2008-9 Session

Meetings at FMH

These meetings are held on the second Wednesday of each month, generally with an invited speaker. Brief notes on the talk and subsequent discussion are given where these are available.

9 April:
AGM followed by in-house discussion of current issues in abortion and embryology

The Committee Report and Treasurer’s Report were discussed. Ciaran Prendeville mentioned that a Humanist group that will qualify for official status has been set up at Manchester University and Robin Grinter provided a further update on SACRE developments. A request from the NSS to incorporate ‘secular’ into our name was considered at length but rejected by 17 votes to 1. However, it was agreed that a good working relationship with the NSS was desirable, and that we could usefully include the term ‘secular’ in our ‘strapline’.

The proposed change in the Constitution (replacing ‘Chairman’ by ‘Chair’) was adopted, as were the Committee’s proposals for subscriptions for the year to 31 March 2009. As there were no contested positions, those nominated for the Committee were declared elected, namely: Guy Otten – Chair; John Coss – Secretary; Chris Neilson – Treasurer; Robin Grinter – Committee member.

At this stage, Guy Otten took the Chair. He thanked Derek Chatterton again for his contribution and then spoke passionately about the need to support Humanism. He concluded with an appeal to everyone to become full members of the group, pay their subscriptions  and get involved with our growing range of activities.

The meeting ended with an informative and thoughtful discussion of the Human Fertilisation and Embryo Bill, soon to be debated in the House of Commons, and of some of the issues relating to abortion that will be raised by amendments initiated by pro-life groups.

13 May:
Humanism in Public Life – Jackie Pearcey, Manchester City Councillor
Jackie gave us an instructive talk on being an atheist in public life. There is a strong presumption that if you try to do good in public life you must be a believer, and much pressure to be religious or, if not, to be quiet about it – it is hard to ‘come out’ as an atheist. Although most people do not vote on the basis of belief, this matters very much to a few. Local politics has a significant religious dimension: prayers are said at council meetings and councillors are expected to attend a number of civic services and religious events. Religious organisations play a vital role in inner city life, eg by providing aid to asylum seekers, breakfast and lunch clubs for the elderly and impoverished, and clubs for young people – which we should respect. At national level, declaring his atheism was a risky step for Nick Clegg: there is strong influence here from America, where you cannot get elected to any office if you are openly atheist. Increasingly, faith groups are putting pressure on MPs, eg over the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill.

In education, there is also a strong presumption that religion is needed for morality, which has made it difficult to get Humanism on the syllabus. Faith in schools has worrying aspects: increasingly, children of different faiths don’t mix. Academies are another worry, as Local Authorities cannot influence their curriculum and ethos. Jackie concluded by commenting that the growth of more fundamentalist religion could make public life more uncomfortable for non-believers: we need to stand up and be counted before the UK becomes more like the USA.

11 June:
“To style oneself ‘Christian Humanist’ is a nonsense: A Sea of Faith defence for such a label” – Penny Mawdsley, member of Chester Humanists and the Sea of Faith

Penny outlined the origins and development of the Sea of Faith Network, whose purpose is ‘to explore and promote religious faith as a human creation’. Most members see the ‘whole caboodle’ of religion – god(s), dogma, scriptures, ‘spiritual experiences’, rites and rituals – as wholly human, grounded in human imagination and interpretation of experience. People join the Network for many different reasons and Penny described some of the difficulties encountered by members seeking to move on from traditional religious answers to the meaning and purpose of life.

Penny framed much of her talk around the limitation of labels. They can persist when the content has changed, often come with undesirable and misleading connotations, and can have widely different associations for different people – which may be positive or negative. She illustrated the problems by describing the range of reactions she would get to saying she was a ‘Post Christian’. She prefers ‘Humanist’ as this says something about what she IS rather than what she is NOT. Penny then turned to problems with other terms used to describe SoF members, such as ‘Christian Naturalist’ and ‘Non-Realist’. ‘Christian Humanist’ is another ambiguous label which has been adopted by various sections of the membership, including ministers who regard themselves as the true inheritors of Christ’s teaching, and paid-up members of the BHA. However, Penny thought more SoF members would identify as ‘Religious Humanists’, and reviewed various developments within this strand of thinking. She thought the pastoral support provided by traditional religions was not much in evidence in Humanism, with its emphasis on rational thinking and coping stoically with pain and difficulty, and saw this as an important gap.  She ended with a warning against a ‘one size fits all’ type of Humanism.

