Sunday, 15 December 2013

The Year Ahead

Since our first meeting of the New Year is very early in the month I thought we should begin with a survey of members' resolutions, if any, for the New Year. We can also devote some time to a consideration of the future of the group, which may be in question due to health and business problems of key members. As a start I have chosen a new, more colourful, Template for the blog.

The meeting is on Thursday 9 January, from 7 pm to 9 pm at the White Rock Hotel. This will also be the occasion to make or renew your annual subscription to the group, which costs £6 (a further £2 is charged at each future meeting, or £3 if you remain a non-member). These fees are to cover the cost of the meeting room and payments to visiting speakers.

I have now set up a Programme for the first three meetings in 2014 but wish to reduce my activity after that. This could be done by appointing a Programme Manager to arrange speakers for the meetings from April onwards. I hope newer and younger members will take on the task of continuing the group and taking it in new and more active directions.

I have modified the title of this meeting to "The Year Ahead" to give people more to talk about, such as the anniversary of the First World War, the World Humanist Congress, The Euro-Elections, and other upcoming events. Are there other important anniversaries we should take note of?

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Our December Free For All

Our Thursday 12 December meeting will be the now customary Free-For-All where everyone has a chance to make a five-minute presentation on any subject of their choice. This can be a rant (something you need to vent your spleen on), an original idea you have thought of, a book or article or video you would like to recommend, or anything else that comes to mind. Usual time 7pm to 9pm and venue, the White Rock Hotel.

Report: This meeting attracted only 10 people, though this included two new and younger potential members which is encouraging, and several of our regular active members were unable to attend for health, business and family reasons. The five-minute talks turned into more of a round-table discussion than a series of presentations. Next year we may have to revert to a Quiz.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Minutes of 2013 AGM

AGM Minutes 2013

Nine members attended and two sent apologies for absence.

The Minutes of the 2012 AGM
were read and agreed to be correct.

A message from the Chair was read by the Secretary.

The Secretary's Report reviewed the year's meetings, which were generally well attended, apart from the extra Skeptics meeting on 26 November.

The financial report, provided by the Assistant Treasurer, showed that the group's finances are in good order.

It was decided to make no changes to the current subscription rates.

It was noted that communications with the BHA had improved and our Affiliaton had been renewed.

The following positions were confirmed
*Stephen Milton: Chair
Leonard Sterling: Deputy Chair
Mike Lynott: Treasurer
*Duncan Cleverley: Assistant Treasurer
George Jelliss: Secretary
*Steve Berks: Social Secretary
(*Three appointed in absentia)

Thanks to the two new appointees for taking on the roles
of Treasurer and Deputy Chair.

The responsibilities for the Programme, Publicity, Blog, and Twitter were not discussed, but it is assumed the same people as before will share responsibility for these.

Involvement with the East Sussex SACRE was debated, but no-one was willing to volunteer to attend meetings. In part this is because of the time and travel involved, as well as the opposition encountered by previous Humanist observers.

Involvement with the Hastings Inter-Faith Forum was mentioned. But their website is down at present.

Details of these to be posted on the blog when available.

There was a good discussion of ideas for meetings in 2014.
The following topics were suggested (in no particular order). This doesn't rule out other subjects being proposed if they become topical or speakers are available:

1) A meeting to decide what questions of a Humanist nature to put to our local political representatives.
2) A Question Time with local politicians such as Amber Rudd and Sarah Owens.
3) A Debate: This house believes that in the future, world changing events will be driven more by the power of cooperation and mutual support, rather than those of hatred and dictatorship. Proposer Stephen Milton. Opposer to be decided.
4) A talk on Consciousness by Leonard Sterling
5) A talk on History of Humanist views on Eugenics and Racism by George Jelliss
6) Genetically Modified Foods: scientifically justified or a danger to the environment?
7) How do, or should, we treat our children?
8) Science and Moral Responsibility
9) Population control. Hans Rosling's ideas versus David Attenborough, and others.
10) Female Genital Mutilation and Male Circumcision. Why no prosecutions?
11) How Medicine became Scientific by Leonard Sterling

There may have been other suggestions I forgot to note down - please remind me if I've missed yours! (Or any other omissions.)

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Annual General Meeting 2013

Thursday 14 November at the White Rock Hotel is our Annual General Meeting.

We need volunteers for the posts of Treasure and Assistant Treasurer.

