Friday, October 28, 2005
Courtesy of www.progressiveliving.org
1) What is Humanism?
Humanism is an approach to life (or rather a variety of approaches to life) that shows human beings can live worthwhile happy lives without the need for religion or superstition of any kind. Humanism teaches that the life we have now is the only one we are going to get, so we should make the most of it before we die, for ourselves and for the rest of the human race as well.
2) Are all Humanist Athiest?
No, though many are, others prefer terms like agnostic, secularist, etc. Atheist means literally without belief in God(s) and refers to someone who emphatically believes that there are no reasonable grounds for belief in a religious entity of any kind. An agnostic is someone who believes that there is insufficient evidence for believing that there is a God but that there is a possibility that someone somewhere, some day may present a more convincing case for believing in God, and therefore aims to keep an open mind on the matter. Atheists are skeptical that any such evidence will ever be forthcoming. Humanists want to have the best possible foundation for their beliefs and values, and so they demand good evidence for all of their convictions, religious or otherwise. Since many Humanists don’t think the evidence for the existence of a God is very good, they are atheists or agnostics (people who haven’t committed to a definite belief) or pantheists (people who think the universe itself is, in effect, God).
But just as a Christian isn’t just someone who believes in God, a Humanist isn’t just someone who doesn’t believe in God (or who is a pantheist, or who thinks the jury is still out). Humanism has a many-centuries-old tradition of values that pre-date Christianity by some five hundred years. (Indeed, most of what people have come to think of as “family values” is actually Humanist in origin.) If you sincerely believed that the best available evidence provided a convincing case for the existence of God, and you endorsed Humanistic values, you would then be a theistic (or religious) Humanist.
Note that, of itself, atheism has nothing to say about morality or life purpose. It is simply the doctrine that there is no God. In a sense, Humanism begins where atheism ends, because it is primarily concerned with ethics, not with the debate concerning the existence of God.
At first glance atheists seem more narrow minded, and dogmatic in their rejection of belief, whilst agnostics seem tolerant and more sympathetic to new evidence. Generally though, the two names are used interchangeably. Agnostics are often as fiercely critical of religious evidence as atheists, and often sound like they are being merely polite about their atheism. Humanists can be either atheistic (as I am) or agnostic, and often argue their views strongly from either end of the spectrum. This should be seen as a spectrum of unbelief; as in Humanism there are many ways of not believing in God, just as for the religionist, there are many ways of believing in one. The choice is healthy, ands tops Humanism degenerating into blind dogma where everyone simply agrees with everything each other say. Some Humanists, and some Humanism journals sadly try to play down the atheistic/agnostic angle of Humanism, by avoiding letters and articles addressing the issues therein, which is a pity and a shame, as they are central foundation stones on which many Humanists develop their philosophy of atheism & agnosticism. There is a feeling among some leading Humanists that atheism and agnosticism references make us sound too negative and anti, so they try to avoid the terms and adopt an apologetic stance that leaves people unclear on the view that atheism and agnosticism are not dirty offensive words or in any way socially unacceptable. I find no shame in being an atheistic Humanist.
3) How many Humanists are there?
Opinion polls show that up to a third of the U.K. population don’t believe in any kind of religious entity, so there are millions of Humanists about. Card carrying members of the main U.K. organizations promoting Humanism are modest, but growing rapidly. The BHA has just under 4,000 members. The Greater Manchester Humanist Group (England) has 43 at present.
4) Are Humanists ANTI-RELIGIOUS?
No. Humanists must always respect anyone’s freedom of worship (and they must recognize a Humanist’s freedom of the right not to worship too, a fact often neglected). I have no problem whatsoever with anyone believing anything just because I don’t happen to believe it. If someone wants to believe the World is flat, that the tooth fairy is real, and the Moon is made of Green Cheese, then good luck to them. If however, they try to preach such a view to the rest of the World, they must consent to the fact that some people, like myself don’t wish to share such a belief. I am against and anti- any bad religious practice; i.e.; brainwashing; raising children to believe that seeing the Moon as a lump of Gorgonzola is the only way of perceiving it, denouncing unbelievers, and persecuting anyone raising objections to the creed; starting wars in support of the creed of cheesy Moons, declaring fatwas on those who dare to claim or write that the Moon is rock, denounce any attempt to go to the Moon to look for ourselves, and deny that any such visit ever really occurred; subjugate, or torture or suppress any member or class of people within or without that belief system, etc. Bad religion I just find sad; bad religious practice - there I stand as a mortal enemy, I’m afraid.
5) What about the supernatural?
Humanists generally don’t believe in any kind of afterlife; that rules out God, Satan, Heaven, Hell, communicating with the dead through spiritualists (as nothing of us survives death), visions of the future; (which hasn’t happened yet, and claims of such sightings usually involve belief in pre-ordained, usually divined destiny having a hand in matters); reincarnation, and Karma (Elvis Presley is still dead), etc. Astrology involves a conviction that he stars control our destiny with the kind of sentient force we usually attribute to god(s), and little evidence exists to support claims of astrology’s success. UFO’s - Life may well exist on other worlds; but that is a far cry from it having been to see us here. Why would aliens travel this far not to make direct contact with us? Our own curiosity for space travel (from Earth) compares to our desire to explore the uncharted worlds of our past history; i.e., Australia, Africa, South America; often with colonial greedy intentions. Even today NASA hope to make contact with aliens. It would seem unlikely we would go to a planet a thousand light years away, see it teeming with signs of intelligent, benevolent life forms and not try to make contact buzz around secretly for years and then come home again. We are effectively alone in the Universe.
6) What do Humanist think when we die?
