No God. Now What? An Introduction to Secular Humanism Session I
The arguments for God’s existence all fail. So, how are we to make sense of our world? Secular Humanists believe that a fulfilling life canbe found outside religion.
You Will Learn… • Why God is unnecessary to morality, liberal democracy & happiness; • Why faith and religious values should be rejected in favor of critical thinking and secular values; • Why reason, experience and science (as opposed to faith, revelation and other superstitions) should be credited for the progress of humanity.
What Progress Has Resulted From Secular Humanist Principles (Particularly the priority of reason over faith)? There was a time when religion ruled the world. It was called the Dark Ages. Because of rationalism, we have vastly improved: Health care & disease control; Life Expectancy: Neanderthal > Greek-Romans-30 yrs; Medieval Europe-40 yrs. World Average Today-66 yrs. Death from childbirth: 1935-1:150. 1955: 1:2000. 2006: 1:10,000) Conquest of diseases, such as polio, cholera, and bubonic plague. Medical & dental treatment / pharmacology;Open heart surgery; laser vision correction; dental implants; colesterol-reducing drugs, hip replacement, etc.
More Progress Resulting from Secular Humanist Principles • Agriculture & animal husbandry;People no longer have to live on the brink of starvation. • Communications (cost & speed); Took 3 weeks for Geo. Washington to find out he had been elected President. Today, we can communicate with just about anyone on the planet in seconds. • Transportation (safety, cost, speed); Before 1850 - Three MPH World vs. 600 MPH Today. Took Ben Franklin 13 weeks to cross Atlantic. Today we routinely cross the pond in a few hours. Our food comes from farms thousands of miles away to our table in a single day.
More Progress Resulting from Secular Humanist Principles • Comfort & Safety;Heating & Refrigeration. Gov. regulations against child labor & for worker safety; food & drug quality; product safety - cars, etc. • Widespread economic prosperity; But only in societies where secular education & secular government prevail. (or are primary customers; ex: petroleum producers)
MoreProgress Resulting From Secular Humanist Principles The invention of such revolutionary and beneficial concepts as: • Liberal Democracy (majority rule/minority rights) • Universal Human Rights (U.N. Declaration) All of this beneficial physical, material, ethical, and political progress has been the result of critical thinking (18th century Enlightenment) overcoming religious thinking (Dark Ages).
MoreProgress Resulting From Secular Humanist Principles • Faith is appealing to people who need an emotional crutch to deal with reality, but… • If we want political freedom, economic security, & continuing improvement in our standard of living, we have to embrace the principles of Secular Humanism (i.e., priority of reason & compassion over superstition, willful ignorance & magical thinking).
General Stuff • Course = Six 2 hour sessions. • One hour presentation • Ten minute break • Twenty minute presentation • One half hour discussion
More General Stuff Course Outline: Week 1 Introduction to Secular Humanism. Religious andsecular worldviews. Definition of key terms. Top 10 reasons not to believe. Top 10 myths about SH. Week 2 The Problem of Scripture and the Problem of Evil. Scriptural inconsistencies, contradictions, inaccuracies, and absurdities; plus why good people suffer and die.
Course Outline (con’t) Week 3 The Dangers of Faith. How faith leads to preventable suffering and death by the billions. Week 4 Why So Many Still Believe. The top 10 reasons people believe despite the lack of evidence or logic. The psychology & sociology of belief explained.
Course Outline (con’t) Week 5 Atheist Ethics. Can non-believers be moral? A simple godless ethic explained. Week 6 The dangers of faith. The benefits of Secular Humanism. What would a society without religion be like? Free discussion. Course evaluations.
More General Stuff • If you need clarification regarding something we just said, please let us know right away and we will clarify. • If you have questions of a philosophical nature, please write them on the provided 3X5 cards & hand them in at the first break. (Hint: be succinct) • We will try to answer as many as we can in the last 30 minutes of each session.
More General Stuff… Given the controversial nature of this topic, an understanding of other points of view requires civility on the part of all participants. After each session, a copy of the presentation will be made available at: http://www.centerforinquiry.net/saz While we, the presenters, are members of CFI, not every member of CFI endorses every aspect of this presentation.
Who Are We? • Dr. Gil Shapiro, D.P.M., P.C. Dr. Shapiro is a Tucson Podiatrist & Foot Surgeon who has been saving soles for more than a quarter century. His guest opinion columns are frequently published in the AZ Daily Star & Tucson Citizen Newspapers. • Dr. Stephen Uhl, S.T.L., PH.D.Dr. Uhl is a former Roman Catholic priest; a Doctor of Psychology (retired); and author of the book, Imagine No Superstition: the Power to Enjoy Life with No Guilt, No Shame, No Blame. • Jim Gressinger, N.P.S. (No Particular Specialty)Jim is a retired newspaper publisher, a real estate investor, with a B.S. Degree in Anthropology, Philosophy, and History & a Masters in Public Administration. His first job out of college was as a social worker in Watts.
