March 2014

Volume 13, Issue 3

Editor's Note

For our hard-copy readers, we regret that we cannot control page breaks when the newsletter is printed.  For our on-screen readers, thank you all for your overwhelmingly positive response to our new HTML format.  We are happy to hear our leap into the present is working for you!

Table of Contents

This Month's Meeting

  • What:  March 2014 FCFS Meeting
  • Who:  Joe Beck, MSW (ret.), Humanist Chaplain; Founder and Chair, Humanists of the Treasure Coast
  • Title:  “Motivating Health Care Facilities to Meet the Needs of Secular Patients”
  • When:  Monday, March 17, 2014, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. (doors open at 6:00)
  • Where:  Buckman Bridge Unitarian Church, 8447 Manresa Ave., Jacksonville, FL 32244 (Driveway located on Collins Rd., 400 feet east of Roosevelt Blvd.)
Meetings Free and Open to the Public ● Plenty of Free Parking

Meet the Speaker

Joe Beck received his master’s degree in social work from the State University of New York at Buffalo School of Social Work.  He is a retired licensed social worker and has worked as a hospital social worker and as a psychiatric social worker.  He served as Director of Family Life Education for the Child and Family Services of Erie County.

After retiring, Joe initiated a cable access TV program called “The Humanist Perspective” which he brought to the Council for Secular Humanism and subsequently donated them, when he re-retired to travel cross country in a motor home. Joe then relocated to Jensen Beach, Florida in 2009 and formed Humanists of the Treasure Coast, which is now a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization with 80 paid members. The HUMTC meets in Jupiter, Stuart, Port St. Lucie, and Vero Beach.

Joe was a secular celebrant for 15 years before becoming a humanist chaplain.  As Florida's first Humanist Chaplain, Joe is currently the Chaplain on Call at the Indian River Medical Center in Vero Beach.  He also holds visiting clergy status with the Martin Medical System in Stuart, and he has worked with the West Palm Beach Veterans Administration Medical Center.  Joe explains, “To the best of my knowledge, these three medical facilities are the only ones in Florida that recognize Humanist Chaplains. I'll explain the significance of this during my talk.” 

We’re looking forward to it!

March 13 AU Event!

Northeast Florida Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State

  • WHAT:  The Northeast Florida Chapter is honored to announce that our speaker will be the President of the National Board of Directors of Americans United, Rabbi Merrill Shapiro.
  • TOPIC:  Rabbi Shapiro's topic will be: "Why did the founders of our country cite religious issues in the First Amendment to the Constitution?  Do those reasons still apply today?"  (The portion of the First Amendment that mentions religious issues:  "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.")
  • WHEN: Thursday, March 13, 2014, 6:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
  • WHERE: Havana Jax, 2578 Atlantic Blvd. (In St. Nicholas, where Atlantic & Beach Blvd. separate.)
  • RSVP:  (RSVP not required but encouraged, as it will help us plan for enough food.)
Refreshments: Cash bar - free food!

Please join our Meetup Group if you'd like to hear about future events!
You can reach us on our Meetup page:

Monthly Olive Garden Social

  • Where:  OLIVE GARDEN on Philips Highway, across from  the Avenues Mall.  The hostesses will know where we are seated.  Proceed directly to our room.
  • When:  Tuesday,  March 25, 2014 at 6:00 p.m.  Social hour at 6:00.  Dinner at 7:00.  We order from the menu.
  • RSVP:  E-mail (or call 904-268-8826) by Tuesday morning, if you plan to attend!

President's Message

Earl Coggins

Thomas Henry Huxley creeps into my writings a lot. I have quoted him often, usually a quote from his essay, Agnosticism and Christianity (my favorite). In the essay, he defines agnosticism and addresses much, if not most, of the criticism leveled at him by Christian leaders of his day regarding the creation of his new term. I have given critiques in years past concerning my opinions about the term “agnosticism.” I hope they haven’t come across in a pejorative manner. I have a high regard and deep respect for a person who labels himself or herself as an agnostic. My goal with this month’s President’s Message is to shed some light on the thoughts going through Thomas Henry’s mind during the creation of the term agnostic and his defense of it, as it spread through the intellectual landscape of Europe.

