Confessions of an Anonymous Coward

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Humanist Symposium #2

One of the many remarkable things about the natural world is the sheer variety of life it contains. So complex is the vast collection of organisms that biologists have devised an elaborate system for classification, known as taxonomy. The standard taxonomic system involves several nested levels of classification, starting with Kingdom at the top, followed by Phylum (or Division, for plants), then Class, Order, Family, Genus, and Species, with occasional intercalations of suborders and superclasses and other intermediate levels. The genus and species are the two levels with names most familiar (no pun intended) to the layman: Tyrannosaurus rex belongs to the genus Tyrannosaurus and the species rex, for example, and we humans are Homo sapiens--genus Homo, species sapiens. (Not, incidentally, sapien: that final s is a part of the species name; it's not an indicator of pluralization.) But to a biologist, the higher levels are important in the classification as well: We Homo sapiens, for example, belong to the family Homidae, in the order Primates, class Mammalia, subphylum Vertebrata, phylum Chordata, kingdom Animalia. (Some of these no doubt ring a bell to the layman, as well; most people have certainly heard of primates, mammals, and vertebrates, but probably aren't aware of the technical names for these classifications at the order, class, and subphylum levels, respectively.)

(There was a mnemonic taught when I was in high school which I now remember only in part: "King Philip Crossed Over and Found something something." Not finding that mnemonic particularly engrossing, I came up with my own: "Kids Prefer Coke Over Flat Grape Soda". I much later found out that a distorted form of my mnemonic--combining it with the previous one--remained current at the school years after I'd graduated: "Kings Prefer Cans Of Flat Grape Soda". This may be as close as I'll come to making a lasting mark upon the biological sciences.)

The names of the various taxonomic levels, of course, are arbitrary. Oh, there are rules for their formation: they must be of Latin or Greek derivation (with the inclusion of proper names allowed); the scientist naming the taxon can't just string together any arbitrary collection of letters. But the names themselves aren't really important, except as labels. If we renamed class Mammalia to class Piloses, to choose a random example, nothing important would change; the classification system would remain the same, and certainly there'd be no reflection of the name change in the actual organisms the class encompasses. But while the particular names aren't really significant, the classification system is, in that the taxa are chosen in such a way as to accurately reflect the evolutionary and genetic relationships between the organisms involved. This means, of course, that as scientists refine their ideas about the relationships between different organisms, the taxonomic classifications may change, but in any case they reflect the current best understanding about their organism's relationships.

What does all of this have to do with the Second Humanist Symposium? Well, because I decided, just for fun, to arrange the posts according to a (pseudo-)taxonomic system. Of course, by the theme of the symposium, all these posts are about humanist themes, so they're all already related; let's say they're all in kingdom Scriptura (which, incidentally, is just Latin for "writing", with no particular connotation of sacredness), phylum Ephemeres, subphylum Cassium, class Philosophiae, order Humanistes. Beyond that, we'll get to more specific classifications. (It probably goes without saying that, unlike the biological taxonomic system, the taxonomic system used here is pretty much meaningless; like I said, it's just for fun. Also, I should note that my Latin and Greek are very bad, so many of these names may not make as much sense as they're supposed to...)

Family Notioatheidae: Posts of this family deal with specific words and concepts as they apply within humanism and atheism.
  1. Quorsum saepis--The genus Quorsum deals with the question of purpose, as it applies to a life lived without theistic belief. From Gospel of Reason, we encounter a post, Fence Theism--Kick the Habit!, which is at least a marginal member of this genus. Truthfully, I'm uncertain whether this species truly belongs in this genus, since the main nominal subject of the post is the discussion of "fence theists", those who sympathize with religious institutions even without holding to every aspect of their dogmas, but I think it may include enough discussion of the purpose of an atheistic life to justify its collocation in this genus.
  2. Visathei legati--Closely related to the genus Quorsum is the genus Visathei, which deals with the meaning one can find in a life without God--indeed, both genera lie within the subfamily Significationis. An example post from this genus can be found in The Executioner's Thong: a perpetual funeral, a musing on meaning apparently triggered by the writer's reading of Hebrew chants.

Family Atheiscriptidae: While all posts of the order Humanistes, of course, deal with humanism and to some degree with atheism, those of the family Atheiscriptidae deal most directly with what it means to be an atheist, and just what atheism is.
  1. Nullussuperae diacoptes--Atheism is not, of course, a belief system, per se, but rather an absence of certain beliefs, as posts of the genus Nullussuperae take pains to explain. In particular, The Control Group, from A Load of Bright, points out that the absence of some factor often plays an important role in analyzing the factor in question.
  2. Polyathea reapse--Since atheism isn't a single belief system, there's a lot of diversity among atheists and humanists; posts of the genus Polyathea discuss that diversity. The example currently under examination, On True Atheists, from BLIGBI, laments the fact that this diversity is sometimes denied even from within, by some who consider themselves, on fallacious grounds, to be the only "true" atheists.
  3. Atheamplexus calosorisma--Posts of this genus are distinguished from those of other genera in the family Atheiscriptidae not so much by their content as by who they're addressed to: namely, these posts are directed to those new to atheism, to welcome them and to explain just what it's all about. Letter to a New Atheist, from Atheist Revolution, is an excellent example.

