To be a Humanist: questions from a Christian

The following contribution by Peter Bellingham, a committed Christian, was made at our Hot Potatoes open mike night on 18 January. Several listeners asked for it to be made available, and Peter said he was happy for it to be posted here. He poses some fundamental and difficult questions about the nature of man, consciousness, causation, determinism, free will and the meaning of life. Humanists may attempt to answer these questions differently from a Christian, such as Peter, but they are questions we all find a challenge.


Do I have to be human to be a humanist?


What is a human?

Is a human a certain arrangement of atoms?

Is your chair a certain arrangement of atoms?

Is a leaf a certain arrangement of atoms?

Is your dog a certain arrangement of atoms?


Are you more valuable than your dog?

Are you more valuable than a leaf?

Are you more valuable than your chair?



Is your conscious experience just the product of atoms?

Are your thoughts and choices just the product of atoms?

What turns a human into a humanist?

Is it a choice, or can cosmic radiation cause the change?

How do we know which atoms are in control?

How do you know which atoms are right?


Are you disappointed by anything in life?

Are you upset by any injustice in life?

Why be disappointed?  Why be upset?

Some end up happy, some sad; why expect anything different?


Isn’t everything just the purposeless product of atoms in motion?


Is a human more than atoms in motion?

Is a humanist more than atoms in motion?


Is that why you’re here tonight, thinking?

Shrewsbury U3A Philosophers, 7 December: A Platonic dialogue on Humanism

Is Humanism an alternative religion?

Is it an alternative to religion?

Can it provide moral clarity and spiritual value?

Is it simply all about us?

Simon Nightingale makes the case for Humanism. Primary interlocutors are Mike Curtis and Chris Stoddart with moderation by Jim Clevenger.

Thursday 7 December at 10 am, University Centre Shrewsbury, Guildhall, Frankwell Quay, Shrewsbury SY3 8HQ. All welcome, you don’t have to be a U3A member.

Hmmm Squad meeting, Thursday 27 July

Humanists may be interested in the meetings of the Hmmm Squad, which is Shrewsbury’s premier science and philosophy discussion group (…believed to be Shrewsbury’s ONLY science and philosophy discussion group).

Each month a group member or invited guest gives a topical presentation. Questions and discussions are encouraged at the end of the presentation and members of the group are invited to continue those discussions over a drink or two after the event.

This month, desktop support analyst Mike Smith gives a brief history of computer viruses, spyware and scams. Despite a growing culture of fear, worry and paranoia, Mike hopes to convince members that computer viruses are in fact nothing to be frightened about and do not cause computer problems. Mike will explain how to laugh at suspicious emails and how to patronise friendly callers from India who offer to work miracles on your computer and credit card.

No computers will be harmed during the course of this presentation and any fraudulent payment transactions will be fully refunded.*

Everyone is welcome at Hmmm Squad but a voluntary donation towards refreshments and room hire is much appreciated.
Thursday 27 July 2017 at University Centre Shrewsbury, Guildhall, Frankwell, SY3 8HQ at 7.30pm.

15 September: Ludlow and Marches Humanists on the philosophy of Heraclitus

The Philosophy of Heraclitus: a talk by Mark Pitter.

‘No man steps into the same river twice…’ is just one of the many profound sayings of Heraclitus. Come and find out more about this pre-Socratic Greek philosopher.

Tuesday 15 September 2015, 7.30pm, at The Friends Meeting House, St Mary’s Lane, Ludlow SY8 1DZ.

All welcome. For more information email: rocheforts [at]

15 May meeting: James Wakefield on ethics without a god

AIbEiAIAAABECPq_87rl2uPT5wEiC3ZjYXJkX3Bob3RvKig3NmEyYWMyMDc1MjM5MDZhMjljMjlmODlkMWQ0MDRlZGUyMzlhMzBmMAGAKlqoK5HDwgafmPmrh-abjBpEbwOur May meeting will be on Thursday 15 May at 7.30 pm at The Lantern, Meadow Farm Drive, Shrewsbury SY1 4NG. All are welcome. Please see the Meetings and Events page for more details about our programme and attending.

Dr James Wakefield will talk about Ethics from the Inside Out: Moral Philosophy since the Death of God.

“How can there be any moral authority in the absence of a divine legislator? If there are no moral rules “written on the sky,” as it were, is morality just a matter of opinion? Of course, I think — and this is probably in line with the Humanist view — that we can still make morally authoritative claims, but the source of this authority is within humanity, not some external, mysterious legislator.”

James Wakefield recently completed a PhD at Cardiff University. His thesis examined the moral theory of the Sicilian philosopher Giovanni Gentile, and is due to be published in 2015 by Imprint Academic. Dr Wakefield is now an Honorary Research Fellow at that same university, and is working with Prof. Bruce Haddock on another book about moral and political philosophy.

July meeting

Member Richard Burnham will give a talk on Sceptics, deniers, believers and scientists – and climate change

He will talk about different understandings of the problem of man-made global warming (and other scientific questions). Is there a difference between a climatologist and an environmentalist, or between a ‘denier’ and a ‘sceptic’? What is a consensus? Do you ‘believe’ in science? He won’t be going into technical detail about global warming.

In the Hobbs Room at Shrewsbury Library (just inside the front entrance) on Tuesday July 13th at 7.30 pm.

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.