The younger
Thomas Henry Huxley

One of the first analyses and primary critiques of agnosticism has stood the test of time and is still with us today. We’ve all heard barbs thrown at modern day agnostics: closet atheists and red-faced atheists—all implying embarrassment or a need on the agnostic’s part to cloak his or her atheism. Huxley starts out his essay Agnosticism and Christianity by addressing this all-too-common attack:

The people who call themselves agnostics have been charged with doing so because they have not the courage to declare themselves infidels. It has been insinuated that they have adopted a new name in order to escape the unpleasantness which attaches to their prior proper denomination.

 Hodeslea, Huxley's house
(Source: Life and Letters of
 Thomas Henry Huxley, 1901)


Many atheists of Huxley’s day were certain all gods, historical or contemporary, were pure fantasy and non-existent without a shadow of a doubt, but also without a shred of hard evidence to prove their position. I feel the pain of the atheists of Huxley’s day and, for that matter all atheists, who have been crying out for centuries and millennia that the oceans of circumstantial evidence are too deep to ignore.

Huxley, on the other hand, was a man of science and knew the importance of evidence as a crucial, necessary, and critical component for any claim purporting a truth, be it scientific or religious. To Huxley, it didn’t and shouldn’t matter what claim was being scrutinized for evidence, be it the reasons for marine fossils in mountainous regions, or that a god exists.

Huxley’s study at Hodeslea
Painted 1893. (Source: Life and
Letters of Thomas Henry Huxley, 1901)

 Huxley also did not appreciate, perhaps loathed, his new term being labeled as a denomination:

Moreover, speaking for myself, and without impugning the right of any other person to use the term in another sense, I further say that agnosticism is not properly described as a negative creed, nor indeed as a creed of any kind, except in so far as it expresses absolute faith in the validity of a principle which is as much ethical as intellectual.

This is where he defines agnosticism:

This principle may be stated in various ways, but they all amount to this: that it is wrong for a man to say that he is certain of the objective truth of any proposition unless he can produce evidence which logically justifies that certainty. This is what agnosticism asserts, and in my opinion, it is all that is essential to agnosticism.

Thomas Henry Huxley
The Elder Statesman
(1825 - 1895)


In essence, Huxley is saying agnosticism is not a creed, worldview, or a position statement. He is saying it is a technique, a process, a system, or simply put, a method; and the creed, if one were extracted from it, would be the devotion to the method:

Still speaking for myself, I add, that though agnosticism is not, and cannot be a creed, except in so far as its general principle is concerned.

Huxley then does two things. First, he exposes the criticism from religious leaders for what it is—shameful character assassinations bordering on, or perhaps genuine, ad-hominem attacks. Secondly, he remains calm and extends to them their right to free speech. In his own words:

Yet that the application of that principle results in the denial of, or the suspension of judgment concerning, a number of propositions respecting which our contemporary ecclesiastical “gnostics” profess entire certainty. And, in so far as these ecclesiastical persons can be justified in their old-established custom (which many nowadays think more honoured in the breach than the observance) of using opprobrious names to those who differ from them, I fully admit their right to call me and those who think with me “infidels”; all I have ventured to urge is that they must not expect us to speak of ourselves by that title.

T. H. Huxley (1893)
Two years before his death.
(Photo: Tim Jones, from a print
in Life and Letters of Thomas
Henry Huxley, 1901)

Huxley is referred to as Darwin’s Bulldog because of his tenacious defense of Charles Darwin and Darwin’s then hypothesis and now theory of evolution. I believe Huxley deserves to be called Science’s Bulldog. Once more, in his own words:

I trust that I have now made amends for any ambiguity, or want of fullness, in my previous exposition of that which I hold to be the essence of the agnostic doctrine. Henceforward, I might hope to hear no more of the assertion that we are necessarily materialists, idealists, atheists, theists, or any other ists, if experience had led me to think that the proved falsity of a statement was any guarantee against its repetition. And those who appreciated the nature of our position will see, at once, that when ecclesiasticism declares that we ought to believe this, that, and the other, and are very wicked if we don’t, it is impossible for us to give any answer but this: We have not the slightest objection to believe anything you like, if you will give us grounds for belief; but if you cannot we must respectfully refuse, even if that refusal should wreck morality and insure our own damnation several times over. We are quite content to leave that to the decision of the future. The course of the past has impressed us with the firm conviction that no good ever comes of falsehood, and we feel warranted in refusing even to experiment in that direction.

