Humanism

Secular Humanists Don’t Give? Joe Klein, Dale McGowan, and the Kiva Leaderboard

Atheists Don't Give?

When the set of devastating tornadoes struck Oklahoma not too long ago, I sent out an email to my coworkers directing them to four reputable organizations they could donate through (on the advice of this article). These included the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army (though if I’d known this then, I probably would have left them out), Operation USA, and the Oklahoma Baptist Disaster Relief. I personally donated through the Foundation Beyond Belief because I had been alerted to the fund earlier that morning via the Richard Dawkins Foundation.

Only a few days ago, respected Time Magazine journalist Joe Klein wrote an article called “Can Service Save Us?” and insinuated that secular humanists did little to aid relief in the area:

“…But there was an occupying army of relief workers, led by local first responders, exhausted but still humping it a week after the storm, church groups from all over the country — funny how you don’t see organized groups of secular humanists giving out hot meals — and there in the middle of it all, with a purposeful military swagger, were the volunteers from Team Rubicon…”

This comment was rightly ridiculed by representatives of the many thousands of secular humanists who had donated their time and money to disaster relief in Oklahoma, and elsewhere around the country both in the recent and distant past. Dale McGowan, executive director of the Foundation Beyond Belief, has written a marvelous response to Joe Klein in the Washington Post, which you can read here.

But what I found most telling was something in the comment section of McGowan’s article. A user casually pointed out the current team giving standings on Kiva, the popular micro-lending site. Atheists, Agnostics, Skeptics, and Freethinkers are by far the most generous lenders, currently outpacing “Kiva Christians” by approximately $4 million. Come on, Christians, are you perhaps forgetting Matthew 19:21 (or am I overlooking a conflict with Exodus 22:25…it’s difficult to keep these straight, no?)?

If you are someone who needs God to be a good person, that’s terrific – just don’t go around assuming everyone else does too.

 

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“The universe is made of stories, not atoms” – Muriel Rukeyser

That pretty line above is from poet Muriel Rukeyser, and it’s used skillfully by physicist Sean Carroll in his keynote speech at the 2013 American Humanist Association Conference in San Diego just a few days ago. The talk is titled “Purpose and the Universe” and if you’ve never heard Carroll lecture before, I recommend sitting down for an hour and giving him a listen. He’s entertaining, likable, and has a knack for lucidly explaining concepts like quantum field theory in just a few slides.

Highlights for me included:

  • Carroll’s claim that the “laws of physics underlying the experiences of our everyday lives are completely known.” He’s of course not saying that physics is done or that there aren’t undiscovered particles or fields, but that we do know a complete regime of physics, and anything else we discover won’t have any real application to our lives. He explains exactly how we know that, and why we can rule out certain alternatives (assuming quantum field theory is correct). The completeness of this regime has obvious explanatory power, and can absolutely demolish particular claims that would require a different set of physical laws – one obvious one is astrology and another, which is equally implied by the laws but harder for many to accept, is life after death (see this blog post by Carroll for more on that).
  • Carroll’s disagreement with many of his atheist/humanist colleagues that science will be able to supply answers to questions of purpose, right and wrong, and ultimate meaning. These concepts, Carroll thinks, must be judged more practically and cannot be reduced to the laws of physics (though any answers we come up with certainly shouldn’t be incompatible with the laws of physics).
  • Learning that the underlying reality of the universe is made up not of particles but of waves and fields. The act of observation distorts the field in a certain way so that we “see” particles, though at its base nature is simply a collection of vibrating fields.
  • Special guest Richard Dawkins (who was in town to moderate a panel on “Religion as Child Abuse”) asking a question at 1:00:56 and making a slight correction to one of Carroll’s slides. How cheeky.