Adam Rutherford has taken office as the new President of Humanists UK. The acclaimed geneticist, science writer, broadcaster, and humanist, succeeds Professor Alice Roberts. Alice, like her predecessors as President, now becomes a Vice President.
Adam has been a high-profile ambassador and patron of Humanists UK for many years, advocating especially for robust science education and against religious discrimination in state faith schools. Adam has pledged to spearhead those campaigns as President, as well as Humanists UK’s work for assisted dying.
He will also continue Humanists UK’s work of connecting the millions of non-religious people in the UK who strongly hold values of rational thinking, kindness, and empathy – the humanist approach to life. According to YouGov research, over 17 million people in the UK hold humanist beliefs and values, with 5 million primarily calling themselves ‘humanists’. Around 34 million – half the population – say they belong to no religion.
Adam continues to use his platform and his insights as a geneticist to challenge racism and to promote humanist values. He delivered Humanists UK’s 2019 Voltaire Lecture, How to argue with a racist, which became the basis for his 2020 bestselling book of the same name. The lecture, and indeed, much of Adam’s work, challenged false claims from religion, pseudoscience, and simple prejudice, emphasising instead our common humanity and our capacity to build a better society. This is also the subject of his latest book, Control: The Dark History and Troubling Present of Eugenics.
After three and half years of service, Alice Roberts has stepped down as President. During this time, Alice has presided over some huge successes. These include the decriminalisation of abortion and legalisation of same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland and new laws making sure humanism is taught in religious education in Wales. In England, a Government Bill to shut down illegal religious schools has been introduced as well as a new opt-out system for organ donation. She has also seen major strides in our campaigns for humanist marriage, and for assisted dying.
As President during the covid pandemic and lockdowns, she presided over the widely acclaimed national humanist ceremony for victims of the pandemic. She brought humanism to new audiences, seeing an unprecedented growth in member and supporter numbers to over 100,000. Alice now becomes a Vice President, alongside Shaparak Khorsandi, Jim Al-Khalili, A C Grayling, and Polly Toynbee.
On becoming President, Adam Rutherford said:
‘As a geneticist, I believe strongly in our shared humanity and how, through science and the humanist values of logic, reason, and evidence, we can overcome divisions and create a society where everyone is treated equally.
‘Surveys show that most people in the UK are non-religious, and about a quarter hold humanist beliefs and values. Humanists can be found in so many walks of life and, by working together, there is so much we can do to help promote a better, fairer society.
‘I am deeply honoured to become the President of Humanists UK and to be part of this community of like-minded, thoughtful, and compassionate people striving for positive social change.’
Adam also paid tribute to his predecessor Alice Roberts, saying:
‘Alice has done an amazing job at advancing the causes of and promoting humanism to a wider audience. She’s a hard act to follow, but it’s an honour to do so.’
Welcoming the appointment, Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson said:
‘Throughout his career Adam has used his platform as a geneticist and science communicator to challenge falsehood and prejudice in the interests of building a better society.
‘At a time of increased uncertainty, and when our work in bringing non-religious people together is more important than ever, we are delighted to welcome such an experienced communicator with a passion for promoting humanist values.’
‘We are of course also saddened to see Alice step down as President after an amazing three and a half years championing humanism and Humanists UK’s campaigns. But we’re delighted she will remain with us as a Vice President alongside Shaparak Khorsandi, Jim Al-Khalili, A C Grayling, and Polly Toynbee. Thank you Alice!’
Outgoing President Professor Alice Roberts commented:
‘Since 2019, I’ve been honoured to serve as President of Humanists UK and help to bring attention to our amazing work – from our ceremonies for non-religious people and the support we offer to the vulnerable in hospitals and prisons, through to our important campaigns for freedom of thought, choice, and expression. Adam is a brilliant scientist and communicator who I know will do a fantastic job promoting the values of humanism.’
For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at email@example.com or phone 020 7324 3072 or 07534 248 596.
Humanists UK is making images of Adam available to the press to use, copyright, credited to Jake Owens for Humanists UK.
Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.
53% of people in the UK are non-religious, of which half hold the humanist outlook on life. Around 7% have humanist beliefs according to a poll of British adults conducted by YouGov for Humanists UK.
