Tagged: Public Speaking

Information on public speaking engagements.

Living in a Secular Society

Margaret Nelson led a discussion at a Suffolk Inter-Faith Resource Forum of Faiths on 16 October 2007. The others speakers were Manwar Ali (Muslim), Robin Herne (Pagan) and Shpetim Alimeta (“thinker” of Albanian origin).

For those who don’t know me, I’m a Secular Humanist. I make that qualification because in the States there are Religious Humanists as well as Secular Humanists.

However, in Great Britain and other countries where there are Humanist organisations that are part of the International Humanist & Ethical Union, Humanism is totally non-religious. It’s an approach to life for people who’ve rejected religious and supernatural explanations for life, the universe and everything, and whose ethical outlook is based on our common humanity and our experience. We have a naturalistic view of life, rather than a supernaturalistic one. Science can’t explain everything but it can and does help us to understand our place in the natural world, and where there aren’t any answers, we prefer to leave a question mark, rather than explain the gap in our knowledge with a religious answer.

Time for a Humanist Thought for the Day on Today

If you’re a Radio 4 listener, you’ll know that the debate about including atheist/humanist thoughts for the day in the Today programme has been hotting up. We’ve had an email from Naomi Phillips, Public Affairs Officer at The British Humanist Association, as follows:

We seem to be getting somewhere with our campaign to have humanist voices included on Radio 4’s ‘Thought for the Day’. Last week both BHA member Lord Harrison of Chester and Jonathan Bartley of Ekklesia (the Christian think tank with which the BHA has worked on issues like creationism), himself a contributor to Thought for The Day, made the case on the Today programme for including humanist contributors.

12th February, Darwin Day

Earth-clockMonday 12th February is Darwin Day, the anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin in 1809. Scientists, Humanists and Rationalists around the world will be celebrating Charles Darwin’s birthday in a variety of ways.

Charles Darwin’s book The Origin of Species set out his theory of evolution by natural selection.

Whenever I get the chance, I tell children in Suffolk schools about evolution. It’s surprising, and worrying, how few seem to know much about it. Unless they know the truth, they are susceptible to the lies being promoted by Creationists who are distributing “Intelligent Design” teaching materials wherever they can.

This is how I’ve introduced evolution in schools:


The actor Warren Mitchell, most well-known for his role as the bigoted Alf Garnett in “Till Death us do Part”, is a distinguished supporter of the British Humanist Association. He’s of Russian Jewish descent, and has been quoted as saying, “I enjoy being Jewish, but I’m an atheist”. There are many atheist Jews like him. Warren tells a story about visiting Northern Ireland, where he was asked if he’s a Catholic or a Protestant. “I’m Jewish,” he replied.

Life is what happens

John Lennon said that life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans. Those plans might include New Year’s resolutions. I never make any, knowing from experience that things will happen regardless. Not that I don’t intend to make an effort to sort out the more disorganised parts of my life – that’s work in progress – but there’s no reason why I should be any more successful if I start a list of things to do on 1st January than at any other time of the year.

Evolution Day

DinosaursOn this day (24th November), 147 years ago, Charles Darwin’s revolutionary book, On the Origin of Species, was published. His theory of evolution by natural selection is still generally accepted as the best explanation of how life on Earth developed.


WW1A few years ago, the mayor of a Suffolk town, an atheist, planned to mark Armistice Day with an inclusive, secular ceremony. After the procession through the town and a wreath-laying on the war memorial, it would be up to those who were Christians whether or not they attended a church service. It never happened. The mayor had to deal with a family matter and handed the arrangements over to others who (influenced by conservatives in the British Legion) did things the usual way, with religious ceremonial.

A Small World

StarsThis talk was prepared for a Faith & Reflection Day at Farlingaye High School, Woodbridge, on 3 November 2006. The event ended the school’s One World Fortnight. I had to skip a chunk of my talk because the previous speakers overran (don’t you just hate it when that happens?), and we were running out of time.

The other speakers included a Jew, a Unitarian, a Buddhist, the Mayor of Woodbridge, John Gummer MP, a Hospice Chaplain, the Bishop of Dunwich, a Quaker, and the local Vicar, who said he agreed with everything I said.

Since I started this sentence, the Earth’s travelled 100 miles around the Sun, the Sun’s moved 1,000 miles in its circuit of the Galaxy, and the Orion Nebula’s moved 100,000 miles relative to us. A few years ago, NASA took a photograph with the Hubble Space Telescope, leaving the shutter open for 10 days. The 10-inch square photograph is of an area of space that to the naked eye is about the same size as a grain of sand viewed from 6 feet away. To cross it at 10 times the speed of light would take 300,000 years. There are about 1,500 galaxies in the picture, each containing billions of stars. Here we are, whirling round a relatively small star, a tiny planet in all the vastness of space. It’s a small world.

Death, Dying & Disaster

A Humanist contribution to a Forum of Faiths, Suffolk College, 11 October 2006

Humanists think we can be good without God. We’re atheists or agnostics. There are other words to describe a positive, non-religious approach to life; they include secularist, rationalist and freethinker. I particularly like the last one. Humanists are independent thinkers, so it’s sometimes hard to agree. However, there are some things that we do agree about, and one is the notion of an afterlife; we don’t think there is one. In fact, I’d be disappointed if I find there is one; I find the idea very unattractive.

What do the faiths teach about the environment?

The East of England Faiths Agency arranged and hosted a half-day conference on ‘What do the Faiths teach about the Environment?’ on Sunday March 5th at the University of Essex. The theme was chosen after a consultation on the Faiths and the Environment with staff from the Environmental Agency, who attended the conference. There were contributions from some of the faiths and philosophies in the region, including Baha’is, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jains, Jews, Muslims, Pagans, and Sikhs. Margaret Nelson, supported by Michael Imison and Nathan Nelson, offered a Humanist Perspective.