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Re: [atheists-27] Ethical Culture - reply to Dean

From: ralphellectual
Sent on: Thursday, November 19, 2009 6:11 PM
I had a conversation recently with someone who 
once belonged to WES, but I think it transpired 
at the Goethe-Institut, so it wasn't you. This 
person left the organization only because of the 
legal-financial-bure­aucratic structure, i.e. 
WES's relation to the national organization. He had no other complaints.

I subscribed to the WES newsletter circa 1990, so 
I'm not competent to judge it now. However, I 
recall the membership then seemed to be divided 
between atheists and New Agers. There were 
seminars like "how to unleash your inner goddess" or somesuch.

I've had no personal contact though, so I can't judge.

While my contacts with Unitarians have been 
limited, the ones I've met in the past couple years are airheads.

There is also Machar, a local representative of 
Humanistic Judaism. I believe they broke with 
Beth Chai a couple decades ago because the latter 
crossed the line into religiosity, so I was told. 
But my only first hand experience with Machar, 
other than running into a couple of its members 
at other venues, is from a series of historical 
lectures which were quite instructive and free of any BS.

I'm not upscale and respectable enough or enough 
of a soft-and-cuddly social service type to feel 
at home in such organizations, I surmise. (Machar 
in any case is probably only really useful for 
families.) I suppose conceptually that Ethical 
Culture would be the first choice, but looking at 
it historically and conceptually, maybe not 
ideal. I'm not even so excited about formulating 
the principles of Secular Humanism as a creed (or 
non-creed), not because I disagree with them, but 
because goody-two-shoes ethical proclamations seem unreal to me.

It seems, though, that churchy organizations have 
been the most successful format for establishing 
an organized community, organized charitable, 
social service, and political work, and a tax 
exemption. Decades ago I had a great experience 
at a community center that emerged from the 
spirit of the times of the '60s and '70s. It 
wasn't a humanist organization, but I think 
something on that order, tweaked to make it 
consonant with a secular humanist mission, more suits my style.

