Leicester Secular Society

THE OLDEST SECULAR SOCIETY IN THE WORLD - FOUNDED 1851

The IDEAS Group Meetings for 2007

The following are the titles in summary. Further details are given below.
March — Inaugural Meeting: What is Morality Anyway? (Harry Perry).
April — Should we be Beastly to Believers? (George Jelliss).
May — Empowerment or Indoctrination: What is Education For? (John Cook).
June — Why I am a Capitalist (and we should be too?): (Simon Perry).
July — Choice and the Illusion of Freedom: (Wilfred Gaunt).
August — Abortion – What should we make of the demands for change? (Jill Perry).
September — Postmodernism and The Assault on Truth (George Jelliss).
October — BHA (British Humanist Association) Policy on Religious Education (Alan Hayes).
November — Aspects of Evolution (Mike Burden).
December — Ideas Group Quiz (George Jelliss)

2008 — Ideas Group 2008

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Thursday 22 March 2007

Inaugural meeting: What is Morality Anyway?

Harry Perry undertook to provide an introduction to this discussion. We were not expected to read all of these books, but were advised that some of the chapters might help scope the discussion.

Reading List
Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man, 1871 (Ch IV - V).
J. L. Mackie, Ethics: Inventing Right & Wrong, 1977 (Pt 1; Pt 2 Ch 5; Pt 3 Ch 10).
Richard Norman, On Humanism, 2004 (Ch 4). ISBN 0-415-30523
Richard Joyce, The Evolution of Morality, 2006 (Ch 2). ISBN 0-262-101122-2
Stephen Law, The War for Childrens’ Minds, 2006 (Ch 6 - 9). ISBN 0-415-37855-9
Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, 2006 (Ch 6). ISBN 0593055489
Daniel Dennett, Breaking the Spell, 2006 (Ch 10). ISBN-13 978-0-713-99789-7
Marc D Hauser, Moral Minds, 2006 (Ch 7). ISBN -10 0-06-078070-3
Numerous articles and items will also be returned by a simple internet browser search using terms like "secular morality", "humanism" or "moral absolutism".


On the day, Harry showed us a power-point presentation and provided us with a series of print-outs. Here are links to sites covering these topics, or similar ones:
Moral philosophy.
The Ten Commandments.
The seven (holy) virtues - and seven deadly sins.
What are the virtues? - lists of good qualities.
The ethics of Islam.

Harry also showed us a chart: which listed various rules of behaviour in three categories. The degree of importance and the emotional arousal connected to the rule increases from first to third - (as harm increases?). However, the same rule may have different levels of emotion and sanction attached to it in different cultures, e.g. adultery, and this may change over time.

Sanctions across the three categories may range from Frowns, Rebukes, Criticisms, through Condemnation, Loss of reputation, Banning, to Prison, Fine, Infamy. And similarly the normal subjective response over breaches may range from Embarrassment through Shame to Guilt and Remorse.

The presentation was interrupted at regular intervals for the participants to make comments, and the discussion continued afterwards, but there proved insufficient time to cover such a wide subject thoroughly. No doubt particular questions, such as the Is/Ought distinction, will provide headings for future discussions.

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Thursday 19 April 2007

Should we be Beastly to Believers?

or Is Moderate Religion Just as Bad as Fundamentalism?

This is to be introduced by George Jelliss. The format however will be less formal (no overhead projection). Suggested reading for this topic is:
Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, 2006 (Ch 2, Ch 8).
Sam Harris, The End of Faith, 2006.
Sam Harris video: Idea City 2005.

The thesis of Harris and of Dawkins in Chapter 8 "What's wrong with religion? Why be so hostile?", is that those who have "faith", based on revelation or wish fulfilment, are debasing their reason and providing a ground in which it is possible for more extreme religious ideas to take root. A secondary theme touched on in Dawkins' Chapter 2 under "The Neville Chamberlain School of Evolutionists" concerns how it is possible for some scientists to support evolution by natural selection, and also retain theistic beliefs. Two prominent examples who have written books explaining their positions are:

Kenneth Miller Finding Darwin's God. Here are some links to reviews:
by John Scull
by William Thwaites
by Michael Ruse
by Amiel Rossow
review quoting review by Barry Palevitz
See also: video of Miller on the Colbert show

Francis Collins The Language of God. Here is an excerpt and some reviews:
Excerpt
by Sam Harris
by Alexander Dietz
by Rich Deem (a creationist)
by David van Biema (Time)
See also: biography of Collins

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Thursday 17 May 2007; 7:30pm

Empowerment or Indoctrination:
What is Education For?