Huxley’s gravesite 
 in East Finchley, London
(Photo: Thanks Sven Klinge)



Thomas Henry Huxley had the wit of Christopher Hitchens, the focus of Richard Dawkins, the manners and assertiveness of Daniel Dennett, and the clarity and courage of Sam Harris. He was the four horseman of secularism all rolled up into one nineteenth-century human being. Charles Darwin was a lucky man to have such a great friend. We are lucky to have him as a pioneering member of the freethought movement.

Humanist Book Discussion Group - Jacksonville

  • When:  2:00 - 3:30 p.m., the first Sunday of each month.
  • Where:  Books-A-Million, 9400 Atlantic Boulevard, Jacksonville, FL 32225.
  • What:  Books planned for discussion:
    • April 6, 2014 - The Selfish Gene, by Richard Dawkins
    • May 4, 2014 - Beginning of Infinity, by David Deutsch

Link to Book Review:

Richard Dawkins' brilliant reformulation of the theory of natural selection has the rare distinction of having provoked as much excitement and interest outside the scientific community as within it. His theories have helped change the whole nature of the study of social biology, and have forced thousands of readers to rethink their beliefs about life.  In his internationally bestselling, now classic volume, The Selfish Gene, Dawkins explains how the selfish gene can also be a subtle gene.  The world of the selfish gene revolves around savage competition, ruthless exploitation, and deceit, and yet, Dawkins argues, acts of apparent altruism do exist in nature.  Bees, for example, will commit suicide when they sting to protect the hive, and birds will risk their lives to warn the flock of an approaching hawk...  (Goodreads author)

For More Info:  Contact Herb Gerson at 904-363-6446, or

Humanist Book Discussion Group - St. Augustine

  • When:  7:00 - 8:30 p.m., the second Thursday of each month.
  • Where:  Clubhouse at a private condominium in St. Augustine (Anastasia Island).
  • What:  Book planned for discussion:
    • April 10, 2014 - Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, by Reza Aslan (2013).
    • May 8, 2014 - Becoming More Fully Human:  Religious Humanism as a Way of Life, by William R. Murry
Link to Book Review:

Two thousand years ago, an itinerant Jewish preacher and miracle worker walked across the Galilee, gathering followers to establish what he called the “Kingdom of God.” The revolutionary movement he launched was so threatening to the established order that he was captured, tortured, and executed as a state criminal.

Within decades after his shameful death, his followers would call him God.

Sifting through centuries of mythmaking, Reza Aslan sheds new light on one of history’s most influential and enigmatic characters by examining Jesus through the lens of the tumultuous era in which he lived: first-century Palestine, an age awash in apocalyptic fervor. Scores of Jewish prophets, preachers, and would-be messiahs wandered through the Holy Land, bearing messages from God. This was the age of zealotry—a fervent nationalism that made resistance to the Roman occupation a sacred duty incumbent on all Jews. And few figures better exemplified this principle than the charismatic Galilean who defied both the imperial authorities and their allies in the Jewish religious hierarchy. 

More Info:  Contact Bill Stroop at for address, directions, and gate code.

NOTE TO ALL!  Books may be found in the library, purchased from local book stores or online. The First Coast Freethought Society will receive a small remuneration from your purchase (at no additional cost to you) if you first go to and then click the link to for your purchase.

Humanist Interest Story: Joe Beck

Bridget R. Gaudette

(Reprinted with permission from the FHA)

“Since I am terminally ill, I appreciate your giving this a priority since I do not know how much time I have left.”  --Phil

Joe Beck, Founder and Chairman of the Humanists of Treasure Coast, was a friend to Phil to the end. Joe has been working tirelessly for over a decade “to motivate hospices to give the same recognition and support to Humanists, atheists and other nonreligious individuals that they give to their religious patients.” Phil’s letter and subsequent death provided a more personal and compelling reason for Joe and the VA to act.     