Statement of Belief Education has been defined as: “The process of replacing ignorance with knowledge. But what kind of knowledge? Secular Humanists believe that everyone will be best served by replacing superstition, willful ignorance, and wishful, magical thinking with empirical evidence, scientific proof, independent historical accounts and sound logic. In other words: education should be the process of replacing faith with reason.
Understanding Starts w/ Definitions Secular: worldly. Relating to the worldly or temporal as opposed to the sacred and eternal. Non-religious, but not necessarily anti-religion. Humanism: a broad category of ethical philosophies that affirm the dignity and worth of all people, based on the ability to determine right and wrong through universal human qualities — particularly reason & compassion. A worldview that disregards personal ethics & political philosophies that are based on irrational beliefs or unprovable claims. Secular Humanist: one who views people as creatures of the natural world (without eternal souls or other supernatural attributes) capable of achieving technological progress, social justice, and general happiness through reason, scientific methodology, moral courage, and compassion. (Note: there are people who call themselves “religious humanists.” We aren’t of that persuasion.)
Definitions Stated somewhat differently… Secular Humanist: one who, after careful consideration, finds no compelling evidence for the supernatural (angels, demons, gods, karma, ancestor spirits, etc.) but rather adheres to an ethic based on our common humanity (Premise: we are all moral equals.), and our capacity for reason, courage, and empathy. One who seeks the best for all concerned without recourse to divinity (God’s Laws or Commandments).
Definitions God: an eternal, transcendent, all-powerful, all-knowing, and benevolent being who created the universe and occasionally intervenes in some peoples’ lives. Ethics: a system of beliefs and related principles that guide behavior, especially toward others. As used in this course, “ethics” and “morality” are interchangeable terms. Ethics can also refer to certain agreed upon values that hold society together, such as proper roles for men & women; thrift; self-reliance, priority of community over individual or vice versa; etc.
Definitions Fundamentalist: a person of faith who adheres to the literal interpretation of scripture. Fundamentalists want laws and public policies to be based on their strict interpretation of their scriptures. All Protestant fundamentalists are evangelicals. Evangelical: a person of faith who believes that redemption (the ticket to eternal paradise) depends on a personal relationship with God and requires no priestly intermediary. IOW, if God likes you, you will go to heaven.* All evangelicals are proselytizers, but not all are fundamentalists. *Note: this god really appreciates slavish devotion.
Examples Presidents Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush are both evangelical Christians. But… • Carter is not a fundamentalist. He believes that eternal salvation depends on an intimate, personal relationship between God and man; but the Bible is not literally true in all respects. • George W. Bush is a fundamentalist. Like Carter, he believes salvation depends on having a personal relationship with the Almighty AND the Bible is literally true in all respects. • Thus, Carter strongly supports the teaching of evolution and opposes creationism; while Bush believes only creationism should be taught because evolution contradicts the Bible.
Definitions (con’t) Religious Moderate: one who typically considers portions of scripture to be allegory (symbolic of a deeper truth) or myth (a fanciful story with a moral lesson) as opposed to literal truth in every respect. Main difference from fundamentalists: religious moderates generally try to accommodate their beliefs to secular education (e.g., evolution) and secular government (e.g., separation of church & state; abortion, stem cell research).
Definitions Worldview: one’s perception of the world. • Our worldview is how we think the world really is and how it really works. • Most often, worldviews are expressed as claims of truth; particularly religious truths.
Examples Worldview # 1. There really is a God. • God created and controls the universe. • God is all-powerful; all-knowing; and benevolent. • God responds to our prayers to protect the innocent and vulnerable. • God has revealed his will in holy scripture, so we know how He wants us to think and act. • Therefore, we only need to have faith and all will be well.
Examples Worldview # 2. There really is no God. Or at least there is no Deity that responds to prayers and protects the innocent and vulnerable. Scripture is mere speculation about the supernatural by primitive, ignorant, and usually bigoted* old men. Therefore, we have only ourselves to rely on for our well-being. The well-being of our children & grandchildren depends on our willingness to reason, extend our compassion, and be fair. (* Biased against (1) people of other tribes & faiths; (2) women; (3) secular government; (4) homosexuals; and reason. “Reason. The Devil’s harlot.” Martin Luther)
Worldviews Have Consequences Misunderstanding how the world really works usually leads to disappointment and sometimes tragedy. • Jumping off a high bridge believing that you can soar like a bird can lead to disappointment. • Refusing to take your seriously ill child to a modern medical facility because you believe God will answer your prayers for recovery can lead to tragedy.
