Voltaire Lecture’s chair clashed with mother over faith schools

Voltaire Lecture’s chair clashed with mother over faith schools May 7, 2019
Image courtesy of Alice-Roberts.co.uk

THE 2019 Voltaire Lecture, organised by Humanists UK and due to take place in London on May 14, will be chaired by the organisation’s President, Professor Alice Roberts, above, who is currently leading a campaign against faith schools in the UK.

In announcing that Dr Adam Rutherford, presenter of BBC Radio 4’s flagship science radio programme, Inside Science, will be delivering this year’s Voltaire Lecture, Humanists UK revealed that anthropologist Professor Roberts will act as chair at the lecture, the subject of which is “The Return of Scientific Racism”.

She s an acclaimed anatomist, science writer, broadcaster, author who is leading a campaign by the Humanists UK to end the state funding of religious schools, something that brought her into conflict with her mother last year.

Roberts’ mother Wendy, a retired teacher, took the highly unusual step of going public in her criticism of the presenter and scientist. In a letter to a national newspaper, Wendy, who taught in church schools, wrote that such schools:

Have been and still are a most benign benefit.

She added that she was “embarrassed” and “upset” by her daughter’s campaign.

Alice Roberts defended  the campaign in the face of her mother’s objection and accusations of hypocrisy after it emerged her two children attend a Church of England primary school.

She declined to comment on her mother’s remarks but said in a statement issued to the Daily Telegraph:

We applied to the only two non-religious state schools in our area but didn’t get in. The only other state schools were religious so, like hundreds of thousands of parents, we had no choice other than of a faith school.

This is the whole point of why Humanists UK’s schools campaign is so important and  why I feel so passionately about it – to make sure the situation my husband and I faced is not faced by other parents in the future.

In a letter to the Sunday Times her mother said:

I have not encountered anywhere undue ‘pushing’ of doctrine – rather the ‘pushing’ of Christian values. The emphasis is on educating the young to be aware of society, the promotion of care and selflessness.

Wendy said she and her husband, an aeronautical engineer and former church warden, said in a follow-up interview:

We believe the Christian way of bringing up children is a good benchmark … I didn’t realise she [Alice] was so antagonistic and I don’t really know why.

Wendy said her daughter was “picking the wrong fight” and in her letter wrote:

Some humanists complaining about, and campaigning against, the ‘indoctrination’ of children in our church schools seem to be unaware that they are doing almost exactly that about which they are objecting.

Dr Adam Rutherford. Image via YouTube

Humanists UK said that Dr Rutherford’s lecture will address the problem of “race science” making a comeback.

The birth of scientific racism coincided with the age of exploration, exploitation, and plunder. As Europeans built empires, the subjugation and “othering” of people in invaded countries was facilitated and justified with new and pseudoscientific taxonomies of humans, almost exclusively based on pigmentation.

These ideas were propagated by some of the most influential thinkers in modern history. For all their achievements in philosophy and spreading goodwill to all men, some of these figures were themselves profoundly racist – even for their time – including Immanuel Kant, and that great voice of Enlightenment thinking, François-Marie Voltaire. Their voices echo loudly into the present.

Now, in the age of personal genetic genealogy, race science is once again part of the public discourse, and real genetics is being misrepresented and co-opted by white supremacists.

Apart from presenting Inside Science, Rutherford has made many documentaries ranging from the inheritance of intelligence to scientific fraud and the evolution of sex.

On TV he has presented the award-winning Horizon: Playing God (BBC2, Jan 2012), The Gene Code (BBC4, Apr 2011) and the award-winning The Cell (BBC4, Sept 2009).

He is a movie geek, and has been scientific advisor to Björk’s movie Biophilia Live, and worked on World War ZThe Secret Service and Ex Machina.

Tickets for the lecture can be obtained via this link.


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  • JEKinTX

    Secular schools don’t push Humanism like Religious Schools push Christian “values”… it educates on matters that can be demonstrated and that are necessary to function in our modern society and to have some understanding of how the world operates as well as History, Literature, Math, etc. Secular schools leave religious matters for outside the classroom and respect pluralism within the society.