“We are invisible on their websites and in their brochures,” Joe stated, “while theism is honored by the existence of chapels containing religious books and theistic chaplains ministering to patients. On a practical level, this means that the hospitalized child from a Humanist family, or the out-of-town atheist or agnostic patient with no local family, will receive religious handouts and be visited by theistic volunteers and chaplains, with no representation from their humanist-oriented perspective.”

Recently, because of Joe’s efforts, there was a ray of hope. He, along with others from the Humanists of the Treasure Coast (HUMTC), has motivated a local VA facility to place the following statement on material provided to patients under Chaplain Services: “For our nonreligious patients and family members, support is available from other sources including from a secular humanist perspective.” The VA statement might seem minor, but it’s a step in the right direction. It acknowledges that Secular Humanist patients exist.

Even more significant progress has been made at a medical center in Vero Beach where Joe has been granted full Volunteer Chaplain status on par with theistic chaplains. He will be the on-call chaplain for the entire hospital one day per month.

We congratulate Joe on his efforts to promote Humanism in the State of Florida in this manner. Helping to ensure that a growing number of nonreligious individuals are properly comforted and supported while they are hospitalized or at the end of their lives is admirable.

Still, as amazing as Joe is, he can’t do this alone. The Florida Humanist Association will be working with Joe to get the word out about the problem of underrepresentation of Secular Humanists and the availability of Humanist Chaplains in medical facilities and to put others with the same desire to help in touch with each other.

If you’re interested in Joe’s work you can email him at:


The First Coast Freethought Society sends condolences to board member, newsletter editor, author, and good friend, Fred Hill and his family for the recent loss of his mother.

Mary E. Hewel


Born June 18, 1943 - Died February 28, 2014

Fred W. Hill and his mother, Mary E. Hewel, circa 2009


About our newsletter, the First Coast FreeThinker

Information for Readers

The First Coast FreeThinker is published for all freethinkers and potential freethinkers.  Nonmembers and members may receive the e-mail version indefinitely.  Nonmembers may receive three hard-copy issues free, after which they must join the FCFS to continue to receive hard copy.  Members are entitled to receive hard-copy should they prefer.  The e-mail version is encouraged, as the newsletter is optimized for on-screen reading.

Readers are invited and encouraged to share our original materials provided they give credit to this publication.  The officials of the FCFS are not responsible for opinions or other statements expressed in this newsletter.  The FreeThinker is intended to convey ideas that stimulate thought and promote discussion on a variety of subjects.

Information for Contributors

We welcome submissions.  Articles should be submitted to  Contributors who cannot submit manuscripts electronically may send them to Fred Hill, 1817 Egner St., Jacksonville, FL 32206.  The deadline for time-sensitive submissions is the THIRD SATURDAY of each month for the following month’s issue. 

We prefer articles no longer than 1,000 words.  Longer articles will be evaluated in terms of whether their importance and degree of interest to our readers warrant publication. 

Subject matter must tie in with freethought or with the Affirmations of Humanism (found on our website).  All accepted submissions subject to editorial modification.  Our style guide is The Chicago Manual of Style.  Printed manuscript submissions cannot be returned.  Authors are responsible for the accuracy of all quotations and for supplying complete references where applicable.
E-mail Address for Submissions:

U.S. Mail Address for Submissions:
Fred Hill, 1817 Egner St., Jax 32206

A Lesson from Emma Darwin

Dolores Eason

I recently spent a delightful evening listening to Jim Strayer talk about the life of Charles Darwin.  What struck me, surprisingly, was a lesson, not from Charles Darwin but his beloved wife Emma. 

Charles and Emma seemed to have had an extraordinarily close and loving relationship. Both came from religious backgrounds.  Both were confronted with challenges to their religious faith.  Each of them responded to these challenges differently.  Charles eventually became a skeptic and agnostic, while Emma maintained her religious faith throughout her life.  How Emma behaved in spite of this enormous difference is, I believe, worth looking into. 

