Sunday Meeting Report – September 7, 2014 (29 attendees)

by Barrie Webster

On Sunday, September 7, we were treated to a talk by Dr. Gary Bauslaugh on the Voices of Humanism. The presentation was dedicated to the memory of Theo Meijer, close friend and mentor.

Dr. Bauslaugh is a Humanist, writer, and editor, and spent many years as a teacher and administrator in the BC College and University system. Gary has a PhD in Chemistry from McGill, and has written peer-reviewed scientific papers and notable articles for a variety of publications such as The Skeptical Inquirer, The Humanist, The Vancouver Sun, University Affairs, and Policy Options. From 2003 to 2008, he was the editor of the magazine, Humanist Perspectives, and during that time in particular, he was mentored by Dr. Theo Meijer. Theo was a much-loved and influential member of VSHA, and earlier, the BCHA. For many years, Dr. Meijer was also on the Board of Canadian Humanist Publications.

Gary is a member of VSHA and has published widely, as a scientist and as an educator, on social justice issues, education, Humanism in its various dimensions, euthanasia in Canada, and ethics in sports and politics. He documented and defended the case of Evelyn Martens and her quest to die with dignity. He wrote on the case of David Latimer who actively terminated the tortured life of his beloved 13-year-old severely and painfully handicapped daughter. Gary has illuminated the role of compassion and forgiveness within the Humanist life-stance. Being a scientist, he is also very able to describe how certainty does not fit well with science, and has shown how the role of science in public policy decisions has diminished as science education has weakened in Canada. When he spoke to us last year, it was to describe the largely unknown power of trial juries to come to appropriate compassionate decisions, independent of the views of the presiding judge or the legal system.

Dr. Bauslaugh has an ongoing deep interest in humanism and its implications for society. During his time as editor of Humanist Perspectives, he gathered a variety of essays on the subject. His talk on September 7 was inspired by thoughts from those essays in combination with his own reflections and writings on the subject. His latest book,Voices of Humanism, is in its final preparation for release.

Gary began his talk by describing his early activities as a young Skeptic in southern Ontario, “responding with glee” when he was successful in being critical of people with ideas incompatible with his rational views. When he moved to Nanaimo, he got to know Stanley Burke, former CBC radio personality, who had taken over as editor of the newspaper there. Gary respected him for this and for his former work with the CBC. Burke, though, believed in the psychic world, extrasensory perception, and life after death, and would, as a result, have been the butt of Skeptic ridicule. Gary was intensely involved with Malaspina College (the forerunner of Vancouver Island University) and in that role frequently interacted with Burke. Gary came to realize that, although as a Skeptic, he might have sought to humiliate Burke for his irrational beliefs, there was a time to be compassionate when Burke, deep in grief, felt an intense need to communicate with his son after his untimely death. Gary recognized on an intellectual level that Burke’s need was profound; coincidentally Gary discovered that he empathized with Burke in his grief when his own daughter died about 13 years ago. As a result, he realized that ridiculing someone for his evidently illogical beliefs as he had enjoyed doing as a young Skeptic, served little ongoing constructive purpose. He found that in no way was it inconsistent with a humanistic life-stance to understand and empathize with Burke’s need. In doing so, he was convinced that the advice of Charles Darwin was relevant: direct and aggressive argument against Christianity gains the arguer few friends; rather, it is better to advance science than argue with believers. In other words, the best way to communicate with people of religion is to relate to the modern world, to be more positive, and to be less dismissive of religious views.

At the same time, Dr. Bauslaugh knew that the promotion of the Humanist life-stance was a high priority objective. He became the editor of Humanist Perspectives in 2003, and collected and published the essays of selected well respected Humanists during the next five years. While this elicited criticism from some of his more conservative Humanist colleagues, he increased the annual subscriptions for the magazine from about 800 to 1800. Reviewers began to treat Humanist Perspectives as a respected journal. The authors inspired confidence and gained positive reviews from their readers, and the articles began to be seen internationally as positive statements of Humanist philosophy.

All of this led Gary more recently to gather together the more memorable articles from many of those authors and to add a few of his own to form his new book, Voices of Humanism. The book is currently out for its final editing before publication for sale. I have a copy and it is an excellent read.

The talk on Sunday, September 7, was stimulating and thought-provoking, and it challenged Gary’s fellow Humanists to revalidate their humanistic life-stance. It was an altogether memorable way to begin the fall speaker program.