9 July:
Review of ‘Introduction to Humanism’ course being developed for public presentation, led by Anna Whitehead and Robin Grinter

The meeting took the form of a workshop. Anna and Robin worked through a paper summarising the nature of the five sessions that had been piloted at recent Ape and Apple meetings.  Each session includes a number of topics for small group discussion, and those present at the meeting were able to sample a topic from each session. Although these discussions were very brief, they were felt to be valuable and enjoyable, and a number of very helpful comments were taken on board by the course organisers. The workshop concluded with a very constructive discussion of how to shape up a sixth and final session, and some thoughts about the most effective ways of advertising and promoting the course.

13 August:
Topics from a Hat

The following speakers/topics were drawn for short presentations, which all stimulated lively discussions:
Robin Grinter – the limits of tolerance
Guy Otten – will Humanism get lost in diversity?
James Robinson – should we use referenda more, less or never?
John Coss – the moral system of Bernard Gert
Megan Bennett and James Robinson – GM foods
Chris Neilson – faith in the school system

10 September:
Advocating Secularism – Jim Nugent, Treasurer of the National Secular Society

Jim gave us a forthright presentation which stimulated a lively discussion. He drew on the Memorandum and Articles of Association of the National Secular Society to show that the principles of secularism go beyond the complete separation of church and state and the abolition of all religious privilege, amounting to what he called ‘democratic secular humanism’. He acknowledged that religious people could be secularists, but personally found this difficult to accept. Secularists often need to challenge the belief systems, eg as to moral codes or evolution, underlying the positions taken by organised religion on state matters, which he felt could be problematic for secularists with faith in what is being critically challenged.

Jim then suggested that we should NOT advocate secularism. His argument was that we should not have to:  instead, it should be for organised religion to advocate itself. Civil society should not refer or defer to organised religions in any way, in view of the consequences where religious viewpoints and practices are inconsistent with human rights and standards of humane behaviour, not least as to exemptions from particular laws on religious grounds. In considering what can be done, Jim naturally suggested joining the NSS. He argued for campaigning against organised religion in schools, and for teaching about religion to be allowed only in the context of other subjects such as history and civics. He also urged active campaigning for the separation of church and state in this country, following the recent Swedish example. We should also campaign for children to be taught HOW to think, rather than WHAT to think: subjects such as logic and scientific method should be taught throughout their school careers. Jim concluded by saying that secularism is an opinion based on evidence rather than a creed, and as such is subject to the test of evidence, leading to either revision or further confirmation, unlike organised religion which deals in doctrine and dogma.

Much of the ensuing discussion related to education. Most speakers supported RE as education about religion rather than indoctrination in a particular religion, provided it covered Humanism as a belief system. Jim thought RE in practice amounted to teaching religion, but this view was strongly opposed by other speakers. RE in school does not necessarily lead to a lifetime of faith, and might be the only chance for children brought up dogmatically at home to develop a critical approach to religion.  Some speakers agreed that it might be better taught as part of citizenship or cultural studies. There was also support for teaching logic and scientific method.  On a different topic, it was pointed out that despite the separation of church and state in the US, it is a more religious society than the UK, so secularism is not necessarily anti-religious. One speaker wondered if attacking religion could open the door to a religious revival through a backlash effect.

8 October:
Post-modern Spirituality – Terry Biddington, Anglican Chaplain to Manchester Universities

Terry began with a definition of ‘post-modernism’ as: our present situation after the breakdown of certainties – of belief in a grand religious narrative and in human progress. He pointed out that not everyone is in this position: there are still traditional believers, many but by no means all of them in the older generation, and the breakdown of certainties is much less evident in the non-Western world.

