Sunday, 30 December 2012

Optimism or Pessimism in the New Year?

Our next meeting is at 7pm on Thursday the 10th Jan. This will be the first debate of the year and I look forward to it being a good one so bring a friend.

Happy New Year to one and all. -- from Stephen Milton

“This House believes that we will be better off in 50 years time”

In these times of enormous uncertainty should we be optimistic or pessimistic about the future our children will face?

Will the future see us enjoying an ongoing march of progress, delivering unimaginable benefits that will transform our world in the same way that we have seen it transformed in the period since the beginning of the industrial revolution? Or will we succumb to the disasters that threaten us, global warming, raw materials shortages, economic decline?

The very future of the world is the issue. Everybody is welcome to come and listen or participate in the debate which promises to be extremely lively, whatever you point of view.

Making the case for the proposition will be Steve Milton.

Making the case against, will be Duncan Cleverley


Result of the Debate:
The initial vote was 8 for, 12 against, 3 abstentions
The final vote was 8 for, 16 against, 3 abstentions
There were 24 present at the start and 28 at the end, and 1 didn't vote.
So the motion was defeated, but the attendance was excellent,
and the presenters put forward good contrasting arguments,
and there were excellent exchanges from the floor.
Thanks to everyone who participated. 

Friday, 21 December 2012

Is the 'Geek Movement' bad for Science?

There's a big debate on the blog linked to below that's well worth a read:

There are responses in the comments from a number of big hitters!
There has also been quite a lot of exchanges on twitter.
For those who may not know, Steve Fuller, the first of the commentators, is a sociologist who has postmodern views on science, and gave a somewhat comic turn at the famous Dover Creationist (or Intelligent Design) trial. See:

David Colquhoun is a Professor at UCL who campaigns against homeopathy and has a blog here:

He tweeted: "If Fuller approves, it must be wrong!" to which I responded "Yes that's usually a good rule of thumb." and got retweeted by the author of the sci2pol blog Haralambos Dayantis.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

December Five Minutes of Fame

As for last year our December meeting will be open to anyone to make a five or ten minute presentation to the group on any topic on which you may have something interesting to say. This can be a rant or a silly story or a carefully considered argument or a portrait of someone from history or indeed anything, maybe only slightly related to Humanism.

Those who wish to become members for the next year should note that the annual membership fee is now £6. This is additional to the £2 per meeting to cover the cost of room hire.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Minutes of 2012 AGM

1. Ten members were present and five members sent apologies for absence.

The Minutes of the 2011 AGM ( were read and agreed to be correct.

2. The Secreary and Treasurer gave reports on the year's events.

The Secretary reviewed the year's meetings, but expressed disappointment at the turn-out of supporters to the two featuring outside speakers.

The meeting endorsed a vote of thanks to Stephen Milton for all the work he has done to enhance the meetings with his computer and projector and technical expertise.

The Secretary reported that Hastings Humanists had become a member of Hastings Voluntary Action (HVA), and indicated that other members might wish to receive HVA bulletins or attend the HVA AGM and Conference on 29 November (

The Treasurer's report revealed that our income is just covering the cost of room hire, but we would be in deficit if not for the generosity of certain members. The view was expressed that such payments ought to be explicit in the accounts in future.

3. Organisation of the group.

It was decided to stay with the present Thursday meetings and not change to Wednesday or Tuesday (since the change might suit some but would cause difficulty for others).

New rules for the annual subscription, proposed by the Treasurer and Deputy Chair were agreed after some discussion. It was decided that:
1) The payment for members at each meeting would remain at £2, but be increased to £3 for non-members, although this could be waived for a first ‘taster’ meeting.
2) The membership fee would increase to £6, and become renewable after the AGM in November.
3) There would be no reduction in the fee for a new member joining late in the year.

It was decided not to renew payment of our Affiliation fee to the BHA for next year unless communications with them improve.

It was decided to keep to the present name of the group, rather than change to Hastings and Bexhill Humanists or Hastings and Rother Humanists.

Ideas for a "strap line" to go beneath "Hastings Humanists" on our blog and other publicity are invited. Please email your ideas to: george . jelliss @ virgin . net (close spaces).

