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Is Secular Humanism a Religion?

It is now a rather old story: secular humanism is a religion. A court case in 1995 examined the issue and concluded, rightly, that science, in the form of the theory of evolution, is not a religion. In 2006, the BBC aired a program called The Trouble with Atheism which argued that atheists are religious and made the point via a series of interviews with prominent atheists who claimed their beliefs were “proved” by science. The presenter, Rod Liddle, concluded that Darwinism is a religion. That is wrong, as 18th century philosopher David Hume showed many years ago. Science consists of facts, but facts alone do not motivate. Without motive, a fact points to no action. Liddle was half-right: both religion and secular humanism provide motives, explicit in one case, but covert in the other.

What is religion? All religions have three elements, although the relative emphasis differs from one religion to another—Buddhists are light on the supernatural, for example. 

The first is the belief in invisible or hidden beings, worlds and processes—like God, heaven, miracles, reincarnation, and the soul. All these are unverifiable, or unseen and unseeable, except by mystics under special and generally unrepeatable conditions. Since absence of evidence is not, logically, evidence of absence, these features of religion are neither true nor false, but simply unprovable. They have no implications for action, hence no bearing on legal matters.

The second element are claims about the real world: every religion, especially in its primordial version, makes claims that are essentially scientific—assertions of fact that are potentially verifiable. These claims are of two kinds. The first we might call timeless: e.g., claims about physical properties—the four elementary humors, for example, the Hindu turtle that supports the world, properties of foods, the doctrine of literal transubstantiation. The second are claims about history: Noah’s flood, the age of the earth, the resurrection—all “myths of origin.” Some of these claims are unverifiable; as for the rest, there is now a consensus that science usually wins—in law and elsewhere. In any case, few of these claims have any bearing on action.

The third property of a religion are its rules for action—prohibitions and requirements—its morality. All religions have a code, a set of moral and behavioral prescriptions, matters of belief —usually, but not necessarily—said to flow from God, that provide guides to action in a wide range of situations. The 10 Commandments, the principles of Sharia, the Five Precepts of Buddhism, etc. 

Secular humanism lacks any reference to the supernatural and defers matters of fact to science. But it is as rich in moral rules, in dogma, as any religion. Its rules come not from God but from texts like Mill’s On Liberty, and the works of philosophers like Peter Singer, Dan Dennett and Bertrand Russell, psychologists B. F. Skinner and Sigmund Freud, public intellectuals like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins, and “humanist chaplains” everywhere. 

In terms of moral rules, secular humanism is indistinguishable from a religion.

It has escaped the kind of attacks directed at Christianity and other up-front religions for two reasons: its name implies that it is not religious, and its principles cannot be tracked down to a canonical text. They exist but are not formally defined by any “holy book.”

But it is only the morality of a religion, not its supernatural or historical beliefs, that has any implications for action, for politics and law. Secular humanism makes moral claims as strong as any other faith. It is therefore as much a religion as any other. But because it is not seen as religious, the beliefs of secular humanists increasingly influence U.S. law.

The covert nature of these principles is a disadvantage in some ways, but a great advantage in the political/legal context. Because secular-humanist morals cannot be easily identified, they cannot be easily attacked. A secular judgeship candidate can claim to be unbiased, not because she has no religious principles, but because her principles cannot easily be seen. Yet belief in the innocence of abortion or the value of homosexuality, the “normality” of the LGBTQ+ community, or the essential sameness of men and women (scientifically false, but having many legal implications), may be no less passionate, no less based on faith—no less unprovable—than the opposite beliefs of many frankly religious people. 

Here are three examples of how secular morals have affected law. As the marriage rate has declined and rate of cohabitation has increased—as marriage itself seemed to become less important—the legalization of same-sex marriage became a hot topic. It was once a minority position among American citizens and their elected representatives, but dwindling opposition led to swift legalization of gay marriage in 2015.

This bouleversement actually changed the meaning of the word marriage and introduced unnecessary uncertainty into both social and sexual intercourse (“Hi Fred, is your wife here? What is her name?” Fred: “Sebastian…”). Why did this happen, given the declining importance of marriage itself, the availability of civil-partnership contracts, and the historical opposition of all major religions? The answer lies in a secular-humanist commandment as powerful as any of the familiar 10: the omnipotence of personal passions. The different status and social value of same-and different-sex liaisons, for example, is dwarfed by this personal imperative.

Secular humanists also have blasphemy rules. Dressing in blackface as a teenager or actually saying the N-word, even in an educational context, can lead to severe consequences. Virginia Governor Northam may yet have to resign over a decades-old blackface incident; but Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal survived what many would consider a more serious sin: exaggerating his military experience. Young Northam committed racist blasphemy, while Blumenthal merely lied.

And finally, there is the 40-foot Bladensburg (Md.) cross, erected in 1925 with private money but on public land, to commemorate soldiers who died in World War I. Fred Edwords, a former official of the American Humanist Association, is one of the plaintiffs seeking to get the cross declared illegal. “This cross sends a message of Christian favoritism and exclusion of all others,” says Mr. Edwords. Not that anyone else is excluded from erecting their own monument. It seems to be the faith of a competitor that Fred objects to. Evidently toleration is not one of the secular humanist commandments, but Christianity as anathema is.

Religiously affiliated candidates for high office are often quizzed about their religious beliefs. This is both unfair and largely irrelevant. Whether a candidate believes in transubstantiation or the virgin birth has no bearing at all on how he or she will judge the rights of litigants. Beliefs about religious stories and transcendental matters do not guide action

What matters are the person’s moral beliefs, whatever their source; and their willingness to disregard them if they conflict with the constitution. Secular candidates have just as many “unprovable beliefs” as religious candidates. The only difference is that secular morality is not written down in a single identifiable source. It is not easily accessible.

Candidates, both religious and non-religious, should all be subject to the same range of questions—questions not about their religion but about what might be called their “action imperatives.” What should be prohibited? What should be encouraged? In short, what are their “goods” and “bads” and how would they act if their beliefs are in conflict with settled law? 

The point is to understand the moral beliefs of the candidate and how he or she is prepared to reconcile them with the law, not his or her adherence to a recognized faith. As it is, many passionate, “religious” beliefs of secular candidates go undetected and unquestioned. Thus, they become law by stealth.

John Staddon is James B. Duke Professor of Psychology and Professor of Biology, Emeritus, at Duke University.


    • Drew says

      There is lack of clarification between what is humanism and what is postmodernism and/or Social Justice Warrior.

      Humanism welcomes new ideas and debates even if the debate presents views opposed to humanism. Humanism encourages freedom of thought and freedom of speech. The cult of woke or the SJW does not encourage differing opinions and discourages debate. For them there is a need for sameness as differences are threatening. Most common words spoken by the cult of the woke are “no platforms” “racists” “Nazis” “privilege” and “alt right”.

      Humanist understand the concept cooperation and pursue the truth of the matter. The SJW only understands power structures. Deception and manipulation are their tactics.

      The cult of woke have learned to parrot and not to think. They are trained to see the world through a conditioned rigid mind set where one is always a victim at the mercy of a persecutor. Be careful when dealing with them they have learned the art of playing the victim and are masters of setting others up to play the role of the villain.

      They can play the hurt feeling like a violin “poor me poor me” even to claims you have destroyed their mental health. This strategy serves several purposes.
      1. To keep the SJW from having to grow up and take responsibility for themselves
      2. To shut down all criticism and thereby get the SJW off the hook for the SJW’s actions
      3. To keep the SJW denial intact where the SJW doesn’t have to look at himself and his belief system.
      4. To allow the SJW continue to project his moral failings onto others and continue with his hypocrisy
      5. To encourage others to step in and rescue the SJW and become enablers which will keep the
      game going for another few laps around the Karpman Triangle.

      The SJW identity politics is a divide and conquer strategy. The tactic is to pit different groups up against more established groups. They are morally deficient , they want power , and like a neurotic dictator they want to control and like borderline personalities playing people off against each other is how they do it.
      The scapegoat of their making is the white male.
      Yes, many dysfunctional systems need a scapegoat. They have attached themselves to many minority group issues even though there are many within those groups who have made it clear “they do not speak for me/us”. Fortunately there are many among us who can recognize moral hypocrisy.

      They have learned the tactics of abuse and attempt to silence one’s opponent under a barrage of slurs and mobbing on social media. The great George Carlin said “political correctness is fascism posing as good manners” Remember they have no virtue no mater how hard they signal it.

      The Universities manufacture them. The Universities where silence is survival and too many are afraid to speak out Remember the first lesson in programming is “garbage in garbage out”.
      Do you really want to pay for this?

      Like the Inquisition of Old they are terrified of free speech, the voice of the alternative, the voice of logic and reason, another opinion, for it will challenge their faulty ideology which in turn will fall like a house of cards and they will be left without an identity, without a purpose, without someone to blame and worse yet they will have to grow up and get a job.

      Here are the words of the great Dan Dennett on this matter to be found in this tweet

      The cult of Woke is it really a religion?
      If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck and acts like a duck chances are it is a duck!

      however Humanism is not a religion.

      • Dmax888 says

        I think the best way to associate Humanist philosophy with SJW’s is found in the “inherent good” preached by Humanism. When you view life through that paradigm, self-victimisation is the predictable outcome. When humans are “good”, they only act “evil” on the influence of outside factors; i.e. political ideologies, religious belief etc.

        This article does a cursory acknowledgment to the delusional elements of Humanism in the power play of SJW’s.

        • Drew says

          The emotionally challenged choose many venues to exercise their neurosis. It is painful being a child locked in an adult body.
          Todays Child gets a twitter account, follows Matthew Sears, becomes a keyboard warrior and then stalks others on twitter, hurling slurs and profanity at the likes of Sam Harris the Atheist or Jordan Peterson the believer.
          No one is exempt.
          There is a longing and need to be attached to those more successful than they are and negative attention is better than no attention at all.

          Here is something I will pass onto you.

      • Caleb McInerary says

        A thousand times better than the actual incoherent and silly article

      • A superb summary of the current status of Humanism. Our species can sense that we have powers, and isn’t content to just mill around waiting for personal dissolution. So the natives are restless and looking for more. I think it’s out there, as Continuance.


  1. Dave M says

    Gay marriage is motivated by increasing awareness that homosexuality isn’t a choice, making it a civil rights issue. And also that homosexuality is a form of love, not just a sexual act.

    You aren’t providing a good example of your own thesis, if religion is motivating you to make such bizarre interpretations of gay marriage, reducing it to nothing but “passions” and amorality. Perhaps we’re right to fear the biases harbored by religious people, if this can be the result.

    • Ray Andrews says

      @Dave M

      But marriage is not about ‘love’ or about sexual acts. Tho married people commonly love each other and engage in sexual acts, what those of us who oppose gay marriage understand, is that marriage is the unique social institution that founds the natural family. What is bizarre is that folks have forgotten this.

      • David of Kirkland says

        @Ray – It’s not forgotten, just not important when dealing with equal protection under the law. Marriages does not require sex or love or raising a family. It’s a set of legal protections that violate natural equal protection as not all people are married, and thus married people have special rights.
        And in the US, gay marriage was never legislated, it was found to be protected by existing rights (the same should have been true for slavery and the right of women to vote, just declaring they are in fact citizens, yet we need a constitutional amendment for those).

        • Ray Andrews says

          @David of Kirkland

          But equal protection really has nothing to do with it. Firstly because, for example, my right to equal protection does not allow me to claim veteran’s benefits without being, actually, a veteran. In the same way, people are not discriminated against for not being able to claim they are married when in fact they are not married. Secondly, words, used in law, do no mean whatever we want them to mean. Since the beginning of time, in every society that has ever existed, ‘marriage’ has had a very tight meaning which we all understand (or at least remember). A gay couple have no more ‘right’ to say they are married than I have the ‘right’ so say I’m an astronaut. IMHO the traditional definition of marriage demarcates a very useful category of relationship that is distinct from all others. Again, marriage is the foundation of a natural family. This does not presume that any of the hundred other living/sleeping arrangements one might make are wrong or bad or lesser, only that only a marriage is actually a marriage.

          ” and thus married people have special rights”

          Yes, they do. Does this discriminate? Some say that since marriage now includes a declaration of unity between two gays, why should it discriminate against any such declaration? Really. I’d prefer the classical understanding that marriage is a genuinely unique contract, but if not, then why restrict to gays? Why should I not declare myself married to my sister? As you said, sex need not have anything to do with it, and besides, why are we still clinging to those ancient prohibitions anyway? Or, for legal purposes, why should I not become married to my best friend (we being both hetero, but why does that matter?)

          • K. Dershem says


            IMHO the traditional definition of marriage demarcates a very useful category of relationship that is distinct from all others.

            You may be right, but definitions change over time. Under the law of coverture, marriage was an arrangement that subsumed the wife’s identity and transferred legal guardianship of a woman (or girl) from her father to her husband. (It still serves this purpose in some Muslim societies.) As Western society became more egalitarian, the understanding and legal status of marriage changed dramatically. Same-sex marriage is another step in the same secularizing direction. Although marriage is far more fragile than it used to be, gays are not to blame for this development. In the past, spouses did not necessarily expect to be “in love” (most marriages were arranged) and emotionally fulfilled by their partner, divorces were very difficult to obtain, and women were economically dependent on their husbands. There are definitely social costs associated with a less traditional and more expansive understanding of marriage, as conservatives rightly point out. Progress in expanding rights often comes at a cost.

          • I agree: equal protection is for people, not for institutions and not for accommodations.

            Family is a biological term. The only choice you really get is who you’re going to make a baby with. The rest is all obligation, not choice. Government’s “right” to take a child away from one person and give that child to someone else is supposed to be constrained, focused entirely on what is best for the child.

            The gay marriage argument is problematic because it is riddled with double standards (why can’t you marry your sister?) and dishonesty in various forms (“marriage is obviously not about procreation, so there’s no reason it should be limited to procreating couples! But you’re discriminating against me if you don’t let me pass off this child I’m having as being my lesbian spouse’s child too!”)

          • S. Cheung says

            “Secondly, words, used in law, do no mean whatever we want them to mean. ”

            That’s true, which is why they had to change the words in the law. It was codified initially by people who were elected to do so, then changed by people in a similar position at a later time. On some level, it comes down to whether you feel people should serve the law, or the law should serve the people.

            As for the more colorful variants of marriage, i would say if society became of such an opinion, then those options would have to be considered. I highly doubt that to be a realistic concern, but it would be a theoretical concern.

          • Ray Andrews says

            @K. Dershem

            “You may be right, but definitions change over time.”

            I know it. I’m fighting a lost battle on this, but there’s always the next battle and at some point the forces of ‘progress’ might successfully be stopped before they destroy civilization entirely. Besides, I do see both sides of this issue — gay marriage isn’t the end of the world. Indeed, as I said, since we’ve abandoned what I’d still call the ‘real’ meaning of marriage, I’d go all the way, and let any two adults (and maybe more than two?) enter into the sort of legal arrangement that is still implied by marriage. That is, I’d secularize it entirely.

            Marriage has always been about obliging men to support a certain woman and her kids with the corresponding obligation on the part of the woman to only become pregnant by the man who is obliged to look after her. It was one of the best things we ever came up with. Certain identity groups have forgotten this, and it has destroyed their culture. But that’s the way … uh-huh uh-huh … they like it. Anyway yes, the situation is somewhat different now.

            “Although marriage is far more fragile than it used to be, gays are not to blame for this development.”

            Quite. Tho I’d say there is a feedback loop, gays are more the beneficiaries of this than the cause.

            An entirely reasonable post as always K. You know, I’d vote you the most reasonable person who frequents Quillette, I take lessons from you.

          • Ray Andrews says


            “But you’re discriminating against me if you don’t let me pass off this child I’m having as being my lesbian spouse’s child too!”)”

            Right. At some point reality matters. We’ve already crossed into the land of make believe when it comes to sex, I am going to be the world’s first official trans-species person, and sooner or latter some girl is going to say that she’s a horse and demand to run in the Kentucky Derby. Once your feet leave the floor, how high can you float?

          • Ray Andrews says

            @S. Cheung

            “On some level, it comes down to whether you feel people should serve the law, or the law should serve the people.”

            The latter, hopefully. But what is really in the long term interests of people? The caricature is that folks like myself are just derelicts from a forgotten age of ignorance and Hate and superstition, reading mindlessly from our dusty holy book. In fact I think that useful social categories that have been with us in every society since time began should not be so casually swept aside.