First of all, they shared their views openly and honestly with one another, which is reflected in a letter she wrote to him in 1839, “…but I believe you do not consider your opinion as formed.  May not the habit in scientific pursuits of believing nothing till it is proved, influence your mind too much in other things which cannot be proved in the same way, and which if true are likely to be above our comprehension.” ("Darwin Correspondence Database" exerpt from Letter #471, from Emma to Charles, dated Feb 1839.  See  Emma was fluent in German and translated the texts of documents written by German scientists for her husband.  She listened to his theories, read his notes, and helped him with his experiments. 

What she did not do was to tell him to stop his line of investigation. She didn’t burn his papers.  She didn’t toss his barnacles into the trash bin.  She didn’t try to hide or subvert his work from their children.  She didn’t berate him publicly. 
Charles and Emma Darwin are good examples of correct and acceptable behavior when confronted with uncomfortable truths.  The choices are simple:  you can either come to the realization that the evidence of nature points away from God instead of toward God (as Charles did), or you can decide that all truth comes from God, but that there are some things you will still need to accept on faith with the hope that one day God will reveal the answers. 

  Emma Darwin, age 31
Watercolor portrait by
 George Richmond, 1839



What you may NOT do is try to hide the truth from others, or purposely distort the truth with the intent of misleading others who trust you.  What you may NOT do is try to subvert the entire scientific method of evaluation to ensure not only that others never learn the truth, but that they are not even given the tools of critical thinking so they can make difficult decisions for themselves. 

Now I need to admit a dirty little secret of mine:  I sometimes like to listen to Christian radio on my commute to work in the morning.  Laugh if you will, but I occasionally pick up lovely nuggets of truth.  For example, recently a fellow was preaching about how the wisdom of the world is foolishness to God.  I was zoning out until he fervently asserted that “man’s logic and reason have no place in God’s world!  For it is by faith, and faith alone that we can come to know Jesus!”  I shouted a hearty “AMEN! PREACH IT!” right there in my car on US17.  He said it better than I ever could:  Logic and reason are for the real world; faith is religion.

Emma filled her home with music and laughter.  She supported her husband.  She helped the sick and gave money and food to the poor.  She was a good wife, mother, and neighbor.  And while we of course need more scientists like Charles Darwin, we could also use more good people like Emma Darwin, even if they are Christians.

About the First Coast Freethought Society

First Coast Freethought Society, Inc.
P.O. Box 550591
Jacksonville, FL 32255-0591

Statement of Purpose

The First Coast Freethought Society, Inc. is an educational, nonprofit, 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization dedicated to supporting nonreligious persons in the Northeast Florida area and promoting a nontheistic approach to everyday life.


The FCFS meets the THIRD Monday of each month at the Buckman Bridge Unitarian Universalist Church, 8447 Manresa Ave., Jacksonville, FL 32244.  (Driveway located on Collins Rd., 400 ft. east of Roosevelt Blvd.) 

Meeting time:  6:30 to 8:30 p.m.  Doors open at 6:00 p.m.  Meetings are free and open to the public. 

For other activities besides monthly meetings, please see the website, brochure, or newsletter.

FCFS 2014 Board Members

President - Earl Coggins:  904-521-5039
Vice President - Carrie Renwick:  904-268-8826
Secretary - Don DuClose:  904-388-3125
Treasurer - Stephen Peek:  904-742-5390
At-Large - Herb Gerson:  904-363-6446
At-Large - Fred Hill:  904-358-3610
At Large - Richard Keene:  904-386-1121

Other Appointments

Parliamentarian - Mark Renwick:  904-616-2896
E-mail Secretary - Carrie Renwick:  904-268-8826

Committees and Chairs

Editorial - Fred Hill:  904-358-3610
Community Outreach:  To Be Announced
Finance - Stephen Peek:  904-742-5390
Fundraising - Carrie Renwick:  904-268-8826
Membership - Judy Hankins:  904-724-8188
Publicity - Carrie Renwick:  904-268-8826
Website - Mark Renwick:  904-616-2896

All FCFS personnel may be reached via e-mail at

Membership Application

Use this PDF form   or join on our website.

