Jim Al-Khalili named President-elect of British Humanist Association

10

Physicist, author, and broadcaster Jim Al-Khalili has been appointed as the next President of the British Humanist Association. He succeeds journalist, broadcaster, and social justice campaigner Polly Toynbee to take up the position from January 2013 and will serve a three-year term as the Association’s eleventh president.


The son of an English practising Christian mother and Muslim father, Jim was born and raised in Iraq, but left that country with his family in 1979 to come to England at the age of 16. His academic career has been in theoretical physics but he is best known publically as a popular and accomplished science communicator, whose books have been translated into over 20 languages. In spite of his parentage and his descent from an Iraqi Ayatollah, Jim has been a humanist since his teenage years.

Welcoming Jim’s appointment, BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson said, ‘As well as being an academic scientist at the forefront of humanity’s quest to know the universe, Jim is also a brilliant communicator. His popular broadcasts and books have made some of the most cutting-edge and complex scientific advances accessible to millions. It is that capacity in particular that makes him a perfect choice to speak to the millions of British people who share the humanist approach to life but have not heard the word “humanist” and don’t realise that it describes what they believe. We all look forward to his time as president enormously.’

Welcoming her successor, outgoing President Polly Toynbee said, ‘It has been a joy to be president at a time of such prominent activity and unprecedented growth for the Association. From the Atheist Bus Campaign, to the massive increase in our education and ceremonies work and our increasingly dynamic advocacy work, we have gone from strength to strength. I know that Jim will enjoy a period of equal growth and success and hope he enjoys his time as President of such a wonderful and sorely needed institution.’

Jim Al-Khalili, accepting the appointment, said, ‘I am excited to be the BHA’s next President. It’s a real honour and I hope I can do the position justice, especially when I look back on some of its illustrious past presidents. Following from Polly Toynbee is a particularly daunting prospect as she has been such an influential and respected voice in British intellectual life over several decades. Her uncompromising stance on secularism and social democracy have been exemplary and I know she leaves the post with the BHA stronger than it has ever been in its 116-year history.

‘Like so many people who are not religious, I have often felt offended by the misguided notion that people require a religious faith to provide their moral compass in order to lead a good life. Reason, decency, tolerance, empathy and hope are human traits that we should aspire to, not because we seek reward of eternal life or because we fear the punishment of a supernatural being, but because they define our humanity. Only in recent years have I come to appreciate that all those qualities I have tried to espouse are precisely what defines Humanism.

Written By: British Humanist Association
continue to source article at humanism.org.uk

10 COMMENTS

  1. Congratulations, Jim! May your term be rewarding for you and for the Association.

    I hope you don’t mind me quoting you:

    “Reason, decency, tolerance, empathy and hope are human traits that we
    should aspire to, not because we seek reward of eternal life or because
    we fear the punishment of a supernatural being, but because they define
    our humanity.”

    Well said.

  2. It’s good to see such a well known well respected scientist take up this position.

    It also shows that religious parentage, does not have to be an obstruction to scientific or Humanist views.

  3. Also Jim (if I may) is much less divisive politically. I’ve no idea of Jim’s party politics, and I don’t want to know. But the current association of atheism with the left – although a caricature or at best a partial truth – is not helpful. For evidence, I cite the Guardian comments from Polly Toynbee’s latest column which can be found on RD.net here http://richarddawkins.net/news

  4. I’ve long been an admirer of Jim Al-Khalili, he is one of the finest contemporary communicators of science.

    Congratulations to Professor Al-Khalili.

    The BHA have chosen well, a good communicator is what humanism needs today.

    Peace.

  5. An excellent appointment  –  congratulations professor!  –  really looking forward to hearing you on humanist issues as well as your continued (I hope) wonderful books and TV series.

  6. To quote Polly:

    “Liberated by knowing the here and now is all there is, humanists are
    optimists, certain that our destiny rests in our own hands. That’s why
    most humanists are natural social democrats, not conservatives.”

    I’d suggest that most atheists are probably humanists. As an atheist/humanist, conservative/right-wing political parties hold little attraction for me, as most, if not all, are
    made up with people of religion, or at very least a belief in at least one god, with their policies and attitudes reflecting so many of religion’s worst attitudes towards women, homosexuals and minority groups.

  7. I’m not sure where you are writing from, but the Conservatives (the main centre-right party in the UK) which Polly Toynbee is so against, is certainly not

    “made up with people of religion, or at very least a belief in at least one god, with their policies and attitudes reflecting so many of religion’s worst attitudes towards women, homosexuals and minority groups”.

    If you don’t know, it was Tony Blair, recent Labour Prime Minister for 10+ years who subtly, but oh so obviously for political reasons, introduced religion into politics above the level of background hum for the first time.

    It is also the Conservative-led coalition who is now pushing for gay marriage to be made legal. They are currently allowed a “civil union” which is (I believe) legally the same, though they can’t call it a marriage. Why? Because this was the deal done by Tony Blair pandering to the churches to get the original law passed with least political fallout for himself.

    If Labour does more in the social sphere (and I don’t know if they do) it is because the Conservatives have – quite rightly in my view – a reluctance to legislate about social affairs. I can see you may argue that it is because they like things just as they are thank you, but I think it is more from a fear that legislation robs us all, lilttle by little, of our freedoms.

    Sorry for my generalisations, and I accept you have generalised, but you did say “most, if not all …” which is not fair.

    PS Just edited the formating.

  8. I ought to add, that whilst I would call myself a humanist, I’m certainly not optimistic that humans will ever address the environmental problems we are causing until it is much too late to save whatever is left to save. Humans in social groups never seem to act until a problem is right in their face, so whilst we can continue to improve our standard of living (at least all the time there is a reasonable proportion of the economy not controlled by the state) – it will be at the expense of the rest of the wildlife sharing our planet.

Leave a Reply