Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Earlier this year, Fred Edwords started a project modeled after PhilyCOR, or the Philadelphia Coalition of Reason. The initial goal of PhilyCOR is to unite different atheist, humanist, and other secular organizations in order to build a stronger local community. While this has been a lofty goal, by looking at the various Coalition of Reason sites set up during the year, along with high profile advertising campaigns, the impact has not been worth the effort spent by members of the freethought communities the Coalitions of Reason's represent. The sites are lacking in new content, feature a handful of press releases and articles from news sources surrounding the "shocking" advertising in the local community and a small amount of local events lead by only a few members of the Coalition, which leads me to believe that having an external source (UnitedCOR) sweep in, spend money on an ad and leave has little impact.

So, what is the big deal? UnitedCOR comes in, invites a few chosen groups to join the COR, some accept, others join out of peer pressure, an ad campaign is run, and the groups are left to themselves. If only it were that simple.

Because UnitedCOR is an organization which is independent and undemocratic, run by Fred Edwords and an unknown benefactor who are choosing to spend money to further their own cause, the groups which are members have little say in what UnitedCOR does. It is clear from press coverage which follow billboards which appear in communities which have started COR's, that the COR's are formed to support interest in Greg Epsteins's new book.

Greg Epstein is the Humanist Chaplin at Harvard. He believes that the "New Atheism" of authors like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, has a bad image in the public, so rather then defending and supporting the rights of atheists to engage in open dialog and raise important issues regarding religion, he has instead decided to ride their coat tails with a movement he calls, the "New Humanism." "We are interested in anything that is good, without God," Epstein writes. He sees the "New Humanism" movement in stark contrast to the negativity of "New Atheism." I think this dichotomy is false. UnitedCOR carries this attitude that "New Atheism" must be stopped and replaced with "New Humanism."

What harm is there in joining a UnitedCOR sponsored organization? The benefit is that you receive some attention due to a website and billboard. My thought is that organizations can receive just as much, if not more, coverage for doing work in the communities their serve. The harm, is that these organizations then take place in the discrimination of other organizations UnitedCOR and related local organizers seek to exclude.

Do you mean to say that UnitedCOR, a group which seeks to, according to their mission, "to raise the visibility and sense of unity among local groups in the community of reason, to create a national dialogue on the role of nontheists in American society, and to improve the way that nontheists are perceived by average Americans," would exclude atheist groups? Yes.

In PhilyCOR, The Rational Response Squad was excluded due to objections raised by the Ethical Humanist Society of Philadelphia. The Rational Response Squad an been an excellent resource in engaging an audience a generation or two younger then the membership of most freethought organizations. Their exclusion is shocking to me.

It is not surprising that a group which labels itself as an Ethical Humanist society would behave in this fashion, especially after the controversy in Chicago over a dis-invitation and later police action taken by the Ethical Humanist organization there. Our strength is in our diversity. Tolerance must extend to those with whom you disagree. I am not interested in listening to an atheist or humanist echo chamber.

In Minnesota, Atheists for Human Rights was excluded, under the excuse that they are a national organization and national organizations are not to take part in UnitedCOR groups. August Berkshire has had a long standing grievance with Atheists for Human Rights, for various reasons and used his role as organizer of Twin Cities COR to exclude this organization.

At its best UnitedCOR is an ineffective attempt to bring freethought groups together. At its worse, it seeks to exclude groups it chooses while promoting people it deems worthy, such as Greg Epstein.

If you are a member of a UnitedCOR sponsored organization, pay close attention to what is being thrust onto your organization and what is being done in your name. Whether you like it or not, the actions of UnitedCOR reflect on your group.

If you are considering joining a UnitedCOR sponsored organization, I would make sure that your organization's goals match with those of the organizer of your local COR. After all, we all strongly support rationality and careful thought. Groups have the freedom to choose for themselves but must be made well aware of the impact of their decisions.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

An Evolution Solution (non-Wave version)

A majority of Americans reject evolution. You may have read the Gallup poll from this past February which counted only 39 percent of respondents as holding a belief in evolution. However, this problem is not new. While researching this problem, I have run into many polls from other organizations which constantly place a belief in evolution in the minority. The majority opinion is that God created humans in their current form. What can be done to better educate the public?

Are our teachers failing us? Is there is an organized opposition to the theory of evolution which is simply more compelling then the evidence which supports a gradual change over millions of years? I will admit, creatures popping into existence, fully formed, makes for a great story, but when I want to learn about how things really are, I have to rely in science and empirical evidence, even if the story isn't as fanciful. Richard Dawkins continues the fight to educate the public about evolution with his book, "The Greatest Show On Earth." Will his book work? Will the people who buy it already reject the Christian creation myth?

I would say that it isn't a wasted effort. As I walked through a local book store, I saw the atheist books tucked in with science books, mostly about Darwin and evolution. While you can be religious and believe in evolution, I won't deny that there have been many who read about how evolution really works, not how they were taught in church and that one lie of creation unraveled the web of lies their church, family and friends had been telling them their whole life. Science has evidence, the comfort of predictability, while faith is an empty guessing game.

What else did I see in the book store? In the religion section, few books about evolution, but more books about how to either reject evolution or how religion and evolution are compatible. I'd like to see some of those science books sneak their way into the religion section. Would that have worked for you? I know many atheists who decided that the evidence for a god was lacking after reading "The God Delusion," which was more about evolution then it was in rejecting faith.

Last month, I attended "Atheist Coming Out Day" hosted by Campus Atheists, Skeptics and Humanists at the University of Minnesota. Here, people sat in a circle and told their coming out story. What shocked me, was how many people were so new to calling themselves "atheists," and felt comfortable going to a group meeting to tell everyone about it. Out of the 60 people who "came out," more then a few were raised in conservative Christian families, including one child of missionaries, one child of Salvation Army parents, and one who was a Bible Quiz champion. All of these people strongly rejected evolution, until college. All it took was a freshman biology course with a brief introduction to evolution to realize they had been actively deceived by the people who cared about them. For some, the process of leaving faith behind took a few years, others left more quickly.

What is important, is that there is a community of like minded people who are there, if only to "come out" to, to share our experiences and to make it easier for the next wave of people to throw off life according to mythology and embrace reality.