There will be the usual elections for these and other posts, Secretary, Chair, Vice-Chair,
Publicity Officer, Social Secretary.

Anyone can attend, but only paid-up members can vote.

Some points for discussion may be:
Should we get more involved with the Skeptics in the Pub movement?
Are there particular speakers we should seek to engage?
What about the East Sussex SACRE? We have largely given up on it this year.
What about involvement with Hastings Inter-Faith Forum?
If you have particular issues to bring up please raise them, preferably in advance.

Monday, 30 September 2013

David Pollock on Threats to Humanism in Europe

Our next meeting: Thursday 10 October: David Pollock
a past president of the European Humanist Federation
and head of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) delegation to the Council of Europe
talks to us on the clash of Humanism and fundamentalist Christianity in Europe.

“Reactionary religion is well organised and well financed in its work of opposing gay, women’s and non-religious rights in the UN and the European institutions. Working across boundaries - Catholic/Protestant, Christian/Muslim - its organisations are well connected and influential. Humanists are just beginning to work in opposition, forming and joining alliances with liberal religious people and other interested parties. But there is a long struggle ahead!”

As usual we are at the White Rock Hotel from 7 to 9 pm.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Skeptics in the Pub Roadshow

On Thursday 26th September at White Rock Hotel we are linking up with the local Skeptics in the Pub group run by Simon Clare to put on a Hastings Skeptics meeting. The entry fee is £3.50. Tickets can be bought via Eventbrite, or on the day. The actual talk starts at 8 pm and will be followed by a question and answer session.

The speaker is Robert Llewellyn the actor who will be talking on the theme "Electric Cars: They're Rubbish Aren't They?" How sceptical he is we will find out on the night.

Robert Llewellyn is probably best known for playing Kryten in the comedy science fiction TV series "Red Dwarf". The Hastings Observer, in their version of the press release I sent to them, gave it the headline "Kryten to make guest appearance" but I don't think Robert is coming as Kryten! (The costume and make-up probably take hours to fit.)

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Video Links for your Instruction and Entertainment

We only got round to showing two videos at our meeting. I give links to those, and also to others by Richard Dawkins and A. C. Grayling, and a number of others that I have found of interest recently.

Militant Atheism by Richard Dawkins

What's Next for Atheism by A. C. Grayling

There are numerous other TED talks (put a name in the search box):

RD interviews creationist Wendy Wright (1 hour)

The unofficial Richard Dawkins Channel (lots of videos)

The Official Richard Dawkins Channel

Think Week: RD with Stephen Law talking philosophy (1.5 hour)

"Rare Interview" about religion in america

Peter Boghossian: Street Epistemology

Sam Harris: Science can Answer Moral Questions

Daniel Dennett on "deepity"

School Segregation taken to the limit!

Robert Spencer controversy on Hate Speech

The following are more science-based

Murray Gell-Mann: Beauty Truth and Physics

Higgs Boson explained??

The lost codex of Archimedes$IUj:Q!zUNjcK/

A YouTube video about Fractals (nearly an hour):
It includes interviews with Benoit Mandelbrot himself (about 8 minutes in).

George Monbiot: For more wonder rewild the world.

There are many others I could have linked to: search for yourself.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Video Update

Our first meeting after the summer break.

Thursday 12 September: 7 to 9 pm at the White Rock Hotel as usual
Stephen Milton presents a video update on the activities of the 'New Atheists'

in particular Richard Dawkins and A. C. Grayling.


At the last meeting when we were discussing books there was a lot of interest in the works of A. C. Grayling and Richard Dawkins, so for this month’s meeting I have chosen several of their speeches from the internet for us to listen to and discuss. They are two of the most fluent , knowledgeable and enthusiastic advocates of atheism and humanism, both from the philosophical and scientific  points of view. I can assure you that they are thought provoking and I have no doubt will generate the normal interest and debate.

In addition, as a topical question, let’s take 15 minutes to discuss the Syria question. Do we support intervention or not?
Stephen Milton

Sunday, 21 July 2013

A Great Debate

I'd like to recommend this debate. Can Science tell us Right from Wrong:

The answer is Yes, provided we interpret "Science" widely enough to include Reason, perhaps as in the German concept of Wissenschaft.

