Like, totally good question dude. But before I get to that, I want to thank all of you who stopped at our table on the Quad the other day, and am glad for the questions and great feedback. If you left with some unanswered questions, this post is meant to help a bit.
The USU part of the acronym is Utah State University, of course. The school’s most famous building, Old Main, is at the right. (Shout-out to the CS department on the 4th floor!) Established in 1888 as a land-grant institution in Logan, Utah, USU is a strong engineering school with long-standing ties to NASA, the Department of Defense, and aerospace companies such as Boeing and Lockheed-Martin. Interesting fact: USU has developed the highest number of cooperative space experiments with NASA compared to any other university, and has been nicknamed “Space University” by NASA. Pretty cool.
SHAFT stands for “Secular Humanists, Atheists, and Free Thinkers.” I’m giong to break down what each of these means.
Secular Humanism (also called Scientific Humanism) is a philosophy that upholds reason, evidence, and a rejection of supernatural explanations as a basis for moral thought and decision-making. Tenets of the philosophy include:
- Reason, evidence, and the scientific method are better methods than faith, mysticism or authority for gaining an understanding of ourselves and the world, and for creating human solutions to human problems.
- A constant search for objective truth, with the understanding that all knowledge is subject to revision and improvement as more evidence is gathered.
- Political, social, and religious beliefs ought to be tested by each individual and not simply accepted because of faith or tradition.
- A commitment to bettering this life through better understanding of ourselves, our history, and our human achievements.
- Building a better world for ourselves and our decendents through an open exchange of ideas, goodwill, tolerance and hard work. We understand that no one is looking out for us except us.
Atheism, in the broadest since, is simply the absence of belief in deities. It’s not really a position or developed philosophy on its own. The word originates from Greek “atheos” meaning no gods, and interestingly enough was originally applied to anyone who didn’t believe in the classic Olympians of ancient Greece. This included believers of other so-called false gods, or anyone with beliefs that went counter to doctrine. The term has narrowed somewhat to mean someone who has no belief in any god(s).
In practice, many atheists also reject any supernatural explanations or magical thinking, and do not believe in ghosts, leprechauns, psychic phenomena, souls, “magical auras,” or Tom Cruise. While the definition of “atheist” doesn’t strictly preclude any of these ideas, many of the same thought processes that lead to atheism leads to rejecting these others as well. I personally would prefer to simply say “I don’t know” rather than have an evidence-free explanation that doesn’t mean anything.
Finally, the “Free Thinkers” portion refers more or less to just a general open-mindedness. SHAFT has many members who are in fact religious, but value the free exchange of ideas and discussion that SHAFT attempts to produce. While this term is often used to refer to atheists alone, I prefer it to mean essentially “anyone who actually gets what freedom of speech is really for.” If you are religious and not offended or threatened by the mere existence of people who disagree with you, go ahead and claim yourself as a free thinker. And then come to SHAFT meetings.
Please feel free to ask any questions or say whatever else in the comments.