Saturday, 30 October 2010

Hamza Andreas Tzortzis: Islam or Atheism?

During Aston University’s Freshers’ Week, back in September, I got talking to a chap from the Aston University Islamic Society who was very excited by the prospect of working with the Aston Humanist Society, and particularly with getting us involved in debates with some of the speakers they had lined up.

Then, over the last few weeks, this poster has been plastered on all the noticeboards all over campus. This is exactly the kind of thing that I set the humanist society up to take part in! Given that I’m supposed to be in the middle of writing my thesis, I hoped to be able to attend but wasn’t sure if I would be able to fit it in, but a couple of phone calls and texts from the Islamic Society reminding/urging me to come sealed the deal.

First a little about the speaker. Hamza Andreas Tzortzis’ was a humanist, as his parents still are, but became a Muslim around 8 years ago. His blog introduces him as “an international public speaker on Islam, a writer and intellectual activist. He has debated prominent intellectuals and academics. Some of his interlocutors include the leading humanist and best selling author Peter Cave, the editor of the Philosophy Now magazine, Rick Lewis, and the highly acclaimed Professor Simon Blackburn. More recently Hamza debated one of the leading American atheists and secular activists, Dr Ed Buckner, the president of American Atheists.

Only an hour before the talk, I was sent a link to this post on the Harry's Place blog on Tzortzis, along with a warning not to engage with him. I read the post with interest and admit it did set some alarm bells ringing, not least allusions to Tzortzi’s ties to an extremist Islamist group, Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain (HTB), which the Centre for Social Cohesion called a “revolutionary Islamist party that works to establish an expansionist super-state in Muslim-majority countries, unifying Muslims worldwide as one political bloc, or “ummah”…”

The article also urges that, in the same way that Richard Dawkins now famously refuses to share a platform with Creationists, humanists should not debate with people like Tzortzis for fear of lending them credibility. It’s clear from the way Tzortzis introduces himself on his blog (and during the talk) that he is certainly proud of the people he has shared a platform with. He has managed to secure time with some significant atheists; it certainly does give him an air of respectability to have gone up against such prominent and intelligent speakers.

The Harry’s Place and Richard Dawkins articles propose taking the high road in order to avoid giving the public the false impression that there was some to debate about at all. I gave this idea some real thought and still decided to go; that’s not to say I’m not struggling answer whether it’s more important not to lend them credibility, or to actively show that their arguments lack credibility.

I decided to go for a number of reasons. First, I’m concerned that not engaging with groups like the Islamic Society and speakers like Tzortzis gives the impression that atheists and the like are ‘above all that’, which I hope is not the case, and certainly isn’t the case for me. Second, I’m not sure avoiding lending credibility outweighs the obligation to challenge the anti-secular, anti-science, anti-liberal ideology which is actively undermining progress and societal cohesion; there is an argument to be had because one side is already doing the arguing. I think it would have been a real shame to simply ignore him and leave his potentially dangerous opinions unchallenged. Third, Tzortzis was on campus preaching to my fellow students, even if I wasn’t going to take him on in a debate, it is important to know just what he is saying and how he is saying it. I was curious to see what the group thought of his ideas and just what kind of reactions he would provoke.

I have to say that I was impressed by the size of the crowd. A 120-capacity lecture theatre was full, with around 20 people sitting on the floor. It started off with a quick talk by a representative of the Qu’ran Project a scheme started to distribute a compendium containing a full up-to-date translation of the Qu’ran , with additional chapters aimed at addressing issues like the role of women and science in Islam. I bagged my free copy and made it next on my reading list – although I might skip to the Science in the Qu’ran chapter first. It’s interesting to note how much time religious people expend trying to convince us that their texts have scientific credibility, given the little credence they give to science. If science doesn’t really matter, why bother?

My initial intention was just to sit in on Tzortzis’ talk, make copious notes and report back what was said, and perhaps deconstruct his arguments. I don’t think it would be particularly fruitful to provide a transcript of his talk, especially as it won’t be verbatim and I don’t want to be accused of misrepresenting his ideas. I did record the talk on my phone, but was told that the Islamic Society own the rights to the video that it would be appearing on Tzortzis’ YouTube channel shortly. Almost all of the content of the talk is covered in various articles on his blog:

How do we know God is one? A theological and philosophical perspective.
God’s will and power. Answers to common questions.
Questions: How does the Qu’ran’s uniqueness make it a divine and miraculous text?
Comment: Assisted suicide and subjective morality.

