Archive for November, 2010

The Worfolk Lecture: Origins of Life on Earth

Thursday, November 25th, 2010 | Foundation, Science

worfolklecture2010

Earlier this year we announced the creation of a new fund designed to support public of understanding of science. The idea was to provide funding for an annual lecture on such a topic, hosted by a local group. The first of which took place this Tuesday at the University of Leeds.

Hosted by, Leeds Atheist Society, the first annual Worfolk Lecture was presented by Dr Terrence Kee on the subject of “did life on Earth originate on Earth?”

Dr Kee delivered a fascinating talk, discussing just how resilient and hardy some bacteria are – some can survive extreme cold (such as space), some can survive extreme heat (such as entry into an atmosphere), some can take being crushed, some can survive exposure to high levels of radiation – it’s very, very hard to kill some bacteria! it is therefore conceivable that some may have traveled through space in meteors before making this planet their home.

Much discussion was provoked with almost an hour of questions and answers taking place after the talk – not one to have missed! You can see more photos from the event on our Facebook page.

This House has No Faith in Atheism

Monday, November 22nd, 2010 | Events

On Friday, I was invited up to Durham Union Society to speak against the motion “this house has no faith in atheism.”

Durham is always a pleasure to visit as it’s a beautiful place and provides some odd quirks – for example after spending 18 months living in Leeds city centre it’s a novelty to go to sleep in a room with is dark, and quiet. Plus the company of DUHSS is always welcome (though my memory somwhat failed to live up to the occasion – I got half way through introducing myself to Ed before realising we had met just a month before when I spoke to DUHSS in October).

My fellow speakers were Paul Woolley, head of the Christian think tank Theos, Malcolm Guite, a priest and chaplain based in Cambridge, and Professor Richard Norman, vice president of the British Humanist Association.

I met Richard in the bar beforehand so we could exchange notes. It was great to meet Richard as he is clearly deeply engaged in humanist philsophy while still sharing my passion for the get out there and make a difference approach.

The hospitality on DUS’s part was excellent as well. Not only did they put me up for the night but also provided a three course meal beforehand where I got the chance to chat with the other speakers and Anna, the current president of the DUS. Anna is one of those people who I find somewhat irritating because they are clearly taking more than their fair share of both intelligence and looks.

I was somewhat worried about the speech itself – having run through it in my room beforehand, I can’t help feeling that everything I had written was nonsense though the feedback I received at the reception after the debate was very positive so it was either a reasonable speech or people being very polite (I suspect it was a cross between the two to be honest!).

Giving the wording of the motion, myself and Richard has concluded that such a debate may be somewhat of a lost cause (though fun all the same!). It was a very pleasant surprise then when we won the vote – apparently this house does have faith in atheism. The question is, did we actually want that result? 😀

Not a Chimp

Sunday, November 21st, 2010 | Events, Humanism

On Saturday, Leeds Skeptics in the Pub hosted Jeremy Taylor, author of “Not a Chimp: The Hunt to find the Genes that Make Us Human” as well as a popular science television producer for many years.

Jeremy delivered a fascinating talk arguing that actually there was a good case for claiming humans really are special. He made the points that chimps are not as clever as we often think they are – tool usage for example is something that can also be observed in crows so it not on it’s own a sign of higher intelligence and went on to say that crows demonstrate signs of problem solving and abstraction that chimps to do.

He suggested that many people, Richard Dawkins being a good example, may be worried that if we don’t push the view that humans and chimps are almost identical and very close together in the spectrum it could open the door for the religious – something which none of us want but to avoid it at the expense of the truth is surely unacceptable.

Finally he put forward the case that it makes no sense to grant chimps human rights because they are incapable of understanding it or nor does it have any real meaning – even if you sign them onto the declaration of human rights that doesn’t mean anything because you still have to protect them. Much like we don’t grant a child rights until it has reached maturity and can understand those rights, it makes far more sense to take the view that we must decide to protect them because they are unable to assert any rights we could award them.

It was a fascinating talk and one that I really enjoyed. I think the real gem of this month’s topic was that many people at the meeting probably didn’t subscribe to Jeremy’s side of the argument, at least beforehand. It is easy for us to preach to the converted on clearly nonsense topics such as homeopathy but I think there is far more to be gained from talks such as this which really challenge our thinking.

