CVAAS has attempted to become a nonprofit organization in the past. As part of our application, we submitted a set of bylaws that were refused for not meeting California guidelines for bylaws. As part of that refusal, the CVAAS application for non-profit status was delayed.
We have since cleared the delay, and have received our official refusal letter which indicated the changes required to meet nonprofit requirements.
Since the CVAAS bylaws needed to be modified, we also took the opportunity to update those bylaws to better reflect our operations, and to allow room for future growth.
The CVAAS Board of Directors along with interested members have been working on these bylaws since October 2016. In accordance with nonprofit law, these bylaws are now submitted for viewing by the membership.
Members in good standing with CVAAS have the right to vote on the acceptance of these bylaws when they are presented at our monthly business meeting on March 5th, 2017.
Once accepted, CVAAS will submit our final nonprofit application to the IRS.
CVAAS meets at Panera’s for a monthly brunch with Skeptics Without A Cause (SWAC) followed immediately by the CVAAS event planning committee. We take over several tables, and although we are not loud we are also not concerned with being overheard.
During our December 2016 meeting the people at the booth next to us left a Chick Tract behind on their table when they left the restaurant. They placed it prominently in a way that made it clear that this was a message to our group.
During last Sunday’s meeting (January 2017) we noticed that a gentleman was video recording our meeting on his phone. I quietly got up and walked over to him and took a snapshot of him on my own phone.
“Hi, I’m Mark.” I introduced myself as he stared, startled at having his photo taken. “I’m in charge of this atheist group, and we’re having a get-together. We don’t mind you recording us, but I thought it was only fair that I get your photo too.”
I then walked back to my chair and sat down. Our group ignored him completely and kept talking (probably about the tele-transportation paradox in Star Trek). A few minutes later I noticed the gentleman had left.
Before CVAAS officially organized, we were just another meetup discussion group of skeptics and atheists.
From the beginning, we have had interesting guests at our meetings. We have listened to “9/11 Truthers”, we have viewed the pictorial evidence of “orbs” brought to us by ghost hunters. During our meetings, people have spoken to us of world-wide conspiracies such as the conspiracy of a Jewish world order, or of the conspiracy of scientists to keep us all ignorant of Creationism.
After the formation of CVAAS, we hosted the Mormons at one of our meetings. They promised us evidence of God in answer to our sincere prayers. Several of us prayed, but perhaps we just were not sincere enough because we are still waiting for evidence.
Some guests seemed to demonstrate signs of mental illness. One such gentleman brought several thick binders filled with accountant ledger paper in which he had carefully filled with his exacting observations of the date and time in which many different traffic lights in Fresno had changed color. He claimed the trends he found in his records were evidence that these lights were controlled by witchcraft.
Some guests who have attended our meetings have actually managed to concern us.
Remember the character “Horst” from the Disney movie Ratatouille? Horst had a line where he said that he killed a man, “With this thumb!”
Three years before the release of Ratatouille, our discussion group had a guest who claimed to be an ex-Soviet assassin.
He was an older guy but he was big and muscled and very fit. He looked like he could break any of us in half, and would be bored while doing so. He had a Slavic accent and his manner was a little unsettling, alternating between jovial and then suddenly serious. He told us that after the fall of the Soviet Union he worked for the Russian Mafia until he came to America to get away from the violence. He said that in his past he was very dangerous and that he knew how to “kill a man with MY THUMB!” He made us all a touch nervous and we were mostly relieved when he didn’t come to any other meetings.
When the movie Ratatouille came out the line from Horst had me laughing uncontrollably.
There was one guest who concerned us more in retrospect than he did during the time we knew him.
The Fresno atheists and skeptics discussion group started holding meetings in October of 2002. At our December meeting, we had a guest who was very enthusiastic about our new group. He told us that his name was Aaron and that he used to be Navy enlisted. His last duty assignment was in California. He had a motorcycle and a goatee. Aaron showed up to one or two more meetings in the new year, and then he stopped showing up. We figured that he found the discussions boring.
Our co-founder, Richard, brought our attention to the Fresno Bee story about Aaron and found his photo. It was the same guy we remembered. We were all a little bemused, and a little amused that we “scary atheists” were briefly targeted by the Sheriff’s anti-terrorism team.
And this leads us to current events…
Since the presidential election, I have heard local progressive group leaders expressing their concerns about the possibility of their groups being infiltrated. Perhaps some groups have cause for concern. I don’t know. California laws have changed due to this incident.