            Just as the leftie believes that the government has infinite money to hand out (but there won’t be inflation), so the leftie believes that there are no barriers to anyone having anything or belonging to any social category — marriage can mean just about any living arrangement, yet it will retain it’s sacred feel. Everyone wins a prize, but the prize will remain important. I don’t think it works.

          • S. Cheung says


            “The latter, hopefully.”
            Obviously, I agree.

            I don’t think the definition is being casually swept aside. It is, however, being expanded, so that it is inclusive of more people. Some people (not you) have argued that this somehow represents a dilution of the concept, which I have never understood. “if a gay male or female couple are allowed to marry, it will make my marriage mean less” or something along those lines. But why would anyone need to derive meaning for their marriage from anything outside their marriage? Does marriage have meaning only when compared to something? Does that “sacred feel” depend on how others are using it?

      • Lightning Rose says

        With increasing urbanization, our chosen “reality” became unmoored from natural law quite awhile ago. Bio-social non-sequiters are the result.

        • Ray Andrews says

          @Lightning Rose

          True enough, but is it a good idea? We might not be as liberated from bio-social reality as we like to think. Of course we now choose our gender as well and I myself have chosen another species. One might wonder how far we can float off into fantasy before things get so strange that no one knows which way is up.

        • Ray Andrews says

          @S. Cheung

          “Some people (not you) have argued that this somehow represents a dilution of the concept,”

          I do argue it. When everything is special then nothing is special. I think one of the things that conservatives understand rightly is that everyone cannot have everything. ‘Dilution’ is a very real phenomenon, we see this in the radfems efforts to have just about every man guilty of some form of ‘sexual assault’ every day — a glance longer than five seconds, say, or an unwanted compliment or a ‘micro-aggression’ or even just a smile. Joe Biden is guilty! Destroy him!

          But we can’t be outraged all the time as much as the twiterii wish we could; we distinguish between the trivial and the serious. In relationships we also used to distinguish between the real marriage/family which is that one institution that founds the natural — and hopefully stable — family, and a hundred other living arrangements which might be very very nice, but are not really marriages.

          “Does that “sacred feel” depend on how others are using it?”

          In the eyes of society, yes, very much so. The more things are ‘sacred’ the less sacred any of them will really be. IMHO this is absolutely unavoidable. The Law of the Conservation of Specialness. Again, we see the dilution in Victimhood: everyone wants to be a Victim, don’t they? There are so many perks. For mere whites, disability might be the only way:

          … but when the day comes that we are all Victims, then in fact Victimhood will mean nothing except that we’ve all decided that nothing is our fault and that we can all feel sorry for ourselves all the time. Won’t that be wonderful?

          • S. Cheung says

            there is “dilution” of a concept, be it “marriage”, or “assault”, or “victimhood”, as you say, in the sense that a broader and more inclusive definition will, invariably, come to include more people and more examples under a larger umbrella.

            My question about “dilution” is how the individuals under that umbrella feel. In other words, is “marriage” just joining a country club? I want to feel special, so I join this club, but to maintain that special feel, we need restrictions on who can join that club? If marriage is simply membership, then yes, I see your point. But if marriage is devotion, love, etc to the other person, then I don’t see your point. If I feel incredible affinity to the awesome salad bar at the club, that won’t change simply if more people start sharing my appreciation of that salad bar’s awesomeness (recognizing of course that this analogy is imperfect, as I may feel differently if the salad bar starts running out of salad, but I think you see what I mean).

            Obviously, we will have to agree to disagree as to how vital, or pertinent, the distinction you speak of wrt various types of relationships is. In your other comment, you alluded to 2 hetero seniors getting married, and that coupling literally has no more “natural” characteristics than 2 same-sex seniors doing the same thing.

          • Ray Andrews says

            S. Cheung

            “But if marriage is devotion, love, etc to the other person, then I don’t see your point.”

            Marriage is a social institution. The law is involved. We expect marriage and devotion to go together, but the law really does not know and does not care. As I said, it would be absurd for the law to attempt to sort out my loves and/or my copulations would it not? But the law does sort out my marriage(s).

            “and that coupling literally has no more “natural” characteristics than 2 same-sex seniors doing the same thing”

            Only that heterosex is biologically and statistically ‘normal’. But I do at least partially concede that point. As I said, I’d feel bad denying old Joe and old Bob the right to tie the knot.

          • S. Cheung says

            “Marriage is a social institution. The law is involved.”
            Again I agree, and probably more than you think. It is precisely because it is a social “construct” or institution, as in something that comes from and belongs to society, that I feel no justification for restricting access by members of said society to that construct or institution. It can be redefined precisely because it is not immutable. It is not a physical or scientific truth, like gravity.

            “Only that heterosex is biologically and statistically ‘normal’.”
            I guess we will have to again disagree, here on what constitutes “normal”, or of the need to confine the definition of normalcy.

      • I wouldn’t care if they wanted to have the companionship aspects of marriage.

        It’s the “equality” I have a problem with – equality is for people, not for institutions. A gay marriage is not procreative in nature, and there is neither any reason nor any right for a gay couple to pretend otherwise.

        All children deserve their own real family where possible, and if that isn’t possible, the decisions should be 100% about what is best for the kid. The right to have a child comes with obligations – to that child and also to the child’s family.

        • S. Cheung says

          “A gay marriage is not procreative in nature”

          What if a heterosexual couple find that they are “naturally” sterile? Can they then not marry, since their union will never be procreative in nature?

          “the decisions should be 100% about what is best for the kid.”

          Will that really be the metric? Cuz there are many many hetero couples who are clearly unfit to be parents, or who are clearly unfit as parents. Should there be mass annulments for crappy parent marriages?

          • Ray Andrews says

            @S. Cheung

            “What if a heterosexual couple find that they are “naturally” sterile?”

            This is the fallacy that we can have no law or no social category unless it is perfect. Alas it is never perfect. We draw defensible, sensible borders. Yes, a heterosexual couple might be sterile, but that is not obvious from 100 feet away ahead of time. But a gay couple are ‘sterile’ ab initio are they not? If you put me in a foot race, it is not obvious before the gun goes off that I can’t possibly win — it is not absurd that I be in the race. But it would be absurd to put a jellyfish in the race, would it not? There is no defensible ‘line’ between a young couple getting married and starting a family and an old couple getting married in the old-folks home. The latter is a seamless continuum from the former. But a gay couple wanting to ‘marry’ scream absurdity from the getgo. The natural meaning of marriage crashes and burns, to be replaced with what really should be called ‘civil union’. So let them be civilly unified and leave ‘marriage’ to mean what it has always meant.

            ” Cuz there are many many hetero couples who are clearly unfit to be parents”

            Yes, but the statistics are very clear: kids do best raised by their married biological parents. Not every time, but most of the time. Should we not honor institutions that work most of the time and which, in any case, work better than anything else?

          • If secular humanists are all about evidence, then why do they take the position that there is no difference between a mother-child relationship and a father-child relationship? Between a same-sex parent’s relationship with a child and an opposite-sex parent’s relationship with a child?

            Is that what the evidence really supports, that there’s no difference between how a father relates to his daughter versus a mother?

            I grew up without a mother. I assure you: having a second male in the household does not fix the problems associated with motherlessness. Forcing a child to pretend otherwise is abusive.

          • S. Cheung says

            “We draw defensible, sensible borders”
            Fair enough. And I agree no law is perfect. But i would also submit that we then try to make laws better, rather than merely accepting the imperfect status quo. As for procreative potential, i agree that is ONE defensible and sensible border. But I don’t see that as the only possibility for such a border. You may already consider this line of reasoning to be far down a dangerous and slippery slope, but sex and childbirth outside of wedlock has been a reality for…generations(?). Marriage has not been the exclusive domain for procreation for a LONG time, and that’s not going back. If marriage is no longer required for procreation, must procreation (or at least the anatomical potential for it) be required for marriage?

            A jellyfish shouldn’t go into a foot race….but how about a guy without feet? Like the South African guy who ran in the regular olympics on prosthetics legs (Oscar Pistorius, now busy doing jail time). Still human, no legs. And the gay couple getting married: still human, no heterosexual desire. And as you say, the old couple getting married do so on a continuum…but of what? They formerly had procreative potential, but currently have love. THe gay couple lack what they previously had, but share what they currently have. There is a difference, but not one I perceive to require exclusion as its only remedy.

      • Ghatanathoah says

        @Ray Andrews

        I think a good metaphor to help you understand support for gay marriage can be found in a scene from the novel “Flowers for Algernon.”

        There is a scene where Charlie Gordon, the main character, is watching someone kneading dough so he can figure out how to do it for himself. He has a lot of trouble doing this because he pays attention to everything the other person is doing. He watches all their body movements because he cannot understand that the essential part of the process is the hand and arm movements, everything else is irrelevant. He can’t separate the irrelevant incidental stuff from the heart of the activity.

        Foes of gay marriage are like Charlie Gordon in regards to marriage. They have trouble understanding that sex and gender are irrelevant to marriage, the heart of the activity is the two people who love each other and want their relationship to be socially sanctified.

        This is obvious if you study edge cases. It’s easy to tell when women have gone through menopause, if marriage had ever been about forming natural families marrying postmenopausal women with no children or grown children would have always been illegal. The fact that it isn’t shows that the prime purpose of marriage has been the social sanctification of loving relationships, forming families has always been auxiliary.

        Even if you disagree with me about the prime purpose of marriage, I hope you understand how badly you have failed the Ideological Turing Test when you stated that support for gay marriage stems from a belief in the primacy of passion. Supporters of gay marriage have different beliefs than you do about what the prime and essential purpose of marriage is. That is our motive. To us saying that same-sex marriage isn’t marriage is like saying that bread isn’t bread unless you knead it while standing at a countertop, and that bread that is kneaded while sitting at a table is not real bread.

        • Ray Andrews says


          “sex and gender are irrelevant to marriage, the heart of the activity is the two people who love each other and want their relationship to be socially sanctified”

          This would appear to be the new definition, but as I’ve said, in every culture from the beginning of history up till now, my definition held. I am not sure that you new definition is an improvement. It runs into difficulties immediately: Can I marry my sister? If sex and gender are irrelevant, then why not? Should she one day move in with me and we share our domestic arrangement — and I can assure you that I love her — then why not?

          Please don’t be so old fashioned as to say ‘incest’, because sex has nothing to do with marriage. I might already be copulating with my sister, marriage is irrelevant to that, yes?

          “if marriage had ever been about forming natural families marrying postmenopausal women with no children or grown children would have always been illegal”

          But absent modern tests, it’s hard to be sure a woman is infertile. As I said previously, there is no ‘hard’ boundary between a fertile marriage and one that is not, whereas a gay marriage is an absurdity on it’s face. No conservative has any problem with two older people marrying, it’s a natural extension of the natural relationship between men and women, the ‘boundary’ is not really stretched at all.

          “that support for gay marriage stems from a belief in the primacy of passion”

          I never said that and don’t believe it. I quite understand that gay marriage is an effort to sanctify love. You know, when I think about an old queer couple who have long since given up the steam-baths, I’m pressed not to say: ‘Nuts, Joe and Bob are married.’ There are two sides to this.

          Speaking of love, what business is it of the government’s who I love? I love all sorts of people, and my sex life has to some extent overlapped with my love life in a very messy way that is none of the government’s business even if they tried to make it their business — which they haven’t.

          But I was married once, and that was a very different thing from either love or sex per se because me and her were founding a family, and that IS the government’s business because they want to see kids brought up in stable families as much as possible. Contrary to your position, marriage has never been about love, it has always been about families and legitimacy, which still matters a great deal even now. You know the nasty joke about Father’s Day in the ghetto?

    • Toni Pereira says

      Well,you certainly agree that pederasty and bestiality aren’t choices,.Should we make them civil rights issues,too?

      • K. Dershem says

        No, because pedophilia and bestiality are rape — neither nonhuman animals nor minors can consent to sex in a meaningful way. Gay relationships between consenting adults are in a completely different category.

    • Lert345 says

      No SSM marriage was motivated by the fact that the inheritance laws and benefits rules don’t treat singles and marrieds equally. In fact, there are already a few documented cases of straights doing SSM so they can leave their estates tax free to a friend.

    • Dave M says

      Marriage was never pro-family when it excluded gay people. It drove parents to hate their own children for being gay, destroying the most precious of bonds.

      But my main point is how badly the article characterizes “Secular Humanists” in their motives. It misses the actual motives: equality, freedom, compassion. It can only blame “omnipotence of passions”. And it’s cowardly, because by calling sexual orientation a “passion” people should fight against instead of believing “omnipotent”, it’s implying gay people shouldn’t have sex, or love, or happiness. But it dare not say this.

      • Family is a word that refers to a biologically related unit.

        It is not clear to me why gay couples need to consider themselves a family.

        Or why their children don’t have the same rights the children of heteros are entitled to.

        • S. Cheung says

          you should really spend some time thinking about your “definitions” before you put them out to the public.

          Husband and wife are not biologically related (at least I hope not, but I guess that is kosher for some religions). Are they not a family?

          Adopted children…Just visiting?

          Blended families…Just sharing an AirBNB?

          • And once again you make it about what’s wrong with me, while ignoring the actual evidence that what I have said is wrong. Just self-evident that I’m wrong, as always.

            But I’m not: adoption is second-best to biologically intact families, and adopted kids go through a grieving process. And real adoption is not about just choosing to rearrange family trees for personal, frivolous reasons, but about finding a surrogate home for a child who is in crisis because he has lost his family. That this lack of biological bond causes extra challenges is well documented (remember how we value “evidence”?)

            It is true that marriage inserts a choice into the family tree, but the married couple become biologically related when they have a child together.

            I spent a lot of time thinking about the definition of family after seeing “families of choice” (that is, people who are not families but who pretend they are) break up. In every single case the children were NOT told that the person they’d been taught to love as a mother or father (or sibling, aunt, etc) would still be valued as a kin connection after the breakup, but instead – in every case – the child was told “he is not your father” or “she is not your sister” – in other words, now that it’s no fun any more, we’re not going to make believe.

            Government cannot bind people together – not through marriage, not even through adoption. Only legitimate family bonds can hold people together, and in the case of adoption, that means people selflessly making the commitment to the child’s best interest – which, for a gay man or lesbian, would mean prioritizing the child’s interest in having both a mother and a father (recognizing that each relationship is valuable in its own way), rather than justifying prioritizing their own needs at the direct expense of the child’s. That isn’t adoption, that is buying a pet.

          • “Blended families…Just sharing an AirBNB?”

            My husband got custody of his kids and I did most of the work raising them.

            I can honestly say the two of us did our best to make every decision based on what was right and fair to the kids, and what the kids wanted and needed and had reason to value.

            Before you can adopt a stepchild as your own child, the first step is to prove that it’s in the child’s best interest to sever the relationship between the child and his or her parent. That has to be done before you can even petition to adopt the child.

            The legal presumption for heteros is that the child has an interest in and a right to be supported by his biological parents – both of them – until and unless someone proves otherwise.

            The central benefit of marriage is the so-called “presumption of paternity” – the assumption that when a married woman has a child, the husband is presumed to be the father. This is why adultery is rightfully considered a crime. Every time a gay couple uses their marital status to claim a child “together” without going through the adoption process, they’re committing paternity fraud.

            (Of course, if the adoption process focused on the kids instead of just assuming the adults’ needs are the priority, the adults would have to answer that question I notice STILL hasn’t been answered: why do you think you need a child? Why do you need to make that child pretend that two mothers equals a mom and a dad? If marriage is not procreative, why would two people being lovers mean they need to parent together anyway?)

          • S. Cheung says

            you at times exhibit a bizarre and almost-nonexistent grasp of logic, and tend to use words in a way whereby they lose all meaning. Your’s is a truly mind-boggling phenotype.

            “the married couple become biologically related when they have a child together.”
            —are you on crack? Biologically-related, in any sane definition of the word, involves the sharing of DNA. It does NOT involve a third party (eg. a couple’s child). This is such a basic concept that one has to wonder what exists between your ears. How do you formulate your opinion on reality when you clearly have no idea what reality is?

            So now you say “adoption” is second best. What is your evidence for saying it is second best? What makes it second best? ANd is second-best NOT a family nonetheless? Your “religious” convictions are clearly impervious to logic and reason. If you say your interest is in the child’s well-being, then would it be better for that child to remain in foster care, or an orphanage, than to be adopted? If adoption is their best remaining option, is that still second best?

