Dec 19

Ely Humanists – 2017 Meetings

Next Library Meeting – Saturday October 7th 2017


Year Meeting graphic Blue


Dec 04

November/December News

During November 2015, Ely Humanist Group was invited by East Cambridgeshire District Council’s Community Safety Partnership to contribute to the Interfaith Week ‘Having Faith in Community’ exhibition held at Babylon Gallery, Ely. We provided the material for 2 posters plus assorted leaflets about Humanism and the local group.

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Jul 26

Event Review: What a Wonderful World – Marcus Chown

Marcus Chown

Click to view book on Amazon

The Royal Institution – London
What a Wonderful World – Marcus Chown

On the evening of July 1st 2015, the hottest July day ever recorded, I made my way down to the Royal Institution in London for a talk by Marcus Chown. Fortunately the iconic, historic, lecture theatre where Michael Faraday, Humphrey Davy and hundreds of other eminent scientists have given the world the benefit of their genius, now has air-conditioning.

The advertising for the event promised that Marcus would explain life, the universe and everything in one hour. Now this might sound like a tall order, and, of course it is. However, I have been a fan of Marcus Chown for some time and knew it would be entertaining and informative.

Marcus Chown was born into a British working-class family but, through education, he became a physicist and ultimately worked as a radio astronomer at California Institute of Technology. He worked with Richard Feynman, one of the greatest scientists of the 20th century and his knowledge of Physics is unsurpassed. He gave up working in Physics to become a writer of popular science books. He is currently Cosmology advisor for New Scientist magazine. His books include “Quantum Theory Cannot Hurt You” and “We Need to Talk About Kelvin” (available in Ely library!).

In 2013 his publisher persuaded him to use his exceptional skill in explaining physics in layperson’s terms to explain everything in layperson’s terms. He accepted the challenge and the Book “What A Wonderful World” was the result. This talk was a distilled version of that book.

His approach is always to explain “bonkers” things about the universe in a way that even people like me can understand. For example, because atoms are almost entirely empty space, in terms of matter, the whole of the human race could be fitted into something the size of a sugar cube. Likewise, he asked “Why do we have 2 sexes?” after all, slime moulds have 13! Hold up your thumb. At this very moment billions of neutrinos are passing through it, (and, of course every other part of you). The room you are in is full of dark matter and dark energy. 98% of the universe is invisible.

The event is now available to watch on YouTube:

Colin Gunter – Chair, Ely Humanists

Marcus Chown

The Royal Institution


Mar 04

Book Donation ~ The Young Atheist’s Handbook by Alom Shaha

Ely Humanists Feb 7th 2015

Chair, Colin – Secretary, Julia

During December 2014, Ely Humanist Group members raised funds to purchase a hardback edition of The Young Atheist’s Handbook by Alom Shaha.


Chair, Colin Gunter presented the book to Ely Library during the group meeting on February 7th 2015 and it should now be available to borrow  from the Adult Non-fiction Religious section (211.809).


Click HERE if you would like to reserve.



Click to view on Amazon

The Young Atheist’s Handbook by Alom Shaha

“Growing up in a strict Muslim community in south-east London, Alom Shaha learnt that religion was not to be questioned. Reciting the Qur an without understanding what it meant was simply a part of life; so, too, was obeying the imam and enduring beatings when he failed to attend the local mosque. Shaha was more drawn to science and its power to illuminate. As a teen, he lived between two worlds: the home controlled by his authoritarian father, and a school alive with books and ideas.

In a charming blend of memoir, philosophy, and science, Shaha explores the questions about faith and the afterlife that we all ponder. Through a series of loose lessons, he tells his own compelling story, drawing on the theories of some of history s greatest thinkers and interrogating the fallacies that have impeded humanity for centuries. Shaha recounts how his education and formative experiences led him to question how to live without being tied to what his parents, priests, or teachers told him to believe, and offers insights so that others may do the same.