Ongoing FCFS Activities

Secular Sunday Morning in the Park

Freethinkers, let’s get acquainted and enjoy intelligent conversation the 4th Sunday of every month (unless inclement weather prevails) at 10 a.m. until ? under the pavilion at Losco Park, 10851 Hood Rd., S., Jacksonville 32257, between Shad and Losco Roads.  For directions, call Beth Perry at 904-733-5489 or Google the address. We generally provide coffee.  Bring a breakfast snack and a chair or two.  Note, if it’s too hot under the pavilion, we take our chairs to some trees with a nice breeze.  Mark your calendar.  We hope to see you there!

Caring Tree

If a telephone call, flowers, or a sympathy card to a member is in order, please contact Judy Hankins at 904-724-8188, or e-mail her at

Dinners for Doubters

Sign up to attend or to host a dinner yourself.  If a dinner is scheduled, sign-up sheets will be found at the back table at the monthly meetings.  For details, see the website,, or ask a greeter at the back table, at a meeting.

Second Harvest Second Saturday

On the 2nd Saturday of every month, 10:00 a.m. to noon, join FCFS members and JAM (Jacksonville Atheist Meetup) group members, to volunteer at the Second Harvest North Florida food bank warehouse, 1502 Jessie Street, to help distribute food to the less fortunate in North FL.  See or call Fred Hill, 904-358-3610.


You can make a lasting impact on the future of
freethought and secular humanism in this community
…if you provide for the First Coast Freethought Society in your Will.

Your bequest will ensure that the FCFS continues to be a beacon for freethinkers
on the First Coast and to remain a vital Voice of Reason in the Northeast Florida area.

Several options are available for establishing a bequest (specific, percentage, residual,
or  contingent).  We can provide the appropriate wording to you and your attorney,
depending upon your wishes.  Or, just talk to your attorney.  Our EIN is 20-1462737.

For further information, contact
Carrie Renwick, P.O. Box 550591, Jacksonville, FL 32255-0591 or
904-419-8826 ● ●
All inquiries are held in the strictest confidence.

Northeast Florida Coalition of Reason

The FCFS is a proud member of the Florida Humanist Association (formerly the Humanists of Florida Association).

Calendar of Freethought Events on the First Coast

  • Tuesday, March 11 - JU - UNF Philosophy Slam, Jacksonville - 7:30 p.m.
  • Thursday, March 13 - AU Event, at Havana Jax, Jacksonville - 6:30 p.m.
  • Thursday, March 13 - Humanist Book Discussion Group - St. Augustine - 7:00 p.m.
  • Monday, March 17 - FCFS Monthly Meeting, Jacksonville - 6:30 p.m.
  • Friday, March 21 - Secular St. Augustine Meetup - St. Augustine - 7:00 p.m.  (RSVP on website for details.)
  • Sunday, March 23 - FCFS Secular Sunday in the Park, Jacksonville - 10:00 a.m.
  • Sunday, March 23 - Vernal Equinox JAM Session -1:00 p.m. (See for details.)
  • Tuesday, March 25 - FCFS Monthly Social at Olive Garden, Jacksonville - 6:00 p.m.
  • Saturday, March 29 - Deadline to submit articles for April 2014 FreeThinker
  • Sunday, April 6 - Humanist Book Discussion Group - Jacksonville - 2:00 p.m.
  • Thursday, April 10 - Humanist Book Discussion Group - St. Augustine - 7:00 p.m.
  • Monday, April 14 - JAM Session (Meetup), Jacksonville, 6:30 p.m. (See for details.)
  • Monday, April 21 - FCFS Monthly Meeting, Jacksonville  - 6:30 p.m.

FCFS Month-at-a Glance

  • Thursday, March 13 - Book Group - St. Augustine
  • Monday, March 17 - Monthly Meeting
  • Sunday, March 23 - Secular Sunday in the Park
  • Tuesday, March 25 - Olive Garden Social
  • Sunday, April  6 - Book Group - Jacksonville
  • Thursday, April 10 - Book Group - St. Augustine

Details in newsletter, e-mail reminders, and on website.

Copyright © 2014 First Coast Freethought Society, Inc., All rights reserved.

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