The Humanist Association of Toronto provides a focus of activities and discussion for Humanists in the Toronto area. Please note: HAT events are open to the public, and views expressed do not necessarily represent the official views of the Humanist Association of Toronto. For all public statements, educational events, media enquiries, please contact the webeditor, who will forward your enquiry to our Spokesperson.
The Humanist Forum meets Saturday morning 11am-1pm
The Monthly Meeting the 2nd or 3rd Saturday at 1:30pm (TBD)
The Steering Committee meets 1st Wednesday, 7pm
The Book Group meets monthly.

NEWS: Gore Vidal is Honorary President of the AHA

Gore Vidal Accepts Title of American Humanist Association Honorary President

(Washington, D.C., April 20, 2009) Humanist leaders are pleased to announce that Gore Vidal -- preeminent novelist, essayist, and playwright who is frequently described as America's best-known public intellectual -- has accepted the honorary presidency of the American Humanist Association.

"We're delighted and privileged to have Gore Vidal as our honorary president," said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. "Vidal is a sharply intelligent advocate for individual liberty, separation of church and state, and reason and rationality. He has a reverence for earthly inquiry--as opposed to doctrine or dogma -- that embodies the mission of the AHA. We're very excited about working with him."

Vidal has had a long literary and intellectual career that has inspired and never shied away from controversy. A lifelong advocate for progressive values, he has time and again challenged conventional wisdom. He is an outspoken critic of the radical religious right's influence over public policy, and in recent years has spoken out against civil liberty abuses perpetrated by the Bush administration.

"With his great literary work and vocal positions on important issues, Vidal has in fact been advancing humanism for decades," said AHA president David Niose. "Now, as the AHA's honorary president, he will surely draw even more public attention to the humanist life stance."

Vidal succeeds the late Kurt Vonnegut as AHA honorary president. Vonnegut held the post from 1992, when he took the reins from Isaac Asimov, until his death in 2007. Vonnegut wrote a chapter about humanism in his last book A Man Without a Country, where, in his characteristically sarcastic style, he showed how he didn't take much stock in divinely revealed "truth."

In a letter addressed to the AHA executive director, Vidal wrote:
"Of course, I have been very much aware of the AHA for some years. I knew and admired Issac Asimov and his work. As for Kurt, I would be most honored to succeed my old friend as honorary President of the Association: Although he himself is hardly easy to replace, I will do my best to fill the great gap. I think my "religion" is the same as his and yours and does not derive from cloudy divinity, but from a man in Athens called Socrates who once observed: "The unexamined life is not worth living." So, I would like to help the AHA to encourage others to realize that life, no matter how shadowed by superstition, is worth living, and the AHA is always in a position to encourage much needed "examiners."

EVENT: John Robert Columbo, May 10

HAT Humanist of the Year
John Robert Colombo
“St. Socrates: Some Thoughts on Humanism”
Sunday, May 10, 1 – 3 pm
OISE, 252 Bloor St. west, Room 4-422

"St. Socrates: Some Thoughts on Humanism from John Robert Colombo." This will be a far-ranging discussion with the recommendation of some specific applications. Colombo is the author/compiler/translator of over 200 books. His current title is "A Far Cry," a collection of poems, and coming this fall is "The Big Book of Canadian Hauntings." The Toronto-based author and anthologist is best known for "Colombo's Canadian Quotations." For this he is known as the Master Gatherer and the Canadian Bartlett. He hosted Space Television's "Unexplained Canada" TV series. He holds an honorary doctorate from York University, is a recipient of the Harbourfront Literary Prize, and is a Member of the Order of Canada.

At this meeting, John will be awarded the HAT Humanist of the Year Award.

Article: The Science of Religion

(It's not an article, it's a broadcast, but please accept the anachronism)
CBC Quirks & Quarks April 11, 2009.

The Science of Religion.

Over the next week or so, Christians around the world will be celebrating Easter, while some Buddhists will celebrate the New Year and Jews will mark Passover. And while these religious festivals are happening, a few curious scientists will be asking, why? Is there something about human psychology or evolution that has made religious worship a nearly universal part of human culture? Science can't say whether gods are real, but it might be able to suggest why people believe in them.
(note: Quirks & Quarks is heard on Saturdays on CBC Radio One from 12:06 - 1:00pm with a rebroadcast Monday evenings at 11:06pm, and also on Sirius satellite radio. You can also listen to the MP3 audio files or subscribe to the podcast, HERE

(thanks to Maria for the tipoff!)

