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Why do secular groups often act like religious ones?
Why do secular groups often act like churches? The answer is simpler than you think.
It is often noticed by religious individuals that people and organizations who claim to be without religion often still use religious notions, practices, and symbolism themselves.
Think of it; atheists often celebrate Christmas, agnostics often praise the golden rule, and humanists get together in groups to do good things for other people. Such people even regularly meet on Sundays to have lectures, coffee, and chat.
These tendencies become even stranger when the organizations in question are explicitly non-religious. Such organizations, which are often accused of either being religious in nature or trying to abolish religion, also seem to borrow many of the practices of organized religion as they help their members to not need religion.
What gives? Why do secular groups borrow from the groups they differentiate themselves from?
To find out, I interviewed Glenda, a celebrant at the Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago. A lightly edited version of our conversation follows.
Scotty: What is humanism? How is it different from religion?
Glenda: Humanism is a lot more casual than that. People think that we have a hard, rigid doctrine. Humanism has a few pillars, but it's not rigid. Its really about helping people become better versions of themselves.
Scotty: So, tell me about your organization.
Glenda: The Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago was founded in 1882 to serve the humanist community. We meet on Sundays for service or a lecture. We also have a Sunday School which teaches children how to be global citizens.
Scotty: Why do your members come together in a group?
Glenda: Being able to lean on people with similar gaols, helping people out, being better people, shared values. In a word, community.
Scotty: Are most of your members atheists?
Glenda: A majority of them are, but some of our members believe in God.
Scotty: Why do you meet on Sundays?
Glenda: The schedule just works-the schedule is just open. Some groups meet on other days, one group I know meets on Wednesdays in a pub.
Scotty: Are these lectures your group has like sermons?
Glenda: Not in that a person is preaching a specific idea. We find a person with expertise on a topic to come and speak, and we always have a Q&A. We’ve had speakers on history, arts, current events, and good life practices.
Scotty: You’re a celebrant, tell me about that.
Glenda: We help those who want a secular wedding, baby naming, memorial services, coming of age ceremony or things like that. There are four of us here, all volunteers.
Scotty: How would you contrast it to being a priest?
Glenda: Since we don’t have a rigid tradition to follow, we can be true to what the couple wants and what is true to them.
Scotty: Do you have any quotes to sum up what humanists believe? That shows us how a humanist should act?
Glenda: “Act so as to elicit the best in others and thereby in yourself.”
So, there you have it. The universal need for community, for help in celebration and mourning, and the human desire to be better than we are leads us to form groups both secular and religious.
Since secular humanist organizations and religious organizations are often trying to do the same things, the overlap in form is all but inevitable.
These alien-like creatures are virtually invisible in the deep sea.
- A team of marine biologists used nets to catch 16 species of deep-sea fish that have evolved the ability to be virtually invisible to prey and predators.
- "Ultra-black" skin seems to be an evolutionary adaptation that helps fish camouflage themselves in the deep sea, which is illuminated by bioluminescent organisms.
- There are likely more, and potentially much darker, ultra-black fish lurking deep in the ocean.
