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What is Secular Humanism?

By Carman Bradley

According to the 2001 Census, 21.9 percent of Canadians have no religious affiliation.  Many of these people may not see themselves as “declared” secularists, but most have nonetheless chosen to integrate their lives around the mood of their specific age rather than around God.  Secularists live as if material order is supreme, as if God does not exist.  Secularism advocates human betterment without reference to religion or theology.  While secularism may not indicate theoretical atheism, it certainly does represent practical atheism.  Secularism is deeply in debt to the rise of the “scientific paradigm” - the notion that the world of things is the whole of existence.  Carl Sagan and Peter Singer illustrate key aspects of the secular scientific paradigm.  In Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, Carl Sagan writes: “To discover that the Universe is some 8 to 15 billion years and not 6 to 12 thousand years old improves our appreciation of its sweep and grandeur; to entertain the notion that we are a particularly complex arrangement of atoms, and not some breath of divinity, at the very least enhances our respect for atoms; to discover, as now seems probable, that our planet is one of billions of other worlds in the Milky Way Galaxy and that our galaxy is one of billions more, majestically expands the arena of what is possible; to find that our ancestors were also the ancestors of apes ties us to the rest of life and makes possible important - if occasionally rueful - reflections on human nature.[i]

Peter Singer, in Practical Ethics, writes under the topic “Has Life a Meaning”: “When we reject belief in a God we must give up the idea that life on this planet has some pre-ordained meaning.  Life as a whole has no meaning.  Life began, as best available theories tell us, in a chance combination of gases; it then evolved through random mutations and natural selection.  All this just happened; it did not happen for any overall purpose.  Now that it has resulted in the existence of beings who prefer some states of affairs to others, however, it may be possible for particular lives to be meaningful.  In this sense atheists can find meaning in life.” [ii]  He gives his views on practical ethics in a Godless universe: “If the fetus does not have the same claim on life as a person, it appears that the newborn baby does not either, and the life of a newborn baby is of less value than the life of a pig, a dog, or a chimpanzee…In thinking about this matter we should put aside feelings based on small, helpless and – sometimes – cute appearance of human infants…If we can put aside these emotionally moving but strictly irrelevant aspects of the killing of a baby we can see that the grounds for not killing persons do not apply to newborn infants.”[iii]  Applicable to secularism, Dostoevsky warns: “If God is dead, then everything is justifiable.”

Secularism places the emphasis on temporal social enjoyment rather than on eternal spiritual values.  Secularists live their entire lives without acknowledging God.  In a strikingly equivalent religious paradigm Gnostics acknowledge the existence of an unknown god and act as if relationship with this deity is impossible.  Although only 0.004 percent of Canadians are declared Gnostics, Howard Bloom writes that Gnosticism is the most common thread of religious thought today.  He calls it the “American Religion” and concludes: “even our secularists, indeed even our professed atheists, are more Gnostic than humanist in their ultimate presuppositions.”[iv]  In his book Darwin’s God, Cornelius G. Hunter writes on Gnosticism: “The deity is absolutely transmundane, its nature alien to that of the universe which it neither created nor governs and to which it is the complete antithesis…The world is the work of lowly powers.”[v]  Hunter observes that the Gnostic’s belief in “lowly powers” was fulfilled in Darwin’s evolution by natural selection - the theory that life was not divinely created but developed by random chance and selective survival of the fittest.  The acceptance of evolution, in turn reinforced Gnosticism in modern thought.  Hunter writes: “Two important themes are discernible in the writings of Darwin and his fellow naturalists: Gnosticism and natural theology.”[vi]  And natural theology is theology based on reason and ordinary (temporal) experience.  It is distinguished from revealed theology which is based on Scripture and religious experience.  Philosopher Michael Ruse observes that Victorians in Darwin’s time had trouble with the idea that God created a natural world that often seemed devoid of His presence.  Ruse writes: “Darwin is characterized as one held to some kind of ‘deistic’ belief in a God who works at a distance through unbroken law: having set the world in motion, God now sits back and does nothing.”[vii]  While it may not be fair to say all secularists are Darwinists, the reverse may very well prove to be true.

Although declared humanists make up only 0.007 percent of Canadians the impact of humanism on state governance is huge.  Humanism is a life-stance not dissimilar to secularism, dedicated to the betterment of society through the use of reason and ethics from a non-religious viewpoint.  Humanists do not believe in any deity and consider the notions of an afterlife and rewards and punishments after death by a supernatural god as meaningless.  Two influential Canadian humanists who knew each other in that capacity are Pierre Elliott Trudeau and Henry Morgentaler.  Prior to joining the Liberal Party, Mr. Trudeau was a member of the Board of the Montreal Humanist Chapter.[viii]  Henry Morgentaler replaced Mr. Trudeau in the Montral Humanist Chapter and became an advocate for abortion on demand and first president and founder of the Humanist Association of Canada.  Two influential American humanists are Betty Friedan, author of The Feminine Mystique and principle founder of the feminist movement in the 1960s and the Episcopalian Rev. Dr. John Shelby Spong, author of the 2001 release A New Christianity For a New World.  Both were recipients of Humanist of the Year awards.

