When asked whether he believed in God, Albert Einstein answered, “I believe in Spinoza’s God who reveals Himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with fates and actions of human beings.” Spinoza’s contemporaries in the 17th century were far less admiring, widely condemning him as an atheist for his thesis that God just is Nature, rather than a transcendent creator distinct from Nature.
While Spinoza did reject theism, his view of “God, or Nature,” retained a religious spirit, leading him to a rich ethical system that reimagines traditional Judeo-Christian virtues in a naturalistic framework and redefines salvation in terms of a freedom from ignorance and passive emotions.
Meet the Speaker
Dr. Scott Kimbrough is Professor of Philosophy and Chair, Division of Humanities, Jacksonville University. Dr. Kimbrough received his B.A. Summa Cum Laude in Philosophy from Southwestern University in May 1989. He received his Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania in August 1996.
Dr. Kimbrough presented our "Darwin Month" celebration in February, 2012, and last summer discussed moral psychology and the role of emotion in reasoning. He has an extensive list of other presentations and publications to his credit.
He has been involved with the Jacksonville University Philosophy Club's ever-popular Philosophy Slams for many years. We welcome him back to the podium!
2017 NPR Corporate Sponsorship Fund Drive Update
Carrie Renwick, Fundraising Chair
Our annual summer NPR fund drive, whose goal is to keep our freethought messages alive and strong on National Public Radio member-station WJCT, 89.9 FM, is in full swing!
We continue to move toward our goal of $6,500. To date, we have received $2,100, taking us to 32% of the way toward our goal. Many thanks to those of you who have contributed already! Granted, we have set our sights high, but we have successfully reached this goal in the past, and if we all pull together, I know we can achieve it again.
We Still Need Your Help
We cannot sustain our "voice of reason" in this bible-belt community without you. If you are planning to contribute and have not yet done so, now would be a great time. If you haven't thought of contributing, we strongly urge you to consider it. While we welcome contributions to the NPR fund all year long, you might want to keep in mind that this is our ONLY fund drive of the year. We will not pester you again with requests for NPR funding until summer of 2018.
If enough FCFS members can give $65, or sponsor one announcement at $60, we shall succeed! However, no amount is too small, and any help is appreciated.
Two sample scripts
About us: “The First Coast Freethought Society supports nonreligious persons in the Northeast Florida Area, welcoming humanists, agnostics, atheists, skeptics, and freethinkers. More information at First Coast Freethought Society dot org.”
About a meeting: “The First Coast Freethought Society presents, “Building God’s Kingdom: Inside the World of Christian Reconstruction" by Dr. Julie Ingersoll, religious studies professor, UNF, Monday, September 21, 6:30 pm, at the Buckman Bridge Unitarian Church. More at First Coast Freethought Society dot org.”
Mail a check to the First Coast Freethought Society, PO Box 550591, Jacksonville, FL 32255.
All donations are TAX DEDUCTIBLE under IRS Code 501(c)(3), and you will receive a letter to that effect for your income tax records.
We cannot do this without you! Any amount will help us toward our goal. And you will know your support has helped the First Coast Freethought Society achieve what is possibly our most significant endeavor on behalf of the humanist and freethought movement!
FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE & CONSUMER SERVICES REGISTRATION NO. CH47814. A COPY OF THE OFFICIAL REGISTRATION AND FINANCIAL INFORMATION MAY BE OBTAINED FROM THE DIVISION OF CONSUMER SERVICES BY CALLING TOLL-FREE (800-435-7352) WITHIN THE STATE. REGISTRATION DOES NOT IMPLY ENDORSEMENT, APPROVAL, OR RECOMMENDATION BY THE STATE. HTTP://FLORIDACONSUMERHELP.COM
Secretary DeVos, Miseducation, and Arks
Fred W. Hill
One rainy evening in 1999, during a break from training for a non-descript job I held during the year between exiting the Navy and embarking on my job at the County Courthouse, my trainer stared out the sixth floor office window, contemplating the downpour and flashes of lightning. “I wonder,” he mused aloud, “if this is what it looked like to Noah on the first day of the flood.”
My initial thought was, “What a profoundly stupid thing to say.” But not wanting to get into an argument with management on my very first day, I diplomatically responded, “Maybe.” I had ceased taking the story of Noah and the world-wide flood seriously before I was even 10 years old, but it still amazed me how many people take it and so many other far-fetched bible stories as literal truth. Even many who seem otherwise reasonably intelligent.