The Pacific blackdragon
Credit: Karen Osborn/Smithsonian<p>When researchers first saw the deep-sea species, it wasn't immediately obvious that their skin was ultra-black. Then, marine biologist Karen Osborn, a co-author on the new paper, noticed something strange about the photos she took of the fish.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"I had tried to take pictures of deep-sea fish before and got nothing but these really horrible pictures, where you can't see any detail," Osborn told <em><a href="https://www.wired.com/story/meet-the-ultra-black-vantafish/" target="_blank">Wired</a></em>. "How is it that I can shine two strobe lights at them and all that light just disappears?"</p><p>After examining samples of fish skin under the microscope, the researchers discovered that the fish skin contains a layer of organelles called melanosomes, which contain melanin, the same pigment that gives color to human skin and hair. This layer of melanosomes absorbs most of the light that hits them.</p>
A crested bigscale
Credit: Karen Osborn/Smithsonian<p style="margin-left: 20px;">"But what isn't absorbed side-scatters into the layer, and it's absorbed by the neighboring pigments that are all packed right up close to it," Osborn told <em>Wired</em>. "And so what they've done is create this super-efficient, very-little-material system where they can basically build a light trap with just the pigment particles and nothing else."</p><p>The result? Strange and terrifying deep-sea species, like the crested bigscale, fangtooth, and Pacific blackdragon, all of which appear in the deep sea as barely more than faint silhouettes.</p>
David Csepp, NMFS/AKFSC/ABL<p>But interestingly, this unique disappearing trick wasn't passed on to these species by a common ancestor. Rather, they each developed it independently. As such, the different species use their ultra-blackness for different purposes. For example, the threadfin dragonfish only has ultra-black skin during its adolescent years, when it's rather defenseless, as <em>Wired</em> <a href="https://www.wired.com/story/meet-the-ultra-black-vantafish/" target="_blank">notes</a>.</p><p>Other fish—like the <a href="http://onebugaday.blogspot.com/2016/06/a-new-anglerfish-oneirodes-amaokai.html" target="_blank">oneirodes species</a>, which use bioluminescent lures to bait prey—probably evolved ultra-black skin to avoid reflecting the light their own bodies produce. Meanwhile, species like <em>C. acclinidens</em> only have ultra-black skin around their gut, possibly to hide light of bioluminescent fish they've eaten.</p><p>Given that these newly described species are just ones that this team found off the coast of California, there are likely many more, and possibly much darker, ultra-black fish swimming in the deep ocean. </p>
Using machine-learning technology, the genealogy company My Heritage enables users to animate static images of their relatives.
- Deep Nostalgia uses machine learning to animate static images.
- The AI can animate images by "looking" at a single facial image, and the animations include movements such as blinking, smiling and head tilting.
- As deepfake technology becomes increasingly sophisticated, some are concerned about how bad actors might abuse the technology to manipulate the pubic.
My Heritage/Deep Nostalgia<p>But that's not to say the animations are perfect. As with most deep-fake technology, there's still an uncanny air to the images, with some of the facial movements appearing slightly unnatural. What's more, Deep Nostalgia is only able to create deepfakes of one person's face from the neck up, so you couldn't use it to animate group photos, or photos of people doing any sort of physical activity.</p>
My Heritage/Deep Nostalgia<p>But for a free deep-fake service, Deep Nostalgia is pretty impressive, especially considering you can use it to create deepfakes of <em>any </em>face, human or not. </p>
How long should one wait until an idea like string theory, seductive as it may be, is deemed unrealistic?
- How far should we defend an idea in the face of contrarian evidence?
- Who decides when it's time to abandon an idea and deem it wrong?
- Science carries within it its seeds from ancient Greece, including certain prejudices of how reality should or shouldn't be.
Plato used the allegory of the cave to explain that what humans see and experience is not the true reality.
Credit: Gothika via Wikimedia Commons CC 4.0<p>When scientists and mathematicians use the term <em>Platonic worldview</em>, that's what they mean in general: The unbound capacity of reason to unlock the secrets of creation, one by one. Einstein, for one, was a believer, preaching the fundamental reasonableness of nature; no weird unexplainable stuff, like a god that plays dice—his tongue-in-cheek critique of the belief that the unpredictability of the quantum world was truly fundamental to nature and not just a shortcoming of our current understanding. Despite his strong belief in such underlying order, Einstein recognized the imperfection of human knowledge: "What I see of Nature is a magnificent structure that we can comprehend only very imperfectly, and that must fill a thinking person with a feeling of humility." (Quoted by Dukas and Hoffmann in <em>Albert Einstein, The Human Side: Glimpses from His Archives</em> (1979), 39.)</p> <p>Einstein embodies the tension between these two clashing worldviews, a tension that is still very much with us today: On the one hand, the Platonic ideology that the fundamental stuff of reality is logical and understandable to the human mind, and, on the other, the acknowledgment that our reasoning has limitations, that our tools have limitations and thus that to reach some sort of final or complete understanding of the material world is nothing but an impossible, <a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01K2JTGIA?tag=bigthink00-20&linkCode=ogi&th=1&psc=1" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">semi-religious dream</a>.</p>