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Top scientists and academics appointed patrons of Humanists UK

The charity Humanists UK has appointed four leading experts from the fields of neurosurgery, chemistry, mathematics, and ancient history as its newest patrons. Professors Henry Marsh, Saiful Islam, David Hand, and Francesca Stavrakopoulou join over 170 philosophers, entertainers, politicians, activists, and academics who publicly support Humanists UK’s work for a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail.

Henry Marsh

Henry Marsh. Photo: Mykola Vasylechko.

Humanists UK’s new patrons have all made significant advances in their chosen fields, helping to promote human happiness in the one life we have. New patron Henry Marsh, for example, exemplifies this through his pioneering neurosurgical work, which has led to new advances in treatment in Ukraine.

Henry became a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1984 and was appointed Consultant Neurosurgeon at Atkinson Morley’s/St George’s Hospital in London in 1987, where he still works full time. He was made a CBE in 2010. His bestselling memoir, Do No Harm, offers a candid insight into the life and work of a neurosurgeon.

Saiful Islam

Saiful Islam. Photo courtesy of Saiful Islam.

Saiful Islam, Professor of Materials Chemistry at the University of Bath, is one of the UK’s most distinguished chemists. In 2016, he presented the Royal Institution’s prestigious Christmas Lectures for the BBC, entitled ‘Supercharged: Fuelling the Future’. He has presented more than 65 invited talks at international conferences and has over 190 publications to his name. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) and the recipient of many research awards, including the RSC Peter Day Award for Materials Chemistry and the Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award.

On becoming a Humanists UK patron, Saiful said, ‘Despite what my name implies, I think I’ve been a humanist since my late teens. Through science I discovered the beauty of gaining knowledge through evidence and reason. And through progressive causes I was introduced to human rights and social justice.’

Francesca Stavrakopoulou

Francesca Stavrakopoulou at Humanists UK’s 2016 convention. Photo: Sven Klinge.

Francesca Stavrakopoulou is Professor of Hebrew Bible and Ancient Religion at the University of Exeter. Her scrupulous and sensitive reading of religious textual history has promoted a subtler and more nuanced understanding of the ancient human societies which produced religious texts, and has helped to shed light on how interpretations of these texts have changed over time, and the symbiotic relationship these texts have with prevailing attitudes in society. Francesca’s research primarily focuses on ancient Israelite and Judahite religions and portrayals of religious history in the Hebrew Bible. She is also interested in biblical traditions and religious practices most at odds with Western cultural values.

Francesca has extensive credits as a broadcaster, presenting the three-part BBC series The Bible’s Buried Secrets in March 2011. She appears regularly on the BBC’s The Big Questions and Sunday Morning Live, and has discussed biblical scholarship on several national and local radio programmes. Her stimulating talks on the history of religion and religious depictions of female sexuality were highlights of the Humanists UK Annual Convention in 2016 and the 2014 World Humanist Congress in Oxford.  

David Hand

David Hand. Photo: Vera de Kok.

David Hand is Senior Research Investigator and Emeritus Professor of Mathematics at Imperial College, London. He is a Fellow of the British Academy and an Honorary Fellow of the Institute of Actuaries and has served twice as President of the Royal Statistical Society.  He has published extensively throughout his career, with 300 scientific papers and 28 books to his name, including the Very Short Introduction to Statistics. In 2002 he was awarded the Guy Medal of the Royal Statistical Society, and was awarded the George Box Medal in 2016. In 2013 he was made OBE for services to research and innovation.

David’s statistical work has helped resolve philosophical quandaries that have plagued philosophers for centuries. His extensive writing on improbability expounds the statistical theory behind why things some people call ‘miracles’ actually happen all the time without the need for divine intervention.

Commenting on the four appointments, Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson said,

‘All of Humanists UK’s patrons are people who have, in one way or another, contributed to the promotion of human happiness and humanist ideas in the world today.

‘We are absolutely delighted to have four academics of such high calibre join as new patrons and look forward to working with them across our work to advance free thinking and freedom of choice so that everyone can live in a fair and equal society.’  


At Humanists UK, we want a tolerant world where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work helps people be happier and more fulfilled, and by bringing non-religious people together we help them develop their own views and an understanding of the world around them.

Humanists UK has over 170 patrons who support its work in various ways through their expertise and prominence in various fields. Existing patrons include significant figures from the spheres of science, philosophy, human rights activism, politics, the arts, and broadcasting. The President of Humanists UK is the writer and comedian Shappi Khorsandi, who is supported by Vice Presidents Professor Jim Al-Khalili, Professor A C Grayling, and Polly Toynbee. For a full list of patrons, see


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