Just that - We die; sometimes painfully, sometimes painlessly, in our sleep, and that’s it for us. After death, we have no consciousness and no perception of anything. Our relatives grieve and remember us; (well or badly depending on how we left them feeling about us) and life goes on regardless. Death is basically the same as not having been born yet; that was not Heaven or Hell, so why should death be awful or wonderful either? Death, like income tax, is inevitable. All that is will one day not be. The World itself will die one day (not likely to occur in our lifetime) possibly through the heat death of the Sun, and one day the Universe itself will collapse back in on its own gravity; possibly provoking another Big Bang, and the creation (without God) of a new Universe. We won’t see any of that, being dead.
7) What about the bible?
The Bible is a collection of books written at different times by different people, and translated, retranslated, and interpreted by many. It is not and never was the word of God handed down to Man, or the prophesies of men inspired directly by God. It is a collection of books written by people of strong religious convictions, stating their beliefs from their time for the people of their time. Much of the Bible is interesting reading; some is tedious. There is historical material in there, and much that is pure myth and speculation. Some of it may possibly be untrue as well. Humanists should, and generally are familiar with the Bible and some of the major keynote stories told therein; I like many find them deeply fascinating, but no cause for belief. There are many inconsistencies and contradictions in the Bible too.
8) Was Jesus real?
It seems likely that a man called Jesus lived and taught a way of life to a predominantly Jewish brethren. He was a Rabbi; and The Bible tells us nothing from him about starting a new religion. Christianity was largely invented by St. Paul. The miracles attributed to Jesus are largely apocryphal; and too synoptic in description for us to do more than speculate how they may have occurred if at all. It is very easy after someone dies to claim all sorts of miracles were performed by him. How can you prove it? Jesus was a religious leader of a small sect, who after death, achieved new fame (when he was too dead to appreciate it) under Paul’s revival. Christianity is divided into many sects; all these depend on accepting belief in Jesus having come back literally from the dead. As Humanists belief such a feat impossible; we have to conclude that Jesus, real or imaginary, never did that at all. He may have been real, but that doesn’t mean we have any evidence on which to assume he was God incarnate. Many others in his time, and in later eras, (including our own) make similar claims of divinity.
9) What about other World Religions?
The central occult beliefs of all faiths are doomed to negation by Empirical Humanism. There is much to be said for the pacifism and quietude of Buddhism, which in some sects has a Humanistic look and feel. Hinduism is colourful and exotic, but dependent on a belief in reincarnation and Karma. Judaism, and Islam are rooted in the same monotheism as Christianity. Without God’s existence, their teachings fail dramatically. Some Humanists are wary of criticising other world religions for fear of sounding anti-Semitic, racist and/or islamaphobic, but superstition should be regarded as superstition in any form; many former Hindus, Jews, and Muslims are Humanists just as many former Christians are Humanists. Judaism is of course a race as well as a religious belief, and it is perfectly possible and acceptable to be a Humanistic Jew; a Jew by racial descent, who just happens to not believe in god, or the Old Testament teachings. Modern cults derive from the major religions and therefore fall into the same category of movements promoting religious superstitious beliefs.
10) Is Humanism Estistentialism?
No; Existentialism as associated with Jan Paul Sartre is atheistic, but states that humans being uncreated by or governed by gods or other divine determining agents, are cursed with having to make their own decisions and choices. Existentialism makes freedom to choose a daunting and nauseous human condition, so existentialists tend to be angst embittered and pessimistic. Humanists believe that choice and freedom is healthy and a cause for optimism. Sartre, in Existentialism & Humanism, his famous essay, argues that Humanism is a bad faith philosophy, in that it makes humans believe they are humans in ‘essence’ and convinced that their ‘human essence’ governs their choices, when they could easily choose another direction. To existentialists Humans are sentient beings ‘in themselves’ merely existing, and choosing what to do with that existence before becoming dead and non-existent. Humanists may or may not feel ‘essentially human’ but recognizing as we do that there is no God for us to believe in, we are hardly likely to choose a course of religious belief in our lives and start attending churches. The Humanist position is to make the world a better place for ourselves and others, and we are optimistic of our chances of success. Not all existentialists are atheists, as Sartre was. Soren Keirkergaard was the first Existentialist, and he believed that while there was no proof of God’s existence, it was better to live as if there was one. This form of agnosticism veers towards belief, rather than towards atheism, Sartrean Existentialism, or Humanism. Study of Existentialism was for me an important stop-gap in my life in my transition from being in a cult to reverting to my atheistic outlook on life. Had Humanism not presented itself to me as a more optimistic, forward looking philosophy, I would now regard myself as an existentialist. I suspect I still retain a certain element of the Existentialist melancholiness in my outlook.
11) Do you have any RITES or CEREMONIES?
Rites, no. Ceremonies, yes. Ritual mass is a religious activity, and generally a formulaic one, involving communion with supernatural forces. The Catholic Mass involves a symbolic act of cannibalism, in which the parishioners consume the body of the Christ-God in the form of a wafer of bread. Humanists see no value in such activity.