Much of what Tzortzis said during his talk for the Islamic Society can also be seen in the first 35 minutes of his debate with Ed Buckner from the American Atheists.

I do hope that people will read his articles and watch the above video, because they make for an interesting insight into the mind and opinions of someone who has the respect of many Muslims, but to even the half-inquisitive eye comes across like someone that’s read a lot and perhaps understood little. I just read Alex Bellos’ Alex’s Adventures in Numberland (which I highly recommend) and I have a better grasp of probabilities and the concept of infinity than Tzortzis. The writer of the Harry’s Place blog has it exactly right in stating that “he is a particularly confrontational character with a host of tricks up his sleeve to make up for his deficient philosophical arguments”.

I made a list of a few things that Tzortzis did which would undermine his claim to be anywhere near a good debater:

Blinding the audience with philosophical terms. When I attempted to call him on the fact that his use of complex terminology in a room full of non-philosophy students did little to explain his arguments, he became personal and suggested that ‘I was a typical atheist who thinks that just because he didn’t understand no one else did either’. When I asked for a show of hands of who actually understood any of the phrases like 'Argumentum Ad Ignorantiam' or ‘ontological argument’ meant, only four people in a room of 140 put their hands up, and when he asked for a show of hands for who actually understood his arguments little over third did.

Avoiding answering any question directly and instead, diverting the question into areas where he was able to go on long, self-serving rants. His rhetorical loop-the-loops would have politicians gushing in admiration.
Baseless, flippant asides, which actually needed to be discussed, were frequently followed with ‘but that’s for another discussion’. Examples include:

“Atheists don’t have no objective morals so they think it’s OK to bomb children in Baghdad because it’s just ‘the rearrangement of atoms’.”

“For atheists, ‘nothing’ [in the context of the physics and scientific theories of the origin of the universe] is a nothing word, it’s like the term collateral damage when they kill people. In words, it doesn’t mean anything.”

And my absolute favourite: “We live in a post-secular society – it’s time we got our guns out too”, perhaps not the most appropriate metaphor in the current climate.

Littering the talk with names and texts. It’s a great trick as it certainly makes you sounds clever and well read but remembering names and quotes is not the same as understanding the arguments. His other favourite move was to make a big deal out of the fact that he was attacking people like Stephen Hawking’s ideas, as if by the very fact that attacking them made him somehow smarter.

I could go on.

The Q&A session started with the announcement that whilst the Brothers in the audience were allowed to address the speaker directly, the Sisters had to write their question on a slip of paper which was then passed down to the front and vetted before being answered. Unbelievable. Perhaps what is more unbelievable is that the practice is being defended, and not labelled the outright misogynistic behaviour that it is. This was posted on the Islamic Society group page on Facebook.

“Just one side-note regarding the point which one of the atheists (I don't know who) raised regarding our sisters etc. The reason why sisters write questions on paper is because many of them feel shy, its called "hayaa". Its not because they're less than us!!! And also, there were so many brothers sitting on the floor, can we say: Muslims disrespect men because they had to sit on the floor?? If he didnt know, thats ok, but he should have asked. Isnt asking the cure to the disease of ignorance?”

For a start, ALL the sisters were told to write their questions on paper, not just the shy ones. I can’t imagine that none of the 40-odd women in the room were so shy they couldn’t put their hand up. And surely a room full of fellow, sympathetic Muslims is the best place to overcome your shyness? Yes, asking is the cure to the disease of ignorance. It’s just a shame that the Brothers seems to be keeping the cure for themselves. Around 10 bits of paper were passed to the front and not a single question from them was answered. In fact he actually chastised one woman for ’‘writing an essay’.

Thank goodness that the men were not subject to the same vetting scheme, although the Q&A was the clearest demonstration that debating’ with people like Tzortzis is a completely futile exercise. I’m afraid I did start to monopolise the floor, but I wasn’t going to let him get off lightly. Whilst he acknowledged that my question on the problem of evil and suffering was ‘one of toughest’ (the answer was we can never understand God in his infinite wisdom and life is a test and isn’t just one, ong happy party), many of the questions he received from the audience just resulted in his derision.

His answer to the question ‘What sets Islam apart from other religions that have clearly documented and recent origins, like Scientology and Mormonism?’, asked by the only other openly non-believer in the room, was answered with a reiteration of his arguments about how Allah must be the one, with no specific comment on the question he was actually asked. This was followed by a Muslim member of the crowd who asked ‘As a Muslim, how can I sincerely pray if I’m standing by a billionaire Saudi Sheikh who lives in a palace and is doing little to alleviate the poverty as Mohammad taught?’ This was met with a long rant which can be summarised as ‘What do you know? How much money do you give? Don’t judge others before you judge yourself, and even then only God can judge’. And he even managed to shoe-horn in the claim that believers give more aid that non-believers.

