Category Archives: Humanism

Atheaholics Anonymous

Dear Member:

Thank you for showing an interest in our society. We really appreciate the time you took to speak to us and hope you will enjoy being part of our community here at UCLan. We will be having our first event this Wednesday 24.09.14 at 7pm entitled “Atheaholics Anonymous” where we will all be able to get to know each other better. Please meet us outside the Student’s Union.

Please take the time to look at our Facebook PageFacebook GroupTwitter Feed, and Website. Also, why not check out Project Science and Reason to see some of our past events.

Thanks again, and we look forward to seeing you all soon.

Kind Regards,

Glen (Chair)


Atheaholics Anonymous.


Moral, religious, psychopathic, or just human?

Glen Carrigan looks at the science of morality

Original article at British Humanist Association 07.07.2014

Science, increasingly, is answering questions which before only philosophers could attempt

Why doesn’t Microsoft Word recognise the word ‘Neuropsychology?’ Maybe because it’s a rather new field, although people have been musing on the workings of the physical brain for a very long time indeed – don’t worry though, we’re not trepanning people anymore!

My interest is the moral brain, how humans – and other animals to some degree – draw the distinction between right and wrong to organise society. Some argue that moral standards are axiomatic and that moral compasses come from god. There actually seems to be some truth to this, in that some absolutist standards like Thou Shalt Not Kill or the Golden Rule seem to be very intuitive – as is the notion that you’re somehow a social pariah if you play World of Warcraft. A paper by Baumard and Boyer called “Explaining Moral Religions” shows just how universal this is.

Is the Golden Rule any good though? Maybe, but you’re making your own narrow individual experience the basis for how you treat others. Wouldn’t it be better to ask them how they’d like to be treated? This should indeed be the case for issues such as assisted dying, where holding to Thou Shalt Not Kill diminishes the dignity and autonomy of a feeling, reflecting being. To hold dogmatic moral views also only works if you believe in god and that at least in some religions, you’re good to escape punishment in the hereafter, rather than for the sake of the here and now.

Far from being divine in origin, there seems to be a wealth of evidence showing us that being an individual yet social animal, with a big (relative to body size) and healthy brain, necessitates certain behaviours for us to flourish in a group. This then, gives rise to our need to discuss and reflect upon what it means to be a moral agent. You can see similar intuitive behavioural patterns to our own in other animals that operate in social groups. A wonderful example is the reciprocal behaviour of vampire bats, who seem to understand that a good deed (donating a regurgitated blood meal – stomach churning I know) deserves repayment. There is much converging evidence in evolutionary psychology that points to animals being the origin of their own ‘moral’ codes. But there are driving forces behind being a good egg other than reciprocity.

Throughout history philosophers have struggled with what constitutes the virtuous act. We notice that certain behaviours are predictable and wrong such as rape and rightly condemn people for it. We also need to accept that we make choices – if we have free will – and should be responsible for them. The fact that certain prohibitions are intuitive might suggest an in-built moral acquisition and refinement device (MARD) which is nurtured by social experience, emotion and reflection, rather than an omnipotent law giver. Perhaps we are actually responsible for the holy books that seek to have us tow the moral line – although we were managing to beforehand – in any event we seem to be the only species we know of that spends a great deal of time writing books telling ourselves to be good, that we’re special, and that we should be humble about it!

Neuropsychology can perhaps tell us a bit about this MARD and how we think, rather than what we should think here: We establish the social norms after all and what acts constitute deviance. The archetypal Psychopath seems to be deviant to many of us and this is why I study them. The fact is that we all have psychopathic traits along a spectrum; it’s just that some people have more pronounced, what the majority consider to be, morally deviant tendencies. Neuropsychology shows us that Psychopaths seem to have diminished empathic concern, as well as, fail to notice the importance of intention in a harmful act. Since it’s us that establish that intention to cause harm is worse than an accident (the difference between murder and manslaughter) we view psychopaths as morally deviant in society – perhaps their MARD is broken?

