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.