SkeptiCamp Winnipeg: Finding Goodness

Embedded below is Scott Burton’s talk from SkeptiCamp Winnipeg 2013. Scott Burton is a professional motivational speaker and corporate entertainer. His hobby is participating in ultra-marathons; any running race over 42.2 kilometres in length, while continually testing his abilities. Scott believes that we can all benefit from reaching for big goals and by challenging our self-limiting beliefs.

SkeptiCamp Winnipeg is a conference for the sharing of ideas. It is free and open to the public: anyone can attend and participate! Presentations and discussions focus on science and free inquiry, and the audience is encouraged to challenge presenters to defend their ideas. You can visit our SkeptiCamp page for information about upcoming events and links to past SkeptiCamp talks.

Episode 76: Life, Death, and Dying with Dignity

Episode 76: Life, Death, and Dying with Dignity

In this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Donna Harris and Richelle McCullough talk about the ambiguous line between life and death, and Donna interviews Cheri Frazer from Dying with Dignity.

Life, the Universe & Everything Else is a program promoting secular humanism and scientific skepticism presented by the Winnipeg Skeptics and the Humanists, Atheists & Agnostics of Manitoba.

Links: Man wakes up in body bag hours after being pronounced dead | When death is near: Religions offer their perspective on assisted suicide | Brain-dead woman taken off life support | B.C. woman on life support dies after baby boy is safely delivered | Brain-dead Marlise Munoz taken off life support in Texas hospital | Alberta Health & Human Services (Personal Directives, Goals of Care Designation, Understanding Goals of Care Designation) | Dying with Dignity | Advanced Care Planning Kits

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“Infidel Atheists” Who “Celebrate Nothing”

I wasn’t going to bother commenting on this story, because it seemed so boring and trivial: conservative political figure makes off-the-cuff remark that betrays ignorance of minority group. My friend Donna Harris of the Humanists, Atheists & Agnostics of Manitoba has already commented on the matter, and well, and I was content to leave it at that. But I got a call this afternoon from a Winnipeg Sun reporter seeking comment, and it served to solidify my thoughts on the matter, so I figured that I might as well share them.

For context, here’s what provincial Conservative Leader Brian Pallister said:

I want to wish everyone a really, really merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah, all the holidays… all you infidel atheists out there, I want to wish you the very best also. I don’t know what you celebrate during the holiday season, I myself celebrate the birth of Christ, but it’s your choice, and I respect your choice. If you want to celebrate nothing, and just get together with friends, that’s good, too. All the best.

First of all, personally, I don’t think that this is a big deal. Pallister seemed to be speaking extemporaneously, and he appeared to be expressing honest goodwill to everyone.

Most of the outcry seems to centre on his use of the word “infidel”, which Pallister claims is simply another innocent word for “nonbeliever”. Although I would argue that “faithless” is probably a closer match etymologically, I’m content to let that pass without wasting too much time pointing out that the term is generally considered derogatory and pejorative.

What does cause me a bit of concern, on the other hand, is that Pallister seems to believe that atheists “celebrate nothing”. I’m not sure quite how to make sense of this comment, for of course any given atheist might celebrate any number of things during the holidays: family, friends, the turning of the seasons, and the birthday of Sir Isaac Newton come most readily to mind. But atheism isn’t a religion: there are no tenets or dogma, and atheists are not a homogenous lot.

Atheists believe and celebrate in all sorts of disparate things. An atheist might believe in Keynesian economics, or might be of the Austrian school. An atheist might follow Kant’s categorical imperative, or have a more utilitarian ethic. An atheist might be a humanist, or even an Objectivist.

Atheism isn’t a belief system. Asking what atheists believe or what atheists celebrate is like asking what people who don’t believe in faeries or ghosts believe or celebrate. Any number of things, certainly. Not all the same things, naturally. But probably not “nothing”.


Update (2 December 2013): That was quick. The new article is now available on the Sun’s website. It is brief, as is to be expected, and makes a minor error or two (although I started the group, Ashlyn has been the organiser of the Winnipeg Skeptics for almost a year), but it’s fine.

Episode 68: Atheist Myths

Episode 68: Atheist Myths

Is atheism a religion? In this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Donna Harris, Greg Christensen, Pat Morrow, and Jeffrey Olsson take on a few of the myths and misconceptions about atheists.

Life, the Universe & Everything Else is a program promoting secular humanism and scientific skepticism presented by the Winnipeg Skeptics and the Humanists, Atheists & Agnostics of Manitoba.

Links: Atheist vs. Agnostic | Atheism starts its megachurch: Is it a religion now? | Calgary Secular Church | Michael Enright: Could Atheists please stop complaining? | Elizabeth Renzetti: Heavens, we atheists have become a smug, dreary lot | Betty Bowers Explains Traditional Marriage to Everyone Else

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Episode 64: Angry Atheists and Equality with Greta Christina

Episode 64: Angry Atheists and Equality with Greta Christina

In this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Gem Newman discusses atheist activism and the skeptical community’s problems with equality with Greta Christina. Also on this episode, a new instalment of Where’s My Jetpack? This week Old Man Newman asks, “Where’s my lab-grown meat?”

Life, the Universe & Everything Else is a program promoting secular humanism and scientific skepticism presented by the Winnipeg Skeptics and the Humanists, Atheists & Agnostics of Manitoba.

Links: Greta Christina’s Blog | Greta’s Books (Why Are You Atheists So Angry?, Bending) | Julia Galef: The Straw Vulcan | Harassment, Rape, and the Difference Between Skepticism and Denialism | Sexual Harassment Accusations in the Skeptical and Secular Communities: a Timeline of Major Events

Where’s My Jetpack? Links: Environmental Impact (Worldwatch Institute, United Nations FCCC) | Cultured Meat in the News (The Telegraph, CBC, Scientific American, The Australian) | PETA’s Cultured Chicken Meat Contest | To Fight Global Warming, Eat Bugs

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