Humanists do have ceremonies; particularly weddings, baby-namings and funerals. These mark the key note rites of passage stages of our lives. Weddings are important to people who wish to declare their love for one another. Humanists provide a beautiful wedding ceremony that is devoid of religiousness and more meaningful than the few words said at a registry office that generally constitutes most civil, secular weddings. In fact, a registry office wedding is necessary too for those having Humanist weddings. Baby namings are a useful and perfectly valid alternative to Christian ‘Christenings’ and enable the family and friends to rally round in support for one another in the raising of a child; again without religiosity getting in the way. Funerals are the most commonly practiced Humanist ceremonies. These are usually cremations, of a deceased Humanist. The family and other mourners of the deceased may not necessarily be Humanists themselves, but will recognize that the deceased was not religious. It would seem grossly unfair to give a Humanist a Catholic requiem mass. A Humanist funeral is rather like a live action, well presented tribute to the deceased, highlighting the key moments in that person’s life, and sharing anecdotes that are meaningful and memorable to the mourners present. (Preparations for a funeral usually involve a lot of co-operation with the deceased’s next of kin to give them a chance to put their own words and ideas into the text of the ceremony itself. Most Humanist funerals involve a moment of silence in which the mourners who are religious can think a silent prayer if they wish, so the needs of religious people are not neglected either. For more on ceremonies see HUMANIST CEREMONIES
12) What does humanists do at meetings?
These vary in content; some are talks by guest speakers; either prominent Humanists, a member who has a knowledge of Humanism in other countries, etc; a ceremonies worker talking about their work, or someone with strong ideas on Humanism in education, etc. Sometimes we have speakers on general social issues; such as Euthanasia, views on pornography, etc; and we may have discussion based seminars which are similar to speaker led events, but less formal, with more emphasis on questions and answers. We generally throw in lightweight subject matter between more serious subjects to stop ourselves getting pompous and over-serious. So some meetings are about humor, fun, Science Fiction, etc. Other meetings are purely social gatherings, parties, etc. Hopefully, there is something to please everyone. In Manchester, our meetings are public meetings, not just open to members of the group.
What do you say to your children?
This varies from Humanist to Humanist. Some raise their children to be Humanists, by telling them there is no God; others will tell their children that while they (the parental guardians) don’t believe in God, there are people who do, and that the children should be open to choose which of those two beliefs to go along with when they grow up. For more about Humanist parenting see CHILDREN & HUMANISM
13) Is Humanism expensive?
Life is expensive, but Humanism needn’t be. Like any activity, you get more if you pay more. You can appreciate photography by having one camera and a few roles of film every year. With Humanism, you may want to join a local group (i.e.; ours in Manchester, England) , and pay an annual sub that will cover meetings and a newsletter subscription. You could do just that and be perfectly happy. You may wish to go on to join a national Humanist group (or you may do that first, and either join/not join a local one) which will naturally be more expensive; then there are international association groups, etc. You may wish to buy books, magazines, etc. There are many available, some second hand. Most Humanist groups are non-profit making, so mostly depend on subscriptions, voluntary donations, and membership fees to be able to do anything. We would love to do everything free of charge, but economic necessity means some services have to be provided at cost. That’s life, I’m afraid. That said, you can get by in Humanism on a thrifty shoestring; and with our accounts audited and made a public record, you know where your money is being spent at all times.
14) What about human rights?
We fully support rights to freedom of speech, worship, (or not to worship, and not to have to listen). We believe in campaigning to end war, and famine and other human problems. We generally support opposition to capital and inhumane punishments; (wherever they are practiced, and wherever there are people proposing their introduction, reintroduction when not practiced) we support a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion; Humanists are pro-gay rights, and women’s rights, etc.
15) What about animal rights?
This is a regular Humanist discussion topic. Yes; we generally oppose blood sports, such as fox hunting, etc. Animal testing is a thorny issue when it comes to use of animals in medical research, but Humanists will usually oppose animal experiments in the vain interests of cosmetic research. Some Humanists are vegetarian or Vegans, others, like myself, I feel terribly guilty to admit, are not.
16) Is Humanism charitable?
Generally yes. The British Humanist association is a registered Charity in its own right. Humanists often get involved in charity projects, as individuals, and collectively. On the whole I am cautious here; we must b careful to avoid charity work just to contrive a publicity vehicle for Humanism; I hope we do such good work because it needs doing, not for propaganda purposes.
17) Why are there so many humanist organizations?
History; the Humanism story is not a linear one. The National Secular Society (NSS) grew from the work of Charles Bradlaugh and G.W. Foote, who were early freethinkers and Darwinists in the 1880’s. Their approach has always been very radical and uncompromisingly challenging to religion. The South Place Ethical Society (SPES) grew a little later from a Unitarian ministry that gradually threw away belief in God altogether. The British Humanist Association grew in the 1960’s with more emphasis on developing membership and promotional campaign work, in keeping with a growing Humanist tradition globally in this period. Generally the groups do get on well together, and in fact, presently share a joint headquarters at Theobald’s Road, London. Some members have joint membership of two or more such groups, and in the long run some hope they will converge together into a single group. Personally, whilst being a member of more than one, I would like the variety and scope of having a diverse range of groups to be more fully explored. Humanism offers a wide ranging spectrum of beliefs, views, and activities, and is not just ‘an approach to life’; as some claim, but a whole smorgasbord range of choices, events and experiences. Humanism is more flexible and diverse than many of us understand or appreciate.
18) Do Humanist have views on feminism, race and gender issues?
Yes of course, but these vary. A Humanist who was racist or prejudicial to anyone would soon face a wall of disapproval by his fellow members. I don’t doubt that we could address these issues more than we do at present however.
19) What about morality and ethics?
Christians believe and sometimes slanderously assert that anyone who doesn’t believe in God cannot be moral or ultimately good. The belief is that ‘Good’ is doing what God wants and following God’s commandments. If you don’t believe in God, then you can hardly do that, so logically, you cannot be a good person if you don’t believe in God.
