March 2012 Newsletter of the Lake Superior Freethinkers
Facilitators: David Broman – 218-349-7455 & Bill Guse - 834-4583, 343-4806
First Sunday - Radisson Hotel – 9:00 AM Social – 10:00 Brunch
George Erickson, editor, firstname.lastname@example.org
Program: Jon Lindgren, "Survival and Growth of Secular Groups"
Jon Lindgren was a Professor of Economics at North Dakota State University in Fargo for 35 years. For 16 years of that time he served as Mayor of Fargo. He has been Chair of the Red River Freethinkers for seven years.
Jon will reflect on his experience with secular groups, including the Red River Freethinkers and their ten year battle to remove a Ten Commandments Monument from Fargo's City Hall lawn. That effort remains in the Court system.
As Gabriel Heater (I think) used to say – "Good evening America and all the ships at sea. There's good news tonight!." Our good news is that after a lot of effort, I have finally been able to contact Ed Raymond, the Reader Weekly columnist whose words we should read every week. If our "board" approves, he will be pleased to speak to us this spring – Sunday, May 6 being his preference. Don't miss it.
Here are a few quotes from 2,548 Best Things Anyone Ever Said,
which I added to our "library" at the Feb. meeting.
The trouble with born-again Christians is that they are an even bigger pain the second time around. Herb Caen
Most people would sooner die than think, in fact, they do so. Bertrand Russell
Man - an animal whose chief occupation is extermination of other animals and his own species, which multiply with such rapidity as to infest the whole habitable earth and Canada. Ambrose Bierce
It is lawful for a Catholic woman to avoid pregnancy by resorting to mathematics, though she is still forbidden to resort to physics and chemistry. H L Mencken
Our national flower is the concrete cloverleaf. Lewis Mumford
Every day people are straying away from the church and going back to God. Lenny Bruce
Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich. Napoleon
A man in love mistakes a pimple for a dimple. Japanese proverb
One ounce of mother is worth a ton of priest. Spanish proverb
Animals have advantages over man: they never hear a clock strike, they died without any idea of death, they have no theologians…, their last moments are not disturbed by unwelcomed and unpleasant ceremonies, their funerals cost them nothing, and no one starts lawsuits over their wills. Voltaire
Is man one of God's blunders or is God one of mans? Nietzsche
No man can think clearly when his fists are clenched. George Nathan
If there is a supreme being, he's crazy. Marlene Dietrich
* * *
After our Feb. presentation by Kevin Annett, Tom Patten emailed Gary Kohls with a question. Following his question are responses by Gary and Annett.
To Gary, I have a request. It is often said that Atheists aren't generous. I'd be curious to know how LSF's contribution to Kevin's cause compares to others you've gotten. Thanks. Tom
From Gary Kohls - No comparison. LSF was the most generous group that we have encountered so far and I would be surprised if we will encounter any group that exceeds the generosity of LSF members. Even my daughter Julie, an overburdened single mom, who lives close to the earth, eats organically and lives close to poverty was so moved by Kevin's presentation and LSF's program, that she donated $20 (my other daughter Susan, who is interested in joining or supporting LSF, also contributed something). Very few LSFers didn't get out their billfolds.
Kevin mentioned that he would love to do something with LSF when he returns to Duluth in April (3rd week). Perhaps there could be a public event of some sort sponsored or co-sponsored by LSF. We have time to ponder what kind of event between now and then. Thanks again for your great hospitality and generosity. Gary
From: Kevin Annett - I have rarely seen such an example as I did today of people willing to literally "put their money with their mouth is". I received $513 in donations from the Free Thinkers today. Even better, the support and human contact from all of you went far to reassure me that this journey and struggle is not something I am doing alone. So thank you, and please extend this to the others. I look forward to seeing you all again.
Here's a selection from a book I'll be adding to our "LSF lending library" in March. Titled Great Essays in Science, it features 28 science pioneers from Francis Bacon to Bertrand Russell and Isaac Asimov, whose essay follows.
Science and Beauty- by Isaac Asimov - lightly edited by GAE
When I heard the learn'd astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause…
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander'd off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look'd up in perfect silence at the stars. (Walt Whitman)
I imagine that many people reading those lines will tell themselves, "How true! Science just sucks all the beauty out of everything, reducing it all to numbers and tables and measurements! Why bother learning all that junk when I can just go out and look at the stars?"
That is a very convenient point of view, since it makes it unnecessary and aesthetically wrong to try to follow all that hard stuff in science. Instead, you can just take a look at the night sky, get a quick beauty fix, and go off to a nightclub.
The trouble is that Whitman is talking through his hat, but didn't know any better.
I don't deny that the night sky is beautiful, and I have in my time spread out on a hillside for hours looking at the stars and being awed by their beauty.