As a 501(c)3 organization, CVAAS is and will remain apolitical. We are formed for educational purposes and will continue to educate our community on science-based, Constitutional, and human rights issues. We will continue to support the secular community and will support the creation of new non-theistic organizations.
We will continue to do what we do openly, without fear, and with great interest in the guests and visitors who come to our meetings. We hope that our guests and visitors – that you – will become members and help us continue to create great events, educate our community, and participate in community service with us.
I had some hope for this debate. Unfortunately, it went very much the way that I thought it would go.
When CVAAS was first contacted by Chris Plance, the representative from Garces, he said that he was, “… hoping to expose our students to an atheist point of view and see how Catholics interact and respond in dialogue.” He also said that students at the school were “somewhat skeptical” so it would be an opportunity “…to have them ask you questions and iron out what an atheist point of view looks like.”
But further text conversation with Chris showed that he was not actually interested in teaching students about atheism or in having any sort of informative dialog. He wanted an adversarial debate. I recognized that Garces wanted a confrontation where they could use a debate format to attack atheists.
It really is just this simple – an argument can be logical, persuasive, and completely reasonable, and it can still be wrong. Philosopher Karl Popper has shown that claims of knowledge cannot be justified and that they are at best held tentatively, with the understanding that they are only probably true and that given the right evidence they must be modified or overturned entirely. Any claim that cannot be falsified, that makes no predictions is merely an assertion.
After being rejected by me, Chris pushed so I offered that there was another atheist group in Bakersfield. The first contact I provided also rejected him, but my friend 7 Bates (yes, his name really is a number, right on his birth certificate) was very eager to try it. 7 is the president of the Atheist Society of Kern (ASK). He told me that he was skilled in debate and that he could throw any sort of trap back at the Garces team.
7 chose Nick as his debate partner. Nick is the vice president of ASK, and is an intelligent young man and a former Marine and combat vet.
On the side of the Catholics, Chris teaches theology. His partner Timothy Gordon has a licentiate (Ph.L) that he earned in Rome. He also has a J.D. from San Diego, and he teaches math and theology for Garces. One of the bios that I read about Timothy says that he has a degree in philosophy.
From the very beginning of the debate, it was made very clear that the debate was not about exposing students to an atheist point of view. Instead, it was about crushing atheism.
The first speaker was Timothy, who whipped out his first strawman argument of the evening by saying that atheism was “the last superstition” and that Roman Catholicism was the “only worldview that was not a superstition” which demonstrated immediately that he did not understand atheism.
That happened repeatedly with Timothy. His arguments often misstated the position of the atheist speakers. Most glaringly this happened when he repeatedly spoke about atheists and causality.
One of the debate questions was about causality. 7 tried to explain the very real problems that physicists have with causality. Unfortunately, he didn’t explain this well. Briefly, there is a difference in how causality is treated in philosophy and in physics, and if you explain it from a physics point of view a (poor) philosopher may attack it using terms from philosophy.
Timothy didn’t try to understand the atheist response. He instead told the audience again and again that, “The atheists don’t believe in Causality!” He stated incredulously that the atheists must have been very surprised to arrive at the debate.
Atheists do tend to be curious about causality, and we try to understand it – even though it is complicated and wrapped up in General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics. The spontaneous creation of virtual particles would seem to undermine causality, and Dirac’s equation along with careful experimental measurements demonstrate the existence of virtual particles.
But we can skip most physics and look at the question from a position that would seem to agree with both physics and philosophy. If causality depends on space and time, then in a place where neither exist causality itself may not exist. Did space and time exist before the Big Bang? Could the Big Bang happen uncaused in a place where causality doesn’t exist? If space and time did exist before the Big Bang, is it connected causally to our universe? The answer to all of these questions is that no one knows. But stating that an uncaused event could NOT happen before the Big Bang is merely an assertion, unsupported by evidence.
Timothy also tried to supply evidence for God by whipping out all the old philosophical arguments for the existence of God. He diligently trotted out Aristotle, Plato, St. Anselm, Aquinas, and the “logical necessity” propounded by Descartes. He conveniently did NOT mention the ways in which all these philosophical arguments are flawed. And although he briefly mentioned Hume, he didn’t mention that Hume had provided a philosophical argument against the existence of God.
When I compared Timothy’s philosophical arguments for God against Dr. Craig’s admission that philosophy fails to prove God I started wondering if Timothy actually had a degree in philosophy.
