January 11, 2016 Weekly Newsletter Roundup

Yesterday, January 10, 2016, 36 of us were energized and engaged by David Simpson's talk on how he came to be a Christian Atheist. David still worships Jesus as a heroic figure even though he's lost his belief in all the alleged miracles and the supposed reality of God. His talks stirred up considerable controversy but was generally appreciated as very interesting and thought provoking.

Listen to the talk on our podcast.

Upcoming Vancouver Sunday Meetings

On Sunday, January 17, 2016, John Ince returns to speak on Happiness - what it is and how to achieve it

On Sunday, January 24, 2016, Nader Abdullah of the Syrian Canadian Council speaks on the Syrian Refugee Crisis. Read more about our own effort to sponsor a refugee family.

On Sunday, January 31, 2016, Cherise Louie of Canadian Blood Services on the Value of Donating Blood. Read more about how, starting in February, we will be hosting regular blood donation sessions in Vancouver.

On Sunday, February 7, 2016, Dr Samir Gandesha, Director of the Humanities Institute at SFU will be speaking on the controversial topic of the volatile connection between religion and politics.

Our Vancouver Sunday meetings take place at the Oakridge Seniors' Centre. The centre is at the west side of Oakridge Mall at 41st and Cambie. The mall has a large parking lot and is accessible by the Canada Line. Doors open at 10:00 am for BYO coffee, tea and socializing. Please help us welcome all attendees by introducing yourself and asking about themselves (if you are comfortable doing that). We want all attendees (and especially first-timers) to feel welcome and part of our Humanist community. At 10:30 am we start our presentation.

BCHA Book Club

The February book club selection is Believing Bullshit by Stephen Law. The February meeting will be on Tuesday, February 2, 2016 at Goldis and Kirsten's home. At the beginning of the meeting, we will decide on the April 5, 2016 book club selection.

The March book club selection is With or Without God by Gretta Vosper. The March meeting will be on Tuesday, March 1, 2016 at Goldis and Kirsten's home. At the beginning of the meeting, we will decide on the May 3, 2016 book club selection.

See all upcoming events.

Check the BCHA Vancouver Meetup page for more details on the meetings mentioned above and for what we have lined up. Also, please RSVP so others have an idea of how many people usually attend these meetings. Please be aware that while we do our best to ensure that the scheduled programs go ahead, there are no guarantees and last minute changes may be necessary due to circumstances beyond our control.

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To keep our email newsletter digestible, we save extra news tidbits for this roundup. The opinions which appear in this roundup are not necessarily shared by all or even most of the members or board of the BC Humanist Association. Let me know if you have any suggestions to include in future roundups. Email: [email protected]

And for the latest news items, be sure to like the BC Humanists on Facebook and follow @BCHumanist on Twitter.

The Good


Ralph Goodale, Canada's new Public Safety minister, has promised to consult with the public on sweeping changes to the national security landscape beyond just revisiting the controversial bill C-51. Good news indeed for those of us interested in civil liberties and due process.


Successful trials in animal models of a therapy for Duchenne muscular dystrophy using the new gene editing breakthrough CRISPR have been recorded by researchers at Duke University. It will be some time before human treatment develops but clinical trials are moving forward. The image shows (from left to right) normal muscle cells, diseased cells and diseased cells after the treatment.


SpaceX just announced plans to launch its Falcon 9 rocket with a payload heading to orbit, and then they will land the craft back on Earth on a moving ship. 

In this video writer and basic income advocate Scott Santens talks about the longstanding problem of the negative effects of technological advancement on humanity and how it could possibly be addressed. This talk was given at the first World Summit on Technological Unemployment in New York City on September 29, 2015 and was organized by the World Technology Network (WTN).


Researchers at the US Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) have announced a breakthrough in the construction of spinel, also known as transparent aluminum. The substance is named after an iconic scene in Star Trek, in which the Enterprise’s chief engineer hands over the chemical formula for an advanced 23rd-century building material to a manufacturing company in 1980s San Francisco. Its many potential uses include virtually unbreakable glass for computer screens, tablets and cellphones.

This animation depicts the CRISPR-Cas9 method for genome editing – a powerful new technology with many applications in biomedical research, including the potential to treat human genetic disease. Feng Zhang, a leader in the development of this technology, is a faculty member at MIT, an investigator at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research and a core member of the Broad Institute. Further information can be found on Prof Zhang’s website at http://zlab.mit.edu .


From The Daily Beast (via the Richard Dawkins Foundation) comes this short article to the effect that the "War on Christianity" myth is merely a response to the declining influence and increasing irrelevance of religion in the lives of more and more Americans.


The Periodic Table of the elements has been filled in a bit more with the confirmation of the construction of four new trans-uranium elements by smashing together the nuclei of lighter elements in particle accelerators. I'm hoping one of those elements will ultimately be named "Unobtainium".