Terry then provided a sociological background to the issue of spirituality. He described the characteristics ascribed to the last three student generations (X, Y and Z) in this context as different reactions to the breakdown of consensus. Members of Generation X (1960s) rely on personal searches reaching beyond oneself into society for meaning and happiness; members of Generation Y (1980s) rely on small groups and networks for individual everyday happiness; members of Generation Z (post 2000) are dissatisfied with both approaches and are searching for new ways forward, often through single issue concerns. In terms of religious allegiance, Generation X is ‘churched’, Generation Y ‘de-churched’, Generation Z ‘unchurched’.

Terry noted that spirituality is increasingly seen as a new panacea, and is gaining in popularity as the institutional churches decline. He defined spirituality as ‘a collage of everyday practices which give life meaning’. This collage can include art, music, personal disciplines and practices, and religious concepts. All humans have spirituality as a formative element in their lives. It is essentially an openness, an opening up to other people and experiences, and religious people see prayer as central to this listening process.

Terry then asked whether there is a ‘Humanist’ spirituality. How do Humanists relate to the notion of a collage which may lead, for some, to the transcendent? If Humanists do not see any afterlife, is there a Humanist opening up to nothingness? And if Humanists do find this, can Humanism avoid becoming a ‘para-religion’ with all its institutionalising tendencies – which of course may have negative implications.

The discussion rejected the notion that Humanism is a substitute religion. There is no liturgy, even for Humanist celebrations. There is no proof of afterlife, so this life ’within contingency’ can be fulfilling and enriched. One comment was that Humanism focuses on the practical and the human, and a comparison was made with Buddhism. It was suggested that Humanism finds spiritual awareness in the intellect – almost as a product of the neurons! It was interesting that Terry agreed with almost all of this, but felt that the group had not engaged with his point about opening up to other experiences through prayer.  A Humanist definition of spirituality was proposed as the active use of our imagination and reason to find our own view of what life experiences tell us about meaning. Terry subsequently commented that this definition accords with his own view of spirituality.

12 November:
Perspectives on happiness and well-being: good lives that will not cost the earth – John Coss

John began by highlighting ‘happiness’ as a core concern of Humanism, and then quoted from Simms and Smith’s ‘Do good lives have to cost the Earth?’ to establish a clear link between our pursuit of happiness by ‘resource-hungry consumer indulgences’ and the developing envirnmental crisis. Beyond a certain level, wealth does not seem to make people happier, and a different life style based on a better understanding of wellbeing could both contain the environmental crisis and make us happier.

He suggested that happiness can only be found through worthwhile activities and the sense of well-being these create. Many definitions of happiness involve other people, either through the enjoyment of rich relationships or efforts to increase well-being. It is linked with the ‘good life’, and John quoted Maslow’s ‘hierarchy of needs’ to indicate what some of the elements of a good life might be.

It seems that happiness and well-being can to some extent be measured, and John discussed some of the available data. Income and happiness appear to be linked, but only up to a point: comparing low income countries, higher average income tends to be associated with higher levels of reported happiness, but there is no such association among high income countries. Moreover, in many Western countries overall happiness has been fairly level in recent years, or even declined slightly, despite steady growth in GDP. Some countries are now experimenting with ‘Gross National Happiness’ as an alternative measure. Within countries, John suggested that factors such as upbringing, stress and social status affect levels of happiness.

Regular church attendance also seems to increase happiness, though this may reflect the benefits of the associated social network and being part of a close community, rather than any supernatural comfort. Moreover, confirmed atheists seem to be as happy as confirmed believers – and secular Denmark is happier than the more religious USA.

