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2016 05 03 v1 IS Our programme

Please see below the programme for the BHA Annual Conference 2016. More details about sessions and speakers can also be found on this page.

2016 05 03 v1 IS Friday half width


Reception. Open to Full ticket holders.

Registration closes

2016 05 03 v1 IS Saturday (am)


Morning Tea/Coffee


The roots and fruits of Humanism.
Professor A C Grayling

Is God a misogynist?
Professor Francesca Stavrakopoulou

Free speech is under attack.
Peter Tatchell with Polly Toynbee.


2016 05 03 v1 IS Saturday (pm)

Party animals: my family and other communists
David Aaronovitch

Breakout 1: George Zarkadakis and Thom Scott-Phillips: humanist futures

The unbearable lightness of information.
Dr George Zarkadakis

Breakout 2: Peter Tatchell and David Aaronovitch: the limits of freedom of expression

Coffee/comfort break

Life beyond Earth – prospects and possibilities.
Professor Monica Grady CBE

Breakout session: Humanism, Islam & Dialogue
Aliyah Saleem (Faith to Faithless) and Jeremy Rodell (BHA)

Breakout session: Arguing your point of view effectively
Alice Fuller and Andrew Maddox (Young Humanists)

Breakout session: Humanism in an international context.
Carl Blackburn (International Humanist and Ethical Union)


Drinks Reception (Dining tickets only)

Gala Dinner (Dining tickets only)

2016 05 03 v1 IS Sunday

Morning Tea/Coffee

Ceremonies, education, and pastoral care

What’s the fuss about evolutionary psychology?Dr Thom Scott-Phillips

Open lunch*

Humanism, dogmatism, and multiculturalism
Professor David Wootton

The Celts: constructing identityProfessor Alice Roberts

15:30 Closing ceremony.
Shappi Khorsandi



*Saturday lunch is provided only for those with full Standard or Dining tickets.
There are 90 minutes on the Sunday afternoon to find explore the bustling city and grab a bite to eat. See below for details of places to eat.

David Aaronovitch // @DAaronovitch
David Aaronovitch is an author, broadcaster, and journalist. He is a regular columnist for The Times and the author of several books, includingVoodoo Histories: The Role of Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History. He won the Orwell Prize for political journalism in 2001, and the What the Papers Say Columnist of the Year award for 2003. He is an honorary associate of the Rationalist Association, publisher of the New Humanist.

Carl Blackburn
Carl Blackburn is the Chief Executive of the International Humanist and Ethical Union. Prior to taking up this post last year, Carl spent 11 years as CEO of a London-based Council for Voluntary Service, leading the growth and development of that organisation to be a model of good practice. In other roles, Carl managed and delivered support to refugee community organisations from across the world, and his international experience includes leadership of the Chile Solidarity Campaign, an international campaigning organisation. Based in Chile for five years, he worked with political prisoners, local human rights organisations and trade unions.

Alice Fuller
Alice Fuller is coordinator of Young Humanists, the section of Humanists UK for 18-35 year olds. She was elected toHumanists UK’s board in 2010 and served a three-year term as the charity’s youngest trustee. She first learnt how to argue when studying Philosophy at Bristol University, a skill she now uses in her career as a campaigner. Alice helps people living with motor neurone disease and their families to voice their concerns to local politicians and decision makers, and convince them to improve health and care services.

Monica Grady CBE
Monica Grady is Professor in Planetary Sciences at The Open University, and is one of the UK’s leading space scientists. She worked on the Ptolemy instrument on the Philae lander, that made the first successful soft landing on a comet, in November 2014. She delivered the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures in 2003, and has said that ‘the biggest question we are trying to get any answer to is ‘where did life on Earth come from’? Asteroid (4731) was named Monicagrady in her honour.

A C Grayling // @acgrayling
Anthony Grayling is Master of the New College of the Humanities and a Supernumary Fellow of St Anne’s College. A philosopher who believes that philosophy should emerge from its ivory tower and play useful role in society, Grayling is happy to engage publicly with the problems of contemporary society. He is involved in UN human rights initiatives, is a Fellow of the World Economic Forum, helped lawyers acting for Diane Pretty, and has written and spoken for freedom of speech and secularism and against faith schools and sharia law.

