More Woo

vic_head_small.jpgBy Vic Tanner

Irrational beliefs are much more common than many people think and they can be a major handicap. They can lead to dysfunctional behavior and keep us from living satisfying and fulfilling lives. But, of course, they can also be fun. I'm a big fan of them. Not of believing in them, of course, but I love hearing about them. Bigfoot sightings and UFOs were both a huge part of my childhood. I really thought that "In Search Of" was the greatest show ever on television. For the life of me, I could not figure out how such a fantastic show ever got canceled. Of course, it did take me well into adulthood to figure out that people were actually taking this stuff seriously, but that was my own naivety, I guess.


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In the Basement with Catholics

By George Kane

On January 13 I participated in a debate at the Argument of the Month Club (, a men's club devoted to Catholic apologetics. The debate was with Dr. Arthur Hippler, the Director of Religious Studies at Providence Academy, in Plymouth, on the resolution "That a supernatural authority is necessary for obligatory moral claims." I argued for the negative.

The debate, in the basement of St. Augustine's Church in South St. Paul, drew 370 men, half-again the size of their previous record draw. As far as I know, all but five of those in attendance were Catholic. Apparently, a lot of Catholics are curious about atheism!

Each side had a ten-minute opening statement, followed by a five-minute rebuttal, and then another five-minute response. Then each of us asked one question of the other, and after a two-minute reply, had 2-minutes for rebuttal. The moderator had a question for each of us. Finally, after a break, we took questions from the audience.

I don't think that anyone is ever converted by attending a Christian vs. atheist debate, but I hope that I at least dispelled some widely-held misperceptions of atheists. I know that many Christians think that atheists are bitter, hostile, and have not thought through their positions. I will let the readers decide if I succeeded.

You can listen to the debate in two parts:

George Kane Debate Part 1

George Kane Debate Part 2

Following is my opening statement.


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President's Column "Highlights and Future Stars"

By August Berkshire

This will be my last column as Minnesota Atheists' president, though I still hope to contribute to our newsletter from time to time. When I took office a year ago, I privately set five major, groundbreaking goals for Minnesota Atheists, all of which we have accomplished or seem to be on the verge of accomplishing.

First, I wanted us to host a successful American Atheists national convention in Minnesota (the first one here since 1988). With a record turnout of 600 people, and high praise from the American Atheists leadership, I would say we accomplished that goal.

Second, I wanted us to establish the first-ever atheist radio program in Minnesota. Mission accomplished.

Third, I wanted our state's governor or a city mayor to issue a Darwin Day proclamation - the first time, to my knowledge, that such a proclamation would ever have been issued by a Minnesota official. As we go to press, we have received word that Mayor Chris Coleman of St. Paul has done so! We await word from Minneapolis mayor R.T. Ryback.

Fourth, I wanted to see the first atheist give a secular invocation at the Minnesota State legislature. With the help of my state representative Phyllis Kahn, it seems very promising that I will be able to do this sometime this session.

Fifth, I wanted us to acquire a building for MNA. Admittedly, this is a high goal, but with the crash of the real estate market, we may be able to accomplish this sooner than we had thought.

This month we will hold our annual elections, with the new MNA board taking office on March first. All of the nominees are running unopposed.

Bjorn Watland will be the next MNA president. At age 27, he will be among the three members of the new MNA board who will be under 30. (The other two are Jeannette Watland and Crystal Dervetski.) All three of them have been members of MNA for less than three years. We should be proud of the fact that we are able to spot and promote young, talented people to positions of leadership.

Bjorn and Jeannette were already on the board as directors-at-large. They now move up to being president and associate president respectively. This creates openings in the directors-at-large positions for another newcomer to the board, Mike Haubrich.

Joining them on the MNA board will be two people who have served before: Jack Caravela and Cathy Prody. It is nice that we have such a large, well-functioning organization that people can come and go on the board as their schedules permit without disrupting our activities. (If you are reading this and have been someone who has been active in the past and wish to be active again, please let us know!)

Besides Bjorn and Jeannette, incumbents who will continue on the board are Andy Flamm, Grant Steves, and George Kane.

Leaving the board are Steve Petersen, Cynthia Egli, Kristine Harley, and myself. Of the nine people elected to the MNA board in 2002, only one will remain: George Kane. This is a healthy turnover for a group, to have new board members who introduce fresh ideas and energy and who appeal to younger people.

Many ex-board members continue to contribute their talents in supporting roles, aided by many others who have been short and long time contributors to MNA and yet have never served on the board. I like to think that we all contribute to the success of MNA as we can, without regard to our egos. We put the success of our group ahead of our roles or titles.