            Now this bit requires logic, so you might want to avert your eyes. Let’s say a couple marries and has a child…then one parent dies, or leaves, such that only 1 parent and care-giver remains. So MUST that parent remain a single parent until the child reaches age of majority, cuz y’know, only biologic parents allowed in your world? Or MUST that parent “re-marry” ASAP to reconstitute a “whole” family, cuz y’know, traditional families have a “mom” and a “dad”, and all you can conceive of is tradition. Would a step-parent 2nd parent be better than no second parent? Or worse? And why do you stake your claim on any of those positions you’ve taken to answer those questions? ORRRRrrr….and this will blow your puny mind…you let the parent decide, cuz the parent will decide all aspects of how that child under his/her care gets raised, period.

            Your anecdotes, though touching and heart-warming as all get-out, are of zero probative value. Perhaps your personal experiences have colored your view. That’s fine. But your personal experience is NOT evidence. If you learned the first iota about science, you might have a tiny little clue about that.

            “This is why adultery is rightfully considered a crime.”
            — you are nothing more than a religious wingnut. But probably not openly preachy, standing on street-corners type. Instead, one of those closet bible-thumpers, of the most truly and utterly disgusting kind.

    • “You aren’t providing a good example of your own thesis, if religion is motivating you to make such bizarre interpretations of gay marriage, reducing it to nothing but “passions” and amorality. ”

      This constitutes question-begging.

      However it does support my belief that secular humanism is in fact a religion – it has articles of faith, and that is what I think differentiates a religion from a philosophy. A philosophy is entirely “if/then” and a religion starts with certain truths taken as sacred and axiomatic.

        • Ray Andrews says

          @ K. Dershem

          I take the most undesirable stance on that and simply deny that such data is reliable. I think the whole field of sociology is so choked with dogma that they’ll find whatever they want to find. The obvious difficulty there is that I put myself in the situation of just ‘denying science’ which is a lousy place to be. But I stick to my guns.

          • K. Dershem says

            Ray, I don’t think it’s fair to dismiss an entire field of science because some of its practitioners have an ideological bias. If you read through a sample of the studies cited and find serious methodological flaws, that’s different.

            Ennede, I was talking to Ray.

          • Ray Andrews says

            @K. Dershem

            “Ray, I don’t think it’s fair to dismiss an entire field of science because some of its practitioners have an ideological bias.”

            I know it. Standing on the ground of blanket denial is not one I enjoy. I can thus insulate myself from facts I’d rather not face. OR I could be correct and in fact these people are so ideological that they can’t be trusted. These are the same folks who gave us ‘blank slate’ and ‘recovered memory’ and the doctrine that evolution does not apply to humans above the neck. They also preach that women are as good as men at math — actually that women are as good or better than men at everything. They also teach us that no one is responsible for their actions. And so on.

            My Denial here is comparable to E’s Denial of AGW — both are essentially political. I prefer to be honest about it tho ; – )

        • For the record, my name is not Ray.

          Children are not products: the goal in raising them is not to have them pass quality assurance standards.

          Gays would be howling with rage (and rightly so) if we based arguments about their rights on whether letting them marry makes them more productive at work.

          What is the evidence that there are no significant differences between male parents and female ones? What is the evidence that there is no difference between the experience of a same-sex parent-child relationship and a relationship between an opposite-sex parent and child?

          And once we’ve finished asking ourselves why we prioritize the wants of the parent over the child’s actual rights, we can ask the next question: if marriage is not procreative in nature, why are gays so unable to admit they can’t do it together? Why do we need to promote this narrative about how parenting is a gender-neutral activity?

      • K. Dershem says

        “A meta-analysis published in the Journal of Marriage and Family in 2010 combined the results of 33 studies to assess how the gender of parents affected children. The authors found the strengths typically associated with married mother-father families appeared to the same degree in families with two mothers and potentially in those with two fathers.

        The meta-analysis found no evidence that children raised by same-sex couples fared worse than children raised by opposite-sex couples on a range of outcomes including:

        security of attachment to parents
        behavioural problems
        self perceptions of cognitive and physical competence, and
        interest, effort and success in school.”

        • I was raised without a mother. I am fortunate in that I was allowed to grieve this loss openly, but I still felt pressured to minimize the actual consequences of this loss.

          To be without one of your parents is a loss. It can’t be made into anything else. No amount of pressure from “two moms” can make up for the lack of a dad, just as having extra males around my household did not make up for the lack of a mom. They’re not interchangeable.

          • Ray Andrews says


            I can’t determine which side of the argument you are taking. Just above you seem to understand that various adults who may or may not have a sexual or ‘loving’ relationship with one’s parents are not interchangeable. Further up you seem to say it makes no difference. If I was a kid growing up with ‘two moms’, no male role model, and mom #1 split up with mom #2 and replaced her with mom #3 who then got custody of me and replaced mom #1 with mom #4 … well, K says there’s no evidence of this being harmful, but I have my doubts. At some point, I’d probably do what almost everyone in comparable situations do, namely try to find out who my real parents are. One of them would be a female, and one would be a male. I would one day learn that there is no Santa Claus, and I would also learn that no one has ‘two moms’, they have one mom and one dad.

          • My feeling is that inflicting a huge loss on a child – which is what motherlessness or fatherlessness is – is not “loving”, it is something that should never be done deliberately. Adoption – being raised by non-biologically related people – is also a loss, and that too should not be deliberately inflicted.

            But if these situations do arise, the child should have the right to have those losses recognized. He (or she) should have the right to grieve, and the parents should support that.

            What I see here is the opposite: the available evidence suggests that the adults who are hyperaware of their own needs (and every need is automatically a right) are indifferent to the deliberate violations they are inflicting on these children, and not only pressuring them into prioritizing adult needs over their own, but creating a hardcore shame culture for those who aren’t cooperative enough.

          • BTW if I said it ‘makes no difference’ I must have spoken badly, because I do think it makes a difference.

            What “side” I am on is the side of honesty. I believe a dysfunctional institution’s dysfunction can be measured by the size of the gap between what they claim to believe vs what their behavior actually suggests they do believe.

        • By the way, do they have an explanation for why all the evidence that males and females parent differently and interact with their kids differently is not showing up in studies involving gay families?

          • Ghatanathoah says


            You asked “By the way, do they have an explanation for why all the evidence that males and females parent differently and interact with their kids differently is not showing up in studies involving gay families?”

            They do, actually. In her landmark book, “The Nurture Assumption,” Judith Harris showed that differences in parenting style have no long-term impact on child development. Her research was more focused on “tiger moms” versus “laid-back hippy” styles of parenting, but it holds up for masculine and feminine styles. The only exception was abusive and neglectful parenting.

            Basically, for long-term child development, all styles of parenting are equally good; as long as they are not abusive or neglectful. 2 moms, 2 dads, a mom and a dad, all are equal. Harris found that the harms caused by divorce and single parent households are not caused by reduced parenting; they are caused by a mix of factors including lowered socioeconomic status, frequent moving disrupting the child’s ability to form stable peer-bonds at school, etc.

            Subsequent research has generally supported Harris. There have been no studies that have really refuted her, although a few indicate she may have slightly overstated her case on one or two points.

            TL:DR, Parenting is overrated. All parenting styles are equally good in the long term as long as they aren’t abusive or neglectful.

          • ” Judith Harris showed that differences in parenting style have no long-term impact on child development”

            So basically you’re saying the solution to the problem is to simply not address it.

            Gay rights is built on the idea that human experiences are valuable. Being married, being recognized as married, having kids – all the details of how these things are done: you have to be able to marry a person of the gender you prefer, and you have to be able to have kids with that person because that’s just part of the experience (no matter what the cost to anyone else) –

            But then when it’s the kids, all those “experiences” don’t matter. We will use the kids themselves as evidence that they can survive being without a mom just fine. And, furthermore, we’ll ignore all the problems discussed in the literature on motherless kids or fatherless kids, and we’ll focus strictly on an irrelevant definition – measuring the child as if it were a product, ignoring the child’s rights, not asking if the child has grief, and studiously ignoring the many kids who have come out and alleged coercion.

            So yeah that sounds incredibly dysfunctional to me. This is not something that anyone who forms opinions based on evidence and logic ought to be able to support: this is pure emotion and peer pressure logic here.

          • S. Cheung says

            “” Judith Harris showed that differences in parenting style have no long-term impact on child development”

            So basically you’re saying the solution to the problem is to simply not address it.”

            That is not even in the ballpark of what Ghatanathoah is saying. He is saying that the evidence shows that as long as parenting doesn’t involve neglect or abuse, the specific style makes no difference. What he is “basically saying” is that the problem you perceive is not representative of fact-based reality.

            I do agree with you on a very general level that people should not choose to have children simply so they can check off a life milestone on their bucket list. But that applies to hetero and homosexual couples alike.

          • “That is not even in the ballpark of what Ghatanathoah is saying. He is saying that the evidence shows that as long as parenting doesn’t involve neglect or abuse, the specific style makes no difference.”

            If you take the view that children are products, not people with rights, then sure: you can raise them any way you like, as long as they meet all the quality assurance specs – good grades, employable as adults, etc.

            But they’re not products. They are not like pets, where you own them and can do what you like with them as long as you show no harm.

            They are people, and, as such, exist for reasons that have nothing to do with your needs.

            So if you want to exempt yourself from the requirement that says any child who cannot be raised by his own family is entitled to the ethical rules governing guardianship – that is, the ward of the state’s needs and interests should be the primary focus of all decision-making, and guardianship should be based on what is best for the ward – the burden is on you to show why. You can’t just start from the assumption that you’re entitled to children just because you want them, because that reduces them to the level of objects or slaves or trafficked beings – literally second class people.

            In other words, it is not at all clear why you think we should start from the assumption that the rights of gay adults should be prioritized over the rights of children.

          • Ray Andrews says


            That all sounds pretty reasonable.

          • S. Cheung says

            “If you take the view that children are products, not people with rights, then sure: you can raise them any way you like”

            You should know by now that data and evidence is what I care about. Your personal views on the matter, in combination with $1.50, will get you on the bus.

            The evidence Ghatanathoah alluded to shows that “differences in parenting style have no long-term impact on child development”. So how are those children being deprived of their rights?

            That the evidence doesn’t show what you want it to show, is your problem and yours alone.

        • Jay Salhi says

          Is there any data on the socioeconomic status of gay parents? I assume that gay couples who chose to have children will tend to be better off economically. Indeed, I assume from anecdotal evidence that most gay marriages involve middle and upper class people.

          • K. Dershem says

            That may be true, because it’s almost always more expensive for gay couples to have children. It’s also the case that they can’t have “accidental” kids — which means they’re likely to be better prepared for parenting than some straight couples.

    • Simon Elliot says

      Since heterosexuality has primacy as the default sexuality (it has to be the default, or else life would go extinct), homosexuality is therefore the odd one out, and cannot rationally be viewed as interchangeable with heterosexuality. It is a deviation from the biological norm, by definition. Heterosexual acts that don’t result in procreation are not interchangeable with homosexual acts, because the heterosexual acts are derived from the original, default orientation, and are therefore not abnormal and do not require defence. The burden of proof is not on heterosexuality to justify itself.

    • becvarisi says

      “increasing awareness that homosexuality isn’t a choice” What makes it difficult to take gay advocates seriously is that in many cases they go on to say (sometimes in the same sentence) that being a man or a woman IS a choice…

  2. George says

    In the article, the author makes the mistake of assuming that morality is inherently religious. That is false. You can have a moralistic philosophy without being religious. In fact, most secular humanists do not consider themselves religious. The consider secular humanism to be a kind of philosophy–not a religion. Of course, one could argue that it is a substitute for a religion, and yet it is still, technically, not a religion.

    • David of Kirkland says

      When your “religion” has no central text, no central authority, no faith, no gods or supernatural, you are clearly struggling to claim that having morals/ethics is the religious part. All of law is morals/ethics, and it’s allowed to change over time.

      • Carl says

        Very nice – a two sentence knockout refutation.

        The way the author “proves” Secular Humanism is a religion relies on this logic:

        Bears are (1) large, powerful animals (2) that can be dangerous to humans and (3) are good swimmers. Obviously ducks are good swimmers, therefore they are bears.

        • Ray Andrews says


          But ducks are not large, powerful animals, nor are they dangerous to humans, therefore they are not bears. Note, the author claims that SH has one of the three characteristics that he posits as necessary for a religion. His claim is that SH is ‘1/3 of the way’ to being a religion.

    • Larry says

      Yes its a religion substitute. One has to distingish between christian morals and political morals. W hat is happening right now is confusing but basically its about the political morals prevailing.

  3. Tom says


    You argue anything that gives a person moral motivation = a religion. So all philosophies are actually stealth religons. This is an absurd definition of religion. Religion does require a belief in the supernatural, and this can strongly affect the behavior of believers (muslim suicide bombers typically expect a reward in the afterlife, for example).
    You seem to think everyone supporting gay marriage is a secular humanist. But you simply assert that, you provide no evidence.

    Your argument boils down to “everyone is wrong about some stuff, and we all have some untestable beliefs, so everyone is religious, so we can forget about the separation of church and state”. But that’s a non sequitur.

    • Jean Levant says

      “Religion does require a belief in the supernatural, and this can strongly affect the behavior of believers ”
      Don’t be so sure of that, Tom. Buddhism is indifferent to supernatural beings, including gods (since it took place in hindu poytheism). I talk about original buddhism (the Buddha’s teaching) not those more modern and popular versions which stemmed from it. Unless you see it as a philosophy but it’s not the usual acceptance.

  4. Aylwin says

    Holy crap, this is a hideous mishmash of juvenile “arguments”. Virtually every paragraph is laden with something brain hurtingly contrived or just plain wrong. I’ll pick just one example…that secular humanists believe in “the essential sameness of men and women”. Where the frick do you get that idea? Humanists believe in whatever the evidence points to. Sigh, this article doesn’t deserve the attention it’ll get (other than to highlight the idiocy of the real religionists trying to contrive a”you’re as bad as we are” augment). A slow week Quillette?

    • Aylwin says

      Note that the most prominent proponent of secular humanism of late, Steven Pinker, wrote a whole book (The Black Slate) pushing back against the dogmatic assumptions against innate differences.

      This article confuses regressive leftist and postmodernist dogmas with secular humanism (and in my opinion, though I don’t like reading between the lines, if the author was being honest he would admit this, and knows he is eliding the difference between secular humanism and those ideologies).

      • Ray Andrews says


        “This article confuses regressive leftist and postmodernist dogmas with secular humanism”

        That’s fair. But at the moment the regressive left does seem to more or less control the agenda, so it is perhaps understandable that the author focuses on them. The essential point is that any variation of secular humanism is not without certain religious traits — it has non-negotiable dogmas. The author is equally clear that it lacks some of the other traits we expect of a religion.

    • DanV says

      Aylwin, you may want to check Professor Staddon’s Wikpedia entry. Obviously it is only Wikipedia, but it’s pretty light on evidence that he’s a ‘real religionist’, and pretty heavy on the evidence that he’s a serious scientist….

    • designer says

      Exactly. There is a conflation of the much older secular humanism with the fashionable moral movement of social justice. The SJW may or may be not secular humanists, but they are grim moralists. This might be owed to the dedicated puritan legacy of US culture, where moral thinking is the default and influences all public life. Moral is a religion based passion opposed to ethics that is human made.Therefore secular humanity can be distinguished from religion.

  5. I think that under your three outlined conditions secular humanism should be considered a religion. Here are my thoughts, heavily informed by John N. Gray who I think is the expert on the secularly religious.

    “The first is the belief in invisible or hidden beings, worlds and processes”
    – modern secular humanist have many of these unfalsifiable beliefs, inherited from christianity. The belief in a united humanity, belief in salvation through historical progress, and most foolish of all, belief in humanity itself. Strangest of all is the belief in an objective good and evil, or moral realism – something that is entirely unfalsifiable yet is meant to inform every aspect of our lives.

    “the second are claims about the real world… about physical properties… [and] about history”
    – secular humanism makes many of these claims, and there have been many more forms of secular humanism than the one outlined in this article. Communism and Nazism are both forms of secular humanism – they believed that humanity had a special place in the world, and that as history unfolded we continued to progress as a species. Faith in reason, science, and progress can get you to some very scary places.

    “The third property of a religion are its rules for action—prohibitions and requirements—its morality”
    – as you pointed out, in this we see much for secular humanism. But it is a mistake to assume that secular humanism means a certain set of moral values. Secular humanists throughout history have had very different and conflicting sets of values. Sam Harris is very different than August Compte, as is Ayn Rand, Noam Chomsky, Herbert Spencer, Friedrich Engels, E-O Wilson, Stephen Jay Gould, Ernst Haeckel, etc.

  6. Alan Appel says

    I would like to suggest the secular humanism is not a religion, but based on a fourth property. All of the major religions are expressed through institutions, e.g, churches, mosques, synagogues, temples, etc. Secular humanism has no unified institution, nor—as a corollary—rituals, holy books, or sanctified leaders. In fact, one of the problems of the so-called New Atheism is that it fails to provide a secular counterpart for the feeling of community and shared values found in participation in the local assemblies.

    The author does not address the fact that there is a substrate of values and morals that simply make all societies function. Proscriptions against murder, lying, incest, thieving, etc. appear in all societies. These are usually expressed in the terms of the local religion, but it may be that the “secular humanity” being discussed is simply this substrate of values expressed in non-religious terms.


    • Ray Andrews says

      @Alan Appel

      “but it may be that the “secular humanity” being discussed is simply this substrate of values expressed in non-religious terms”

      This is very clever: we can strip off the religious vestments and have the necessary substrate without all the hocus-pocus, therefore religion is the hocus-pocus but not the substrate. But if I hold some values as non-negotiable, one might prefer to define those values as non-religious if I am a member of no church, but what is the essential difference between my values and those of someone who does attend a church? You say the essential difference is the hocus-pocus, the author says that the essential difference is that these values are non-negotiable. I agree with the author.

      Are the doctrines of the Correct ‘rational’ as they might claim? Well, it is their doctrine that women must be equally represented in all high-status fields (but not in dirty, dangerous, demanding fields like collecting garbage) — is this doctrine rational? It is their doctrine that there are no differences between the races, but this is flagrantly anti-scientific.

      “Proscriptions against murder, lying, incest, thieving, etc. appear in all societies. ”

      So they do. But how about gay marriage? Or abortion on demand? The Correct believe these things are good, but traditional religions universally say they are bad. So, when stripping away the bad parts of religion, leaving only the universal non-religious substrate, would gay marriage be stripped away or left? It is universal that it be rejected, but I suspect that you would say that, no, this universal substrate is a mistake — gay marriage is good. But I would say that this is a religious belief, newly invented by the religion of Correctness.

      • Lightning Rose says

        That’s because the secular morality of Correctness is an ever-moving target.

        • Ray Andrews says

          @Lightning Rose

          So it is, but at any given moment in time it considers itself immovable and unchallengeable. So what we have is a religion that is more like fashion.

  7. This is without doubt and by some margin the worst article I have read on quillette.

    It starts by redefining being religuous as nothing to do with belief in god or gods but posessing a personal morality. It makes no justification for this but simply asserts it as a fact. I could challenge it as being contrary to the accepted definition and with teh obviou sproblem that many people who profess to be religuous appear to act directly contrary to the moral code expoused in their religon. Further objections could be that animals appear to have rudimentary moral codes and yet few would take that as evidence of religon.

    An article which takes a common term, redefines it in a radical and counter intuitive way, defends that definition and works through the consequences could be interesting. This article does not bother trying to justify the assertion but just uses it to criticise humanism as priviliged over other ‘religons’ and the moves on to other evidence and argument free assertions.

    Assertion after assertion is made that with the basis that secular humanists have a common view on moral issues, that they are the dominant influence in moderm american society and that this influence is pernicious. It is transparent nonsense and the author comes across as obsessed and a little unhinged. He would do well to consider that recent polls put the proportion of americans who do not believe in God at only 10% and it is difficult to find any US politicians who are openly aetheist.

    I like Quillette because of well written thoughtful and interesting articles. This sort of thoughtless adolescent rant is not worth reading.

    • Recent articles have included denial of anthropocentric climate change, and calling humanism a religion… yeah I’m going to stop reading Quillette if this is how it’s going to go.

    • dirk says

      -The worst article ever read on Quillette-, that’s the last time remarked more than once a week. I didn’t read the essay (why should I, I can’t read everything?) but like reactions such as this one. When is somebody saying such things? Because of the style? the content? or because it is the opposite they believe to be true? I wonder, but not more than that!

      • I said it was the worst article I had ever read on Quilltte and that is a hostage to fortune. I might say that about every article I consider poor. However I don’t say it all the time I think this article is qualitively different and worse than everything else I have read so far.

        The author makes statement after statement which are at the very least counter inutitive, controversial and againsts conventional wisdom yet make no attempt to justify them or back them up with evidence or a logical argument.

        I am not a secular humanist but I am convinced the author is completely wrong in seeing them as a powerful malign influence. The fact I disagree with the author probably does have an impact on my views but it is the lack of an appeal to evidence or logic but argument by assertion I object to.

  8. TJR says

    The usual rule of headlines with question marks applies – the answer is no.

    Very poor arguments, as noted above. Just because most religions claim some sort of moral code, doesn’t mean that anything with a moral code is a religion.

    Oh, and

    “Beliefs about religious stories and transcendental matters do not guide action”


  9. neoteny says

    Religiously affiliated candidates for high office are often quizzed about their religious beliefs. This is both unfair and largely irrelevant.

    Article Six of the US Constitution says (in relevant part):


    blockquote>The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.



  10. Animal studies such as those of Frans de Waal demonstrate that animals have and enforce group moral codes. If the author wants to say that enforcing ANY moral code is a religion, then he’s committed to the position that (non-human) animals have religion.

    I think at the point where you admit that your view of religion encompasses non-human animals, you’ve watered down your definition to the point it’s meaningless.

  11. UJN says

    Buddhist’s totally have supernatural models of reality. It’s like, demons all the way down for them.

  12. E. Olson says

    Secular Humanists often criticize Christians and Jews for their crazy beliefs in Biblical stories such as the 7 day creation of the earth, origins of the 10 commandments, miracle escape from Egypt, virgin birth, resurrection of Christ, life after death, heaven and hell, etc. and for the human rights violations and deaths associated with various religious wars up to and including modern day Israel. They also tend to believe their “non-religious” view of the world is much more rational and moral. Yet what portion of Secular Humanists believe a large portion of the following:

    Evolution stopped before reaching the human brain.
    “Secular” Marxism/Communism/Socialism are superior and fairer ways of organizing society.
    Capitalism is bad for poor people.
    Western Culture is uniquely evil, racist, and sexist.
    Productive/innovative people work just as hard under high regulation and taxation as without.
    Paying people not to work doesn’t increase the number of people not working.
    We are all going to die in 12 years from global warming unless the government takes over the economy.
    Only science deniers and “Big Oil” are keeping us from having 100% renewable energy.
    Prisons are full of people arrested for a few ounces of weed.
    Police have quotas for shooting innocent unarmed black people.
    Abortion is just cleansing the body of a bunch of random cells up until the delivery date.
    IQ isn’t a measure of anything predictive or of value, but we shouldn’t research it.
    Islam (unlike Christianity) is a religion of peace.
    Obama was a scandal free president.
    Trump was elected by Russia.
    Women flock to college (60% of undergrads) even though 20% of college girls get raped.
    Only men lie.
    Deciding to be the opposite sex makes it true.
    Paying reparations to black people today will make up the slavery that ended in 1865.

    Call me crazy, but anyone who believes (and votes for) any of these provably false things is much more deluded and immoral than the most fundamentalist Christian, Jew, Buddhist, or Muslim.

    • George says

      You are confusing secular humanists with radical leftists. Also, some of the propositions you put forward may have some degree of truth to them. For example, to say Trump was elected by Russia appears to be an exaggeration, and yet it is clear that Russia played a role in the election.

      • E. Olson says

        George – so you you don’t think there is much overlap between secular humanists and the radical Left? I grant you there are some SH libertarians and even conservatives, but I expect 90% of them fall on the Left end of the political scale.

        • K. Dershem says

          E., it’s true that most Secular Humanists are left of center, but not all people on the Left are radical. Indeed, some of the most prominent Secular Humanists –including Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, A.J. Grayling, Michael Shermer, and Tom Flynn — have consistently criticized the Regressive Left. As George implied, it’s fallacious to lump everyone on the Left together and attribute the worst excesses of SJWs to them.

        • K. Dershem says

          Steven Pinker’s recent book Enlightenment Now is a full-throated defense of Secular Humanism — he’s probably the most prominent proponent of Enlightenment values on the current scene. I’m confident that he would reject every one of your claims, which are straw-man versions of far-left views.

        • Rick Phillips says

          Your comments are often spot on but in this instance I support @George’s perspective. The views you ascribe to secular humanists are as a practical matter inimical to some of the basic tenets of secular humanism not least the idea that all ideologies; and it follows implicitly all propositions, should be carefully examined and not just accepted or rejected on faith. Yours is a testable hypothesis. I await the evidence.

      • Denny Sinnoh says

        @ George “Cuckoo … Cuckoo … Cuckoo “
        It must be Three O’clock.

    • E.Olson

      James Madison in the Federalist Papers uses the term “factions” which he defines as “a number of citizens who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest . . .” This whole business of “seperation of church and state” (which is a phrase not found in the US Constitution) has muddied the waters. The real issue, as I think you and the author suggest, is really the conflict of factions, be they religious or secular. The secular humanist faction would grant itself supraconstitutional rights while limiting rights of religious factions.

    • S. Cheung says

      E. Olson,
      I think it would be helpful if you did not immediately, repeatedly, and predictably assume that everyone to the left of you are “radical leftists”. Cuz you’re just a caricature when you do that. Of course, that’s up to you.

      • E. Olson says

        SC and K – I’m struggling to see what things on my list would not be “mainstream” Leftist positions. Most (with some slight variation) are held by most of the announced Democrat candidates for president in 2020. I haven’t heard any of them denounce Black Live Matter or the Green New Deal or higher taxes on the rich. Almost all of them also state that Trump is evil Russian stooge, and that Western culture is something we should apologize for, that all women must be believed (unless they accuse a Democrat), rape culture is rampant on campus, and most support black reparations. If the mainstream candidates of the Leftist party support these “extreme” ideas, where are the more rational secular humanists?

        • K. Dershem says

          E., you should keep struggling — maybe you’ll finally break through your ideological blinders and get a glimpse of reality. But I doubt it.

        • Jay Salhi says

          You went from secular humanists to the Democratic party. It is true that party is moving dangerously left, especially the Presidential candidates where Mayor Pete appears to be the only one not totally drunk on SJW koolaid. The Democratic Party needs a Sam Harris-type person in Congress to call BS on all the woke nonsense. The problem is the moderates who know it is nonsense are too scared to speak out.

          • Jay Salhi says

            This was responding to E. Olson’s comment.

          • E. Olson says

            Jay – if the vast majority of Democrat candidates are woke, and there seems to be no room for a moderate candidate (even Mayor Pete is pretty Leftist), then I can assume the “far Left” is where they believe the votes are.

  13. Ray Andrews says

    “Secular humanism lacks any reference to the supernatural and defers matters of fact to science.”

    Are the Correct secular humanists? Their religion now has a quite well developed supernatural structure, including such invisible demons as The Patriarchy and such original sins as Whiteness. It has a world-story that seems to be commonly referred to as The Grand Narrative which inter alia is a manichaean story of the eternal conflict between good Victims and bad Oppressors. It has taboos, saints, martyrs, and so on. As the author points out regarding its moral code, the supernatural structure of Correctness is not written down in one official holy book, but the woke all know it by heart.

    As to matters of fact, the Correct completely ignore science when science contradicts their doctrines. So it would seem to me that Correctness counts as a religion by even a strict definition. It is in fact our state religion, and one can see that by the fact that virtually all our politicians pretend to be communicants even if they are really doubters. Thus Mr. Yang says that he believes that no negro fails for any reason other than Oppression, but is that what he really believes?

    • K. Dershem says

      Ray, I think you’re falsely conflating Secular Humanists and identitarians. As I argued in my response to E. Olson below, many prominent Humanists have condemned political correctness. Secular Humanism promotes science, reason, free speech, and other Enlightenment principles. Think Steven Pinker, not anti-science SJWs.

    • K. Dershem says

      I fully agree that Social Justice functions like a religion for its most fervent supporters, but I think you’re wrong to claim that Secular Humanists are singing from that hymnbook. Humanists are far closer to classical liberals than Regressive Leftists.

      • Ray Andrews says

        @K. Dershem

        Yeah, I don’t mean to conflate. I should clarify that whereas SJWs are probably Humanists, it does not follow that all Humanists are SJWs.

        But if not Humanists, what other box would you put them in? I’m uncomfortable with that too, but … Humanism has some of the traits of a religion, but only some. It at least makes an effort to be rational, which you can’t accuse the Warriors of.

        So … nuts … changing my mind even as I type … nope … it’s too much of an insult to real Humanists to consider the Warriors as their children. I yield the point.

        • Jay Salhi says


          Plenty of churches have been afflicted by the SJW bug. Put SJW’s in their own box.

          • Ray Andrews says

            @ Jay Salhi

            Amen! We have a melding of religions! It’s another reason to not classify humanism as a religion whereas SJW is a religion plain and simple.

            Yup, I’m changing sides on this.

  14. Brennan says

    This argument depends on the fallacious conflation of matters of fact and matters of opinion. The statement that secular people have as many “unprovable” beliefs as religious people is what Dan Dennett calls a deepity: a statement with two meanings, one of which is true but trivial while the other is false but would be very consequential if true, that sounds profound because of the erroneous mixing of the meanings. The first meaning of this statement is that religious people and secular humanists have opinions about morality, a largely subjective subject. The second meaning is that religious people and secular humanists have faith-based beliefs about matters of fact, which is largely objective. The first meaning is obviously true, but irrelevant; yes, everyone thinks things about what is right and what is wrong. The second meaning is certainly not categorically true: obviously religious people will always have faith-based beliefs about matters of fact, and some secular humanists might, but secular humanism simply does not categorically remove faith, while religion categorically requires it. Accepting the sameness of these “unprovable” beliefs depends on accepting the true nature of the first meaning, combining it with the radical nature of the second, and jettisoning the trivial and untrue parts of the respective interpretations.

    An even more fundamental error is in the idea that no one questions the moral intuitions of secular people. Professor Staddon seems to think that being a secular humanists get a pass on moral examinations when they seek positions of power. His hypothetical secular person seeking a judgeship will almost certainly run into more skepticism than a Christian doing the same, or at least he does not have a factual basis to assert that the secular humanist is in a less-examined position. It is hard to find an American example, because so few powerful members of American governments are openly secular, but consider Bernie Sanders. Sanders is the closest thing to an open atheist running for a powerful position in the United States; have his positions gone unexamined? A cursory Google search suggests not.

    • K. Dershem says

      Very well put! One friendly amendment: not all Humanists agree that morality is “largely subjective.” Sam Harris and others have argued that some ethical systems are objectively better than others at promoting human flourishing. For example, it’s demonstrably true that liberal democracies that respect human rights and have regulated free markets are more conducive to human well-being than autocracies, theocracies, and state-controlled economies. This doesn’t mean that all moral questions can be resolved in a scientific manner, but it does suggest that some answers are better than others: secularism does not entail relativism.

      • Ray Andrews says

        @K. Dershem

        “Sam Harris and others have argued that some ethical systems are objectively better than others at promoting human flourishing”

        Yabut it’s not that easy. What is human flourishing? Some of the folks that congregated around Nietzsche’s neck of the woods thought the perfecting of the race was true flourishing and that the manly struggle of war was the highest flourishing — and many combat veterans will testify that they were never so alive as they were in war. Deep ecologist types say that human flourishing is ruining the planet. Islamic fundamentalists say that human flourishing is doing Allah’s will, so a jihadi is flourishing. Various types of monks flourish by locking themselves in a cave. As Peterson and others have tried to point out, Sam presupposes what is valuable.

        • K. Dershem says

          Harris starts with a pretty clever thought experiment: imagine the worst possible suffering for all humans. Any state of affairs is preferable to that, in an objective (or at least a robustly inter-subjective) sense. It’s true that individuals and groups disagree about the other extreme — maximal human flourishing — but that fact doesn’t need not prevent us from making reasonable judgments about the range of possibilities. Islamic fundamentalists are playing a different game than Secular Humanists, because they presuppose that the Qur’an is divine revelation and must be interpreted in a specific way. The same is true of other religious and ideological extremists, including radical environmentalists.

          According to one account, the “capabilities approach” developed by Martha Nussbaum and Amarta Sen “provides a universal measure of human flourishing while also respecting religious and cultural differences.” I tend to agree.

          • Ray Andrews says

            @K. Dershem

            Yup. Fundamentalist Islam (or any other fundamentalism) is not open to debate in principal, whereas humanism is always open to debate. That might be the biggest reason to not classify it anywhere near religion.