It wouldn’t matter too much to me what they believe, except that many of them in the United States are also trying their damnedest to either eliminate or dumb down public education, because they cannot stand that their cherished religious fantasies are not taught as reality in history and science courses in public schools. For an example, our current Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, has been a prominent, and very wealthy, advocate of using tax dollars to fund private religious education, in flagrant violation of the intent of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. She and her husband, Dick DeVos, former CEO of Amway, a legal pyramid scheme disguised as a marketing business founded by his father, have devoted millions to reforming education to “advance God’s kingdom,” as she declared in a 2001 meeting of The Gathering, a “conference of hard-right Christian organizations and … funders.” (See http://www.politico.com/story/2016/12/betsy-devos-education-trump-religion-232150 and http://www.thedailybeast.com/the-dollar1-billion-a-year-right-wing-conspiracy-you-havent-heard-of.)
As reported by Time in the May 3, 2017 issue, DeVos had once referred to public schools as “dead ends” and spent millions to destroy public education in Michigan and replace it with unaccountable for-profit charter schools resulting in significant declines in reading and math scores among Michigan students (see http://time.com/4765410/donald-trump-betsy-devos-atf-public-education/). Very likely, however, many more children weren’t exposed to—shudder—actual science but were instead taught that people once got their alleged creator soooo mad that he created a flood that killed everyone except for the one supposedly good man in the whole world, Noah, and his family and all the animals they got on the boat God instructed him to build. Because as powerful as He reputedly is, God couldn’t just make everyone he was mad at simply disappear with no pain or suffering. Or maybe He was too stupid to think of that trick or too vicious to consider it, which should give a rational person pause as to whether such a deity deserves reverence even if He really does exist.
DeVos and her boss, known to some freethinkers politely as No. 45, neither known as inclined to pause for rational thought, appear adamant in their intent to cut as much funding for public schools across the nation as they can get away with and divert more tax money to predominantly religious schools, so that in the near future children in the U.S. can be as knowledgeable about modern science as students of 500 years ago, when even the best educated thought that Earth was the center of the universe, which was at most 10,000 years old; that diseases were caused by demons or an imbalance of the four humours—blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm; and that all people were descended from Adam, Eve, and Noah.
Perhaps DeVos will allow funding for school trips to Ken Hams’ ark in Kentucky, inspired by the Noah myth. Ham boasts his arc is a duplicate of the arc described in the bible, except that he used modern methods at a cost of approximately $100 million and using far more workmen than Noah had available. Children with critical thinking skills could very easily determine for themselves that the biblical ark story is absurd in multiple ways. That one old man, his three sons, and maybe a few grandchildren could have obtained all the necessary material and built such an ark on their own is highly implausible—Ham himself didn’t even try to build his ark using only means that would have been available a few thousand years ago and only the immediate members of his oh-so-holy family. Admittedly, Ham would have needed several lifetimes and a few miracles to build the ark as it would have been built in the era the bible myth was set. Further, the likelihood of a male and female of every species of animal across the world, including Australian koalas and American sloths, as well as every other animal from all over the globe crossing vast oceans to make their way to southwest Asia to board the ark is ludicrous, as is the notion they all could have fit on and survived their entrapment on the ark until the worldwide flood subsided. Actual scientists have also determined that although the continents have done much moving over hundreds of millions of years, and much of what is now North America was once underwater, there is no evidence that there was ever a global flood, not within the last 6,000 or even the last 600 million years.
If DeVos has her way, we’ll all de-evolve intellectually, so no one will be aware that pretty much every bible story she loves is contradicted by scientific evidence. Everyone will be stupid but saved. Unless, of course, her bible stories are nothing more than ancient myths and she is guilty of promoting miseducation.
Comments? Contact Fred
A White Boy's Advice to Black Folks
First, let me get on the record. I am a white guy, born and raised in the South. I am also what is known these days as a "progressive." (Although my political views have changed very little, I used to be called a "liberal.") In any case, I am firmly committed to democracy, and I view any political philosophy that depends for electoral success upon preventing adversaries from voting as both morally and intellectually bankrupt.
Now: there has recently been, and continues to be, a concerted effort on the part of Republicans (mostly but not exclusively in the southern states) to prevent or discourage African Americans from voting. Railing about demonstrably non-existent "voter fraud," they have enacted measures calculated to reduce African American participation in the democratic process.
Mostly, the response of those of us who disapprove of these shenanigans has been to file lawsuits. Until the Voting Rights Act ceased to be relevant, this approach had some success.
There have also been efforts to put a spotlight on the perpetrators of this shameful scam. The problem with that approach is that in some areas, they enjoy widespread public support. (It is not clear whether these supporters genuinely believe that voter fraud is a real thing, or whether they are purebred, slobbering racists who are ashamed to identify as such.)