Following God’s commandments without question is unreasonable. Abraham, when asked to sacrifice his son Isaac by killing him for God, was quite prepared to do so until God let him off the hook. This is seen as loyalty to God and therefore moral. In fact, it was cruel and inhumane and Abraham should have refused to co-operate and choose instead to defy, deny and criticize God for even asking him to do it.. God says don’t kill, so it is good, but if God said ‘kill’ would killing be suddenly good? No. God’s opinion and commandment is irrelevant. Killing is wrong or immoral to us in our own view. What God thinks about it needn’t enter into question.
Humanism discredits this claim as absurd. Religion was invented by Humans and the good things humans wanted to see in the world; i.e.;, an end to murder and adulterous behavior, were easily written into Holy Scripture as Divine Commandments. We invented God as a puppet morality master to tell us the morals we also invented. Think of a ventriloquist using his dummy to say to his audience, drive home safely tonight at the end of his night club act. The divers will not think the dummy gave them the advise; as they will know the ventriloquist threw his voice to put words in the dummy’s mouth. When Christians se a Biblical Commandment saying God says don’t Kill; they are really seeing a human moralist throwing his hopes and intentions to stop murders by putting them in the words of God. Many forms of ethical morality do not depend on God. Humans have an aversion to pain, and a liking for nice, pleasurable experiences. Thus, actions that make us happy are good; that which causes pain is bad. This principle can be utilized in many moral philosophies. It’s most common usage is in the Golden Rule. The Golden rule says ‘Do unto others what you would have them do unto you. Conversely it says don’t do to others what you would not have them do to you. If you want others to do you favors; you do them favors. Help people in need and they may reciprocate in kind. There is no guarantee that they will do so of course, and you should never take it for granted that others will be nice just because you behave nicely to them. On the converse side, it is pretty basic knowledge that if you go around fighting and hitting people, they will fight and hit you back. Christians will now be excitedly waiting to tell me that The Golden Rule is their invention as it is stated in The Bible that Jesus said “Treat others as you would like them to treat you.” Jesus may have said it, but he wasn’t first. Here is the Golden Rule in some of its many earlier, independent pre-Christian presentation. “He should treat all others as he himself should be treated. The essence of right conduct is not to injure anyone.” “Jainism - c.550 bc. The Sutra Krikanga. “Do not do unto others what you would not like for yourself” Confucius - c.500 bce. The Analects. “I will act towards others exactly as I would act towards myself.” Buddha c.500 bce The Siglo-Vada Santa. “This is the sum of duty.. Do naught to others which if done to Thee, could cause Thee pain.” Hinduism - c.150 BCE The Mahabarata “What you would avoid suffering yourself, seek not to impose on others.” Epictetus c.900 bce.
Post Christian religious moralists continued to spontaneously discover a Golden Moral rule too. “What is harmful to yourself do not to your fellow men. That is the whole of the law and the remainder is but commentary. ” Judaism - c.100 ce. Hillel commenting on the Talmud. “None of you truly believes until he wishes for his brothers what he wishes for himself.” Islam 7th century ce. Mohammed as accepted by al-Bukhari. “As thou deemest yourself, so deem others. Cause suffering to no one. Thereby return to your true home with honor.” Sikhism- 1604 ce Guru Granth Sahib. Finally, the Golden Rule as presented in Bahai’I - He should not wish for others that which he doth not wish for himself” c.1870 Baha ‘u llah.
Human aversion to pleasure and pain also spawned the philosophical school of the Hedonists, pleasure seekers, who’s lifestyle was not as Bohemian as is generally claimed. Hedonists were very opposed to suffering in the world. Then there was Utilitarianism as promoted by radical atheistic thinkers like John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham - This taught that ‘The greatest act a human can perform is that which brings the greatest happiness and the least pain to the greatest number.” The philosophy was criticized in that it exposes the danger of a minority being oppressed for the pleasure of a larger number of people; but Mill might have argued that as that danger offends the majority of people, it would not actually be manifested in the practices of utilitarian moralists. All of these philosophies have something in common - they promote morality without religion. God is morally unnecessary to humankind.
20) What about Pascal’s wager?
This was a challenge to unbelievers of all dispositions by Blasé Pascal (1623-62). He argued that everyone who doubts the existence of God should go on living there lives as if there was no doubt that God exists, That way if he does exist, we die and enter the Kingdom of Heaven, having lived perfect Christian lives. If however we live a Christian life as if God exists, and in fact he doesn’t, we die, having lost nothing. If we don’t live Christian lives and then die to find God exists, we are in deep trouble and possibly face exile in Hell or limbo. Pascal’s wager is about hedging your bets and playing safely. It is flawed for one major reason. Pascal believes that the wager is on a one horse race with God the only runner. What however if Allah is the only true deity? What if Buddhism is right? Which Christian lifestyle are we to live> Protestant, or Catholic? Do we bet on the Moonies or the Scientologists? Supposing that on my death, having lived the last few years as a militant atheist, I encounter the God I have denied the existence of for so long. His reaction to me might be more of a surprise than mine to him. I would demand to know why he let the world wars occur, ignored countless prayers and watched the Dunblane massacre without intervention. If he claimed my lack of belief and lack of love made him punish the human race, I would spit in his eye. If anything, I would demand to be sent to Hell by him in protest at his denial of my right not to have believed in him. Any God who says love me and believe in me or I’ll torment you, make you suffer and kill you, is no God of mine. My retort to Pascal would be Live your life as if God doesn’t exist and then se if he still loves you. If he isn’t there you’ve lost nothing. If he is there, the loss is all his. He loses respect, love, and by killing you and others, he makes others wonder if he really exists and really loves them too. The very suffering Humanity faces makes humans more disposed to atheism and irreligion. The Freethought movement expanded dramatically after WW1 when the god-forsaken horrors of the Somme became all too apparent.
