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shrewsburylibrary-darwinThere are several ways you can keep up to date with humanist news and meetings in Shropshire, and you don’t always need to visit this blog:

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March news from Shropshire Humanist Group

Chris Smith writes:

Birmingham Humanist John Edwards took us through some aspects of the evolution story, starting with some creation myths which were new to me. Along the way he addressed the question, “Who was the first human?”  Answer, “There wasn’t one.”  Showing how the small changes from one generation to the next meant that one species (in the sense of a group which could interbreed) changed into a different one.  That 185 million generations ago (approximately!) our direct ancestors were fish, is quite a sobering thought.  When early humans came out of Africa it was in two waves, which became all the world’s varying races.  I would like to think they were motivated at least in part by the curiosity to see over the next hill, or beyond the horizon.  There followed a lively question and answer session.

John did get back to Birmingham before the snow became too heavy.  He generously declined expenses, and in addition saved the group at least £36 for projector hire by bringing along his own equipment.  We made a collection for the charity he and his wife set up after the death of their son in 2010.  The charity supports people being treated for cancer, who are in financial difficulties, to have a holiday. If you know someone who is in such a situation they could apply.  I understand Shropshire people often receive cancer treatment in Birmingham.

For more information and if you wish make a donation, see http://www.ianedwardscbtrust.org.uk/

shgadmin adds:

Some other events in Shropshire were affected by unseasonably cold and occasionally snowy weather.

The debate organised by PurpleFish and SOLAS in Oswestry went ahead and you will find reports in this blog. The recording does not seem to be available yet, but by all accounts Andrew Copson of the BHA made an excellent case and there was some continuing debate that you will find in the comments in this blog.

Janet Heimlich (see pictures) visited Shropshire at the invitation of the Secular Matters group, and some members of SHG attended. The snow reported in the south east fortunately did not reach Bishop’s Castle although it was a cold night. Janet talked on child abuse within religious groups, mostly with reference to the USA, but she did refer to African religious communities in this country, particularly in London, and that is a serious matter.

Sadly, the visit arranged at the last minute of Sanal Edamaraku did not happen, because of the snow and exhaustion – his schedule must be very gruelling!

The bad weather and our relative remoteness have caused difficulties this month, but we hope that the successes will encourage other secular, rationalist, sceptic and humanist speakers with interesting things to say to come and visit us in the future.

Janet Heimlich in Bishops Castle

Janet Heimlich in Bishops Castle

Janet with Antony Lempert and Gwil Stephenson of Secular Matters.

Janet with Antony Lempert and Gwil Stephenson of Secular Matters

News for May

Chris Smith writes: Our May meeting was very well attended and Adrian Bailey’s talk about his experiences with Scientology was both interesting and rather scary.  He explained what he felt he had gained from the “counselling” and what he lost, in time for other things, and almost lost financially.
There were many questions on matters of fact – and even more as we considered whether Scientology was a cult, or religion, or pyramid selling or none of the above.
After further mulling I think it is a cult; in the UK it is sometimes treated as a religion and sometimes not.  For me the key is in the originator’s other career, as a science fiction writer.
Next meeting: The Lantern, 07-30 on Thursday 21June.  Visitors are always welcome.
David Brittain will tell us about current issues in the UK Armed Forces Humanist Association, UKAFHA.
I will miss David’s presentation as I will be in Uganda, travelling mostly with the Uganda Humanist Schools Trust.  Steve Hurd, chair of the Trust, is our November speaker.   Meanwhile if you are interested in knowing more, please get in touch.

Shropshire Humanist Group – March news

Chris Smith writes: In February eleven of us had lunch followed by the excellent Darwin Memorial Lecture at the Theatre Severn, Shrewsbury. This will become a permanent feature on the programme.

On 15 March we started our 2012 programme proper, with a talk by Hilda Reilly on Christian Zionism. Hilda took members and visitors from its beginnings in the 19th century, to present day politicians in the United States. There was a lot to take in, and there is no doubt that this is an important movement, full of contradictions and unlikely alliances. We had many questions and went away stimulated by what Hilda told us.

Her book, “Prickly Pears of Palestine” was available for those wanting more understanding of the complex situation in Palestine. See her website www.hildareilly.com. It was certainly a great way to start the year’s programmes!

Meanwhile, the committee has been looking at the constitution. This needed some rewording following the group’s decision to become a Partner of the British Humanist Association. BHA is formalising its relationship with the many and various Humanist groups and Partnership offers a stronger relationship, with more support, than our existing affiliation. At the same time we need to show BHA that we are satisfying certain (not onerous) conditions. That is why we are asking whether members are also in the BHA. We have also tightened some of the wording to reflect the Group as it is now. If the constitution is approved by members present at the April meeting we will be well placed to be one of the first groups to become a Partner in June of this year.

Local humanist on radio

Simon Nightingale was on the morning show on Radio Shropshire again this Sunday (21st March) talking about the Pope’s visit and protests against it.
If you’d like to hear the contribution this is the information:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p006wp16/Mike_George_Sunday_Breakfast_21_03_2010/

It lasts 3 hours and Simon is on from 1.48 to 1.54 on the time line below. He also speaks later, from 2.48 to 2.51, with some snippets about teaching.

