Leicester Secular Society


The IDEAS Group

A new monthly discussion and study group
for members of Leicester Secular Society

The idea of a mid-week discussion meeting for members had been under consideration for a long while, before Harry Perry and George Jelliss came forward with some definite proposals that were put into effect at an inaugural meeting in March 2007. A meeting was held every month that year, at 7:30 pm on the Thursday nearest the 20th of the month. We hope it is now established as a regular feature of the Society's activities.

Details of last years meetings held are now recorded on a separate page: IDEAS Group 2007. There is also a separate page for the End of Year Quiz (Questions and Answers).

The acronym IDEAS stands for something like Interesting Debates Exploring Assorted Subjects or Intelligent Discussion Evening Analysing Secularism. You can probably think of others. Suggestions for topics to be tackled are invited.

The group is intended for those Society members who feel the need to explore secular ideas in more depth. The format is for members of the group to choose topics and for volunteers to prepare 15-minute presentations: one presentation and one topic at each meeting, though there is freedom for these outlines to be varied to suit the subject and method of presentation. The meetings last from 7:30 to 9:00 or 9:30 pm.

The topic is normally agreed at least one month in advance to give group members a chance to do some reading, and thinking, around the subject, so that they are prepared to participate in some in-depth discussion. (That is, in more depth than the Sunday evening meetings usually allow.) The presentation is followed by detailed discussion in a supportive atmosphere, with a view to deepening understanding of our world, clarifying ethical issues and strengthening members' abilities to challenge religious obscurantism.

This is your group to direct wherever you want it to go — after all, you are the ones who will be doing the talking! Some of the possible topics for debate are listed in the last section below; but these are only suggestions. There may well be others that we have forgotten, and that group members think more interesting, or of more pressing concern in relation to current problems, or in need of urgent action.

The IDEAS Group is not about being lectured to from a source of authority. It is more about a shared search for rational secular solutions to many of the problems facing our society and humanity at the current time. So please come with an open mind and a readiness to participate.

Please note that the IDEAS Group is not a Book Group. There is no need to buy any books in order to take part in the discussions. All necessary information to take part will be provided by the introductory speaker. Where books are referred to these are just suggestions for reading to prepare your mind for the discussion. What is more important is to think about the subject for yourself and to come prepared with your own ideas on it, or a mind ready to consider new ideas.

Programme for 2008

Thursday 17 January 2008: Lyn Hurst on "Universalist or Relativist?". Here are some links that may be relevant to this discussion: — 'Butterflies and Wheels' has a lot on this, e.g. Relativism — and from Andrew Anthony in the Guardian — "This frontline of contemporary debate runs across issues as diverse as race, faith, multiculturalism, feminism, gay rights, freedom of speech and foreign policy. — Let's start with cannibalism, slavery and ritual human sacrifice. Do you think that they are a) unspeakable acts of barbarity? or b) vibrant expressions of a distinctive cultural heritage?" That's a rather satirical cartoon summary of the issues!

Thursday 21 February 2008: Harry Perry on "Race and Intelligence".

Thursday 20 March 2008: Allan Hayes on "Evolution and Ethics".

Below are topics under consideration for future meetings:
Specific Topics Suggested.
Potential Topics.


Specific Topics Suggested

from Paul Howe

Is Socialism Relevant? — Was it relevant in the past? Has it had its day? Or is it the way of the future? What is true socialism anyway? Communism? Cooperation? Solidarity? Left-wing Capitalism?

from George Jelliss:

How do we Counter the 'Evil Atheists' argument? — It is often argued that the regimes of Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, etc were Atheist regimes and were evil, and so all atheist regimes would be like that. — The obvious counter is that they may have been atheist regimes, but they were obviously not Humanist regimes. — In the case of Hitler there are also the arguments that he was always a Catholic, and was supported by the Catholic church. There is much evidence to support this case. — Can we do better than this?

Is the Human Population problem the elephant in the drawing room? — global warming, diminishing natural resources, power generation, food production, conflict over territory, and many other problems — are they really all different problems needing different solutions, or all symptoms of the same problem - overpopulation?

