17 September: Online meeting on Effective Altruism

Thursday 17th September 2020

Effective Altruism by Dr Simon Jenkins. Online Meeting, 7.30 pm start.

Dr Simon Jenkins of the Philosophy Department at Warwick University will talk about Effective Altruism which is all about changing the way we do good.

Effective altruism asks one simple question: how can we use our resources to help others the most? Rather than just doing what feels right, we can use evidence and careful analysis to find the very best causes to work on. But it’s no use answering the question unless you act on it. Effective altruism is about following through. It’s about being generous with your time and your money to do the most good you can.

Most of us want to make a difference. We see suffering, injustice and death, and are moved to do something about them. But working out what that ‘something’ is, let alone actually doing it, can be a difficult and disheartening challenge.

Effective altruism is a response to this challenge. It is a research field which uses high-quality evidence and careful reasoning to work out how to help others as much as possible. It is also a community of people taking these answers seriously, by focusing their efforts on the most promising solutions to the world’s most pressing problems.

Although humanists live without religion, Shropshire Humanists are inclusive and welcome all, including those with any or no religious faith.

This is the ZOOM link to attend.

Ethical Consumption Talk Review

A recording of the recent ZOOM talk to Shropshire Humanists by Alex Crumbie about Ethical Consumption can be seen here:

A review by Shropshire Humanists member, Nick Marshall

Nick Marshall

The talk given on Thursday August 20th to a Shropshire Humanists Zoom meeting by Alex Crumbie of Ethical Consumer magazine was one of the most impressive that I have attended.

Alex anticipated and answered my principal misgiving about Ethical Consumerism right at the beginning of his talk. Consumerism, consumer culture, consumer capitalism… surely these things are inherently bad for us and for our planet? Yes, that’s true – but consumption of some things is unavoidable if we are to survive and to lead rewarding lives. Many of us want to make better choices about what we consume, ones with which we can feel comfortable. And we want our spending to influence what is offered to us, steering businesses in the directions we would prefer that they take. To achieve these objectives we need to be well informed. Enabling us by providing that information is what the Ethical Consumer organisation is about.  

Alex’s expertise and the completeness of his research were very obvious from his talk. He covered many kinds of goods and services – food, power, clothes (including fashion), investment… and looked at them from a variety of viewpoints – environment, animal welfare, workers’ rights, transparency. He seemed to have thought of everything. By the end, I didn’t really have a question left to ask.

That such a thought-provoking and informative presentation was made via Zoom, with only limited interaction with listeners and with no opportunity to “read the audience”, made Alex’s presentation all the more impressive. Every point was well made; never did I feel that we were being lectured. Rather, we were offered ways of arriving at ethically sound choices, many of which I think were new to at least some of us.

One question did occur to me when it was just too late to ask: given that I was in sympathy with everything Alex said, as I think were most of his Humanist audience… was he preaching to the converted? If so, how is the wider world of consumers to be influenced? I am pretty confident that Alex and his colleagues are working on this.

Judith and I have taken out a subscription to Ethical Consumer. Knowledge is Power!

20 August: Online meeting on Ethical Consumerism

Thursday 21st May 2020 New Date! Thursday 20th August 2020

Ethical Consumerism by Alex Crumbie. Online Meeting, 7.30 pm start.

Alex Crumbie is a journalist with Ethical Consumer, a not-for-profit UK magazine and website which publishes information on the social, ethical and environmental behaviour of companies and issues around trade justice and ethical consumption. The ethical consumer ideal implies that individual consumers can have a significant role, through their daily purchasing decisions, in promoting ethical corporate practices. … “Products that make sure that all the stakeholders in the value chain are treated fairly constitute whether a product is considered ethical.”

This is the ZOOM link to attend. This link will also be sent to those on our email list a few days before the meeting with detailed instructions for those inexperienced with online meetings.

Noel Conway on radio again, talking about hope for a better future after COVID

On Sunday 5th July Noel Conway gave the weekly “Pause for Thought” on BBC Radio Shropshire’s Sunday morning “Faith and Ethics” program. The program is currently on BBC Sounds starting at about 1:23 on the timeline.

Noel is well known to us as an active member of Shropshire Humanists and recognized nationally as an advocate for a change in the law on assisted dying, a cause of particular relevance to people like him with advanced Motor Neurone Disease. As well as his legal campaigns, he has found time to write and publish short stories and novels, using voice recognition software as he now has no use of his limbs.

Thursday 16th July: Online meeting – Open Mike

Hot Potato – Open Mike. Online Meeting, 7.30 pm start.

These meetings have been such fun over the last few years.

Anyone can talk for 5 minutes (exceptionally 10 minutes) on any subject somewhat related to humanism or just something that’s important to you.

