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 or on Facebook

Keep in touch – without touching!

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 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

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!!

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
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.

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 about the status of later events and meetings.

Remember to follow the government guidelines on avoiding infection:

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.

Thursday 19 March: Amanda Jones on Refugees

Amanda JonesAmanda Jones, Director of the Shropshire Supports Refugees not-for-profit Community Interest Company, says: “Shropshire Supports Refugees has been supporting families resettled in Shropshire since 2016. We recognise that it is not enough to just help these few families to integrate and find their feet in a new country, but that it is our duty to also continue to raise awareness and raise the profile of refugees and asylum seekers who are still stuck in horrific circumstances around the world. Nurturing a celebratory attitude rather than just a ‘tolerating’ attitude is the way that we would like to ensure that the families who are living in Shropshire are accepted and welcomed now and into the future.”


University Centre Shrewsbury, Guildhall, Frankwell Quay, Shrewsbury SY3 8HQ, 7.30 pm. You are very welcome to come for tea and coffee from 7 pm to meet and chat with other members and guests. A voluntary donation is requested towards room hire and refreshments.

Noel Conway on radio, talking about empathy and his novel

On Sunday 2 FebruaryNoel Conway gave the weekly “Pause for Thought” on BBC Radio Shropshire’s Sunday morning “Faith and Ethics” program.

Noel is well know 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. To hear his moving talk, listen here between 1.24 and 1.30 on the time line.

Hot potatoes 2020: humanists speak their minds

Another annual Open Mike – Hot Potato evening, which has been such fun over the last few years. The idea is that anybody can speak about anything for 5 to 7 minutes (with or without PowerPoint). The only requirement is that the subject fascinates them and they have to fascinate us! If you’d like to give one of these short presentations, contact Simon Nightingale.

Here is a recording of some of last year’s presentations.

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