The author recommends…

Things are a little crazy around here as I’m preparing my PhD thesis for submission, so I would like to direct your attention towards some other nuggets of humanist thought and wordsmithery.

First off, I recommend a visit to FreeThought Fort Wayne, who are hosting the 25th Humanist Symposium blog carnival. There’s a whole bunch of interesting stuff which I haven’t had time to read yet, and it also includes my piece about Humanism and Polyamory.

Second, the Friendly Humanist and the Not-Quite-So-Friendly Humanist have published their first columns for the Humanist Society of Scotland magazine ‘Humanitie’. The idea is that they present two different perspectives on a set topic. They’re starting off big and discussing death for their first outing.

Finally, it’s Freshers’ Week here at the University of Edinburgh and the Humanist Society will be gearing up for another year of activities. You can find them manning a stall at the Freshers’ Fair, this Wednesday and Thursday  at the Pleasance Societies Centre and and on Wednesday they’ll be wandering around trying to get people to take part in a Prayer Contest (pick a deity, make a prayer, roll the dice, closest number wins!). Then on Saturday, they will be climbing Mount Improbable, walking up Arthur’s Seat and discussing the evolutionary time line as they go. Look out for them at the Chaplaincy Fair on Tuesday too.

Happy reading and see you back here in a week!

8 Responses to “The author recommends…”

  1. 1 Hugh September 19, 2008 at 6:15 pm

    Hey, could I ask you more about these fresher’s week events? I’m a bit concerned that they sound quite anti-religion – the prayer game especially sounds like it’s more mocking other people’s faiths than celebrating humanism.
    I’m just a bit worried that, particularly as these events will be the first contact many of the freshers(and returning students too) will have with the humanist society, that they could set a quite worrying tone for the rest of the year. But I don’t know, do you think I’m maybe being a bit over-sensitive?

    Hope thesis-writing is coming along well.

  2. 2 Clare September 19, 2008 at 8:09 pm

    Walking up Arthur’s Seat discussing evolution is fairly harmless, unless you’re a creationism/intelligent design adherent. I think most Christians and people of other faiths would agree with the theory of Evolution. I don’t think celebrating science is necessarily an anti-religion thing, but it’s a bit dull if it’s all you do.

    I think the Prayer Contest is meant to be fun, but I agree it’s not particularly related to or informative about humanism. I’m not that keen on it, but I think the committee like it because it means that they can wander around, meet people and talk to them about what they believe. I should stress that it in no way involves berating, mocking or evangelising at people.

    I agree though, it would be good to get some events about humanism in there. I think this year’s committee should have some pretty good ideas, so we’ll have to see what they come up with.

  3. 3 Hugh September 21, 2008 at 9:00 am

    Well, my concern with the Arthur’s seat trip is very much the creationist aspect. I understand the name “Climbing Mount Improbable” comes from a Richard Dawkins book aimed at proving creationist arguments wrong. That, and the fact that you just can’t discuss evolution without creationism being an issue, makes me suspect this is at least in part about criticising other people’s beliefs and not just celebrating the wonder and diversity of the natural world.
    Of course these *are* important issues, and it would be very worrying if they couldn’t be discussed freely and openly, but choosing to do this as a fresher’s week event, especially when paired with the prayer-game, strikes me as positioning the society in a really worrying way?

  4. 4 Hugh September 21, 2008 at 9:22 am

    …but umm, yeah – I probably shouldn’t go on. I suspect I’m being a bit too critical here. Sorry!

  5. 5 Clare September 21, 2008 at 3:38 pm

    Actually, the idea came out of the suggestion that it would be good to go for a walk up Arthur’s Seat and then the idea for Climbing Mount Improbable came up to give it a humanist theme. Too much thinking and not enough fresh air and exercise makes for dull and cranky humanists. 🙂

    However, I am slightly worried by the idea that any discussion of science is automatically considered an aggressive or anti-religious act. The origin of life on Earth is an important and interesting question for every person on this planet. I object to the statement that “you just can’t discuss evolution without creationism being an issue”. This is only an issue in a environment where certain Christian sects dominate. Creationism is not at issue for Buddhist, Jain, Hindu, or Sikh societies, or secular societies. I agree that the current social and political climate has made creationism a hotly debated topic, but I think if a group organise an event about evolution and the original of life that does not mention creationism and isn’t promoted as an ‘anti-creationism’ event then it shouldn’t constitute an act of aggression.