Blair couple's faith healing appeal denied Tuesday, May 01, 2001 By Tom Gibb, Post-Gazette Staff Writer HOLLIDAYSBURG, Pa. The U.S. Supreme Court said yesterday that it won't hear the appeal of a Blair County couple who spurned medicine, put their trust in faith healing and lost two of their 13 children to treatable illnesses.Barring a last-resort appeal, Dennis and Lorie Nixon will go off sometime in the next 30 days to spend 21/2 to five years in state prisons, leaving behind their Hollidaysburg-area house and 10 children still living at home. The case the Supreme Court rejected yesterday involved the death of daughter Shannon Nixon, 16, in 1996 of diabetes acidosis, a treatable condition that sent her blood sugar levels soaring more than 12 times above normal levels. Her family fasted, prayed over her and anointed her. The teen-ager told her parents: "I feel I had my victory." But she lapsed into a coma and died, never seen by a doctor.
Worldviews Are Important Worldviews determine our understanding of: • Reality: what is real? • Goodness: what is good? • Righteousness: What is right?
Reality: what is real (or true) vs. what is fantasy (or false)? Examples: • Is there really a god who will punish us if we disobey him and reward us if we make him happy? (as claimed by all three monotheistic religions) • Is there really a rain god and will he save our crops if we do a really good rain dance? (as claimed by every Southwestern Native American culture) • Is there really a heavenly afterlife and will we have a better chance of going there if we forego sex outside of marriage? (as claimed by most religions)
Reality (con’t) 4. Is an embryo really a person and is aborting it really murder? (as claimed by religious fundamentalists who identify themselves as Pro-Life) 5. Is there really a god who will destroy the world if we do not offer human sacrifices, especially virgins? (as claimed by the Aztec, Mayan, and Inca priests) 6. Was 9/11 really the manifestation of God’s wrath for America’s tolerance of “pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and lesbians”? (as claimed by Rev. Falwell & Rev. Robertson)
Reality (con’t) 7. Was the “holocaust” only Zionist propaganda? (as claimed by Iran’s President Ahmadinejad) 8. Is it true that morality requires religion? (as claimed by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney) 9. Is it true that God made our world in 6 days about 6,000 years ago (as claimed by creationists); or is it true that life evolved over billions of years? (as claimed by Darwinian evolutionists)
Goodness: what is good and what is evil? Examples: • Is it good to pursue one’s own happiness, even at the expense of others? (as most people are inclined to do) 2. Is it good for the government to eliminate undesirables, such as religious and ethnic minorities and the mentally handicapped, in order to purify society as a whole? (as claimed by the Nazis)
Goodness (con’t) 3. Is government good if it protects its citizens by curtailing civil liberties, such as the right to privacy and due process? (as claimed by the Bush administration) 4. Is it good to destroy the infidels or should we let them live and subjugate them? (the only acceptable options claimed by the Taliban)
Righteousness: what is right (moral) vs. what is wrong (immoral)? • Is it morally acceptable for a very poor man (say a Mexican or Guatemalan) to violate U.S. law by illegally immigrating to America in order to work if that is the only way he can feed his starving family? (U.S. laws claims that it is wrong.) • Is it morally acceptable to ignore the desperate needs of others, even when we could reasonably help them without causing something even worse to happen? (most people claim that it is morally acceptable, even required, to punish someone who acts to harm the innocent and vulnerable, but not acceptable to punish someone for not acting to protect them when they reasonably could.
Righteousness (con’t) 3. Is it morally acceptable to steal, so long as it is not from someone in our own tribe? (as claimed by some verses of the Hebrew scriptures; then contradicts itself in other verses) 4. Should gays be stoned to death (as claimed by the Bible and Qur’an) or should they be treated like everyone else? (as claimed by Secular Humanists) 5. Is it right to lie to a really bad person in order to protect the innocent? (Bible says thou shalt not bear false witness (lie or commit perjury); then contradicts itself elsewhere.)
Worldview > Ethics > Social & Political Choices • Your answers to these kinds of questions are determined by your worldview. • Your worldview determines your personal ethics or moral principles. • Your personal ethics determine your stance on the social and political issues of the day. • If your worldview changes, chances are your ethical principles as well as your social and political choices will change too.
Law & Public Policy Always Reflect Someone’s (or Some Group’s) Worldview & Ethical Values Who do you want making law & public policy? • Justices Scalia & Thomas or Ginsberg & Stevens • Newt Gingrich or Nancy Pelosi • Osama bin Laden or Bishop Gene Robinson • Vladimir Putin or Nicolas Sarkozy • Robert Mugabe or Nelson Mandela • Hamas & Hezbollah or Any Political Party that embraces the goals & methods of the ACLU, Amnesty International, and Doctors w/o Borders.