As for me, I will now be able to devote more time to the Atheist Alliance International vice presidency, to which I was elected last fall. I will also continue to play a part in MNA committees such as Radio, Newsletter, Meeting Program, First Amendment Watchdog, and Public Policy.

So, I go back to being just an "ordinary" MNA member. And yet, there is no such thing. Just as all children in Lake Wobegon are above average, all members of Minnesota Atheists are extraordinary. Thank you so much for allowing me to be your president this past year.


Mayors of Saint Paul and Minneapolis Sign Darwin Day Proclamations


Minnesota Atheists president, August Berkshire, drafted a Darwin Day Proclamation which was signed by Saint Paul Mayor, Chris Coleman and Minneapolis Mayor R. T. Rybak.  Coverage of the proclamations can be found at the Pioneer Press and City Pages.  An image of the Saint Paul proclamation can be found here.  The Minneapolis proclamation can be found here.

The text of the Saint Paul proclamation is as follows:

City of Saint Paul Proclamation

Whereas, Charles Darwin was born on February 12, 1809; and

Whereas, from 1831-1836 he explored diverse ecological systems while traveling on the H.M.S. Beagle; and

Whereas, his observations led him to conclude that species change over time, due to random mutations, the selective pressures of the environment, and the inheritance of traits favorable to survival; and

Whereas, these adaptations of species to their environments led him to formulate his theory of evolution by means of natural selection, which is explained in his book, On the Origin of Species, published in 1859; and

Whereas, this concept of evolution remains the unifying principle of biology and is supported by the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Science Museum of Minnesota, and the Bell Museum of Natural History at the University of Minnesota; and

Whereas, the teaching of evolution is supported by a broad range of scientific, educational, religious, and non-religious organizations; and

Whereas, the year 2009 marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin and the 150th anniversary of the publication of, On the Origin of Species; and

Whereas, Saint Paul prides itself on its educational excellence;

Now, Therefore, I, Christopher B. Coleman, Mayor of the City of Saint Paul, do hereby proclaim Thursday, February 12, 2009, to be: Darwin Day in the City of Saint Paul.

In Witness Whereof I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the City of Saint Paul to be affixed this Twelfth Day of February in the Year Two Thousand Nine


Christopher B. Coleman, Mayor


Where are all of the Atheist Women?

crystal_small.jpgBy Crystal Dervetski
If you're a woman and you're reading this, chances are you're a skeptical and thinking person. I'd like you to seriously take a moment and congratulate yourself. Give yourself a pat on the back, and just soak the moment in: You are a woman, and you are rational.

It's not that I have a desire to leave the men out, but you have to admit, there are not many women around when it comes to atheism. (Don't stop reading guys, as you're as much involved in this as any female!) I've had the chance to talk with some great women and men about this reality, and I feel I've come up with a few of the reasons that there aren't as many gals, and what we can do to shift the balance.

Sexism from both genders holds us back. As females we are taught that it isn't very 'feminine' to vocalize our opinions, especially opinions that the majority may not find pleasant. We are most often taught from a young age that to be attractive we need to be quiet and agreeable. Also, there's always the concern, as a thinking person, that if we let too much of our femininity show we will not be taken seriously; we must be manly to be powerful. But hey, let's face it, whether we look like an old hag or Carmen Electra, there will always come a time when someone's in line to put us down. The sad part of this is that so often it's women hating other women, when we should instead be banding together. So ladies and gents, next time you think about chopping someone down based on their appearance or mannerisms, try to think again. Embrace all kinds of women and understand that being feminine takes many forms.

Another key element to women being held back in skepticism is we are taught that to be critical of something is wrong. This seems to be at least partially due to the fact that the word 'critical' almost always takes on it's first, most well known definition: "inclined to find fault or to judge with severity". We need to help re-establish that being critical has another meaning, "involving skillful judgment as to truth, merit". People of both sexes need to do their part to show others that 'critical' does not have to mean rude, stubborn, or judgmental.

Although you really do need to think things through before you speak, of course, do not be afraid to state your opinion concerning matters great and small. This is another area where so many people can be held back. Your opinion is valid! You do not have to be a biblical scholar to talk about the bible. You do not have to be the greatest writer in the world to share your feelings. (Hello, I think I'm a good case in point on that one!) We need to get over it and stop being afraid of sharing, or of looking inadequate in others' eyes. We are all more than adequate, and whatever we have to give to further the cause of atheism, we need to be up front and center sharing it with one another and the rest of society.

Be out and proud of who you are whenever you can. When more women are out about their atheism, it will help other women to be confident in their views. And when that gender shift starts to happen, all of the single atheist men and women will have us to thank when they find their life partner at one of our events.

There are many more reasons for a shortage of atheist women, what are your thoughts and ideas on it? Email, or join the discussion on the MNA online forum.


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