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.

Where do we get our morals? By Simon Nightingale of Shropshire Humanists

On 15 January 2019, the main lecture theatre at the University Centre in Shrewsbury was full with standing room only to listen to a discussion between Simon Nightingale, Chairman of Shropshire Humanists and Peter Bellingham, Pastor of the Well in Shrewsbury. This is Simon’s presentation. Peter’s was posted yesterday.

I recognise some fellow humanists out there and there may be others among you who live without religion and who won’t be surprised by what I’m going say.

In some ways it’s more important for me to talk to those of you with religious faith about non-religious morality. You see – when I speak to religious groups or interfaith groups, the issue they’re always most interested in, what really puzzles them is where non-religious people get their moral values – without the benefit of a Bible or Koran or Torah, Like Dostoyevsky they assume “If God is dead, then everything is permitted”.

And then they ask “anyway even if you can work out some sort of moral values, why do you bother to follow them?” Which is a rather different question – a good question that also needs answering.

So this evening I’ll talk about where non-religious people, like humanists, get their morals. At the end if I have time or during the discussions, I’ll talk a bit about what motivates us to do what we’ve worked out is right and how we can encourage both others and ourselves to do the right thing.
Continue reading “Where do we get our morals? By Simon Nightingale of Shropshire Humanists”

Where do we get our morals? By Peter Bellingham, Pastor of the Well

On 15 January 2019, the main lecture theatre at the University Centre in Shrewsbury was full with standing room only to listen to a discussion between Simon Nightingale, Chairman of Shropshire Humanists and Peter Bellingham, Pastor of the Well in Shrewsbury. This is Peter’s presentation. Simon’s will follow tomorrow.

It’s such a joy to be here in discussion with my friend and neighbour, Simon Nightingale. I love talking with Simon; we’ve spent many hours lively conversation – and I look forward to many more. My first contact with Simon was indirect. My wife and I lived in Honduras when my mother-in-law Jill was diagnosed with motor neurone disease. As her condition worsened, Simon went out of his way to arrange a place for her in the hospice. This wasn’t a one-time kindness. When I told an elderly friend I’d be debating Simon she said she’ll never forget Simon’s kindness in seeking her out at the hospital when he was treating her severely epileptic son. Humanists want to promote care for others and Simon shows the type of kindness worthy of the name.

Tonight we’re discussing where we get our morals from, or ‘how do we know what’s the right thing to do.’ Not as an academic exercise, interesting though that would be. But rather, to see if there’s something we need to realize so we can do a better job at running our lives and running the world.

Morality means the distinction between right and wrong. A moral person typically makes a distinction between right and wrong, and lives according to what’s right. An immoral person makes the distinction but lives according to what’s wrong. An amoral person makes no distinction between right and wrong.

Continue reading “Where do we get our morals? By Peter Bellingham, Pastor of the Well”

Simon Nightingale on BBC Radio 3, 2 April: listen

Simon Nightingale did a short talk on distributive justice, referring to John Rawls, in Shropshire Radio’s Sunday morning “Faith and Ethics” program.

To hear it go to and listen on the time line from 1.18.15 to 1.23.50.

He then talked about the recent problems of the neurology service at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital until 1.27.00

Online now: Simon Nightingale on moral decisions and trolleyology

exphilSimon Nightingale, our chairman, spoke on BBC Radio Shropshire’s “Pause for Thought” today.

Simon’s talk discusses how our instinctive moral decisions are often very good, but sometimes can lead us astray. He illustrates this with examples of thought experiments known as trolleyology. If you would like to read more about how intuition can lead us astray – try Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. For an entertaining account of trolley-ology and a simple review of normative ethics, try Would you Kill the Fat Man by David Edmonds.

Listen between 1:19:15 and 1:25:30 on the time-line. It is available to listen to for the next 29 days.

Everyday humanism: How should we live?

One reason people leave religions behind is to escape the rules they impose on daily life. But does humanism have its own codes?

How should a humanist live? Wary of religious dogma, humanists are often reluctant to talk about how one “ought” to live. Secularism, a reaction to the political dominance of this dogma, is focused on what the state shouldn’t do, on what people should be free to decide for themselves. This is surely good. Yet while it should be no business of the state, the question remains: how should a humanist live?

This is the challenge set to 12 humanist writers whose essays fill Everyday Humanism, a book that aims to go beyond the discussions of Meaning, the State and the Good (what the editors call “macro-ethics”) to more regular, down-to-earth and, well, everyday issues faced by humanists. The book’s contributors hail from a variety of backgrounds, from professors to chaplains to campaigners, and between them they try to paint a picture of how the everyday humanist should live.

Read the article here.

September meeting: Should we judge the past by the standards of today?

There is no meeting of the group in August.

For 18 September at 7.30 pm at The Lantern, Meadow Farm Drive, Shrewsbury SY1 4NG,  we are proposing a member-led discussion on the subject of whether we should or can judge the past by the moral and ethical standards of today. Should we, for example, condemn slavery and the oppression of women? This was topical recently as a result of Richard Dawkins’s comments on the sexual molestation that he and others received when he was at school.

We would be delighted to hear from anyone outside the committee who would be willing to introduce and moderate the discussion. Please contact us for reference materials to stimulate discussion.

May meeting report: Morals without a god

aquinasHow do we formulate a moral system when we do not have a god to tell us what to do? Are any truths self evident?. How do our ideas on morality have any authority?

Dr James Wakefield tackled these and other questions in a wide ranging and informative talk. He explained three main ways of thinking about moral systems.

The first, ‘Natural Law’ is based on the idea that objective and unchanging facts are out there for us to discover, and that these laws would exist even when they are unrecognised. This way of thinking presupposes the goodness of human nature.bentham

Another way of approaching morality is ‘Utilitarianism’, which supposes that an ideal morality is one which produces the greatest amount of happiness. There must be a reason for us to do what morality requires, and possibly not everyone wants to be happy. Why ought we to promote happiness? Maybe this is not a moral system at all, but merely a theory about happiness.

korsgaardFinally ‘Constructivism’, where our moral rules are not objective but are constructed. This system draws its reasons from the desires, interests, beliefs and values we already have. We should act according to the best reasons we can come up with. This could collapse into moral relativism where truth becomes a matter of opinion.

There are defenders of all three theories today. Dr Wakefield claims it is uniquely human to stand back and look at moral considerations. He would put himself into the constructivist camp.

This talk stimulated much interest and a lot of questions amongst the capacity audience. We shall take up a related topic in September, and no doubt these views will inform our discussion.