Rationalists of East Tennessee Newsletter

November 2008

Round Table

November 2, 2008, 10:30 am - 12:30 pm, Roundtable, Pellissippi State, Goins Administration Bldg., Cafeteria Annex

(Come early for coffee and fellowship.)

"RET Presidential Straw Poll," led by Michael Lance. RET members and visitors will be voting, in a straw poll, for their preferences in the 2008 U.S. presidential race.

Children's Program led by Dave Buck:
"Hey, little ant." by Phillip and Hannah Hoose  
Children's Program:
"Hey, little ant," by Phillip and Hannah Hoose

The program will be led by Dave Buck, who will be reading the book to the children.  

What would you do if the ant you were about to step on looked up and started talking? Would you stop and listen? What if your friends saw you hesitate?

Recommended by Pete Seeger, E.O. Wilson, Jane Goodall

To squish, or not to squish, that is the question.
And in the spirit of Election Day, Dave says that,"We'll have the kids vote at the end of the story...would you step on the ant or not step on the ant?"

Skeptic Book Club
Nov. 9, 2008 4:00 - 6:00 p.m.
Skeptic Book Club; Barnes and Noble Booksellers, 8029 Kingston Pike

Anti-Intellectualism in American Life / Richard Hofstadter


Third Sunday Meeting

A History of Blood Transfusion
November 16, 2008, 10:30 am - 12:30 pm, Roundtable, Pellissippi State, Goins Administration Bldg., Cafeteria Annex

Dr John Neff returns to give a talk on the History of Blood Transfusion. Dr. Neff is affiliated with the Tennessee Blood Bank.

(Come early for coffee and fellowship.)



Now for the problems with determinism let's start with the meaning of the word in general usage.

The dictionary on my Mac states: "the doctrine that all events, including human action, are ultimately determined by causes external to the will. Some philosophers have taken determinism to imply that individual human beings have no free will and cannot be held morally responsible for their actions."

The definition for "determine" is "cause (something) to occur in a particular way; be the decisive factor in."

First, the notion of determining suggests an intelligent agent because only creatures with some concept of action and results or cause and effect can determine anything. This brings the  idea of supernatural determining into the argument.

Secondly, the first definition about "all events ultimately determined by causes external to human will" leaves both supernatural and purely "mechanical" determiners as options.

So is it a giant impersonal machine or a big guy with a plan?

Either way this leaves humans as just cogs in the great flow of the universe which is unappealing to most humans who are not supernaturally inclined. As for those who are supernaturally inclined, the argument of defense for god not just making everyone good is "free will." One has to choose to "suck up" to god other wise there would be not need for heaven, hell or salvation. The contradiction involved with a god that is omniscient and requires free will should be obvious. Of course, this brontosaurus in the room is not noticed by the seriously religious.

The whole problem of lack of responsibly is another sticky point and the source of many heated discussions based on either/or positions. There are environmental, biological and chemical influences or there is choice, decisions made and options taken. When the problems of justice,  fairness and the need to ensure a civil and safe society are mixed the arguments flare.

Was everything determined at or even before the big bang, set into motion in some complex way that is virtually indecipherable but at least theoretically possible to chart? Is it all random and therefore not determined but still out of our control in any way?

Are we all like insects in the larger scheme and just react to stimuli which just ends up appearing to involve choices and self direction?

So, determinism has the following issues:

1. Supernatural agent possibilities
2. No direction at all
3. Direction determined by complex processes that move forward and are the sole cause of human actions
4. How to run a society without responsibility
5. How to live with a sense of personal worth without actually being able to claim any credit for one's actions
6. (There are others no doubt.)

Next time, How valid are these opposing extremes?


From "The Humanist"

Maryland State Senator received the Distinguished Service Award from the American Humanist Association. The following is from his acceptance speech.

"Has it gotten so edgy out there that those of us in public life are afraid to be associated with the great tradition of philosophical and ethical humanism? Do we actually have to whisper about the fact that Americans still identify with the Enlightenment values of our Founders and refuse to organize their political thoughts according to sectarian religious dogma?