Rationalists of East Tennessee Newsletter

September, 2009


Tribute to Jerry Sillman:


Sunday July 26, 2009, Jerry Sillman, one of the founders of RET, died. Arguably, without Jerry and his wife Ann, the Rationalists of East Tennessee would not exist. Jerry and a few others started the Reality Fellowship back in 1995. Their first official meeting was in the basement of the Candy Factory (see middle picture below). In no time, the group grew and changed its name to the Rationalists of East Tennessee. Jerry worked tirelessly to provide content and dialog for roundtables and book club discussions. His high aspirations and expectations energized all of us and made each of us more committed to ensuring the success of RET.


I learned important details in those early days from Jerry and his wife, Ann. They would make sure everything was set up early before meetings, greet and excitedly converse with all new guests, and they were always looking ahead at what could be done to make each RET event better than the next. Jerry inspired me to volunteer, serve on the board, take on the coffee set up duty (he knew how important this was!) and to be ready for the next opportunity with which RET could be involved.


I am indeed very, very grateful to Jerry. Thanks go to Phil King who supplied these pictures of Jerry from various RET events. Some more memorials from other members appear below.



C:\Documents and Settings\Dave Buck\My Documents\RET\pictures\Jerry Sillman - 1996.jpg C:\Documents and Settings\Dave Buck\My Documents\RET\pictures\Jerry Sillman - 1997.jpg C:\Documents and Settings\Dave Buck\My Documents\RET\pictures\Jerry Sillman - 1998.jpg



From Ralph Isler:


I first became involved with RET around 2001 because of Jerry. I had seen an announcement that as the subject for a roundtable discussion, a replay of one of Bill Buckley's Firing Line programs would be shown - the one where evolution was debated with three guests on each side of the question. It was Jerry's idea to do this. Since I had missed most of the program on PBS, I decided to come to the meeting. As I arrived at the door of the Candy Factory, Jerry was struggling to get a television monitor and video player into the building so I gave him a hand. The group was friendly and congenial (and I had known Phil King from work) so I decided to join. A few weeks later, Jerry suggested that we also meet on the third Sunday each month to discuss a set of CD's he had purchased on the great philosophers, and the group agreed. So that is how the third Sunday became known as philosophy Sunday (just in case anyone is wondering).

I was sorry to see Jerry disassociate himself from the group. He always had interesting points to make to any discussion. Anyhow, I remember him as the person who led me to RET.


From Al Westerfield:


My favorite remembrance is how the Sillmans were gracious enough to host the preliminary test of the water dowser's try for the Amazing Randi's million-dollar prize. Someone name Dave Buck set up the test, which was witnessed not only by RET members and friends of the dowser but also recorded for a local television station. All admitted that the test was fair. Quite naturally, the dowser's results were no better than chance.


From Carl Ledendecker:


Jerry was a real activist. He organized for many causes but what started out as "The Reality Fellowship" and became "R.E.T." was his most successful start up.

He had the gumption and energy to bring people together for a cause. He found some disgruntled Unitarians and then contacted any and all national organizations that might have interested members. That is how he came across my name. I had listed myself as being interested in starting a group with the "Skeptical Inquirer/Free Inquiry" guys and was sitting around wondering how to actually form a group. Jerry took care of that problem.

He liked to have things under control. The morning of one meeting he had to go into the emergency room. He was having some heart problem and asked me to meet him at the hospital. As they were rolling him on a gurney through the hall he was giving me a list of things he had planned for the meeting. For Jerry, potential heart failure wasn't going to get in the way of a good cause.

He was a frequent letter writer to the Maryville paper and took on many nutty fundamentalists with a cool head and no ranting. He took on the Blount County commissioners face to face every time they thought that their job was to promote Christianity. Jerry did a lot of good.


JerryŐs memorial service will be held on September 19, a Saturday at 11AM at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of the Swannanoa Valley in Black Mountain North Carolina.  


