Humanists Thinking

Reason has a pivotal role in the humanist worldview.  Reasoning is more than the application of logic to scientific theories.  We use reasoning in everyday life, too.  Humanists believe that the use of reason – to form and assess our ideas – is also crucial when approaching moral questions, even some aesthetic questions, and that reason must lie behind any real understanding of life.

Elsewhere on this site you can read about humanist thought through the ages and humanist philosophy today.  Our website www.humanismforschools.org.uk contains ideas for assemblies and toolkits for the classroom which reveal more about humanist thinking for younger people.

In the following section, we focus on thinking that has been encapsulated specifically for popular consumption, in Thought For The Day-style broadcasts, columns and articles.  These are, in other words, thoughts to make you think.

Humanist “Thoughts for the Day”

Humanists have long campaigned for an occasional humanist slot on BBC Radio 4’s Thought for the Day – after all, religious people are not the only ones with ethical insights into the issues of the day and religious people are not the only listeners to the Today programme.  While the BBC slowly considers our arguments, humanist speakers participate in similar slots in local media and offer their thoughts on life and contemporary issues to a range of audiences.

Below you can find a selection of radio broadcasts, samples of other talks and newspaper “thoughts for the week”.

Humanists are free-thinking individuals and the views expressed in these items are not necessarily shared by all humanists or reflected in British Humanist Association policy.  Some talks are determinedly atheist, while others are explicitly or implicitly humanist – on “life, the universe and everything”.

“Thought for the World”

The Humanist Society of Scotland (HSS) and the British Humanist Association (BHA) have occasionally podcasted their own humanist “Thoughts for the Day”, an initiative launched on Darwin Day 2007 (12 February) and now available at www.thoughtfortheworld.org.

Podcasters in the first week included A C GraylingStewart LeeJulian Baggini, and Nigel Warburton,Gillian Stewart, a humanist celebrant for the HSS, and Kate Hudson, chair of CND.

The series continued in 2008 with four weeks of new podcasts.  You can listen again to all the podcasts.

Historic “thoughts for the day”

At the height of the Atheist Bus Campaign in January 2009 Ariane Sherine was invited to give a “Thought For the Afternoon” on the BBC Radio 4 iPM programme.

Radio 4 had previously allowed Richard Dawkins one “alternative” Thought for the Day slot in August 2002, broadcast a considerable time after the normal Thought For the Day slot.

In 1996, Nicolas Walter of the Rationalist Press Association was invited to give five talks in the BBC World Service “Words of Faith” series – his contribution was entitled “Living Without Religion”.  The talks were published in New Humanist.

In January 1955 psychologist, broadcaster and humanist Margaret Knight stunned post-war Britain by suggesting in two talks – “Morals Without Religion” – on the BBC’s Home Service (now Radio 4), that moral education should be uncoupled from religious education.

Local Humanist Groups

Margaret Nelson of Suffolk Humanists has mused on subjects as diverse as Shakespeare, badgers, women’s rights, Halloween and ghosts, the weather, books and holidays, for BBC Radio Suffolk’sThought for the Day since 1995.  Margaret and fellow humanist David Mitchell regularly broadcast on Radio Suffolk.  With reference to critics’ fears about secular contributors to such slots, Margaret says: “I’m in my 10th year of doing Thought for the Day, and the world hasn’t come to an end.”

North East Humanists provide brief “thoughts” for the Durham Advertiser.

We know other Local Humanist Groups contribute to similar slots.  If you have more details or would like to be included in this section, please contact groups@humanism.org.uk.

Short radio talks

Humanist philosopher Peter Cave’s Pauses for Thought, broadcast on Radio 2, cover subjects ranging from Buridan’s Ass to Kierkegaard’s Washing. His This Sentence is False was an accessible and entertaining look at philosophical paradoxes, which ran on BBC Radio 4 every day from 13-17 June, 2005.

David Blyfield talks on Humanism, cheerfulness, the Olympics, charitable giving, education, and living wills for Radio York’s Daybreak series.

Geoff Heath, ex-lecturer and ex-Methodist minister, talked about his “Atheistic Humanism” and “What an atheist believes about God” on BBC Radio Derby in September and October 2004.

We will continue to expand and update this section.

Humanist quotations

See our selection of short but thought-provoking and inspiring quotations on a variety of themes.