“The Biological Origins of Spiritual Longing” will be presented by John Wathey on Wednesday, October 30, 2019, sponsored by the Ethical Humanist Society of Asheville, 7:30-8:30 p.m., at the North Asheville Library, 1030 Merrimon Ave., Asheville, NC. All are welcome to attend.
Join author, retired biologist and humanist, John Wathey for a journey into the evolutionary origins of religion. That exploration has taught him that people believe in God not because they lie awake at night worrying about what preceded the Big Bang, but because the sense of God’s presence is a compelling experience for many people. This phenomenon is a puzzle of human nature that cries out for scientific explanation.
In The Illusion of God’s Presence, his 2016 book on the biological origins of spiritual longing, Wathey attempts that explanation by exploring evolutionary and behavioral questions. It is the product of seven years of scholarly research and a lifetime of personal struggle. Why are we prone to the intuitive sense that something about our universe is benevolent and loving? Why do we long for that mystical other? What is it about our evolutionary history and the niche we occupy that have shaped human nature in this way? The talk and discussion will challenge the assumption that religious feelings are uniquely human by uncovering roots that go deeply into behaviors we share with many other animals.
John C. Wathey is an author and biologist whose research interests include evolution and the biology of nervous systems. He has a PhD in Neurosciences from UC San Diego and undergraduate degrees from Caltech. After post-doctoral work at the Salk Institute, he spent most of his career in the private sector working on computer simulations of protein folding. He came of age in North Carolina’s Piedmont, where the ubiquity of religion clashed with his scientific interests and ultimately spawned his first book, The Illusion of God’s Presence. Recently he has explored the algorithmic aspects of political polarization and the need for electoral reform. His essays on these and other subjects can be found at his website, watheyresearch.com.
Informal discussion will follow the presentation.
Cindy will recount stories from her family’s tumultuous Southern saga from the 1960s and 70s and her own journey in the early 2000s as she sought to understand how the Civil Rights Movement and its aftermath shaped – or misshaped – her father, how growing up in a family with this embittered, violent and then absent father shaped her and how she survived it all remarkably intact. It is a story of resiliency, disillusionment, the importance of community, forgiveness and the trauma often linked to social justice activism. Cindy’s story gives a glimpse into how the social and racial justice movement affected the white, southern families who fought for equality.
Cindy Henry McMahon is the granddaughter of a prominent liberal Georgia Baptist leader and daughter of a former minister who espoused peace and justice at late-night activist meetings and then wreaked havoc at home. She survived a turbulent time in our country and at home and wrote a book called Fresh Water From Old Wells, which finally allowed her to release years of resentment and anger.
Professionally, Cindy has 25+ years of management experience in nonprofits and small businesses. She currently co-directs WNC Nonprofit Pathways, helping charitable organizations plan, grow, and succeed. Her previous experience includes serving as the Operations Director for the YWCA of Asheville, Coordinator of the Volunteer Center at United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County and Executive Director of the Orange County Literacy Council. Cindy has a BA in English and philosophy from Guilford College and a MA in English from UNC-Chapel Hill. Cindy and her husband, John, have a daughter and son, now in their early twenties. Cindy serves as the vice-chair of the Buncombe Board of Education, elected in 2014 and reelected in 2018.
Informal discussion and refreshments will follow the presentation.
In 1950’s Asheville, Al’s parents taught their children that the only way to fight segregation was with an education. Al took that to heart. He is still working to promote education. Of course we cannot walk in another’s shoes, nor can we experience the prejudice endured by another’s race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, economic or physical circumstance. Stories, however, can be enlightening, enriching and educational. Join Al Whitesides as he recounts growing up in segregated Asheville, and how he now works to secure a promising future for all in Asheville.
Alfred Whitesides, Jr., a current Buncombe County Commissioner, is passionate about educational opportunity for all. He has served on the Asheville City Board of Education, the Board of his alma mater NC Central University, and as chair of the UNC-Asheville Board of Trustees. In 2016, UNC-Asheville honored Al Whitesides’ legacy with an honorary degree and the dedication of Whitesides Hall. Professionally, Al had a successful career of 40 years in banking with First Union National Bank in Asheville, Wachovia, and Mountain 1st Bank and Trust. Among all his accomplishments, Al is most proud of his role as a husband, father, and grandfather.