can escape judgment if you rob people with a false prospectus rather than with a knife.
  8. Turn off that fucking cell phone—you have no idea how unimportant your call is to us.
  9. Denounce all jihadists and crusaders for what they are: psychopathic criminals with ugly delusions.
  10. Be willing to renounce any god or any religion if any holy commandments should contradict any of the above.

In Britian, the 21 of June is celebrated as World Humanist Day, and it has become such a big thing that they have turned it into Humanist Week. The British Humanist Association is hard at work running a day long conference on Humanism, Philosophy and the Arts, as well as working with local groups to organize local activities.

A very cool project they have been working on is the Humanist Heritage website where anyone can upload stories about Humanism and Humanists in their local areas.

It would be great to see more of this type of action to help raise awareness about Humanism in Canada. I checked to see if any of the umbrella groups in Canada are recognizing the event. Humanist Canada has stated that they haven’t planned any celebrations for this event, and I haven’t seen any events from CFI on this either.

Perhaps we should all mark this down on our calendar for next year. Does anyone have any good ideas of things we can do to make this occasion special when it comes around again?

This eagerly anticipated conference features appearances by Daniel DennettPZ MyersMr DeitySusan Jacoby, and other speakers.

The theme expresses AAI’s vision of an international movement, going beyond political and cultural borders, uniting atheists and humanists in one virtual nation defined by our commitment to freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, human rights, critical thought, science and reason. This event will be AAI’s first North American convention outside the United States

Official joint hosts for this conference are  AAI and HAC,  with participation and assistance from HAO, and CFI.

For information and registration, go to

At the Humanist Association of Ottawa Annual General Meeting last Sunday, a motion was put forward to have the HAO take a position in support of the Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade (COAT) protesting the CANSEC tradeshow coming up on June 2nd. The motion was worded as follows:

The HAO draft a letter to City Council and local papers to honour the motion protesting the abuse of public lands for the promotion and sale of military equipment and arms.

The motion was defeated at the meeting. It’s defeat was as a result of one key objection. Many members felt that if the primary purpose of the show was to equip the Canadian military with the best equipment possible for doing their job then they could not in good conscience support the motion. We do have troops in Afghanistan and troops performing peacekeeping missions abroad. Sending them into the field under-equipped would not be acceptable.

However, many members stated that they were opposed to the idea of having a military tradeshow on city property that would include the sales of weapons to other nations or private security companies. It was stated that this is the case, so if it can be shown to be true, there will likely be more support to be found.

Even though the motion was defeated, I suggested that members take a bit of time to get acquainted with the issue. The Humanist Association of Ottawa is a humanist organization, and there are many other principles of the philosophy other than simply rejecting the super-natural. Here is one of them taken from the 12 Principles of Humanism:

8. Humanists advocate peaceful resolution of conflicts between individuals, groups, and nations.

I think that this issue deserves a little more thought, so I am going to post the resources that were passed on to me regarding COAT, and open up a discussion in the comments here. I also promised those that brought the motion to the AGM that we would discuss the issue in person with members at the next Unsermon being held this Sunday. We will have one circle dedicated to just this topic.

Links to COAT literature:

COAT website

Info on CANSEC 2010 Rally for Peace

“CANSEC: War is Business” (50 page PDF)

When I was a child I never understood how God could be good or just if there was a Hell. I couldn’t think of any crime that would justify eternal torture. No matter how bad a person was, it made no sense to me to punish them forever, what would be the point? When I was older, a rationalization dawned on me: the mafia were the best Christians, following in the footsteps of Christ; Jesus was just like Don Vito Corleone, making everyone an offer they couldn’t refuse.

The problem of free will was a difficult one for early theologians. (i) If God created everyone, knows everything and planned everything how can we be free to make choices? Or on another level, (ii) if God is going to punish us with eternal damnation if we don’t follow his laws, how are we free to make our own choices in any meaningful way?

Theologians never came up with a truly satisfying answer to either of these problems. Instead they made convoluted explanations for (ii) Don Jesus and pawned (i) the fated universe problem on naturalistic philosophers who believe in a Universe bound by physical laws. There is lots of debate about (i) among philosophers, even between atheist philosophers but I don’t think there should be. All we have for a point of reference is our deterministic Universe and we make contingent choices based on our beliefs. All we could mean by free will is this human decision making process. Or at least the natural process of choosing when it is free of coercion. If you want a detailed argument for this, Dennett wrote two great books on the topic: Elbow Room and Freedom Evolves.

Basically, I don’t think there would have ever been a problem of free will for philosophers to discuss if we had skipped the whole monotheistic step of our socio-intellectual development. Free Will is a problem requiring an explanation for a Christian, a muslim, or a jew, not for a Humanist.

Now some non-stampcollector videos on the topic:

« Previous PageNext Page »


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 52 other followers