Timothy holds a Juris Doctor degree, so it is unsurprising that he briefly tried to use the analogy of a court case to say that these philosophical arguments are reasonable. This conveniently disregards the facts that science doesn’t build and organize knowledge through court cases, and the Innocence Project has provided clear evidence that things “proved” in court are not necessarily true.
The next biggest strawman came when Timothy tried to pin down a definition of atheism. 7 pointed out that he was an agnostic atheist, which to him meant that he can’t prove that some sort of deity does NOT exist. Timothy took that to mean that 7 was “on the fence” about God and that he was already halfway a Catholic! And he pounded on this strawman several times.
Unfortunately, the atheists didn’t take the opportunity to point out that Timothy was also an atheist toward many thousands of other possible Gods, so if we are talking about “percentages” Timothy is much more an atheist than 7 is a Catholic.
Mostly, 7 did fairly well for not being a philosopher or a physicist. I disliked the “parting shots” he took at the end of his time periods that derailed the conversation into areas that were too often firmly biblical. Most atheists do know the bible fairly well and are interested in bringing up problems with it, but Catholics are possibly the only Christians who are better versed in the Catholic Bible than atheists. And these were Catholic teachers, who presumably know the Catholic Bible VERY well. (Note: The Catholic bible is somewhat different from the Protestant bible.)
And although 7 is a good speaker, he also worked too hard at trying to be a friend to the audience. His casual attitude didn’t fare well against two charismatic speakers who are also trained teachers.
But I’ve said a lot about 7 and Timothy. Nick and Chris were also there. In comparison with their counterparts, Nick and Chris were definitely the weaker speakers. Nick let his emotions get in his way. He took the debate as a form of combat, and by the end of the debate he had alienated most of the audience. It didn’t matter how good his points were – he needed to be calmer, more dispassionate. Unfortunately, the meme of the “angry atheist” was perpetuated.
Chris responded to the baiting comments tossed out by 7, and instead of staying on topic he was diverted. Chris did mention on several occasions that he came to Catholicism through atheism. But since this wasn’t a dialog the atheists didn’t have the opportunity to ask him a very relevant question. “Why did you think atheism was convincing, and why do you no longer believe that to be true?” This could have been used to speak about the difference between implicit and explicit atheism. It could also demonstrate that a person who doesn’t come to atheism through reason won’t require reason to leave it. Was Chris merely an implicit atheist, for the same reasons as C.S. Lewis or Lee Strobel?
Chris also said that Catholicism was true due to the Three Motives of Credibility of Faith (motiva credibilitatis) which is mentioned in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Chris said that these reasons for believing that Catholicism is true include the witness of miracles, the witness of prophecy, and the witness of the long existence of the Catholic Church itself.
But we should ask ourselves, where are these miracles witnessed? In the Bible. Where are these prophecies witnessed? In the Bible. The Bible here is being used as the evidence. Using the Bible as evidence is seen to be reasonable by Christians. Jesus said in his Sermon on the Plain (Luke ch.6) that his words are the foundation for everything. But really the Bible is just testimony, it is a series of claims that must in themselves be backed by evidence. Chris also said that the existence of the Church is the evidence that the Bible (and its claims) are true – which is a circular argument. The Bible is true because the Church exists, and the Church exists because the Bible is true.
And miracles happen all the time in stories. Miracles are so common that they are called “Deus ex Machina” which refers to a very ancient practice of using a crane to lower God (or a god) onto the stage to set things right at the end of a theatrical play. Prophecy is also a story favorite. Over 700 years before the supposed birth of Christ the Iliad and the Odyssey featured both fulfilled prophecy and many miracles. The earlier books of the Harry Potter series had a prophecy that was fulfilled in later books. Shall we assume that Harry Potter and the gods of Olympus are real?
The three Motives of Credibility as quoted by Chris turn out to be merely unsupported assertions, no matter how much he wants to believe otherwise.
The debate was long, and the audience was very pleased. It reminded me of the scene in “Persuasion” at the pump room in Bath where a member of the Philosophical Society crows to Lady Russell, “The atheists were completely routed!” The tone of victory after the debate was identical.
And that tone also made it very clear that this wasn’t about dialog. It wasn’t about understanding. It wasn’t about learning about atheism. It was a way of both shielding students from understanding while telling them that atheism was wrong or unfounded. And a lot of words, unsupported by evidence or fact were used to do this.
After this win, Garces Memorial High School is eager to schedule another debate. 7, as president of ASK is also eager to join them. The next debate could be on morality. But the question of the existence of a deity remains unsettled, so any assertion of a morality based on a deity will also be unsettled. The cart would be placed in front of the horse in such a debate. The debate might as well be about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.