I was apprehensive about taking on a speaker who had traveled the world and debated many prominent atheists, but the feeling dissipated not more than 5 minutes into his talk, once I realised the extent of the logical behind his arguments. His self-proclaimed reputation as a ‘great debater’ who’d taken on all these famous speakers didn’t count for anything, as his ideas were still nonsense and were presented in such an illogical way. I in no way profess to know or understand a fraction of the physics and philosophy spilling from Tzortzis’ mouth, but what little I do know was enough to take his ideas to bits. Alom Shaha recently wrote an piece on how Skeptics should avoid navel gazing  and engage with people who might benefit from what you have to say, and I think the argument applies here. We can take the moral high road, scoff amongst ourselves at their crazy ideas, or we can talk to and in front of the people that matter. I understand that not all people are comfortable with the idea of incurring the wrath of religious folk, and whilst I’ve been called brave for going along and confronting him, I don’t think it is bravery; I felt it was my duty to show that people like Tzortzis won’t get an easy ride as they tour universities filling the hearts and minds of students with illiberal, ill-thought out, divisive jargon.  I don’t think for one minute that anyone in the audience will change their mind and abandon Islam after listening to me, but I hope that perhaps just one person listened to his arguments and my attempts at addressing and dismantling them and seriously considered whether Tzortzis and his ideas were genuinely worthy of admiration.

I went to this talk in the anticipation of learning something from someone who appeared to have something intelligent to say about the opposing ideologies of atheism and Islam, but left ultimately disappointed. I’m glad I went, as had I not, his visit to Aston would have remained largely unreported outside of Aston, and I don’t think we can afford to just ignore these kinds of speakers are touring universities and preaching to students in this way.

Tzortzis closed the talk at just before 5pm (having to go off and pray), with a closing proviso which I can only dream of feeling like I could get away with at the end of a talk: “If anything I have said is wrong it’s due to Shaitan (Satan); anything good, has been the will of Allah. That just about sums the potency of his arguments up really.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

A report from day 1 The Amazing Meeting (TAM) London 2010, by James Ellor

Well, as some of you might know, I went to TAM London this weekend, and I kindly volunteered to write a blog post of my experiences. There’s only one problem: I don’t know where to start.

The weekend was so jam-packed full of talks and comedy and music and random photography, and yet flew by so quickly, that I would need my own blog (which I do have, but that’s beside the point) and much more time than I have now, to even begin to do it justice. But I’ll give it a go. I may miss some important details but I do hope I’ll be able to portray the sheer awesomeness that was TAM London 2010.

Firstly, I didn’t go alone. My good friend Darryl Hewitt, who introduced me to Dawkins, atheism, scepticism and all that malarky some time in 2006 offered to come with me ever since I rang him up a few months ago, hysterically shrieking that we must go to this thing in October! We stayed at a dingy but cosy hostel near Piccadilly Circus for a couple of nights, and got the tube to TAM each morning, excessively bleary-eyed on the Saturday due to a lack of breakfast, caffeine and sleep.

The first ‘celebrity’ I saw was the YouTuber AndromedasWake (aka Tommy K) who was first in line outside the Monarch Suite of the Hilton Metropole. For those of you who don’t know, AndromedasWake makes some simply superb videos focused on debunking the astronomical claims of creationism (that’s astronomical as in pertaining to astronomy, not as in large or immense, though either definition is apt). He also has a sister channel, SiriusStargazing, which is very useful for amateur or novice astronomers in identifying some of the features of the night sky. He is also one of the co-founders of the League of Reason, a collective of skeptic YouTubers who host BlogTV discussions every other Sunday.

 Anyway! The next was Richard Dawkins who hurried past (he did a lot of hurrying past, but we got him in the end) into the main room, where we soon entered after failing to find coffee. After a quick performance by the Amateur Transplants, Richard Wiseman introduced James Randi, who rightly received a standing ovation before even saying anything. The first speaker was ex-parapsychologist Susan Blackmore, who gave a talk on her fruitless attempts to prove ESP and psychics, which eventually led her to become a professional skeptic.

