Blog

Opinions expressed on the BC Humanist Association's blog do not necessarily reflect those of the BCHA or the Board of Directors.


He died as he lived: David Hume, philosopher and infidel

By Dennis Rasmussen, Associate Professor of Political Science, Tufts University

As the Scottish philosopher David Hume lay on his deathbed in the summer of 1776, his passing became a highly anticipated event. Few people in 18th-century Britain were as forthright in their lack of religious faith as Hume was, and his skepticism had earned him a lifetime of abuse and reproach from the pious, including a concerted effort to excommunicate him from the Church of Scotland. Now everyone wanted to know how the notorious infidel would face his end. Would he show remorse or perhaps even recant his skepticism? Would he die in a state of distress, having none of the usual consolations afforded by belief in an afterlife? In the event, Hume died as he had lived, with remarkable good humour and without religion.

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Quebec's "state laicity" law undermines secularism

The passage of Quebec’s Bill 21 is bad news for the state of freedom of expression, religious freedom and secularism itself in Canada. Humanists should stand united against the clear infringement on our fundamental freedoms by the Government of Quebec.

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Our role in ending Bible readings in BC schools

76 (1) All schools and Provincial schools must be conducted on strictly secular and non-sectarian principles.

(2) The highest morality must be inculcated, but no religious dogma or creed is to be taught in a school or Provincial school.

Since 1876, BC has required schools "be conducted upon strictly secular and non-sectarian principles." Section 76 of today's School Act reflects that language.

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Atheism has been part of many Asian traditions for millennia

By Signe Cohen, University of Missouri-Columbia

A group of atheists and secularists recently gathered in Southern California to talk about social and political issues. This was the first of three summits planned by the Secular Coalition for America, an advocacy group based in Washington D.C.

To many, atheism – the lack of belief in a personal god or gods - may appear an entirely modern concept. After all, it would seem that it is religious traditions that have dominated the world since the beginning of recorded history.

As a scholar of Asian religions, however, I’m often struck by the prevalence of atheism and agnosticism - the view that it is impossible to know whether a god exists - in ancient Asian texts. Atheistic traditions have played a significant part in Asian cultures for millennia.

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In Quebec, Christian liberalism becomes the religious authority

By Hannah Dick, Carleton University

The Québec government is proposing a secularism law to prohibit any new public servants in a position of authority — including teachers, lawyers and police officers — from wearing religious symbols while at work.

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Beyond TWU: The legal conflict between equality rights and freedom of religion

By Bethany Hastie, University of British Columbia and Margot Young, University of British Columbia

From conflicts over wedding cakes to university admissions to religious schools, the tension between equality rights and religious freedom is often in the news in Canada, the United States and beyond.

Public recognition of diverse family forms, fluid gender identity and a range of sexual orientations has triggered negative responses from some religious communities. As a transformation of social norms takes place, equality rights increasingly conflict with tradition freedoms. That means balances of power have to shift.

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Jewish Canadians: More cultural than religious

By Robert Brym, University of Toronto and Rhonda Lenton, York University, Canada

“Jewish” used to be considered a religious category. However, for many Jews, that is changing. Increasingly, people who live outside of Israel and identify as Jewish think of themselves as members of an ethnic or cultural group.

For years, researchers have expressed concern that Jewish communities would assimilate and dissipate as religious identification waned. They pointed to intermarriage as an indicator of declining community cohesiveness. For example, they found that in the U.S., half of Jews who are married or in a common law relationship are partnered with non-Jews.

A recent survey reveals that something different is happening in Canada.

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Humanists condemn New Zealand attacks

Fifty more people are dead after an extremist walked through two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, gunning down people while they were saying their Friday prayers. The shooter's manifesto referenced (among others) Alexandre Bissonnette who was recently sentenced to life in prison for shooting up a Quebec mosque in January 2017.

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A belief in meritocracy is not only false: it's bad for you

By Clifton Mark

‘We are true to our creed when a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else …’ Barack Obama, inaugural address, 2013 
‘We must create a level playing field for American companies and workers.’ Donald Trump, inaugural address, 2017

Meritocracy has become a leading social ideal. Politicians across the ideological spectrum continually return to the theme that the rewards of life – money, power, jobs, university admission – should be distributed according to skill and effort. The most common metaphor is the ‘even playing field’ upon which players can rise to the position that fits their merit. Conceptually and morally, meritocracy is presented as the opposite of systems such as hereditary aristocracy, in which one’s social position is determined by the lottery of birth. Under meritocracy, wealth and advantage are merit’s rightful compensation, not the fortuitous windfall of external events. 

Most people don’t just think the world should be run meritocratically, they think it is meritocratic. In the UK, 84 per cent of respondents to the 2009 British Social Attitudes survey stated that hard work is either ‘essential’ or ‘very important’ when it comes to getting ahead, and in 2016 the Brookings Institute found that 69 per cent of Americans believe that people are rewarded for intelligence and skill. Respondents in both countries believe that external factors, such as luck and coming from a wealthy family, are much less important. While these ideas are most pronounced in these two countries, they are popular across the globe.

Although widely held, the belief that merit rather than luck determines success or failure in the world is demonstrably false. This is not least because merit itself is, in large part, the result of luck. Talent and the capacity for determined effort, sometimes called ‘grit’, depend a great deal on one’s genetic endowments and upbringing.

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Science journalism should embrace limits, bring scientists to the fore

By Cristina Sanza, Concordia University; Brittney Borowiec, McMaster University; David Secko, Concordia University; Farah Qaiser, University of Toronto; Fernanda de Araujo Ferreira, Harvard University; Heather MacGregor, University of Toronto; Michael Bramadat-Willcock, Concordia University, and Pouria Nazemi, Concordia University

Eat blueberries for the antioxidants. Exercise daily at a moderate intensity for optimal heart health. Get the vaccine to prevent the disease.

Our decision-making and conduct is influenced by what we read, see or hear. And many parts of our lives, from the food we eat to our quality of sleep, can in some way be linked back to scientific research.

The media — aiming to inform or engage — can end up peppering readers with sensationalism, hype or inaccurate science stories that shape our day-to-day lives and how we perceive the value of science. But this could be avoided if science journalists update the way they report stories.

And if readers understand what accurate, balanced science journalism should look like, they’ll able to distinguish the good stories from the not-so-good ones, and make informed choices.

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