But what I see—those quiet, twinkling points of light—is not all the beauty there is. Should I stare lovingly at a single leaf and willingly remain ignorant of the forest? Should I be satisfied to watch the sun glinting off a single pebble and scorn any knowledge of a beach?
Those bright spots in the sky that we call planets are worlds. There are worlds with thick atmospheres of carbon dioxide and sulfuric acid; worlds of red-hot liquid with hurricanes that could gulp down the whole earth; dead worlds with quiet pock-marks of craters; worlds with volcanoes puffing plumes of dust into airlessness; worlds with pink and desolate deserts—each with a weird and unearthly beauty that boils down to a mere speck of light if we just gaze at the night sky.
Those other bright spots, which we call stars, are actually suns. Some of them are of incomparable grandeur, each glowing with the light of a thousand suns like ours; some of them are merely red-hot coals. Some of them are compact bodies as massive as our sun, but with all that mass squeezed into a ball smaller than the earth. Some are more compact still, with the mass of the sun squeezed down into the volume of a small asteroid. And some are more compact still, with their mass shrinking down to a volume of zero, the site of which is marked by an intense gravitational field that swallows up everything and gives back nothing; with matter spiraling into that bottomless hole while giving out a wild death-scream of X-rays.
There are stars that pulsate endlessly in a great cosmic breathing; and others that, having consumed their fuel, expand and redden until they swallow up their planets, if they have any – as ours will probably do. And some stars explode in a vast cataclysm whose ferocious blast of cosmic rays, hurrying outward at nearly the speed of light reaching across thousands of light-years to touch the earth and some of the driving force of evolution through mutations.
Those paltry few stars (some 2,500 on even the darkest, clearest night) are joined by a vast horde we don't see, up to as many as three hundred billion—300,000,000,000—to form an enormous pinwheel in space. This pinwheel, the Milky Way galaxy, stretches so widely that it takes light, moving at 186,282 miles each second, a hundred thousand years to cross it from end to end; and it rotates about its center in a stately turn that takes two hundred million years to complete—and the sun and the earth and we ourselves all make that turn.
Beyond our Milky Way galaxy are others, a score or so of them bound to our own in a cluster of galaxies, most of them small, with no more than a few billion stars in each; but with at least one, the Andromeda galaxy, twice as large as our own.
Beyond our own cluster, other galaxies and other clusters exist; some made of thousands of galaxies. They stretch outward as far as our best telescopes can see, with no visible sign of an end—perhaps a hundred billion of them in all.
And in more of those galaxies we are becoming aware of violence at the centers—of great explosions and outpourings of radiation, marking the death of perhaps millions of stars. Even at the center of our own galaxy there is incredible violence masked from our own solar system far in the outskirts by enormous clouds of dust and gas that lie between us and the heaving center.
Some galactic centers are so bright that they can be seen from distances of billions of light-years, distances from which the galaxies themselves cannot be seen and only the bright starlike centers of ravening energy show up—as quasars.
All these galaxies are hurrying outward from each other in a vast universal expansion that began fifteen billion years ago, when all the matter in the universe was in a tiny sphere that exploded in the hugest conceivable shatter to form the galaxies.
The universe may expand forever or the day may come when expansion slows and turns into a contraction to reform the tiny sphere and begin the game all over again so that the whole universe is exhaling and inhaling in breaths that are perhaps a trillion years long.
And all of this vision—far beyond the scale of human imaginings—was made possible by the works of hundreds of "learn'd" astronomers. All of it; all of it was discovered after Whitman died in 1892, and most of it in the past 25 years, so that the poor poet never knew what a stultified and limited beauty he observed when he "look'd up in perfect silence at the stars."
The second book I'll be adding is AMERICAN PLACES, which looks like a coffee table book – and it is, but accompanying its striking photographs is knowledgeable, exquisitely written prose, most of it by Wallace Stegner – one of the deans of American writing.
As the foreword says, "This is not just another book of natural wonders, though some of the country that it deals with is wonderful. It is not a work of history or a collection of personal experiences, though it contains some of both.
"There are no cities here. Neither do we concern ourselves mainly with the national Parks and monuments or permanent wilderness areas, even though some of the most beautiful landscapes were taken there. Parks are immensely important, but they're not American; they are exceptions to it. And though we agree with Lord Bryce that the national park idea – the willed preservation of natural areas which it might be in our short term interest to exploit - is the best idea to have come out of the New World, we need to note that these parks are only the crumbs from the great greedy banquet. They had to be fought for by people whose public spirit was often called… un-American; and even millions of Americans do not understand them. They want the wilderness areas open to recreational vehicles and drilling rights, and they confuse national Parks with resorts.
American Places is a book about (and an advocate for) nature. I hope that you will enjoy it, and bring it back so it can be passed on. George Erickson