The Secretary revealed that two outside speakers had already been approached for next year, though they were not yet definite. Three members had also offered talks. One of these was provisionally approved. It was noted that another joint meeting with Hastings Inter-Faith Forum might be possible, given a suitable subject. Ideas for other subjects were only briefly considered due to lack of time.

Stephen Milton kindly offered to take on the extra task of Programme Secretary for next year.

There was no time to discuss campaigns.

The following modified division of labour was agreed:
Stephen Milton: Chair and Programme Secretary
Duncan Cleverley: Treasurer and Twittermaster
Lesley Arnold-Hopkins: Deputy Chair and Assistant Treasurer
Mike Lynott and/or Hillary Randall: Publicity Assistants
Steve Berks: Social Secretary
George Jelliss: Secretary and Blogger (but with less involvement in Programme and Publicity).

Saturday, 20 October 2012

November AGM 2012


Thursday 8 November 2012, 7 - 9 pm at the White Rock Hotel.

AGENDA (The sequence may be varied according to direction from the Chair, other items may be raised in appropriate sections or at the end)

1. Apologies for Absence. Minutes of 2011 AGM (if any).

2. Reports by Office-holders, including Secretary and Treasurer, on the year's events. Progress and problems.

3. Discussion on the present organisation of the group. Election of Officers. The current Secretary is standing down. The secretarial work can perhaps be split among members. Should the day of meeting be changed, e.g. to Wednesdays? Do the rules for the annual subscription need clarifying? Do we continue to Affiliate to the BHA or become Partners? Change of name, e.g. to Hastings and Bexhill Humanists?

4. Programme for 2013. Appointment of a Programme Secretary. Offers of talks received. Ideas for subjects to discuss or speakers to invite. Social events? Debates? Joint meetings?

5. Campaigns to support, either individually or as a group. For example: BHA campaign against faith schools. Libel reform campaign. One law for all (against Sharia). Monitoring East Sussex SACRE. Hastings foodbank.

6. Any Other Business.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Our October Meeting

Rumy Hasan of the University of Sussex, and author of Multiculturalism: Some Inconvenient Truths will revisit a lecture he gave to the Ethical Society at Conway Hall in March. The title of his lecture is: Religion, Identity and Psychic Detachment: Exploring some Consequences.

By 'psychic detachment' he means a mode of thinking whereby immigrants are alienated from their host society as if they are living elsewhere. This can be associated with segregation, which facilitates the formation of a heightened religious identity.

He looks at the political consequences of multicultural policies, and the way this has been exploited by extremists, and advocates a focus on increasing integration to promote social cohesion.

This meeting is from 7 to 9 pm on Thursday 11 October at the White Rock Hotel. Admission is £2.

Rumy Hasan is Senior Lecturer at the Science Policy Research Unit: Profile.

Addendum: 23 October. I was extremely disappointed and discouraged by the poor attendance of our members at the October meeting. The speaker deserved a much better turnout. Fortunately four non-members made the number more respectable.

There is an excellent article about Dr Hasan and his book in
The Freethinker
Spotted by our Twitter editor Duncan.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Our September Meeting

The speaker on 13 September will be our member Leonard Sterling, and his subject is "Man, Morals and Communication". He explains that "It's an examination of our human gifts which promote and support human interaction, furthering our success as social creatures." He recommends the precept of Alexander Pope who said  "The proper study of Mankind is Man." [in An Essay on Man 1734]

As usual the meeting is on the second Thursday in the month, at The White Rock Hotel from 7 to 9 pm.

Here is a fuller version of An Essay on Man.

Monday, 30 July 2012

Rumy Hasan in new Humanist video

There is a new video from the BHA that provides an introduction to Humanism:

Among the probably more well known names in the video, A. C. Grayling, Polly Toynbee, Philip Pullman, and Andrew Copson, is Rumy Hasan who will be speaking to our group in October.