She was followed by Richard Dawkins, who gave an interesting talk on evolution being “The New Classics”. Classics being the study of ancient Mediterranean philosophy, literature and art, seen in the past as essential study needed to fully understand the rest of academia. Evolution, he argued, is a modern equivalent; one can only fully understand biology if there is a full understanding of evolution.

American journalist Cory Doctorow followed with a chilling talk on the possibilities of heavier copyright laws being pressed by the US government and record companies. Adam Rutherford, editor of Nature and columnist for The Guardian was next, who told us about his experiences when he joined the Alpha Course (a 10 week course on Christianity hosted at churches throughout the country ) and met its founder, Nicky Gumbel. Apparently it’s very very homophobic. I might join one myself to have a look.

Then there was lunch, and the tea/coffee tables there had actual chests of Twining’s tea which I made full advantage of.

On our return were talks by Andy Nyman (good friend of Derren Browns and a co-writer of many of his shows), Paula Kirby (journalist and writer, who gave a talk on the hilarious horrors of Britain’s right-wing religious parties) and Karen James (spokesperson for the HMS Beagle Project, aiming to rebuild and re-sail the HMS Beagle in commemoration of Darwin’s 19th Century voyage).

Robin Ince then had a delightful interview with James Randi which honestly could have gone on for a hundred times longer and been just as fascinating. He told stories of how he debunked many fraudulent ‘psychics’ over the years, including Uri Geller and the faith healer Peter Popoff. The lamentable fact is, of course, is that these are still at it, garnering followers decades after they were exposed for the money-grabbing frauds they are.
After an interlude of two hours (during which Darryl and I searched the Edgware Road for half an hour before finding a restaurant that wasn’t a McDonalds’ or KFC) we hurried back to the hotel for an evening with Tim Minchin. He gave us a rousing knees-up rendition of the infamous Pope Song, plus a new song called ‘Cont’ (short for ‘Context’… and that’s a clue) before we were treated to the premiere of an animated version of his beat-poem Storm  (not released until January 2011).

We finally arrived back at the hostel at around 1am, fully aware we’d be up again at 7am for another day of intellectual fascination…. Which I’ll cover in the next blog post   :)

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Book review of Micheal Ots' What Kind of God? by Tulpesh Patel

What Kind of God is a collection of 10 short answers to common questions, or ‘accusations’ made by atheists, of religion, such as: What kind of god doesn't prevent suffering? What kind of god sends sincere people to hell? What kind of god would limit my sexuality? It’s written by a Minister of Evangelism at Landsdowne Baptist Burch in Bournemouth, but by happenstance grew up just down the road from where I did.

I wanted to review this book not on the arguments presented, but on the writing and book itself, but realised that would be a impossible and not entirely useful. I won't spend time dissecting the answers given to these questions, save to say that, as is par for the course with these kind of books, they are just one long non sequitur. 

Paraphrased answers to the questions posed above are: ‘God, in his justice, is perfectly fair in punishing our sin, but, in his love, he is patient with us, and thus every day the world continues is a sign of his patience’, ‘just like ourselves God does not tolerate the evil that is inherent in us and demands justice – it would be evil of God not to judge and punish us for our sins’ and ‘when it comes to sex, it is because it is good and precious that God places restrictions on it’ (and what I found most laughable as a ‘Christianity isn’t a homophobic religion, honest’ defence: ‘there is a difference between the orientation and the act’). 

The book is written in an affable, blokey style and is peppered with little snippets of the author’s life, which I suppose is meant to appeal to the Christian Union students it is aimed at and demonstrate that ‘Christians are people too’. It’s not the worst kind of book in defense of Christianity, but don’t read it expecting a serious theological discussion – it’s well short of any solid argument or philosophical discussion, and as I’ve already said, is just a series of illlogical appeals to emotion built around a scaffold of biblical quotes.

It’s a quick enough read, and it’s always good know what the religious feel is something resembling the antidote to amassing and incisive anti-religious literature.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Science is Vital, unlike Tory MPs

The Science is Vital campaign is a response to the drastic and devastating cuts to science funding proposed by the government in an attempt to alleviate the UK’s financial, shall we say, ‘difficulties’.

I would hope that to most sensible folks, questioning the importance of funding scientific endeavour at all would sound unnecessary. Such is the time we live in, and the government that we have, however, that the question is being asked in all seriousness. Thankfully, it seems that scientists have united under the Science Is Vital campaign to provide an emphatic answer. And why is science vital? Science is Vital provide a neat answer: “Investing in research enriches society and helps drive the economy. It led to our pre-eminent position in the 20th century, and will be vital in meeting the challenges of the 21st – whether they be in energy, medicine, infrastructure, computing, or simply humanity’s primal desire for discovery.”