So if something interests or fascinates you – then you have a chance of interesting and fascinating us! If you would like to give a brief talk (with or without photos or PowerPoint), let Simon Nightingale know chair@shropshire.humanist.org.uk.

Before each of the meetings, we will send out an email with details of how to join online, including explanations for those who have not done online meetings before. Please contact us to sign up to our mailing list to receive the email instructions.

Please leave a reply to this post if you would like to discuss any of the topics from the Hot Potato!

Why I became a Humanist

Here we have collected a number of short pieces by some of our committee members giving their story of why they became a humanist.  We hope you will enjoy hearing about our backgrounds, and if you feel inspired by them, please feel free to leave a reply at the bottom of this article giving your story/thoughts! (Please try to keep it below a couple hundred words if possible). We would like to encourage more discussion on our website, so would really appreciate your input.

Dr Simon Nightingale:
I was a devout Christian until 17 years old and then, after losing my faith, I became an “angry atheist” – a bit of a pain in the neck! After attending a wonderful humanist funeral 15 years ago, I decided to find out about humanism and realised that I had always been a humanist!  So I joined Humanists UK (called the BHA back then) largely to support their campaigns to promote secularism, for example in schools and parliament. I felt much happier as a humanist than an atheist – I now had positive beliefs and values.
Then I heard about Shropshire Humanists (back then called the Shropshire Humanist Group) and I really enjoyed their talks and especially meeting like-minded people. Over the last 10 years humanism has played a increasingly important part of my life, training to be a funeral and wedding celebrant, a humanist school visitor, a non-religious Pastoral Carer (a sort of humanist chaplain) and a member of the Shropshire Humanists committee, promoting our ideas, supporting humanist campaigns and developing dialogue with religious or interfaith groups.
I wish that humanism had been around when I was 17!

Sue Falder:
Like many others of my generation and background, I was brought up within a C of E Christian framework – that is to say it was an accepted part of life to have a reading from the bible every morning in school assembly followed by a hymn, and going to church was a respectable occupation.
My mother, much concerned with what was done, rather than what she herself would like to do, made sure we jumped through the baptism and confirmation hoops, and, since she was musical, attended church regularly to sing in the choir.
I, too, became part of the church choir, became utterly, tediously, familiar with the liturgy and marvelled at the singing and dramatic presentation of the vicar during services. I toyed with ideas of vocation and spirituality, but it dawned on me fairly early on that in fact there was an emptiness in the ritual unless you yourself were prepared to pretend otherwise; and God/religion apparently had no place in the ordinary everyday traffic of life.
Experience taught me that judging people according to pre-conceived notions of what one should or shouldn’t be or do was inappropriate, and I came to the realisation that `right’ and `wrong’ are complex and relative terms.
By the time I was eighteen I privately considered myself an atheist, and I haven’t changed that view since. I have no belief in a supernatural power, in any metaphysical experience which cannot or will not be explained scientifically, or in any version of life after death.
Knowledge of humanism came upon me gradually. I didn’t really recognise it as a philosophy of life or know about its history, but when we wanted a non-religious funeral ceremony for a member of the family I knew that humanist funerals were available. Subsequently I joined the BHA (now Humanists UK) and began to find out more about what humanism means and has meant.
The more I find out, the more at home I feel within the bounds of the word `humanist’, which embraces all with a secular outlook who want to help enrich and support their communities.

Carol Seager:
I didn’t actually become a humanist, I have always been a humanist, I just didn’t know it. It wasn’t until I attended a talk by Simon Nightingale on ‘An introduction to
Humanism’ at the United Reform Church in Church Stretton, late November 2016, that it all fell into place.
My mother was a ‘Church goer’ and as a child I was dragged along to church for good measure. Religion was never talked about in our house, it was just part of the Sunday ritual, along with Songs of Praise. Something to be endured. Although I could recite the service by heart, it didn’t mean anything to me, I felt at odds with it all, I didn’t believe, I didn’t belong.
As I grew up my church attendance dwindled to nothing. I felt relief at not going to church mixed with terrible guilt. I didn’t tell anyone I didn’t believe in God. I was ashamed and confused. I felt that I was a good, caring person and that ought to be enough. I put religion to the back of my mind and just got on with my life.
Fast forward to November 2016. As I sat and listened to Simon I realised he was putting into words everything l felt and believed inside. The relief and joy I felt at realising so many others shared the same thoughts and values as myself was incredibly uplifting. I was about to embark on a new chapter in my life and knew that my future lay in connecting with like minded people. With humanism.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I was soon going to need my new found humanist friends more than I could possibly have imagined.

