Holyoake was for a brief time a lecturer at the Birmingham Mechanics' Institute, later becoming an Owenite lecturer.Holyoake joined Charles Southwell in dissenting from the official policy of Owenism that lecturers should take a religious oath, to enable them to take collections on Sundays. Southwell had founded the atheist Oracle of Reason, and was soon imprisoned because of its contents. Holyoake took over as editor, having moved to an atheist position as a result of his experiences. Holyoake was influenced by the French philosopher of science, Auguste Comte, notable in the discipline of sociology and famous for the doctrine of positivism. Comte, like John Stuart Mill, had himself attempted to establish a secular 'religion of humanity' to fulfil the cohesive function of traditional religion. Holyoake was an acquaintance of Harriet Martineau, the English translator of various works by Comte and perhaps the first female sociologist. She wrote to him excitedly upon reviewing Darwin's On the Origin of Species in 1859.