January 23, 2008 · 7:00 PM
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GUEST SPEAKER PLANS FELL THROUGH, REGULARLY SCHEDULED MEETING... December's meeting had a remarkably good turnout, depsite being held on the day after Isaac Newton's birthday. As a result of the group size, we split up into two topic areas. The group I lead discussed the topic (which I suggested) - "What is the most ethical and/or effective way to deal with someone whose beliefs and practices appear to be obviously wrong?" I gave as examples the cultural practice of female circumcision (which few westerners, even culturally sensitive ones, are willing to defend), added the practice of male circumcision (which I find abhorrent) and discussed the cargo cults of the south pacific (who worship U.S. servicemen from World War II as gods). My motive for this topic is feeling, as an atheist, that I live in a culture like the cargo cultists - it is obvious to me that what is believed in is not true and yet I must attempt to ethically and effectively deal with the others in my culture who are believers. We also brought up Nazism and asked the question of how is it possible for someone to rise above the cultural millieu in which they find themselves to develop more ethical, just and true beliefs - and questioned whether such beliefs are merely held to be ethical, just and true due to our particular perspective of historical hindsight, or whether there is some argument for universally true moral principles. In pursuing these questions, we were effectively continuing another discussion that was brought up in a prior meeting about cultural superiority and examining the ethics around it some more. I can't say that the discussion resolved into a satisfying conclusion, and it did stall a few times along the way, but I think it's safe to say that myself and others in the discussion felt somewhat enriched by having explorered the issues in some more depth. The other group's discussion was on the perennially interesting topic of free will. I got a brief summary from one of the participants, who summarized their discussion by saying that most of the group came away with the sense that our actions are determined (not pre-determined!) but a couple of holdouts still felt that there was room for true freedom somewhere in the complexity of our nervous systems, especially considering the possibility of a link between our brains and some spirit doppleganger or 'soul' as traditionally conceived. Some discussion of neurology was included. I personally love this issue of free will, and delight in bursting bubbles about the kind of freedoms we are capable of having. I look forward to my next opportunity to jump into the debate. How about you? Please join us at our next meeting, which will default at the Mercury Cafe if no other venue is forthcoming. Keep your eye on the calendar to check for any last-minute changes. Hope to see you at the next meeting!