BOOK: Huxley’s Church & Maxwell’s Demon: From Theistic Science to Naturalistic Science

Matthew Stanley, Huxley’s Church and Maxwell’s Demon: From Theistic Science to Naturalistic Science (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014), 336 pp.

Publisher’s description During the Victorian period, the practice of science shifted from a religious context to a naturalistic one. It is generally assumed that this shift occurred because naturalistic science was distinct from and superior to theistic science. Yet as Huxley’s Church and Maxwell’s Demon reveals, most of the methodological values underlying scientific practice were virtually identical for the theists and the naturalists: each agreed on the importance of the uniformity of natural laws, the use of hypothesis and theory, the moral value of science, and intellectual freedom. But if scientific naturalism did not rise to dominance because of its methodological superiority, then how did it triumph? Matthew Stanley explores the overlap and shift between theistic and naturalistic science through a parallel study of two major scientific figures: James Clerk Maxwell, a devout Christian physicist, and Thomas Henry Huxley, the iconoclast biologist who coined the word agnostic. Both were deeply engaged in the methodological, institutional, and political issues that were crucial to the theistic-naturalistic transformation. What Stanley’s analysis of these figures reveals is that the scientific naturalists executed a number of strategies over a generation to gain control of the institutions of scientific education and to reimagine the history of their discipline. Rather than a sudden revolution, the similarity between theistic and naturalistic science allowed for a relatively smooth transition in practice from the old guard to the new.

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Third Annual Portland Humanist Film Fest, October 26-28

Next weekend is the 2012 Portland Humanist Film Fest:

A Challenge To Religion, Alternative Medicine, And Other Superstitions At Local Film Festival

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact:
Sylvia Benner, Chair
Portland Humanist Film Festival
503-515-4409
SMartinaBenner@gmail.com

A Challenge To Religion, Alternative Medicine, And Other Superstitions At Local Film Festival

The Portland Humanist Film Festival focuses the camera lens on the harm caused by religious superstition and unproven medical treatments, and advocates for evidence-based thinking.

Portland, OR—October 15, 2012—The Portland Humanist Film Fest (PHFF) will put a strong focus on reason and critical thinking during the last weekend in October.

Now in its third year, the Festival will feature documentaries that directly challenge alternative medical practices, such as homeopathy, that enjoy great popularity in the Portland metro area, but are not supported by scientific evidence. These and other films will model skepticism, critical thinking, and an effort to understand what makes a believer believe.

Portland Humanist Film Fest, the largest freethought film festival on the West Coast, is presented by Center for Inquiry–Portland with major support from the Humanists of Greater Portland. Throughout the weekend, audiences will have the opportunity to watch engaging films and learn about the growing cultural importance of secular humanist thought.

Highlights of this year’s PHFF include:

  • Kumaré – The true story a false prophet. Film Maker Vikram Gandhi impersonates spiritual leader Kumaré and gathers disciples in the United States. In the process, he forges profound connections with people from all walks of life and is forced to confront difficult questions about his own identity. At the height of his popularity, Kumaré unveils his true identity to a core group of disciples who are knee-deep in personal transformation. Kumaré, at once playful and profound, is an insightful look at faith and belief. Film Maker Vikram Gandhi was recently interviewed on the Colbert Report.1
  • Let’s Talk About Sex takes a closer look at American attitudes about sex. It was partially filmed in Portland and other Oregon locations. The film compares approaches to sex education in the US and Netherlands, and highlights solutions that lead to better health outcomes. Producer Neal Weisman will attend the Festival and is available for media interviews by contacting portland@centerforinquiry.net or            503.877.2347      . Information about the film can be found at http://www.letstalkaboutsexthefilm.com/about.html.
  • In God We Teach, a documentary film that follows the “separation of church and state” controversy played out in a very public feud between high school student Matthew LaClair and his history teacher in Kearny, NJ. Information at http://ingodweteach.com/. Director Vic Losick will be in Portland for the film festival weekend and is available for interviews.  He can be contacted BY phone at            212.580.3366       or by e-mail at vic@losick.com.
  • 12 Angry Men. The 1957 film classic starring Henry Fonda, which remains one the best demonstrations of practical skepticism in movie history.
  • Flatland 1 and Flatland 2, a charming animated exploration of mathematical concepts in an engaging story about a girl named Hex, who dares to think outside the box, based on the 19th century classic novel by Edwin Abbot.
  • Contagion, Chocolat, The Dish and other major studio films addressing themes of science, reason, and humanism.