Family Vitaesensidae: This family of blog posts comprises humanist takes on life and existence.
  1. Autoexetases holistes--Socrates famously said that the unexamined life is not worth living; posts of the genus Autoexetases examine this proposition. The post we find here, The Examined Life from Philosophy, et cetera, is a dubious member of the order Humanistes, in that it never refers explicitly to humanism or any associated philosophy, but its subject matter is sufficiently applicable to humanism to justify its inclusion here.
  2. Logotheo studii--Humanists often tend to embrace learning and knowledge--and in particular, may have an intellectual interest in religion even though they don't believe in it. This is what posts of the genus Logotheo are about, and our present example, Learn Something New Every Day from Spanish Inquisitor, also expounds on the importance of learning in general.
  3. Omninexus circuli--The world--on a human level--is more interconnected now than ever before, a condition that poses both opportunities and challenges, as posts of the genus Omninexus discuss. Our current example, Internetionalism and the Circle of Humanity from Humantide, brings up the promotion of the circle as a symbol for humanism, and what else this implies.
  4. Eumeioses chorou--In some sense, all objects and phenomena can be seen as a fantastically complex combination of individually much simpler particles and interactions. Posts of the genus Eumeioses note and celebrate this fact, and expound on the beauty of it, as exemplified in the post Dancing Molecules: An Atheist Moment of Transcendence in Greta Christina's Blog.

Family Prosopicidae: Most blog posts are, by their very nature, largely personal in content, but those of the family Prosopicidae especially so; these posts deal most intimately with the author's personal experiences and beliefs, as related to humanism.
  1. Apostasia evangelica--Many humanist bloggers choose to tell the stories of how they came to leave religion; the posts containing such stories pertain to the genus Apostasia. In Unhaunting 1: A Brief History of An Evangelical Life, from Candid Folly, we see an example of such a post, outlining the writer's departure from evangelical Christianity.
  2. Atheifides magnipretium--Atheists don't believe in God, but that doesn't mean they have no beliefs at all; posts of the genus Atheifides discuss just what the writers do believe in, in the absence of religion. What I Do Believe, from Sailing to Byzantium, is a particularly beautiful example.

Family Certodeidae: While this family could perhaps be considered a part of Etairiatheidae, below, insofar as it does deal with the relationship of atheism in society, family Certodeidae, which deals in particular with the interplay between atheism and religion, is perhaps distinct enough to form a separate family (though both are within the superfamily Etairiatheides).
  1. Antitheos neoatheis--Posts of the genus Antitheos contend that reason and religion are fundamentally opposed. This example, Support New Atheism from Phil For Humanity, exhorts the reader to support a variety of atheism that emphasizes this opposition.
  2. Patiordeus illusum--What does it really mean for atheists to be "tolerant", or is this plea really one-sided? That's the question addressed by posts of the genus Patiordeus, such as our current example, Tolerance, from Hell's Handmaiden.

Family Etairiatheidae: It's said that no man is an island, and that goes as much for humanists as for anyone else. The place of humanism in a larger society is a subject well worth discussing, and it's this topic that is the focus of posts of the family Etairiatheidae.
  1. Arsathei iereus--Posts of the genus Arsathei deal with specific positions or occupations that atheists have made for themselves in society; the present example, A Humanist School Chaplain? from Five Public Opinions, discusses, well, a humanist school chaplain.
  2. Athealmus pyropneuma--Atheists have a reputation in some circles as being strident and angry; posts of the genus Athealmus argue for a gentler approach. The example here, Firebreathing or Soft-speaking?, from Atheist Self, takes up this theme in the light of the Virginia Tech shootings and other tragedies, and argues that atheists should be ready to speak about other things than atheism.
  3. Athealmus falwelli--A post of the same genus as the above, but with a slightly different emphasis, If You Can't Say Anything Nice..., from Fearless Philosophy For Free Minds, argues that, whatever damage the late Jerry Falwell may have done, atheists and humanists shouldn't callously rejoice over his death and impinge on the grieving of those who were close to him.
  4. Etairiathei adfirmationis--Etairiathei is the type genus of the family Etairiatheidae, and discusses broadly how humanism and atheism can or should relate to society. I intentionally saved this post, Reaching Out, for last, because--while there were certainly many good posts in this symposium--I think this was the one that maybe best represented what the Humanist Symposium is supposed to be all about. Though since this post came from Daylight Atheism, where the Humanist Symposium originated in the first place, I guess that's not too surprising.

Well, that concludes this edition of the Humanist Symposium. The next issue will be up on June 10 at the Black Sun Journal; feel free to start submitting!


At 5/20/2007 4:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Looks great! I'm very happy to see this carnival beginning to grow and thrive, and I love what you've done with it. :)

At 5/21/2007 9:03 AM, Blogger GreenSmile said...

Good Job, although you make the next host work harder. Nice device to put a "theme" on such a diverse collection. Pleased as punch to have made the cut


At 5/21/2007 10:31 AM, Blogger Rose said...

Wow, very unique and interesting idea. Thanks for the great post!

At 5/21/2007 1:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the nice thematic setup. It's perfect for this symposium!

At 5/22/2007 8:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

King Phillip Came Over For Good Sex. Learned that in 8th grade! Still don't quite know what it means...

At 5/22/2007 5:27 PM, Blogger Ross said...

The mnemonic I was taught (at a Christian science camp) was even lamer: King Phylum wanted Class, so he Ordered a Family of Genuses and special Species. I suppose the benefit is that it included more of the actual words, but it missed the point of mnemonics by being nonsensical and unwieldy. Oh well, I still remember it, so I guess it did the job. Congrats on hosting the Humanist Symposium. This looks like something I should be active in; if only I wasn't so busy!

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