This House would Ban the Burqa

Sunday, November 21st, 2010 | Humanism

On Tuesday, Leeds Atheist Society held a debate on banning the burqa. Myself and John were speaking for the proposition which was an interesting challenge as I don’t support the idea of banning the burqa. Never the less though we managed to win over the house in the end and clinch victory.

Graduation

Sunday, November 21st, 2010 | Life, News

Just a quick post to say congratulations to my sister Katie who graduated with her bachelor’s degree in theatre costume design on Monday.

The degree is accredited by Teesside University which I’m told is currently University of the Year being the first new university to win the award. This to me seems somewhat analogous to Stewart Lee’s “world’s tallest dwarf” (very impressive in relation, but still never the less a dwarf, and therefore restricted by law from holding positions with a minimum height requirement such as a firefighter, or owner slash operator of an enchanted beanstalk).

Never the less, I’m sure most of us are all too aware of just how much work there is to earn a degree in any subject that doesn’t contain the word “media” in the title, so congratulations are certainly in order.

Gorillaz

Saturday, November 13th, 2010 | Distractions, Life, Reviews

With Norm having a spare ticket to the Gorillaz gig at MEN last night, I decided to take him up on the offer and head over. The train journey over there was a nightmare – pretty much every train in or out of Leeds was running late and so we started off fifteen minutes late only to find we could only crawl to Pudsey.

So an hour into this journey we hadn’t even made it out of Leeds yet with the official reason for the problems being a combination of a gearbox problem and “the track being wet.” So we spent another twenty minutes or so waiting for the Blackpool train which was only a few minutes behind us apparently so turn up so it could push us into Bradford at which point they gave up on our train and cancelled it.

Once we had found another train the journey finally got going and I ended up reaching Manchester about quarter past nine – over three hours after having set off but just in time for the set – Gorillaz had just taken to the stage and were onto their third song by the time I got to my seat.

Some, who regularly go to bland and unpopular bands who can’t fill a large audience, would wonder whether they were looking at musicians or ants at stadium gigs but luckily we had no such problems – the seats themselves were really good – it was as far forward as you can get (I was in seat 3) on the left side, about half way up the lower tier.

There were a huge number of people involved in the performance. The regular act consisted of Damon Albarn, three guitarists, two drummers, four vocalists, a five piece string orchestra and two or three other people meaning just as standard there were nearly 20 people on stage, plus on top of that they had a brass band and another orchestra that did some sets and maybe 8-10 guest vocalists as well resulting in there being probably 40 people on stage at various points throughout the gig!

Despite not being that familiar with a lot of Gorillaz’ music I really enjoyed the gig, well worth the wait.

Paramore

Saturday, November 13th, 2010 | Distractions, Life, Reviews

Paramore

On Thursday, we headed down to Sheffield to see Paramore. The wind and the rain made for an interesting journey, but never the less we made it down in good time and after grabbing some food we headed in just to see the final few songs of B.o.B.

Paramore themselves hit the stage at around 9:15 and played an almost identical set list to the one they had played in Nottingham a few days earlier, which was great, because those were the songs I had been listening to non-stop since 😀 .

I really enjoyed the gig, probably more than Linkin Park, mainly due to us having standing tickets which was well worth the premium cost as you get so much more atmosphere on the floor – not to mention more room to get into the rhythm.

Interfaith panel

Saturday, November 13th, 2010 | Humanism

On Tuesday, Leeds Atheist Society held an interfaith panel featuring speakers from Baha’i, Quakers, Humanism, Christianity, Paganism, Scientology and Judaism.

Humanist Action Group launches new volunteering website

Saturday, November 13th, 2010 | Foundation, Humanism

Humanist Action Group website

The new Humanist Action Group website is now live!

HAG was founded in 2009 with the idea that we should stop talking about how Humanism is about living a good and ethical life which makes the most of it for ourselves and those around us and get out there and start making a difference – not because scripture told us we should but because it is the right thing to do.

The new website makes it easier for people to get involved in volunteering – simply fill in your details and enter your nearest town or city. We will then match your details to local volunteering opportunities that HAG is coordinating and let you know when they are available.

HCoL is moving to the evening

Sunday, November 7th, 2010 | Foundation, Humanism

From December, the Humanist Community of Leeds is moving it’s meetings to the evening, with doors opening at 5:30pm. We were really impressed with how many people turned out this morning but we believe we can probably double attendance by moving to a later time, based on the feedback we have, so this should make for even better events.