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BHA’s Voltaire Lecture does not shy away from controversy

The renowned writer, broadcaster and Distinguished Supporter of the British Humanist Association (BHA) Kenan Malik yesterday gave the BHA’s annual Voltaire Lecture on “The Guilt of Science? Race, Science and Darwin”. Kenan Malik, whose interests and extensive work cover the history and philosophy of science, bioethics, religion, and race, immigration and multiculturalism, took the opportunity to explore a number of key and often controversial points in relation to concepts of racism in science.

Taking a political historical perspective, Mr Malik focused his lecture on ‘scientific racism’ and assessed charges that it has contributed to human suffering through war and oppression, looking especially at when inhumane acts have been justified in the name of nature and science. 

Mr Malik said that science by its very nature necessitates that we look at differences between individuals and populations, but interpretation has been influenced by political and cultural considerations.

The question and answer session following the lecture, chaired by BHA President Polly Toynbee, was extremely lively. Points raised in the discussion included questioning whether religious views influenced attitudes towards race and how most early racial science was based on observation and not sound scientific method.


The Voltaire Lecture was jointly hosted with the South Place Ethical Society at Conway Hall

The Voltaire Lectures Fund was established by the legacy of Theodore Besterman, biographer of Voltaire, for lectures on ‘any aspect of scientific or philosophical thought or human activity as affected by or with particular reference to humanism.’ The British Humanist Association now oversees the fund. Previous Voltaire lecturers have included: Baroness Wootton, Herman Bondi, Bernard Crick, Richard Dawkins, Michael Foot, Robert Hinde, Ludovic Kennedy, Simon Blackburn, Ray Tallis and Lord Taverne.

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