Humour: Twittering the Crucifixion

WWJT - zomg-y-hv-u-4skn-me

Trinity Church on Wall Street is twittering the Crucifixion. La Figa at has the post:

"What would Jesus tweet? Trinity Church on Wall Street is delivering a three hour twitter feed of the Passion Play, plus online Stations of the Cross--it's a contemporary recreation of Christ's last hours on earth. w00t!

via @_Peter_of_: is waiting in the courtyard of the High Priest Caiaphas. I ran scared when the officers came but I need to see how this ends

SPOILER ALERT: He rolls away the stone and there are 2,000 more years of war.
(as our Voltaire Quotation says today: "God is always on the side of the big battalions")

HAT: Letter re G. Goodyear to PM Harper

Dear Prime Minister Harper,

The Humanist Association of Toronto would like to express our dismay at the remarks last month made by the Hon. Gary Goodyear concerning the theory of evolution. When asked about his belief in regard to the biological theory, he at first declined to answer on the ground that he considered it a matter of religion. His subsequent statement that he did believe in evolution does not reassure us for two reasons. First, his clarification "that people are always evolving" leaves much doubt that he was referring to the biological theory explaining the diversity of life forms. Second, and most importantly, he has never to our knowledge retracted his implication that evolution is a matter of religion.

In his role as Minister of Science and Technology, Mr. Goodyear is responsible for funding scientific research in Canada. At the very least, a minister in that position ought to respect the ability of the scientific community to answer questions of a scientific nature. That he should regard one of science's greatest accomplishments as a religious matter, rather than a scientific one, is troubling. While the theory of evolution remains controversial in some circles, it has been the consensus of the scientific community for over a century, and has become the foundational paradigm of the biological sciences.

We therefore urge you to demonstrate your government's commitment to science by either firing Mr. Goodyear or transferring him to another portfolio where his inability to distinguish a scientific paradigm from a religious doctrine will be less relevant. Canada's science research programs ought to be overseen by a cabinet minister who fully appreciates the achievements of science.


Moses Klein
for the Humanist Association of Toronto

Marc Garneau, Liberal Party critic for Industry, Science and Technology
Jim Maloway, NDP critic for Science and Technology
Robert Vincent, Bloc Quebecois critic for Science and Technology
Humanist Association of Canada
Centre for Inquiry - Canada
Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada
Royal Ontario Museum
Dr. Brian Alters, Director, Evolution Education Research Centre

Event: Christopher Hitchens at the ROM

The Three New Commandments: Christopher Hitchens
Tuesday, June 2, 7:00 - 8:00 pm

Christopher Hitchens is perhaps the most brilliant and controversial political commentarist and essayist in America today. A prolific writer, he is the author of more than 10 books including the New York Times bestselling book God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. He is currently a contributing editor to Vanity Fair, and writes regularly on various topics for Harper's, The Los Angeles Times Book Review, Slate, The New York Times, and The Washington Post.

Location: Royal Ontario Museum, Level
Cost: Public $26.00, Member $23.00
Tel.: 416.586.5797

Article: Goodyear, Lunney, and Lunatarianism

Humour from Dan Gardner
"I believe the earth has existed for precisely 3,213 years, five months, seven days, and four hours. Of course the reader will have to adjust these figures somewhat as I am writing this column a day before it will be published.

I further believe that scientific evidence to the contrary -- geology, biology, and a couple of other "-ogies" -- is uncertain, inconclusive, hypothetical, epistemological, scatological, or phantasmagorical. As these polysyllabic words plainly demonstrate, I am an expert. Plus, I'm a trained chiropractor. And I'm really big on natural health products. So I'm a physician, a scientist, and a guy who uses very long words. I believe I have earned your respect.You may call me "Dr. Gardner."

Another critical fact you won't hear in the mainstream media is that much of the evidence allegedly establishing that the earth is 4.5 billion years old and life has evolved from common origins over the last 2.5 billion years is fraudulent. Yes, fraudulent. Those responsible are dwarves who dwell in vaults dug deep beneath the Swiss Alps.

Indeed, Mr. Charles Darwin was not the bearded Englishman people believe he was. He was, in fact, a Swiss dwarf. He did have a beard, though. All dwarves have beards.

Yes, I am a Lunatarian. I worship the moon, which I believe to be a living creature. A cat, to be precise. A really big, very round cat. In space. In my faith, we believe it was 3,213 years ago -- plus several months, days, etc. -- that the moon coughed up the most awesome hair ball in the history of the universe. And thus was the earth created. The dwarves don't want people to know any of this. They prefer dogs.

