Wednesday, 29 August 2012

God’s people: Reformers or stormtroopers?

Politics and religion are both ways in which humanity has tried to organise its collective life. The roots of politics lie in our need to make collective decisions and the desire of some people to have others follow their lead. This leads to a range of political forms from participatory democracy to tyranny and genocide.

The roots of religion lie in our tendency to believe that most events are caused by beings with desires (rather than physical processes) and our reluctance to believe that when a loved one dies then that person is gone for good. This leads people to believe in the existence of gods, spirits, ghosts, witches and saints and their involvement in deciding the weather, the harvests and our recovery from illness. Religion also leads to a variety of human behaviour from visiting the sick to torturing suspected witches and to such public displays as sung evensong and the Haj.

In short both are natural for us humans and neither has clean hands.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

How fear and anxiety leads to more religion - a presentation by Tom Rees of Humanists4Science

On Saturday 14th April 2012 Dr. Tom Rees gave a presentation in Bournemouth to Dorset Humanists, on the topic 'Fear and God'. Tom is a committee member of Humanists4Science and lives near Brighton.

In the talk Tom reviewed many of the studies he has covered on his blog Epiphenom, looking at how and why fear and anxiety provoke religious responses, and the link between unstable and dangerous societies with greater levels of religion. He also looked at some of the consequences of the anxiolytic effects of religion on behaviour.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Spreading science's values

Last week I heard Dick Taverne (Lord Taverne in private life) give the Sense About Science annual lecture. He claimed that science increases democracy, tolerance and compassion - you can hear the whole lecture on the Guardian website here. He also said that scientists' values were irrelevant to the value of their scientific work. I challenged this - here's why.

Firstly some values are built into science. Science requires openness to new ideas, without which it cannot advance. It requires a willingness to listen to ideas from any source, since authority is a poor guide to truth. And it requires respect for reason and evidence, since we are all prone to believing what we'd like to be true. As Huxley put it "The great tragedy of science is the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact." Science is a social process and it works best in societies that share these values.

Friday, 20 January 2012

The Atheist's Guide to Reality by Prof. Alex Rosenberg, Conway Hall, London

Organisers: WW Norton & Chris Street for AtheismUK, Humanists4Science & HASSNERS.

Date & Time: Saturday 25th February 2012, 2-3.00 pm.

Prof. Alex Rosenberg (wiki) is chair of the Philosophy department at Duke University and co-director of Duke Center for Philosophy of Biology. Alex has written 12 books about the philosophy of biology and economics. He describes himself as a 'Naturalist'.
Alex Rosenberg is visiting the UK to talk about his new book 'The Atheist's Guide to Reality - Enjoying Life without Illusions', published by WW Norton.
'takes the sin of scientism as the ultimate virtue. Alex Rosenberg has sheared the nature of things down to the bedrock, and exposed our common vanity'. EO Wilson

Thursday, 12 January 2012

H4S Science Resolution Revolution Competition

During 2012 do YOU resolve to discuss science?

Enter the Humanists4Science Science Resolution Revolution Competition!

New Year Resolutions are often all about ME! ... I'm going to go on a diet, get fitter - join a gym etc etc. During 2012 join the revolution and make a Science resolution.

Resolve to discuss anything scientific with somebody. That can mean discussing scientism or scientific method with a friend. Or maybe you could discuss scientific evidence or scientific thinking?

Enter the Humanists4Science (H4S) Science Resolution Revolution Competition.

BHA definition of Humanism now includes 'scientific method'

Humanists4Science (H4S) Mission is "To promote, within the humanist community, the application of the scientific method to issues of concern to broader society." and the Humanists4Science (H4S) Vision is "A world in which important decisions are made by applying the scientific method to evidence rather than according to superstition."

In February 2011 Humanists4Science made written recommendations to the BHA Board to include 'science' and 'scientific method' in the BHA Strategy viz.

1) include 'science' in BHA Vision.
2) include in BHA Aim “humanists understand that reason and scientific method provide the best ways to understand the universe“
3) include in BHA Aim 'public understanding of science' and 'scientific method'

From November 2011 the BHA Strategic Aims mentions 'science' & 'scientific evidence':-

'humanists strive to be rational, looking to science in attempting to understand the universe'.


'We will give philosophical and practical support to significant initiatives to meet global challenges, showing how these initiatives rest on our principles of accepting scientific evidence'

Today I'm pleased to report that the BHA website has a new definition of humanism mentioning 'scientific method' twice:-

Throughout recorded history there have been non-religious people who have believed that this life is the only life we have, that the universe is a natural phenomenon with no supernatural side, and that we can live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. They have trusted to the scientific method, evidence and reason to discover truths about the universe and placed human welfare and happiness at the centre of their ethical decision making.


Defining 'Humanism' 
Roughly speaking, the word humanist has come to mean someone who:
  • trusts to the scientific method when it comes to understanding how the universe works and rejects the idea of the supernatural (and is therefore an atheist or agnostic) 
  • makes their ethical decisions based on reason, empathy, and a concern for human beings and other sentient animals 
  • believes that, in the absence of an afterlife and any discernible purpose to the universe, human beings can act to give their own lives meaning by seeking happiness in this life and helping others to do the same.
BHA Defining 'Humanism' (click image for larger view at 13th January 2012) or click following link for todays view   

I'm delighted to advise that in the last year H4S has achieved its aims of including 'science' & 'scientific evidence' in the BHA Strategy and 'scientific method' in the BHA definition of Humanism.

Chris Street, 
Chair Humanists4Science
13th January 2012