In November 2003 he gave Humanists UK Voltaire lecture ‘Enlightenment & Counter-Enlightenment: Then and Now’. He is also an Honorary Associate of the Rationalist Association.

Shappi Khorsandi // @ShappiKhorsandi
Born in Iran in 1973, Shappi Khorsandi and her family were forced to flee from Iran to London after the Islamic Revolution, as her father had written satirical poetry. She is a comedian, performs stand-up, and has appeared on many radio and television shows, including Shappi Talkand Question Time.

In 2015, she was one of several contributors What is Humanism?, a new book from Michael Rosen and Annemarie Young aimed at introducing Humanism to children. She became President of Humanists UK in January 2016.

Andrew Maddox
Andrew currently works at Uber, as an Operations and Logistics Manager in the Expansion team, helping launch and build the Uber business in the UK outside of London. Prior to joining Uber Andrew spent the last five or so years in various corporate strategy roles in some of the UK’s largest banks. Outside of work he volunteers with two charities, the St. John Ambulance as an Advanced First Aider and the Access Project as a tutor. He holds an MA degree in Theoretical and Experimental Physics and an MSci degree in the History and Philosophy of Science, both attained at the University of Cambridge.

Alice Roberts // @draliceroberts
Alice is a clinical anatomist and Professor of Public Engagement in Science at the University of Birmingham. She is a broadcaster and has presented several landmark BBC science series including The Incredible Human Journey, Origins of Us, Prehistoric Autopsy, and Ice Age Giants. She writes a regular science column for The Observer, and has authored five popular science books. Her latest book The Incredible Unlikeliness of Being was released in May 2015.

Jeremy Rodell
Jeremy is a Humanists UK Trustee andHumanists UK’s (volunteer) Dialogue Officer. He co-founded and chairs South West London Humanists. As well as being the humanist representative on local ‘interfaith’ forums, he’s involved in ongoing bilateral dialogues with local Catholics and, through Central London Humanists, with Muslims. He’s also a school speaker.

Thom Scott-Phillips // @tscottphillips
Dr Thom Scott-Phillips is Senior Research Fellow in Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology at Durham University, and he researches evolutionary and cognitive approaches to the human mind and culture, and in particular to communication and language. His first book, Speaking Our Minds,  was published in November 2014. Among his major prizes and awards are the British Psychological Society’s prize for Outstanding Doctoral Research (2010). Thom delivered the Darwin Day Lecture 2016 in Newcastle.

Aliyah Saleem
Aliyah is a co-founder of Faith to Faithless, an organisation which raises awareness about the discrimination and issues affecting those who leave religion. She advocates for secular education in the UK, and has particularly worked on bringing attention to the issues facing students who attend private religious schools. Aliyah studied Islam formally in the UK and Pakistan for six years.

Francesca Stavrakopoulou // @ProfFrancesca
Having studied the Bible for all her life, Professor Francesca Stavrakopoulou describes herself as ‘an atheist with huge respect for religion’ She is Professor of the Hebrew Bible and Ancient Religion at Exeter’s Department of Theology and Religion. She presented the BBC TV series The Bible’s Buried Secrets and also contributed to Channel 4’s The Bible: A History.

Peter Tatchell // @PeterTatchell

Peter Tatchell is a human rights campaigner and has been active for decades. He attempted a citizens arreest of President Robert Mugabe in 1999 and 2001, and was a co-founder of LGBT rights group ‘OutRage!’. Tatchell is a strong proponent of freedom of speech and has spoken out on the topic.

Polly Toynbee // @pollytoynbee
Polly Toynbee is a journalist, writer, and columnist for the Guardian, is Humanists UK Vice President, and was Humanists UK President from 2007 until 2012.

David Wootton
David Wootton is Anniversary Professor of History. He works on the intellectual and cultural history of the English speaking countries, Italy, and France, 1500-1800. He is currently writing a book entitled Power, Pleasure and Profit based on his Carlyle Lectures at the University of Oxford in 2014. His most recent book is The Invention of Science, published by Allen Lane.

George Zarkadakis // @zarkadakis
Dr George Zarkadakis is a science writer, playwright, and novelist with a PhD in Artificial Intelligence. He has worked for organisations including the European Commission and the British Council, Silicon Graphics and the European Bioinformatics Institute; appeared on the History Channel; written for publications such as Aeon digital magazine and the Washington Post; and been knighted by the French government for his services to science communication.