          • Jay Salhi says

            Personally, I find Harris’ argument persuasive. But not only does he presuppose what is valuable (human flourishing) he assumes no reasonable person could disagree with human flourishing as the goal. In actual fact, human flourishing is far less poplular than he assumes.

        • Sam Harris – like all those who hold the belief that it’s just self-evident that we all just evolved randomly – relies on a trick: everything he can’t prove is just self-evident.

          When you ask them to explain why he thinks something is obvious, the arguments don’t fall apart. What happens instead: the goal posts shift, and if you keep at it long enough, you’ll be set on ignore (if you’re lucky) or attacked (if you actually have any power or influence).

          I believe this is because, historically, secular humanism started with people accepting Christianity as true and then modifying the parts they thought didn’t make sense or they just plain didn’t like. This creates gaps and failures of integrity (for instance, people who believe evolution brought us from random nothingness, yet insist they are somehow on the ‘right side of history’).

          So there are articles of faith but the secular humanist doesn’t want to own them because at the very core of the belief system is the belief that they alone have a monopoly on reason, which used to literally be capitalized.

          The articles of faith are mostly buried in Occam’s Razor – a tool that was meant to be used as a conditional set of assumptions at a specific point in a very way for use in a specific method toward a specific end. Now they’re arguing that because science is good at proving the things it was created to prove, obviously we should expand it to prove all the things it has never been at all capable of proving or disproving. Thanks to postmodernism we’re starting to see other truths be held out as true by people who claim universal truths are not possible, and these folks are starting to attack the science-is-god crowd for control of What Is (Just Obviously) Truth, so this should get fun.

    • D.B. Cooper says


      The second meaning is that religious people and secular humanists have faith-based beliefs about matters of fact, which is largely objective… The second meaning is certainly not categorically true: obviously religious people will always have faith-based beliefs about matters of fact, and some secular humanists might, but secular humanism simply does not categorically remove faith, while religion categorically requires it.

      The claim that the second meaning is certainly not categorically true, is itself not categorically true.

      While it is plainly true that religious people (granting pro tem that humanists aren’t such people) will always have faith-based beliefs about matters of fact due to their religious beliefs categorically requiring it; what’s considerably less obvious, however, is why you assume secular humanist beliefs about matters of fact don’t also require an equal dose of faith.

      My concern here is twofold. First, you’re making truth by assertion do what grounds (supporting evidence) otherwise should. In the absence of evidence, baldly asserting what is amounts to little more than opinion poorly masquerading as truth. For good measure, you then draw unwarranted conclusions from an opinion that was yours, grounded on evidence you didn’t provide. There’s a word for this, and evidential apologist it is not. Sophistry seems to be a better fit.

      To be fair, to your credit, you do concede that at least some humanists “might” have faith-based beliefs about matters of fact, although you go on to contend that such beliefs should be viewed more as a function of secular humanism not categorically removing faith (apparently a sign of their inclusivity) rather than it is an indication that humanism requires it. That is to say, for religious people faith is a necessary and sufficient condition of their belief system, whereas for secular humanists’ faith is merely a sufficient condition (at best). Your argument, as I understand it, is that this distinction – the implicational relationship between faith and a prescribed worldview – is what differentiates a belief system like humanism from other systems of belief, i.e., defined as those we traditionally think of as being a religion.

      To be sure, I think there’s merit to this argument given the various semantic intuitions associated with the term religion, not to mention the arbitrary nature of taxonomic characters. If you’re going to take this side of the argument, then you’ll need to generate meaningful distinctions (between humanism & religious belief systems). If that’s the case – and it is – it seems eminently reasonable to use emergent distinctions (conditional to faith) as a selective value for classification purpose.

      While I agree with you (in principle) that faith-based vs. fact-base beliefs are a non-trivial distinction, the one problem I think you’re going to have is that this distinction doesn’t exist. Let me repeat that. Secular people, including those of the humanist variety, have just as many “unprovable” beliefs as religious people. I don’t give a shit what Dan Dennett says or how many words he takes from other people, and then redefines as his own. As aside, only an asshole would coopt a word someone else had conceived and then pass it off as his own.

      In closing, my second concern is that secular humanists are bootstrapping whatever proof (sufficient evidence) they believe they have or can ‘get at’ that distinguishes humanist beliefs from those of religious people. In the interest of brevity, I’m going to assume that your argument is some version of:

      ‘Secular people (humanist) base the majority of their beliefs on science (empiricism), while religious people base a majority of their beliefs on faith (sola fide). And since science is a mechanism or process for the acquisition or discovery of truth/knowledge as well as the justification for holding a true belief (e.g. empirical data), it’s therefore, only reasonable to assume that secular people (humanism) would have fewer (not as man) ‘unprovable’ beliefs as religious people.’

      Assuming that is more or less your argument, the problem you have is that “truth”, as it pertains to science, is actually something more like a belief grounded on faith. Science doesn’t prove truth (absolute certainty), it falsifies – it tries to prove something isn’t true. This is more widely known as the problem of induction. You may have heard of it.

      Just to expand on this thought a bit, science is based on the idea that under the same conditions, everything (observations, data) should occur in the same manner, and if an event can be reproduced; then humanist such as yourself can get on comment boards and make fallacious claims about provable beliefs, knowledge even. But what humanist either don’t know or don’t like to admit is that this “knowledge” is grounded on faith (sola fide).

      Since scientific “knowledge” is acquired by drawing inferences from observations – the inference being that given the same conditions things should occur as they have in the past – humanist run up against the problem of trying to justify their belief in the validity of this inference.

      In any case, it’s not at all obvious (or self-evident) why one should presuppose all future events (given the same conditions) will, necessarily, occur in the same manner as past events. Humanist are merely assuming (taking it on faith) this is the case as if it is axiomatic or self-evident, but clearly, it is not. They have no reason or justification for doing so.

      And yet the secularist does just that, all the while ignoring the inconvenient fact that their beliefs are not based on provable truth, but fallacious reasoning. Circular to be specific, since it presumes what it needs to demonstrate, where the claim and the proof support each other. That is, scientific knowledge bootstraps itself, and therefore, its “truth” is a matter of faith.

      More generally, one could say that all truth claims about the ultimate nature of reality exist as a matter of faith. Take for example the radically different – and often opposing – claims of atheists (naturalist) and theists. Both are belief systems that make claims concerning the ultimate nature of reality. And both operate under the same “truth” conditions, e.g. burden of proof lies with the claimant.

      To understand why all truth claims are based on belief, consider that all valid claims require premises, i.e., statements the claimant presupposes are true (a priori assumptions). Therefore, any claim one makes is, ultimately, grounded on a belief, or set of beliefs, one has already presupposed to be true – an axiom, if you will. At bottom, both the naturalist/atheist/humanist and the theist are seeking, each in their own way, to reconcile their world-view(s) with the reality that is; which, are contingent on the faith in the truth values of these premises.

      • S. Cheung says

        I think you are mixing different components into what you label as “truth” from the science perspective. At minimum, there are scientific conclusions, and there are measurable facts.

        First off, i agree that scientific “truths” are not absolute, as least pertaining to those things that are derived from the testing of a hypothesis. Statistically, unless n=infinity, there can never be certainty. Hence, any scientific “truth” based on testing of hypotheses leads to point estimates with confidence intervals, and conclusions that can be drawn to a certain degree of statistical certainty which is never absolute. But that is a distinction between scientific truth and “absolute truth”, and there is no need to invoke “faith” to accept the scientific truth; “faith” would only be required if one were to conflate the two.

        On the other hand, it seems the speed of light will be the same tomorrow as it is today, and that 1+1 will still equal 2. If you deem those to be “assumptions”, then those assumptions still need to be distinguished from “faith” in any common sense usage of the word. The “faith” required to “believe” that 1+1 will equal 2 tomorrow is much different than the “faith” required to believe in heaven/hell (just as one example).

        “burden of proof lies with the claimant.”
        I absolutely agree. I only wish more people who make claims about logic understood that basic fact. In furtherance to the previous paragraph, suppose you still say that any comment on future events requires some degree of “faith”, no matter how small, and however defined. But we can still measure the speed of light today, and compare it to the measured speed of light yesterday, and find them to be the same. That statement would require no faith of any kind, on either day. In contrast, one who chooses to believe in heaven/hell yesterday and today has utilized faith on both days.

        You are also correct that you can’t use science to prove the veracity of science. But that’s a universal argument, because you can’t use anything to prove itself. Just as you need the BIg Bang as the starting point of the universe, you do need to begin with a belief. However, i would submit that once you believe in science, the secularist can move forward. But once you choose to believe in theism, the theist then layers beliefs upon beliefs.

        “consider that all valid claims require premises, i.e., statements the claimant presupposes are true (a priori assumptions). ”
        I disagree. Valid claims (or conclusions) require premises (hypotheses) that have been proven to a degree of scientific certainty, such that the null hypotheses can be rejected. You could argue that the investigator had presupposed the hypothesis to be true, but a valid claim or conclusion is made a posteriori, and is the exact opposite of “presupposed”. So while a hypothesis may reflect a “belief”, a valid claim does not, within the limits of scientific and statistical certainty. And reality is not a sum of the premises or hypotheses, but a sum of the conclusions.

      • Ens Rationis says

        Brilliant reply D.B., and it should be published as a follow up to this article. So many people here are thoroughly dismissive/ignorant of Hume, scepticism, etc. Twitter handle?

  15. “Secular humanism lacks any reference to the supernatural and defers matters of fact to science.”

    This is a very relevant issue and I believe the author is onto something, Though I believe his case would be stronger with a more elemental articulation of what a religion is.

    The origin of a religion are poetic and only later matters of faith as the original experiences are given some form – a poem, story, myth . . . All religions begin with an experience of unity – this is not quite the same thing as saying all religions make “reference to the supernatural” which, as I suggested, happens when the experience is articulated. Words like “Tao”, “Logos”, “rta” are more suggestive of this original experience than specific names of gods or even as the word “God” has come to be interpreted.

    Put simply, what distinguishes religious societies from our secular humanist is a metaphysical presumption of unity, a presumption that all of reality is interconnected. Modern secular society operates on a metaphysical presumption of disunity. That fact that few people overtly state this or even think about it only indicates how powerful and ubiquitous this fact is. And whether reality is indeed unified or not unified is something which can neither be proved nor disproved by science and logic.

    A metaphysical presumption of disunity is manifest in that modern science has become our common form of knowledge. Science “reveals” reality by breaking it into pieces, reality can be revealed by scientific methodologies. Whether we believe in science or not (Scientism) is irrellevent. Science and its technologies treats reality as an object and we are completely enveloped by this objectified reality.

    Modern human consciousness is an adaptation to this objectified reality. Traditional religions appear quaint or merely superstitious or, at best, serve a social or psychological need. As the likes of Martin Heiddegger points out, the more objectified reality becomes, the more we think of reality as a subjective phenomenon, the more we think of society as an “ideological” phenomenon, a”social construct”. Secular man congradulates himself as “enlightened” and “skeptical” – “real are we without superstition or belief”, Nietzsche mocks modern man. .

    Roberto Calasso calls this new modern way of thinking which, in effect, denies the unity of existence, “the Religion of Society”. Modern secular society is mostly unaware of its own metaphysical presumptions. It is guided by a blind faith in its own “progress”, its capacity to manipulate the “facts” of reality to its own ends. Modern secular society, argues Calasso, not only does not escape the “delerium” of religion but turns out to be “the most superstitious of all”.

    • dirk says

      What I think, CA, religion always comes first, and humanism and secularism next. It’s simply cultural evolution. Could the Cro Magnon and first farmers of Babylon and the Middle east, or the Mayas, Aztecs and Incas, already have been secular? No, of course not. At least, that’s how I see it.

      • Dirk

        It is a matter of historical fact, as you suggest, that religious societies have preceded secular societies. But, as I argue above, this has happened not because of some evolved levels of awareness but more because of the rise of science and rational systems which alter reality to such a degree that modern secular humanists become deluded as to their capacity to control and form reality..

        A religion represents an awareness and articulation of the whole. Secular humanists have no concern for the whole. All religions do tend to become dysfunctional and devolve toward superstition and dogma. But if in fact the whole persists, then the vaunted skepticism of secular humanism is mostly a sophisticated form of idiocy.

        This is why Nietzsche called modern skepticism the “disease” of the modern mind. And don’t forget one of the very few contemporaries Nietzsche admired was Fyodor Dostoevsky. It’s not a coincidence that both Nietzsche and Dostoevsky virtually alone understood that the so-called “death of God” was not simply a new path to pure secular happiness and materiaol prosperity, but also path to war and mass extermination.

        • Ray Andrews says


          Heavy duty! Your posts require more than one reading and a deeper frame of mind.

    • X. Citoyen says


      I think the last paragraph contains an important insight for our time. Progressivism is feverish and destructive because it’s a religion that lacks self-awareness of itself as a religion. Christians see themselves as having a faith, which embodies that self-awareness. Progressives and to a lesser extent (for the moment at least) liberals and secular humanists are feverish because they fail to see that their “values” are as much wishes as anyone else’s.

      • X Citoyen

        “Progressivism is feverish and destructive because it’s a religion that lacks self-awareness of itself as a religion”.

        Exactly, and the same is true for Scientism whether of the Left or Right.

        This article raises an elemental issue – a religion, no matter how inane and obsolete, traditionally represents a comprehensive articlulation of how the whole works. Secularism represents a skepticism that such articulations are even possible.

        When postmodernists proclaim the “End of Metanarratives” they are affirming the ultimate futilility of understanding how reality functions as a whole. They are, in effect, affirming the triumph of idiocy.

        And I mean the term “idiocy” to be understood in its more etymologically original sense as a deprivation of or isolation from common knowldege. The triump of idiocy is the triumph of fragmentation, which is known in secular society as “the celebration of diversity”.

        So other than “facts” revealed by science, we have nor can we have any common transcendent knowledge – so-called religion is a strictly personal matter, more or less with the same legal status as pornography.

      • Ray Andrews says

        @X. Citoyen

        “Progressivism is feverish and destructive because it’s a religion that lacks self-awareness of itself as a religion.”

        Yes. In my view this is precisely why it is so dangerous. As I like to say, a Catholic vintner believes that Jesus turned water into wine, but he makes his own wine the normal way. But a Progressive believes that the real world is an oppressive patriarchy and thus demands Equity and so does incalculable damage to our institutions. The Progressive imposes her religion on reality because she does not know it is a religion, and that breaks things.

  16. Farris says

    The question is not whether or not secular humanists are religious ie. having faith in and adhering to a moral code. Most obviously secular humanists are religious. What secular humanists are not is theists. All people are have a religious adherence to one thing or another. The lack of understanding of the term religion is the actual issue.

    One commonality between secular humanists and theists is the belief that the universe was created or came into being from nothing.

    • K. Dershem says

      Farris, I think you’re defining “religious” so broadly that the term loses its meaning. If everyone who follows a moral code is “religious,” then atheists who aren’t moral nihilists (i.e., the vast majority of them) are religious by your definition. In my view, definitions that erase meaningful distinctions do not contribute to better understanding.

      As an agnostic, I don’t have a belief about the origin of the universe. In the absence of decisive evidence for what happened before the Big Bang, I think it’s rational to suspend judgment.

      • Jim Gorman says

        KD –> Be honest here, can you claim that your mind can understand how something (the universe) suddenly appeared out of nothing. If you do think that could happen, then I propose that you also believe in miracles, whether created by God or simply something happening out of nothing.

        • K. Dershem says

          Jim: I think you missed my point. I don’t claim to understand how something can come from nothing, although I did read Lawrence Krauss’ book on that topic and found it to be very interesting. As an agnostic, I suspend judgment in the absence of sufficient evidence.

      • Farris says

        @K Dershem

        Perhaps you’re correct my definition is overly broad. However I find that an overly broad definition makes it easier not to conflate religion necessarily with theism, the church or a denomination, much in the same way as recognizing the difference between Catholic and catholic. Thank you for your response.

      • “If everyone who follows a moral code is ‘religious’…”

        If you’re not religious, where does morality from?

        You can’t get an ought from an is. You can only get an ought from an article of faith. In morality, axioms cannot be proven, they can only be accepted on faith.

        The notion that you must believe in a particular type of god ignores the reality that some religious do not have gods of any sort.

  17. David of Kirkland says

    “Yet belief in the innocence of abortion or the value of homosexuality, the “normality” of the LGBTQ+ community, or the essential sameness of men and women (scientifically false, but having many legal implications)”
    Many know that abortion kills the fetus. They just don’t think forcing a woman to carry to term when she doesn’t want it and the risks, social thought and expenses are high. They just allow the woman to choose her path to the future, a sad result of not using birth control and being unluckily fertile at the moment.
    I doubt anybody “values” homosexuality, like in the sense of thinking it better than heterosexuality or asexuality; they just don’t see this difference as requiring unequal treatment under the law.
    Nobody thinks the LGBTQ+ is “normal” in any mathematical sense. Normal can never be attributed to a low percentage thing. It’s also not normal to have an IQ of 165, or to be 7 feet tall. But we can continue with equal protection under the law.
    Men and women are essentially similar, being of the same species and all. Again, the issue is that there’s no physical different, just no reason for unequal treatment under the law.
    Liberty and equal protection don’t grant “goodness” or “rightness” or “moral” any more than free speech approves of hateful and ignorant thoughts; they just aren’t criminalized.

  18. Tripp Denison says

    @ CA – Science is fragmenting and disunifying? You mean like by showing that motions of bodies heavenly and earthly – previously thought by Abrahamic religions to be metaphysically distinct realms – operate according to the exact same laws? Or by showing that all the vast array of living species share a common origin and common code language for constructing proteins? Or by showing that all extant races of humans share a common ancestry? Or by showing that all the multivarious phenomena of nonnuclear chemistry are the product of one fundamental force? Or by showing that all the far-flung galaxies of the universe were once unified in a single low-entropy, dense state?

    Science can make reality appear fragmented only because it reveals that reality is extremely complicated. But historically it has continually unified phenomena under common explanations – and thus provide a unified knowledge. You may want to glean some understanding of the universe from people who actually, y’know, looked at the universe, rather than dudes who sat around navel-gazing (though I like Nietzsche).

    In response to the article, one feature of religion is conspicuously not addressed. In my opinion, a (necessary but not sufficient) condition of labeling something a religion is extreme resistance to criticism and change. Some call this dogmatism. Clearly Nazism, fascistic Communism, and yes probably most of the modern Progressive Left exhibit this characteristic and can thus be called or at least compared to religions. But it’s easy to delineate the traditions and strains of Secular Humanism that eschew dogmatism and are open to, and encouraging of, critical debate and changing positions because of good arguments and in light of new evidence. This methodology is pretty clearly different from a religion. I think the author is disingenuous in not addressing this obvious difference, and probably just more interested in name-calling than really discussing the topic.

    • dirk says

      @Tripp and CA: Science is always instrumental, therefore fragmentary, whereby the total, the cosmic, the connections that form the whole is kept aside for a moment. But man can’t do without some form of worldview Where science is embraced unilateraly, all kinds of forms of spirituality, the somethingisms, take its place.
      This is what romantic poet/scientists like Humboldt and Goethe ( and, lateron, many others such as Thoreau and Muir) have expressed in their descriptions ,illustrations, worldviews and imaginations. In any of us, splinters of that imagination keep smoldering, whether religious or not.
      Morals and humanism is then again quite another field.
      Secularity, in my view, is simply the denial of personal Gods or powers and the belief that our fate depends from his will and influence.

      • dirk

        I suspect Goethe and Humboldt to make a kind of comeback as the limitations of modernism and its inherent scientism become more and more manifest, As a matter of survival we need to be thinking of how the whole works together.

    • Tripp Denison

      Modern science is defined by its methodologies. These methodologies reveal, as Einstien himself pointed out, not so much “facts” as relationships. What science does not do – though it may presume to – is reveal our human relationship to whatever facts science reveals. Science, as science, cannot tell us how to order and value facts – this requires an act of imagination. This is what I mean by saying science only deals in pieces and only the human imagination can deal with the whole.

      Understanding the limited nature of science is why Einstien clamed that “science without religion is lame and religion without science is blind.” A religion is what “binds” everything together. And while a religion does indeed become a set of beliefs, it originates as an imaginative act.

      As far as Nietzsche goes,, he respected and admired science but was quite aware its limitations – in this regard he had scathing things to say about the presumption that scientific knowledge trumps all other knowledge. In fact, it could be said that one of the major problems he was confronting was the rise of science and its inablity to provide a unified understanding of reality. His awareness of the problematic nature of science is why he could foresee the collapse of Europe and the rise of totalitarian thought. In this Nietzsche has proved to be a great empiricist or is contemplating this “navel gazing”?

      As far as “science being fragmenting or disuniting”, I would point our that the very act of doing science involves a kind of fragmenting or disuniting. The very notion of an “objective reality” is an abstraction (a very powerful and useful one). Science disunites the individual from reality in the very process of doing science. In a way, as Nietzsche asserted, science falsifies reality – there are no observations without observers – check it out.

      • ” What science does not do – though it may presume to – is reveal our human relationship to whatever facts science reveals. Science, as science, cannot tell us how to order and value facts – this requires an act of imagination. This is what I mean by saying science only deals in pieces and only the human imagination can deal with the whole.”

        This is great. I like this.

        I stopped worrying about the mythology stuff when I studied how metaphors work across cultures. It turns out, the human mind thinks in metaphors. We can’t help it.

        At the same time, a lot of things that seem metaphoric turn out to be literally true.

        It’s a tough subject. It really is.

  19. Grenier says

    In the seventies, the books shown in the image with the article were used in comparative religion courses at many universities. I wonder if most universities still offer comparative religion as an elective. It would be a more exciting course today.

    By the author’s definition, which is not out of the mainstream, secular humanism isn’t a religion. Even so, secular humanists do have heretics, apostates, and priests. Secular humanists do believe in moral principles that are not provable. For me, it’s only when someone refuses to acknowledge their beliefs are faith-based, religious or not, that they become insufferable.

    Of course, if secular humanism was a deemed religion in the USA it couldn’t be practiced in public schools, but it could qualify for tax-exempt status.

    • K. Dershem says

      What does it mean for moral principles to be “provable”? Ethics is not the same as mathematics. Although it’s possible to make arguments for and against moral claims, those arguments will only seem decisive when an issue has been settled (like the wrongness of slavery). If an ethical question is genuinely controversial — e.g., the morality of abortion or the death penalty — then there are valid arguments on both sides of the debate. Facts about the world can be relevant to those debates (whether capital punishment deters homicides, when embryos achieve consciousness), but empirical truths do not dictate values. However, I think a strong case can be made that some ethical systems are better than others in promoting human flourishing, which is the ultimate purpose of morality from a secular perspective. In my view, Humanists can make arguments on this basis without appealing to faith, unless you’re defining “faith” in an extremely broad way.

      • Grenier says

        Thomas Aquinas can say “To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible”, but a humanist should not precisely because moral principles are not provable. A humanist must rely on facts and reason to make their arguments. I believe the author makes the observation that some humanists treat their beliefs as religious dogma and neither abide challenges nor believe they need to provide reasoned explanations. It is useful to remember that for much of human history in many, many cultures slavery wasn’t controversial, it was an morally acceptable practice. Much about morality isn’t obvious.

        I too liked Pinker’s “Enlightenment Now” and believe humanism is the ethical system with the best track record for promoting human flourishing. My frustration (and I think the author’s) is with people claiming to be humanists who argue more like priests than scientists.

  20. Constantin says

    Rather disappointing article! For the narrow point that moral tenets of the self-declared secular left have the same rigidity and not negotiable status with those hold by religious dogmas I think it missed the mark by literally drowning it in much dogmatic sludge. One would have hoped that the phenomenal intellectual effort of someone like Jordan Peterson to explain the proper way to interpret religious myths would have touched at least the pointy heads in academia, even if making it more slowly to the masses marinated in an explicitly anti-Christian education. The case in point is the author’s really outdated notion that science disproved many religious “scientific claims” such as the myth of the resurrection or the story of Noah’s Ark. I am sorry to break it to you professor, but these were never intended as “scientific claims” even when one can point to instances where they are espoused rigidly by fundamentalist religious extremes. It has been a long while since most educated people understood that the meaning behind these stories was encapsulated wisdom of the kind one gets from parables and fables, and that they contain profound fundamental truths without claiming historical accuracy. One may add that historical accuracy could very easily be so devoid of meaning (in terms of what really matters for a human being) as to be significantly inferior to myths that are spiritually enriching.
    As to the second major point – the selection of judges – I am simply horrified by the notion that the political right and left will continue indefinitely a thug of war game to push the courts left or right to serve their particular political agendas. At this point, God only knows who started it all, and a reasonable argument can be made that it is fair game since the Courts have been given significant powers exempt from the democratic will of the masses. In my view, this perversion of the ideal of the independent and fair arbiter should be equally rejected by those on the right and those on the left. The simple reason is that what goes around comes around and the triumphant march of the political left to undermine the constitutional framework of the US has now suffered enough of a reversal to – hopefully – drive into their thick skulls that not everything that serves your narrow pet issues and interests today will serve your interests indefinitely into the future. It is very true that a fair judge has to leave at the courtroom door all prejudice and pre-conceived ideas and to be committed to enforcing the law evenhandedly. It is absurd to even conceive that a morality questionnaire would weed out the bad apples because everyone knows the game and can rather easily adjust his or her stance to the dominant view of the appointing panel. It is not rocket science. There are many and much more reliable indicators of a disposition towards fairness. Obviously, a declared and explicit agenda to overturn centuries of common-law and the established constitutional framework should disqualify someone from becoming a judge. Explicitly irrational dogmatists, such as Alexandria Cortez – for example, would also be poor candidates (but they rarely demonstrate the intellectual acumen and integrity necessary for a track record that makes becoming a judge possible.
    Truly excellent judges can hold strong left or right political beliefs and still govern themselves in a profoundly inspiring and trust inspiring manner on the bench. I absolutely abhor the idea of dogmatic tests administered from either the right or the left with respect to public policy issues – such as the definition of marriage and so forth. I happen to think that the expansion of the definition of marriage to gay couples will backfire in the long run simply by undermining other significant social interests – such as the demographic viability of entire countries. I even think that we did not have to wait much to see the devastating, indeed suicidal effects on many countries whose future simply no longer exists without immigration. But I am also keenly aware that the expansion of the definition of marriage is but a late comer to the party and that it is impossible to quantify its negative implications. However, if you read with an open mind the reasoning of some judges who ruled in favor of such expansion, you may discover that social sabotage was never their intention and that their reasoning was nuanced, sincere and compassionate and, most importantly, far from being irrational. Courts are more often than not looking at concrete human beings affected by a policy or another and it is not only justifiable, but also desirable that they will take a more case specific approach at the detriment of somewhat vague, even if real, future social implications. Whe you come before the court today, you have a very short life ahead of you and you would rather have a judge look with compassion and understanding at your real circumstances and be less concerned about larger policy concerns about a future you will never see. If the courts get it wrong by applying equitable principles, Congress or Parliament is not exactly powerless in correcting course with a larger picture in mind. I think we have a tendency to overreact and think about the courts as a mechanism that ran amuck, rather than understand that, while imperfect, the Common Law tradition has fundamentally improved the lives of everybody and continue to function remarkably well by ensuring that our lives are much less hellish than we could easily muster to make them. We are all stumbling in the dark and making sense of the world and the best way to live is very far from being a “fait accompli”. It will be better if we will simply agree to get along and value and promote judges who demonstrate a true humility and appreciation of a less than ideal but remarkably functional design and are also demonstrating civility and kindness. You really do not want to live in a world where everything you touch is grotesquely politicized and turned into a weapon.
    All this being said, I am not at all indifferent to the fact that the political left manifests a worrisome, indeed frightening, totalitarian impulse and that destroying the political opposition seems to be their continuous and desperate agenda. I just hope that the rest of us will resist the temptation of returning tit for tat. I think that Professor Staddon’s position does exactly that, and from a rather shaky foundation!

  21. Marshall Mason says

    Secular humanism is a religion because it includes morality? That’s such a bizarre claim. Everyone has a morality, which they absorb from many sources. Saying secular humanists are religious because they have morals is like saying they’re religious because they breath. Everyone breaths, and everyone has a morality. It’s not a distinguishing factor.

    The difference between secular humanists’ morality and religious morality is that secular humanist morality comes from society’s moral consensus rather than from books written by old societies with very outdated morality. Yes, some books might be included as part of that consensus, such as John Stuart Mill, etc, but they are subject to revision as society evolves. It’s possible that On Liberty bullshit and will be thrown out, but it seems unlikely because it seems to have a timeless quality to it.

    I think you’re confusing secular humanist morality with far-left morality, probably because most secular humanists are left-wing. Also, probably because lately the left-wing scored a major victory among society’s moral consensus, notably marriage equality. They’re riding high from this and think it means they’re morally superior, which has made them very cocky. They’re even acting like they’ve discovered for the very first time that white supremacy is bad.

    The truth is, the jury is still out on many issues, such as abortion and the meaning of gender. Despite what they’ll have you believe, there is not a social consensus on these matters, and there won’t be until they allow the free speech necessary for the debate to happen.

    • K. Dershem says

      The difference between secular humanists’ morality and religious morality is that secular humanist morality comes from society’s moral consensus rather than from books written by old societies with very outdated morality.

      I don’t think this is quite right. Different societies have different views on morality, many of which would be condemned by Secular Humanists. It’s true that Western societies have progressed toward a more Humanist understanding of ethics in the past century, but other cultures (including many in the Muslim world) have regressed. In my view, the main distinction between secular and religious ethics is that the former are concerned with the promotion of human flourishing. Religious systems of morality may have that effect, but their primary concern (at least in the Abrahamic religions) is adherence with divinely revealed rules and the avoidance of sin.

    • Dmax888 says

      Puritanical approaches of Secular Humanist’s is far from “an evolving process of consensus”. It’s cultish and reminds many of the inquisition. Might as well create a funny uniform and associate some kind of weird pseudo intellectual orthodoxy as to why the uniformity is “good” for society, when really all you do is launder in one sided, ideologically pure perspectives.

      Read this article:

      • K. Dershem says

        I literally don’t know what you’re talking about. You don’t seem to understand what “Secular Humanism” means.

  22. John says

    “religion n. 1. particular system of faith and worship”
    “faith n. 1. reliance or trust in, belief founded on authority”
    Concise Oxford Dictionary – Seventh Edition
    The whole Social Justice project is an attempt to re-author the languages, morality and laws of Western Civilisation. It is a deliberate, orchestrated Ideological displacement of, and assault on Judaeo-Christian morality and praxis. People in the West are now losing their livelihoods for their opinions.

    • K. Dershem says

      Again, you’re conflating the Regressive Left with Secular Humanism. For those who are unfamiliar, here’s a good summary of Humanist ethics:

      “Secular humanism propounds a rational ethics based on human experience. It is consequentialist: ethical choices are judged by their results. Secular humanist ethics appeals to science, reason, and experience to justify its ethical principles. Observers can evaluate the real-world consequences of moral decisions and intersubjectively affirm their conclusions ….

      Human happiness and social justice are the larger goals of secular humanist ethics. For Owen Flanagan, “[e]thics … is systematic inquiry into the conditions (of the world, of individual persons, and of groups of persons) that permit humans to flourish.” These conditions include freedom from want and fear, freedom of conscience, freedom to inquire, freedom to self-govern, and so on. Undergirding all of these is a keen commitment to individualism. Secular humanism takes upon itself the Enlightenment project of emancipating individuals from illicit controls of every type: the political control of repressive regimes; the ecclesiastical control of organized religion; even the social controls of societal and family expectations, conventional morality, and the tyranny of the village. This does not mean that anything goes but rather that social and political limits on human freedom must be justified by the individual and social benefits they confer.

      Secular humanism affirms the values of both creative and individual self-realization and cosmopolitanism. Therefore, secular humanists sometimes defy ideals of the Left as well as the Right.”

      • Jim Gorman says

        KD –> Secular humanist ethics appeals to science, reason, and experience to justify its ethical principles.”

        And therein lies the problem. Let me explain. Faith, the belief in something that you can’t see, smell, or prove does really exist. That is, God and an everlasting afterlife with God, provides people with a fundamental foundation for everything they do. One of the most important things I have learned is from scripture. John 15:13 “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” This only has meaning if you have faith in God and in an afterlife with Him. In other words, the end of this life is not the end of your existence.

        Please try to explain how a secular humanist would reach this conclusion by science, reason, and experience. I’ve had this discussion before and used the situation where two soldiers need to silence a machine gun nest. The person of faith takes off and as he throws a grenade is shot and killed. The secular humanist stayed under cover and decided that his life was important to his family and descendants, if he was killed then he would cease to exist, “no more me”, and all kinds of reasons why he should live. Was he wrong? Why?

        Don’t get me wrong, these are probably all legitimate reasons to not sacrifice your life for another. Who am I to judge? But it illustrates how hard it would be to derive a “morality” that always puts your life behind others. And, how difficult it would be for all secular humanists to agree in all situations. With all the references here to “humanists”, I have yet to see one that expounds this. Everything is always in generalities. Real life is not lived in generalities. Within Christianity, there is no ambiguity, only certainty.

        • Daz says

          “One of the most important things I have learned is from scripture. John 15:13 “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” This only has meaning if you have faith in God and in an afterlife with Him. In other words, the end of this life is not the end of your existence.”

          How do you know that to be true?

          Are you suggesting that all soldiers in battle that have done this are religious?

      • Dmax888 says

        I believe you left out the critical tenant of Secular Humanism: “inherent goodness”. This is the interconnecting element between Secular Humanism and postmodern power plays for ideological purity.

        While people presumptuously continue to believe they are inherently good, evil will only ever be considered a product of external influences, and moving social mores will be the protective measures for self-righteous violence against “non believers” of the extreme atheist movements.

        To place all your faith in empiricism is delusional, and naive to the fact that “facts” are couched in metaphysical presuppositions. Don’t be so haughty to think you are omniscient. Science has been a blessing, but only when it’s guided our decisions and not taken the place of our metaphysical presuppositions. Science is birthed out of these suppositions, not supplementing them.

        Read this article to get a cursory understanding of ideological purity and it’s self referring justification for violence.

      • @KD

        Selling the public “freedom from want and fear” is what organized religions have alway done but it doesn’t happen until you’re dead. Promising the masses of undifferentiated humanity heaven on earth is characteristic of cults and revolutionaries.

        Your second paragraph, where the humanist hive mentality levels all existing social structures it might happen to find objectionable is a recipe for a political state of nature immediately followed by the dictatorship of the hive, which is to say the tyranny of the nomenklatura. The Stalinists and Maoists experimented with this in the last century; it didn’t go well but certainly this time it will be different.

        Obviously, freedom of conscience, freedom to speak your conscience and the freedom to enact laws the majority think needful will be impossible under the tyranny of the humanists so there will be no self-government in the humanist utopia. In the 16th and 17th C., English humanists like More and Bacon exhibited a marked tendency to support the divine right of kings and the infallibility of the Pope, not democracy or republicanism.

        Finally, humanists seem oblivious to the fact that the vast majority of people simply don’t want, and in most case are unable, to live the completely atomized existence the humanists think is the good life.

  23. Andrew Scott says

    Secular humanism does encompass a belief in a supernatural miracle, that life spontaneously arose from nothing. The beyond astronomical improbability is dismissed. There is nothing even close to a consensus on any aspect of how or where it happened. The field is so wide open that the deep ocean, ice, mud, and outer space are all still on the table.

    Is it possible to associate a belief with science when there is no hypothesis to test? One can debate whether the word “religious” applies, but does it matter? It’s a belief in something far outside of what is known to be possible. It’s a miracle performed by no one.

    • K. Dershem says

      As a Secular Humanist, I’m agnostic as to the question of the origin of life. Although scientists have proposed plausible theories, in the absence of decisive evidence I think it’s appropriate to suspend judgment. In contrast, many religious believers make confident claims about how life originated on the basis of faith.

    • Tripp Denison says

      I don’t think any scientifically-minded person believes that “life spontaneously arose from nothing”. The conjecture is that life – whose boundary with nonlife is fuzzy – emerged as a natural consequence of preexisting physical laws and conditions as the universe evolved from a lower to higher entropy state. ‘Nother words, life emerged from stuff that was already dynamically evolving according to physical laws that we have now discovered. The fact that there’s no consensus as to what actual physical/chemical processes were involved just means that it’s a difficult problem that scientists are working on. It highlights that scientists are intellectually honest and mature enough to say “we don’t know yet”. As opposed to insisting on inscrutable divine miracle which we shouldn’t even try to understand, because that’s what an old book says.
      The legitimately closest thing to a miracle in science is where the laws of physics and their fundamental parameters themselves came from, but using Bayesian reasoning shows there’s no good reason to think they came from a supernatural source.

      • Andrew Scott says

        No scientifically-minded person believes that life spontaneously arose from nothing. They believe that it is a consequence of preexisting natural laws and conditions that no one knows about, and for which there is no meaningful hypothesis.

        Countless researchers are taking various stabs at explaining what they think could be individual steps in any number of vaguely described scenarios. Such exploratory research is commonly mistaken for evidence that at least one of them is on a right track toward something.

        This isn’t like searching for the right filament for a light bulb or a cure for Alzheimers. It’s searching for evidence that something happened without knowing whether it did, based on the unfounded assumption that it must have. I’m sure they’d rather not compare their certainty to religious belief, but it fits.

    • Tripp Denison says

      Oh also – yes, there is a scientific test for hypotheses that cannot be tested yet experimentally. The test is: is the hypothesis internally coherent (i.e. does it hang together in a logical way), and does it fit in with the body of knowledge that has already been established via replicated experiments?
      So if the admittedly vague hypothesis is: life emerged naturally from some as yet unidentified physical processes that were already happening on the early Earth; then it meets the first criterion because as a hypothesis it doesn’t violate causality or the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics or other fundamental physical principles, and it meets the second criterion because many possible avenues have been proposed involving chemistry that is already well-established. Note that this doesn’t “prove” the hypothesis to any great extent, it just shows that it’s the best direction to go in and try to refine the hypothesis.
      David Deutsch clarifies this kind of issue really well in the first chapters of his book “The Beginning of Infinity” when he contrasts good explanations and bad explanations.

  24. Stephen Sinnott says

    The Bright Movement keeps a fun idea to those metaphysical thoughts of life, celebrating the enlightenment of being is a great way to live, even if we witness the sixth mass extinction around this Planet.

  25. David V says

    I’d say that as opposed to living in a secular age, we’re living in the most religious age of all – the Cult of Diversity.

  26. X. Citoyen says

    I think you’re on the right track, but any of these definitions of religion are too loose for analytical purposes—like cramming 10 pounds of sand in a 5 pound bag. A better approach might be to look at the secular humanist worldview—their understanding of man’s place in the cosmos—because it is a religious worldview. The following seems like a good outline of it:

    Secular humanists are the culmination and the vanguard of historical progress

    Secular morality is superior (universal)

    Science is an immanent in (or a force in) history

    Secular humanism is not a religion

    The fourth is in there because of the following litmus test: Only religions claim they’re not religions.

    • X. Citoyen says

      Typo. Should read “…is immanent in…” not “…is an immanent…”

    • K. Dershem says

      X., it sounds to me like you’re describing Communism, not Secular Humanism. I don’t think that Humanists make the first three claims, at least not in the sense that you’re implying. If secular systems of ethics are superior, it’s only because they’re more conducive to human flourishing than religious or quasi-religious (which describes both Communism and the Regressive Left) alternatives.

    • Tripp Denison says

      The meaning of the word “culmination” denotes that further progress is not possible. Secular Humanists recognize that a particular methodology – reasoning informed by evidence, free exchange of ideas, and openness of those ideas to criticism – has historically been the best way to create good knowledge about the world and improve people’s lives (on statistical average). There’s no “culmination” unless further progress is impossible, which I don’t hear any Secular Humanists positing.
      Secular Humanist morality may be smugly touted by some as universally superior, and this may be unfair from an a priori perspective, but all the evidence seems to support it – Steven Pinker’s recent books “The Better Angels of our Nature” and “The Case for Enlightenment” for instance use voluminous evidence to make this point. Humans’ lives have become way, way better as religious morality has declined and secular morality expanded.
      Wha? No one believes that Science is some metaphysical force directing history. It’s simply the best methodology for creating good, useful knowledge. This just derives straightforwardly from the rules of logic and epistemology. Once discovered, this methodology was so useful that it changed the course of history in the way that any other invention did – it just happens to be the invention that aids further invention.
      4 + litmus. Ah yes, the old AA trick: “only alcoholics deny being alcoholics”. What about people who really aren’t alcoholics? By your logic, baseball teams, law firms, reading groups….any organization of humans posed the question “are you a religion?” that answers negative is a religion. Is your workplace a religion?

      • “Secular Humanists recognize that a particular methodology – reasoning informed by evidence, free exchange of ideas, and openness of those ideas to criticism – has historically been the best way to create good knowledge about the world and improve people’s lives (on statistical average).”

        Historically based on what societies?

        There is no evidence to back this claim.

      • X. Citoyen says

        The meaning of the word “culmination” denotes that further progress is not possible.

        You said yourself that “humans’ lives have become way, way better as religious morality has declined and secular morality expanded” and that science “changed the course of history.” Other defenders of the faith have said the same thing here. So, as I said, you see secular morality as the culmination of historical progress. Daniel Dennett even gave you a name, the “Brights.” The New Man!

        All of this is religious belief because there is no perfected state of man or morality or anything else cultural. Come to that, there’s no such thing as humanity, and homo sapiens are in the process of evolving into something else. That’s what science says about nature. Like your leaders, you only bring up the fact that we’re apes when dismissing someone else’s moral beliefs. But when it’s your beliefs, out come the skyhooks.

        Secular Humanists recognize that a particular methodology – reasoning informed by evidence, free exchange of ideas, and openness of those ideas to criticism – has historically been the best way to create good knowledge about the world and improve people’s lives (on statistical average).

        Speaking of “deepidies.” As if any of these beliefs and practices are unique to “secular humanists” or even to our own time.

        Secular Humanist morality may be smugly touted by some as universally superior, and this may be unfair from an a priori perspective, but all the evidence seems to support it – Steven Pinker’s recent books “The Better Angels of our Nature” and “The Case for Enlightenment” for instance use voluminous evidence to make this point.

        If your knowledge of history comes from Pinker, you don’t have much. I rather enjoyed John Gray’s reviews. The only I thing I’ll point out is that most of “secular humanist” morality comes from Christianity—the same place science came from.

        No one believes that Science is some metaphysical force directing history…

        The irony of using capital-S Science in this statement appears to have been lost on you. At any rate, every comment thread on Quillette about scientists being persecuted features at least three “secular humanist” types regurgitating the same canned history about Science fighting against Church and State until the Enlightenment set it free—and who can forget Galileo facing down the Inquisition and the lives of the other martyrs to Science!

        People who actually know history and the history of science can point out till they’re blue in the face that this story is about as realistic as feminist “herstory.” But it doesn’t matter. It’s the secular humanist’s history, and you’ve all (to one degree or another) internalized it as part of your self-concept, as any other True Believer would.

        the old AA trick: “only alcoholics deny being alcoholics”.

        Wrong analogy. It’s not about psychological denial. It was an historical allusion to the fact that no new religion ever presents itself as a religion, but as the truth revealed for the first time and for all time.

        • X Citoyen

          Thanks again form making the case for the triumph of Reason and Experience over the forces of Confusion and Superstition.

        • “It was an historical allusion to the fact that no new religion ever presents itself as a religion, but as the truth revealed for the first time and for all time.”

          This seems very true to me.

          Or, as someone else put it (and I don’t remember who, alas) “What they believed in is mythology. What you believe in is religion. What I believe in is The Truth.”

    • The fourth is in there because of the following litmus test: Only religions claim they’re not religions.
      So Christainity, Hinduism and Islam are not religions?

      What is wrong with the traditional understanding of religion as a believe in god or gods or other supernatural entities?

      • X. Citoyen says


        So Christainity, Hinduism and Islam are not religions?

        Leaving aside the etymology and historical uses for a moment, the dominant meaning of “religion” nowadays is as a loose academic subject matter category. The faithful in these religions only bow to convention in referring to their faiths as religions because, well, you can’t fight language. So, their usage is consistent with my characterization: They deny being religions in the sense we use it nowadays.

        What is wrong with the traditional understanding of religion as a believe in god or gods or other supernatural entities?

        Because that’s not the traditional definition. The natural-supernatural distinction nowadays means things that exist and things that don’t. That would still work for characterizing secular humanism because much what they believe is supernatural or taken on faith. Second, in Catholic theology, at least, the god isn’t understood to be a supernatural entity of the sort Zeus is. The “god” defined in Thomas’s Being and Essence, for example, doesn’t quite fit the picture of a sky-man with a white beard. Come to that, it would be a mistake to assume that Zeus was just a sky-man with a white beard.

        Personally, I don’t care what people believe so long as it’s not a threat to peace, order, and good gov’t. Secular humanism is a tamer but no less troublesome species of the bad religion of progressivism. The sooner its adherents become aware of their religion, the sooner it will lose its fangs.

    • “Only religions claim they’re not religions.”

      X. Citoyen

      Amen to that. Though in deference to the dominance of the “religion of secular society” traditional religions must now admit they are religions. Bend a knee to the anti-knee benders.

      “Science is immanent in (or a force in) history”

      I think this could be first on your list because science is modern secular man’s way of confronting and revealing reality. Scientific methodologies have in effect replaced the human imagination. Science renders the world into usable information and everything else follows from that.

      We are so enveloped by an altered objectified reality that we simply presume our reality to be just the way it is – just like all people of all time. As they say, it wasn’t a fish who discovered water.

      So as I mentioned before: Scientism already rules. Scientific methodolgies reveal reality. Science is a ritualized form of contemplation and revelation of reality. Doing science is modern secular man’s form of prayer

      What I find fascinating about all of this is that modern secular society, being totally unaware of or in a state of denial of its own historical conditioning, appears to take on a complex hierarchal form not dissimilar to any full blown theocracy. We have our priesthoods, fanatics, cults, auto de fe’s, blasphemers, persecutions etc etc.

      .So you are correct to ask the bigger question of “the secular humanist world view” and “their understanding of man’s place in the cosmos”. But strictly speaking and by the etymology of the word “religion” (from Latin “ligare” ,”to bind”) secularism is more anti or areligion than religion. Secularism presumes to be “bound” by nothing or more precisely, bound by nothingness.

      Or as Nietzsche prophesized, modern secularism is the inversion and fulfillment of the nihilism inherent in historic Christianity.

  27. T John says

    Charles Taylor’s The Secular Age demonstrates the extent to which secular humanism is a largely consistent development of Xian thought which is itself, through the person of Christ, ultimately a profound valorization of the uniqueness of the individual. What seems to complicate this discussion is the assumption that religion is a special category of cultural activity. It’s not; instead it is a mode of thought, a mode of perception profoundly tied to the evolution of modes of state power (for which see Robet Bellah’s Religion in Human Evolution) and changing conceptions of what constitutes “reality.”

    In my view, so-called secular humanism is a belief system currently both promulgated and regulated by acts of witnessing on social media and within social circles. These acts of witnessing involve publicly testifying to specific ideological truisms (the existence of climate change, the reality of diversity, the recognition of the variety of sexualities, etc etc). Not much different from any other community of believers, we have come to fixate on the moral superiority of a distinct range of values tied to a particular way of perceiving “reality.” This reality might not include a divine being but it does include such sublime ephemera as black holes and the big bang, phenomena that we are assured have realities that straddle the conceptual divide between being and not being. Tellingly, the metaphors at the heart of distinctly different world views share a distinctly similar grammar.

    The very fact that identifying secular humanism with religion might be conceived, from the perspective of a self-identified secular humanist, as a form of heresy, suggests that secular humanism is no different from any of the religions that have come before it: the discourse that binds a community of believers to a particular way of describing the “facts” which constitute the cosmos and a particular way of distinguishing the right and the good.

  28. Blue Lobster says

    This one really is subpar for reasons well articulated above which need no further embellishment.

    Thanks to David of Kirkland and Aylwin for the most incisive rebuttals.

  29. S. Cheung says

    This article seemed a little iffy right off the hop. Then i got to this:

    “Whether a candidate believes in transubstantiation or the virgin birth has no bearing at all on how he or she will judge the rights of litigants. Beliefs about religious stories and transcendental matters do not guide action”

    …which literally made me LOL. I can only surmise that the author is feigning expert-level naivete here.

    “Secular candidates have just as many “unprovable beliefs” as religious candidates.”
    That would depend on whether individual secular candidates lived by a manual with the same word count as religious ones. But I wonder if we are supposed to take the author simply at his word…ahem, on faith.

    • Jay Salhi says

      Ted Kennedy and William F. Buckley Jr. both agreed on the virgin birth. Yet, on matters of political policy, they rarely agreed on anything.

  30. Andrew Miller says

    Wow! Easily the worst thing I’ve ever read on Quillette. Sloppy reasoning that should embarrass an undergraduate. That it’s written by a Professor is quite shocking. I guess it’s important to know it’s not merely the post modern grievance studies loons making academia look like a joke.

