Victoria Secular Humanist Association : VSHA

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2017 VSHA Winter Solstice Party

Posted by on 8December,2017 in Social Events | 0 comments


2017 VSHA Winter Solstice Party

Wednesday, December 20, 4:30 pm – 8:30 pm

James Bay New Horizons, 234 Menzies, James Bay

This will be a pot luck dinner – please bring your favourite dish, hot or cold –

main course, or dessert.

Beverages – please bring your own; we will have a liquor licence for BYOB

Dishes and cutlery – please bring your own to minimize cleanup.

The kitchen on site will be available to warm items up but not

to prepare them from scratch.

Please come early and socialize. Dinner will begin shortly after 5.


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The History of Freethought in BC

Posted by on 28November,2017 in Sunday Talks | 0 comments

Sunday, December 3, at 10:00 AM

Cedar Hill Rec Centre, Finlayson & Cedar Hill Road


The History of Freethought in BC

Dr. Lynne Marks, History, UVic

From the 1850s to just before World War I, freethought became increasingly

popular in BC in part as a reaction to the power of the religious establishment.





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Topic: Bertrand Russell and the Development of Respect for Humanism

Posted by on 14November,2017 in Sunday Talks | 0 comments

                               Sunday, November 19, at 10:00 AM

                               Cedar Hill Rec Centre, Finlayson & Cedar Hill Road


Bertrand Russell and the Development of Respect for Humanism                                                                                    

Speaker: Robert Light, MFA, VP VSHA

During the end of the 19th and the first half of the 20th Century, Bertrand Russell

had a major impact in creating respect for principled non-religious thinking.


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The Causes and Possible Cures for Poverty In Sub-Saharan Africa (

Posted by on 12November,2017 in Humanist Cafe | 0 comments


The Humanist Café
Wednesday, November 15, 7:00 to 8:30 pm
James Bay New Horizons
234 Menzies Street James Bay


The Causes and Possible Cures for Poverty In Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA)

The duplicity of well-intended aid efforts while Canada and others encourage resource extraction, tax evasion, and subsidies

Presenter: Colin Nelson
Moderator: John Pope

I have spent about 18 months in Tanzania as an ophthalmologist and latterly as a concerned tourist.  I have formed some opinions about the causes and possible cures of SSA poverty and would like to discuss these ideas with you. I would like to describe my conclusions and looks forward to your input and corrections if you don’t agree and reassurances if you concur.

Martin Luther King said “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Inequities in the world lead to desperate actions affecting millions.  Perceived inequality and hopelessness in the developing world spills over to affect us in the privileged developed world as terrorism and refugee crises. We are all affected by these problems and need to find a solution.

Under the United Nations Organization and its associated organizations many improvements have been seen; Smallpox, and some tropical diseases have been eliminated, Polio is almost eliminated, HIV and AIDS have been reduced and some of the Millennium Development Goals have been partially achieved.

The BRICS countries are thriving, and even countries in SSA such as Tanzania have been posting 6% per annum growth, though recently 1.5%.  But there is marked inequity within many countries, so that as the rich get richer the poor get poorer.  70% of the population in Tanzania still live on 2$/day or less.

In spite of official development aid, private development aid and remittance payments (from immigrants) going into SSA, loans and assistance from World Bank and International Monetary Fund, and the efforts of Non-Governmental Organizations such as Oxfam, Plan Canada, Care Canada, Gates Foundation etc, and the efforts of many smaller private individuals and microfinance lending organizations such as Kiva and Oikocredit,  and foreign direct investment from EEC, USA, UK, and China, poverty and injustice persists.

I suggest that the fundamental original cause of poverty in SSA was slavery and later colonialism. The present continuing cause is neocolonialism in its various forms, convolved with corruption of both donor and recipient nations.

What do you think?


1 Description of Haiti’s “unjust enrichment” debt owed by France,%20France%20and%20the%20Independence%20Debt%20of%201825_0.pdf

2 Prevalence of hunger in SSA

3  Interesting documentary video describing copper extraction and tax evasion in Zambia

4 Problems with international development

5 Description of funds going into and coming out of Africa

6 The hypocrisy of Canadian ownership in Africa

7 Award winning video describing US subsidization of peanuts to detriment of African farmers

See you there!  Bring a thought or two.




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Creating a Stronger Network for Humanists in BC

Posted by on 4November,2017 in Sunday Talks | 0 comments

Sunday, November 5, at 10:00 AM

Cedar Hill Rec Centre, Finlayson & Cedar Hill Road 


Creating a Stronger Network for Humanists in BC

Speaker:  Ian Bushfield, ED, BCHA

The Executive Director for the BC Humanist Association in Vancouver

is spearheading linkages to form a supportive network with other

like-minded groups in the province.


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Artificial Intelligence – will it spell the end of the Human race?

Posted by on 24October,2017 in Humanist Cafe | 0 comments


The Humanist Cafe

 Wednesday, November 1, 7:00 to 8:30 pm        
James Bay New Horizons
234 Menzies Street
James Bay

Topic: Artificial Intelligence – will it spell the end of the Human race?
moderator: John Pope

As Humanists, we are interested in the future of humankind.  So what do we make of the fact that one of the world’s most prestigious scientists is predicting that we could one day be taken over by Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology?  Should we be concerned?