Deciding How To Decide Which worldview is probably realistic (true) and which is probably fantasy (false)? First, we have to decide which is the best method for determining if a worldview (or claim of truth) is real or fantasy.
Basically, Only Two Approaches To Knowledge • Faith • Reason Our choice of one over the other will have the biggest single influence over our worldview, ethics, and political stance. And yes, these 2 approaches to discovering what is true and what is false are incompatible.
Those who rely on faith to determine reality want those of us who rely on reason to believe there is a spirit world in addition to the natural world. • The inner circle represents the natural (physical) world of animals (including humans), plants, wind, water, & fire. Knowledge based on reason (empirical evidence, logic). • Everything outside the circle represents the supernatural world. Knowledge based on faith (revelation, tradition).
Belief In The Supernatural The faithful claim that the supernatural world of gods, angels, and evil spirits is as real as the physical world; despite the lack of empirical evidence, scientific proof, independent historical accounts, and sound logic.
Rules Of Logic Skeptics in general and Secular Humanists in particular make no claim denying the existence of a supernatural world. (We don’t know & neither does anyone else.) We simply ask for credible proof that can stand rigorous & objective scrutiny by independent peer review. Logically, claimants have the burden of proof. In the past 10,000 years, the faithful have never offered objective, credible proof for their subjective, incredible claims about the supernatural; including virgin births, bodily resurrections, and miraculous interventions (faith healings, etc.).
Thinking About Ideology • An ideology, including any theology, is simply a collection of ideas; usually pertaining to a specific worldview and its ethical principles as they relate to personal, social, and political issues. • Most ideologies claim to have the best solutions for personal, social, and political problems. (SH is no different.) • An ideologue is one who advocates an ideology.
Definitions (con’t) • Today, “ideology” usually refers to fixed, intransigent beliefs of extremists - both on the right and left of the socio-political spectrum. • More accurate term is “dogma” = a fixed, inflexible ideology or doctrine impervious to evidentiary challenge (new facts and better reasoning). • A demagogue is someone who advocates a dogma by appealing to primitive (fear) emotions and prejudices; usually to gain power over others. Example: Hitler.
Definitions (con’t) Secular Humanism, like all other religions and philosophies, is ideological (a system of ideas). However, SH is not dogmatic (intransigent). We welcome challenges to our beliefs and will change our minds if contrary evidence holds up to objective standards. People who are dogmatic refuse to do this. Unlike the demagogues of religious fundamentalism, Secular Humanists do not appeal to primitive emotion, such as fear of the unknown, or prejudice, such as bigotry toward those of different ethnicity and faith.
Secular Humanism As Ideology • True, we believe passionately in the priority of reason over faith because the evidence strongly suggests that people are far better off when they make critical decisions based on empirical evidence, scientific proof, independent historical accounts, and sound logic, rather than superstition, willful ignorance, and wishful, magical thinking. • However, most Secular Humanists would change their minds if better facts and reasoning became available. • By contrast, fundamentalists can never change their minds because God’s Word is eternal and unchanging. • To change their minds would make fundamentalists feel like they were forsaking their god and committing a mortal sin.
The 3 Central Ideas of Secular Humanism • We should use our best reasoning to discover reality for the benefit of all. (Assumes (1) knowing the difference between reality & fantasy is good; and (2) no one is inherently more important than anyone else. This means that no one’s needs automatically come before anyone else’s based on accidents of birth: heredity, race, etc.) • Knowledge of reality is best discovered through independent, free inquiry. (Assumes no subject should be taboo. Subjects are taboo only to protect the powerful.) • Separation of church & state is an essential condition for free inquiry. (Assumes, based on the evidence, that free inquiry leads to the best for all.)
Our Primary Goal • We want to create a world that is safe, just, and prosperous for all. • Consequently, we are rather intolerant of worldviews, ethics, and political stances that harm the innocent and vulnerable and make this world more dangerous for everyone. • As means to ends, we really do want to relegate religion and other superstitions & forms of willful ignorance to the margins of society were they can do a lot less harm. Our primary means of accomplishing our goal is through education in critical thinking, science, and if necessary, ridicule.
More Definitions Faith (from the perspective of faith): Faith is belief in the supernatural (gods, demons, ancestor spirits, etc.) based on: • Religious authorities (assumed to have special knowledge of the divine) • Scripture (assumed to be divinely authored) • Mystical experiences (assumed to be manifestations of the divine)
More Definitions (con’t) Faith (from the perspective of reason): • Faith is mere speculation about the supernatural. • Faith is belief in the supernatural unsupported by empirical (objective) evidence, scientific proof, independent historical accounts, or sound logic. • Faith is superstition, willful ignorance, and wishful, magical thinking. • Faith is childish emotionalism, the antithesis of critical thinking. (People believe because it makes them feel good; faith offers comfort; inspiration; meaning.)