Friday, 29 June 2012

All About Humanism

Our Thursday 12 July meeting will be held as usual at the White Rock Hotel starting at 7 pm. Due to the indisposition of our Treasurer Duncan Cleverley who was to have presented some ideas on The Meaning of 'Humanism', the meeting will now be introduced by our Chair, Stephen Milton. There will of course also be time for a wider discussion on all aspects of Humanism, which should be of interest to newcomers as well as our members.

To assist this discussion our Secretary, George Jelliss, has prepared an 8-page A5 pamphlet on "What is Humanism?" which will be free to take away.

He has also produced an 8-page A4 set of "Notes on History of Humanism" (and hopes to produce a fuller account later).

These documents can be downloaded as PDFs from the humanism page of his website.

Suggestions for improvements will be gladly received and given serious consideration.

There is as usual a £2 fee to cover the costs of room hire.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Who's Sailing on the Sea of Faith?

The speaker at our June Meeting is Barbara Burfoot who is Secretary to the Trustees of the Sea of Faith Network, which "explores and promotes religious faith as a human creation". Barbara is also a BHA accredited celebrant and has been a member of the BHA and the NSS for many years. Her talk will be in part about the beginnings of the Sea of Faith and how its membership has expanded and changed over the years. This 1999 article from the BBC on The vicars who don't believe in God gives some historical background.

The name of the organisation is taken from the much anthologised poem Dover Beach by Matthew Arnold written around 1851. The poem was set to music by the American composer Samuel Barber who was a baritone, and the link is to a recording by him that can be seen on YouTube. There is also a more recent recording by the late Dietrich Fischer-Diskau.

Barbara has written: "A great deal of human time, energy, thought, emotion and imagination has been invested in religion and while some of it is appalling some of it is beautiful and enlightening. Myths can embody important truths. One of the greatest dangers facing us is the resurgence of fundamentalist religious belief of all kinds. The Sea of Faith can help to provide a counter balance by promoting the view that all religions are made by human beings and can be understood and valued on that basis."

This is a joint meeting for Hastings Humanists and Hastings Inter-Faith Forum and is open to anyone to attend. There will be no entrance fee charged. The meeting is from 7 to 9 pm on Thursday 14 June in the Seafront room at the White Rock Hotel.

Monday, 23 April 2012

May Meeting on Philosophy

At our next meeting on Thursday 10 May local philosopher Joe Fearn will lead a discussion on philosophical questions. This meeting is at our usual venue, the White Rock Hotel, from 7 to 9 pm.

The original subject ptoposed for discussion was the "Anthropic Principle" (see below) but in view of a new book by Sam Harris on "Freewill" (which he maintains doesn't exist), two new books on the History of Philosophy, attempts by at least two philosophers to redefine their subject, and claims by by various scientists that that "Philosophy is Dead", the discussion will certainly be more wide-ranging. If you have a favourite philosophical conundrum you would like to air bring it along!

The Anthropic Principle:

It has been claimed that the likelihood of life evolving on earth is similar to dismantling a Boeing 747 into its smallest componant parts, tipping it from a huge skip into a scrapyard, and watching the pieces randomly re-assemble back into a fully functional aeroplane. Religious people find this kind of statistic a compelling reason to prefer a Transcendent explanation for the FITTINGNESS of the universe to life on earth. (God as Divine Designer). Scientists generally prefer a naturalistic explanation. The Anthropic principle, however, simply states that these are obviously the odds we have beaten, and we may not legitimately infer any teleological design argument from these facts. The principle itself is very simple; there was, and is, obviously nothing antagonistic to life, or we would not be here. The obvious corollory of this, (the other side of the coin if you like) is that the universe must be fitting to life, and therefore there must be happy scientific facts, or universal constants, that 'conspire' to produce ourselves. science has found almost all of these (sometimes astounding) constants, and a theory of everything is close, they say. The anthropic principle points out that now the empirical evidence is all in, it is exactly what we would expect, i.e. the universe was indeed fitted to life, in that all the universal constants were such as to instantiate the conditions needed for life on earth. The principle is both simple and unproblematic: we cannot be legitimately suprised at states of affairs that are as we expected them to be; suprise is only legitimate concerning an anomally. Therefore we must adopt a position of a detatched agnosticism, and infer nothing from facts about the fittingness of the universe to produce ourselves. Stephen Hawking does not like this conclusion, and he regards the anthropic principle as something which leaves questions concerning the fittingness of the universe to life UNTOUCHED. Therefore he proposes a STRONG anthropic principle, (as opposed to the 'weak' anthropic principle just outlined) in which mankind is the centre of the universe, which, considering previous scientific efforts to prove otherwise, is rather ironic. Paul Davis prefers a multi-worlds interpretation of reality involving counterfactuals, in order to dismiss Transcendent design arguments, but still retains a naturalistic one; our particular universe is unique; it has significant objects in it, which alternative universes do not, as they are causally discreet. Therefore we are (yet again) the centre of the universe. William Lane Craig regards the anthropic principle as TRIVIAL and indeed merely platitudinous. he has recently tried to show that we may be legitimately suprised that states of affairs have conspired to facilitate our continued existence. The problem for humanists, is that, if this is the case, the careful thinker may legitimately infer a TRANSCENDENT sufficient reason for our existence. So reports of God's demise were premature.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Humanists Debate Education

The April meeting of the Hastings Humanists group will be devoted to a debate on education. The issues to be discussed include the continued introduction of Free Schools and Academies by the coalition government under the education minister Michael Gove, and the new proposals by the Church of England for a large-scale expansion of its influence as laid out in its new report “Church Schools of the Future” by Dr Priscilla Chadwick. The National Secular Society interprets the report as making clear that the Church intends to use its schools as a platform to evangelise throughout the community.

There are also existing issues such as the requirement for daily worship of a Christian nature in schools, the exclusion of Humanist representation on the East Sussex SACRE that determines the local curriculum for Religious Education, and the recent studies that show how “faith” schools exclude the poorest pupils, and the failure to provide realistic sex and relationships education.

Time will also be devoted to what Humanists see as the future of education in our fast-changing world. Can our existing education system cope with the coming technological advances? Can you name ten things that are vital for children to know, but are not taught at school? We would welcome anybody who would like to speak for 5 or 10 minutes on an aspect of the subject that concerns them.

The meeting is from 7 to 9 pm at the White Rock Hotel on Thursday 12th April.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Rationalists in Bishopsgate

Another day, another meeting. This time it was a gathering of the Rationalist Association in the Library of the Bishopsgate Institute. On show was a display of some items from the archives of the RA and its predecessor the Rationalist Press Association and its publication the New Humanist magazine.

Also in the programme were brief talks from Caspar Melville, the RA chief executive, who looked back at the history of the Association, from Laurie Taylor, the RA President, who introduced the main speaker and mused on his own rationalism, and lastly David Aaronovitch, the journalist who had been invited to speak on "Why I am a Rationalist" but turned out to be more of a Sceptic. It seems that he is as bemused to find himself recognised as a Rationalist, as much as he is to be recognised as a Jew (he contributes to the Jewish Chronicle) without ever stepping inside a synagogue.

Finally Jim Herrick was given an award (a first edition of George Orwell's Essays) for long service to the cause of rationalism in all of the UK organisations devoted to freethought (RA, NSS, Freethinker magazine, BHA, SPES).

I was disappointed that there was no opportunity for a question and answer session with the speakers. The lack of such a session is a serious failure in any rationalist meeting in my view.

Much of the evening was devoted to networking or mingling among those members attending. Besides Jim Herrick and Bob Churchill (who is now working for IHEU) I spoke to representatives of West London Humanists and a Philosophers in the Pub group in Saffron Walden.

The work of Charles Albert Watts, who was the main founder of the RPA in 1899, and his publishing company which produced the series of cheap reprints known as the Thinkers Library is worth remembering. The RA however now has a presence more on the web than in print. Where it goes from here no-one can foretell. No mention was made of who might be its next President.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Humanists in Canterbury

I visited the East Kent Humanists today. It's straight-forward to get to Canterbury from Hastings by train, one change at Ashford. Their meeting place is on the University of Kent Campus, which is a longish walk from the station, although buses are available. Fortunately it was a beautiful sunny day. I should have taken a camera - there is a good view of the Cathedral from the hill.

Julian Baggini was speaking to the group about ideas from his , Heathen's Progress series in The Guardian, which he says will be ending soon with a sort of Manifesto. He thinks atheists and religious people have to some extent been "talking past each other" without connecting.

There was the usual discussion of names we use for ourselves, such as atheist, humanist, bright, naturalist, rationalist. etc, and asking which aspect was the most fundamental. I would have thought it was obviously reason and evidence. However one member of the audience, evidently a postmodernist philosopher, argued at length that foundations were elusive.

I was surprised that Prof Baggini brought up the argument that we may not have evolved to be "optimal" for truth detection, i.e. that reason is an evolved capacity and may not be reliable. I take the view that logical reasoning is just a matter of step by step argument from simple assumptions, and we could not have evolved to reason in any other way.

The chair at the meeting, no doubt to stimulate debate, suggested that since Humanists are always on about God and Religion, and some people get their kicks from reacting to Thought for the Day, that we are parasitic on religion. In my response I suggested that it is religion that is parasitic or like a virus, and we are the antibodies.

The question was raised of whether reason is sufficient to make people happy or moral. Clearly not, since happiness is not necesarily a good thing (e.g. in situations where painful decisions are needed), and what is moral is often not at all clear (e.g. since we may not be able to calculate the consequences of our actions).

So, a stimulating day out. Thanks to the group for allowing my involvement.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Our March Meeting

The Biological Basis of Morality

This is the subject for the Hastings Humanists next meeting,
at The White Rock Hotel 7 to 9 pm, Thursday 8 March,
presented by Stephen Milton.

If our sense of morality was not handed down to us in tablets of stone from
an omnipotent God, then where did it come from?

Stephen will argue that we have developed principles for co-operation
over millennia because they gave us a survival advantage. Through a process
of Darwinian natural selection they have become embedded as an intrinsic
part of our human and social makeup and this forms our moral code. We
‘instinctively’ value fair play, have a strong sense of right and wrong, and
a host of other rules for living in a community.

Some of the recent science that explains these processes:-
· Games Theory suggests that collaboration works better than outright
· Oxytocin which NeuroEconomist Paul Zak calls the ‘moral molecule’
· Mirror Neurones and their role in enabling us to feel empathy

But what might it all imply for ideas of criminal responsibility, social
organisation and or even economic fairness in society???
The normal lively debate will follow.

There should also be a report of the East Sussex SACRE meeting due to be held on 29 February at which a Hastings Humanist observer will be present.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Newsnight Debate

Here is a youtube version of last night's Newsnight discussion between Richard Dawkins, ex-Bishop Nazir-Ali and Ruth Gledhill:


The Bishop's claims are just the sort of rewriting of history that was the subject of my talk at our February meeting. His claims that christians were behind the reforms such as the abolition of slavery and improved work conditions in industry ignores the plain fact that many christians, including many churchmen also argued for the opposite causes. The fact that the spokespeople for these causes in parliament were anglicans was due to the fact that until 1828 only anglicans were allowed to stand as MPs. Often the reforms would have happened much earlier if the recommendations of reformers like Tom Paine and Robert Owen had been followed.

Our @HastingsHumanists twitter account responded to quite well last night shortly after the broadcast (there are three of us posting at present).

I have now put a version of my talk onto my webpages:
Rewriting of History by Christian Apologists

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Free Speech Rally

The PodDelusion has a recording of all the speeches given at the Free Speech Rally on Saturday in London: poddelusion Essential listening for anyone who couldn't get there.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Rewriting of History

Our 9 February Meeting is on The Rewriting of History by Christian Apologists. Are we part of the "Judaeo-Christian" or "Graeco-Roman" traditions, or something new? Hastings Humanists Secretary George Jelliss will present some arguments from history, to be followed by a discussion.

This subject was prompted in part by the Prime Minister's recent speech in which he claimed we are a Christian Nation, and also by a letter in the New Humanist, by Canon Michael Halliwell of Romsey, in which he claimed Christian leadership in all sorts of social reforms.

A PDF poster for this meeting is now available here:

As usual we meet at the White Rock Hotel for a 7 pm start.