Debates seem of little use to me. Too often they are like this – assertions made without evidence, poor philosophy, and lots of ego. As President of CVAAS I will continue to refuse any invitation to a public debate. If people want to learn about atheism I will happily arrange a dialog – a discussion around a table. I am happy to offer a presentation followed by questions and answers and dialog. I would be happy to engage in a written dialog. I invite anyone interested to contact me and CVAAS. If you’re serious, I can make it happen.
But don’t confuse a debate with a dialog. It is intellectually dishonest to say that you are interested in “an atheist point of view” when it is obvious that you are only interested in attacking a threat to your faith-based beliefs.
Defending the question are GMHS teachers Chris Plance and Timothy Gordon.
Chris Plance is the event organizer. Plance is a theology teacher who came to Bakersfield in 2015, and was the Director of Evangelization and Mission at John Paul the Great, Catholic University before then. Plance received his Master of Arts in Theology from the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio. Timothy Gordon first came to GMHS in 2006 with a Master of Arts from Loyola Marymount, LA. In 2007 Gordon left Bakersfield to earn his licentiate (Ph.L) from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. He returned to GMHS in 2014. Gordon has also earned his J.D. from the University of San Diego School of Law. Gordon teaches theology and math at GMHS.
Proposing the question are ASK president Seven Bates and ASK Vice-President Nick Miranda.
Bates is a software engineer, web developer, and owner of a media production company. He received his BA from Rice University in Houston, Texas. Bates is also very familiar with the policy debate style that will be used in this debate.
Miranda is a Marine Corps Veteran of Iraq and the founding owner of a marketing firm. Before coming to atheism Miranda worked full time in ministry for Victory Outreach Ministries International. Miranda is familiar with philosophical arguments in favor of the existence of a deity.
Garces Memorial High School is a Catholic School named for Father Fancisco Garcés, a Spanish Franciscan friar, missionary, and explorer of the American Southwest in the mid-1700’s. GMHS is administered by the Fresno Diocesan Office of Education, part of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno, whose territories include the counties of Fresno, Inyo, Kern, Madera, Merced, Mariposa, Kings and Tulare. GMHS teaches evolution and the Big Bang as fact, but also requiring God’s creation – in conformance to Pope Francis statement that “Evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation…”
The debate itself will be recorded, and the recording and materials will be available after the debate.
If you would like to learn more about the Central Valley Coalition of Reason, visit the ValleyCoR website here.
Brainstorming our future – we need ideas from everyone for what we want the secular community in the San Joaquin Valley to be involved with.
Future planning – I want to create 1, 2, and 5 year plans for future goals.
New Groups – Encouraging the creation of, and offering support for new organizations.
Secular / Skeptical community support – We can’t forget to offer events for everyone – for those people who just want to get together and talk, to those who want to do.
Community outreach – I want to raise awareness of the secular community in the San Joaquin Valley. To be accepted as part of our community we need to become more visible in our community. I think we can do good things while doing this. Highway cleanup, homeless assistance, and be more active in community events.
Public relations – we’re lousy at this. We need to be better. Community outreach will help, and we can get training for those of us who want it.
Growth & Membership – we need ideas here.
Raising funds – as we become a nonprofit, we need a way to pay for our status, for our events, for educating the public about the secular community.
Pie-in-the-sky goals – we should make some amazing goals. A secular community center? Sunday Assembly? A full-blown secular conference with speakers, workshops, and panels? Let’s see if they are not so silly.
What I really want to see is brainstorming, and to use that to figure out our direction and goals in order to meet our purpose.
There are a LOT of opportunities for us, and several offers of various forms of assistance if we can coordinate it all.
CVAAS has been working hard to prepare for the Heretic’s Barbecue. The venue is locked in, we’re doing our final sound checks, the caterer is standing by.
Have you done your part?
Haven’t you wanted to go to one of the Secular or Skeptical conventions, but couldn’t because it was hours away by car or even a few states away?
Here’s a secular and skeptical mini-con, right in your own backyard!
So you know about the food, and about our speakers – but did you know that this is a family friendly event? There will be a pumpkin decorating contest, we have a “Cornhole” or bean bag toss setup, plus horseshoes. Also the Moravia ship is in port on the children’s playground – this is a great place to be a ship captain, or pirate!