This is a book for anyone who thinks about what they should believe and how they should live. It s for those who may need the facts and the ideas, as well as the courage, to break free from inherited beliefs. In this powerful narrative, Shaha shows that it is possible to live a compassionate, fulfilling, and meaningful life without God.”

Dec 06

Event Review: Astronomy Walk and Talk with Mark Thompson

galaxyToppings Bookshop – Astronomy Walk and Talk with Mark Thompson

Friday 21st November 2014
Venue: St Peter’s Church, Ely,

Mark Thompson is a British astronomer, television presenter and writer best known for being one of the presenting team on the BBC show Stargazing Live.

I attended this event partly because of my fascination with the universe (and whatever else may lurk within it, aside from the human race), and partly because I liked the juxtaposition of exploring that universe, and learning more about its evolution, in a church.

Although the programme originally included a walk up Cherry Hill, stargazing along the way, this was curtailed by the wonderful British weather, as we could barely see the cathedral’s Lantern Tower, never mind the stars above. Instead, we enjoyed an informative and entertaining talk within the church – illustrated with stunning astrophotography.

As well as covering the science behind the images we were seeing Mark also conveyed the wonder and magnitude of what is really ‘out there’ in a humorous and engaging way. The event also served as a reminder to stop for a moment when we look up at the night sky (clouds, rain, and fog allowing!), and consider how amazing this tiny blue speck really is.

Julia Roberts – Secretary, Ely Humanists

Mark Thompson

Toppings Bookshop, Ely

photo credit: NASA Goddard Photo and Video via photopin cc

Oct 30

Book Review ~ What is Good? by A C Grayling

What is Good - Kindle

Click to view on Amazon

One of the best books examining the origins, history and evolution of humanist ideas is “What is Good?” by A C Grayling, Britain’s foremost humanist philosopher.

Not always a light read, (Prof. Grayling doesn’t talk down to his readers), the author traces ideas of what it means to live a good life from Classical Greece, (Aristotle, Plato, Epicurus), through the backward step taken by the dominance of monotheistic religions, onwards to what he calls “The Second Enlightenment”: The Renaissance (Petrarch, Cicero, Quintillian, Erasmus), and then on to the “Third Enlightenment” of the 18th century (Kant, Descartes, Diderot, Voltaire, Hume).

Along the way he discusses the irrelevance of religion to morality. He criticises the view of Christian philosophers who claim that “good is what god wills in accordance with his nature.” In a particularly scathing passage he declares:
“Religion is not only anti-moral, it is immoral. Elsewhere in the world religious fundamentalists and fanatics incarcerate women, mutilate genitals, amputate hands, murder, bomb and terrorise in the name of their faith. It is a mistake to think that Christian clerics in Western countries would never behave likewise, for it is not long in historical terms since their predecessors were burning heretics at the stake or mounting crusades against them, whipping people or slitting their noses and ears for adultery…” He concludes: “If one looked to religions to provide historical examples of the moral life in practice, one would have to forget a great deal of immorality to find it.”

Grayling goes on to examine the conflict in the 19th century between religion and scientific discoveries in geology and biology, particularly after Darwin’s publication of “On the Origin of Species”. He proceeds to discuss the revival of ethics in modern philosophy and examines the debate surrounding the right to die. He rounds off the book with a spirited defence of Science:
“Science is to the contemporary world what art was to the Renaissance: a magnificent creative achievement that transforms humanity’s perception of itself and its relationship to the world.”

There is a lot in this book to inform and inspire the non-academic humanist. It is an ideal read for someone who wants to dig deeper into the ideas behind humanism. Grayling is a writer of great clarity and erudition.