 

Margaret Cann:

  • Painful memories of my parents’ Christian funerals which seemed to describe people I didn’t recognise, with very little mention of their lives, their loves and their achievements.
  • A professional life spent challenging stereotypes and fighting for equal opportunities within many different environments.
  • Hearing Humanism mentioned occasionally and making a mental note to find out more.
  • Hearing Simon speak and feeling I was finally amongst friends – people who believed in honesty, kindness, equality, fairness to all, and who were prepared to stand up and challenge unfairness and cruelty in the world. People who believed that this is the only life we live and wish to live every moment fully, to the best of their ability, in the here and now.
  • Finally, sitting down and reading about Humanism and being amazed that I hadn’t found it earlier.

 

Hollie Whild:
I do remember religion being a part of my life growing up – my grandparents were very active members of their church, and at primary school we sang hymns and attended assemblies held by the local vicar. However, I don’t remember ever truly believing there was a ‘greater being’ watching over me or influencing the world around me.
As I grew up, my various connections with organised religion gradually diminished. Throughout school, I found myself more and more interested in the sciences – leaning towards a more naturalistic worldview. I was quite happy without religion, and that was that.
However, whilst at university I saw a poster for a talk being given Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association (now Humanists UK). I can’t remember exactly what it was that made me want to attend, but something clicked whilst I was listening to Andrew’s talk.
I went on to research more about Humanism and found that it completely aligned with my philosophy on life, and it was interesting to see so many “celebrities” that I respected also associating themselves with Humanism such as Stephen Fry, Robin Ince, Professor Jim Al-Khalili and Tim Minchin. However, I did not class myself as an “active” humanist.
This changed when I returned home from university, and my Mum spotted an advert in the paper for a talk being given by the Shropshire Humanist Group. I attended and immediately felt that this was a group that I could become a part of. I attended the Introduction to Humanism course run by the group, and it was wonderful to have meaningful discussions about big topics such as morality and the meaning of life with people who seemed “on my wavelength”. I signed up to become a member and haven’t looked back!

Radio: Simon Nightingale on “Anti-Science”

Last Sunday, Simon talked about “Anti-science” on the “Pause for Thought” on BBC Shropshire Radio. It can be heard by going to https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p08b54q8 and listening on the timeline between 1:19:30 and 1:23:00.

If anyone wants too discuss the issues raised, they can contact Simon on chair@shropshire.humanist.org.uk

Simon’s original draft was shortened for the talk, but the full text is given below.

********

Don’t worry I’m not going to talk lockdown, but my subject was prompted by some of the extraordinary things we hear coming out of the mouth of the current President of United States. It’s pretty clear that he doesn’t trust science or scientists or evidence or reason; he prefers to rely on his gut instinct, making it up as he goes along and listening to like-minded anti-science friends.

It got me thinking. Why are so many people against science and scientists? It’s hard to believe but there are international societies claiming the world is flat and that, if you walk far enough, you fall off the edge! And over 40% of the United States are young earth creationists and believe that the world, the universe, was created much as it is now about 8,000 years ago. And then there’s climate change. Despite a vast amount of high-level evidence that the world is warming up due to human activity, there’re many, including Trump and some UK politicians, who deny it.

Humanists like me believe it’s really important where we get our knowledge. So how do we know if ideas are true – or not. Humanists believe that the world, the universe, and everything in it, even the thoughts and emotions in my mind at this very moment, are best understood through natural laws and natural forces rather than the supernatural or superstition.

On the other hand there are others who prefer to use their gut instinct. You know, gut instinct is probably right more often than wrong, but when it’s wrong, it can be very wrong. There was a time when everyone knew in their gut that the world was flat! It was obvious! And there are many who believe stuff they read in sacred books written hundreds or sometimes thousands of years ago or they get their knowledge through personal revelation from what they believe is some ultimate source of truth somewhere out there.

A humanist like me believes that the best way to find out about something is to study it – carefully. That gives me an idea, a hypothesis if you like it. Then I look for things that agree with my idea, but more importantly, I look for things that disagree with it, so I may have to give up my clever new idea or more often change it a bit, so that it’s more likely to be true. It’s the constant questioning and challenging of our ideas by which science moves forward; each idea being refined with new evidence – not claiming to know it all; just claiming to have the best idea so far. Very different from ideas taken from ancient sacred books that don’t change over time. Moreover the challenging of ideas that’s so essential for the scientific method isn’t always welcome with sacred matters.

Some say that science is just for weighing and measuring and test tubes and the like, but really has no place in studying with complex and personal experiences, like our emotions and our thoughts. Well just think about the amazing advances in the science of psychology and particularly neuroscience, which has shown that how we think, the ways we behave and all that we experience, including emotions, beliefs, even consciousness and freewill, are the result of electrochemical changes in our wonderful brains.