CVAAS will be selling entry tickets at the door ($19 for adults, $5 for children 12 and under). We do encourage you to purchase your tickets online.
There are still tables available for hosting – if your organization wants to promote itself, or if you would like to advertise your goods to a secular community, you can still do so by purchasing a table. Your purchase price also gives you one ticket for entry.
It’s going to be a great day! Come and be a part of it!
Donations along with memberships and sales allow us to create quality events and bring excellent speakers right here to Fresno. We also use our budget to table at local venues, support the local secular and skeptical community, and to demonstrate that local religious leaders can not, and do not speak for everyone in the San Joaquin Valley.
Did you hear about the time that CVAAS helped Michael Shermer and Dinesh D’Souza have a debate about God right here in Fresno?
Maybe you heard that CVAAS members invited James Randi to have breakfast with us? Mr. Randi not only graciously accepted, but for over two hours he entertained us with very sharp conversation and answers to our questions. Plus, he did a little slight-of-hand magic.
It was pretty cool. But that’s just the kind of thing we do here!
Wouldn’t it be great to travel to one of the big secular and skeptical events that happen outside of the San Joaquin Valley?
We could go to the Reason Rally in Washington DC, or to Skepticon in Springfield Missouri.
But for most people even Las Vegas with Jame’s Randi’s “The Amazing Meeting” seems too far away, and far too expensive.
This is one of the reasons why CVAAS is committed to bringing noted and popular skeptical, secular and science speakers to Fresno. We want to give everyone the chance to meet some of our best minds in the rational community.
Past speakers at the CVAAS annual Heretic’s Barbecue include Brian Dunnin, Ed Brayton, James McGaha, and Eddie Tabash.
CVAAS has had to turn down opportunities because we just couldn’t stretch far enough to make them happen. We came very close to turning down the opportunity to host Aron Ra for beer and pizza right here in Fresno because our budget was at its limit.
But we got this crazy idea – what if we asked for people to “chip in?”
The results were better than we could have hoped. Within 48 hours we had met our goal.
Also, we had a good response from people who wanted to donate to us, with no muss or fuss. This makes it easy.
CVAAS held its annual election of officers on Sunday, September 4th. All incumbent officers except for one retained their current positions. Treasurer Amy Maggini declined in favor of David Costa. David has been CVAAS vice president in the past, and he’s welcome again as a CVAAS officer. Amy will still be a part of CVAAS, so say “hi!” when you see her at the Heretic’s Barbecue.
The CVAAS officers page has been updated.
As a reminder, members can find election votes and results in our business meeting minutes, which are found in the Online Documents section of the “Members” tab above.
Our journey to non-profit status has hit a bump. Due to IRS delays and an error, the IRS has rejected our application for non-profit status. To correct this error will require an amendment of our bylaws. During a review of the CVAAS bylaws at our business meeting, it was decided to make changes that will affect the way that CVAAS operates in order to encourage membership participation, and to provide an official method for our associates to advise our organization.
Look for an upcoming announcement via email to CVAAS membership to encourage all members who wish to be part of our bylaw changes to join the bylaw committee.
Once the amended bylaws are completed another email announcement will be made to all members to notify everyone of the impending bylaw voting date and location.
Non-profit status is important to CVAAS. This will allow us to continue to bring quality speakers to Fresno, and it will allow us to create more events and opportunities for the secular and skeptical community. You are certainly invited to join us in any of these events. And if decide to become a member, you will be able to help us decide what CVAAS is going to do next!
Nominations are open to everyone. However, nominees must be a member in good standing in order to be elected.
Nominees will be published via Meetup mail, CVAAS membership mail, and on this CVAAS 2016 Election page.
Voting is open to all members in good standing. This includes paid members, volunteer members, and student / hardship members. You can attend the vote in person at our business meeting at 5 pm Sunday, September 4th, at the Fresno LGBT center. Directions and RSVP can be found here.
If you are a member who wishes to vote, and will not be available to attend the September business meeting, you may vote by phone.
A phone voice mail service will be made available from Friday September 2nd to Sunday September 4, closing at noon on Sunday. That number will be offered via Meetup Mail, CVAAS membership mail, on the Meeup event page, and on the CVAAS 2016 Election page.
No nomination results yet. Please check back on Friday, September 2nd.
Vote by Phone – phone number:
A vote by phone number has not been provided yet. Please check back on Friday, September 2nd.
2016 Election Results
Election results are published here, and in the meeting minutes for the September 4th Business Meeting, found in the Member’s Online Documents area.