21) Do Humanists believe in evolution and Darwin?
Yes, most do. In fact, there is no doubt that evolution exists in the world. Evolution is regarded as a fact of nature even by most creationists who believe naively in the Biblical creation narrated in Genesis. Darwin’s ‘Theory Of Evolution’ is not a theory arguing that things evolve. Like many scientists before him; he already recognized that things evolve. What Darwin gave us was the reason why animals have evolved and changed and developed. (Evolution literally means ‘change occurring through a course of time’). Darwin’s theory was that the mechanism and cause of evolution is the ’survival of the fittest’ factor known as ‘natural selection’. It is this factor which defines Darwinism as a particular kind of evolutionary science. The theory was developed during Darwin’s Voyages on The Beagle, but his final recognition of its validity came closer to home when he saw the selective breeding practices of racing pigeon bird handlers in England. He reasoned that if humans could selectively breed birds to get ones better suited to faster flight, and better plumage, then nature could do the same by a process of natural selection, instead of human, artificial breeding selection processes.
This was damaging to many Christians simply because they were so heavily inclined to believe that God put the animals on the planet fully formed, as they are today, and then created human beings last. The idea that animals grow, breed, mutate, form into new species, and frequently perish in extinction as a species no longer able to survive or compete, (as occurred with the dinosaurs) is anathema to anyone taking a literalist view of Biblical history. Humanists have little doubt that evolution works, and Darwin’s is undoubtedly the most impressive and workable theory available to us on how it has come about. With many scientists working in the field, including Humanists, Richard Dawkins and Stephen Jay Gould, it seems conceivable that someone will come up with a better theory of how we evolved, but for now, Darwin is perfectly worthy of our praise and attention.
22) Where did the universe and life begin if there was no God?
Well the creation myth in the book of Genesis is an obvious non-starter for Humanists. I rather like the Greek myth that says the Goddess Eurynome swam through the cosmic wastes of space, and created a serpent like trail in her wake; she gave life to this wake, called it the North Wind, and copulated with it, spawning the matter of the Universe, and most of the pantheon of Greek Gods who then take up the story where she left off. Colorful as that sounds, it is not convincing though, and generally most Humanists are happy to believe that the Universe originated in some variation of the Big Bang hypothesis. This begets the question of where did the Big Bang originate, which makes us realize that there are only two plausible answers. 1/. Matter somehow sprang out of nothing at some stage in Universal history. 2/. Some kind of material always existed (possibly through some kind of time/space anomaly) . Indeed the Greeks believed that all the matter of the Universe was already in existence, and that it was all simply in a jumble of chaos; the Greek gods basically straightened out the mess; as though putting a jigsaw together; sea at bottom, sky above; land in middle sort of thing. Chaos will return when the whole universe collapses into a random jumble again ready for the next sorting.
Christians jump in quickly at this point shouting that God must have had apart in creating us, and may even have created the Big Bang; but we have to ask where did God come from? If the Universe needed a Creator, surely the creator also needed one. To bring God into the action is to replace one mystery with another one even more inexplicable.
The Big Bang is a theory, and a good, workable one at that. Its main rival in science, the Steady State theory, developed by Sir Hermann Bondi, and Fred Hoyle among others, argued that there is an ongoing balanced regular creation of matter in The Universe, but that alternative has sadly fallen largely into disuse now.
Ultimately we may never know our origins. Short of building a time machine and going back to witness the creation first hand we will never find out for sure. This does not mean we can bring in God. Occam’s razor theory says that the simplest explanation is best. We have not yet exhausted terrestrial scientific, empirical reasoning in our quest to know our cosmic roots. God is a redundant theory we may never need to employ. It is naïve of humans to assume that we will one day learn everything. For most of us, death will lead many tasks, wonders and questions unfulfilled, undone, unanswered. Life is a mystery to us, just as combustion engines are a mystery to the wasp. Some things are simply too big to comprehend. Ultimately it can be fascinating to engage Christians and scholarly theologians in the question of origins for the Universe; but it is ultimately an inconclusive argument for all concerned as the answer may well lie beyond human ken and comprehension. Generally, I tend to eventually throw in the argument that neither God or the Universe should really exist at all. I cite in evidence of this; Zeno’s paradox. If an object is traveling from point A to point B, it has to logically and realistically reach a half way point between the two points (start and destination). To reach that halfway point it must reach a quarter of that distance too, and before that it must go an eighth of the way; a 16th of the way, and cross an infinite gulf of increasingly impossible distances, which mans effectively that all motion, thought, movement, time and distance is impossible. The Big bang couldn’t occur because it couldn’t even half happen. Similarly, God couldn’t exist or create half a Universe, or even a micro-fraction of it.
Clearly, the Universe, the World, and we, exist. That we beat such an obstacle as Zeno’s paradox is a mystery and a non-religious miracle. There are things we don’t know and never will, but that needn’t oblige us to say God, any more than it obliges us to say Bvcxswog.. Saying God actually gives us no answers whatsoever. The Big Bang gives us some workable answers and theories. For instance, the temperature of the Universe, and the quantities of matter, hydrogen, helium etc, in the Universe, match the quantities of such that would be expected if the Big Bang occurred. We may not get all the answers, but the Big Bang theory means we are on the right track and not lost in the wilderness.
23) What about the logical proofs of God’s existence?
There are several of these, and they are generally easy to challenge.
Argument one is First Cause - If everything that happens has a cause and is the effect of some previous caused event, what was the first cause? What gave the Universe its initial start? What was a cause, without being caused in itself? God is then cited as being a candidate for the title of Prime Mover. The problem is that there is no logical reason why the beginning has to be God. We have to then ask where he came from, and what caused him (or her, it, they) to be. There may never have been a first cause; and it may be that the origins of the Universe in some way deny logical arguments of causality anyway.