He aims to tread gently and present a thoughtful assessment rather than a diatribe about Catholicism in the belief that reason and reflection is more likely to bring people to humanism than ranting.

(Programmes usually remain online for a week after the radio broadcast.)

Simon Blackburn at the Hay Festival 2009

SimonBlackburn By Sue Falder

Simon Blackburn, a vice-president of the BHA and professor of Philosophy at Cambridge and North Carolina universities, spoke at the Hay Festival on 26th May under the heading “Arguing about Religion: Hume 10, the rest of the world 0” .

He has written a commentary on Hume’s “Dialogues” which were published in 1779 and which he feels can be seen to deal with the current debates on creationism vs. militant atheism in a very elegant way. He explained how Hume created three figures: Cleanthes, Demea and Philo. The first two argued the case for the existence of a god and Philo (representing Hume’s own sceptical position) refuted both their arguments.

Cleanthes’ position was that the world as we see it is so intricate and so inter-connected that there must have been a great `mind’ behind its design. But Philo’s response was to question the assumption of a `marvellous human-being’ model of a deity and then look at it objectively. Why, out of all the existing cosmos, should a deity be modelled on a human being? And when it comes to design, humans are motivated – often by need – to make new things….what would be a god’s motivation, for instance for designing so many species of beetle? And, anyway, isn’t it true that new things can occur in nature without a designer having been involved?

Demea argues from the principle of `sufficient reason’. Everything depends upon what went before, and if you take that back in time to the `Big Bang’ you need to postulate a god as the prime mover. However, according to Philo, in this case you would need to say about this deity that `it must necessarily be as impossible for him never to exist as to make 2 x 2 not = 4’. But we can’t imagine that, because our world only provides evidence of one thing being dependent on a pre-existing thing or situation. Therefore it is impossible for us to recognise the existence of this version of god.

We are left between two equally unworkable positions: God as a `transcendental human being’, or as an entity quite beyond the human brain to be able to grasp.

Simon Blackburn recognised that many intelligent and educated people have faith in one sort of god or another, and feels that the explanation lies not within the sphere of rationality but in the sphere of emotion and feeling. He described people as demonstrably having a `religious yearning’ and feels that the continuation of religious practices is down to what might be called `evolutionary sociology’.

There were many interesting questions from the 4/500-strong audience and the talk and discussion were very well-received.

A.C. Grayling on Darwin and the Darwinian Controversy

A C Grayling Sue Willson wrote this report for the BHA Groups Newsletter…

Groups (and the weather) working together

Sometimes it seems as if Humanists are a combative lot of people who cannot agree about anything. However, recently five local groups co-operated to perfection. Here’s how it happened.

A year ago during the Darwin Festival in Shrewsbury, representatives from five local groups met for the first time. They came from Shropshire, Chester and Greater Manchester Humanists, Marches Secularists, and S Cheshire / N Staffordshire Humanists. We discussed hosting a public event in his birthplace to celebrate Darwin’s bicentenary. We decided that a talk given by a well-known speaker might well attract an audience that would not be embarrassingly small. This event could perhaps be part of the bicentenary festival being planned for 2009 by the local council.

Sue Falder of the Shropshire Humanists group did a great deal of the ground work, writing to several possible speakers, getting details of venues in the town, and arranging that the local theatre would sell some of the tickets. She asked for our views via email, and we had a very pleasant meeting over lunch in an excellent riverside bar in Shrewsbury. Professor AC Grayling had already been booked as the speaker, and Sue had booked his rail ticket and sent it to him. The Lord Hill hotel in Shrewsbury was confirmed as the venue, with an optional and prepaid buffet on offer. Sue then disappeared off to New Zealand on holiday, much of the work being done, and left the rest of us to it.

Perhaps surprisingly, the remaining tasks were shared out without any problems – liaising with the hotel, publicising the event, selling tickets and banking the takings in one group’s account, keeping in contact with Professor Grayling, and making arrangements for getting him from Stafford station to Shrewsbury and back again after the talk: all was going smoothly. We had another enjoyable lunchtime meeting – why not mix business and pleasure? We thought we were doing well when nearly 100 tickets were sold, and we booked the larger room available in the hotel. But it quickly became clear that nearly 200 people would be attending, and 60 for the buffet. Success in all respects, we thought.

BUT TWO DAYS BEFORE OUR EVENT, THE GREAT SNOW FELL: trains were cancelled, roads were treacherous, and a flurry of emails between us rivalled the snowflakes. What if our speaker couldn’t get out of London? What if people couldn’t get through to Shrewsbury? What if an angry mob attacked us for cancelling at short notice?

However, the weather forecasters predicted the best day of the week on Our Day, and all was well. Professor Grayling arrived in good time, and a friendly crowd of over 200 listened to the talk after 70 of us enjoyed the buffet. Many looked at our publicity displays about Humanism and our groups, and picked up leaflets. As this was our first attempt at organising an event together, there were a few hitches, including a less than perfect microphone and failing to record the lecture as planned. And with hindsight, we should have done more to ensure that the buffet provided an adequate choice for vegetarians.

The reps from the five groups are now planning another lunch together, and thinking of organising another event. And we have to decide what to do with the large surplus we made!

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