This is to be introduced by John Cook. John has not recommended any prior reading. (Like any teacher he doesn't want his audience to know more than he does!) Come along and debate the issues among friends.

John did however provide some biographical information, much abbreviated here, which may indicate his approach. He was educated at a Grammar School where he was stopped from singing and from doing Art, and struggled with O-level Maths and French, but was later encouraged to draw by a lecturer at Manchester Regional College of Art. At Preston he took up pottery, since they didn't do woodwork. He failed a course at Leeds on Product Design, but persevered and retook the final year. He went on to study Glass at the Royal College of Art London, and then into ceramics. A drawing tutor tried to stop his work (on aesthetic grounds). He then did an exchange to Skola Umprumulesku in Prague CSSR, behind the iron curtain. At his degree show he was invited to be visiting designer to one of the world’s best glass factories, Venini in Murano Italy. Back to UK a part time job at Leicester College of Art in 1969 setting up a Studio Glass area in Ceramics, in the School of Three Dimensional Design comprising about 120 students and twenty staff. He worked with the newly formed Crafts Council from 1971 up to the 90’s, local Arts Association, started a Studio Glass organisation ‘British Artists in Glass’, made and exhibited Glass work; attended conferences, organised conferences, travelled-visited Factories, Craft Studios and Designers always sharing these experiences with his students. He was Chair of World Craft Council UK; Part of National validating body CNAA + External examiner. 2007 is his 31st year as external examiner. He eventually became Head of Department with 436 FT students. Instead of the usual retirement do he gave a talk about his life entitled "Captain Cooks last talk at DMU".

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Thursday 21 June 2007; 7:30pm

Why I am a Capitalist (and we should be too?)

This is to be introduced by Simon Perry. Simon suggests reading some of Ayn Rand's work before attending. She wrote many works of both theory and of fiction on the topics of laissez faire capitalism and freedom. Some of these are lengthy but a quick and easy potted account of Ayn Rand, along with a list of her work, can be found at: Rand.


As reported in the Diary: Attendance was very good, perhaps near the limit for everyone to have a chance to say something. Simon's presentation, using a laptop and projector, owed more to Viz comic than to The Guardian, and as expected his thesis came under heavy criticism. Dave Ray presented a critical thesis on Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, and Rob Eustace told us of his very relevant experiences in bakeries.

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Thursday 19 July 2007; 7:30pm

Choice and the Illusion of Freedom

The opening presentation for this session is to be provided by Wilf Gaunt. Do we really have freedom, or are we deluding ourselves? Wilf has suggested reading a little Martin Heidegger & & & (1889 - 1976): (The Essence of Human Freedom) or John Stuart Mill & & & (1806 - 1873): (On Liberty &) as preparation for the session. But more important, bring your own ideas on the subject! I'm not sure whether this may also be relevant: Schelling who also wrote on "The Essence of Human Freedom".

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Thursday 23 August 2007; 7:30pm

Abortion - What really are the issues?

This topic was introduced by Jill Perry. The following are the points on the slides in her powerpoint presentation:

1. ABORTION What are the real issues?

2. Four viewpoints: Catholic Truth Society; A Life Campaign activist; Society for the Protection of Unborn Children; British Humanist Association.

3. Human value: All human life is sacred (made in the image of God); Thou shalt not kill; Life, happiness and personal choice valued; Respect for human life; We have only one life.

4. History &:
13th century - Church teaching
1803, 1837 - Ellenborough Act
1861 - Offences Against the Person Act
1929 Infant Life Preservation Act
1938 - The Bourne Case
1950s - attempts to legalise abortion
1967 - The Abortion Act
1991 - The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act

5. The current law: Two doctors must consent, on grounds: - Risk to life, or to mental or physical health, of woman - Risk to health of existing children - Risk of serious handicap if child born - To save life of woman. Time limit set at 28 weeks in 1929, continued till 1990 when reduced to 24.