In any case, I think a different countermeasure is called for, to wit: let's do whatever it takes to make sure that every black person of voting age in America actually has the documentation demanded in their state and precinct, and then make sure they are on the rolls, and get them to the polls on election day.
I know, it sticks in the craw to devote time, effort, and resources complying with such disgraceful laws, but I believe that the way to defeat them is to get real political power into the hands of those who were their intended victims. SO: my advice is for every part of every black community in America (churches, garden clubs, barber shops, bowling leagues...) to initiate a program to get every single person fully credentialed in complete accordance with the law in their jurisdiction, regardless of what is required: birth certificates, affidavits, photographs, blood type, finger prints, iris scans, certifications… Let's provide counseling, legal assistance, transportation, administrative help, even money for various fees for those in need.
Let the powers that be shorten early voting, move and/or close precincts, and generally behave like Vladimir Putin. The countermeasure is to have battalions of operatives, organized in advance, armed on election day with vehicles, precinct maps, voters' addresses, schedules, lists of names… If the lines at the voting precinct are two miles long, off-load hundreds of folding cots and line them up. Provide food, drink, blankets, umbrellas, cell phones, child care, paramedics, portable Wi-Fi— whatever it takes. Treat it like the civil rights movement, because that's what it is.
Incidentally, it would not be only African Americans who would contribute effort to this campaign. There are plenty of white, Asian, and Hispanic folks who would gladly pitch in.
If this were done, and if these newly qualified (or re-qualified) voters were to actually get to the polls (or mail in their ballots), it might not be long before more progressive legislatures were able to restore our democracy.
WHEN: Tuesday, June 27, 2017. Come any time between 6:00 and 7:00 for socializing. We'll order from the menu at 7:00 p.m. WHERE: The OLIVE GARDEN Italian Restaurant, 10144 Philips Highway, across from the Avenues Mall. Ask for us at the desk. The hostesses will show you to our room.
RSVP: E-mail CarrieRen@att.net, call 904-268-8826, or RSVP on the FCFS Meetup, by Tuesday morning, if you plan to join us. This is a great way to learn more about the FCFS and meet members and friends. You do not need to be an FCFS member to attend!
Ethics and Our State Legislators
Merrill Shapiro, Trustee, National Board of Trustees, Americans United for Separation of Church and State
Let’s all agree that ethics are “moral principles that govern a person's behavior or the conducting of an activity.” You and I believe that religion, God, and theology do not determine what is ethical behavior. We are loathe to accept that theology is the source of our moral principles. We accept as natural law that one must do unto others as we wish others do unto us.
Check out the feelings of the majority of our Florida State legislators, in both our state Senate and our House of Representatives and we can all be comfortable in maintaining that, were they asked, they would say that ethical behavior and moral principles flow from God. They would probably continue and maintain that the Ten Commandments are the basis for our moral principles, that our Florida Constitution is based on Christian ideals and that our founders and the framers of our laws were imbued with religious fervor in creating our laws.
Now please, join me in learning more about Florida Statutes Section 112.313 (6):
MISUSE OF PUBLIC POSITION.—No public officer, employee of an agency, or local government attorney shall corruptly use or attempt to use his or her official position or any property or resource which may be within his or her trust, or perform his or her official duties, to secure a special privilege, benefit, or exemption for himself, herself, or others. This section shall not be construed to conflict with s. 104.31. [Political activities by state employees.]
The State maintains that this is the source of our protection from corrupt state employees. To a degree it is, and, to a degree, it does not!
Our State Government, rife with state employees who believe that our government is run on religious principles, believes that corruption is only corruption if a state employee engages in corrupt behavior “to secure a special privilege, benefit, or exemption for himself, herself, or others.”
If a state employee wishes to lie about a member of a Freethought Society because they hold that member in contempt, they are free to do so with impunity as long as they are not doing so “to secure a special privilege, benefit or exemption for himself, herself or others.” If a state employee doesn’t like what we believe or don’t believe, they are free to do all sorts of terrible things as long as they do not do so “to secure a special privilege, benefit or exemption for himself, herself or others.”
If this is the attitude of those who believe that our laws are based on the Bible or Christian or another religious doctrine, better we behave like good Freethinkers! I say this as a member of the clergy who believes in God. If the believers in God feel that wrongdoing is only wrongdoing if done for a special or personal benefit, better to be a good Freethinker!!
Ask your state representatives why they support the current wording of Florida Statutes Section 112.313 (6). Please let us all know how they respond!
AmazonSmile is a program offered by Amazon whereby you select a nonprofit, and at no cost to you, Amazon automatically donates 0.5% of the cost of your purchases to your selected nonprofit. It’s very easy to set up your AmazonSmile account.