At 05:41 PM 11/19/2009, Don Wharton wrote:
>This is a reply to Dean in regard to his question on Ethical Culture.
>Let me start by saying that ethical culture is 
>probably the ???church??? environment that a 
>freethinker would find most to his or her 
>liking.  My guess is that if I went back to WES 
>for a meeting I would be surrounded by a dozen 
>old friends and it will be a joy renewing my 
>contact with them.  None of my following 
>comments should reduce in the slightest the very 
>real human positives that can be found in an 
>ethical culture community.  I very much want to 
>include finding interesting information in areas 
>of science.  These people in general will be 
>better informed and have more thoughtful and 
>progressive values than the average in the population.
>My problem with ethical culture rests with a 
>more detailed examination of the structure of 
>intelligent conversation and the nature of civil 
>discourse.  We need to examine culture and the 
>constraints that are imposed on our abilities to think and communicate.
>I think I want to start with a more stark 
>example to illustrate my point.  Barbara Forrest 
>in the AHA panel discussion I attended, asserted 
>that academia was so open that it was becoming 
>closed.  That seems like an oxymoron.  How can this be?
>One of the witnesses for the opposition in 
>Kitzmiller v. Dover was a postmodern philosopher 
>who with a straight face asserted that the 
>creationist nonsense from the Discovery 
>Institute deserved equal standing with the 
>biologists who were working hard to understand 
>biological science.  They had to dismantle the 
>various arguments presented by this 
>witness.  Science in general cannot survive if 
>fictional accounts are given equal standing.  It 
>is much easier to write fiction and if the 
>writers of fiction are given equal standing, the 
>fewer voices of reason will be 
>overwhelmed.  Since the issue in that case was 
>what was to be taught in science classes, what 
>was at stake was the ability of our society to 
>teach science in science classes.
>For any given scientific proposition to be true, 
>the negation of that proposition must be 
>false.  Scientific validity has no meaning if 
>that which is false cannot be publicly asserted 
>to be false.  There is a problem that arrizes 
>when people presume that a false understanding 
>of the world is part of their identity.  If in 
>that case someone states that the specific false 
>understanding can be demonstrated to be false, 
>there can be a perception of emotional 
>pain.  The hurt comes from the perceived insult to their personal identity.
>I explicitly and knowing assert that all my 
>knowledge about the world rests only on the 
>empirical evidence for it and in no case is that 
>knowledge part of my identity.  If I have placed 
>undue confidence in a given source of knowledge 
>and others around me have countervailing 
>evidence, in almost all cases I can hear that 
>evidence with no problem.  I am usually 
>delighted with the opportunity kick a piece of 
>rubbish out of my cognitive space.
>Obviously neither I nor anyone in our community 
>wants to create emotional injury to anyone 
>anywhere.  This last sentence may not be 
>empirically true, but a presumption of such 
>positive ethical character is an essential 
>assumption needed to enable intelligent discussion of anything whatsoever.
>Let us return to the comments that prompted Dean to pose his question:
>???Even rather innocuous forms of religion such 
>as ethical culture now have effects that are 
>obvious evils to me.  This includes the 
>demonizing of atheists as 'just another form of fundamentalism.'???
>For most people on our list a charge of 
>???fundamentalis­m??? would be a personal 
>attack.  It implies a blind faith in something 
>in spite of any countervailing evidence.  It 
>implies that the person is ignorant and stupid 
>in important ways.  Such personal attacks are 
>often labeled with the Latin term ???ad 
>hominem.???  Empirically the use of such attacks 
>tends to diminish or eliminate communication.
>What I experienced while I was with ethical 
>culture was a gradual increase in 
>???religiosity??­? an an increasing acceptance of 
>acupuncture, homeopathy and varieties of new age 
>nonsense.  I also noticed that I was 
>increasingly the only person with the courage to 
>be skeptical of such nonsense.  The general 
>culture in accepting the ad hominem attacks on 
>???atheists??? resulted in no one with the 
>courage to talk about scientific realism and the 
>implication that some views might actually be 
>false.  The ???niceness police??? had their way 
>and varieties of nonsense flowered with no limits.
>A corollary of the proposition that atheism is 
>just another form of fundamentalism is that 
>there are numerous sources of knowledge other 
>than scientific empiricism.  Obviously we have 
>meditation, poetry, art, humor, and direct 
>experience which which our lives are 
>enriched.  However, all of these are, if 
>examined closely, theory intensive.  My thesis 
>is that in no case do we have a valid claim 
>concerning the nature of the world unless we 
>examine the underlying theories implicit in a given claim.
>I know of people who claim to be allergic to 
>electrical radiation in any form.  I have heard 
>stories of people who fall down on the floors of 
>elevators because of the supposed influence of 
>such radiation.  There are whole communities of 
>people who who minimize any exposure to 
>electricity in order to avoid their supposed EMF 
>allergy.  The claim is one of direct 
>experience.  However, they cannot tell the 
>presence of EMF in a double blind laboratory 
>condition.  (This is from Dr. Robert Park, the 
>speaker I got for the WASH February meeting.  I 
>need to get his reference on this.)  Is then 
>???direct experience??? in and of itself a 
>reliable source of knowledge?  Perhaps we need 
>the tools and framework of science to validate 
>all claims about the reality of our experience.
>Don Wharton
>PS: I need to get out of the trap of needing to 
>post a philosophical essay in response to modest 
>queries.  However, my goal is to create a social 
>space where acts of intelligent communication 
>are possible and appreciated.  I will keep doing 
>this until the wisdom in our community starts flowing like water.
>--- On Thu, 11/19/09, Dean <[address removed]> wrote:
> > From: Dean <[address removed]>
> > Subject: Re: [atheists-27] New Meetup: Meet the Organizer
> > To: [address removed]
> > Date: Thursday, November 19, 2009, 12:11 AM
> > Mr. Wharton,
> > Please kindly elaborate on how ethical culture has effects
> > that are obvious evils to you. I am looking forward to
> > meeting you.
> >
> > Best,
> > ?  ?  ?  ?  Dean
> >
>Please Note: If you hit "REPLY", your message 
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>This message was sent by Don Wharton 
>([address removed]) from The DC Atheists Meetup Group.
>To learn more about Don Wharton, visit his/her 
>member profile: http://atheists.m...­
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