Some sorts of questions can’t be answered by science or anyone. Okay so answer me this “Does the colour green sleep badly?” Well there are some things that sleep but the colour green isn’t one of them – so no one can’t answer this question. It’s what philosophers call a category error. Some seemingly straightforward questions of this kind can’t be answered by science, particularly questions asking about the purpose of things (like evolution) that actually have no purpose.

Then there is the mad scientist much loved by film makers. Yeah, there are a few rotten apples in any group, but actually there aren’t that many mad or bad scientists.

Some say scientists seem arrogant, but actually science is humble; science merely says “the evidence strongly suggests that such-and-such is very likely to be true, but we’ll keep an open mind, especially if new evidence turns up”. Rather different from those who say “well, I just know I’m right – I’m 100% sure.”

Does science have all the answers? Of course it doesn’t! No scientist would claim that it does. Brian Cox said on telly the other day that “it’s the not-knowing that so exciting about science!” But so far we haven’t come across anything that can’t be studied. There’s no secret area forbidden to the scientific method.

Who is to blame for these misunderstandings about science? I think to some extent the scientists are to blame. Those of us involved in science need to explain it better.

Sometime ago one of our cabinet minister said he was “fed up with experts” and this was a man claiming to be an expert on politics!

So don’t be fed up with experts. Listen to them. Listen to the health scientists about health; listen to the economists about economics and listen to the politicians about politics. Listen to people who know what they’re talking about because they’ve spent their life studying it. Don’t be a Trump!!

Shropshire Humanists cancelling all events until after August at least

Simon Nightingale writes:

In view of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Shropshire Humanists committee has decided to cancel all events until at least after August. We will make decisions about further events at a later date. Therefore the monthly Thursday evening events, Sunday Brunches and the July social event are cancelled.  The Annual Humanist Convention in London in June has also been cancelled.

It is ironic that we have been planning a public event on October about the problems of isolated and lonely older people. Some older people, like Bridget and I, are now voluntarily isolated, but we need not be lonely.  We can make regular contract with family and friends by audio and video links and we are experimenting with multiple user video conferencing.

Nevertheless there will be many people who will feel isolated, lonely or scared.  If possible join with those who live near you to support your neighbours, particularly those who are infirm or old and therefore need to avoid contact, as well as those who are self-isolating and may need help with provisions that can be left outside their doors.

A friend of mine tells me she is going through her Christmas cards to identify friends or relatives who live alone in order to keep regular contact, especially if they are lonely or distressed.  I’ll do so too.

If you have ideas of how we can help one another in this time of crisis, let us know by emailing me chair@shropshire.humanist.org.uk or on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/groups/ShropshireHumanistGroup

Keep in touch – without touching!

Two excellent free on-line Humanism courses

Simon Nightingale writes:

For some of you, life maybe even busier than normal, continuing to work while keeping as safe as you can. Some of you may also have your school-age children at home or be supporting those who are self isolating or socially restricted.

Others will have more spare time on your hands and to you I’d like to suggest these two free highly-regarded and interesting on-line courses on Humanism, created by Humanists UK.

Both courses run over six weeks and involve about 2 hours a week of reading and watching videos. No previous knowledge of Humanism or philosophy is required for either course. Some people prefer one, some the other, but most people have enjoyed doing both.

I know both courses as I’m the on-line Mentor and support the course participants.

The two courses are:

HUMANIST LIVES with Alice Roberts
https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/humanist-lives
Scroll down this link and join the course that starts on 30th March or wait until the next course is announced.

This course covers the main aspects of Humanism presented in the form of the personal views of different Humanists.

INTRODUCING HUMANISM: NON-RELIGIOUS APPROACHES TO LIFE with Sandi Toksvig
https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/introducing-humanism
Scroll down this link and join the course that started on 17th February or wait until the next course is announced.

This course is a bit different as it considers various Humanist issues from a philosophical rather than a personal viewpoint.

In both courses there is an opportunity to post comments or ask questions, but this entirely voluntary. However, if you join either course, do at least post a comment to say Hi to me and that you are from Shropshire Humanists!

Shropshire Humanists: March talk cancelled

In view of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Shropshire Humanists committee has decided to cancel the much anticipated talk on “Refugees” by Amanda Jones, that was due to take place on Thursday 19 March at the University Centre.

Please pass this message on to anybody you know who was thinking of coming.

Amanda Jones has kindly agreed for us to do a video of her talk which will be made available to everyone in due course.

We will keep you informed by emails and through our website https://shropshirehumanist.wordpress.com/ about the status of later events and meetings.

Remember to follow the government guidelines on avoiding infection: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/

At times of crisis, communities need to work together. If possible organize a local system of caring for neighbours, particularly those who are infirm or old and therefore need to avoid contact, as well as those who are self-isolating and may need help with provisions that can be left outside their doors.

Best wishes to you all.

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