Saturday, 6 June 2009

A Day Out at Conway Hall

I've just got back from the Darwin, Humanism and Science one-day conference at Conway Hall. It was more a series of lectures than what I would call a conference. The highlight of the day for me was the introductory speech by Richard Dawkins in which he took the famous last paragraph of Origin of Species as his theme and wove eloquent variations on it line by line.

There were then two lectures about the attempts of young-earth creationists to subvert the teaching of science, and in particular evolutionary biology. James Williams of Sussex University advocated the teaching of evolution from an earlier age to avoid young minds being filled with misconceptions that are difficult to overcome at a later stage.

Two, more philosophical, talks covered the difficulty of teaching evolution, caused in the first place by its non-intuitive nature and secondly by its supposed implications for morality. To counter the charge of immorality levelled at Social Darwinism, Michael Schmidt-Salomon advocated "Evolutionary Humanism" as a worldview, which he traced back to Julian Huxley.

The last talk, by Babu Gogineni of the International Humanist and Ethical Union, warned us against the rising fundamentalism of followers of the Hindu religion.

A. C. Grayling closed the day with some thoughts on Humanism and Science which he connected to C. P. Snow's "Two Cultures" lecture given 50 years ago.

An irritation throughout the day for me was the presence of a simultaneous translation booth at the back of the hall which was not adequately soundproofed. I had to struggle to listen to the speaker and ignore the translator.


  1. On Saturday, my husband Phil and I also attended the one day conference organised by the British Humanist Society. My main reason for attending was to hear for the first time Richard Dawkins and A.C. Grayling speak. Neither disappointed and I’m pleased to say that they came across even better in the flesh. Richard Dawkins ended his session with the words, Evolution! The Greatest Show on Earth: The Only Game in Town. The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution is the title of Richard’s new book.
    All the speakers were excellent but the two who stood out for me were: James Williams of Sussex University with his talk on the insidious effects of creationism on primary age children and how he felt the teaching of evolution through science must start early on in the curriculum for very young children and Babu Gogineni, a humanist and rationalist, who spoke of the effects Hinduism has on the progress of science in India. Babu spoke of a university in India that had dropped funding for physics and chemistry courses in favour of an astrology department. Babu also campaigns on behalf of the Dalits (untouchables) in Asia.
    The day, a sell out, was informative and uplifting, despite the seriousness of the subject, speakers laced their talks with wit and humour. Never let it be said that Humanists can’t be funny.
    I do agree with George that the sounds from translation booths were a distraction and need some better soundproofing.

  2. Ann, Sorry I didn't see you there! I suppose we were on opposite sides of the hall, and consequently went out to different areas for our coffee. I also went off to attend to other business in the lunchbreak. I did meet John Catt, from Leicester.