Friday, 30 October 2009


The Hastings Observer today (Friday 30 october) has included, on page 2, a report of our last meeting under the heading "Humanists discuss clairvoyance", based on a News Release that I sent two weeks ago. It concludes with details of our November meeting.

This is the first time we have appeared so near the front of the paper. Possibly this may relate to the connection of our meeting with the paper's promotion of an "Evening of Clairvoyance", so it includes news of their own activities as well as ours.

I've already had an enquiry by telephone from someone who has seen the article and is interested in coming along.

The Arts Forum has put one of our posters in their window. I also gave one to the Hastings Trust, but haven't seen it in their window yet. It's quite time consuming travelling around trying to get people to put up a poster, and I'm not sure that anyone ever notices them anyway! You can download one in PDF form (see the column on the right). Please print it out and put it on display, anywhere legal will do.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Sometimes we should worry about our fellow countrymen

According to a recent poll, 54% of Britons believe that Creationism should be taught alongside evolutionary theory in science lessons!

The story, as reported in the Guardian is here.

Thankfully, the government seems to have come up with a reasonable response:

The UK government has been quick to denounce creationism and intelligent
design as unrecognised scientific theory that did not meet the requirements of
the national curriculum, but it has said that young people can "discuss
creationism as part of their religious education classes".
Neither the
primary nor secondary school science curriculums mention creationism or
intelligent design.

Perhaps creationism could be taught in science with the purpose of demonstrating that there is no evidence for it. This may be a useful exercise in teaching children how an argument or theory can fail when there is insufficient evidence to support it. However, from memory, enough went wrong in the school science lab when we were trying to prove things that did stand up to scrutiny. That seemed to take enough time as it was; surely there isn't enough time in the classroom to take apart an argument which doesn't meet scientific criteria?

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Doublethink Alive and Well

The government has published a response to a petition to 10 Downing Street on Removing Collective Worship from non-faith schools.

All community, foundation or voluntary schools MUST offer a daily act of collective worship which is broadly of a Christian character in keeping with the religious traditions of this country.

Schools can apply to the SACRE ... to have the requirement for collective worship lifted [So it's NOT compulsory like you just said after all?]

... if it is not appropriate for the pupils in their school. [So christian worship is appropriate in a non-faith school?]

... collective worship provides the ... unique opportunity to [do all sorts of other things that are not worship! that could be done in other non-unique ways]

Parents have the right to withdraw their child from collective worship [but only by creating a hullaballoo, and singling their child out for special bullying.]

Thursday, 22 October 2009

The Age of Wonder

The Essay series on BBC Radio 3 has resumed its Enlightenment theme whis week with five programmes about Haydn. Wednesday's issue featured the biographer Richard Holmes talking about possible influences on Haydn's "Creation" oratorio of his visit to William Herschel's observatory in Slough, and Erasmus Darwin whose poem "Zoonomia" came out in 1791, at the time when Haydn was in this country. In particular his, non-biblical, depiction of the Chaos from which the Universe supposedly emerged.

Richard Holmes is also the author of The Age of Wonder which explores the history of that period and the relationship between the romantic poets and artists and the scientists and explorers of the time. This has received glowing reviews and won the Royal Society's Prize for science book of the year.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Teaching of evolution in the primary curriculum

There was a petition recently as follows:

“We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to include the teaching of evolution by natural selection in the new national primary curriculum.”

The PM's office has now responded (the following answer follows a load of old flannel about needing scientists for the country's growth, etc):

The proposed new primary curriculum has been developed in consultation with a wide range of key stakeholders including primary head teachers, teachers, subject specialists and learned societies. The development of the scientific and technological understanding area of learning was directly informed by the outcomes of the consultation exercise to ensure that it contained the scientific knowledge, skills and understanding considered essential learning for children aged 5 -11.

