News Archive 2016

‘Lionel-Murphy SNR’

15 Oct 2016 – A supernova remnant (SNR) results from the gigantic explosion of a star, the resulting supernova expelling much or all of the stellar material with velocities as much as 1% the speed of light and forming a shock wave that can heat the gas up to temperatures as high as 10 million K, forming a plasma. N86 is a nitrogen-abundant supernova remnant (SNR N86) in the Large Magellanic Cloud.  It was dubbed the ‘Lionel-Murphy SNR’ by astronomers at the Australian National University’s Mount Stromlo Observatory, in acknowledgement of Murphy’s interest in science and because of SNR N86’s perceived resemblance to a Canberra Times cartoonist’s depiction of his large nose (prior to surgery), a copy of which hung in his office. Lionel Murphy (1922–86) was the inaugural Australian Humanist of the Year in 1983.

Murphy normally rejected public honours (such as a knighthood) but accepted this because of the symbolic resemblance to his own impact on human rights in Australian law and its lasting significance as a ‘signpost’ to space travellers. Murphy asked for a large mounted photo of SNR N86 from the scientific paper and placed it in his High Court chambers in the place where the other High Court justices usually hung a portrait of the Queen.

World Peace reports

15 Oct 2016 – The Institute for Economics & Peace was founded by the prominent Australian philanthropist Stephen Killelea, AM. Its website, visionofhumanity.org, carries the report, Global Peace Index 2016. 163 countries are examined on three themes, the level of safety and security in society, the extent of the domestic or international conflict and the degree of militarization; assessed under 23 indicators. In comparison with previous reports, it concludes that the world is becoming less peaceful. Iceland comes out on top, Syria at the bottom, and in between are New Zealand at number 4 and Australia at number 15. Australia’s scorecard is spoiled by a remarkably black mark for ‘weapons imports’.

There is another report on that website, Positive Peace Report 2016, which tells a complementary story. Positive peace is defined as “the attitudes, institutions, and structures that create and sustain peaceful societies”, in contrast to negative peace, which is “the absence of violence or fear of violence”. 162 countries were assessed in 2015 on eight domains, and 73% of countries improved their positive peace since 2005. In this study Denmark came out on top, Somalia at the bottom, with New Zealand at number 8 and Australia at number 13. Australia’s best domain was the equitable distribution of resources; its worst was relations with neighboring countries.

Report by Stephen Stuart

Animal liberation, speciesism, sustainability … should we eat meat?

18 Aug 2016 – At the members’ discussion meeting on 10 July 2016 we outlined some of the issues entwined in this topic. It was a challenging discussion, so, many thanks to the members who shared their ideas and personal stories. It is also a confronting topic, as our attitudes to diet are molded by culture and strongly reinforced by pleasure and habit.

The history of vegetarianism and its many cultural facets makes a fascinating study. It was interleaved with radicalism in eighteenth-century France, was combined with the promotion of animal rights in Cromwellian England and became part of the call for sympathy with nature in the nineteenth century by the poet Shelley, whose influence extended to Leo Tolstoy and G.B. Shaw, amongst others. And for Hitler, a vegetarian diet offered ‘purification’ and multiple health benefits. Read Full News Item …

Let’s make ‘no religion’ the largest group in Australia

Billboard signing: Not religious anymore? Mark 'No religion' on the 2016 census.14 Aug 2016 – Humanist Society of Victoria became a financial sponsor of the Mark ‘No religion’ campaign for the Australian Census, which was organised nationwide by the Atheist Foundation of Australia. The biggest sign around Melbourne was the luminous screen over the Ascot Vale Hotel, Maribyrnong Road, which carried the message as pictured here for two weeks up until 7 August. Read Full News Item …

News from the USA

21 Jul 2016 – The Capital District Humanist Society (CDHS) was represented by our friends Mira and Dave Peck at the National Convention of Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF). The FFRF is the largest association of freethinkers in North America, with 23,000 members. Their publication, Freethought Today (Dec 2015), lists FFRF’s many legal victories, such as abolishing school prayers, bible distributions, use of religious posters and invocations. FFRF ran an essay competition on the subject, ‘Proud to be an atheist: challenging stigmas against non-believers’. Ten college students won prizes ranging from $3,000 to $400.Freethought Today devoted several pages to ‘Black Collar Crime’, where it listed multiple court cases of child sexual abuse by clergy along with cases involving the distribution of child pornography. Humanist Monthly (Jan 2016) in an ‘Only in America’ column reports that a museum of political corruption is planned using material from Tammany Hall and other political machines and individuals. The museum’s aim is ‘to mock, entertain and educate visitors about politics and governments’.