There are three ways to support the campaign:

1. Sign the petition
2. Write to your MP
3. Lobby Parliament. Science is Vital and the Campaign for Science and Engineering are taking the matter directly to Parliament on the 12th of October, from 3:30 – 4:30pm, in Committee Room 10. If you can be there, and especially if you’ve written to your MP to ask that he/she attend, register here.

There was also a rally held alongside Her Majesty’s Treasury yesterday afternoon. Thanks to the awesome folks at the Pod Delusion, those, like me, that couldn’t make it can listen to the speeches from fantastic pro-science luminaries like Dr Evan Harris, Imran Khan, Simon Singh, Dr Petra Boynton and Colin Blakemore. There are also literally hundreds of photos uploaded from the event. The easiest way to keep up-to-date with all the rally’s goings on and the campaign in general is the Twitter hashtag #scienceisvital.

I sent my Science is Vital protest letter to Tony Baldry, the Conservative local MP for North Oxfordshire, and received my reply yesterday. The cover letter is pictured on the below.

Also attached by way of response was a four-page transcript of Mr Baldry’s recent speech to Bodicote House. You can read the whole speech here. I wasn’t expecting much by way of a direct reply to my letter or the Science is Vital campaign, but Mr Baldy was true to form. As a Conservative MP, there’s plenty in the speech blaming the previous Labour government, supporting the ‘Big Society’ and it also included this choice little quote, which summarises the Tory ideology that will almost certainly stunt scientific progress, and only benefit the wealthy, for some time to come (those of a socialist disposition might want to make sure there are no kids in the room when you read it):

There is no particular merit or value in having to increases taxes or council taxes and taking money away from people which otherwise they should choose to spend as they would wish”.

One thing I can agree with Mr Baldry on is the opening line to his speech, that “rhetoric cannot overcome reality” (which is ironic, as that’s basically the job description for many a politician!). This is science’s trump card: science is vital and we’ve got evidence on our side, not just political ideology and rhetoric to prove it.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Fresher's Fair 2010

Aston's 2010 Fresher’s Fair is over and thanks to some of James’ delicious cookies, my constant, over-enthusiastic ranting about humanism, and of course our general all-round geeky charm, we had just shy of 50 people sign up! It might seem a modest figure compared to some student societies, but I can’t stress enough that a humanist society is really up against it at a university with such a large and religiously diverse student body.

I make a virtue of the fact that we were the only society and voice for non-believers on campus, but I dearly wish that wasn’t the case. And I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t intimidated by the sheer number, size, financial backing and enthusiasm of all the religious societies. A quick pan around the stands in the main Fresher’s Fair hall showed three explicitly Islamic societies (although none of them could actually explain why and how they were different to each other, other than vague statements to the effect of ‘we interpret the Qu’ran in slightly different ways’); Hinduism had the Hindu Society and Krishna Consciousness; Christians had the Christian Union and the University Chaplaincy and Sikhs had the Sikh Society. Coupled with these were societies that are not explicitly religious, but are bound into religious-cultural traditions, for example nationality-based societies like the Pakistani and Bangladeshi Societies, or the Bhangra society, which is a form of music and dance intimately woven with Sikh and Punjabi traditions.

Religious societies have ready-made memberships; a Muslim/Hindu/Christian student will go into that room and home in on their relevant society, and may not engage much, if at all, with the alternative societies. The problem, at least with a humanist society, is almost one of definition:  few people know what humanism is or what a humanist might think, do or believe (or more accurately not believe). My favourite response to the question “have you heard of humanism?” was “what, you’re not like Satanists are you? ‘Cause I’m really not into that, yeah”. We’ve still got some way to go before humanisms gains the recognition and even superficial understanding of established religions, but despite reactions like this, which made me chuckle and despair in equal measure, I was heartened to hear more positive responses than last year’s event, so we’re definitely heading in the right direction.

Gauging a student’s reaction was all a matter of reading their top lip. As soon as you say it’s a society for free-thinking atheists and agnostics, you either (1) get a smile, in which case you know you might talking to someone vaguely interested, or (2) watch their top lip curl into a grimace, which reveals that they’re almost definitely religious, and almost definitely not keen on hearing about how non-believers have morals too. Reactions to our stand ranged from “Atheists? Brilliant! Good on you” to “I don’t deal with petty humanists”, with ambivalence and disappointed ”you’re a lost-cause” headshakes in between.