Why host a Humanist Film Festival in Portland? According to several recent surveys, the Pacific Northwest is one of the least-religious regions of the nation. A Pew Forum report released October 9, 2012, confirms that atheists and the religiously unaffiliated make up a rapidly increasing segment of the population.2 CFI–Portland is at the forefront of this expanding movement. (For an in-depth look at the Pew report and the population it reveals, watch the upcoming PBS Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly series, “None of the Above: The Rise of the Religiously Unaffiliated” Sundays at 4:00 p.m. on OPB.)

Dates:  October 26-28, 2012
Times:  Friday: 5:00–11:00 pm; Saturday 2:00–10:30 pm; Sunday 2:00–10:00 pm (times approximate)
Location:  Cinema 21, 616 NW 21st Ave, Portland, OR 97209
Admission:  $28 weekend passes; $8 or $13 one-day passes. $ 5 off for early ticket purchase. 

More information at www.humanistfest.com

1 http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/416832/july-23-2012/vikram-gandhi

2 “’Nones’ on the Rise: One-in-Five Adults Have No Religious Affiliation,” Pew Research Center, The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, October, 9, 2012 www.pewforum.org/uploadedFiles/Topics/Religious_Affiliation/Unaffiliated/NonesOnTheRise-full.pdf                                                                        

Center for Inquiry–Portland is a community of secular humanists working to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. More information can be found at www.centerforinquiry.net/portland or www.meetup.com/cfi-portland.

Humanists of Greater Portland is a nonprofit organization and recipient of the 2008 American Humanist Association Chapter of the Year award. HGP welcomes you. Visit portlandhumanists.org.

Secular Parenting Seminar with Dale McGowan in Portland, April 21st

UPDATE (4/23): The seminar went very well! I’ll share a brief write-up I did for the CFI newsletter:

Parenting Beyond Belief seminar

On April 21st, CFI-Portland hosted author and educator Dale McGowan for a seminar about secular parenting. Since coediting and writing for the books Parenting Beyond Belief (2007) and Raising Freethinkers (2009), Dale has built an online network revolved around the idea of how best to raise children in a nonreligious family – within a religious world. The four-hour seminar covered “Our Stone Age inheritance,” different parenting styles, being a secular family in a religious world, the religious extended family, raising powerfully ethical kids, evolution for kids, and death and life. As one participant remarked, “The seminar was great! I got so much useful information. Dale was down to earth and presented the information in an engaging way. I’m so glad to have programs like this available to atheist families.”

Parenting Beyond Belief seminar

It was great to bring Dale back to Portland, as he was out here (from Atlanta) three years ago for the same seminar. The 17 participants who came to the recent seminar, myself included, were completely new attendees – so it was a worthwhile event! Some folks even came all the way from Salem, Camas (WA), and Battleground (WA). If you are interested in learning more about Dale, visit his website: http://www.parentingbeyondbelief.com/, and his blog The Meming of Life: http://parentingbeyondbelief.com/blog/. He also started a nonprofit, charitable organization, Foundation Beyond Belief: http://foundationbeyondbelief.org/.

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On April 21st, CFI-Portland will be hosting author Dale McGowan for a seminar on secular parenting. McGowan, author and editor of Parenting Beyond Belief: On Raising Ethical, Caring Kids Without Religion and Raising Freethinkers: A Practical Guide for Parenting Beyond Belief did a secular parenting workshop in Portland in April 2009. Three years later, our community has grown and there are more secular families involved. Also, this workshop will provide an opportunity for those who were unable to attend the previous one.

The seminar, from 1:00 to 5:00pm at Friendly House (Keeston Room) in NW Portland, will cover the following:

Over nine million parents in the U.S. are raising children without theistic religion. The PARENTING BEYOND BELIEF WORKSHOP, a unique half-day event with author and educator Dale McGowan, offers encouragement and practical solutions for secular parenting in a religious world. Based on the freethinking philosophy of the book Newsweek called “a compelling read,” the PARENTING BEYOND BELIEF WORKSHOP is empowering secular parents across the country to raise ethical, caring, confident kids without religion.

