Tuesday 9 December 2008

Newsletter of the Sydney Atheists

#3 November 08

Hello everybody and welcome again to the newsletter of the Sydney Atheists. It’s been another busy month for us! We have been expanding our public image this month through various events, while also maintaining a bust social event schedule. It truly is great that everybody seems to get more involved the more active the group becomes. It’s like fuelling the fire and watching it glow white hot.
Firstly, Sydney Atheists has successfully received incorporated status, formalising the organisation and allowing us to deliver a more professional front to our activities, events and products. A big thanks is in order for Anthony and everyone else who has worked hard to make this happen.
The biggest event this month (and arguably in the history of the Sydney Atheists) was our involvement in the Newtown Festival. We shared a stall with the Secular Party where we handed out pamphlets, signed up new members, sold bumper stickers and t-shirts, had a lot of really interesting conversations with passers by and even sang a few tunes to the crowd. There was an estimated crowd of 80 000 people, only a few of whom took umbrage at our message of positive atheism. Read more about it at Critical Mass.
Our 100th meetup was a booming success, with a terrific talk about Fake religions by Ian Woolf. He covered Pastafarianism, The Church of the Subgenious, and the Universal Life Church (of which Ian has been canonised as a saint!) among a smattering of others. It was a great night, well attended and a lot of fun. Check out the photos on the Sydney Atheists Flikr stream.
A small group of our members attended a bible study of Riverstone Baptist Church, which was a civil night of discussions about the similarities and differences between the Baptists and the Atheists. We must have made a good impression, as we were invited back and a few of the Baptists said that they would come along to one of our meetings some time. Read more about it in Tiffany’s report below.
In what has become a worldwide phenomenon, atheist advertising is coming to Sydney! We have been working on an advertising campaign and are now ready to release it to the public. We will be running with the slogan ‘No God? No Worries!” and have a variety of different approaches through which we will be presenting the message. We are currently looking for donations and sponsors, so please donate to make this happen, spreading reason and positive secular values throughout Sydney. You can donate through Electronic funds transfer to the Sydney Atheists account:
BSB: 112-879
Account No: 410136189
Or contact us via eMail at: sydneyatheists@gmail.com
Finally, we will be running our second blood drive on Saturday, 10th of January at the Elizabeth St Donor centre. Last time we had 8 donors, which was excellent! This time, lets see if we can get even more people to donate to such an important cause. If you can’t make it on the day, you can still donate for the cause, just say that you are donating under the Sydney Atheists’ club red group and fill out the form when you donate. Please consider giving blood. It is a great way to make a positive contribution to those who need it and an embodiment of our ‘good without god’ message. We will create events on Facebook and Meetup for those who are coming. For more information contact Alan at criticalmass@live.com.au

 Articles by members:

Here's a hand-picked selection of articles from members of the Sydney Atheists. To submit an article for inclusion in either this newsletter, or the Critical Mass blog, email criticalmass@live.com.au. We would like to use this newsletter to share what members have been up to, so get writing!
A Friendly Encounter with Riverstone Baptist
By Tiffany Day
On Tuesday November 18th, the Sydney Atheists were kindly invited to attend a bible study held by the Riverstone Baptist Church, at the home of Pastor Marcus and his wife Reem. The purpose of the evening was not for us to attempt to de-convert the Baptists, but rather to gain an insight into their worldview and into their thinking; ultimately attempting to establish some common ground between our two very different groups.
 After first arriving at their home, we enjoyed some nibblies and refreshments which allowed for some informal introductions and chatter between both parties. We then proceeded to the living area where we sat around each other in a circle, and discussed a select part of the Bible. This particular study mainly dealt with the definition and meaning of sin, how to approach it and how to deal with it in your daily life. Needless to say, this sprung vigorous amounts of friendly questions from us atheists, which were answered quite interestingly, and gave us a clear insight into their day-to-day thought process about God.
 Some important subjects were discussed, with morality being the key issue. The Baptists explained to us the importance to them of their relationship with God, and of living the way that they think they know God wants them to. On the other hand, we expressed our passion for being good, ethical and moral without a need for any particular belief system in a supernatural being. The general vibe in the room was a positive one, with all opinions from either side expressed in a friendly manner. The conversation proved to be so interesting that time escaped us, and two hours seemed to have flown by in 2 minutes! Having to stop our discussion short due to time, the study was ended with a prayer (of which we only observed). We then hung around for some more informal discussion before making our friendly goodbyes.
All in all, the evening was considered to be a great success by all in attendance. Later reports from the Baptists told of how they had stayed back after we had left, and discussed how friendly we were and how interesting they had found the evening to be. For many of them, they had never met a group of atheists before, nor been able to hear about how we approach the world and live without a belief in God, of which most of them have never known life without. The final outcome was a welcoming invitation for the Sydney Atheists to come back any time we wish, as well as many of their members being eager to attend one of our own future events in return.
Well done Sydney Atheists! We really showed this group of Baptists a positive side to atheism, and exposed ourselves as open-minded, friendly and approachable people.
by Rachel Macalpine
Too often I listen to and read apologists that use the phrase "But what's the harm? These are private beliefs, and who are we to challenge what people believe?" Well, all too often, irrational beliefs that are acted on cause a great deal of harm. Just look at the fantastic website What's The Harm. "3,284 people killed, 306,068 injured and over $2,815,114,000 in economic damages ..." and that's just the beginning.

The three terrorists known as the Bali bombers are due to be executed by firing squad sometime within the next day or so. In 2002, they targeted nightclubs packed with western tourists, killing 202 people, 88 of which were Australians. They have never expressed one ounce of remorse, with Amrozi often seen with a huge grin on his face, which gained him the name "the smiling assassin."