Of course all this diversity has the advantage of throwing up some very interesting characters. I vowed to my colleagues that I wouldn’t get involved in a fruitless ‘religion is just mental, oh not it’s not’ debate, but I just couldn’t help myself. Especially not when a committee member of the Islamic Society starts talking about irrefutable scientific evidence in the Qu’ran, like how ‘salt and freshwater do not mix’, or that old chestnut of how ‘evolution is just a theory’; man must have been made by Allah from water and clay because there is no other way to explain how people, who are 70% water, could have arisen in the desert, where it never rains. These are the conversations that give me even more drive to promote and participate in not just humanist, but also scientific causes. This conversation boiled down to not just misguided theological principles, but a fundamental misunderstanding of just some basic science.

The brilliant, but divisive Richard Dawkins has written an endorsement for all member groups of The National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies, which very neatly captures exactly the ideals I was promoting to all of Aston’s new, and returning, students.

Students away from home for the first time are faced with a barrage of invitations from religious groups of various kinds, all eager to take advantage of the newcomers' unfamiliarity with their surroundings and their natural apprehensiveness about what lies in store for them, to lure them into the religious fold. I therefore congratulate the Aston Humanist Society for offering a real alternative, creating an environment in which young people can actively explore and celebrate the natural world and formulate an approach to ethics which is not dependent on superstition or myth.  Societies like this one offer a tremendous service, both to students who wish to learn about reality, and to the cause of atheism, humanism and secularism as a whole.

Best wishes,

Richard Dawkins

Occasional excitable chats like these aside, we were careful not to alienate those with religious views who might want to engage with humanists in ways other than arguments about the veracity of evolutionary theory. We were keen to emphasise that arguing with religious people was not our main aim (I should tattoo “you cannot reason someone out of something they did not reason themselves into” onto the back of my hands), but rather to promote the positive idea that people can be good, moral, loving and happy without necessarily having God, a holy book or even their mother to tell them to be so and that we champion lots of positive, religion-free causes, for example pro-science campaigns like Science Is Vital #scienceisvital, raising money for charities like Amnesty, Cancer Research UK and Medicine Sans Frontier, and organ and blood donation (the latter being a ‘religion-free cause’ only if you don’t include Jehovah’s Witnesses, of course).

We also had fantastic response to our environmental friendly, pro-literacy, university-wide bookswap proposal, which means that the university may just have to pay a bit more attention this time round, and not just fob us off excuses like ‘it’s a fire hazard’ or that a box of books in the corner is ‘not in keeping with the university aesthetic’. I feel our first petition coming on!

On a lighter note, we also had a competition to find the best science-related joke. The prize: a signed copy of Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science. The best of the bunch submitted on the day was: “What does it take to run the Marathon? 80p.” The competition will stay open all week. If you think you can top the one above, email it to with your name and number. All the jokes will be read out at next week’s meeting and the one that raises the biggest laugh will win the book!

Now that madness of Fresher’s Fair is over, here’s the line-up for the rest of October:

Thursday the 7th of October will be our first meeting of the academic year and will be a chance for all of our new members to get to know each other over some drinks and nibbles.

Wednesday the 13th of October we’re meeting at 6.30pm before heading over the Victoria pub to see Simon Singh speak to the Birmingham Skeptics in the Pub about his run in with the British Chiropractic Association and the subsequent Libel Reform campaign.

Thursday 21st of October will be our first discussion: “Having a baby: right or privilege?”, an ethical minefield which is taking on even more importance given potential revisions to government policy with regards to IVF treatment in reaction to the financial crisis and the need to cut NHS spending.

All the scheduled events will go up on the public Aston Humanist Society Google Calendar. To make things easy, there’s a handy button which will automatically add them to your own diaries!

Meetings on campus will be held weekly on Thursdays at 7pm in the Presentation Suite on the second floor of the Aston University Student’s Guild. Membership is £5 and runs for a calendar year from October 2010. £5 is the minimum required fee set by the Student’s Guild to cover the cost of admin., hiring rooms etc. throughout the year. We’d like to be completely free, but the price of a couple of pints is pretty good value for being part of one the coolest clubs on campus.

We'll be over the moon if all the 50 people that signed up today became regular active members, but we're realistic enough to know that probably won't be the case. The main thing is we’re continuing to grow and we’re continuing to provide a voice on campus for those who are proud of thinking for themselves.

If you’re not sure about joining the society or unable to come to meetings, feel free to email for more information about us, or how you can get involved through the blog, Facebook pages and Twitter @astonhumanists!