RATIONALIST INTERNATIONAL

Bulletin # 90 (13 February 2002)

http://www.rationalistinternational.net

IN THIS ISSUE

Jim Herrick receives International Rationalist Award 2002

International Rationalist Conference - a grand success

The Momentous Significance of Rationalism Today - Paul Kurtz

 

Jim Herrick receives International Rationalist Award

Jim Herrick
Jim Herrick

Jim Herrick, well known British Rationalist and the director of Rationalist Press Association (UK) received the International Rationalist Award 2002 during the Third International Rationalist Conference held at Gandhi Peace Foundation in New Delhi, India from 8 to 12 February 2002. Identifying international personalities who have made outstanding contributions for the liberation of human mind and freedom from religion, Rationalist International presents every two years the International Rationalist Award. In 2000, Prof. Paul Kurtz, well known philosopher, rationalist and secular humanist of USA received the International Rationalist Award.

Jim Herrick receives International Rationalist Award 2002 from Joseph Edamaruku, President, Indian Rationalist Association
Jim Herrick receives International Rationalist Award 2002 from Joseph Edamaruku, President, Indian Rationalist Association

The dedicated work of Jim Herrick for several decades in promotion of Rationalism has encouraged the spirit of scientific thinking in his own country and all over the world. his tireless efforts in defence of the liberation of the human mind from the bondage of religion, blind belief and all kinds of dogmatism, has made lasting impact on the intellectual climate of our times and stands as a guidepost into a better future. Jim Herrick has been associated with all major Rationalist organisations of UK in different capacities. At present he is the publication director of the one century old Rationalist Press Association of the UK and edits its journal, The New Humanist. He has authored books with deep understanding about the history of the Rationalist movement, wrote hundreds of articles and carried the ideals of Rationalism with deep commitment.

The award ceremony and Jim Herrick's acceptance speech received wide press coverage and were telecated in the national television net work's prime time news in English and Hindi.

 

International Rationalist Conference - A Grand Success

The Third International Rationalist Conference was successfully held at the Gandhi Peace Foundation at New Delhi, India from 8 to 12 February 2002. Delegates from different parts of the world representing major rationalist - humanist - skeptic organisations as well as representatives of the state units of Indian Rationalist Association and other regional rationalist groups attended the conference. During the conference, Sanal Edamaruku, president of Rationalist International, outlined his vision about the future of the world rationalist movement.

Jan Loeb Eisler inaugurates the Third International Rationalist Conference
Jan Loeb Eisler inaugurates the Third International Rationalist Conference


Prof. Lewis Wolpert addressing the Third International Rationalist Conference
Prof. Lewis Wolpert addressing the Third International Rationalist Conference


Sanal Edamaruku outlines his vision about the future of the world rationalist movement
Sanal Edamaruku outlines his vision about the future of the world rationalist movement


The Third International Rationalist Conference was inaugurated by Jan Loeb Eisler, board member of the Council for Secular Humanism (CSH) and Vice President of International Huminist and Ethical Union (IHEU). The distinguished speakers included Prof. Lewis Wolpert, Jim Herrick, Richard Lead, Dr Bill Cooke, Joseph Edamaruku, Prof. Ajoy Roy, Dr C Raja Mohan, Iain Middleton, V K Madhavan Kutty, Richard Saunders, Prof. Omcherry N N Pillai etc. The theme of the conference was Creative Rationalism and focus on the potential of rationalism to influence social change and transform traditional societies. Reason, equipped with knowledge and moved by compassion, is the most suitable instance to analyze the problems of our times and to create solutions, which can make the earth a better place for all its inhabitants. Unfolding its creative potential, Rationalism does not limit itself to correction and reform of the existing situations. It has a tendency of developing new structures and to visualise the rebuilding of the world based on the values of civilization. This needs imagination, confidence and responsibility. And it needs courage, determination and will to succeed. The Third International Rationalist Conference unfolded a meaningful discussion in this direction.