John then turned to the environmental crisis, drawing on Collapse by Jared Diamond.  He gave some examples of past societies that collapsed because they exceeded the carrying capacity of their environment, which is attributed to failure to understand the long-term consequences of their actions, or reluctance to adapt behaviour to changes in their environment. Will this be the fate of modern humanity?  John listed twelve major sets of inter-related environmental problems that we now face, relating to destruction or loss of natural resources, ceilings on natural resources, harmful consequences of human activity, and population issues. Diamond reckons we have at best a 50-year timescale to address them. These challenges will be resolved by natural processes one way or another – either in relatively pleasant ways of our own choice or in unpleasant ways such as wars, starvation, epidemics, and societal collapse.

John then considered ways in which happiness and well-being might be improved. Reducing negatives may be easier than increasing positives, for example by addressing mental depression. We should also be striving to reduce ill-health, intervening effectively in chaotic families, and making effective interventions to reduce anti-social behaviour, where the perpetrators are usually victims too.  At the societal level, we need to eradicate hunger and poverty; we also need a shift in values – from emphasis on extreme individualism and material consumption to promotion of social interaction and a sense of relatedness. In the long term, wellbeing is dependent on identifying environmental limits and adopting systems for sustainable consumption, which involves tackling all the environmental problems. The idea that these problems could be tackled in ways that were also conducive to greater happiness and wellbeing is potentially a powerful factor encouraging action and addressing many of the objections to acting now.

Among the big questions John raised were: Will a massive crisis be needed before people accept the need for change? How can we change the belief that individuals are helpless, and that everything is up to government and big business? What can Humanists do?  In answer to the last he suggested that Humanists should become well-informed about the situation and raise awareness of it, and support efforts to tackle the crisis by working with other groups, including religious ones. There is an opportunity for a Humanist group such as GMH to bring ideas together, for example by making this the focus of a NW regional conference.

Among the points raised in the discussion that followed this challenging analysis was the importance of genetic elements in determining happiness or unhappiness. John agreed with this, but pointed out that nurture is also crucial in determining happiness, which offers us the prospect of doing something to increase it.

10 December:
Review of activities in 2009 to mark Darwin 200/150 – Henry McGhie, Manchester Museum, and John Coss – followed by social

Henry began with a brief outline of the national programme in 2009 of celebrations of Charles Darwin’s bicentenary (12 February 1809) and the 150th anniversary of the first publication of On the Origin of Species (24 November 1859). Details are on the Darwin 200 website.  Manchester Museum’s programme will focus on Darwin in February, with a major event on Saturday 14 February, and on Evolution in November.  Henry then outlined the position statement on evolution drawn up by the Manchester Museum. Evolution is seen as an established scientific theory, but there are diverse views. The Museum will present all the available evidence, and provide opportunities for people to share their views. He explained the aims of the Museum’s Darwin project, and the key themes and subject areas for the overall programme.  The most significant for us is the ‘Faith and Fact’ theme, where Humanist involvement in public debate is envisaged but where there has already been discussion with faith groups.

The discussion revealed a number of concerns: that non-scientific faith positions might be given similar status to scientific explanation in an attempt to be unbiased; that too much stress on the ‘theory’ of evolution might offer too much opportunity for creationists to present evolution as ‘only a theory’ whereas there is a mountain of overwhelming evidence in favour of it – for ‘theory’ read ‘fact’; and that the programme may not have sufficient public appeal unless it promotes real debate. It was suggested that written statements making their views on evolution explicit should be required from faith groups.

John Coss followed with a  brief review of Humanist commemorations of the Darwin Anniversaries. The meeting then debated the GMH strapline, expressing strong support for the existing wording – ‘Furthering Humanism and working for a Secular Society’.