Generally, I avoid speaking so frankly about my fundamental beliefs. It's not that I'm embarrassed I believe things belied by five centuries of scientific observation. Heavens, no. It's the bigotry I can't stomach.

So many people are intolerant and hateful toward people whose views are not their own. Just look at what Gary Goodyear went through. Goodyear is the minister of state for science and technology. He's also a chiropractor, so he's practically a scientist himself.

But that wasn't good enough for the reporter who asked him if he accepted that evolution is true... Naturally, Goodyear refused to answer the question on the grounds that basic science is a matter of personal faith and thus out of bounds for reporters. But the media wouldn't let it go. Pundits ridiculed the man. Some even suggested a cabinet minister who doesn't accept basic science shouldn't be the minister of science.

Clearly, this was a witch hunt.

Goodyear defended himself in an interview the next day. He accepts evolution, he said. "We are evolving every year, every decade. That's a fact. Whether it's to the intensity of the sun, whether it's to, as a chiropractor, walking on cement versus anything else, whether it's running shoes or high heels, of course we are evolving to our environment. But that's not relevant. And that's why I refused to answer the question. The interview was about our science and tech strategy, which is strong."

So the minister very clearly accepted that evolution -- defined as some sort of bizarre Lamarckian witchcraft involving high heels and the sun -- is a scientific fact.

Naturally, this settled the matter for most reporters. Evolution is pretty trivial stuff, after all. They were keen to get back to serious news, like the prime minister going to the loo and missing a photo-op.

But the fanatics wouldn't give up. You know the type. They're the Torquemadas with a not-so-hidden agenda of encouraging everyone to learn about and accept basic science. The arrogance and intolerance of these people is breathtaking.

Fortunately, one man -- one brave man -- wouldn't back down.

"Recently, we saw an attempt to ridicule the beliefs of a member of this house and the belief of millions of Canadians in a creator," said chiropractor and Conservative MP James Lunney in the House of Commons this week. "Certain individuals and in the scientific community have exposed their own arrogance and intolerance of beliefs contrary to their own."

Now, I don't actually recall anyone ridiculing Goodyear's religious beliefs. I don't even know what those beliefs are. But let us not get distracted by details. What matters is that Lunney has articulated a magnificent rule for dealing with knowledge and belief in a pluralistic society: If someone believes something, you have to respect that belief.

Even if the belief is untrue. Even if it is ludicrous. Even if it is as patently false as the lies spread by those nasty little dwarves in Switzerland...
And so now -- finally! -- I can state my Lunatarian beliefs openly, knowing that James Lunney, Gary Goodyear, and all the other sensitive conservatives would never, ever dare say I'm wrong."

Article: Computerized synthethic prayers - for a price

LiveScience News notes Information Age Prayer - a site that charges you a monthly fee to say prayers for you. A typical charge is $4.95 per month to say three prayers specified by you each day.

"We use state of the art text to speech synthesizers to voice each prayer at a volume and speed equivalent to typical person praying," the company states. "Each prayer is voiced individually, with the name of the subscriber displayed on screen."

Prices, however, are dictated by the length of the prayer. As noted in the Information Age Prayer FAQ, "A discounted prayer will cost less than other prayers of similar length."

The Yahoo article also mentions other literary precedents: such as Robert Silverberg's Robot Pope, Roger Zelazny's prayer automat, and of course, Douglas Adam's Electric Monk from Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency:

"The Electric Monk was a labour-saving device, like a dishwasher or a video recorder... Electric Monks believed things for you, thus saving you what was becoming an increasingly onerous task, that of believing all the things the world expected you to believe."

Event: HAT AGM April 4

A reminder to members of HAT: The 2009 Annual General Meeting of the Humanist Association of Toronto will be held Saturday April 4, 2009 1:30 pm at OISE
All Members of HAT are Welcome to attend. Please ensure your membership is up-to-date.

More information is available on the HAT website.

Event: Humanist Forum, April 4

Here is the topic for this Saturday’s HAT Forum in OISE Room 8-192

Since faith is, in one of its many meanings, a firm belief in something for which there is no proof, and since the non-existence of God is unprovable, why don’t Humanists just get over their atheism? In what sense are all Faiths forms of Humanism?

Facilitator: Bill Kennedy
HAT meetings are free and open to members and the public. Call (416) 966-1361 for location information. ___________________________________________________
The Humanist Forum meets Saturday morning 11am-1pm.
The Monthly Meeting, is usually the second Saturday at 1:30pm; specifics should be found on this blog.
The Steering Committee meets the first Wednesday of each month, at 7pm.
The Book Group usually meets on the first Saturday afternoon of the month.