    I agree that some events that discuss more about humanism would be a good idea, especially at the start of academic year. Seeing as humanism doesn’t have any set doctrine it does tend to become more centred around people discussing ideas and problems sometimes. We’ll have to see what they have planned next. 🙂

  6. 6 Hugh September 21, 2008 at 9:28 pm

    Well, naturally I’m very keen for people to be discussing science, and I’d say not at all anti-religious in itself, to my mind, religion and science should not be at all opposed.
    But why choose evolution? It’s not the there aren’t many, many other topics within science which are relevant to life, and the origin of life. Why does noone ever discuss the physics of galaxy formation? Or why the chemistry of water is so awesome? Or the fantastic versatility of organic chemistry? They’re all every bit as relevant to life on earth, and every bit as fascinating and beautiful.
    But people always choose evolution. And they do it because it attracts attention, and it attracts attention because of the controversy over creationism in america. So it seems to me that choosing to discuss this one specific subject by itself, rather than any of the others which would be equally suitable, is a pretty political decision, and that’s kinda why I’m jumping to the conclusion that there is a “this is why creationists are wrong” subtext behind this.

    And I should stress, I don’t think there would be anything wrong with having a talk of that kind, and from what you’ve said I think you’ve done them before, and in a very good and balanced way.

    And hmm… was meaning this to be just a quick note to justify what I said before, but have gone on rather longer than I’d planned.
    Thanks for your answers :o)

  7. 7 Clare September 22, 2008 at 10:51 am

    In the case of why this event and why in freshers’ week, I have to say that it was simply because one committee member was keen to take everyone for a walk up Arthur’s Seat while the weather was still nice and it’s a nice thing to see when you first come to Edinburgh. If it hadn’t have been for the walk, then I’m pretty sure there wouldn’t have been an evolution event in freshers’ week.

    I do agree that evolution can get a bit overused, overly political and repetitive. I think in the current climate there’s going to be a lot of events and talks based around evolution because with the rise of creationism people are realising the importance of education and making science accessible for everyone. Knowledge should be for the good of everyone and everyone is entitled to it.

    Personally, I have a slight obsession with planetariums and would happily arrange a trip to one. I’ve always wanted to see the exhibition at the Royal College of Surgeons too. I’d also like to see some debate on issues that are topical today such as stem cell research, drug use, war, prisons, sexism, racism, homophobia, ableism, nationalism, etc. There are also plans for some interfaith events. It’s all about having a good balance.

  8. 8 grammarking September 24, 2008 at 8:35 pm

    Hey Hugh, I’m Mike, this year’s secretary of the Humanist Society. Sorry I didn’t get involved in this discussion earlier but as you can imagine I’ve been busy with these Fresher’s events.

    Your objection is perfectly valid and one that I accept. The walk up Arthur’s Seat was my idea, purely as a social event, but it was suggested that to give it a bit of a twist we should trace the evolutionary timeline as we go. Getting to the top of Arthur’s Seat is always on people’s list of things to do. I also ran the event personally and it was purely about science, the topic of religion didn’t come up at all unless it was raised by one of the Freshers. We were also at the Chaplaincy Fair alongside all the other societies based there which was a peaceful event where we liased with the religious societies there. We intend to do a fair number of ‘interfaith’ events, especially with the Buddhists and possible the Baha’i Society.

    I must admit though, that in telling Freshers the kinds of talks and debates we host, I must admit that I noticed a lot of them are anti-religious. In the absense of an atheist society at the university we kind of fill two roles, and with so many people at my tender age still in their anti-religious stage (compare my blog to that of the friendly humanist, for example) and it’s easy to see why.

    The Prayer Contest is just a publicity stunt. It’s not reflective of the kinds of events we do during the year. I too would like to see more positive humanist events and I’m sure this year we will. When we update our website in the coming week or so you can get more information there at

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