14 January 2009:
‘Positive Humanism – who would win in a fight between Superman and Pericles?’ – Bob Churchill of the BHA

Bob gave us an entertaining and instructive presentation on the positive, life-stance elements of Humanism, though he disliked the term ‘positive humanism’, which he thought was too often used to mean whatever someone thinks is not currently being done by their local group or the BHA. Another objection was the implication that ‘Humanism’ on its own is a negative approach to the world. For Bob, Humanism was something life-affirming and positive, that not only mitigates harm or criticises error, but creates value itself, and is more than the negation of a religious view. It provides a different approach to morality, grounded in appreciation of people as individuals of ultimate value in themselves, rather than as souls or a reflection of God, which he saw as a perverse distraction. Rejecting the concept of ‘ultimate purpose’, whatever that is, can be exhilerating and liberating – there’s no divine corporate ladder, we are all running our own business.

Bob then distinguished two halves of the overall moral sphere – restorative acts putting wrong things right; and novel, civilisation-making advancement. He suggested that too often, religious, especially Christian, moral virtue is uniquely restorative.  To some extent, Humanists go along with this. But on top of this, the ethic of advancement should have equal place in Humanism.  Superman (alias Clark Kent) was for Bob the epitome of the restorative ethic. He contrasted his activities – fighting fires, putting right what has gone wrong – with the achievements of Pericles, who built the civic space of Athens and turned a Golden Age into the dawn of democracy – apart from the embarrassment of the Peloponnesian War, Pericles was a walking god of the ethics of advancement. Why wasn’t Superman doing similar stuff? Why couldn’t he have built an aqueduct in Ethiopia or developed a new source of renewable energy?

Of course, we’re all a bit like Superman. And we certainly must be altruistic, avert disaster, and restore the world when we fail. But we must also advance – that’s moral too: if ciivilisation doesn’t advance then it stagnates. For the Greeks, the word for virtue was arete, which also means excellence. For Bob’s Humanism, moral virtue, excellence, was about attending diligently and passionately to the overall health of the system – sometimes bycomforting, nurturing, picking up the pieces, at other times by building, inventing, forging ahead.

Bob then considered the BHA campaigns agenda in this context. He thought that Humanists generally did not want to engage in restorative activities under the Happy Humanist banner. He argued that BHA campaigns were mostly about advancement, and mostly positive. For example, the campaign against ‘faith schools’ is a campaign FOR inclusive education, fair and open employment practices, and objective, balanced curricula – for personal and social and civics education as well as for religious education.  Bob concluded with some remarks on rationalism.

The discussion recognised the talk as a significant commentary on morality.  Human advancement is moral, and Humanism stands for moral advancement. This means that regression like Creationism is immoral – it propagates a lie and imposes ignorance – with State support for faith schools that teach it. Human rights were then defined as a key area of moral advancement – for example the expression of a collective morality against genocide that is very much in the Humanist spirit. Human rights were seen as the advancement of morality to a universal level. Another example of moral advancement was the movement in favour of ‘assisted suicide’. Humanists must help defend the morality of this in pursuit of quality of life – as opposed to sanctity of life. Despite reservations as to the ethics of large organisations of any kind, it was felt that they can work to high ethical standards, and that Humanism has much to offer in encouraging this. Two further contributions were that part of Humanist morality was our willingness to change our vision as and when this proves to be necessary, and that to be prepared to go against (or ahead of) social opinion if this follows from our changed vision.

11 February:
Juvenile Justice – David Seddon

David introduced his excellent talk on juvenile justice by explaining that he is concerned with the perpetrators of crime as well as the victims. During his work in the criminal justice system for young people he consciously placed himself on their side to meet their needs. He briefly discussed the nature of crime, suggesting that there are a small number of acts of absolute wrong-doing that involve an abuse of power by acts of deliberate cruelty, such as child abuse, torture and rape – though this would not include all acts of killing. He suggested that a Humanist definition of crime goes beyond the absolutes of sin, because it will change over time, but left a final definition open. The talk considered three issues:

1. When does a human being become responsible for his or her actions?

Ages vary in Europe from 10 in Britain to 16 in Spain, with the result that we lock up more children than any other country, over 2,600 in 2009. Nearly 500 are in prison and the rest in Borstals or secure children’s homes. 29 committed suicide between 1990 and 2007; over a thousand self-harmed in 2007.