The National Curriculum science programmes of study cover evolution explicitly in Key Stage 4 (age 14 -16). The understanding of evolution is underpinned by extensive knowledge about the living world. This underpinning knowledge and understanding for evolution is carefully developed in the primary curriculum and at Key Stage 3 (age 11 -14). In both the current primary programme of study for science and in the proposed programme of learning for scientific and technological understanding, variation between individuals and groups, classification and interdependence are all introduced. At secondary level these areas are developed further and genetics, selection and evolution are all included. In this way the fundamental concepts underpinning evolution are developed, leading to a fuller understanding at Key Stage 4.

Or, to put it briefly (if I'm reading this properly), the answer to the petition is "not quite".

Okay - so they've made their decision on science.

"key stakeholders", "outcomes of the consultation exercise"?

When is someone going to teach the PM's office some plain English?

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Priest attacks "modern" funerals

Some of you may have seen this article.

Speaking as someone who conducts funerals, I'm afraid I have a lot to say on this subject:

Here are a couple of quotes from the article:

Father Ed Tomlinson, of St Barnabas' Church, Quarry Road, said he had better ways of spending his time than at crematorium services where the dead were "led in by the tunes of Tina Turner...and sent into the furnace with 'I Did It My Way' blaring out across the speakers".

Better ways of spending his time than helping someone say goodbye to a loved one? That would not appear to be a very supportive or kind attitude.

He added: "I have... stood at the 'crem' like a lemon, wondering why on earth I am present."

Here's the news, Fr Tomlinson - the funeral is not about you - you are merely a tool (and I use the word carefully) to help a grieving family have some kind of ritual as they make their goodbye.

For some people, a priest at the funeral is the right thing; it allows them to pray to their god, and give them the comfort that they get from their religion. But is it really up to the church or its representatives to tell people what they should have?

Another quote in the article, from a local funeral director, suggests that many mourners don't know what they want. This is true, particularly if the death is unexpected. But that's where the skills of the undertaker and the celebrant (religious or otherwise) come into play, to let the mourners know what their options are and to only offer advice when it is requested.

The original blog post (and subsequent article) may simply be the ramblings of a particularly angry priest. However, it could backfire; having looked at the comments to the online article, it would appear that Fr Tomlinson has his supporters, but there are also those who feel that his approach to funerals is not the one that they would want.

And, of course, he managed to let people know (because not everyone does) that there is a humanist alternative to the man in a frock. For that, we thank him.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Faith Good, Secularism Bad?

There have been two attacks on Secularism in recent speeches by religious politicians. The first by Baroness Warsi at the Conservative conference:
The state's continued suspicion of faith is wrong /// under Labour, the State has become increasingly sceptical of an individuals religious belief. /// At the heart of these cases lies a growing intolerance and illiberal attitude towards those who believe in God. The scepticism of senior Liberal Democrat MP Evan Harris driving this secular agenda has now grown to become an ideology permeating through many parts of the public sector. It's an agenda driven by the political-elite, who have hijacked the pursuit of equality by demanding a dumbing down of faith. It's no wonder that this leads to accusations in the media that our country's Christian culture is being downgraded.

The second by Tony Blair in a speech to Muslims in the US:
We face the challenge of relevance - showing how faith can be a force for the future, for progress, that it will not fade as science, technology and material prosperity alters the way we live. We face an aggressive secular attack from without. We face the threat of extremism from within. These challenges are not for Muslims alone or Christians or Jews, Hindus or Buddhists for that matter. They are challenges for all people of faith. Those who scorn God and those who do violence in God's name, both represent views of religion. But both offer no hope for faith in the twenty first century.

His equation of "those who scorn God" with "those who do violence in God's name", is particularly pernicious, as if critical words and bombs were equally harmful.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

October Meeting Report

Our meeting at The Pig in Paradise attracted a good attendance, including four first-timers, who were most welcome. We began with an outline of spiritualism, as detailed below, but our following discussions ranged more widely, and mainly followed the questions of two of our new contributors, one of whom admitted to being a christian. We were also asked to give some definition of humanism. The new venue proved to be too noisy, even though we were in a back room, so we will continue to look for a more congenial home.