When you visit https://smile.amazon.com/ for the first time (assuming you want to select the FCFS), after signing in, type "First Coast Freethought Society Inc" in the search box. It will come right up. Confirm your choice.
Thereafter, whenever you shop at Amazon, you will log onto "smile.amazon.com" (instead of "amazon.com"), and you are ready to shop! Amazon will remember your nonprofit of choice whenever you log on to shop.
In this feature, you will be kept apprised of the actions of the local AU chapters which include AU of Northeast Florida and the Clay County Chapter, as well as AU on the national level. If separation of state and church issues are important to you, we encourage you to join the First Coast Freethought Society and AU!
WHEN: The first Sunday of each month. For time, visit Meetup group.
WHERE: Different locations in Jacksonville. To learn where, visit Meetup group (see link below).
WHAT: Planned for discussion:
July 2, 2017 - Strangers in their Own Land, by Arlie Russell Hochschild
August 6, 2017 - Any book written by Ryan T. Cragun, Associate Professor of Sociology at The University of Tampa and upcoming speaker for the July 17, 2017, First Coast Freethought Society meeting
In Strangers in Their Own Land, the renowned sociologist Arlie Hochschild embarks on a thought-provoking journey from her liberal hometown of Berkeley, California, deep into Louisiana bayou country—a stronghold of the conservative right. As she gets to know people who strongly oppose many of the ideas she champions, Hochschild nevertheless finds common ground with the people she meets—among them a Tea Party activist whose town has been swallowed by a sinkhole caused by a drilling accident—people whose concerns are ones that all Americans share: the desire for community, the embrace of family, and hopes for their children.
Strangers in Their Own Land goes beyond the commonplace liberal idea that many on the political right have been duped into voting against their interests. In the right-wing world she explores, Hochschild discovers powerful forces—fear of cultural eclipse, economic decline, perceived government betrayal—which override self-interest, as progressives see it, and help explain the emotional appeal of a candidate like Donald Trump. Hochschild draws on her expert knowledge of the sociology of emotion to help us understand what it feels like to live in “red” America. Along the way she finds answers to one of the crucial questions of contemporary American politics: why do the people who would seem to benefit most from “liberal” government intervention abhor the very idea? [Book description from publisher, The New Press]
More Info: Contact Charlie West at email@example.com for location, 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 purchase through AmazonSmilehttps://smile.amazon.com/ch/20-1462737. See article, above.
Now, our Correspondent in Thailand...
Morality Part 3: The Evolution of Morality
Steven Lance Stoll
[Sociologist Lance Stoll, long-time member and friend of the First Coast Freethought Society, is currently living and teaching in Thailand. He shares his views from afar. —Editor's Note]
Perhaps the most interesting questions concerning human morality are why human beings developed as moral animals, and what has that development meant for the survival and prominence of the species. What are the benefits to humanity for being a moral creature?
While one could argue that other animals do not possess moral behavior, all social animals have had to modify or restrain their behavior for the benefit and survival of their species. Most animal species are focused by instinct on the survival of the species rather than the survival of any one individual. As the most social of animals, human morality and social evolution has gone hand in hand with the dominance of the species. Cooperative behaviors which could be seen as moral exist in societies of insects like bees, ants and termites, and in complex mammalian societies of chimpanzees, gorillas, and bonobos, our nearest genetic relatives. Cooperation among species like ants is vital, because, as E. O. Wilson suggests, “a solitary ant has an improbable chance of long-term survival and reproduction. However, as part of a group, colonies can thrive.” Wilson suggests that the reason social animals live in groups is that the opportunity to survive and reproduce is increased over solitary living. Highly social mammals like whales, dolphins, elephants, and primates exhibit traits that were once thought to be uniquely human, like empathy and altruism.
Chimps, Bonobos, and homosapiens share a common evolutionary ancestor and 98% identical DNA. Writer Barbara King argues that, “While primates may not possess morality in the human sense, they do exhibit some traits that would have been necessary for the evolution of morality. These traits include high intelligence, a capacity for symbolic communication, a sense of social norms, realization of 'self' and a concept of continuity.” Frans de Waal King views human morality as an outgrowth of primate society. Michael Shermer, of The Skeptic, refers to the following characteristics as shared by humans and other social animals: “attachment and bonding, cooperation and mutual aid, sympathy and empathy, direct and indirect reciprocity, altruism and reciprocal altruism, conflict resolution and peacemaking, deception and deception detection, community concern and caring about what others think about you, and awareness of and response to the social rules of the group.” Shermer argues that, “these pre-moral sentiments evolved in primate societies as a method of restraining individual selfishness and building more cooperative groups. For any social species, the benefits of being part of an altruistic group should outweigh the benefits of individualism. For example, lack of group cohesion could make individuals more vulnerable to attack from outsiders. Being part of a group may also improve the chances of finding food. This is evident among animals that hunt in packs to take down large or dangerous prey.”