Please read this short article:

“Stephen Hawking: Artificial Intelligence could spell end of human race”

The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.”  -Stephen Hawking

“…it would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever increasing rate.”  -Stephen Hawking

Here is a definition from Wikipedia:  “Artificial intelligence (AI) is the intelligence exhibited by machines or software. It is an academic field of study which studies the goal of creating intelligence. Major AI researchers and textbooks define this field as ‘the study and design of intelligent agents’, where an intelligent agent is a system that perceives its environment and takes actions that maximize its chances of success. John McCarthy, who coined the term in 1955, defines it as ‘the science and engineering of making intelligent machines’.”

An historical timeline of AI:

Here are some more interesting articles for background reading:

How to prevent robot world domination: Project is launched to ensure AI can follow rules and make ethical decisions:

There are ethical considerations or “roboethics”: Robot rights are the moral obligations of society towards its machines, similar to human rights or animal rights.

Robots could demand legal rights:


  1. Is it ethical for AI technology to be used to replace people in positions that require respect and care, such as:

* A customer service representative, (AI technology is already used today for telephone-based interactive voice response systems)?
* A therapist, (as was seriously proposed by Kenneth Colby in the 1970s)?
* A nursemaid for the elderly, (as was reported by Pamela McCorduck in her book The Fifth Generation) ?
* A judge?
* A police officer?

2. Could a world controlled by AI be a better world?

3. How far away are we from a world dominated by AI?

4. What are the latest advances in AI technology?  Remember ‘Hitchbot’?  Go ahead and talk to a robot here:

5. Is this what evolution looks like?

Interesting links:

The Chinese Room:

The refuting of the argument: “The appropriately programmed computer with the right inputs and outputs would thereby have a mind in exactly the same sense human beings have minds.”

The Turing Test: a test of a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behavior equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human.

Neuroprosthetics:  Linking the human nervous system to computers

Amazing stuff!

See you there!

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Light-Based Random Access Memory (RAM) in Computing

Posted by on 17October,2017 in Sunday Talks | 0 comments

Sunday, October 22, at 10:00 AM

Cedar Hill Rec Centre, Finlayson & Cedar Hill Road


Light-Based Random Access Memory (RAM) in Computing


Dr. Natia Frank, Chemistry, UVic

Recent advances in photochemistry at the University of Victoria have led to the development of light-based RAM, greatly enhancing computer memory.


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Topic: Does Capitalism Need An Overhaul, Or A Burial?

Posted by on 15October,2017 in Humanist Cafe | 0 comments

The Humanist Cafe

Wednesday, October 18, 7:00 to 8:30 pm
James Bay New Horizons
234 Menzies Street
James Bay

Topic: Does Capitalism Need An Overhaul, Or A Burial?

moderator: John Pope

Capitalism is an economic system in which trade, industry, and the means of production are largely or entirely privately owned and operated for profit.

We have come to accept that capitalism has been the right system for achieving prosperity by allowing private enterprise to provide us with the many goods and services we so much depend on today.  The growth of society has clearly benefited from this system in many ways.

But now there are voices saying that there are serious limits to growth (, and that pure, unregulated capitalism is no longer needed, and that it is in fact actually causing serious problems for the environment, the economy, and general well-being of the average person.

Here’s a highly recommended article from the British perspective:  Here are a few comments from it:

“The Conservatives now feel in great danger from a Labour leader who claims that his rejection of contemporary capitalism is not old-fashioned, but modern and the new mainstream.”  -Toby Helm, journalist

“We all want economic growth; the real question is what type?”  -Professor Mariana Mazzucato, Director, Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose, University College London

“The capitalist system we know is dominated by huge, unaccountable, global banks and corporations”  -Marc Stears, Chief executive, New Economics Foundation

“The capitalist “mainstream” has been challenged by Jeremy Corbyn’s alternative economic vision…”  -Ruth Lea, Economic adviser, Arbuthnot Banking Group

“If capitalism here is at a crossroads, it’s more likely to stumble hesitantly straight on than to turn sharply left or right”  -Tim Bale, Professor of politics, Queen Mary University of London

“The international story is one of orderly retreat from full-blooded globalisation and unrestricted free trade” -David Goodhart, Director, Policy Exchange and author of The Road to Somewhere

“In 2017, the fastest growing economies are for the most part not free-market democracies” -Ngaire Woods, Global economic governance, University of Oxford


The book “The Limits To Growth” has proven to be correct in its predictions: “Our findings should sound an alarm bell. It seems unlikely that the quest for ever-increasing growth can continue unchecked to 2100 without causing serious negative effects.”

“A United States Congressional committee concluded in 1941, ‘The principal instrument of the concentration of economic power and wealth has been the corporate charter with unlimited power….'”

Naomi Klein’s new book “This Changes Everything” addresses these problems with capitalism; she specifically targets capitalism’s effect on the environment.

