Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Morality and Science

Sam Harris has had a few things to say on this theme recently.

He argued that "Science can answer Moral Questions" in a talk he gave on the TED forum for Technology, Entertainment and Design.

This has been inevitably criticised by those who, following David Hume, maintain that an "ought" cannot be derived from an "is". Though personally I think Hume was more subtle on this point than those who have adopted his slogan.

Harris has followed up on the criticisms received in "Moral Confusion in the Name of Science" on his Project Reason site.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Can a Pope Resign?

In view of the Pope's involvement in the suppression of reports of sexual molestation of children by priests, shouldn't he be asked to resign? He has issued a letter of apology to the people of Ireland. An article in The Observer calls the Catholic church arrogant, corrupt and secretive.

The NSS Director, Keith Porteus Wood has challenged the Vatican at the UN over failure to tackle child abuse.

Last week Christopher Hitchens wrote a piece on the history of the whole business and Cardinal Ratzinger's involvement, before he became pope, under the title The Great Catholic Coverup. He was in charge of the "Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith" (aka the Inquisition!). In this role he issued a confidential letter to every bishop, reminding them of the extreme gravity of reporting abuse. Such accusations were only treatable within the church's own exclusive jurisdiction. Any sharing of the evidence with legal authorities or the press was forbidden. Charges were to be investigated "in the most secretive way ... restrained by a perpetual silence ... and everyone ... is to observe the strictest secret which is commonly regarded as a secret of the Holy Office … under the penalty of excommunication."

If anyone in any other responsible office issued such an instruction surely all hell would break loose in the press condemning such actions as clearly illegal. Yet the Queen and Prime Minister will be welcoming this man to this country as a Head of State.

The BHA supports the Protest the Pope campaign.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Please tell me that it wouldn't happen here, but heartwarming, all the same.

Not much to do with Hastings, but it's a great story.......

In the USA, a school prom was cancelled, because a female pupil at the school wanted to take her girlfriend as a date.

In summary, the strongly religious school authority felt that same sex relationships are a sin, and so was going to refuse entry to the pupil and her girlfriend. She threatened to sue for discrimination, and so the school cancelled the event .

They then invited local community groups to hold the prom. The suggestion is that they thought local church groups would run the dance, and the girls would be refused entry without the threat of litigation.

The prom is now being held by

....wait for it.....

The American Humanist Association!

It's a story that raises a smile. The full news article is here, if anyone is interested.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Changes to Our Programme

Since the Arts Forum has been booked for a film show on the 8th April and Lesley can't get there on the 15th I've had to rearrange the programme.

The next meeting will be the talk by Alexander Hellemans on "Misunderstandings of Science" on the 15th April.

The talk by Lesley Arnold-Hopkins on "Humanist Weddings" is postponed to July.

The Annual General Meeting, which was planned for July will now be in November, which is more in line with the practice of other groups, and will include some discussion of plans for next year which I had intended to hold as a separate meeting in January.

There is still a gap in October. So offers of a talk from a member would be appreciated. An outside speaker has already offered to make a presentation but requires a fee of £50 plus expenses. Views on that would be appreciated.

I'm proposing to do a fun piece on "The A to Z of Conspiracy Theories" for December, unless other ideas are put forward before then.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Why Religion? A report on our March Meeting

Our meeting yesterday evening attracted 14 people to listen to a thought-provoking talk from Dr Tom Rees on why religion persists in the modern world, despite wider knowledge of science and alternative religious beliefs. Much of the discussion centred on the difficulties of capturing trends in statistical terms, for instance relating degree of religious obeservance in the form of frequency of prayer to economic measures like income inequality.

In answer to a question at the end about how we can help to bring about a reduction in religious influence, Dr Rees made the paradoxical suggestion, possibly tongue in cheek, that we need more religious people like Bishops in the House of Lords! This is on the basis of findings that where a religion is supported by the state, as in the UK, it has less popular support and declines, whereas when religions have to compete in an open market, as in the US, they become more publicly active and strident.

The BHA has just sent out a circular on their policy on Bishops in the House of Lords, encouraging members to write to the Bishops urging them to support reform of the Lords.

Friday, 5 March 2010


A notice about our March meeting appears in the Hastings Observer today on page 22.

I also wrote the editor a letter, or news item, about the SACRE meeting being nonquorate but this has not appeared. Next week perhaps.

I'm pleased to report that James Williams, whose meeting was snowed off in February, has agreed to come to speak to us in June. This has meant moving the talk by our member Alex Hellemans back to October; thanks to him for his patience. We still have a gap in our programme for November, but to have a programme for six months ahead is probably as far as we need to plan.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Our March Meeting: Why Religion?

Hastings Humanists are pleased to welcome Dr Tom Rees author of the Epiphenom blog, a writer on medical issues, and a founder member of Humanists4Science. He recently had an aricle in New Humanist on "Who Needs God?"

He will speak to us on Thursday 11 March at the Arts Forum, 36 Marina. Doors open 6:30 pm for 7pm start, the entrance fee is £2, and all are welcome.

Dr Rees asks: Why are some nations more secular than others? Why does religion persist in the modern world? What factors drive religious change: Modernisation, Religious freedom, Personal insecurity? Whatever happened to Secularisation? Come and take part in the discussion.