Sunday, 18 March 2012

Humanists in Canterbury

I visited the East Kent Humanists today. It's straight-forward to get to Canterbury from Hastings by train, one change at Ashford. Their meeting place is on the University of Kent Campus, which is a longish walk from the station, although buses are available. Fortunately it was a beautiful sunny day. I should have taken a camera - there is a good view of the Cathedral from the hill.

Julian Baggini was speaking to the group about ideas from his , Heathen's Progress series in The Guardian, which he says will be ending soon with a sort of Manifesto. He thinks atheists and religious people have to some extent been "talking past each other" without connecting.

There was the usual discussion of names we use for ourselves, such as atheist, humanist, bright, naturalist, rationalist. etc, and asking which aspect was the most fundamental. I would have thought it was obviously reason and evidence. However one member of the audience, evidently a postmodernist philosopher, argued at length that foundations were elusive.

I was surprised that Prof Baggini brought up the argument that we may not have evolved to be "optimal" for truth detection, i.e. that reason is an evolved capacity and may not be reliable. I take the view that logical reasoning is just a matter of step by step argument from simple assumptions, and we could not have evolved to reason in any other way.

The chair at the meeting, no doubt to stimulate debate, suggested that since Humanists are always on about God and Religion, and some people get their kicks from reacting to Thought for the Day, that we are parasitic on religion. In my response I suggested that it is religion that is parasitic or like a virus, and we are the antibodies.

The question was raised of whether reason is sufficient to make people happy or moral. Clearly not, since happiness is not necesarily a good thing (e.g. in situations where painful decisions are needed), and what is moral is often not at all clear (e.g. since we may not be able to calculate the consequences of our actions).

So, a stimulating day out. Thanks to the group for allowing my involvement.

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