6. The complexities: The continuum problem; The recognition of "unrealised potential" is disturbing; A wide range of possible reasons why a woman may want an abortion. (from Richard Norman, On Humanism)

7. The issue of language: "the unborn child"; "baby" not "foetus"; "murder", "killing"; "pro-life"; "abortion" is abhorrent, even in "spontaneous abortion".

8. Some issues debated on the Internet: Pregnancy following rape; Likelihood of severe disability; Does the male partner have rights? Does the foetus feel pain?; Should there be early abortion on request in the first 13 weeks?; Is abortion without the woman's consent ever justified?

9. What are the real issues? The real issues are about practice not principle.

10. Issues of practice: Earliest possible date; Equal access to services; Informed choice; GP and specialist not averse; Counselling before and after.

11. Two Early Day Motions: "Review of Abortion Legislation"; "Access to Abortion".


This was followed up by a public debate at Leicester University on 5th December 2007.

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Thursday 20 September 2007; 7:30pm

Postmodernism and The Assault on Truth

George Jelliss introduced this discussion. An account based on his presentation will be appearing on his own site under Essays: Postmodernism.


GJ reported: The IDEAS group meeting on "Postmodernism and the Assault on Truth" went off quite well tonight I thought, with eight members present. [The umbrella that was left behind proved to belong to Wilfred Gaunt.]

Ross Longhurst wrote: I know that I had rather a lot to say last night but postmodernism is something that gets to me. One reason is personal. Back in the early nineteen seventies I developed an interest in approaches to the systematic analysis of narratives of various kinds, particularly as a way of understanding certain aspects of human social behaviour. At that time I found little interest in and response from other sociologists in such approaches. In later years it was rather annoying to find that some of these people had now become self-proclaimed authorities on this very approach that earlier on they had dismissed. What is more they went on to bring the whole enterprise into disrepute by making claims that tend towards suggesting that the essential existence of the world is in the form of texts which leads on to relativism and solipsism. Anyway, thanks for putting on the session.

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Thursday 18 October 2007; 7:30pm

BHA (British Humanist Association) Policy on Religious Education

Alan Hayes introduced this discussion. Three recent official reports have been very critical of the present state of RE in our schools. They present us with an opportunity to change things that must not be missed. I shall review the situation and, in particular, discuss the status of the BHA proposal to allow religious appointees onto school premises to provide instruction.

Background Reading:
BHA policy on faith schools and RE may be found in the pamphlet A Better Way Forward;
BHA Members can find a discussion at "Bring Back RI say BHA?" in the members forum at www.humanism.org.uk.
The three reports referred to are
Making Sense of Religion (ofsted)
Diversity and Citizenship (DfES)
A National Strategy for Religious Education

To really worry see also the recent government/religious leaders report
Faith in the System

Allan adds "Please support my petition: petitions.pm.gov.uk/endfaithschools".


Harry Perry reported: Last week's IDEAS Session was the biggest ever with 16 members attending for Allan Hayes's informative talk on the BHA's policy on religious education. Issues of strategy and principle came to the fore and the wide discussion prompted everyone to rethink their views.

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Thursday 22 November 2007; 7:30pm

The Natural Classification of Animals

Mike Burden will open the discussion with a presentation. Mike says: "I hope that the talk, which will be non-technical, will put over to lay people some of the major events that took place in the evolution of animals" Bacterial flagella - raised by the creationists - will get a mention as will the huge amount of evidence that links different animal groups into a definite sequence. This will be more interesting than concentrating just on our cousins the apes. The origin of new species will be discussed as will the possible future evolution of homo sapiens. Finally, Mike will ask if it can be valid to talk about a purpose for existence. What do you think?

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Thursday 20 December 2007; 7:30pm

IDEAS Group Quiz

George Jelliss was the questionmaster. Six people turned up and the three winners took their pick of an assortment of second-hand books as their prizes. The list of questions and answers is on a separate page: IDEAS Group Quiz 2007.

Ideas Group

Page updated 29 December 2007 GPJ (minor additions FF)