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Monthly meeting – The Geology of Suffolk

Member Colleen Nunn will be talking about geology. She says:

How much do you know about the ground beneath your feet and what it can tell us about about the geological history of Suffolk? Did you know, for example, that our county once had a climate like the present day Caribbean or that the River Thames once flowed through Suffolk? I will be exploring the rocks found here and demonstrating how they can reveal all sorts of clues as to how the landscape and climate have evolved through time.

There will be pictures and samples to see.

Faith in the Public Sphere – A Humanist Perspective

From a lunchtime seminar organised by the East of England Faiths Agency for Suffolk County Council Staff in Ipswich on 14 October 2010. The previous seminar was led by a local vicar and more seminars would be led by various faith representatives. My introduction was followed by a Q & A session.

I’m a Humanist. Humanism is a descriptive word applied retrospectively (from about the late 19th century) to a certain set of beliefs and values, free from religion. These beliefs and values are at least as old as recorded history.

Humanists accept naturalism (rather than supernaturalism) and we value scientific method as a means to gain knowledge. We accept that this life is the only one we have, and we think that morality arises out of human nature and culture. These ideas are a ‘permanent alternative’ that recur throughout time and place. They’ve been evident in Europe from the 6th century BCE to about 6th century CE, in China from the 6th century BCE onwards (the followers of Confucius were humanists), in India from the 6th century onwards, in the Arab world from about the 12th century, and in the Western world  from about the 17th century onwards.

Humanism isn’t a religion for atheists. It’s not equivalent to religion. It’s not a ‘faith’ – the word ‘faith’ means believing in something without evidence, which is anathema to a humanist. Humanists use reason to try to make sense of life and the world we live in, and if there’s something we don’t know or understand we’re content to admit that we don’t know.

Bye bye Claire

Claire RaynerClaire Rayner has died. A few Suffolk Humanists (including me) went to hear her speak at an Essex Humanists meeting in Chelmsford a few years ago, when her humour and warmth made a strong impression. I have good reason to identify with some of the things that Claire said, especially when she got cross about lazy journalists who wrote about people with cancer “losing their fight” – stuff and nonsense!

Anyhow, there are tributes aplenty on the web. Here are just three of them:

From the British Humanist Association

From the National Secular Society

From Baroness Helena Kennedy

And here’s Claire in her own words:

Her Humanist Hero, Miss Peach

How she coped with cancer

Will the 2011 census mislead on religion?

The BHA and the NSS have both campaigned to have the next census, due in March 2011, changed to reflect a more accurate picture of religion in Britain, though their approach has differed.

The NSS says,

The information gained from the religion question — widely thought to have been inaccurate and misleading — is used by government departments when deciding about allocation of resources. Religious groups have used it to justify privileges.

A majority ticked ‘Christian’ in the last census, yet we know that hardly any nominal Christians go to church, belong to any organised religious group, or understand much about the theology of the religion they claim. Many mistakenly think that being Christian is synonymous with being good.

The 2011 census will be the first that we can complete online. Between now and then, secularists like us will be trying to persuade people to think about how they fill in their forms. If you don’t want the church to continue to enjoy all the privileges it currently enjoys at public expense, don’t give them the ammunition. You might begin by adding the link below to your email signature.

Click here for more about the Census Campaign.


The cats can relax. Now that the Pope’s gone home, I’ve stopped shouting at the TV. Who does he think he is, coming over here and telling us we’re “aggressive secularists”, and why does he imagine that the thousands of people who live here quite happily without religion have no morals? As for all that rubbish about atheists and the Nazis – he obviously reads the wrong history books.

I’ve complained to the BBC about the coverage – too much of it, too biased, too silly. I’m hoping that lots of other people did too, or they may not take much notice. They may not take much notice anyway. If that were the case, I might boycott BBC News, if it weren’t for the lovely Gavin Esler.

I wasn’t at the grammatically incorrect ‘Protest the Pope’ demonstration, but lots of people I know were, so there’s loads of stuff about it on the Internet.

If you didn’t find any of it, here’s some that’s worth reading…

“Absence of evidence where there ought to be evidence is evidence of absence”

Review: The New Atheism – Taking a stand for Science and Reason, by Victor J Stenger. Prometheus Books NY.
Michael Imison

Victor Stenger is an American particle physicist, now retired to Colorado University, where he is an adjunct professor of philosophy. This book is the latest of ten or more well-received popular polemics he has written exploring the interface between physics and religion.

In this work he takes as his starting point the series of best-sellers which started with The End of Faith by Sam Harris (2006) and continued with Dawkins’ The God Delusion, Dennett’s Breaking the Spell, and Christopher Hitchen’s God is not Great. To this group Stenger himself contributed God the failed Hypothesis which reached the New York Times bestseller list in March 2007. It can be said that all these works have a self confident tone which more or less implies that science has settled forever that there is no God (which many of us believe). It should have been foreseen perhaps that this would promote a backlash from the religious and in particular religious scientists anxious to show this view mistaken.

Letter to the East Anglian Daily Times about the Pope’s speech

I’ve written to the East Anglian Daily Times, as follows:

Having just heard the Pope’s speech on arrival in the UK, I’m absolutely furious. It’s bad enough that we’re paying tens of thousands of £s for his promotional tour when the Government’s telling us we’re broke, then one of his minions describes us as like a “Third World country” – ironically, the man’s supposed to be a “diplomat”. Now those of us who don’t have a religious faith are aligned with the Nazis. Coming from someone who was in the Hitler Youth, this is astonishing.

Car stickers show the way

Car sticker

Suffolk Humanists and Secularists members are receiving car stickers this month. They’re printed with an easy-to-remember URL. Anyone who investigates will find it leads them to several sources of information about Humanism (click on the image to see where it takes you). An increasing number of people are either fed up with religion altogether, they’re indifferent towards it, or they’re rather confused. Maybe some of them will be pleased to know that there are many others who feel as they do, and that it’s not difficult to live a good life without religion.

Stickers are free to members or to anyone making a donation. Either click here to pay online, or here to download a membership form for you to post.