Report by Halina Strnad

Australian Humanist Convention 2016, Brisbane 27–29 May

21 Jul 2016 – HSV delegates Kevin Bain, Rosslyn Ives and Stephen Stuart attended the 51st CAHS Annual General Meeting and Convention, held in Brisbane 27–29 May. It was a most successful gathering, hosted by the Humanist Society of Queensland.

Those who attended came from across Australia and tallied around 80 people for the different events under the theme of ‘Secularism and Human Rights in the 21st Century’.  It was held in Rydges hotel on Southbank. Read Full News Item …

Ethics and Humanism in schools – an update

13 Jun 2016 – HSV’s volunteers remained taking ethics classes at Toorak Primary School until the end of the 2015 school year. We thank all our volunteers for the great work they have done. Through its education subcommittee, HSV has reconsidered its role of delivering ethics lessons in primary schools. Our pilot program, conducted in collaboration with the Victorian Association for Philosophy in Schools (VAPS), has demonstrated that the community of ethical inquiry helps children to debate big issues and to think critically. We have also been a part of a move that has resulted in the State government’s decision to remove special religious instruction from school hours and to bring into the Victorian curriculum ethical capability with an awareness of the Humanist worldview. HSV is gratified by those developments and very glad to have been a part of it all. Read Full News Item …

Sunday Assembly Melbourne

17 Mar 2016 – The Melbourne chapter of Sunday Assembly (SAM) provides a godless alternative to the ritual and community events that religious services used to provide for many, but struggles with resourcing, people power, and ideas. An HSV delegation attended a recent SAM meeting discussing their future. The demographics and goals are different but complemen­tary, and SAM members are potential future Humanists. HSV members may enjoy joining SAM’s activities or mentoring SAM’s organisers. Another meeting is planned on 9 March, and it would be good to see some HSV members involved.

(See also meetup.com/SundayAssemblyMelbourne.)

Report by Rod Bower

Learning about world-views and religions

16 Mar 2016 – The incoming Victorian government announced (on 21 August 2015) the adoption of a new school curriculum aimed at understanding ‘global cultures, ethics and traditions, … including other world views’. The Humanist Society was pleased to be consulted on framing a description of humanism. Read Full News Item …

Latest news from the USA

16 Mar 2016 – The USA Humanist of the Year is the theoretical physicist Professor Lawrence Krauss. He is described as a ‘firebrand’ for science education and humanism. Australians had a chance to see him when he appeared on the ABC television program Q&A last year. The American Humanist Association (motto: Good without God) is a member of the Secular Coalition of America. This organisation is an advocacy group that lobbies on behalf of many secular humanists, atheist, and agnostics.

Another advocacy organisation is Americans United for Separation of Church and State. This group and the large and influential Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) have won many battles against prayers in schools, government and council meetings, along with the use of religious posters and symbols in public spaces. FFRF ran an extensive advertising campaign against Pope Francis’s address to Congress. Full-page ads in major newspapers, headed ‘Religion & Government – A Dangerous Mix’, stated: “The framers of our godless Constitution wisely envisioned a government free from theocratic control.” They also quoted John Kennedy’s declaration, “I believe in an America where the separation of Church and Religion is absolute.” The FFRF publication Freethought Today describes its many, often successful, legal challenges, against religious incursions into civil activities.

Report by Halina Strnad, Mira and David Peck

42nd AGM of Dying With Dignity Victoria

24 Jan 2016 – Guest speaker Lyn Allison, a DWDV ambassador and former Leader of the Australian Democrats, described the important role played by Senate committees in assessing public attitudes on social issues.

The president Lesley Vick reported that she and Dr. Rodney Syme represented DWDV at a public hearing of the Legal and Social Issues Committee of the Victorian Upper House. So far over one thousand submissions have been received (including HSV’s) for their Inquiry into End of Life Choices, with public hearing continuing. The report and recommendations are due by end of May 2016. As well a review of the Medical Treatment Act of 1988 is being conducted by the Minister for Health. Read Full News Item …

Council prayer stays

24 Jan 2016 – A report in the Manningham Leader, 19th Oct, 2015 discussed a submission by HSV member Peter Turner to the Manningham Council that they should scrap starting each session with a prayer. Peter told a reporter that he was “offended” by the prayer that was calling for a blessing from an almighty God on the councillors, as it introduced an unnecessary religious element that did not affect the running of the council.

However, the Council refused to dump the opening prayer as they classed it as inclusive. Peter responded saying that by using “almighty God”, non-religious people, Buddhist and Hindus were excluded. “The council says because it has always been done, it should be done, which is a nonsense argument”, he said. “All ratepayers are equal regardless of religion.”

The reporter noted that the council’s strategic governance manager, Melissa Harris, said the use of a prayer did not contradict the concept of a secular state. “The use of a prayer at council meetings has only been raised by one individual and there has been no ground-swell of opinion on the matter either for, or against”, said Ms Harris.

Source: Manningham Leader