Some have argued that we now live in a Corporatocracy which is an economic and political system controlled by corporations or corporate interests.  It is true that the powers and privileges enjoyed by corporations has grown over the years.  I highly recommend that you read this brief article which describes the historical growth of modern corporate power.


Is capitalism as serious a problem as Klein suggests?

Is the world ready to give up on capitalism?

Can the negative effects of capitalism be mitigated by regulation?

Can governments control corporations?  Do governments really have the power to revoke ‘Corporate Charters’?

What kind of system could replace capitalism?

Who are the biggest beneficiaries of unregulated capitalism?

Is Socialism the answer?

[Your question here]

See you there!  Bring a friend.

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Advance Care Planning – a facilitated VSHA conversation for members

Posted by on 6October,2017 in Sunday Talks | 0 comments

Sunday, October 8, at 10:00 AM

Cedar Hill Rec Centre, Finlayson & Cedar Hill Road

Advance Care Planning – a facilitated VSHA conversation for members

Speaker : Ray Travers, VSHA Care Committee                                                                                                                                

Creating a record of your wishes for the eventuality of your being unable to speak for yourself in the event of illness is becoming increasingly important. Topics and questions put together by Care Committee members will be broached.



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Back to School….. for Some: The Desperate Need for Basic Education in Africa

Posted by on 30September,2017 in Humanist Cafe | 0 comments

The Humanist Café

Wednesday, October 4, 7:00 to 8:30 pm
James Bay New Horizons
234 Menzies Street James Bay


Topic: Back to School….. for Some: The Desperate Need for Basic Education in Africa

Presenter : Phyllis Webster

Moderator : John Pope

[It is strongly suggested that you take a look at the attached background documents.]

In early September, over five million Canadian children will return to school. Most will have backpacks complete with pens, pencils, notebooks, crayons etc. and some senior students will have iPads or laptops. They will enter schools that have good facilities such as gyms and libraries and best of all trained teachers eager to get to know their new pupils. In their classrooms, there will be no shortage of desks, chairs, books, art supplies and interesting activities. As a former educator of many years, some of them overseas, I am aware that even though no education system is perfect, at least our BC schools will be ready to help our young people learn the many things which will help them towards a future which is relatively bright.

Imagine, however, that you live in sub-Saharan Africa where 55 million young people aged 6 to 15 are out of school and 29 million of those are girls. Approximately 23 million of those children live in fragile and conflict-affected regions. If a child does manage to get to a school, many of the classes exceed 50 pupils. Many teachers have only high school graduation and are unable to help their students reach basic literacy and numeracy by the end of four years of schooling. The classrooms are often very basic, and the outdoor toilets filthy and unsafe especially for girls. There may be textbooks but there will not be enough for every child, and equipment as simple as chalk, pencils and paper will be in short supply.

Two years ago, world leaders agreed on a set of global targets for access to education as part of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Goal#4 is to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote life-long learning opportunities for all.” In order to keep the promise of inclusive, quality primary and secondary education for all by 2030, it will require a huge increase in the number of teachers worldwide. Africa will need almost 20 million new trained teachers with 17 million of these teachers needed in sub-Saharan Africa.

Why is education in Africa so important? It is clear that education is the key to achieving development and influences all 17 of the SDGs. It leads to greater economic prosperity, better health outcomes and more gender equality. It reduces exploitation and violence and enables people to reach their full potential. If all students in low income countries acquired basic reading skills, millions of people would be lifted out of poverty (SDG #1 No poverty). A child whose mother can read is 50% more likely to live past age five (SDG#3 Good Health). There would be 64% fewer child marriages with the completion of secondary school (SDG #5 Gender Equality). Literate people are more likely to participate in the democratic process and exercise their civil rights (SDG #16).

Girls in particular have many problems in accessing an education. Cultural norms often dictate that boys go to school if there is money for fees and uniforms and girls stay home to help with the housework, care for younger siblings, and fetch water and fuel. Often they are expected to marry very early and have children before their bodies are ready which means many die young. If they do get to school, there is a lack of toilets and water which means they must stay at home during their periods.

Often the journey to school is unsafe, and there is gender-based violence at the school including exploitation by teachers. Studying is hard for all children when they are hungry, have to walk many kilometers to school and have no light in their homes. Alas, there are many other problems.

What can we as Canadians do? We can ask our government to increase funding to the Global Partnership for Education, (GPE) an international organization which fosters an inclusive and participatory approach, bringing all partners at the country level together in a coordinated way to strengthen national education systems in 60 countries. In 2016 alone, GPE grants enabled the training of over 240,000 teachers, the distribution of 30 million textbooks and the building of 3,000 classrooms around the world. Prime Minister Trudeau, when speaking at the honorary citizen ceremony for Malala Yousafzai, confirmed that education can change the world and that we must do better to educate our young people to fight climate change, end poverty and achieve peace. Trudeau stated, “It is time to act now”.

To celebrate International Literacy day on September 8th, please write to the PM and your MP to ask that Canada increase the Canadian commitment to the GPE to 260 million over three years starting in 2018. The children of Africa and others in the rest of the developing world need our help now.

Phyllis Webster

Victoria Grandmothers Advocacy Network

See you there! Bring a buddy.



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