What is USU SHAFT, really?

Old MainLike, 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.

A Happy Ending

As I sat at my computer this evening, eating an otter pop, I heard a knock at the door. James rushed in the room, wide-eyed and nervous. “I think it’s your bishop,” he hissed. I jumped up and ran to the door.  I paused half way across the room and did a mental check. Am I wearing pants and a bra? Yep. Okay, I’m good. I pulled Mack away from the door and as I stepped out on the porch, I did a double take. There I stood, face-to-face with my high school Algebra teacher.

“Hi, I’m your bishop,” he began, and then broke off, studying my face. “Weren’t you in my high school math class?”  I could only nod dumbly. This was really surreal, and I knew this situation had the potential to get very awkward very fast. luckily for me, he continued on before the silence became too uncomfortable.

“I got your letter,” he said, “and I wanted to let you know, we’ve respected your wishes and sent a conformation back to Salt Lake. I You are welcome back to any of the meetings, or at block parties, or anything like that. We’d love for you to be involved. If you ever need anything, my phone number’s is at the bottom,” He handed me a folded paper as he said this. “It’s a copy of the letter I sent to Salt Lake. Once again, I want to respect your wishes.”

“Thanks,” I managed, a little chocked up by his kindness, “I really appreciate that.” And I do.  His respect for me made this whole experience a positive one, rather than the nightmare I expected it to be. I now have a deep respect for this man, and I may take him up on his offer to join in at a block party. If all the ward members are as open as their bishop, I think we’ll get along just fine. :)

Same-Sex Marriage Under Attack in Maine

Much like Proposition 8 in California, the people of Maine will vote on Proposition 1 this November.  Same-sex marriage was legalized in Maine only a few months ago, back in May. It is unbelievable cruel to give people this basic right, only to snatch it back from them a few months later. This election will have a huge impact on the GLBT movements across the country, and Proposition 1 could be setting a terrifying precident.

If any of you blog or Twitter, spread the word. Let people know. If any of you live in or around Maine, please get out there and help. If you can’t be there, but would still like to help, you can donate. You can find out all about the cause and how to get involved here.

Charlie Crist Saves Florida!

Apparently, all we had to do to get God to stop pounding Florida with hurricanes was ask. It’s so simple! The governor of Florida, Charlie Crist, had the foresight to save his precious state. In 2007, Crist went took a trip to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. He wrote a pray down on a slip of paper and placed it in the wall, as is customary. The note said, “Dear God, please protect our Florida from storms and other difficulties. Charlie.” That’s right, he is claiming that his prayer is the reason his state has been hurricane free for the past two years. Or something like that.

As Paul Fidalgo points out

… in 2008, Hurricane Gustav caused widespread damage throughout the gulf region of the South. It didn’t hit Florida directly, but four people were killed on Florida beaches due to resulting rip currents. So I suppose that means God was keen on the landmass of Florida, just not so much all the people living in it.

And it’s not as though Florida has seen no storm activity since Saint Charlie took office. In 2007 alone, Tropical or Subtropical Storms Andrea, Barry and Ingrid, plus another unnamed tropical depression, made landfall in Florida. And in 2008, Tropical Storm Fay hit Florida four times — a record — killing six Floridians.

I wonder how the families of those killed feel about Crist’s boast?

Our Induction into the Atheist Blogosphere!

SHAFT was recently spotlighted by prominent atheist bloggers PZ Myers of Pharyngula and Hemant Mehta of Friendly Atheist! It’s really quite the honor for our fledgling group. The support for our group in these posts’ respective comments was astounding! We also got several laughs and kudos for our name ha ha.

Also, our website has recently been added to ranks of nearly 1,000 other blogs at The Atheist Blogroll. The Atheist Blogroll is a community building service provided free of charge to atheist bloggers worldwide. If you would like to join, visit Mojoey at Deep Thoughts for more information. It’s an easy and effective way to put your website on the radar.

And so it came to pass that USU SHAFT did wax exceedingly powerful among the godless. :twisted:

A Grave Mistake

stupid booklet
That is such a thoughtful chimpanzee.

A few weeks back, after having seen this, I thought “Hey, this will be funny. I’ll order one of these funny little booklets and have a funny laugh and everything will be funny.”  So I order the damn thing.

Maybe two weeks later, after I’ve already forgotten about it, a huge fat envelope is sitting in my mailbox, labeled United Church of God. An uneasy weight settles in my stomach. Who is this and how did they get my address? Why is it stuffed so full? I open it.

As it slides out, a friendly chimpanzee thoughtfully considers me from his cover. “OHAI,” he seems to say. “Iz your frndely cretinist chimp, thottfully con’siderin’ the eveedence for evolootun.”

I’m not too good at lolcat speak.

Oh yeah, my fun pamphlet! This will be fun, and hilarious, and I will be entertained. Everything will be funny.

No. No the hell it will not.

When I opened this and read the table of contents, I simply vomited. Right there on my couch. As for the actual content, directly opposite the table of contents is some blather surrounding a picture of a cute little baby, with this for a caption: “If we are the pinnacle of an evolutionary process, why is a human infant so helpless, and for so long, compared to the newborn of other species?”

I couldn’t help it. I had no muscular control over it. But the next thing I knew, I had thrown the book across the room. It was pretty much an involuntary defensive reaction, much like the way one would jerk back after touching a hot pan. My  highly evolved body continues to protect me.

But oh no, now I have a blog. With people who read it and everything, demanding entertainment. So, reluctantly, I went and fished it out of the corner of the living room. I am taking this bullet. Over the next *mumble* weeks, I’m going to be dissecting every nuance of this thing. Remember, this is for you.

An Unexpected Phone Call

Wow, word travels fast on the internet. Literally moments after I jokingly threatened legal action against the Mormon church for ignoring my requests, I got a call from my bishop. I didn’t answer the phone, since I am terrified of them, but I listened to his voicemail. He seemed like a genuinely nice guy, and I feel bad that he has to get involved. He shouldn’t have to deal with this. I think I will go ahead and write to the church offices again, and tell them to leave this poor guy out of it. You see, Mormons are just like anybody else; there are a few jerks and nutjobs among them, but most of them are nice people. It’s the church itself I have a problem with. It’s the doctrine of fear and control that makes me angry. It is a shame that I have to hurt good people in order to leave a horrible religion. :(

A Socratic Dialogue with Leonardo

And now time for some narcissistic self-indulgence.

I notice that Jon posted his Socratic dialog with God (which is hilarious to read). This comes from an Intro to Philosophy course he and I and a bunch of other SHAFT kids took and completely annoyed everyone in with our amoral materialism. While studying Plato’s Dialogs, one of the papers we wrote was a dialog between Socrates and anyone at all. Jon chose The Lord Thy God Yahweh. Because I’m a steampunk nerdy nerd, I chose Leonardo Da Vinci. My full dialog is below the fold.

Continue reading A Socratic Dialogue with Leonardo