The speakers are: Sam Harris, Patricia Churchland, Peter Singer, Lawrence Krauss, Simon Blackburn and Steven Pinker, with Roger Bingham in the chair. It's quite a long listen, 2 hours including the questions at the end, but well worth devoting the time to.

Simon Blackburn provides the dissenting voice, as an old-style philosopher. For instance he argues that someone living in a drugged haze, or a deluded fool's paradise, could be said to be living a happy life, so who is to say their values are wrong?

Incidentally Lawrence Krauss cites a number of books and writers who could well be added to our book list: E. O. Wilson on Sociobiology, Franz de Waal on Reciprocity in Chimpanzees, Jacob Bronowski on Science and Human Vales, Philip K. Dick on Reality, Richard Feynman on the Habit of Truth, Aldous Huxley on Brave New World.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Our Book List

The selection of books that have influenced us in our humanist views proved to be surprisingly wide ranging. I list a selection of them in alphabetical sequence of author's names and give links to other sites where more can be read about them.

Adams, Douglas: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Al-Khalili, Jim: Paradox

Asimov, Isaac: Foundation Trilogy + Robot series

Aurelius, Marcus: Meditations
Brigstock, Marcus: God Collar

Carr, J.L.: A Month in the Country

Conan Doyle, Arthur: The Sherlock Holmes Stories

Coyne, Jerry: Why Evolution is True

Dawkins, Richard: The Selfish Gene + The God Delusion + many others

De Botton, Alain: Religion for Atheists

Dennett, Daniel: Darwin's Dangerous Idea

Feynman, Richard: Surely You Are Joking Mr Feynman're_Joking,_Mr._Feynman!

Fortey, Richard: Trilobite

Geldof, Bob: Is That It?

Gleick, James: Chaos

Grayling, A. C.: Ideas that Matter + The God Argument + others

Harris, Sam: The Moral Landscape + The End of Faith + others

Hawking, Stephen: A Brief History of Time

Heinlein, Robert: Stranger in a Strange Land

Hitchens, Christopher: God is not Great
Illich, Ivan: The De-schooling of Society + others

Jones, R.V.: Most Secret War

Keenan, Brian: An Evil Cradling

Kingsolver, Barbara: The Poisonwood Bible
Koestler, Arthur: The Sleepwalkers + Darkness at Noon

Kumar, Manjit: Quantum - Einstein, Bohr and the Great Debate ...

Lawrence, D.H.: Lady Chatterley's Lover

Levi, Primo: If This is a Man

Marryat, Frederick: The Children of the New Forest

Michie, David: The Dalai Lama's Cat

Morgan, Elaine: The Descent of Woman

Morris, Desmond: The Naked Ape

Neville, Katherine: The Eight

Ramachandran, V.S.: The Tell-Tale Brain

Roberts, Alice: The Incredible Human Journey

Russell, Bertrand: History of Western Philosophy + Why I am Not a Christian + others

Singh, Simon: Trick or Treatment + Fermat's Last Theorem

Tressell, Robert: The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists
Von Daniken, Erich: Chariots of the Gods

The King James Bible

Some of these titles have evidently influenced us in widening our consciousness towards what alternative views might be possible. We suspect that many Christians don't actually read the Bible, they just know bits they have been preached about.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Our Favourite Books

Our next meeting is on the 11th July at the normal time of 7.00pm at the White Rock Hotel

The subject this month is:  Book Reviews

I am sure that all of you have a few books that have been really influential in making you take up the cause of Humanism. Our object is to create a list of good reads that we can post on the Blog. The books may be novels that illustrate the best of being human, or more polemical or philosophical, or scientific, or historical ....

What we would like is  for everybody coming to let us know (in advance if possible) a list of their top 3 or 4 books. Include both the Title and the Author. And for a few to also volunteer to make a 5 - 10 minute introduction to one of their chosen books. Explaining some of the background, what it’s about and why you like it so much (and perhaps read an extract). This to be followed by a short group discussion.

This is another experiment and I am looking forward to seeing what comes out.

Thank you for your support. Stephen Milton (chair).

Monday, 24 June 2013

Thomas Paine at Conway Hall

This one-man performance by Ian Ruskin at Conway Hall on 7 July looks as though it could be good:

To Begin the World Over Again: The Life of Thomas Paine

This series of seven short videos by Ian Ruskin about Thomas Paine is well worth watching:

If you don't know much about Tom Paine and his ideas, you could try my short biography of him:
which has links to other sites where you can read his actual words.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Hastings Humanists and Skeptics?