The characteristics of social animals include:
Social order maintained by rules and expected behaviors
Dominant group members enforce order with punishment behaviors
Higher-order primates have a sense of reciprocity
Chimpanzees remember who has done them favors
Vampire bats demonstrate reciprocity and altruism, sharing blood and animals
Capuchin monkeys and dogs display an understanding of fairness
During the process of human evolution, the greater organization achieved through group cohesion and survival was a necessary element that occurred incrementally. Early humans lived in small bands, mostly fairly close genetic family. Eventually, bands merged beyond close family, and 100,000 years or so ago, these larger bands began to form. About 10,000 years ago, human beings formed tribes which were a combining of various bands of individual families. Chiefdoms, the predecessor organization to kingdoms and states, began 5,000 years ago. The first nation states formed 3 to 4 thousand years ago. The next and current forms of human organization, empires, began with the Chinese, Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans and continues today with the United States. Morality evolved from bands to empires as numbers increased and technology developed in a way to provide social control, conflict resolution, goods and services, and group solidarity. Dr. de Waal explains that, “human morality has 2 extra levels of sophistication that are not found in primate societies. Humans enforce their society’s moral codes much more rigorously with rewards, punishments, and reputation building. People also apply a degree of judgment and reason not seen in the animal kingdom.”
Anyone who owns pets knows that even “lesser” species learn to treat one another with what we might call respect and kindness. The do unto others as they’d do unto you attitude is quickly adopted by our pets. Dogs and cats learn to get along in a household. If we see this behavior in our house pets, there is certainly no supernatural intervention with reference to humans with their large brains and intelligence of being morally developed in an evolutionary manner for the species to grow.
The First Coast FreeThinker is published for all freethinkers and potential freethinkers. Non-members and members may receive the e-mail version indefinitely. Non-members 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.
2017 Submission Deadlines
JULY issue - Submission date: JUNE 25, 2017
AUGUST issue - Submission date: JULY 30, 2017
SEPTEMBER issue - Submission date: AUG 27, 2017
OCTOBER issue - Submission date: SEPT 24, 2017
NOVEMBER issue - Submission date: OCT 29, 2017
DECEMBER issue - Submission date: NOV 26, 2017
More Information for Contributors
We welcome submissions. Articles, poetry, etc. should be e-mailed to Editor@firstcoastfreethoughtsociety.org. Material must be submitted ELECTRONICALLY. Submissions may be formatted in MS Word, in a text file, or in an e-mail.
Articles no longer than 1,000 words are recommended. 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: A Statement of Principles (found on our website). All accepted submissions are subject to editorial modification (copy editing). Our style guide is The Chicago Manual of Style. Authors, not the First Coast Freethought Society, are responsible for the accuracy of all quotations and for supplying complete references where applicable.
Renew Your Membership!
Many of you have not yet renewed!
Membership dues are the life blood of nonprofits, providing operating expenses that enable us to exist. Fund drives can then be used for projects we could not otherwise afford, such as our NPR announcements or special programs. If you haven't been a member for several years, we miss you, and we hope you come back! Many thanks, of course, to our 2017 members.
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.
If you share our world view and would like to be a part of the FCFS, we encourage you to join. If you are new, or if you are renewing and your contact info has changed, you can pick up an application or a brochure at a meeting, or you can download and print an application on our website: http://firstcoastfreethoughtsociety.org/cms/app and mail it in.
For information on all these activities, please visit http://firstcoastfreethoughtsociety.org, or see the calendar of events at the end of each newsletter and on the website. You need not be a member to attend these activities!
FCFS 2017 Board Members
President - Earl Coggins: 904-521-5039
Vice President - Carrie Renwick: 904-268-8826
Secretary - Liz DuClose: 352-260-2880
Treasurer - Stephen Peek: 904-742-5390
At-Large - Fred Hill: 904-887-3880
A-Large - John Ruskuski: 904-586-7892
On Monday, July 17, we will welcome author, secular activist, and sociology professor Ryan T. Cragun, Ph.D. of The University of Tampa. Ryan's talk is titled, "How to Defeat Religion in 10 Easy Steps."
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 remains a vital Voice of Reason in Northeast Florida.
Several options for planned giving are available: specific, general, percentage,
or residual. Details available on request, or check with your attorney.
You will need to provide our EIN which is 20-1462737.