Professor Robert Hinde, CBE, FRS, FBA
Biologist and social scientist, distinguished supporter of Humanism, born 1923
After serving as a pilot in RAF Coastal command during the war, Professor Hinde took a degree in biology at Cambridge and a DPhil at Oxford. He was later awarded a Royal Society research Professorship and worked at Cambridge on animal behaviour and on relationships within human families. He was master of St John’s College, Cambridge from 1989-94, and is now Emeritus Professor in the Subdepartment of Animal Behaviour, University of Cambridge.
In the last few years he has tried to show how far a biological/psychological approach can help us to understand the ubiquity of religious systems, and the similarities and differences between the moral codes of different cultures, and has written extensively on the bases of religion and morality in human nature; for example, his “Religion and Darwinism“, first given as the BHA Voltaire Lecture in 1997, analyses religion from an evolutionary viewpoint and explores the different elements that go to make up religious systems and our need to find a system of ethics valid for us today.
He has written:
I am convinced that religion is helpful to some people. Religious systems also do a great deal of harm. This includes not only providing a focus for conflict, but also purveying false views and concepts, such as ‘original sin’. Religious faith is certainly not necessary, but religions have purveyed morality over the centuries and as religious systems lose their influence we need urgently to recognise the real roots of our moral sense.
Professor Hinde has also been concerned with the causes of international war and how incidences of war can be reduced. He is Chairperson of the British Pugwash Group, which brings together influential scholars and public figures concerned with reducing the danger of armed conflict and seeking cooperative solutions for global problems.
In July 2001 he was one of the signatories to a letter published in The Independent which urged the Government to reconsider its support for the expansion of maintained religious schools, and in March 2002 was one of the 43 scientists and philosophers who signed a letter to Tony Blair and relevant Government departments, deploring the teaching of Creationism in schools. In July 2009 he joined other eminent scientists and educators calling for vital changes to the proposed science curriculum for primary schools in England in a letter to Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families. He was also one of the signatories to a letter supporting a holiday on Charles’ Darwin’s birthday, published inThe Times on February 12, 2003, and also sent to the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary.
Publications of particular interest to humanists include:
Why Gods persist: a scientific approach to religion (Routledge, 1999)
Why good is good: the sources of morality (Routledge, 2002)
The institution of war (ed.) (Macmillan, 1991)
War no more (with the late Sir Joseph Rotblat, Pluto, 2003)
Education for Peace (Spokesman Books, 1989)
Buy his books at Amazon.co.uk through this link and a small commission will go to the BHA.
See also his entry in the University of Cambridge Department of Zoology.