Argument two - Design - The Universe is complex and wonderful, so how could something that complex and perfect come together by chance? The argument draws the analogy that some freak wind just happens to assemble a perfect Boeing 747 as it blows through a scrap yard, when it is more likely the aircraft has been purposely constructed by a flight engineering team. It then sates that surely a World like ours teaming with life could not also come into being without a creator. Here again we have to ask for this logic to apply to the nature and being of the Creator himself. We also see that life was not always as complex as it now is. We have developed a long way from bacteriological lichen and amoebas to the more sophisticated range of bird, mammal and reptile we are now. The designer wasn’t God, but blind nature, and there have been many failings, and poor quality designs on the way, now scrapped by the process of extinction or re-cycling on to being later species. The Dinosaurs were successful designs for up to 60 million years. Humanity has only been drafted and presented for about three or four million years and already runs the risk of self-extinction. Hardly the work of a master craftsman is it? And we should ask which God is it that is the designer? Allah? The Jewish God? Jesus’ Dad? L. Ron Hubbard’s Thetans? How can religionists go from a flawed logical proof of a divine being existing to assume that their God fits the job description best of all?
Argument Three - Ontology - God is a perfect being. If he was not perfect, he would not exist, and therefore must exist. Flawed to the point of absurdity, of course. When we believed in multitudes of gods, the idea of them all being perfect was not a question asked. The very existence of other gods and pan-dimensional mega-beings with conflicting agendas made the gods less than perfect. It is only the monotheistic deity that this argument can apply to. For Humanists it is easy to see imperfections; there is evil in the world; so God is either supportive of evil or powerless to stop it. God cannot therefore be absolutely Good, as the existence of Satan and Evil means his infinite, omnipresence has its limitations. This makes God less than perfect so he disappears in a puff of the arguments’ own logic.
Lastly, there is the argument from experience. Belief in God is supported by the claims of many people who believe in all sincerity that they have seen God, or experienced God in their lives. Belief is one thing, but experience is harder to dispute, runs this view, but not so. Experience is essentially sensory. We see, hear, think, feel, smell, touch, and taste things and then we interpret them as what we believe they are. Paul being blinded by the light on the road to Damascus believed he was having a visionary literal experience of the sight of God. He may simply have been having heat-stroke and/or a change of heart as he realized that for him there was something of value to learn from embracing Christianity instead of fighting against it. Many UFO sightings are false interpretations of things that are real; i.e., aircraft, weather balloons, high flying birds, etc. It is very easy to misinterpret what we experience. The religionist who has dreams about God, should ask himself whether for all its vibrancy, and realism the dream wasn’t just that, a dream.
Peter (The Yorkshire Ripper) Sutcliffe believed that God was telling him to kill women of loose morals, so he killed prostitutes and women who had the misfortune to look cheap and tarty in his eyes. At the same time, James Anderton, Chief Constable of The Greater Manchester Police Force, and involved in the hunt for the Ripper was hearing God telling him to close down sex shops in Manchester’s red light district. Surely they were not both really experiencing God?
24) Is Humanism New?
No; far from it. The earliest Humans probably never believed in God at all. Even today many tribes can be found that have no belief system as such at all. They simply accept that the world ‘is’ and leave it at that. When your life is taken up completely by the struggle to find food, shelter, etc, you have little time for the bourgeoisie luxury of contemplating the origins of the Universe, God, and the nature of Humanity. All of the major religious texts of all religions mention the fact that there are unbelievers in the world. The Bible’s Book Of Ecclesiastes says ‘The fool hath said in his heart there is no God.” This means that there were unbelievers around saying such things. Humanists frequently refer to the life and work of Confucius, Buddha, the Jainists, etc as a kind of proto-humanism. The first use of the word Humanist was by Cicero, the Roman poet, and many philosophers later than he are cited as sharing Humanistic views. The sharp savage rise of Christianity made freethought, atheistic expression and anything remotely heretical dangerous, and much potential Humanism was suppressed, oppressed and buried deep. The Renaissance revival of Roman/Greek tradition reawakened the Humanities and created an interest in the study of ‘human nature’ in art, history, and culture and belief. The Humanists of this period were mostly deists, though often critical of the beliefs of their rival academic school, the Divinities. While old, Humanism lacks a linear history. It emerges in fragments, and flurries of movement and activity. Only after Darwin published The Origin of the Species does Humanism become a consistent, joined up social movement, with a stable history and a clear sense of direction towards Humanising the planet, and purging our minds of superstition. Nevertheless we have a long heritage, and we take pride in the pioneering work of our forbears, and no doubt we will grow even more formidable in our future.
25) Is Humanism the same as Skepticism?
No. All Humanists are skeptics in being dismissive of beliefs in superstition and paranormal activity, but not all skeptics are Humanists. Skeptics argue that they should only concern themselves with claims by paranormalists that can be tested and argued against through scientific, empirical procedure. Uri Geller’s claim to be able to psychically bend metal cutlery out of shape is easy prey to skeptics, who show that simple conjuring tricks are al that is required to produce such an effect. Skeptics cannot apply that test to the resurrection of Jesus, because the event is not described in such a way as to enable an accurate reproduction of how it was or might have occurred, so they leave that area of enquiry alone. Humanists would go further and say the resurrection can’t be duplicated because it was never an event in the first place. Skeptics are apprehensive about making such claims. The Americanized spelling of Skeptics is useful in separating sceptical from skeptical. You can be skeptical about anything; i.e.; the sincerity of the Prime Minister’s political manifesto promises, whilst Skepticism is restricted to dealing with claims made regarding the paranormal.