They view themselves as martyrs for their religion. Their brother believes that when they are executed, they will be placed in paradise because they stood up for their religion. Their mother is pleased that they will be put to death, again because they will be martyrs for their religion and will be sent to paradise. There are no doubt countless others that believe the same thing.

In the interview below with CNN, the interviewer tries to insist that the bomber is "twisting the Muslim religion completely", however the bomber is able to point out an exact passage in his holy book that justifies killing for his religion.

The interviewer asks "What gives you the right to take the lives of other people?"
The bomber answers "The verse... blood by blood, soul by soul."

That is the harm.

This also raises another point which I often struggle with understanding. These people not only believe that they are right, they "KNOW" that they are right and are willing to give up the one life that they are certain to have. If you don't hold the belief that they do, then you are either going to hell, or not going to heaven, or whatever particular teaching that religion has. Then there are people from other religions that make similar claims about their own belief systems, and they believe and "know" JUST as much as the other group. It goes on and on, with countless religions making these claims. Some one MUST be wrong. They cannot all be right. Yet each group is just as convinced as the other, and in some cases willing to die for the cause.

As an atheist, I reject all claims of any type of god/s until I have good reason and am justified to believe. Hence there is no dogma, no beliefs to follow, nothing to worship, nothing to want to die or kill for, and in fact makes me love and enjoy every day I have in this life, doing as much good as I possibly can.

It seems to me that atheism makes far more sense.
Book Review:           
Your Inner Fish, A journey into the 3.5 billion year history of the human body. by Neil Shubin.
Neil Shubin is an expeditionary palaeontologist who, due to a staffing shortage at his university, found himself teaching introductory anatomy to first year medical students in the cadaver dissection room. What does human anatomy have to do with palaeontology? Well that's what he thought too, and the answer is surprising. It turns out the easiest way to explain the paths of nerves in the human head is to show students how things work in sharks, before things were twisted, shifted, and co opted in the evolutionary path to humans. Limbs owe their design to fish, the human brain is simply extensions on the reptile brain. Shubin's experience as a palaeontologist proves invaluable to the upcoming medical students. This book emerged out of his experiences in the classroom.
Every chapter of Your Inner Fish explains the origin of an aspect of human anatomy using evolutionary genetics, paleontology, embryonic development, and the great tree of life. From teeth to breasts, knees to facial nerves, eyes and hearing, even why we get dizzy when drunk. All is lucidly explained in an accessible and engaging style showcasing the personal stories of the scientists making the discoveries.
The first chapter is Shubin's own exciting, deeply personal story detailing a ten year search for a transitional fossil lying between fish and amphibians. This search culminated in the discovery of Tiktaalik, arguably the most spectacular transitional fossil ever discovered.
Tikaalik's discovery is a resounding confirmation of Darwin's Theory of Evolution, ten years in the making... 
1, Shubin predicted that a transitional form had to exist in an extremely precise time period,
2, He studied university geology maps together with oil company aerial surveys to determine the best locations where rocks of that exact age were being exposed by erosion in a manner that wouldn't destroy any fossils that may be present.
3, He led three palaeontology expeditions to the remote frozen islands in Canada's far north to dig up rocks.
4, and he found exactly what was predicted, in exactly the right place, in exactly the right time strata.
Evolutionary Theory predicted an incredibly rare fossil with a stunningly exacting set of features, in an area less than one billionth the possible surface area of the earth. And it was exactly where it was supposed to be!!! I've never seen the "power of prayer" prove useful enough to predict so much as a coin toss beyond you would expect by random chance, and I've never understood the wilful ignorance that pervades the religious mindset. How can they possibly ignore a fish with elbows such that prayer seems useful and Darwin wrong?
Your Inner Fish is a great read, you will be fascinated by the personal stories contained within its pages. Infectiously carried along as the science is done and discoveries are made. Highly recommended.
More information on Tiktaalik, and transitional fossils in general can be found at these sites
http://www.transitional-fossil.com/ gives the only possible response to creationists
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transitional_fossil gives basic info and further links
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiktaalik gives more information specifically on Tiktaalik
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_transitional_fossils manifestly disproves the common creationist claim that there are no transitional fossils.
Review by Nathan Dunn
Further reading:

There's a lot going on out there, and this section will collect the best and most relevant content from the web and funnel it down for you. In the meantime, here's a collection of interesting stuff to keep you busy. Content suggestions can be emailed to criticalmass@live.com.au
The Australian Government wants to censor the internet, which will disable access to many interesting sites and slow down speeds dramatically. Read the stories here, here, here, here, here, and here. There will be a protest in Sydney on the 13th of December. Come along and stand up for freedom of information.
The financial crisis has been called an ‘act of God’ by Labor MP, James Bidgood.
Dorothy Rowe, a psychologist, talks about how churches are keeping her in business.
And there have also been baby beatings, crucifixions, and exorcisms here there and everywhere! It’s a mad, mad world indeed.
Other stuff
A selection of links that members might find interesting. Each month there will be a different selection of sites.
Religion News Blog- Keep up with the latest religion news headlines from across the globe. This blog brings together stories from all over so you don’t have to search through all those news blogs to catch up with the wacky world of the religiously afflicted.
This month I have collected so many links to share that to list them all with descriptions would make this newsletter ridiculously long, so instead I’ll put together a ‘Lucky Link Dip’. Click around and see what you get, there’s a lot of interesting stuff in there! Each “I” links to a different article, site, video blog etc. Have fun!
To find out more about the Sydney Atheists, check out our sites below
Please forward this newsletter to all of your atheist, agnostic, secular, humanist, freethinking, critical thinking, rationalist, open-minded or generally interesting friends and help to spread rational thinking.
Originally posted by Alan Conradi

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