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Humanism, Philosophy and the Arts day conference

Humanism enriched the stories of famed science-fiction writer and futurist Arthur C Clarke with a “big picture” view of life on Earth – and elsewhere. The novel 2001 narrated a kind of secular transcendence, from caveman to ‘starchild’, and throughout his working life Clarke urged humankind to “think and act as one family”.

But equally, a humanist artwork can be more focused on the threads within the tapestry. Other BHA distinguished supporters such as the novelist Ian McEwan and the poet Alan Brownjohn are renowned for their attention to the detail of our individual lives, exploring the human experience at a more intimate level.

Big picture, or intimate portrayal of individual human life? Can anyone say that either approach is “more humanist” than the other? It’s a question reflected in the nature of Humanism itself, with our active concern for the bigger picture sitting right alongside the idea that we must live our own lives well.

This is just one of many questions we can ask as humanists about art. Another is the extent to which art should be concerned with morality. For Alain de Botton, contemporary art is too often reduced to “a tool that can shock and surprise us”. A positive secular vision, he says, “would return to an earlier view that art should improve us. It should be a form of propaganda for a better, nobler life.” That may sound too preachy for many. Perhaps a humanist ethics of art lies somewhere in between those two extremes?

Last year our day conference, “Darwin, Humanism and Science” was a great success. This year we’re looking at “Humanism, Philosophy and the Arts”, with topics on art and The Meaning of Life, poetry, visual arts, architecture, offence, and ethics and the movies. And the BHA Choir will be performing too!

There are more details and confirmed speakers on our website.


BHA signs joint statement on PSHE

Together with a number of important educational, representative and expert organisations, the BHA has signed a joint statement expressing deep dismay at the removal of the proposed sex and relationships education entitlement from the National Curriculum.

The statement covered concerns about where this action leaves our young people, who will be without a guarantee of appropriate support on some of the most pressing issues they will be faced with as they grow into adulthood. Young people themselves have made it clear that the information they receive at school about sex and relationships is too little, too late and too biological, and 89 per cent of teachers surveyed agreed that PSHE should be a statutory national curriculum subject. This education is critical for the future wellbeing of our children, and whilst the decision has delayed this, we will continue to fight for this fundamental right of knowledge and information for our young people.

Earlier this week BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson had called this move ‘deeply concerning’, and stated that ‘There was massive support for its implementation from health professionals, teachers, parents and young people themselves. The loss of these subjects as core parts of the curriculum is catastrophic.’

To read the joint statement in full, and see the list of signatories, see:

BHA welcomes its newest Distinguished Supporter, Professor Brian Cox, as he talks “Big Science” at BHA’s annual Voltaire Lecture

The BHA has welcomed experimental physicist, rock star and television presenter Professor Brian Cox as its newest Distinguished Supporter. Brian Cox, most recently seen pulling in millions of viewers for his BBC series ‘Wonders of the Solar System’, spoke on ‘The value of Big Science: CERN, the LHC and the exploration of the Universe’, at the 2010 Voltaire Lecture. The event was chaired by Polly Toynbee, President of the BHA.

Professor Cox’s lecture responded to the idea that science is not enough to fulfil people’s “spiritual needs”, to satisfy our sense of wonder, or to find purpose or meaning. He argued that part of the intense wonder and beauty of the universe is in its fundamental simplicity, how the universe – and everything in it – was constructed from a few basic building blocks, subatomic particles.

He went on to talk about the work being done at CERN, and how the UK needs greater financial investment in science to continue as a world leader. ‘Science is clearly economically valuable and clearly spiritually valuable. I don’t see why you would need anything else’, he concluded. By the end of the lecture, many certainly agreed with him.

More news in brief

The BHA reacted to the conclusions of yet another employment tribunal where discrimination against Christians had been claimed but revealed to be unfounded. Shirley Chaplin had been asked to remove a crucifix necklace for health and safety reasons and her claim of discrimination was found to be inaccurate because she rejected alternative arrangements. BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented ‘Freedom of belief is a precious freedom, but its interests are not best served by attempting to talk up claims of persecution and discrimination.’

Having made a submission to the public consultation ourselves, we welcomed the final decision by English Heritage not to rebury prehistoric human remains, as had been requested by the Council of British Druid Orders. BHA head of public affairs Naomi Phillips said, ‘We applaud English Heritage’s excellent report on their decision. The unshared beliefs of people with no more genetic ‘claim’ over the human remains than anybody else in Western Europe should never trump the enormous scientific, sociological, and educational benefit to the public that the historic human remains provide.’

The BHA released its response to the Department for Communities and Local Government’s document Ensuring a level playing field: funding faith-based organisations to provide publicly funded services, which claims to “bust the myths” surrounding religious organisations holding public service contracts. The BHA believes the “myths” in the report to be legitimate concerns, and our response Not So Mythical argues ‘that concerns about the equality and human rights of their service users are legitimate and must not be ignored.’