The Conference is the third of its kind. Rationalist International, associating the most prominent rationalist thinkers of our times, was founded during the First International Rationalist Conference in December 1995 held at New Delhi. Sanal Edamaruku, Secretary General of Indian Rationalist Association is the founder- president. As a forum for rationalist ideas and positions of world-wide concern, it aims at representing the rationalist view where public opinion is formed and making the voice of reason heard and considered, where decisions are taken which will shape our future. In January 2000, the Second International Rationalist Conference was held at Trivandrum, Kerala, opening the discussion about the Rationalist Agenda for the new century.

Rationalist International links rationalists all around the world, co-ordinates rationalist activities in different countries and has an internet based publication in English, Spanish and German.

 

The Momentous Significance of Rationalism Today

Paul Kurtz

There is an overriding need in India today, that it encourage and cultivate the rationalist outlook. Indeed, the growth of rationalism is the key to its future development and progress. What is true of India is true of the entire planet.

India will become a testing ground for the validity of rationalism for the future of humankind. A country with over one billion people, India represents rich multicultural university. It is home to pluralistic linguistic enclaves and contending religious traditions. Many go back tens of centuries, deeply ingrained in social custom.

Rationalists and secular humanists ask which methods will best help to discover new truths, most successfully resolve complex human problems, and realize human needs and values? And they respond that it is by applying reason, science and free inquiry to educate the India public and the institutions of power in society.

Large sectors of the Indian population disagree, being unaware of the implications or meaning of rationalism. They believe that ancient Hinduism should provide the basic framework of life. Pitted against them is Islam, representing a large minority within India and dominating Pakistan and Bangladesh, formerly contiguous with India. Other significant minorities, such as the Sikhs, Buddhists, and Christians have other faith systems. As fundamentalism grows, factionalism seems to simmer. How overcome possible future turmoil? How can social peace be maintained?

India is the largest parliamentary democracy in the world. It was founded as a secular state, though severe strains constantly challenge the separation of religion and the state. India faces enormous social problems: a growing population, ecological pollution, the depletion of resources, large numbers of unemployed straining urban areas, poverty, illiteracy, health care, the danger of nuclear confrontation, etc.

The defenders of rationalism believe that the application of its principals are essential if India is to solve its problems and progress. The Indian Rationalist Association is to be congratulated for the leadership role that it has played. There are many humanist, atheist, secular, skeptical and rationalist organizations in India doing important work in various areas, though I believe that the rationalist movement has a special and perhaps momentous role to play; for it can help to bring India into the twenty-first century and the postindustrial, information age. I say this because what is central to rationalism is its emphasis on both scientific inquiry and secular humanism.

What are the essential ingredients of the rationalist outlook today? First, contemporary rationalism is committed to a method of inquiry; that is, it it affirms that if it is to understand nature and human behavior, it needs to use the best methods of science. Beliefs should be considered to be tentative hypotheses until they are tested by evidence, reasons and their experimental consequences. Beliefs based upon faith, mysticism, abstract speculation, authority or emotion are inadequate. While they may have aesthetic or poetic value, they have no basis in empirical fact. The great challenge today is to resist lethargy and hidebound traditions and extend the methods of reason and critical thinking to all areas of human interest. Given the great breakthroughs in the natural, biological and behavioral sciences, rationalists wish to use similar methods in other fields. The great value of this has been demonstrated by the industrial, technological and information revolutions, which have been applied to the amelioration of the human condition.

The major challenges that the global community faces is to extend the fruits of such inquiries from the affluent societies and the middle classes to the vast underclass of the world.

If we are to achieve this aim, the highest priority for rationalists should be education. This involves the cultivation of critical thinking in students at all levels, but also in the mass media. This should apply to every individual in society. The basic moral principle is that each person, no matter what class or backround has the right for cultural enrichment. Learning how to think is essential for all democracies.

An educated public is the best guarantee against tyranny. Second, the major revolutionary result of the application of the methods of science is that it has transformed our understanding of nature. No longer based on a on an archaic spiritualistic metaphysic, we now see that the universe is basically physical-chemical in character and that it is undergoing evolutionary processes of change. Our cosmic outlook today points to an expanding universe with billions of galaxies. Ever since Darwin, we understand that the biosphere also is understood as part of an evolutionary process. There is no special divine role for the human species, other than what we attribute to it. Modern science has rejected the ancient doctrines of a separate soul, reincarnation or immortality.