2. When does victim-hood cease to be a valid excuse for bad behaviour?

David gave the high percentages of juvenile criminals who had been sexually abused (25%), had suffered domestic violence (25%), had Special Educational Needs (15%), or had been placed in care (33%). He argued that as Humanists we should embrace all humanity, including the nasty ones whose often previously normal lives had been ‘twisted by circumstances’ and the need to survive. He has seen ‘wells of sadness’ under the bravado, and often a sense of being unlovable by those who have never been loved. The treatment that perpetrators receive depends on whether they are picked up in the school system (and re-educated), by the health service (and placed in care), or by the law (and punished). They are all in need, and there is no enduring solution unless we meet these needs.

3. What can punishment achieve?

Punishment is valid, because sanctions are needed, but it needs doing immediately and in a context of love and support. It is pointless if it doesn’t work, and over half of young offenders have been in custody before, with two thirds re-offending within two years. ‘Restorative justice’ is more productive for first time offenders who plead guilty. The key element is a meeting with their victims on neutral territory, with both parties supported by social workers. The victim explains to the perpetrator the effect the offence had on them; the perpetrator listens, and then explains how he or she feels about what they have heard. The aim is to set up a conversation, not to extract an apology, though that is needed, generally by letter, together with an act of reparation chosen by the victim. This is not letting perpetrators off lightly: they often go through purgatory listening to the effect of what they did. It also gives the victims confidence and a feeling of doing something for the perpetrator and for society, which is important for those who might otherwise become perpetrators themselves. David’s question was whether love compels obedience better than fear.

The subsequent discussion was also at a high level and included the following points:

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the main themes of rehabilitation and forgiveness are very Humanist.
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better parenting in the school curriculum is a key factor, though not sufficient in itself. This involves identifying emotional needs and meeting them early on. Long stable relationships are vital during the transition process of adolescence.
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care for the victim and the perpetrator are not mutually exclusive.
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there was some support for retribution in extreme circumstances such as the Bulger case. However, the general view was that our punitive culture is wasteful. The £33,000 a year cost of keeping someone in prison would often be better spent on a personal social worker. New prisons are no answer.
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removing ‘key offenders’ to prisons does not transform society. Similarly, exclusion from school often only allows another key offender to emerge.
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a fixed age of legal responsibility is a problem because each case will differ.
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adolescent problems often get sorted out in the natural course of events, but entanglement in the legal system can prevent this happening.
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society is not breaking down or ‘broken’. There never was a golden age, even if we do have a new range of problems, and life on benefits doesn’t nurture values.
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the impact of the endless stream of violence on TV was discussed, but it was felt that criminal behaviour is not a necessary outcome.
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a more important factor is our habit of not trusting children or giving them responsibility, too often  categorising them as potential criminals instead.  ‘It takes a whole village to raise a child.’

11 March:
Gaps in the fossil record: a problem for Darwinists? – Fred Broadhurst

Dr Broadhurst opened his talk by observing how much detail Darwin included in On the Origin of Species, describing this as ‘an overkill in anticipation of an outburst of criticism’. Darwin was also aware of gaps in the evidence that was available to him, and Fred dealt with three of these, using diagrams to illustrate his points in a lively and fascinating presentation.

1. The first problem was that the earliest fossils available in Darwin’s time were from the Cambrian period about 540-490 million years ago (the earth is about 4500 million years old). This made it look as if life had emerged in a highly complex form almost ‘out of nowhere’ – ideal for the purposes of Creationists.

Fred explained how pre-Cambrian fossils were actually found within two years of the publication of On the Origin of Species, and that by 1883 scientists had evidence for bacteria and algae found in ‘chert’, formed when underwater volcanoes known as ‘black smokers’ spewed up silica rocks with thermal water. It was these bacteria that broke down water into hydrogen and the oxygen that is essential to more complex life forms.