Participants will learn effective ways to:
– Encourage religious literacy without indoctrination
– Help kids interact productively with a religious world
– Help kids develop active moral reasoning
– Weigh church-state issues in the public sphere
– Address sensitive issues with religious relatives using the principles of nonviolent communication
– Help children develop a healthy understanding of death and a joyful love of life
– Build a family atmosphere of fearless questioning and boundless wonder
…and much more.

The cost to attend is $35 ($65 for couples and $25 if you are a friend of CFI-Portland). Tickets can be purchased now here. If you know of anyone you think might be interested in attending the seminar, please let them know!

NFA Conference brings Richard Dawkins to the Pacific Northwest

Richard Dawkins will be the closing keynote speaker at the Northwest Free-thought Alliance conference, March 30-April 2 in Renton, WA (see the schedule and register here). I am not able to attend, but I did last year when it was in Portland. If you are not going to attend the conference, there will be another opportunity to see Dawkins speak, at Newport High School in Bellevue, WA on April 1, details here.

If you go, have fun, and learn something new!

2011 Portland Humanist Film Festival

This coming weekend November 11-13 is the 2nd annual Portland Humanist Film Festival. I was not able to attend any of the films last year, but I will this year, and I am volunteering on Saturday evening to sell passes. This will be a great opportunity to not only see some interesting films concerned with science, reason, humanism, and religion, but to converse with like-minded folk:

Portland, OR—October 25, 2011—This Veterans Day weekend, November 11-13, Portland, Oregon, one of the most secular cities in the nation, will host the 2nd annual Portland Humanist Film Festival, featuring 17 films with themes of interest to secular humanists, including science, critical thinking, atheism, freethought, separation of church and state, human rights, civil liberties, and others. This three day event is the largest freethought film festival on the West Coast and is presented by Center for Inquiry–Portland with major support from the Humanists of Greater Portland.

Previews of the films:

And here is the schedule and admission info:

TRIPLE FEATURE FRIDAY 11/11/11
5:00 The Nature of Existence
7:00 The Invention of Lying
9:00 Monty Python’s Life of Brian Prizes for best (“worst” ) LoB costumes

SATURDAY 11/12/11
2:00 8: The Mormon Proposition
3:30 Here Be Dragons*
5:00 D.M. Bennett: The Truth Seeker*
6:00 Waiting for Armageddon
7:30 “Who Are The Doubters Anyway?” Featured Speaker: Tom Flynn Exec. Dir. Council for Secular Humanism
8:55 Agora

SUNDAY 11/13/11
2:00 Waking Life
4:00 Humanism: Making Bigger Circles (Dr. Isaac Asimov)
5:00 The Lord Is Not On Trial Here Today
6:00 Separation of Church And State Featured Speaker: Bruce Adams Pres. Columbia Chapter Americans United
7:00 Independent Film Awards – The Fairy Scientist* Science is a Vaccine* The Species Problem* Patrick’s Story* . . . talk with film producers!
8:30 The Ledge

Admission: $5 Fri, $10 Sat, $10 Sun, or $20 for Fri-Sun weekend pass.* Films are independent film winners.
Sponsored by Center for Inquiry-Portland • www.centerforinquiry.net/portland
Contributor Humanists of Greater Portland • www.portlandhumanists.org

If you are in Portland, I hope to see you there!

Photos: Michael Shermer in Portland

Michael Shermer was at Powell’s City of Books last night to talk about his new book, The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies—How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths:

Michael Shermer at Powell's

Then folks – mostly with the Center for Inquiry Portland – headed down the block to McMenimans Ringlers Annex for some drinks and conversation. Here’s me with Shermer:

Michael Shermer at Powell's

And the crowd:

Michael Shermer at Powell's

It was a great evening… and now I have a signed copy of In Darwin’s Shadow: The Life and Science of Alfred Russel Wallace: A Biographical Study on the Psychology of History.

2011 Northwest Freethought Conference in Portland, OR

The Northwest Freethought Conference starts with a reception tonight in Portland, at Portland State University. Then there are sessions tomorrow with a banquet and a keynote with PZ Myers of Pharyngula; and sessions Sunday morning. I’ll be attending the whole conference and providing any coverage I come across here.

Twitter hashtag: #nwfreethought

Joshua Fost: Freethought 2011
Friendly Atheist: Visiting Portland for the Northwest Freethought Conference
Pharyngula: Conferencing this weekend