- More about Adam Rutherford
Born in 1975, Adam studied evolutionary genetics at University College London (UCL), followed by a PhD in developmental genetics of the retina at the UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health. He is now a lecturer at UCL – where he teaches the history of eugenics, race science, genetics, and science communication – as well as at universities around the world. Adam was the recipient of the Royal Society David Attenborough Award, for public engagement with science, in 2021.
Adam began his broadcasting career as an editor at the journal Nature before writing and presenting documentaries for BBC radio and television. He presented the BBC Radio 4 programme Inside Science from 2013 to 2021, and currently presents Start the Week and (with Hannah Fry) The Curious Cases of Rutherford and Fry. He has made programmes on topics including long Covid, AI and robotics, MMR and autism, and scientific fraud. He has also produced and presented a number of BBC programmes including The Cell on BBC Four and Horizon: Playing God on BBC Two.
He is also the author of six books relating to genetics and the origin of life, including two Sunday Times bestsellers: How to Argue with a Racist, Rutherford and Fry’s Complete Guide to Absolutely Everything, and most recently Control: The Dark History and Troubling Present of Eugenics (2022). He is a frequent contributor to the Observer, Guardian and Mail on Sunday, writing primarily on science topics, and has acted as a science advisor on programmes and films including Ex Machina (2015) and Annihilation (2018).
- More about Presidents of Humanists UK
The role of President of Humanists UK dates back to 1896, as the President of the Annual Congress of the Union of Ethical Societies. The role was re-created in its modern form in 1919, as President of the Ethical Union.
The founding President of Humanists UK (then known as the Union of Ethical Societies) was Lady Elizabeth Swann, an influential suffragist campaigner who helped to establish midwifery as a regulated profession. One of her earliest successors was J Ramsay MacDonald, who would later serve as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
After 1919, Presidents of Humanists UK included distinguished names such as influential classicist Gilbert Murray, Bloomsbury Group muse and philosopher G E Moore, analytic philosopher Susan Stebbing, and the antiracist philosopher Morris Ginsberg.
Presidents in the second half of the 20th century included jazz musician and author George Melly, agony aunt and broadcaster Claire Rayner, comedian and broadcaster Linda Smith, cosmologist Hermann Bondi, anthropologist Edmund Leach, and humanist philosopher A J Ayer.
On stepping down as President, Alice Roberts joins her immediate predecessors, the writer and comedian Shaparak Khorsandi, the physicist and broadcaster Jim Al-Khalili, and the journalist Polly Toynbee, as a Vice President of Humanists UK.
- More about Humanists UK
At Humanists UK, we want a tolerant world where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We work to support lasting change for a better society, championing ideas for the one life we have.
We do this because we’re humanists: people who shape our own lives in the here and now, because we believe it’s the only life we get.
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 started out in 1896 and now has more than 100,000 members and supporters and over 70 local and special interest affiliates. We’re committed to putting humanism into practice. Through our ceremonies, pastoral support, education services, and campaigning work, we advance free thinking and freedom of choice so everyone can live in a fair and equal society
- More about humanism
Throughout recorded history there have been non-religious people who have believed that this life is the only life we have, that the universe is a natural phenomenon with no supernatural side, and that we can live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. They have trusted the scientific method, evidence, and reason to discover truths about the universe, and placed human welfare and happiness at the centre of their ethical decision making.
Today, people who share these beliefs and values are called humanists, and this combination of attitudes is called humanism. Many millions of people in the UK share this way of living and of looking at the world, but many of them have not heard the word ‘humanist’ and don’t realise that it describes what they believe.
It is one of the main purposes of Humanists UK to increase public awareness of what humanism is, and to let the many millions of non-religious people in this country know that, far from being somehow deficient in their values, they have an outlook on life which is coherent and widely-shared, which has inspired some of the world’s greatest artists, writers, scientists, philosophers, and social reformers, and which has a millennia-long tradition in both the western and eastern worlds.
We also hope to give greater confidence to people whose beliefs are humanist by offering resources that can develop their knowledge of humanist approaches to some of the big ethical, philosophical, and existential questions in life.