Tues 7 June

The role of the ocean and its tides in the control of Earth’s climate, with Professor John Simpson

John Simpson

Scientists have long been working to understand the way the Earth’s Climate operates and how it is reacting to the increasing pressures exerted by the large-scale burning of fossil fuels. It is, however, only in the last few decades that it has been possible to assemble a compelling case that, in the global warming era, we are up against existential threats to the Earth’s ecosystem and our civilisation, if we do not respond wisely and rapidly. 

The climate is a complex and intricate system in which the ocean, with its massive, thermal capacity and powerful ocean currents and tides, plays a central role.

In this talk, I will endeavour to explain the basics of the climate system and the way the ocean works within it, before going on to consider how the ocean is reacting to the rapid increase in greenhouse gases. 

We shall see that the ocean can help in mitigating the effects of global warming, for a while at least, but the ocean is also vulnerable to positive feedback processes which are accelerating warming through the reduction of ice cover and the release of more carbon into the atmosphere from marine sediments. 

John Simpson served as Professor of Physical Oceanography at the University of Wales, Bangor (1981-2014) and has a broad range of interests in the physical processes that control the ocean environment.  

He is the author or co-author of more than 160 scientific papers, has served as a member of the UK Natural Environment Council and was Chairman of the NERC North Sea Community Project.  He has been Head of the University of Wales, Bangor School of Ocean Sciences 1996-2000, and has held visiting professorships at the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences (1989), the University of  New South Wales (1990) and at the University of Toulon and the Var (2002).  

In 2008 he was awarded both The Fritdjof Nansen Medal “for outstanding research in Oceanography” and The Challenger Medal “for an exceptional contribution to Marine Science”.

7.30pm in the Denham Room of the Priory Street Centre, York YO1 6ET.


Tues 28 June

Book Group – Small Gods, by Terry Pratchett.

7.30pm in The Black Swan, 23 Peasholme Green, York, YO1 7PR. All welcome.


Tues 5 July

Why Vegan? – Practising a more compassionate and sustainable lifestyle, with Hilary Wilson

Hilary Wilson

There many ways of embracing vegan living and, in this talk, we’ll look at the main reasons for making those choices:

·       Animal exploitation

·       The environmental implications of animal agriculture

·       Health

We’ll explore the difference between a dietary vegan and someone who adopts a vegan lifestyle and all that this entails. We’ll also take look at the growth of veganism and how it is now easier than ever to follow a nutritious and delicious vegan diet.

Hilary Wilson has been vegan for 21 years, following in the footsteps of her 2 sons who chose veganism in their teens.

She trained as an Animal Aid school speaker 10 years ago and gives talks on Animal Rights and Veganism to students of all ages.

She co-founded a local vegan group, 3 Valley Vegans, based in West Yorkshire.

A retired special needs teacher, she finds, as most retirees, that there are never enough hours in the day!

7.30pm in the Denham Room of the Priory Street Centre, York YO1 6ET.


Tues 2 August

Morality – a Tale of Three Evolutionswith Brian Gane

This talk looks at how best we can get on with one another. After a short introduction to cosmic and biological evolution, we’ll look at the evolutionary origin of human morality in Africa and identify two sets of attitudes that result:

1 In-group attitudes – cooperation, empathy and a sense of fairness. These allowed small groups of hominids to survive by having strong interrelationships.

2 The out-group attitude of tribalism, which made people suspicious/aggressive to outsiders. This explains a lot of human history.

The positive attitudes can be detected in very young children and can be enhanced (or distorted) by experience and education. Our increasing ability to communicate has led to this instinctive morality being developed to apply to much larger groups (“the Human Family”) and to a much more complicated society.

This can be illustrated in operation in the modern world, including the United Nations, the International Criminal Court, Interpol etc. and relates to the long term decline in violence demonstrated by Steven Pinker in “The Better Angels of our Nature”.

Brian Gane retired from a career in local government, initially as a Chartered Surveyor/Planner and then in economic development. He has been interested in science since Sputnik 1 went up, including the history of science, and he did a degree in geology with the Open University as a hobby. In recent years he has become increasingly interested in early Christianity and its impact on scientific progress down to the present day.

7.30pm in the Denham Room of the Priory Street Centre, York YO1 6ET.


Tues 6 September

The Atheism of Arthur Schopenhauer, with John Pittock

Whilst it is generally agreed that Humanism does not accommodate metaphysics, paradoxically, the Humanist movement has much to be grateful to Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) for. He is now widely acknowledged to be one of Western cultures greatest metaphysical system builders.  

Surprisingly for most readers, he was the first Western philosopher to declare his atheism at a time when it was not just unfashionable but dangerous to do so (most of the great western philosophers since the time of the Roman Empire had been Christians). Moreover, he was able to articulate and widely propagandise his atheistic beliefs such, that they were embraced by a substantial proportion of the nineteenth century thinking classes. 

Crucially, and of interest for Humanists is that he had a profound influence on the minds of some of western culture’s greatest thinkers, musicians, scientists, writers, and artists (Schrödinger, Einstein, Wittgenstein, Tolstoy, Freud, Kafka, Mahler, Wagner, Kierkegaard et al) either by way of acceptance, or a direct reaction against him and his ideas but, nonetheless influencing the western cannon of thought. 

What was it then that caused the mature Wagner to write that his introduction to Schopenhauer’s philosophy ‘was the most significant event of his life and that the impact was extraordinary and decisive’?  Also, why would Brian Magee, in his own autobiography, write this extraordinary commendation on Schopenhauer’s ‘World as Will and Representation’: “which I regard as the most mind stretching capacious, illuminating and penetrating system of philosophical ideas that has yet been forged by a human mind”? 

John Pittock will give an account of the primary concepts that constructed Schopenhauer’s atheistic philosophy and its subsequent impact on the minds of the major influencers of the 19th and 20th century which were both beneficial and cataclysmic.

John is a company director currently committed to a largescale sustainability project. Having had a lifelong interest in the history of ideas, his passion for the subject had its origins in working extensively in the Gulf region, the former USSR, Israel, Iran, Lebanon and the Far East. This gave him the opportunity to experience first-hand the cultural, political, religious and social consequences of ‘ideas’ that started with either one individual (or at most a small group) and yet resulted in extraordinary social, economic and political upheavals.

His interest in Schopenhauer was directly triggered by his experience of working in Siberia in the 70’s and observing that even though Lenin & Stalin were long dead their ideas & actions still held an iron grip over the country. This led to an to examination of ‘German idealism’ as the source of Marxism and this in turn fired his interest in Arthur Schopenhauer.

7.30pm in the Denham Room of the Priory Street Centre, York YO1 6ET.