Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Problem With Humanism

Every time a New Atheist post something about humanism on atheism boards, I scoff. I scoff because this secular philosophy has no evidence to support its most basic assertions, in particular that each human being has some kind of inherent worth or value. More generally speaking, humanism supposedly bases ethical decisions on reason while trusting science when it comes to understanding the world. While the former sentence clearly has no evidence to support it, the latter sentence practically conflicts with itself as a philosophy that uses evidence and science to support certain beliefs abandons evidence and science in order to behave ethically, meaning, the ethics that are practiced are not evidence- or science-based. The ethics often used by New Atheists are supposedly arrived by reason.


For example, The Council for Secular Humanism maintains that they adhere to a consequentialist ethical system. Okay, great, but there is really no consensus among philosophers as to whether consequentialism is any better than, say, utilitarianism or deontology. Whether a particular brand of humanist subscribes to any ethical system has more to do with how the individual feels about the ethical system than the ethical system being a matter of reality. (I lean towards consequentialism myself, but this may change according to circumstance. More importantly, I recognize this. I’m a Realist like that.) Meanwhile, groups like the International Humanist and Ethical Union declare about their ethical system that, “Humanists have a duty of care to all of humanity including future generations.” I’m not saying that this isn’t a nice sentiment, just that it cannot be arrived at by reason, much less by evidence. If you ask this philosopher – and I’m the only one worth asking - reasons should be based on some kind of evidence. This is to say that if anything, the evidence would indicate that human beings care little beyond the immediate futures of their next of kin. The divergence of ideas surrounding the basic tenets of humanism do not lend itself to credibility.


Since New Atheists have hammered theist about having evidence for their beliefs – and rightly so – I believe that what is good for the goose is good for the gander. So it seems rather odd that there should be so much ambiguity between the declarations of various humanist organizations to say nothing of there being various humanist organizations. A quick Google of the question “What is humanism?” yields various answers from many humanist organizations; enough answers to categorize each organization according to the varying beliefs they hold. The Council for Secular Humanism, the American Humanist Association, the British Humanist Association, and the International Humanist and Ethical Union (for starters) all give different answers to the question. To be fair, each organization is similar enough in their answers to fall under a general philosophy we can call ‘humanism.’ Still, a philosophy arrived at by reason should not have as much ambiguity as humanism displays.


While I would say many of these brands of humanism are a more positive philosophy than their non-secular counterparts (at least more positive for one’s self-esteem, if nothing else), I do think that New Atheist humanists should be honest about their reasoning for committing to this philosophy. Since New Atheists demand so much honesty in debates, they should be honest here and admit that humanism has little to no evidential support. That, or go find the support for their ‘intuitions’ in biology or evolutionary psychology.


If one is going to demand that others ground their beliefs in evidence and science, they should do the same as well. Otherwise, it seems reasonable to say that two people who act alike must be alike. And this is reasonable because the evidence dictates that if it looks like a rat, walks like a rat and smells like a rat, it’s probably a rat. 

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