Thursday, October 18, 2012

Ottawa Atheist/Humanist/Secular Event

The Ottawa Centre for Inquiry is hosting Eschaton 2012: Celebrating Reason at the End of the World, a 'weekend gathering of scientists, philosophers, authors, academics, skeptics, rationalists, humanists, atheists, and freethinkers, where you can see presentations and join discussions on science, skepticism, gender issues, theocracy vs secularism, godless ethics, parenting beyond belief. Featured speakers include blogger PZ Myers, author Ophelia Benson, philosopher Chris DiCarlo, science education activist Eugenie Scott, and many others.'

Check out the full  programme here. The line-up of confirmed speakers (including yours truly) is here. I must say, I am looking forward to hopefully meeting in person Ophelia Benson, one of the contributors to our 50 Voices of Disbelief.

I am part of the panel on 'Godless Ethics and Godless Communities'. My offering on the day will be this:

Myths about Atheist Values

In our forthcoming book ’50 Great Myths About Atheism’ (Wiley-Blackwell 2013) Russell Blackford and I analyze a variety of commonplace myths about atheism. I will discuss four such myths that are relevant to the panel topic, namely: ‘Without God there is no morality’, ‘Atheists are moral relativists’, ‘Atheism robs life of meaning and purpose,’ and ‘Atheists deny the sanctity of human life.’ These myths are a good selection for the panel, because they look at the question of whether we need a higher authority to ground ethics, whether – in the absence of such an authority – we are bound to create secular societies bereft of any stable values, and whether that would lead to our lives becoming meaningless and vacuous. In light of recent Canadian debates about the pro’s and con’s of introducing abortion legislation it seems apt to ask finally whether atheists really callously deny the sanctity of human life. 

Hope to see you there!

Friday, October 05, 2012

Canadian Supreme Court reaches sensible decision on HIV transmission

Today the Canadian Supreme Court reached a sensible verdict on the tricky issue of the criminalisation of HIV transmission. It found - essentially - that folks who are HIV infected, on HIV medicine, and who have a low viral load (note, it is not a requirement that there is an undetectable viral load) and who use condoms, are under no obligation to disclose their HIV status to their sexual partners.

The main logic of the Court's decision is that if there is no significant risk of bodily harm (as is the case if the above mentioned conditions are met) the legal requirement to inform one's sexual partners of one's infection falls by the wayside.

Of course, many AIDS activists will be annoyed by this decision as it maintains the criminalisation of non-disclosure in cases where someone's viral load is not low, or where someone is not using a condom at the same time that his or her viral load is low, etc.

However, this decision makes a powerful, and sensible case to people at significant risk of HIV infection to get tested, and to get on HIV medication (both to protect their health and that of people they choose to have sexual intercourse with), as well as to use condoms each time they have sex with people they have not disclosed their HIV status to. In fact, this line of reasoning was developed in a paper I published in 2011. You can find it here, the argument runs from p. 310ff.

It might be worth noting that this decision by the Court was unanimous, something quite remarkable, considering the Harper government's recent appointment of four judges to the Court.