Working with the Ministers of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness and Health, create a federal-provincial-territorial process that will lead to the legalization and regulation of marijuana. - See more at: http://pm.gc.ca/eng/minister-justice-and-attorney-general-canada-mandate-letter#sthash.mIi2SoF2.dpuf
Working with the Ministers of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness and Health, create a federal-provincial-territorial process that will lead to the legalization and regulation of marijuana. - See more at: http://pm.gc.ca/eng/minister-justice-and-attorney-general-canada-mandate-letter#sthash.mIi2SoF2.dpuf
Working with the Ministers of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness and Health, create a federal-provincial-territorial process that will lead to the legalization and regulation of marijuana. - See more at: http://pm.gc.ca/eng/minister-justice-and-attorney-general-canada-mandate-letter#sthash.mIi2SoF2.dpuf

The Bad


Drought and extreme heat slashed global grain harvests between 1964 and 2007 with the greatest impact in North America, Europe and Australasia, according to this article from The Vancouver Observer.


From The New Yorker's Andy Borowitz comes this satirical article about a proposed wall in Oregon to keep out angry white guys armed with guns and cowboy hats.


From The Daily Beast, Islamic Reform advocate, Maajid Nawaz writes a well-thought-out response to the horrific sexual assaults and robberies by organized gangs on New Year's Eve at the main train station in Cologne, Germany. The image is of a protest demonstration. The sign says "Against Sexism Against Racism".


A $58 million defamation lawsuit filed by a creationist against Richard Dawkins has been dismissed. Hemant Mehta explains. 


From The Washington Post comes this article detailing how Sean Penn's interview with Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán in The Rolling Stone was instrumental in the recapture in Mexico of the infamous fugitive drug lord.


In light of the fact that Saudi Arabia is one of the worst countries in the world in terms of supporting human rights, please consider signing this petition demanding that Saudi Arabia be removed from the UN Human Rights Council of which it is currently the chair.


In recognition of the 1 year anniversary of the Jan 7, 2015 massacre at the Charlie Hebdo offices in France, Dr Jerry Coyne offers this editorial on the cowardice of self-proclaimed liberal media in refusing to reprint the Charlie Hebdo covers or any images that might offend terrorist jihadists.


David Bowie has died of cancer at age 69. He was the man who made a career of challenging tradition and social norms.

The Ugly


The CBC reported on Jan 9 that a crowd of refugees attending a welcome event at the Muslim Association of Canada Centre in Vancouver were pepper-sprayed by an unknown man on a bicycle.  Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson both condemned the attack, which police are investigating as a hate crime. The image is of people at the Centre milling about after the event was disrupted by this attack.


A massive sexual assault and robbery spree by co-ordinated gangs of "Arab looking" young men in Cologne on New Year's Eve and the apparent government cover-up intended to avoid giving more credibility to right-wing opposition to immigration have roiled German politics. The New Yorker had this to say about the incident:

"Under German law, any crimes committed in the main station, or within thirty metres of its tracks, come under the jurisdiction of federal law enforcement, and on Friday the Bundespolizei, or federal police, issued the first list of suspects in the attack. There were thirty-two: nine Algerians, eight Moroccans, five Iranians, four Syrians, three Germans, one Iraqi, one Serb, and one American. There should be more; about two hundred people have filed criminal complaints, and there are a good number of videos of the violence. (Three hundred and fifty hours’ worth, according to Der Spiegel.) The first suspects were mostly charged with property crimes, apparently because that evidence could be gathered most quickly. According to German press reports, the police traced some of the stolen phones to shelters and hostels for people given or seeking status as refugees, or to their immediate vicinity."  

For a reasoned and reasonable response to the question of what to do about incidents like this, check out this article in The New Statesman by Musa Okwonga, a German man of North African ancestry.  If the left refuses to acknowledge this issue, it will lend undeserved credibility to the right-wing racist parties. 


Lest anyone think that Islam has a monopoly on horror stories involving denial of human rights to women and children, here is a story from The UK's Daily Mail about a US woman who escaped from a fundamentalist Christian pair of adoptive parents after they had sold her hand in marriage to a co-religionist for $25 000 USD - a discounted price due to the fact that she had been sexually abused. She was 27 at the time she escaped after finally discovering her passport and birth certificate hidden away in her mother's desk in a secret compartment. Many like her are not so lucky and face the almost impossible task of proving their US citizenship after they are raised by Christian fanatic parents who fail to register the births of their children. 




Speaking of terrorism, it seems at least one Tennessee lawmaker is quite ok with white guys with cowboy hats committing acts of terrorism and of course, if you're white and own guns and a cowboy hat, you're entitled to help yourself to any publicly owned property which strikes your fancy.

 The Promotions


On January 27, 2016, Centre for Inquiry Vancouver and The Company of Disciples are sponsoring a theist and and atheist conversation on the subject of spanking. Is corporal punishment a useful and acceptable form of discipline? Admission is $6.


Anyone interested in taking part in Philosophy Dinners must sign up and pay the small fee ($5) in advance via Meetup since there a limited number of physical seats (and their format involves no more than 6 people to a table in order to keep the groups small). Glen is also coordinator of psychology dinners, and Calopia, your one-stop shopping site for worthwhile causes.

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