The roots and fruits of Humanism – A C Grayling
The roots of humanism lie in the philosophy of classical antiquity and the long and rich tradition of ethical thought since then. Its promised fruits are an ethical outlook that everyone in the world could sign up for, thus promising – however utopian! – harmony and fellowship in humankind.

Is God a misogynist? – Francesca Stavrakopoulou
The Bible has been blamed for the downgrading of sexuality and the degrading of women. In this talk, Francesca Stavrakopoulou will explore the reasons why the biblical writers sought to divorce sexuality from the divine by distorting the presence of goddesses from the life of the biblical God. Traces of God’s sex life remain in the texts, however, and these reveal the important role the female body, both divine and human, played in the ancient religions giving rise to the Bible.

Free speech is under attack – Peter Tatchell
Universities were once bastions of Enlightenment values. The new trend is to ban speakers and close down open debate. Are no-platform and safe space policies ever justified? What are the limits of free speech? Are we witnessing a form of academic ‘McCarthyism,’ in the name of equality and diversity?

The unbearable lightness of information – George Zarkadakis
Artificial Intelligence reveals the age-old western dichotomy between the world of abstract ideas versus the world of the senses. In this talk we will explore how.

Party animals: my family and other communists – David Aaronovitch
‘Boxed in belief systems are not the monopoly of religions. “Scientific socialism”, as Marxism in practice was also known, professed to a status it didn’t have. It suggested that all phenomena were explicable by reference to historical processes and something called “the dialectic”. It also required a secular priesthood eventually to interpret the dicta laid down by mostly bearded prophets: Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Stalin – and Mao if you wanted. It could be cosy, comradely, virtuous and courageous. It could also be dogmatic and murderous. And it’s what I was born into, just as a Catholic child is born into the church.’

Life beyond Earth prospects and possibilities – Monica Grady
The talk will consider how life is defined, what is required for it to arise, and the range of habitats in which life can exist on Earth. Knowing where life survives on Earth then gives clues to where else in the Solar System it might be possible for life to arise and evolve.

Humanism, Islam, and dialogue – Aliyah Saleem and Jeremy Rodell
This session will explore Aliyah’s journey from attending an Islamic boarding school to the Faith to Faithless organisation, and her views on anti-Muslim prejudice and the role of dialogue. Jeremy Rodell, also plans to share the first edition of a new set of guidelines to help anyone interested in setting up bilateral dialogue with people from a religious belief background, based on learning from recent discussions between humanists and both Muslims and Catholics.

Arguing your point of view effectively – Young Humanists
Ever feel lost for words in a debate? Feel like you have a good point to make, but can’t articulate it? Perhaps you have all the right facts and figures, but struggle to get them across in a persuasive way. Humanists are known to like a good debate, but being a good debater is an art. Learn how to structure a good argument and deliver it in a persuasive, non-confrontational way at Young Humanists’ interactive workshop. The workshop is run by Young Humanists ( Humanists UK’s section for 18-35 year olds) but delegates of all ages are welcome.

Humanism in an international context – the work of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU)
IHEU Chief Executive, Carl Blackburn, will outline the work of IHEU – the global representative body of the humanist movement. Carl will explain how IHEU supports the development of humanist organisations around the world, represents humanist views and values at the United Nations and elsewhere, and campaigns on individual cases of persecution.

What’s the fuss about evolutionary psychology? – Thom Scott-Phillips
Evolutionary Psychology (EP) is an approach to studying the mind that uses Darwin’s theory of natural selection to generate and constrain hypotheses. While nobody would disagree with this approach in principle, EP has attracted much criticism over the years, both scientific and political. In this talk, Thom Scott-Phillips will describe when and how an evolutionary perspective can help us understand the mind – and in particular why humans are so prone to confirmation bias.

Humanism, dogmatism, and multiculturalism – David Wootton
What moral positions can humanists hold? This talk will compare a humanist moral philosophy with utilitarianism, religious fundamentalism, and multiculturalism.

