British Humanists: Shelley's "The Necessity of Atheism" 200th anniversary lecture

March 2011 marks 200 years since Percy Bysshe Shelley’s tract 'The Necessity of Atheism' was printed, distributed around Oxford and then, swiftly, burned. Here is an article from the British Humanist Association about a commemorative event with Richard Dawkins.

'The Necessity' had been prefaced with a plea to potential critics: that anyone who saw fault in the essay was welcome to submit rational, methodical refutations, but not to simply persecute the author for being an atheist. But instead, Shelley was expelled from the university, an event which propelled forward a hectic series of elopements and political activities which would dominate the rest of his short life.

Why was The Necessity of Atheism so dangerous? What, in fact, was it arguing for? What was its importance in the career and reputation of Shelley, and why is it still a vital document today? 

Note: You can read the tract on

Ann Wroe is a recent biographer of Percy Bysshe Shelley and well-placed to address such questions. To mark the 200th anniversary of the publication of 'The Necessity of Atheism' and Shelley’s consequent expulsion from Oxford, the British Humanist Association will host a new Shelley Lecture on Tuesday 29 March 2011.

The event will be chaired by Professor Richard Dawkins and will be held at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, where the famous debate on evolution between Huxley and Wilberforce, also overshadowed by notions of dangerous atheism, took place in 1860.

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