First a reminder that our next meeting on Thursday 13 June is an "Any Questions" style debate.

One of the panellists will be Simon Clare of the South East Skeptics Society who are organising a Skeptics Road Show throughout Kent and now extending to Hastings on 26 September. He is also known as the Atheist Street Preacher! It is proposed by our Secretary, George Jelliss, that Hastings Humanists get together with SESS to organise regular Skeptics in the Pub style meetings, perhaps in alternate months with specifically Humanist meetings. This will need to be discussed among our members, and put to a motion at the AGM in November, but it would probably be better to combine forces rather than have a competing Hastings Skeptics organisation. Input from members on these developments would be appreciated.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Marriage and Humanism

I've been getting confused messages about Humanist attitudes to Marriage recently, so thought I would put together some links to different views here.

On 13 May I received a message from BHA signed by Jim Al-Khalili: "On Monday and Tuesday next week, MPs will be debating the Marriage Bill currently before Parliament. Its main purpose is to extend marriage to same-sex couples but also being debated will be an amendment to give legal recognition to humanist marriages in England and Wales. This asked one to contact your local MP and urge them to vote for the amendment.
I did this, since it seemed a good thing. Humanist Marriages have been possible in Scotland since 2005. However I later learnt that this Humanist amendment was part of a series of amendments designed to derail the Gay Marriage bill, or delay its implementation. This strikes me as political naivety on the part of the BHA. (Jim Al-Khalili has also shown naivety on Twitter by reacting to an Onion magazine sketch, apparently not realising it was satire.)
Margaret Nelson of Suffolk Humanists has expressed a dissenting view about Humanist marriage here:
I find her arguments quite convincing. Her solution is: "Remove the right of anyone other than a registrar to conduct a marriage ceremony in the UK, but make same-sex marriage equal to opposite sex marriage. If you want any other form of marriage - religious, humanist, Jedi Knight - you can have a ceremony however and wherever you want, but it would have no legal validity. This would be like the systems that they have in Austria, Germany and Switzerland, where only civil wedding ceremonies are recognised. But that would be too simple and sensible, wouldn't it?"
Also having seen the formulation of the amendment it now seems to have been worded so as to give privileges to Humanists similar to those for the churches, to the exclusion of other groups. This is criticised here:
(Proposed Humanist Marriage Law Discriminatory). They observe: "So the proposal does not abolish religious privilege; it merely enshrines in law humanist privilege as well; it is discriminatory in favour of humanist and religious organisations against others."
I also got a lengthy reply from Amber Rudd the local MP. She made the point that "A fundamental change to marriage law of this nature would undermine the religious protections within the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, and would risk delaying implementation of same sex marriage ..." She also made a point similar to that expressed on the Atheist UK site.
 I feel that I have been let down and misled by the messages from the BHA on this.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Any Questions for Humanists?

Our next meeting is on the 13th June at the normal time of 7.00pm at the White Rock Hotel.

The subject this month is:  Any Questions for Humanists?

For any who are not familiar with this long standing radio programme, you can listen to the latest  episode on

Our variation on the standard format is that the questions will be put to the panel for an initial discussion in the normal way, but then it will be opened up to all for a general debate. I will act as chairman.

The questions can be on any subject from the purely local – ‘what is the value of the by-pass?’ – to the political – ‘should we vote to stay in Europe?’ – to the existential “What makes you happy?” but are best when they have some topical interest.

This is a bit of an experiment and I hope it will be a lot of fun..!!

Stephen Milton

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Gender Differences in Society

"What are (or should be) the differences between Men and Women? And why ... " This is the topic proposed for discussion at our meeting on 9 May.

When we talk about Humanity we mean both men and women and there is no doubt that both sexes are vital to our common survival.  But what actually are the differences between us. This is a subject that has pre-occupied philosophers and  theologians down the ages, but now we are also getting some answers  from science. So we will start with the genetic differences, the contrasting roles of each in our survival and how Darwinian forces of selection mould us all. Then we will see if we can  understand the debate between the powers of nature and nurture in creating these differences – and just why is so much humour based on this subject?

This is something where we all have opinions. I am sure we will enjoy sharing them. What exact subjects come up for discussion will clearly depend on those who come along, since gender issues cover a wide range.