Fred pointed out that while DNA evidence supports this thesis it does not explain how life started – even if the key factor may have been amino acids brought to earth by asteroids. This is the major problem for us today. What we do know is that for two reasons the Earth has provided an ideal environment for life to develop. First, the Earth and Moon provide a very stable ‘paired planet’ system.  Second, the Earth is a ‘heat system’: hot rocks rise to the surface of the Earth’s mantle, these cool and fall back, forming a circulating or convection system that keeps the Earth cool. This is balanced by volcanic activity producing carbon dioxide that warms the planet and prevents full ice ages taking place. Fred compared the Earth with Venus, a hot planet that has no circulatory system.

2). Darwin’s second problem was that he knew that there were later ‘gaps’ in the fossil record available to him.

Fred drew on evidence found in the Derbyshire Peak District to fill these gaps. Here there are different layers of rock, laid down as melting ice at the end of successive ice ages created a series of deltas with mud and sand that compacted to form thin bands of shale roughly 30 metres apart between harder gritstone (also known as millstone or limestone). These layers are particularly evident on Mam Tor, the ‘shivering mountain’. In these layers of shale are fossils of predecessors of ammonites known as ‘goniatites’, which have increasingly complex structures as they get nearer to the surface and hence are more recent in time.

Fred also drew attention to the plentiful fossil evidence of the evolution of the horse to illustrate progressive changes in favourable conditions like the plains of North America where horses originated. A smaller creature with short teeth and three-digit feet evolved into an animal with long teeth to cope with the erosion caused by silica in the grass which formed its diet, and long leg-bones and single hooves for fast escape.

3) A third problem was how a complex organ like the eye or the ear could have evolved. Many argue that you could not have half an eye or ear, so these must have been created as a whole.

Fred demonstrated that fossil evidence exists of how the complex three-bone structure of the inner ear evolved. During evolution from fish into amphibians, then reptiles and then mammals, different jaw bones developed and later became redundant, being used to form the ear in response to the benefit of increasingly acute hearing. A related process can be demonstrated for the eye.

The discussion started with a question on the nature of life forms, and Fred argued that we can only work with what we know, which is life based on carbon and liquid. Thus NASA probes are searching for evidence of water on other planets.

Fred then dealt with Fred Hoyle’s theory of ‘seeding’, that pyle’slife forms on Earth may have originated from space. This theory has been abandoned because all the ingredients of life are found here on Earth, particularly in the 300 degree temperatures in water surrounding ‘black smokers’ in the oceans. But we do not know how organic compounds were first assembled, although electric sparks can bring this about in laboratory experiments. Fred pointed out that the ‘Big Bang’ theory of creation is now being questioned, and does not in any case answer the question ‘why’ it occurred.

Finally, it was noted that the theory and processes of evolution do not necessarily exclude religious belief. Some evolutionary scientists are committed Christians, seeing the laws of evolution as part of a divine plan in much the same way as Deists do.

Exploring Humanism meetings

These meetings began in February 2008 and have been held at various locations, usually on the fourth Tuesday of the month (with no meeting in December). The current location is the upstairs function room of The Waldorf in Gore Street, Manchester. There is generally a session on current campaigning issues at the end of the meeting.

29 April:
Pilot of week three of Introduction to Humanism course being developed for public presentation by Robin Grinter and Anna Whitehead

27 May:
Pilot of week four of Introduction to Humanism course

24 June:
Pilot of week five of Introduction to Humanism course

22 July:
General discussion of possible future topics and adoption of programme for the remainder of 2008

26 August:
Follow up to review of Introduction to Humanism course at FMH meeting

23 September:
Discussion of paper: Humanism needs to completely rebrand

28 October:
A group discussion led by Lee Dickenson in connection with his dissertation on ‘The Social Construction, De-Construction and Non-Construction of Religious Beliefs’.

25 November:
Anna Carlsson –  The Scientific Method.

27 January 2009:
Review of current GMH activities and plans for the future.

24 February:
The new equalities legislation and its implication for our campaigning activities.

24 March:
Humanist arguments in the ‘Does God Exist?’ debate