I’m in the midst of a busy few days here in Vancouver. Last night Dr. Christopher diCarlo, philosopher and 2008 Canadian Humanist of the Year, and today was the inaugural CFI Vancouver book club, which featured a discussion about the book Infidel.
The talk last night was great and attended by about 50-60 people. Dr. diCarlo was as engaging and humorous as the talks I saw him give in Toronto for the CFI Canada conference that happened this past spring.
His talk began with a discussion about how earlier in his teaching career he confronted a Native Canadian student who disagreed with the notion that we are all African (meaning that we all descend from ancestors in Africa) in one of his critical thinking classes. The confrontation climaxed when diCarlo admitted that the science was right and his ancestors beliefs were not.
After the student teamed up with some other anti-evolutionist Christians, diCarlo’s academic career got into hot water, despite his reputation as one of Ontario’s top lecturers.
He has taken “We are all African” as a personal motto, and is now using it to challenge cherished beliefs (he even has t-shirts for sale with the quote on it). The remainder of his lecture thus focussed on the evidence for an African descent of humanity and the social ramifications of it.
The bit on social and political ramifications was definitely the most intriguing bit of his lecture. By stating that we are all African, diCarlo argues that racism and most ethnic conflicts are the result of a failure to understand this commonality. He admitted that he wasn’t so naive as to think that if everyone got evolution that no more wars would happen (there are always battles over resources, etc.), but he did suggest that most conflict arises from these unnecessary and superficial differences that we see.
I think you can read more of his thoughts on this through an article in Humanist Perspectives which is available online.
I was helping organize carpools to the reception, so I missed most of the Q&A (the video will be available eventually through CFI Canada’s YouTube page), but one highlight I heard was a discussion about what he called HUAS in one of his books. HUAS stands for head-up-ass-syndrome where the sufferer begins by sticking their fingers in their ears, then covers their eyes, then eventually bends so far over that his or her head is firmly up the anus. He then stated that sometimes we need to be a pain in the ass when we pull those people out, and for some reason they don’t really know shit.
After the Q&A we adjourned to a ticketed reception at Moose’s Down Under. About 25 people showed up for drinks and appetizers with Dr. diCarlo and his wife (who has a broken ankle from the giant goose statue in Wawa, Ontario).
Infidel book club
Eleven people showed up for our first book club today, including a few people who hadn’t been out to any events yet (except for the talk last night). We discussed Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s book Infidel (saving her new book Nomad for a few more months down the road after people have gotten through this one) for about an hour and a half.
The discussion was great and there were lots of questions about the level of assimilation that should be pushed on new immigrants and whether multiculturalism or the melting pot philosophy is more successful.
For many of us, this book was our first introduction into the Muslim world, and I think it shocked a lot of us out of a somewhat cultural relativistic attitude.
There was also a lot of frustration about the left-wing’s apologetics with regards to Islamic practices and it was suggested that many people are ignorant of the fact that honour killing and genital mutilations are happening at an alarming rate in their own backyard. There was also a suggestion that even though Hirsi Ali is working with the American Enterprise Institute, she is somewhat transcending the traditional left-right dichotomy and is attempting to focus a discussion on human rights.
We also discussed her tone in the book. Many were impressed by the level of objectivity she was able to bring to many traumatic experiences. We tossed around a few theories about this ability, some suggested her education helped while others thought she either learned to control her emotions either to cope with the trauma or to be taken seriously in a culture where women are especially viewed as irrational and overly-emotional.
While we generally agreed that the Islam she grew up in is repressive and morally reprehensible, we failed to reach a consensus as to whether we have the right to intervene in a foreign countries internal affairs, even if human rights are being abused. We all agreed that we cannot be quiet and should criticize these practices.
After the discussion there was some talk of recording future events and making a podcast out of the discussion for others who want to hear some thoughts on these books, or at least letting portions be used in existing podcasts.
Our next book will be The Physics of Star Trek by Lawrence Krauss which we will discuss on Saturday, September 11 at The Grind Cafe again. After that we’ll do Marci McDonald’s The Armageddon Factor. The book club is tentatively scheduled for the second Saturday of the month for the foreseeable future.