  • WallofSleep

    “Some humanists complaining about, and campaigning against, the
    ‘indoctrination’ of children in our church schools seem to be unaware
    that they are doing almost exactly that about which they are objecting.”

    Why is it that these types think “I know you are, but what am I?” is a winning argument?

  • persephone

    It’s pretty much the only one they’ve got. They simply cannot understand someone who doesn’t believe what they do.

  • Wan Kun Sandy

    We believe the Christian way of bringing up children is a good benchmark … I didn’t realise she [Alice] was so antagonistic and I don’t really know why.

    Hahahahaha. Now tell me, what kind of Christian way you mean? I’m sure you mean the things like love, compassion, forgiveness, fruit of the Spirit, etc. Those are not “Christian values” or “way”, those can be found in other religions too, along with common sense. But this is the core Christian value, which is in Romans 3:23 “for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God”. Christianity is an anti-humanity religion. It views humans so very bad and despicably. Humanity is so bad, they lost the “image of God” and “glory of God” after eating a forbidden fruit in an unclear place, that they cannot do good and need Jesus’ sacrifice in order to be “restored”, and even after that, “sin” still tempts believer and they still need God’s guide! Christianity claims humans cannot do good at all without supernatural guide, even if they can, there is “sin” lurking in them that makes their goodness isn’t “perfect”, and they still need Jesus to perfect the goodness. That’s the core “Christian value”. It isn’t a healthy view to be instilled onto children.

    Humanism fights that notion of humans being incapable of goodness without supernatural guide.

  • Freethinker

    It is deeply embarrassing that we do not yet widely view religious schools for children as the brainwashing abuse centers that they are. In fact so many of them are somehow held in higher esteem by parents who are oblivious to the damage they are causing to their psyche and cognitive development. The wide spread incidence of organized child indoctrination is one of the clearest signs yet that we failed to substantially evolve as the hairless primates that we are.


  • My daughter attends a CoE school for much the same reason (in our area we had a choice between 3 CoE schools and a brand new “Free School”, another concept I wasn’t happy with).

    Most CoE schools are Voluntary Aided, and in my view they get far too much lee-way in the running of the school for their 10% share.

    However I will say that generally I don’t have an issue with the way the school is run (the teachers are great and the curriculum is secular), however their “worship” is still very christian. I’m of a mind that the school would be no less successful if it shed its connection to the church, but at the same time I feel it’s a minor connection that for most kids is not going to have a long-term negative impact on their lives. While the “worship services” that pass for assemblies are christian in nature, the children are allowed to sit out of it.

    This stands in contrast to what I think most people think of when they think of faith schools. The scare stories of Islamic schools that segregate their children by gender and force strong (even radical) religious views on them (again, reinforcing what they already receive at home); the “Free Schools” that enable the teaching of creationism and suppress the teaching of proper sex education. I think these exist in the UK, and are worth turning a critical eye to, but I can understand why a lot of locals will call it a “fuss over nothing”, when the majority of faith schools don’t have a particularly onerous faith requirement.

    I think getting rid of faith schools would be a good thing if only because it is unnecessary to the training of children to function in the modern world, and having them enables the worst case schools to exist. I also feel uncomfortable that the state-funded nature of these schools amounts to state-sponsored evangelism, even if only gentle, and consider that fundamentally wrong.

  • 24CaratHooligan

    My daughter went to a CoE primary school, the other choices were RC school (NUN!), state primary with one of the worst results in the area, or another state primary where a child was stabbed by another child with a screwdriver… The one she went to was a good school but had the added bonus of turning my little dragon into a rabid atheist. I’ll take that 😉

  • Brummie

    There is a huge fundamental difference between atheism, and believing in some Supreme Being plus an Afterlife. Both affect day-to-day attitudes and actions. It isn’t a “fuss over nothing”.

  • You’ll see no disagreement from me on that, but I can understand why those not committed to secularism may disagree

  • Jim Jones

    Teaching religion starts with deceit and fear.

    Real education? Not so much.