Chair of East London Humanists Paul Kaufman says it is a great time to be a humanist

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- Credit: Archant

Two recent news items have been encouraging for those of us of a Humanist persuasion. The first is the result in November of a YouGov poll, commissioned by the Folio Society, that asked members of the public which books they thought were “the most valuable to Humanity”. Of those surveyed in London, Darwin’s The Origin of the Species was ranked first, ahead of the Bible. Interestingly, readers outside London put the Bible first. Overall, five of the top 10 books were by eminent scientists.

The second, I think related, story is the spectacular success of the Rosetta Mission and the meteor probe. It is extraordinary to think that, up until a blink ago in the span of human history, meteors were widely believed to be nothing more than a divine portent. The scientific evidence now clearly shows they are the debris left over from the time the universe first formed billions of years ago. Central to the Rosetta Mission is the quest to ascertain whether complex organic chemicals already detected on meteors could hold clues to the way that life first evolved on earth.

None of this will necessarily undermine religious faith. There are of course many scientists who are religious. They are obviously able to accommodate scientific discoveries within their beliefs. Humanists, who have no faith, have no problem with this. Our concern is only when those with religious faith try to impose it on others or where it causes harm. We do therefore object, for example, to religious people who insist disease is the result of, or can be cured by, divine intervention. This flies in the face of scientific evidence it is caused by micro-organisms that are themselves a product of evolution and that continue to evolve, hence the growing problem of resistance to anti-biotics.

The Rosetta Mission is an inspiring example of what can be achieved through international co-operation and scientific endeavour. The importance so many Londoners place on science over religion says a lot about this fantastic and rapidly evolving city.

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