The Celts: constructing identity – Alice Roberts
‘When I made The Celts for BBC2 last year, (with my friend and fellow old “Coaster” Neil Oliver), I relished the opportunity to study these Iron Age Europeans in more detail. It’s a fascinating subject – taking us back to a world where warriors were worshipped as gods, and where princes and princesses were buried with dazzling gold treasure. But new archaeological discoveries are transforming our ideas about the ancient Celts. And I knew that we’d be opening a large can of Iron Age worms.

Writing the book to accompany the series, I focused on the fundamental question – who were the ancient Celts? And I found it much trickier to answer than I’d ever imagined. Although the term is still widely used to describe people of Iron Age central and Western Europe, it’s not clear that these people ever thought of themselves as Celts or had any sort of common identity – beyond speaking a family of closely related languages. But in fact the idea that any population, ancient or modern, has some sort of identity which includes a package – of a certain genetic profile, a particular language, and common culture represented by similar material goods and arts styles – deserves closer attention.

A three-part television series cannot be a comprehensive lecture series, and the balance between debate and narrative in any factual documentary is largely a question of intent and taste. But two of the most outspoken critics of the series were Iron Age experts with research careers which had focused on the European Iron Age and questions of identity – John Collis and Rachel Pope. From these two, I learned even more about identity in the past – and identity today.

Could you be a Celt? Come along and find out.’


Closing ceremony – Shappi Khorsandi


There will be two registration sessions. The first registration will take place in the Hall 9 Foyer from 18:30 21:00 on Friday 10 June.

The second registration will be held from 08:00 – 11:00 on Saturday 11 June. Location to be confirmed.

If you are arriving in Birmingham on Friday, we strongly encourage you to register that evening so that you have more time for meeting other delegates and avoid delays in attending the morning sessions in Hall 4 on the Saturday.

Getting to the ICC Birmingham

The International Convention Centre is located right in the middle of Birmingham City Centre, on Broad Street.

By train

The ICC is served by the UK’s largest interchange rail station, Birmingham New Street and the smaller Five Ways Station. Both stations are a short walk from the ICC and taxi ranks are situated close by. Birmingham New Street has direct and regular services to Birmingham International railway station which directly links to Birmingham International Airport and The NEC. It also has many direct services to London Euston, including a service that takes just 80 minutes and runs every 20 minutes.

Download the ICC’s maps for walking directions from the three main city centre train stations.

By car

The ICC is located centrally in Birmingham city centre and is easily accessible by road from all over the UK. Visitors from any direction can travel in to Birmingham using many different routes connected to the following motorways: M1, M5, M6, M6 Toll, M40 and M42.

There is abundant, secure multi-storey parking available located within the Barclaycard Arena, which is just a short walk away from the ICC. Both the ICC and Barclaycard Arena are signposted on motorways and major roads and are marked on most road maps.

By foot

The ICC is located in the well-known, accessible Broad Street area of Birmingham city centre, adjacent to Brindleyplace and Centenary Square. Download this city map and follow the below directions.

  • Walking to the ICC from any part of Birmingham city centre is easy, well signposted and takes 10-15 minutes:
  • From New Street, head up to Victoria Square (the opposite direction to the Bull Ring shopping centre)
  • At Victoria Square, the Town Hall is on your left and Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery is on the right next to the Council House
  • Walk straight ahead and directly through Paradise Forum
  • Exit the Forum and walk past the circular Hall of Memory building
  • You will see the ICC straight ahead, past the new Library of Birmingham and the Rep Theatre on your right.

2016 04 20 v1 IS Restaurants

Remember: if you have a ‘Conference Extra’ ticket, you’ll need to arrange for your own food and refreshments for the whole weekend. For others, teas and coffees are provided through the weekend, as is a bagged lunch on the Saturday.

On Sunday afternoon, all delegates have 90 minutes to explore the centre of Birmingham where we find ourselves, and grab a bite to eat.

Just 15 minutes’ walk away is the Bull Ring with an amazing selection of more than 35 restaurants and cafes. 10 minutes’ walk from the ICC is Birmingham Grand Central, with a further 22 places to eat, and directly across the canal the ICC is Brindley Place, where you can find almost 20 restaurants to suit any taste. The ground floor of the ICC has its own restaurant, Starbucks, and a WHSmith, for maximum convenience.


The BHA Annual Conference Accommodation Portal organised by MeetBirmingham has now closed. The Hyatt Regency Birmingham is connected directly to the International Convention Centre, but there are many other hotels in the surrounding area too.

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