Religious Reactions to Darwin’s Theory of Evolution

Date:        Monday 18th February 2019, 7.30pm
Venue:    Willerby & Kirkella Parish Institute, 58 Main St, Willerby, Hull HU10 6BZ

February 2019 was the 210th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth and John Hawkins, Chair of the group talked about the religious reactions to Darwin’s theory of evolution. Some might say that the Victorian public that first read or read about the Origin of Species were, for the most part, not biblical literalists believing in the literal truth of Genesis. For decades the most enlightened writers in the fields of science and religion had accepted that much of the Old Testament, and Genesis in particular, had to be read in a metaphorical sense. Nevertheless, since it was published Darwin’s theory has had a profound impact on the religious idea that human beings exist because of the deliberate act of creation of a wise and benevolent designer, what the clergyman William Paley compared to a watch maker. A famous debate took place in 1860 in Oxford between the Humanist Thomas Henry Huxley (great grandfather of the former president of Humanists Uk, Sir Julian Huxley) and Bishop Samuel Wilberforce (son of the Hull MP William Wilberforce). The debate is best remembered today for a heated exchange in which Wilberforce supposedly asked Huxley whether it was through his grandfather or his grandmother that he claimed his descent from a monkey. Huxley is said to have replied that he “would not be ashamed to have a monkey for his ancestor, but he would be ashamed to be connected with a man who used his great gifts to obscure the truth”.

John said of his talk:

“Darwin published the 1st edition of ‘The Origin of Species’ on 24 November 1859. The majority of leading scientists at the time were either hostile to his theory of natural selection, or remained silent. What little support he got was from younger scientists, notably Thomas Henry Huxley, and on the continent Ernst Haeckel, a German biologist. In the US, Asa Gray took up his cause. While undoubtedly there was opposition to the theory from some religious figures and theologians, some of the strongest support came from leading churchmen, notably the Rev Charles Kingsley, the Rev Prof Baden Powell, the Rev Frederick Temple and on the continent David Friedrich Strauss, author of a highly controversial life of Christ.”

The Atheism of Schopenhauer

Date:        Monday 21st January 2019, 7.30pm
Venue:    Willerby & Kirkella Parish Institute, 58 Main St, Willerby, Hull HU10 6BZ

The first meeting of 2019 at our new venue was a great success with 25 people attending and was a talk by HERHG committee member John Pittock who talked about Arthur Schopenhauer. John said of his talk:

“Metaphysical systems, by their very nature, should be anathema to most committed Humanists, however, it is generally agreed that the great metaphysical system builder Arthur Schopenhauer (1788 to 1860) had a profound influence on the minds of some of western cultures greatest thinkers: musicians, writers and artists (Einstein, Wittgenstein, Tolstoy, Kafka, Mahler, Wagner, Camus et al).
Widely acknowledged as being the first major western philosopher to publicly declare his atheism at a time when it was dangerous to do so, he also propounded a form of pessimistic philosophy that was bleak in the extreme which laid the groundwork for the realism and authenticity of the later existential philosophers.
Paradoxically, in spite of his renowned pessimism, he crafted a system of salvation utilising, aesthetic, moral and ascetic forms of self-awareness as instruments for sublimating what he saw to be integral to the human condition, namely; anxiousness, fear, selfishness and the imperatives/urges of what he described as the ‘Will’.
Whilst not commanding universal recognition or acceptance, Schopenhauer’s philosophy is usually seen as an important milestone in the history of ideas, furthermore, his theories on aesthetics and music still hold influence.
What was it then that caused the mature Wagner to write that his introduction to Schopenhauer’s philosophy was the most significant event of his life and that ‘the impact was extraordinary and decisive’? Why would Brian Magee write in his own autobiography that on reading Schopenhauer’s ‘World as Will and Representation’ the extraordinary commendation – ‘which I regard as the most mind stretching, capacious, illuminating and penetrating system of philosophical ideas that has yet been forged by a human mind’ . I will give an account of the primary concepts that constructed Schopenhauer’s philosophy and its impact on the minds of the major influencers of the 19th and 20th Century, which were both beneficial and cataclysmic.”

Open Discussion Forum


Date:        Monday 19th November 2018, 7.30pm
Venue:    the back room of the Tiger Inn, Lairgate, Beverley, East Yorkshire, HU17 8JG 

We had a last minute change of topic for our November meeting as Nigel de Lee wass going in to hospital on Monday. In place of Nigel’s talk we had one of our open discussion meetings on recent news and topics of interest to Humanists.

The Differences and Similarities of the Humanist and Christian World Views

Date:      Monday 15th October 2018, 7.30pm
Venue:   the back room of the Tiger Inn, Lairgate, Beverley, East Yorkshire, HU17 8JG

In a re-scheduling of the original date, our October meeting was a talk by Revd. Philip West on the differences and similarities of the Humanist and Christian world views. Philip says of his upcoming talk:

“Having served as a full time Anglican priest for 38 years, mostly in Sheffield, I came to South Holderness for a retirement post in 2016 and started attending HERHG out of interest, where I have appreciated your welcome and your programme of fascinating topics, and where through listening to opinions expressed I have hopefully begun to understand what Humanism is about.
From that perspective I hope we can explore in productive fashion what unites and divides the Christian and the Humanist. It seems to me that the priorities of both are the promotion and encouragement of active compassion and justice as essential life goals both for themselves and for society, and both are truth seekers. The patent difference is that for the Christian the growth of both the individual and society towards compassion requires partnership with God, whereas for the humanist the divine does not exist. The question of truth becomes essentially whether or not Christ is the truth. I am aware that this debate often becomes mired in claims and counter claims of whether the spiritual life causes good or harm, which seems to me to be almost impossible to answer objectively.”

Consumerism: Scourge of our Time or Path out of Poverty

Date:        Monday 17th September 2018, 7.30pm
Venue:    the back room of the Tiger Inn, Lairgate, Beverley, East Yorkshire, HU17 8JG 

Our September meeting wase a discussion lead by Susan Harr who made the case against the consumerist society we live in.

Socrates said “What is the point of walls and warships and glittering statues if the men who build them are not happy?” The twentieth century Humanist Bertrand Russell once said “It is preoccupation with possessions, more than anything else, that prevents us from living freely and nobly”. Others point to pollution and environmental problems caused by mass consumption of consumer goods, yet few of us would choose to live without the comforts of household appliances such as washing machines, fridges, televisions and computers. The average person in the UK has a much higher standard of living in material terms than in previous centuries and some would point out that the main beneficiaries of the cheap products sold in western stores are the low income group consumers who purchase those products, yet many people such as John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, object to what they see as “rampant consumerism”. Does consumerism make the world better or worse?