Colin Gunter – Chair, Ely Humanists
(Review of Phoenix, 2004 ed)

Paperback: Phoenix; New Ed edition (3 Oct 2007) ISBN 978-0-7538-1755-1

Kindle: Phoenix; New Ed edition (14 July 2011)

Sep 14

The Tension Between Science And Religion – A Personal Perspective

Blue Marble Pic

Click to read more about this image via NASA

Well, here we are, living on a rock orbiting the star we call the Sun. Our star is one of over a hundred billion stars in our galaxy, which we call the Milky Way. The Sun is located on one of the spiral arms about 26,000 light years from the centre of the galaxy. The Milky Way is one of more than a hundred billion galaxies in our universe. The universe began 13.72 billion years ago in what is known as the Big Bang. Time and Space (or rather Space-Time as they are not really separate entities) began at the big bang and the universe has been inflating and evolving ever since. Our solar system formed about 4.5 billion years ago and the first simple living organisms began to appear on earth about 3.5 billion years ago. Since then living things have been evolving (despite a number of extinctions) into the rich and diverse range of life forms we have today. Our species, Homo sapiens, is one of a number of hominids which emerged about 8 million years ago, after our primate line split in two, the other line from our common ancestor leading to modern chimpanzees and bonobos. 200,000 years ago our human ancestors were living on the plains of Africa. Since then, our hominid cousins have all died out, leaving us as the only ones. (The last surviving ones, the Neanderthals, were still around 20,000 years ago). All this is known to be true, verified by research, peer-review, mathematical equations, scientific experiments, DNA analysis, spectrometry and radio-metric dating.

Some people, however, believe that we were created by a supernatural being, who, despite his enormous spatial and temporal responsibilities in the universe, still cares what we insignificant little humans eat, when we eat it, what we wear, who we sleep with, what we should do on a Sunday, (preferably bow down and worship Him) and whether we should mutilate the genitals of our children. They think that asking God for help through prayer can modify subsequent events. Some believe that 2000 years ago a man performed miracles, drove evil spirits out of people we would now regard as being mentally ill, and came alive again 3 days after being killed. They also believe that humans have souls or spirits that live on after death. (At what point in evolution did God inject the soul into humans?). They think that humans are born sinful and need to be redeemed by a saviour’s blood sacrifice. Others believe that in the 7th century CE the angel Gabriel dictated instructions from Allah to an illiterate Middle Eastern merchants’ assistant, who relayed the information to followers, who wrote it down as The Qur’an. Still others believe in many gods, including one with an elephant’s head and some with four arms. There are, of course, many other religious faiths; some ancient, some relatively recent.

As a humanist, I believe (subject to further modifying evidence) the first paragraph to be true. I do not believe it as a matter of faith. As far as I am concerned, despite what the churches and the royals tell us, “Faith” is a singularly poor reason to believe anything. I do not believe the propositions in the second paragraph to be true, but, unlike some religious zealots, I do not think that people who disagree with me should be persecuted or beheaded. People can believe whatever they like, so long as they accept that in our modern, civilised, democratic, secular society, certain practices are against the law (e.g. FGM and discrimination on grounds of race or sexual orientation) and/or against civilised, ethical principles (e.g. cruel ritual slaughter of animals, treating women as inferior beings). Nor should religions be given special privileges or financial advantages. Public money should not finance faith schools, where children are indoctrinated into accepting unsubstantiated beliefs. State schools should not be obliged to conduct a daily act of Christian worship. Elected councillors should not be obliged to begin council meetings with prayers. Bishops should not derive power and influence by being appointed to the House of Lords. People should be allowed to be helped to die with dignity if that is what they want.

I believe that science gives us a better understanding of reality than religion. Humans can live good, worthwhile and ethical lives without the need for instructions from a divine being.

Colin Gunter (Chair, EHG)

photo credit: NASA Goddard Photo and Video via photopin cc

Aug 31

Ely Humanists – September Get-together

You don’t have to be a member of the BHA to come along, have a chat and find out more about us…

September Meeting graphic

Jul 22

Ely Humanists – First Informal Meeting

First Meeting graphicMap for Ely Library:

We look forward to seeing you there.

Apr 25

Hello world!

We are currently seeking like-minded people living in and around Ely, Cambridgeshire, to form a new humanist group, partnered with the British Humanist Association , and based in the city of Ely.

If you are interested in getting involved, or would like more information, please contact us by email: