Is Secular Humanism a Religion After All?

is nothing sacred_gahan_wilsonI once scoffed at the claim made by fundamentalists, advocates for “Scientific Creationism,” that Secular Humanism is in fact a religion, a variety of paganism. Their aim was to dismiss Evolutionary Biology as the “creation myth” of this rival faith. And if it is okay to teach the Secular Humanist creation myth, why can’t you teach Creationism in public schools? Of course, fundamentalists did not mean to say (to admit) that their account of divine creation in six days is itself a myth. They were just saying that Evolution and Creation were alternative accounts of origins and of the diversity of life-forms, each account with its own reading of the data of biology, geology, paleontology, etc. They were willing to admit that their own version was dictated by religious presuppositions, and they wanted evolutionists to admit that their version was equally the result of “religious” presuppositions.

As I say, I have always rejected such claims, and I still do. As I read the works of Creationists and Evolutionists, it seems to me that Creationism’s approach is completely deductive. They feed the scientific data through a theological meat grinder, like old Procrustes, the predatory innkeeper who directed his taller guests to place their legs through holes in the footboard of the short bed, after which he would employ his trusty hacksaw. If the guest was shorter, Procrustes would handcuff him to the headboard and place his feet in stirrups, then start cranking the rack! The guest would fit the Procrustean bed come hell or high water! The “scientific theories” offered by “Scientific Creationists” are farcical pseudoscience.Suess Procrustes by robert m price

I agree with the late, great philosopher of science, Paul Feyerabend (Against Method) that it doesn’t matter where one derives one’s heuristic paradigm. “The only axiom that does not inhibit research is ‘anything goes!’” Velikofsky got his astronomical model from the Bible and other ancient sources (though not in the same manner as Scientific Creationism). But so what? Might as well test it out! On one or two of his guesses he lucked out. Harry Rimmer and Henry O. Morris got their “paradigm” from Genesis chapters 1 and 6-9? You can’t laugh it off a priori. If you did, that would be the genetic fallacy. You have to check it out: how naturally, how economically, does it seem to fit the data? Does it depend on a lattice of ad hoc hypotheses? If so, well, next contestant, please! This is where and how Scientific Creationism strikes out.

Evolutionism, by contrast, proceeds inductively, forming a tentative hypothesis, trying to connect the dots provided by the evidence. Scientists are not trying to accommodate the data to an alien framework, whittling square pegs so they can be jammed into round holes. And, as Ed Suominen and I have argued in Evolving out of Eden: Christian Responses to Evolution, it turns out that there is no place left for a Creator as a needful causative factor. Not only do the data not require an Intelligent Designer; the data is incompatible with such a Being. He or She or It dies the death of a thousand cuts by Occam’s Razor. One does not start out with a commitment to Atheism or philosophical Naturalism; such a belief is instead the result of the inquiry.

So Creationism and Evolutionism are not on a par. Evolutionism is not religious in the sense Creationists claim, as if scientists were having to manipulate the evidence into conformity to prior (atheistic) beliefs. But in recent years I have begun to think that in another, equally important, sense, Secular Humanism is after all a religion, a set of incorrigible dogmas held, essentially, by faith. I think playwright David Mamet sums it up pretty effectively.

The new religion will not be identified as such. It will be called Multiculturalism, Diversity, Social Justice, Environmentalism, Humanitarianism, and so on. These, individually and conjoined, assert their imperviousness to reason, and present themselves as the greatest good. (Mamet, The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture, p. 39)

But hold on! Mamet is talking about political Liberalism, not Secular Humanism, right? True, but my point is (and this will not surprise you) that Secular Humanism is almost completely committed to Leftism. There is no place in it for those who, though Atheists and Naturalists, are of a politically conservative bent. I served as the Director of the New York Metro Center for Inquiry until the higher-ups fired me because I voted for George W. Bush. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not bitter about it.

Tom Flynn
Tom Flynn

Nothing could change my fond affection for the late Paul Kurtz and my friends Tom Flynn, Eddie Tabash, Joe Nickel, Jan Eisler and others still affiliated with the Council for Secular Humanism. And in retrospect, my departure was inevitable precisely because of our political differences. I didn’t expect it, but clarification is nothing to regret, much less to resent.

And what became clear to me was the indistinguishability of Secular Humanism and Political Leftism. It has become even clearer very recently when Director Tabash sent out an announcement that the primary mission of CSH/CFI going forward would be to battle the policies of the incoming administration of Donald Trump, for whom I happily voted.

I am a skeptic vis-à-vis the Paranormal, the Supernatural, Superstition, and Metaphysical Idealism (especially including Theism). It seems quite natural to me to be equally skeptical toward political ideologies, especially those which refuse to take seriously hard facts of human nature, both individually and collectively. I am skeptical of Utopianism, Globalism, and Socialism. Their most vocal adherents are dogmatic, intolerant, and naively optimistic. They are, as Freud said of conventional religion, projecting a wish world onto the real world. They shame, shun, and despise all who do not share their faith. The complacent arrogance of these believers who simply disdain conservatives as fools and villains (I am frequently their target, not that I’m complaining) is, as I see it, exactly like that of cock-sure evangelical apologists who write off religious skepticism as a smokescreen for moral turpitude.

Secular Humanism bears another prominent mark of religious faith: the Chicken Little apocalypticism of Climate Change. Global Warming believers repeatedly set deadlines for melting ice caps, species extinctions, rising sea levels, etc., etc. In short, the Great Tribulation. And like the doomsday deadlines of Jehovah’s Witnesses and Hal Lindsey (The Late Great Planet Earth), these predictions are embarrassed again and again. Judge Rutherford, Harold Camping, Al Gore—what’s the difference?

By contrast, political conservatism is pessimistic, skeptical, chastened and sober. True, I am no climatologist, but “you don’t have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind blows” (John 3:8). I practice the hermeneutic of suspicion. I ask “Who benefits?” and it seems to me that the whole business is intended to promote two things: first, the gradual transfer of power from elected officials into the hands of unelected technocrats, producing “a state whose parameters, definitions, and prescriptions are controlled by a self-selecting group of ‘experts’ who can never be proved wrong” (Mamet, p. 36).

And second, Globalist redistribution of Western wealth (instead of encouraging capitalistic development, teaching the poor nations to fish instead of just giving them a fish). It even morphs into pious asceticism, the back-patting self-righteousness of needless self-denial. “So the new [religious] group, which is the Left, is prepared and is in the process of sacrificing production, exploration, exploitation of natural resources, and an increasing standard of living upon the altar of ‘global warming.’” (Mamet, p. 40).

One thing that makes me suspicious about climate apocalypticists is that they fudge data. They intimidate the rest of us, telling skeptics to just shut up because “the science is settled.” But it ain’t. They boast that 99% of scientists believe in it, so that, if you don’t, you’re a Flat Earther, as dumb as a Creationist. But I can’t help suspecting that the Birkenstock is on the other foot. I gather the number is more like 52%.[1] And there are reports, including leaked e-mails, that reveal the fudging of data and the enforcement of orthodoxy by barring dissenting views from publication. Sounds like cynical apologetics to me. Oh, I admit Global Warming might be real anyway, but I’m not joining the parade. I am firmly convinced of the Secular “creation myth” of evolution, but I remain wary of its apocalyptic myth. (You may be rolling your eyes at that, but doesn’t that very reaction denote your orthodox intolerance for heresy?).

Mamet is correct:

This new group will, of course, like any group in history, create taboos and ceremonies of its own. But to ensure solidarity these new observances must absolutely repudiate the old; and the cult will indict these previous observances as, for example, paternalism, patriotism, racism, colonialism, xenophobia, and greed. (p. 39).

What else are Politically Correct speech codes and denunciations of “cultural appropriation”? The quota systems and ethnic self-segregations, the trigger warnings and micro-aggressions, the equation of patriotism with jingoism and racism? The Cromwellian-Orwellian crusade to eradicate expressions of traditional faiths in public life? It all amounts to the Shariah of the Left.

I used to say that Secular Humanism was not an alternative kind of religion but rather an
alternative to religion. I was wrong.

So says Zarathustra.


[1] The survey of AMS members found that while 52 percent of American Meteorological Society members believe climate change is occurring and mostly human-induced, 48 percent of members do not believe in man-made global warming.

Furthermore, the survey found that scientists who professed “liberal political views” were much more likely to believe in the theory of man-made global warming than those without liberal views.

“Political ideology was the factor next most strongly associated with meteorologists’ views about global warming. This also goes against the idea of scientists’ opinions being entirely based on objective analysis of the evidence, and concurs with previous studies that have shown scientists’ opinions on topics to vary along with their political orientation,” writes survey author Neil Stenhouse of George Mason University.

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