New Members:


Someone suggested a great idea at a recent board meeting and that was to list new RET members in the newsletter. I plan on doing this each quarter from now on. But, to catch up, here are a list of people who joined RET as due-paying members over the last 12 months:


Melissa Allen

Carol F. Newsom

Ruth (Ruti) Gat

Uri Gat

Morgan E. Wilson

Mary R. Robbins

John P. Harrison

John M. Croxton, III

Steve Seay

Harry Quarles

Joanna Michelle Hood

Donald F. Barkman

Gerry Armel

Mike Murphree


Welcome! We hope RET becomes a source of fellowship and support or whatever you may need us to be.



Sunday, September 6th - Roundtable

Topic: Can the definition of "God" be made logically consistent?
Location: 10:30 - 12:30, Pellissippi State, Goins Bldg., Cafeteria Annex

Discussant: Andrew Shor

If you ask a believer what he means by "God,Ó the answer might be, "Everybody knows who God is". On the other hand, you might hear "God is beyond human understanding"; in other
words, nobody knows what God is. Sometimes the definition seems to change from sentence to sentence to present a moving target. "God" is often given conflicting attributes, but even the most basic definitions have serious problems. How can one talk of believing or disbelieving in something that lacks a consistent definition? Join in a discussion of the philosophy of the foundation of "Theology.Ó


Sunday, September 13 - Skeptic Book Club

Book: ŇGod: The Failed Hypothesis. How Science Shows That God Does Not ExistÓ by Victor J. Stenger

Discussion Leader: Carl Ledendecker
4:00 to 6:00pm, Barnes and Noble Booksellers, 8029 Kingston Pike.


Throughout history, arguments for and against the existence of God have been largely confined to philosophy and theology. In the meantime, science has sat on the sidelines and quietly watched this game of words march up and down the field. Despite the fact that science has revolutionized every aspect of human life and greatly clarified our understanding of the world, somehow the notion has arisen that it has nothing to say about the possibility of a supreme being, which much of humanity worships as the source of all reality. Physicist Victor J. Stenger contends that, if God exists, some evidence for this existence should be detectable by scientific means, especially considering the central role that God is alleged to play in the operation of the universe and the lives of humans. Treating the traditional God concept, as conventionally presented in the Judeo-Christian and Islamic traditions, like any other scientific hypothesis, Stenger examines all of the claims made for GodŐs existence. He considers the latest Intelligent Design arguments as evidence of GodŐs influence in biology. He looks at human behavior for evidence of immaterial souls and the possible effects of prayer. He discusses the findings of physics and astronomy in weighing the suggestions that the universe is the work of a creator and that humans are GodŐs special creation. After evaluating all the scientific evidence, Stenger concludes that beyond a reasonable doubt the universe and life appear exactly as we might expect if there were no God.


Philosophy Sunday – canceled so people can attend picnicÉsee below


September 20th - 2nd Annual Regional Atheist Picnic

When: Sunday September 20th 2009 - noon
Where: Picnic shelter #2, Lake Julian Park, Asheville, North Carolina

We met so many people last year and was so happy to see such a large contingent of RETers making the trip. There are several freethought/non-theist/skeptic groups in that area who help make this picnic happen.


ItŐs a potluck and you can sign up online for what you will bring (food or supplies). Go check out the forum list because several have already posted.



Directions and links to information about Lake Julian Park can be found at:




Many carpooled last year and we can coordinate that again this year. E-mail me at buck.dave@gmail.com and I'll start putting together a list of people who'd like to ride together to Asheville.


ChildrenŐs program during RET roundtables – Requesting Volunteers


After a summer hiatus, we're ready to re-start the children's program, and we're looking for ideas and teaching volunteers. We have a topic list from which prospective teachers may choose, but we welcome additional lesson ideas. We work from a modified character education program with additional lessons on critical thinking and science for the pint-sized crowd, and our typical format includes a story and a fun art project or other activity to reinforce the lesson.


RET is packed with parents and grandparents who no doubt have favorite children's books, so please take a moment to think of the hundreds of bedtime stories you've read to your little ones and share any that might teach a humanist-friendly lesson to RET's youngest members, even if you are not interested in teaching. If you would be willing to lead a lesson but need a bit of help with preparation, we would be happy to provide the book and help with an activity idea and the necessary supplies. This program is a great way to teach our children the values we share and to provide a multi-generational sense of community to our youngest members.

Thanks, Mleeka