The next stages of human evolution depends in part on what we do, for we have the power to understand and influence its course. By expanding our comprehension of the universe, we are better able to enlarge the domain of human interest and become a citizen of the universe. This enables us to transcend parochial, chauvinistic and anthropocentric illusions. Third, both the methods of science and its cosmic outlook on the frontiers of knowledge have given us new powers and opportunities, and these are pregnant with ethical significance.

(a) We can use reason and science to reconstruct our values, making them more appropriate to the actual conditions. Ancient spiritualistic doctrines often advise retreat, withdrawal, self-denial, or they often focus on salvation. The new secular morality seeks happiness and realization in this life here and now. Among its key ingredients are education, rationality, the fulfillment of a person's talents and potentialities and the development of self-determination and a sense of power over one's own destiny.

(b) It also means that we will be concerned with social justice, equality of concern for each individual in society and an appreciation for individual freedom. This presupposes a democratic society, in which there is both political freedom and some measure of economic democracy. But further it also recognizes that no society can live in isolation. Thus the highest obligation today is planetary humanism. This means that each person has equal dignity and value and that our long range responsibility is to improve where we can the entire world community, of which we are all a part. No one nation no matter how powerful should be allowed to dictate to the rest, nor should intransigent religious factions be allowed to block social reform.

We need to be concerned with the fate of the human species and the natural and social ecology and with the disparities in wealth between various parts of our planetary habitat, and we should seek to overcome these. What are the dramatic consequences of the rationalist and secular humanist agenda today: that we should encourage the use of reason, science and critical inquiry throughout the world today, that we should beat our weapons into plowshares, that we should sit down and reason together, and negotiate our differences beyond our preexisting nationalistic or religious prejudices. We should make new efforts to find common ground. Perhaps it is too much to ask others to abandon their deepseated religious convictions. At least, we should try to get them to modify them in the light of reason and to replace dogma with tolerance and the willingness to understand the views of others. Above all, we need to convince all humans to at least respect and allow freedom to believe or not to believe: this is the first principle of a democratic society and planetary humanism. It is clear that the Rationalist movement in India can and should play a momentous role. Since the salient point is not simply to reject false superstitions, but to create new values and principles based upon reason. This outlook is not negative; it does not engage in naysaying; it is positive and constructive. For its task is not to destroy but to build a better world, based upon knowledge, not presumption or falsehood. Ideas have powerful consequences; and the ideas and values of Rationalism and Humanism have already had far-reaching transforming effects. They have literally created the modern secular world; and they will continue to do so in the future. I trust that this International Rationalist Conference will focus on how to implement its powerful message.

Paul Kurtz is Honorary Associate of Rationalist International; Vice President of Rationalist Press Association; Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, State University of New York at Buffalo; Chairman of Center for Inquiry International; Founder of Council for Secular Humanism.

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Honorary Associates: Dr. Pieter Admiraal (The Netherlands), Prof. Mike Archer (Australia), Katsuaki Asai (Japan), Sir Hermann Bondi (UK), Prof. Colin Blakemore (UK), Prof. Vern Bullough (USA), Dr Bill Cooke (New Zealand), Dr. Helena Cronin (UK), Prof. Richard Dawkins (UK), Joseph Edamaruku (India), Prof. Antony Flew (UK), Jim Herrick (UK), Christopher Hitchens (USA), Ellen Johnson (USA), Prof. Paul Kurtz (USA), Lavanam (India), Dr. Richard Leakey (Kenya), Iain Middleton (New Zealand), Dr. Henry Morgentaler (Canada), Dr. Taslima Nasreen (Bangladesh), Steinar Nilsen (Norway), Prof. Jean-Claude Pecker (France), James Randi (USA), Prof. Ajoy Roy (Bangladesh), Dr G N Jyoti Shankar (deceased, USA), Barbara Smoker (UK), Prof. Harry Stopes-Roe (UK), Prof. Rob Tielman (The Netherlands), David Tribe (Australia), Barry Williams (Australia) and Prof. Lewis Wolpert (UK).

Sanal Edamaruku, President of Rationalist International, can be contacted at Edamaruku@rationalistinternational.net