See all News stories on our website.

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One of our most popular prior contributors, Bob Bury, returns to HumanistLife today, asking “What sort of god don’t you believe in?” And in the week we began publicising our Arts day conference, the highest-rated post happened to be about an original painting, “Lunch at the Natural History Museum”. You can get involved today!


Humanism, Philosophy and the Arts day conference

26th June 2010, Conway Hall, London

Our day will include poetry readings by humanist and acclaimed poet Alan Brownjohn, a performance by the BHA Choir, Martin Rowson on offence and blasphemy, Professor Richard Norman on the Arts and the Meaning of Life, Julian Baggini on whether philosophy or the movies are best for teaching us ethics, Ken Worpole on a humanist architecture, Nigel Warburton on the visual arts – and more! Come along and discuss the role of the arts in creating meaning in human lives, in conveying value, and any other issue you want to raise from the floor as we explore these sometimes neglected topics.

Buy your tickets online for just £15 (or £10 for members of SPES or the BHA).

Tickets are also available with a credit or debit card from 020 7079 3580 during office hours.

This event is jointly hosted by the British Humanist Association and the South Place Ethical Society.


Find a local humanist group near you

Central London Humanists

21st April, Hughes Parry Hall, 19-26 Cartwright Gardens, Camden Town, WC1H 9EF, 6.30pm

Pam Giddy, director of POWER2010, will be giving a talk about the democratic reform movement, with the opportunity to ask questions and discuss the topic afterwards. The event will be chaired by Paul Blanchard of Labour Humanists.

South West London Humanists

26th April, Upstairs room, The Old Ship, 3 King Street, Richmond, TW9 1ND, 7.30pm

Steve Hurd, of the Uganda Humanist Schools Trust, talks to S W London Humanists about how the Trust is helping local teachers set up and run secular schools in a country dominated by schools with deep religious backgrounds. It promises to be an interesting and entertaining evening, and is free of charge.


Is Assisted Dying Ever Morally Justified and Should UK Law Reflect This?

22nd April, Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, London WC1R 4RL, 6pm

End of life choices are of perpetual debate amongst medical practitioners, legal professionals, academia and society at large. Recent media and Euthanasia legislation by the Director of Public Prosecutions has emphasised the pressing need for more clarity. In this debate all the key questions will be discussed by a panel of diverse and influential opinion-makers and experts. Join us to debate one of the defining ethical dilemmas of our times. For more information, and a list of the expert speakers see:

Faith Wars

2nd May, Sci-Fi London, Lab Programme, 5.15pm

The ideological square-off between religion and science is here to stay... or is it? Perhaps the dichotomy is a falsehood, and everyone will learn to live and let live. Or perhaps faith will become the fracture point of an energy-hungry civilization, a warring sphere of philosophies.

What will we believe in 2050? Is believing that others should act according to our beliefs the fault that unites the two sides of the argument? Join expert panellists including BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson, in what promises to be an entertaining and lively debate.

For more information on this, and the event in general, see:

Atheists on Religion

12th May. Old Theatre, Old Building, London School of Economics, 6.30pm

Professor’s Tim Crane and A C Grayling explore the claim that atheist criticism of religion is as dogmatic as that which they attempt to critique, and go on to look into the attractions of religious belief and its place in Europe.

This event is free and open to all with no ticket required. Entry is on a first come, first served basis. For more information, email| or call 020 7955 6043.

Tony Blair Faith Foundation Film Competition

The Tony Blair Faith Foundation has launched a film competition for people 25 and under. It is stated as an opportunity for young people to demonstrate how their faith, beliefs and values inspire them. It would be fantastic for anyone in that age bracket to enter a film about humanism and prove that it is not only religious belief that can shape people’s moral outlook on the world! For more information visit


BHA General and Local Manifestos 2010

We love democracy. Support for democracy, good government, transparency and accountability, and political participation at local and national levels is core to the humanist tradition. So, we thought it would be an excellent idea to publish manifestos for the upcoming local and general elections dealing with the issues and the kind of questions you want answered! You can download the local and general manifestos which include questions to ask your candidates.

Protest the Pope!

The Pope is planning to visit the UK on a Papal visit later this year. The Pope's opposition to women's reproductive rights, gay equality, embryonic stem cell research and the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV has a huge effect on the human rights of millions of people across the globe. We want to make sure that the UK government understands our concerns, takes the opportunity to speak out against these practices and does not make the taxpayer cover the cost of the visit.

You can:

1) Sign a petition calling on the Prime Minister to act

2) Join the facebook group on this issue

Not already a BHA member? Join now and support our vital work!


BHA policy

We sometimes include news and events from other organisations that we think may be of interest to our subscribers. Their inclusion does not necessarily imply BHA support.

How to contribute

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Contact us

The British Humanist Association

1 Gower Street

London WC1E 6HD

Tel: 020 7079 3580



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