Under the title “Resolution to Combat Religious Influence,” the HAC proclaims: “The Humanist Association of Canada is a national association that includes humanists, atheists, agnostics, rationalists, freethinkers, and non-church-affiliated people.[ix] We believe that Canada could be a model for many countries on how to develop a free and democratic society composed of many different ethnic, religious, and philosophical groups living in harmony.  We believe strongly in the separation of church and state and the neutrality of the state in matters of religion …Many current practices are undemocratic and unfair… We believe in a secular school system for all… Another example is the recitation of prayers at official functions.  These are unacceptable…Although unsuccessful, many of our members signed a petition to have the reference to God removed from the preamble of the Canadian Constitution.  This petition was read out in Parliament by MP Svend Robinson on June 8, 1999.”[x]  [Same-sex marriage legislation accomplishes in symbolism and practicality what these humanists and MP Robinson could not achieve by a direct and informed democratic process.  The humanists wanted “God” removed from the statement “Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God,” and replaced by “intellectual knowledge.”  In ruling the way they did on marriage redefinition, the Supreme Court has finally completed the progressive amputation of the worth of this theist Preamble statement.]

Tenets of the secular humanist worldview which now pervades our governance include: (1) universe created by a mysterious accidental explosion of energy; (2) Earth accidentally created by a fortuitous union of gases; (3) life on earth inadvertently created by the 1/1050 chance match (union) of DNA and RNA molecules in a primordial soup; (4) humankind created through a continuous evolutionary chain of random species mutations influencing either survival or extinction reaching back billions of years to the LUCA – last universal common ancestor; (5) there is no supernatural design behind the beauty, pleasure and mathematics of existence; (6) life has no extrinsic (higher) purpose or meaning; (7) fundamental law of nature is survival of the fittest; there are no absolute rights and wrongs.  Moral ethics are a derivative of societal evolution; and (8) Eschatology (end times): there is no hereafter, humankind is just a chance sophisticated arrangement of atoms and molecules awaiting some accidental asteroid collision with Earth, which will simply rearrange these atoms in a less sophisticated pattern and re-start the Darwinian process.

The bane of secular humanism is religion.  To the secular humanist ideologue the faithfully religious must be publicly silenced and politically neutered, if not de-programmed - in their view Christians are like the Borg, a threat until disconnected from Jesus Christ.   Dostoevsky’s dictum is the key to achieving secular humanist utopia.  Secular humanist support for same-sex marriage and homosexual liberation in general, draws tremendous momentum from the undermining and constraining impact homosexism has upon world religions.  Moreover, same-sex marriage will also undermine resistance to human genetic engineering, use of artificial wombs and human cloning - all of which are humanist dreams.  The International Academy of Humanists proclaims: “The potential benefits of cloning may be so immense that it would be a tragedy if ancient theological scruples should lead to a Luddite rejection of cloning.”[xi]Mona Greenbaum, of the Lesbian Mothers Association of Quebec, claims that lesbians should have the same access to fertility technology that married heterosexual women have.  And Brigitte Boisselier, director of CLONAID, claims there is already demand for cloning among gay couples.  Bentley Glass, then president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, declares,“No parents in the future time will have a right to burden society with a malformed or a mentally incompetent child…Just as every child must have the right to full educational opportunity and a sound nutrition, so every child has the inalienable right to sound heritage.”[xii] In this anything goes secular humanist worldview, Glass predicts parents will abort genetically imperfect fetuses or use gene therapy to alter their unborn children.  Inert (homosexual) couples may harness the power of technology to overcome biological procreative design shortcomings. 

The heterosexual system of marriage and family is the chief obstacle to this secular humanist technocratic future.  If traditional marriage endures, the realm of the state and the development and use of the technology can be limited.  George Gilder further warns, “if the family should widely breakdown, then the world of artificial wombs, clones, and child-development centers would become an important reality rather than a laboratory curiosity.”[xiii]  And if “orthodox” religion endures marriage and family will prosper and survive. 

Copyright © 2008 StandForGod.Org

[i] “Carl Sagan’s Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark,”, 4/18/01.

[ii] Peter Singer, Practical Ethics, 2nd Edition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), p.331.

[iii] Ibid., pp.122 and 125.

[iv] Howard Bloom, The American Religion (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992), p.22.

[v] Cornelius G. Hunter, Darwin’s God (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Brazos Press, 2001), pp.149 and 150

[vi] Ibid., p.129.

[vii] Ibid., p.131.

[viii] Catherine Dunphy, Morgentaler: A Difficult Hero (Toronto: Random House, 1996), p.62.

[ix] Atheists, representing 0.06 percent of the population, deny the existence of any god - “I do not know.”  Agnostics, another 0.06 percent of Canadians, go beyond atheism to claim “one cannot know” God.

[xi] Gina Kolata, Clone (New York: William Morrow and Company, 1998), p.228.

[xii] Ibid., p.76.

[xiii] George Gilder, Men and Marriage (Gretna Louisiana: Pelican Publishing Company, Inc, 1987), p.185.