People often panic here and think that if we can predict someone will think and perhaps behave murderously then the notion of choice in society falls apart. It might, if you want Neuroscience to strip us of our humanity. In my view, although we could see why such people might be like this, that doesn’t mean they walk away scot free. What matters is that we discuss our options reflectively and organise society around us as moral beings that makes choices, with a sense of responsibility, and who can be punished for transgressions, rather than allowing my brain made me do it as an alibi in all cases where mental instability is an issue. It’s also worth pointing out that most psychopaths actually don’t run around murdering people like Heath Ledger in Batman!

Top TV Scientist Draws a Crowd at UCLan

George McGavin

Glen Carrigan, Masters by research student UCLan School of Psychology, palaeontologist Dr Robert Asher, associate lecturer in computer aided engineering at UCLan Matt Dickinson and Television presenter Dr George McGavin.

Written by: Rachel Atkinson, 09 June 2014, original article.

The BBC’s Dr George McGavin was the headline speaker at a science event.

One of the country’s top entomologists drew a crowd at a public lecture at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan).

Television presenter Dr George McGavin, who is a regular contributor to the BBC’s One Show, was the headline speaker at the Evening of Science and Reason.

He was joined at the free student led event by Dr Robert Asher and UCLan’s Matt Dickinson. All three talks were designed to highlight scientific discovery and ethical living in a modern world.

Dr McGavin, who has recently presented Monkey Planet for BBC1, gave a talk entitled Insects: Sex, violence and a cast of billions. Dr Asher, a palaeontologist specialising in mammals, presented Evolution, Reason, and Religion and Matt Dickinson talked about The Science of Superheroes.

Organiser Glen Carrigan, who is a Masters by Research Student in UCLan’s School of Psychology, said: “An Evening of Science and Reason was a huge success. With Matt Dickinson showing us how his fully functional iron man helmet worked, Dr Robert Asher weighing up his religious belief whilst being a palaeontologist and Dr George McGavin telling us how much sex insects have whilst he threw melons around the room, there truly was something for everyone.”

“I set up this project in order to stimulate scientific and ethical debate, and feel that this aim was definitely achieved. We hope to hold more events like this in the future and wish to thank all of our guests and fantastic volunteers for coming along.”

Cameron The King: We’re Christian, or if not Christian, just not non-religious. God Forbid!


Cameron The King

David Cameron has recently been playing politics with religion, namely by calling Britain a Christian country and elucidating an ambition to “expand the role of faith based organisations,” and I thought it was Chris the King, not Cameron! It cannot be doubted that much of our culture, art and history derives from Christianity, but to call the country Christian is nonsense, perhaps post-Christian would be better. This has led to Cameron’s assertion being challenged by many concerned members of the public.

This country has many faith groups and those who have none; the latter are usually wholly overlooked though. The 2013 British Social Attitudes Survey records 48% of the entire nation’s population identify as non-religious [Edit: YouGov poll 2015, 62% non-religious]. Add all of the Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, Baha’i and other religious communities – and non-religious – to this and it is extremely divisive to claim that somehow Christianity must maintain its prominence in Great Britain. But, I’m not angry about it, honestly, because that would make me one of those ‘angry atheists,’ and we all know that they’re just too angry.

Read the rest of this entry

An Evening of Science and Reason

Poster 06.06.14 event George, Robert and Matt

Come along to An Evening of Science and Reason on the 6th of June with Doctor George McGavin, Dr Robert Asher and Matt Dickinson at the University of Central Lancashire’s 3d Lecture Theatre in Darwin Building (DBLT). The Theatre has featured various well known scientists in the past such as Professor Richard Dawkins and many others including most recent, Professor Robin Dunbar. So come along and be part of what promises to be and interesting and entertaining event.

An Evening of Science and Reason

The University of Central Lancashire

Friday, 6th June, (Darwin Building Lecture Theatre), 1700 – 2100

Organised by Glen Carrigan, University of Central Lancashire


  • 1700        Doors open, meet and greet by Science and Reason staff and exhibitions
  • 1800        Dr George McGavin “Insects: Sex, violence and a cast of billions”
  • 1900        Dr Robert Asher “Evolution, Reason, and Religion”
  • 2000       Matt Dickinson “The Science of Superheroes”
  • 2100        Glen Carrigan “Thanks and closing remarks”

CLICK HERE to book a ticket!

Humanist ex-soldier denied opportunity to lay a wreath on Remembrance Sunday.

poppyUpdate, 24.11.2013: Grateful to have recieved a response from Mark Hendrick MP with regards to this article.

