On secular humanism

In my continued reflections on the debate I’m having with my e-friends (ok, so they’re friends in real life – but the tyranny of distance means I see them maybe once a year) I find myself increasingly frustrated with the “secular humanism” movement. It’s really a quasi-religion set up to give atheists a framework to debate from. Secular humanists see their beliefs as the default “logical position”. 

The definition of humanism from Wikipedia:
“Humanism is a democratic and ethical life stance, which affirms that human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives. It stands for the building of a more humane society through an ethic based on human and other natural values in the spirit of reason and free inquiry through human capabilities. It is not theistic, and it does not accept supernatural views of reality.”

My problems are as follows:
1. Humanism describes itself as optimistic on the human race’s ability to save itself. Human nature is seen as inherently good – but slightly selfish. This is how they reconcile survival of the fittest with external factors like our social “herd” instincts (best epitomised by Facebook), good and charitable acts without external motivation (which is how they dismiss the good and social acts of religious adherents), and the chaos obviously occurring between humans (Russia v Georgia is the latest example).
2. Humanism holds itself on a pedestal – and humanists look down on those who need the “crutch of religion” or the “imaginary sky friend” to get them through day to day life.
3. Humanists, in relying on reason, dismiss the notion of the supernatural – and will not debate on the possibility of anything supernatural existing without first seeing the evidence. This makes even approaching a discussion on religion almost futile.
4. Humanists rely on faulty evidence when dismissing Christianity – eg inaccuracy of scriptural translations.
5. Humanists are sold on postmodern thinking – which is yesterday’s news – rather than the modernist view of truth as verifiable, actual and objective.
6. Humanists are generally pretty smart – and generally blinkered by confidence in their own ability to reason. Human intelligence has limits. Humanists, in relying on their own prowess and dismissing the opinions of others as “subjective” and influenced by wants, desires and needs – are limited to their own capabilities. Some of the world’s most revered scientists – perhaps by nature of their positions as revered scientists are secular humanists – eg Einstein.
7. Further, humanism fails to recognise the limits of human capabilities – what if one day God is scientifically demonstrable? What happens to the current humanists? Human knowledge and understanding is in a constant state of flux – to pin a philosophy down to “what we currently think we know” or “what we can currently test” is dangerous.
8. Ethical living is not a natural response to atheism – nor is it the common response. Because secular humanists have realised the shortcomings of their position (slippery slope of morality) they seek to massage their philosophy to include this concept of “ethics based decision making.” Anarchy and hedonism are more logically consistent results of atheism.

Some key highlights from Wikipedia:

“In certain areas of the world, secular humanism finds itself in conflict with religious fundamentalism, especially over the issue of the separation of church and state. A faction of secular humanists may judge religions as superstitious, regressive, and/or closed-minded, while the majority of religious fundamentalists see secular humanism as a threat to the values they say are set out in religious texts, such as the Bible and the Qur’an.”

“Some criticize the philosophy of secular humanism because it offers no eternal truths nor a relationship with the divine. Critics allege that a philosophy bereft of these beliefs leaves humanity adrift in a foggy sea of postmodern cynicism and anomie. Some argue that this philosophy has always been antireligious and it is often used in connection with atheism.Humanists respond that such criticisms reflect a failure to look at the actual content of humanist philosophy, which far from being cynical and postmodern, is rooted in optimistic, idealistic attitudes about the future of human society that trace back to the Enlightenment, or further, back to Pre-Socratic Greek philosophers and Chinese Confucianism.

“Secular humanism describes a world view with the following elements and principles:

  • Need to test beliefs – A conviction that dogmas, ideologies and traditions, whether religious, political or social, must be weighed and tested by each individual and not simply accepted on faith.
  • Reason, evidence, scientific method – A commitment to the use of critical reason, factual evidence and scientific methods of inquiry, rather than faith and mysticism, in seeking solutions to human problems and answers to important human questions.
  • Fulfillment, growth, creativity – A primary concern with fulfillment, growth and creativity for both the individual and humankind in general.
  • Search for truth – A constant search for objective truth, with the understanding that new knowledge and experience constantly alter our imperfect perception of it.
  • This life – A concern for this life and a commitment to making it meaningful through better understanding of ourselves, our history, our intellectual and artistic achievements, and the outlooks of those who differ from us.
  • Ethics – A search for viable individual, social and political principles of ethical conduct, judging them on their ability to enhance human well-being and individual responsibility.
  • Building a better world – A conviction that with reason, an open exchange of ideas, good will, and tolerance, progress can be made in building a better world for ourselves and our children.”

You can’t really argue with someone holding these beliefs that a supernatural being exists – it runs counter to the tenets of their “faith.”

The author

Nathan runs St Eutychus. He loves Jesus. His wife. His daughter. His son. His other daughter. His dog. Coffee. And the Internet. He is the campus pastor at Creek Road South Bank, a graduate of Queensland Theological College (M. Div) and the Queensland University of Technology (B. Journ). He spent a significant portion of his pre-ministry-as-a-full-time-job life working in Public Relations, and now loves promoting Jesus in Brisbane and online. He can't believe how great it is that people pay him to talk and think about Jesus.

2 thoughts on “On secular humanism”

  1. “A faction of secular humanists may judge religions as superstitious, regressive, and/or closed-minded,”

    And this is the irony, isn’t it. Whilst claiming that religious people are close-minded, ‘they’ve’ (whoever they are) have defined the new parameters for any form of public discourse to be ‘theirs’. That sounds close-minded to me – ‘I won’t listen to you unless you talk to me on my terms’.

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