The current issue of the New Humanist for example has a four-page spread on Feminism, instigated by the publication of 50 Shades of Feminism published  by Virago and Lean In: Women Work and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg, published by Knopf.

On another track there is Fitnah a protest movement demanding freedom, equality, and secularism and calling for an end to misogynist cultural, religious and moral laws and customs, compulsory veiling, sex apartheid, sex trafficking, and violence against women, particularly in Islamic countries.

From One Law for All: "This week’s BBC Panorama programme “Secrets of Britain’s Sharia Councils” confirms why One Law for All has been campaigning against the discriminatory parallel legal system running counter to British law for nearly five years. As has been repeatedly stated, women are being held to ransom, told to remain in violent situations, blamed for the violence they face, refused divorces over many years, and placed under undue pressure including with regards child access and welfare. The programme confirms this."

What do you think are the most important issues?

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

The Morality of Money

Our next meeting on the 11th April at the normal time of 7.00pm at the White Rock Hotel

The subject is: The Morality of Money

Is money the root of all evil or simply a medium of exchange? - What authority underpins the value of money? - With only 3% of all money being ‘real’ coinage or notes, how can we exercise social control over its digital creation (including debt)? - And what is/ should be the role of the Banks in this process? - We are all encouraged to save for an extended old age, but how safe are our savings (Pension funds / Cyprus etc)? - Is a competitive devaluation of the £ really the salvation of our national interest?

These are just some of the questions that arise when we start to think about Money.

We will start the debate with a review of some of the facts and then open the discussion. Money has been a vital element in the evolution of society ever since it was invented about 2,700 years ago (pre-dating the invention of ice cream by about 300 years). Could it be that it has now grown into a monster that is beyond the control of national governments as well as their citizens!

Please bring along your thoughts, questions and strange facts about money.

In the meantime have a look at this video of just how awesome we human beings really are:

I look forward to seeing you there.

Best regards Stephen Milton

This review of a book by our former member Elaine Short may also amuse:

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Eastbourne Skeptics

We are pleased to see that Eastbourne Skeptics in the Pub is now up and running:

The first meeting on Wednesday 27 March at 'Bibendum' is now about the Christian 'Alpha' course, and the second on Thursday 18 April is James Williams (who has spoken to us on a couple of occasions) on 'Insidious Creationism'.

There has been a similar Skeptics in the Pub group active in Lewes for a year or two.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

A Discussion on Dignity in Death

Our next meeting on the 14th March at the normal time of 7.00pm at the White Rock

The subject is : Dignity in Death

Death is the one common experience that we cannot avoid and which perhaps defines our humanity. It can be hard to give up the instinct that comes from a lifetime of struggle to survive and accept the inevitable when it arrives.

My personal position is that while death holds absolutely no fear, the process of dying is one that fills me with dread. I therefore advocate that

“Where possible it should be our inalienable right to choose a death that is dignified, at a time of our choosing, and is both certain and painless”

This is a subject in which many of our members have strong views.

I will introduce it, but will then ask members of the audience to share their experiences of death and dying with the rest of the group. We want to hear both the good and bad experiences.

The debate that follows will, I am sure, be as intense as always – but duly mindful of the sensitivity of the issues being discussed.

Best Regards
Stephen Milton


As promised at the meeting, here are a couple of websites of relevant organisations.

(the govt body aimed at getting people planning their end of life arrangements)

A pro assisted dying group with a fair amount of info on their site.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Humans without Humanity

Our next meeting is at 7pm on Thursday the 14th Feb.

The evening will be introduced by Leonard Sterling and be followed by our normal discussions.

If you have any thoughts on what drives people to become monsters and how we as a society can prevent them from exercising their malevolent influence on the rest of us; this will be the place to talk about it.

A Freudian look at Nazism and the Suicide Bomber

The talk attempts to gain some insight into the mental forces of the situations which enable human beings, who are not insane, to behave with such barbarity, overcoming natural emotions of empathy or pity.

Where do these factions differ? What do they have in common?

By Leonard Sterling

We look forward to seeing you at the White Rock Hotel.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Do We Need Religious Leaders?

Andrew Copson on 4thoughtTV is worth listening to:

On twitter he says "they make you talk for an hour and then edit it down".
Also, respondng to Jim Al-Khalili: "they goad you for an hour in a totally white room
until you snap and that is the 80 seconds they use. It's a bit like torture."