Update: Published on Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science

A few weeks ago I was asked by the Stockport Humanists if I could present a wreath at the official Remembrance civic ceremony. I was extremely happy to help and also honoured to be asked to take part in a day that has particular importance to me and all other serving and non-serving military personnel past and present. Imagine my surprise to be contacted a little later and told that I was not allowed to lay a wreath as an official part of the ceremony to pay my respects. Certain individuals and organisations including The Rt Revd Robert Atwell have the opinion that “we remain clear that this is a religious ceremony and wish it to continue as such” (Jan 14th 2013). This is also particularly galling when bolstered by the words of one local councillor who exclaims that there was “no stomach” to take on the church in a recent telephone conversation.

As an ex-soldier and Humanist, I have served in Afghanistan and as a communications liaison in Pakistan and feel that I have developed certain insights into the role of religion in conflict, remembrance and wider society. Having recently started work as a Neuropsychology Researcher I also seek to understand the mind set of those that claim to preach peace and equality when their holy books clearly condone war (against the out-group and allowing for interpretation of course). Non-religious people in the forces deserve representation at the official part of this most important civic ceremony. Indeed, having served in areas of the world where religion plays a major, often central and ever divisive part in external and internal conflicts, I can see a greater need for a non-religious representative at such ceremonies rather than another one that caters to the pious community.

The Stockport Humanists have attended the remembrance ceremony over the past couple of years and have remarked in an article that “with fewer and fewer people, including service personnel, attending church or practising a faith, is it really appropriate to have an overpoweringly religious tone to this occasion?”  They have then petitioned the local council, The Royal British Legion and local Church to try and make this civic ceremony more inclusive. I for one think it is inappropriate to have an overwhelming religious sentiment at an event that should be designed to be inclusive. After all, the point is remembrance, not religious observance. The Humanists proposed a slight change in format in the form of war poetry, interspersed with names of the dead; instead of 25 minutes of prayer and sermonising. We think that everyone can get behind such moving and often sublime art; it also makes the ceremony more about the soldiers’ experiences which does them more justice than any amount of hypnotic chanting. At the very least one official representative of the non-religious to lay a wreath would be appreciated. Both suggestions were denied.


On the point of Religious observance in the Military, the MOD do keep a record of how many religious and non-religious personnel they employ in a publication called the United Kingdom Defence Statistics. It might surprise you to know that in 2012 there were 148,550 Christians, 520 Buddhists, 820 Hindus, 80 Jews, 650 Muslims and 130 Sikhs. What about the non-religious though? Well there are 26,180 of us in the Military which seems to be conveniently overlooked in Stockport. In fact, the non-religious far outweigh all non-Christians. At the Stockport ceremony there were even representatives of the Jewish and Islamic faiths representing their 80 and 650 personnel respectively but still no non-religious representatives. Are we then to believe that this is inclusive; it looks rather more like it is inclusive as long as you aren’t non-religious!

Further to this, the Military does actually recognise the existence of many non-religious belief types as detailed in the Guide on Religion and Belief in the Armed Forces. Currently, the British Humanist Association actually has a little bit of web space on the British Forces website and an active organisation within the Military (UKAFHA) for which we are grateful. Add to this the fact that in the 2013 British Social Attitudes Survey, 48% of the entire nation identify as non-religious. It then stands to reason that a group recognised by the Military and by wider society, has an equal right to be included in the official civic ceremony (it’s not a religious event) especially when minority religious groups are afforded the opportunity. To my mind, religion is only one of many aspects of Remembrance, but their representatives are far from the only people able to perform this duty. To claim that Remembrance is centrally a religious event, is tantamount to saying unicorn husbandry is part of agricultural events; which is of course ridiculous. More seriously, it seeks to alienate those of us that are not religious, which to any reasonable onlooker indicates that an equal right to express our thanks to our fallen comrades is not observed.

The concept of equality will resonate with anyone familiar with Humanists. If we have any core ‘belief’ as such, as I’m sure the majority of other atheistic world views will agree, it is that of equality under humanity and hard won understanding of what it is to be human, rather than through membership to psychologically tribal religious group. As we strive to achieve equality for all and highlight the part of reason in an enlightened society, it is only right, or rather morally necessary, that we are afforded some of that reasonable equality ourselves, especially when it comes to paying our respects to the military, the actions of whom, religious and non-religious, have helped to develop and preserve much of our society today.  