The topic of the night was Spiritualism, a subject prompted by the promotion of "An Evening of Clairvoyance" by the local newspaper group, featuring Stephen Holbrook who claims to be able to connect with spirits of the dead. This event has an expensive half-page size advert in this week's Hastings Observer and on page 39 an article about Holbrook which admits that "Stephen is being promoted all over the country by the UK's two largest newspaper groups". One of these is Johnston Press which owns the local T. R. Beckett company. Ownership of local papers in the UK is now in the hands of just a few Regional newspaper groups. I'm not sure which is the other group referred to, possibly Newsquest (which in turn is owned by a US corporation, Gannett).

The following article from another regional newspaper on Why a Spiritual Church gives an introduction to what spiritualists believe, and even describes hot and cold reading, which are the methods mainly used by fraudulent mediums to produce their effects, but of course they then claim that "real" mediums don't do this.

An indication of what Holbrook does at his shows is given in this article from another regional paper. There is also a video interview available on the Grantham Journal pages. I have not determined why these newspaper groups are promoting spiritualism. Presumably either some directors of these companies are spiritualists, or it is just a commercial venture.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Alan Turing Campaign

Our member Dean Morrison has set up a site to campaign for greater recognition in Hastings and St Leonards for Alan Turing who was brought up here for the first nine years of his life. He was born at a nursing home in London in 1912, but lived with an uncle in Hastings and St Leonards from 1913 to 1921, before being sent off to a boarding school. His parents did not return permanently from India until 1926. He is reckoned one of the leading mathematicians of the 20th century, a pioneer of computers, and a key figure in decyphering the German Engima codes in the second world war.

The Prime Minister recently responded to a petition by issuing an apology to Turing, and to all other gay men who were subjected to enforced hormone treatment, in the rather repressive 1950s period, which led to his premature death in 1954.

The year 2012 will thus be the centenary of his birth, a date well worth celebrating.

Next year 2010 is the 350th anniversary of the founding of the Royal Society, and the Essay series "Enlightenment Voices" on Radio 3 is this week celebrating the life of another great scientist, Robert Hooke.

I get the impression that the coverage of science in the press during this Darwin anniversary year has greatly improved, and The Times is now offering a new montly science magazine Eureka from tomorrow.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Possible venues - as discussed at our last meeting.

Possible meeting venues.

We are trying the Pig in Paradise this week, and I’m sure it will be lovely, but if we find that it’s not to our taste, these are the responses that I’ve had thus for regarding room hire, as discussed at the last meeting.

HVA (thanks to Rose for the info), Priory Street, Hastings
Room hire (room holds max 14 people) £7 for half day.
(They don’t usually hire out in the evening, but it is assumed that due to Rose’s involvement, this would probably be allowed).

University Centre, Havelock Road, Hastings
Room hire (up to 18 people) £45 per session (eg 5pm to 9pm) with the following note:
Please note that there is some flexibility where your requirement crosses the times above and is for less than 4 hours.
If the AV equipment is used, VAT will also be charged.

Friends Meeting House, South Terrace, Hastings
Upstairs room (holds up to 12) - £7Downstairs room - £14
Many of the rooms already have regular bookings, so we will need to investigate availability.

Hastings Trust, Robertson Street
NB – On 1st floor and there is no lift.
£20 for an evening session (including £5 extra, because it’s evening).

Frenz, Robertson Street
This doesn’t have a meeting room, but I was pointed in the direction of French’s. I could get an answer, so will try again another time.

Sorry, this is as far as I’ve got so far. Shall we see how the meetings work in The Pig and take it from there?

Friday, 2 October 2009

Publicity for Next Meeting

Our next meeting is on Thursday 8th October 7pm at the Pig in Paradise and the subject is Spiritualism, though if we run out of things to say on that topic we could also get into Spirituality. The Press Release I sent to the local press has been published in Hastings Observer today (page 27) under the heading "Exploring the human side".