Logic and Reason: We should all use them more. — I want to challenge some familiar arguments: &151; Absence of Evidence is not Evidence of Absence?? Lawrence Krauss. He uses this principle to argue: "Now more than ever it is important to understand the limits of science." But it is just a false cliche. If there are no big footprints on the lino and no piles of dung on the carpet and no trumpeting from the next room I'm pretty likely to be right, in light of this absence of evidence, that there is no elephant in the kitchen. — You Can't Get Owt For Nowt?? The universe is everything that exists, including space and time. So there can be nothing before or outside the universe. So if we say the universe came into existence at time zero, then it must have come out of nothing, out of nonexistence. — Science Cannot Answer The Important Questions: Why? Why questions are a tautological fallacy. The word 'why' contains the assumption that there is a deliberate intent behind something.

It is not necessary that the proposer present the introduction to a topic. If anyone else would like to take up one of these proposals, they are welcome to do so.

We need to keep a supply of definite proposals to ensure we have a rolling programme for our monthly meetings. The following section provides a more diffuse range of suggestions from which something more specific can be developed. Keep in mind topicality.


Potential Topics


The nature of truth: postmodernism, scientific method. Epistemology. Logic. Reality and fantasy, Platonism, the infinite. Do we need to have faith in science or reason? Scientism. What are ethics and morality, and where do they come from? Absolutism or relativism. How to resolve moral dilemmas.


The Big Bang — secular Creationism? The Anthropic principle. Proofs of evolution and natural selection. Selfish genes and altruism. Race and intelligence. Whatever happened to Freud? Nature versus nurture. Consciousness. Social responsibility of scientific research. Control of technology.


Countering the 'evil atheists' argument (Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, ...). Separation of church and state: what would a fully secularised Britain look like? Differences between secularist and humanist outlooks. Where do secularists find purpose in life? Should we back a secular political party?


Respect and offence. Will religion defeat secularism by faster breeding? Creationism and 'Intelligent Design'. Buddhism, religion or life-style choice? Holy books — a critique. Religion as a source of evil or of good. Theocracies. Is there any value in religious ideas or practices? Prayer. Meditation. Rites.


Abortion — when is it morally acceptable? Euthanasia — is it open to abuse? Switching off life support systems. Medical prioritisation: Provision of costly medications; Should self-inflicted illnesses be treated less urgently? Age limits for IVF? Stem cell research, hybrid embryos, cloning, etc. Choosing sex of children. Eugenics.


Smoking bans. Health and safety laws versus individual responsibility. Nanny state. Setting the age of majority. Treatment of disability. Population control. Ageism.


Animal rights or human obligations? Hunting, fishing, vegetarianism, factory farming. Animal testing, vivisection, experiments. Speciesism, special status for primates, mammals, vertebrates?


Same sex marriages. Promotion of homosexuality. Exceptions for religious bodies. Modesty, explicit sexuality, pornography, erotica. Monogamy, polygamy, polyamory, adultery, incest. Race, sexuality and adoption rules. Gender equality and difference.


Apologies for historic wrongs. Violence for political ends. Just wars, pre-emptive attacks. Interference in a country's internal problems. Legitimate targets? Can use of torture be justified? Imprisonment without trial. Acceptable levels of collateral damage? Internationalism and patriotism. Can the United Nations be improved?


Globalisation and exploitation. Communism, Marxism, Socialism, Capitalism, Neo-cons. Human rights — where do they come from? Universal rights or cultural relativism? Inequality and income differences, city bbonuses, celebrity wealth, giving to beggars, role of charity.


Free speech, no platform for fascists, holocaust denial, incitement to racial or religious hatred. Immigration, multiculturalism, integration, assimilation, religious dress and insignia. Slavery now. Surveillance and the right to privacy. Identity cards. DNA database, unified state records.


Executions. Legalisation of drugs. Legalisation of prostitution. Punishment, retribution, revenge, rehabilitation, role of victims. Causes of or excuses for crime.


Corporal punishment. Religious imdoctrination. Faith schools. Rights of parents. Rights of children. Parental choice. Private and home schooling. Streaming. Treatment of children with special needs, brighter, disruptive, talented, etc. Vocational training. Gender differences in upbringing of boys and girls.


Nuclear power. Global warming and climate change. Carbon trading. Controlling population growth. Changing lifestyles, personal responsibility. Recycling, is it worth it?


Does it serve any useful purpose? Can secularists appreciate religiously inspired art? Should cathedrals and churches be preserved? What hymns, songs, poems, music, paintings, plays, literature, etc best celebrate secular ideas, and should we promote more?


Page updated 29 December 2007 GPJ