26) How do you define Human Nature? Are Humans Intrinsically good or Intrinsically evil?
Neither, we are intrinsically social creatures. If there is one line I can agree with in The Bible it is that which says It is not good that man should be alone. In context of course it refers to the need for a suitable sexual mate, but in general, human beings need the company of other human beings. The worst punishment, short of execution, for any human being to suffer is solitary confinement, or total exile from communication with other people. Long-term sufferance of solitary isolation will usually result in insanity. We need other people.
The Golden Rule (see above) shows that we tend by nature to behave to others as we hope they will respond to us. Human relationships develop or disintegrate on lines of interpersonal social ability. The man who keeps his wife to himself by jealously preventing other men from meeting her or her from being with other women, will eventually find her becoming unhappy with his possessiveness. John Donne wrote that No Man is an Island. Very true, but once you come into contact with another human being, you loose some of the freedom that comes of being totally independent. You suddenly have to interact, and engage in a delicate give and take relationship. This is what Rousseau called ‘The Social Contract’. Our selfish desires are compromised when they conflict with the needs of others. (any others on the planet). Good human social conduct is the ability to operate within the restraints of that social contract; If you want a girlfriend, you have to appeal to her by showing you are a suitable mate; i.e., a desirable shape, not too fat or thin for her tastes; etc, that you can charm her, that she can appreciate your jokes, etc. Similarly, she has to meet your expectations too. If you come over to her as sloppy, and chauvinistic, she may not engage further in the contract with you. Crime is usually an event that occurs when someone finds his own selfish needs overcome contractual considerations. A thief simply steals something he wants, with no contractual protocol. The police and other authorities are then engaged in a pursuit of law, a social means of redressing the formidable contractual arrangements.
Religion teaches that God and Satan somehow fight over every individual, trying to make them good or evil. Christianity teaches that the fall from Grace in Eden made Adam & Eve evil, and that this evil has somehow passed heretically through every subsequent generation of humanity, making us all naturally inclined to evil unless we focus back on God. Many people sadly found that the best way to get through life was to make religion a potent and sizeable force in their socially contractual activity; and gave much time and social activity to religious pursuits. Other people saw alternative contractual arrangements, in different sects of a religion, or even in alternative religious social contracts, and so the dominant religions sought to do battle with them; in effect suing them for breach of contract (religious heresy). Rousseau recognized that there are many contracts, not one, but religion tended to try to pull us all under the same contract to the same unseen employer. This in itself created much of the class warfare recognized by Marxism, which is effectively a conflict between two separate contractual societies (Bourgeoisie contract versus Proletarian contract forces).
Humanism recognizes that religion has no place in any human social contract any more and in effect tries to remove all clauses, and small print saying otherwise from our lives that impose religious dogma on us, so we can get on with improving the contracts we have with fellow human beings and ultimately dissolve the conflict between the social classes. Human beings are not good or evil, but social interaction entities. I like to think we lean towards the good in our behavior, as being Good to people generally get s them to enter into a willing contract with us too. For more on the nature of Good and evil see my file called simply, EVIL
27) How do I put Humanism into practice?
First of all, decide if Humanism is for you or not. If you’ve read this far it probably does. Look up some other Humanist sites and then see if you can find a local Humanist group in your area. Talk to its members, see if you would like to meet with them, at a meeting they hold publicly or ask if they can arrange to meet you privately if you feel less certain. Most Humanists will happily oblige. Your options for activity can then run high. You may ant to be a passive member, attending meetings, reading subscription magazines, etc, and not much more. That’s fine. Then, you may want to be involved in ceremonies activity, in which case ask about training and accreditation, and if you can meet a Humanist who already does such work. You could write for the magazines, or start one of your own, (or a web site too, and if you do, let me know. I’ll consider you for a link). You may want to challenge the practices of a particular religion; for example; I wrote letters defending Salman Rushdie during the years of the Fatwa imposed on him by Islamic Fundamentalists; I campaigned against private religion-based schools, and in favor of secular state funded education for all children, regardless of belief. You may want to present talks on Humanism to schools, and other organizations, and even to Humanist groups. You may want to get involved in the democratically elected Humanist committees that operate at local, national, and international levels. You can campaign against Church-state political links, the use of school assembles to promote religion on most children in Britain, religious privilege that lets several Bishops and religious leaders take non-elected political office in Britain, etc. On a personal level in your life; be aware that others don’t necessarily share your disbelief; raise your children to question, but not to scorn the beliefs of others, never take anything for granted; consider Humanist weddings, baby-namings and funerals for your own family and friends, etc. Think about your views on major ethical issues, i.e.; euthanasia, and capital punishment, and if uncertain, talk to other Humanists. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to think freely and talk freely; disagree if necessary, even with fellow Humanists. Your life can be very enriched by being a Humanist, and on the whole, you probably already are one and in need of changing your life and personality much less than you may imagine.
28) Do Humanists believe in “the survival of the fittest” as a code of conduct?
No. Far from it. The phrase “survival of the fittest” is derived from the theory of evolution originally proposed by Charles Darwin. Humanists do believe that human beings, like every other living thing, evolved from simpler organisms; but the evolutionary process doesn’t of itself provide an ethical standard. Humanists share with most of the religions of the world a belief in the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Notice that this rule doesn’t have anything to do with the existence or non-existence of supernatural beings. (A more complete statement of Humanist morality can be found in the work of the philosopher Immanuel Kant.)
29) Who are some famous Humanists?