 Note: All quotations and statistics come from correspondence between organisation representatives and UKAFHA members, one media article and official government statistic records.

Gay Marriage and apriori bigotry


Credit; Jim Meehan

Update, 18/07/2013; Equal Marriage Bill to recieve Royal Assent.

A land mark case for equality and testament to the values of fairness, equality and democracy. The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill was passed in the House of Commons on February the 6th 2013, 400 votes to 175, a majority of 225.

As well as an achievement for society and homosexuals this is especially poignant for those whom like myself, adjusted their views on homosexuality as a youngsters when presented with evidence to the contrary of an erroneous and pernicious opinion.

It was almost impossible when I was at secondary school, not to hear the word gay used as a byword for bad. “That’s a bit gay” was a phrase uttered constantly often in situations having nothing to do with the matter! I once kissed a girlfriend and heard someone behind me say “gaaaay.” Not sure how that works but it happened. And thus a dangerous and devisive connotation is embeded into the mind.

Your opinion, just like mine is not of interest when the facts are weighed, especially if it stems from a religious proclivity seeking to enforce inequality and deem homosexuals to be sinful. The archaic religious attitude to legislate in the name of an imprimatur fiction and a blatant ignorance of data contrary of this most noxious view has done harm for a very long time. It may be tough to accept, but your opinion on such matters or scriptural “authority” is not a reason to keep a group of people from the equal status and rights they deserve.

Think about it, to judge a person based on their sexual orientation, is to judge someone for what they are, not what they choose. And even if they did choose to be gay, it shouldn’t matter to you who they choose to love, it’s about autonomy, and they’re not asking you to join in. We have, most of us, moved away from racism, nobody would dare discriminate on the grounds of race and rightfully so.

To deny homosexuals the right to marry is a prejudice commensurate with racism in this day and age, and those that hold such beliefs should have them vilified and marginalised in a society that strives for equality.

It is of tremendous significance that this bill passed now, as it points to a fairer and more realistic, equal, and practical Britain, casting off antiquated values and preposterous beliefs in favour of reason and parity for all humans. It is my most fervent hope that we  never see the recrudescence of such insulting judgements of people who are in the end homo sapiens like the rest of us.

An interesting article; Whitehead, L. R., & Baker, O. J. (2012). Homosexuality, Religion and Science: Moral Authority and the Persistence of Negative Attitudes. Sociological Inquiry, 82(4), 487-509.

Humanists to become equal marriage celebrants

Credit; BHA

Credit; BHA

“Over the last few days thousands of people have written to their MPs to support the legalisation of humanist marriage, which is due to be voted on tomorrow or on Tuesday. Have you joined them yet?” – British Humanist Association. We are one of the most active organisations promoting marriage equality in the UK and around the world. We hope to one day be the best, and importantly, least prejudice provider of marriage services in the UK upon recognition. Marriage is for all, and no religious organisation should try to have a monopoly on the expression of love on the grounds of their particular tribal values, and sadly more often than not, their prejudices. Read the rest of this entry

Madeline runs the half-marathon for UNICEF’s Syrian refugee crisis appeal


Sponsor Madeline who is running the Cheltenham Circular Challenge for UNICEF UK because 650,000 misplaced Syrian children need our help.

Madeline’s story

Visit the Just Giving page

The continued violence in Syria is taking an extreme toll on children and their families. Many schools have closed while health centres have either become too dangerous for families to reach, or been closed down by the Assad government. Read the rest of this entry

We want equality, but a little more than you!

Cases of the Religious communities feeling as if they’re the victims of prejudice abound in the world. You know, the 5 billion or so believers that constitute the majority of the world’s population yet constantly act like a down trodden minority when challenged on anything. Is it any wonder when people try to cling to their antiquated opinions in an increasingly enlightened (allow for geography here) world, expecting not to be challenged that they feel persecuted when they are? Current cases just show that these beliefs held for Millenia aren’t compatible with an evolving psychology and adaptive understanding of what constitutes a Human Right. Read the rest of this entry

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