Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Base Thoughts & Values of Secular Humanism

What Is Secular Humanism?

"Taxonomically, my family is Freethinker (including atheists, skeptics, agnostics); my genus is Humanist (including the religion-based), and my species is Secular."
— John Rafferty
Secular. "Pertaining to the world or things not spiritual or sacred."
Humanism. "Any system of thought or action concerned with the interests or ideals of people … the intellectual and cultural movement … characterized by an emphasis on human interests rather than … religion."

— Webster’s Dictionary

If you’ve rejected traditional religion (or were never religious to start), you may be asking, "Is that all there is?" It’s liberating to recognize that supernatural beings are human creations … that there’s no such thing as "spirit" … that people are undesigned, unintended, and responsible for themselves.
But what’s next?

For many, mere atheism (the absence of belief in gods and the supernatural) or agnosticism (the view that such questions cannot be answered) aren’t enough.
Atheism and agnosticism are silent on larger questions of values and meaning. If Meaning in life is not ordained from on high, what small meanings can we work out among ourselves? If eternal life is an illusion, how can we make the most of our only lives? As social beings sharing a godless world, how should we coexist?

For the questions that remain unanswered after we’ve cleared our minds of gods and souls and spirits, many atheists, agnostics, skeptics, and freethinkers turn to secular humanism.

Secular Humanism is a life stance that focuses on the way human beings can lead happy and functional lives. Secular Humanism is distinguished from various other forms of humanism. Though Secular Humanist believe that human beings are capable of being ethical and moral without religion, or God, that is not to say it assumes humans to be inherently or innately good. Nor does it present humans as "above nature" or superior to it; by contrast, the humanist life stance emphasises the unique responsibility facing humanity and the ethical consequences of human decisions.

Secular Humanism is also called "scientific humanism". Biologist E. O. Wilson called it "the only worldview compatible with science's growing knowledge of the real world and the laws of nature".
Secular humanism is a comprehensive, nonreligious lifestance incorporating:
» A naturalistic philosophy» A cosmic outlook rooted in science
» A consequentialist ethical system
Let’s examine these items one by one:

A comprehensive, nonreligious lifestance.Secular humanism is comprehensive, touching every aspect of life including issues of values, meaning, and identity. Thus it is broader than atheism, which concerns only the nonexistence of god or the supernatural. Important as that may be, there’s a lot more to life … and secular humanism addresses it.
Secular humanism is nonreligious, espousing no belief in a realm or beings imagined to transcend ordinary experience.
Secular humanism is a lifestance, or what Council for Secular Humanism founder Paul Kurtz has termed a eupraxsophy: a body of principles suitable for orienting a complete human life.

A naturalistic philosophy.Secular humanism is philosophically naturalistic. It holds that nature (the world of everyday physical experience) is all there is, and that reliable knowledge is best obtained when we query nature using the scientific method. Naturalism asserts that supernatural entities like God do not exist, and warns us that knowledge gained without appeal to the natural world and without impartial review by multiple observers is unreliable.

A cosmic outlook rooted in science.Secular humanism provides a cosmic outlook—a world-view in the broadest sense, grounding our lives in the context of our universe and relying on methods demonstrated by science. Secular humanists see themselves as undesigned, unintended beings who arose through evolution, possessing unique attributes of self-awareness and moral agency.

A consequentialist ethical system.Secular humanists hold that ethics is consequential, to be judged by results. This is in contrast to so-called command ethics, in which right and wrong are defined in advance and attributed to divine authority. "No god will save us," declared Humanist Manifesto II (1973), "we must save ourselves." Secular humanists seek to develop and improve their ethical principles by examining the results they yield in the lives of real men and women.
What Are Secular Humanist Values?

"… the moral consequences of believing the universe not to be guided by a personal god to whom petitionary prayer can be addressed are huge. That is why it is so inadequate to call oneself solely an atheist; one needs some sort of description for what motivates one's behavior afterwards."

— Bill Cooke

Secular humanist author and activist

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 by faith.

  • Reason, evidence, scientific method – A commitment to the use of critical reason, factual evidence and scientific methods of inquiry 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 (as opposed to an afterlife) 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.  
A Secular Humanist Declaration was issued in 1980 by The Council for Democratic and Secular Humanism (CODESH), now the Council for Secular Humanism (CSH). It lays out ten ideals: Free inquiry as opposed to censorship and imposition of belief; separation of church and state; the ideal of freedom from religious control and from jingoistic government control; ethics based on critical intelligence rather than that deduced from religious belief; moral education; religious skepticism; reason; a belief in science and technology as the best way of understanding the world; evolution; and education as the essential method of building humane, free, and democratic societies.

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