Blog

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


Public health at risk when opinions trump evidence

By Nicole Letourneau, University of Calgary

In the Trump era, we have seen dramatic reductions in dialogue on important issues of the day. We have seen attacks on the legitimacy of science. We have seen attacks on trusted news sources, derided as fake. On social media, one person’s opinion, whether expert or not, often seems to outweigh all other forms of evidence. Belief in an opinion is treated as a legitimate form of evidence. For many people today, beliefs about vaccination or breastfeeding or marijuana inform everyday important decisions that affect their health and the public’s health.

This is dangerous.

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Should medical assistance in dying be available for people with existential suffering?

By Xavier Symons, University of Notre Dame Australia and Udo Schüklenk, Queen's University, Ontario

Euthanasia debates often focus on people experiencing unbearable physiological or psychological suffering. But research suggests “loss of autonomy” is the primary reason for requesting euthanasia, even among patients with terminal cancer. There have also been suggestions existential suffering could be one of the main motivations behind such requests.

Existential suffering refers to an individual experiencing a lack of meaning or sense of purposelessness in life. Such sentiments bring feelings of weariness, numbness, futility, anxiety, hopelessness and loss of control, which may lead a dying patient to express a desire for death.

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July 10, 2017 Newsletter

We had a great time introducing Humanism to so many eager people at Car Free Day on Commercial Drive again this year and were equally happy to talk to so many people who've followed us for many years.

For those who are newer to the organization, let me take a second to introduce us.

Since 1984 we've aimed to provide a community and a voice for the non-religious in BC.

Here in Vancouver, we offer weekly Sunday meetings on a variety of topics - and I strongly recommend listening to some of our fantastic recent speakers on our podcast. But we also know that over half our membership lives outside Vancouver, so we're looking to work with small and large groups across the province to build that community from Victoria to Fort St John.

As the largest voice for Humanism in Western Canada, we seek to advocate for progressive and secular values. We successfully ended the distribution of Gideon Bibles in BC public schools, we've spoken out for medical assistance in dyingagainst blasphemy laws, for secularism and the right to perform marriages. As part of those efforts, we've applied to intervene at the Supreme Court of Canada in the case over evangelical Trinity Western University's proposed law school.

All of this is funded entirely by individual members and donors. So consider joining the association, which gives you a vote at our AGM, setting up a monthly donation (thanks to the three people who did so in the past week!) and volunteering to help out.

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The strategies that drive our morality

By DB Krupp, Queen's University, Ontario

Our lives are plagued by controversy. We argue about immigration, gun control and gay rights. We argue about climate change, economic inequality and vaccines. We even argue about the geometry of the Earth.

To make sense of this, pundits often appeal to beliefs — lumping people together as “liberal” or “conservative” blocs, say, or as “religious” or “secular” factions. In naming these beliefs, we are given the impression that something has been explained, even when it hasn’t. Labels don’t tell us why we choose sides, and they don’t tell us how to bring those sides closer together.

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Repealing Canada's other blasphemy law

For over a decade, supporters of free expression have been calling for the repeal of section 296 of Canada’s Criminal Code. This section is colloquially called Canada’s blasphemy law as it prohibits “blasphemous libel”. While no one has been charged under the section in eighty years, it remains a symbol that theocratic regimes can point to justify their own punishments.

Last year, over 7400 freethinkers across Canada signed a petition calling on the government to repeal this section. And recently the federal government has introduced a bill to repeal this section.

Bill C-51 also repeals a number of other outdated sections of the Criminal Code and makes a few other amendments. The majority of these changes are uncontroversial as they merely codify existing judicial precedent. But Hansard records of the first debate on the bill reveal one surprisingly contentious issue among some Conservative MPs.

Specifically, they are concerned that the bill would repeal section 176 of the Criminal Code. This section criminalizes obstructing a “clergyman or minister from celebrating divine service” and disturbing religious worship. What follows is a look at what the courts have said about this law and some analysis on whether Humanists should be in favour or opposed to its repeal. The full text is copied at the end of this article.

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June 19, 2017 Newsletter

For the second year in a row, we'll be at Car Free Day on Commercial Drive in Vancouver. Drop by on Sunday, July 9 between noon and 7 PM and say hi to us at our tent.

As soon as we have our specific location, we'll let you know. In the meantime, if you're able to help at our table, sign up for a shift on our website.

We'll also be in the Vancouver Pride Parade and the Pride Festival on Sunset Beach again this year on August 6. We'll have more details on those soon but you can already register your interest on our website.

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June 12, 2017 Newsletter

Last year, over 4500 Canadians, including 1500 British Columbians, signed a petition calling for Canada's blasphemy law to be repealed.

In January, the Minister responded to say the law was under review and last week presented a bill to remove blasphemous libel from Canada's Criminal Code.

While this section is mostly dormant, repealing it will ensure it can't be reactivated, as happened recently in Denmark, and can send a signal to theocratic states that are prosecuting their citizens for blasphemy.

The bill also includes a number of other provisions to clean up the Criminal Code and strengthen protections for victims of sexual assault.

This is a good first step but we'll need to keep pressure up until this bill receives Royal Assent.

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Jun 5, 2017 Newsletter

Barely two weeks after the attack in Manchester and we're watching another Islamist attack unfold in the UK.

This time the tragedy hits home for us here in British Columbia, as one of the victims, thirty-year old Chrissy Archibald, was originally from Castlegar. As described in the statement from Humanists UK, Chrissy's values and commitments reflect some of the best in humanity. 

The only named victim so far is Canadian woman Chrissy Archibald, who lived her life according to a belief ‘that every person was to be valued and respected’, who spent much of her adult life volunteering to help the homeless, who was a contributor to human happiness and welfare and wellbeing.

Our thoughts are with her friends and family here in BC, as well with those of the other victims of this tragedy.

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May 23, 2017 Newsletter

It feels like every few months we face another tragedy, another senseless loss of life and another cycle of emotions.

This time it's the loss of 22 lives, many teens and children, at a concert in Manchester, UK. The attack - and the Humanist response - is reminiscent of Paris in November 2015Brussels in 2016Quebec in 2017 or any number of other acts of terrorism.

Those sentiments remain true. We must remain steadfast in our support for an open, tolerant and peaceful society in the face of extremist violence and intimidation.

This is how we demonstrate the universality of Humanist values against a backdrop of those few who reject them.

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Act now for clinical trial transparency

As Humanists, we want to create compassionate world using the best available evidence.

Unfortunately, the policies that govern our pharmaceutical medicines rely on neither our compassion nor the best evidence.

The AllTrials Campaign, which I worked with Sense About Science on from 2013-2015, calls for every clinical trial to be registered and the results of all trials to be reported. Otherwise, we can't know whether the medicines we take work and we betray the trust of patients who participate in those trials.

This video and AllTrials.net have more information on the importance of this campaign.

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