Among the best-known secular humanists are Socrates, Confucius, Mark Twain, Albert Einstein, and many Nobel-prize winners. Perhaps the most eminent contemporary religious humanist (though he might dispute this label) is Huston Smith. Liberal Christian Protestant theologians such as Paul Tillich are also in the camp of the religious humanists. Finally, some existentialists, such as Jean-Paul Sartre, have also been humanists.
30) That’s a very diverse list. What do you have to believe in order to be a Humanist?
Humanism doesn’t have a “bible” which codifies all of the beliefs that Humanists must have in order to be Humanists. However, the writings of many eminent figures over thousands of years comprise a kind of Humanist canon, which spells out a complex tapestry of evolving values. Important early figures in Humanism were Socrates, Aristotle and Confucius, all of whose work remains seminal today.
Among the most important modern Humanist philosophers have been Brand Blanshard, a professor of philosophy at Yale university, and Thomas Hurka, a professor of philosophy at the University of Calgary in Canada, whose work provides an exciting new foundation for ethics and values. In general, Humanists place a great deal of emphasis on living a full life, with a rich variety of experiences and accomplishments, and in contributing to the quality of life of others as well. If you try to live each day of your life in such a way as to try to make the world a little bit better place, you are living humanistically.
If it seems strange that Humanists don’t all believe the same thing, perhaps an analogy with science might help. Physicists are currently debating some eight or nine different theories concerning quantum mechanics. There is strenuous disagreement about which theory is correct. Yet all of the theorists still consider themselves physicists, because their deepest commitment is to science itself rather than to any particular theory. Similarly, the most fundamental ideological commitment of Humanists is to rationalism, regardless of whether they find more truth in Aristotle, Confucius, Blanshard, Hurka, or some other philosopher.
31) How many Humanists are there? Where are they?
Because the majority of Humanists are reared in cultures that are religious (in the authoritarian, non-Humanistic sense), and because organized religions have a long and disgraceful tradition of persecuting Humanists (often perceiving in Humanism a threat to their own prestige, power, and wealth), many don’t even know that they are Humanists, and tend to keep their opinions to themselves. This makes it difficult to know precisely how many Humanists there are. As a very rough measure, approximately ten percent of the populace in any nation inclines toward Humanistic convictions, most having reached such convictions on their own. Perhaps another twenty percent are, in effect, religious Humanists, who believe in God, but are skeptical of the dogmas of their religion, while nevertheless broadly accepting of its values.
32) What do Humanists think of the religions of the world?
That varies from Humanist to Humanist. Some Humanists, having been persecuted for their convictions, or seeing in religion a propensity to superstition, have an active dislike of all forms of religiosity. Some are quite religious, though in a very questioning, seeking way. Others are somewhere in between, seeing religion as mixed blessing, offering some valuable guidance and insight, but at the same time cultivating a subservient attitude of submission to authority, an unquestioning acceptance of dogmas, and a refusal to abandon medieval, spirit-haunted views of the world long since proven false, at least in anything resembling their original form. (I’m personally inclined to the latter viewpoint.)
If this viewpoint is correct, then religious reforms are badly needed. The sciences didn’t advance beyond a very rudimentary stage of development until they developed a very tough-minded attitude toward the facts and worked out a methodology to systematically check those facts. Values seem to me to be in precisely the same position today. Philosophers have painstakingly worked out ways of validating viewpoints, including ways of evaluating values, but until these are widely known and accepted by both religious institutions and ordinary people, our values will remain confused and poorly grounded.
Because cultivation of the sciences led to incredible improvements in our standard of living, and indirectly generated vast fortunes, it became very difficult to ignore or suppress them. Philosophy, on the other hand, has generated few, if any, fortunes, and has therefore had few benefactors in the business sector. The consequence has been that we have become spiritual barbarians in possession of tremendously powerful weapons and tools.
33) But aren’t the truths of philosophy too difficult for the average person to grasp? Isn’t the fear of an all-powerful, all-knowing God necessary to keep people “toeing the line” morally? And don’t atheists and Humanists have a license to act immorally?
Surprisingly, perhaps, although arguments of this kind have often been made, history has shown them to be false. For example, the Japanese people developed an ethic known as Bushido that had nothing of any importance to do with supernatural beings, but nevertheless served as a code of conduct which, although a mixed blessing, was at the very least no worse in its consequences than organized religion.
Similarly, the Chinese philosophy of Confucianism served as a non-theological code of ethics for the Chinese for millennia, on the whole with very beneficial effects. Of course, like conventionally religious individuals, Humanists too have their moral lapses, but these have less to do with Humanist doctrine than with a fallible human nature. And, of course, not all Chinese or Japanese had an appreciation of all of the subtleties of Bushido or Confucianism, just as many conventionally religious individuals have only a very basic understanding of their religious doctrines. Nevertheless, both of these non-religious doctrines served large numbers of people well for long periods of time.
If morality was closely tied to the existence of God, there would be much to fear for morality, for the existence of God has never been proven, or even been shown to be very likely. However, the Humanist view is that the legitimacy of morality has little to do with either the existence or non-existence of a supernatural being, and everything to do with a simple principle: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
34) How can Humanists think life is meaningful if there’s no God?
Again, Humanism takes no firm stand on the existence or non-existence of God, insisting only that whatever one’s beliefs may be that they be well-grounded and rational. However, many Humanists would point out that life is meaningful because of good relationships, meaningful work, and so on; and these things are meaningful whether or not there is some cosmic plan for mankind. Presumably, God would commend these things because they are meaningful, and they could not be made meaningful if they were otherwise meaningless merely because God commended them.
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