  31. dirk says

    I started my life as a catholic, thus as a religious person (I remember the many rituals, songs, prayers, churches, weddings and funerals still very well), and consider myself still a cultural christian, thus no longer religious, but in my daily life and behaviour influenced by the christian way of life and morals. But now look at Islam, of which we have in our country many believers since a few decennia only. They are the only real religious people left, I think, many new built mosques (our churches desolate now) and Koran schools, the Koran as much a cosmological, as (and maybe even more so) a lawbook with many detailed prescriptions on how to live. This goes rather far, much further than I ever sensed in my youth. For example, how to dress, where to look and where not, how to shave yourself, to eat what and what not, how to eat, clip your nails, how to punish (very precise prescriptions) and for what. Yesterday in the newspaper, a crowd of 1000s in exstasis for being shown a hair of the prophet’s beard. This, of course, is the pure religion, and also the type that enlightenment wanted to eradicate for being superstituous and thus not progressive, backward, not useful to live a good, civil, proper life.

  32. Miguel Delagos says

    I think the heart of the article is best captured in this paragraph:

    “But it is only the morality of a religion, not its supernatural or historical beliefs, that has any implications for action, for politics and law. Secular humanism makes moral claims as strong as any other faith. It is therefore as much a religion as any other. But because it is not seen as religious, the beliefs of secular humanists increasingly influence U.S. law.”

    My problem with this is that it is NOT true that only morality, not historical belief, implicates policy action. Consider the campaign of young-earth creationists to get their version included in public school curricula. That is about (grossly incorrect) historical beliefs, not morals. It also hurts my head to think that a first-tier university professor, a professor in the natural sciences no less, can think that any moral code based on ideas of secular humanism is equitable to moral codes derived from faith traditions. Clearly not. The first tends to be relative and based on fallible human reasoning, requiring constant review, debate and revision. The second tends to be absolute, derived from some supernatural authority source and rarely subject to critical review.

    Also, there is no such thing as “settled law”, especially in a common law system like the US and UK. Our laws are constantly being reviewed, debated, altered, revoked, reinstated and are malleable to the demands of the current society, just like a good humanist would have it, unlike a theocratic state where the law is divinely given and unalterable. A great example is to compare the development of secular, common law versus canon law. Very different.

    But getting back to the main thesis of the article, “Is secular humanism a religion?”, well, if you expand your definition of religion enough, then sure, it can be. But I don’t think that expansive of a definition is very helpful and the term looses a lot more than it gains in terms of clarity. However, I do think it is simply poor reasoning to think sec humanism is a religion on the simplistic notion that it can be the basis for a moral code. Religion is so much more than that. I think religious people should be offended to think the philosophy of secular humanism should be in the same category.

  33. Jim Gorman says

    My opinion only. Religion is a belief system in something bigger than yourself that defines how you act and behave. Secular humanism is a belief system that nothing is more important than what an individual believes is important and your actions are driven by your personal beliefs only.

    In summary, religion is driven by an externality to an individual. Secular humanism is driven by what is inside an individual.

    • K. Dershem says

      Jim, I think you’re describing Ethical Subjectivism rather than Secular Humanism.

  34. I don’t think I’ve seen an article as bad as this in Quillette before: the logic is tortured and the conclusions flat wrong. The author clearly has both a conservative and and anti-religious agenda, and it shows. I won’t write a long comment here as I’ve dissected this article in extenso on my website:

    • K. Dershem says

      Is this Jerry Coyne? Everyone should read his (your?) book Why Evolution Is True — it’s excellent!

      • Jay Salhi says

        I discovered Quillette because Coyne recommended it on his website.

    • X. Citoyen says

      Trolling for traffic, Jerry?

      Coyne, one of the priests of the new religion, is a good example of both the lack of self-awareness and the progressive worldview that underlies secular humanism. Have a look at his justification for euthanizing disabled children:

      The reason we don’t allow euthanasia of newborns is because humans are seen as special, and I think this comes from religion—in particular, the view that humans, unlike animals, are endowed with a soul. It’s the same mindset that, in many places, won’t allow abortion of fetuses that have severe deformities. When religion vanishes, as it will, so will much of the opposition to both adult and newborn euthanasia.

      I can understand that. But after saying we’re just like dogs and cats, he goes on to conclude with the following confident prediction about future progress (though it’s not the first appeal to progress):

      In the future we’ll look back on our present society and say, “How brutal not to have been allowed to do that.”

      Who’s “we”? That metaphysical idea “humanity,” with its collective mission to march forward into the New Dawn? A couple paragraphs ago “we” were soulless animals. Now we have a collective soul and there’s only one right and one wrong for all time. This weird marriage of Nietzsche and Deepak Chopra characterizes many of the faithful.

      • K. Dershem says

        X., you’re completely mischaracterizing his argument by quoting excerpts out of context.

  35. A C Harper says

    “Is Secular Humanism a Religion?”


    And I assert that with as much backing logic as in the original article. I know of people who are moral but do not profess any religion or variety of ‘secular humanity’. I know of others that attend humanist meetings and places of worship. So my limited anecdotes challenge the article’s arguments.

    You might just as easily asked “Is bacon a vegetable?”. Both are foods, both may be eaten at breakfast, both may be bought in shops, but the similarities are overwhelmed by the differences.

  36. Pingback: Is Secular Humanism a Religion? – The winds are changing

  37. Jeff Logan says

    Marriage is a partnership that exists to simultaneously meet a variety of human needs: the need for companionship and love, sexual intimacy and the management of jealousy, stability, safety, and the community recognition necessary for creating and maintaining a household, raising children, caring for the elderly and the orderly dispersal of property at the time of death.

    Gay people have these needs too which is why those of us who understand this fact pushed hard for legal recognition of same-sex partnerships as marriage so that the ability of gay people to meet these needs can be sustained and protected. This benefits society as well which is why same-sex marriage is now recognized in a rapidly expanding number of countries around the world. It’s about meeting human needs, at least that is the opinion of one secular humanist.

  38. “Gay people have these needs too”

    Why does this matter more than the child’s needs or rights or what the child has reason to value?

    When your “rights” literally involve demanding the right to another human being you need to use a particular way, how can that be a right? And, no, I do not see that as synonymous with adoption, because adoption’s primary defining characteristic is that every single decision in the process is supposed to be 100% about what is best for the child.

    • Jeff Logan says

      Children need loving and supportive adults who can provide a safe, nurturing environment. There is nothing about the sexual orientation of those adults that either prevents or assures that a child’s needs will be met in this regard. The assumption that gay people can’t give children everything they need to flourish and that only heterosexuals can means that decisions around fostering, adoption and custody are NOT based 100% on what is best for the child but rather on prejudice. It flies in the face of research that shows that the children of gay parents do just as well as those raised by heterosexuals. “Rights” have nothing to do with it.

      • Aside from the studies using the children themselves as evidence, there is zero evidence that the experiment these parents are running on the kids is harmless. There’s not even an argument to suggest it probably is harmless. There is just ideological faith and a lot of “I want”.

        So the parents who raised the children who are the basis of the studies “proving” how harmless this is, all have this in common: they had no reason to suppose what they were doing was in their child’s best interest, and every reason to believe it was not.

        How is that “loving”?

        • Jeff Logan says

          My own experience from the children I’ve met who have been or are being raised by gay couples is that the kids are doing very well personally, socially and academically. I also know a number of children raised by heterosexuals who are not doing so well. While it is anecdotal, this along with the findings of scientific research and the testimony of the children themselves seems like a lot of evidence to me. What other evidence would you accept?

          What evidence do you have that being raised by gay parents is harmful to the child? Merely asserting that it is without evidence doesn’t make it so. Such assertions are the very definition of ideological faith. It sounds like you had a bad experience being raised by a single father. My suspicion is that this had more to do with your dad and not the fact he was a man. And since you didn’t have another male parent, on what do base your statement that having another dad wouldn’t have made anything better? Sounds like your beef in that situation is more about single parenting, which is an entirely different issue.

          • This is precisely why I find it problematic that 100% of the evidence in favor of gay parenting involves using the children themselves as evidence. It’s not fair to the child to be in such a position.

            The question-begging presumption that it’s okay to take something a person has reason to value until and unless there is proof that doing so causes huge visible trauma is problematic for a number of reasons. For one thing, it’s a standard gays themselves would not accept – it would be ludicrous to suggest that the existence of gays who do well at their jobs and seem normal enough is somehow proof that they don’t need gay marriage. The argument is that relationships and experiences are inherently valuable, so why wouldn’t that be just as true for kids as for their parents?

            But even if we do assume trauma, just how much trauma has to be visible? How is it measured?

            Most importantly: the pressure itself is unfair. The child is told what he is expected to feel and be from an early age. What good is “seems well-adjusted” when you are raised in an environment where you are being held up as proof to prove that a selfish thing your parents are doing isn’t really harmful?

            The “I know children who didn’t mind being raised by gays” narrative is problematic because there are numerous cases – at least one book with numerous examples, several blogs, and several amicus curiae briefs submitted in the Obergefell decision – detailing not only that some kids are NOT happy to be deprived of the chance to have both parenting relationships and the experiences associated with those relationships, but also detailing some very real abuses done to these people when they said so publicly.

            If you are put on YouTube channels from the age of 3, and ALL the evidence that gay couples are equal to other couples comes from your testimony, and everyone uses your testimony as proof (the way you’re doing here), then that puts a lot of pressure on you to do what your parents need and expect of you.

            If you read the amicus curiae briefs attached to the Obergefell case – specifically the ones penned by the adult children of gay parents – you find there is one there that deals entirely with the issue of all the rotten things done to him when he wrote a public essay about disobeying his lesbian mother’s wishes to pursue a relationship with his biological father. He alleges harassment and emotional abuse, from strangers and organized mobs.

          • “Merely asserting that it is without evidence doesn’t make it so.”

            When your entire argument is that relationships and experiences are so central to human experience that depriving someone of the chance to experience these things constitutes a human rights abuse, then the burden of proof ought to be on the person who wants to deprive a child of the most treasured, valued, psychologically important relationship a human being can have.

            But more importantly: for what?

            Why do gays need to do this?

            Because they want what?

            You are starting from the assumption that it is just self-evident that whatever gays want is a right, and whatever gets in their way doesn’t matter. That is not obvious. It is not evidence-based, it is feelings and cognitive bias presented as question-begging.

        • Jeff Logan says

          Same-sex marriage is legally recognized in all 50 states and everywhere gay couples have children from previous marriages, through fostering, adoption, artificial insemination, and surrogacy so I guess we will just have to make the best of it.

          • The best part about debating gay marriage is watching the goal posts move. Now it’s “well okay I can’t rebut that we treat our kids unfairly, but it’s legal and you’re in the minority so it’s game over”.

            The second best part about debating gay marriage is how situational the arguments are. When gay marriage is not recognized, it’s morality that matters. When it’s legal, suddenly morality is irrelevant – what matters is the law. (Another example: when gay marriage advocates want recognition, it’s not fair to bring procreation into it, because not all couples procreate. But when I say “I recognize gay marriage just fine, but I don’t think they should be entitled to the procreative benefits of marriage because there is no way that they can have kids that doesn’t conflict with the rights of the kids” and then suddenly I’m a bigot because of course marriage is procreative, so of course gays need whatever accommodations necessary to give them kids!)

            But the best thing of all is when these arguments happen on a thread about whether secular humanism is a religion, and all the secular humanists sniff because they are offended at the idea that they aren’t 100% based on reason and logic and evidence.

  39. dirk says

    Certainly of interest for this discussion; the ex-pope’s recent essay on sexual abuse. Benedictus XVI argued that the sexual revolution of the 1970s has never received enough counter arguments and defense of prominent theologists of the time, and thereby caused a rather lax stance in issues such as, e.g., pedophily. Here, religion and religious morals are seen as a matter of stable and robust stances of the official church and its leaders. Certain norms are holy, eternal and should never be abandoned or weakened by populist acclaim or loose trends. Sexual freedom can go too far, the ex-pope thinks, popular ideas, morals and trends seem to run amuck. The secularisation of western society, especially, is seen as part of the problem.

    I can feel considerable sympathy for his reasoning, in fact, don’t know whether I have to agree, or disagree here (as most critics seem to do). After all, is such not the real task of Re-Ligion (bounds with history, conservative norms).

    But wonder whether any humanist (or just even majority of ordinary, modern people) will agree here!

  40. rjdownard says

    Staddon’s argument is: never mind that religions involve gods, they also make moral pronouncements that impact behavior. Because Secular Humanism takes moral stands that affect behavior, QED they are a “religion.” Well then let’s remove that unnecessary “god” aspect from religion to simply define it as holding a moral framework. In that respect perhaps things called religions that fail to follow their own rules no longer qualify as such (like the evangelicals overlooking Donald Trump’s un-Christian behavior).

    As for quizzing people on their religion when they’re aiming for public office, sorry, but there are people who on religious grounds believe things like the earth is 6000 years ago, and the cognitive method they employ to arrive at that tends to spill over into how they assess other issues (like climate science). There is a madness to their method, and citizens have a right to inquire about it. Psychologist emeritus Staddon ought to have been more apprised of such things.

    Words and philosophy have meaning by how they’re used, and to include Secular Humanism as a “religion” stretches the term to be near-meaningless. Sports has many “religious” aspects to it, including the building of shrines to the behavior and intensity of its adherents as great as any religion. Perhaps we should be wary of the meaning-stretchers thinking only their arguments get to play.

    • You realize that there are other atheist religions, right?

      What makes a religion is not whether it has gods, but whether it pronounces certain things sacred. Philosophy is always conditional; it says “if x, then y”. It always constrained by the fact that you cannot get an ought from an is.

      A religion can get an ought from an is because it posits certain things as articles of faith – that is to say it posits moral truths as axiomatic. Some things are just sacred and shall not be profaned.

  41. harry says

    we all know christians get triggered by satanist shrines on public land to counter christian shrines. so i find this article shite.

  42. I find it interesting that there are many strong condemnations of the article but few, if any, directly deal with Prof Stoddard’s definitions of what constitutes a religion. Seems that the article has provoked a need to condemn the blasphemer Stoddard.

    Has the secularist’s precious “belief in invisible or hidden beings, worlds and processes” been slandered? Has the almighty and all powerful Objective Reality been denied?

    • S. Cheung says

      “directly deal with Prof Stoddard’s definitions of what constitutes a religion.”

      The author presented a 3 part definition. He conceded that secular humanism lacked aspects of the first, and appears ambiguous or equivocal with the second. He never established secular humanism as a religion based on his own definition, and rightfully made no claims to that effect.

      Many commentators have actually deviated from the author’s definition, as is their privilege to do so. And you and/or X have made some eloquent points about how the belief in these scientific “processes” has become internalized to the point of truisms in modern secular society (apologies if my paraphrasing is imprecise). I agree with that supposition. However, that belief is not invisible or hidden; rather, the wheel simply does not have to be reinvented at every turn. Nor is the process itself (the scientific method) comparable to something like reincarnation in any way.

      So people can have doubts on the process. But I imagine the process would be fairly indifferent towards the doubters.

      • S. Cheung

        Thanks for your comments. You are correct that the author presented a 3 part definition then conceded that secular humanism did not meet the first criterion. I personally, as I tried to state in one of my comments, found his first definition unnecessary and a misleading definition of a religion. Though, somewhat in defense of the author, ( and I’m generally not that concerned with defending his logic) what he tries to emphasize in the rest of the article is that both a religion and a non-religion have behavioral and practical legal implications and that the religious person is held to a higher standard or at least to a different standard. In this I believe he is correct. .

        While I don’t necessarily totally agree with the author’s logic, i do think what is called
        “secularism” represents a whole world view – even, as I tried to articulate above, a whole metaphysical system. You could call it a reliigion depending on how you define religion. The fact that secularist think of themselves as above the idiocies of religion and as grounded in science and reason I find a self-serving conciet.

        Much of the problematic nature of secularism has to do with the problematical nature of science. While I admire the powers and integrity of science, and have even worked as a scientist myself (field biologist, behavioral psychologist) I not only feel science is limited, I believe it tends to perpetuate a distorted even unreal view of reality. So believing this to be true, I find many of its claims of “truth” or “empiricism” naive and self serving – not unlike claims religious people make.

        By the way, you seem to be a relatively open minded about these things, so I would point out that there is a very long and rich history of criticism of both secularism and Scientism. And, as I mentioned, the likes of Pinker, Harris, Dennet, Wilson, etc seem more interested in erecting and clobbering strawmen than confronting more elemental issues.

        So, if I understand correctly your references to the “scientific processes”, here’s where I think we disagree: I actually do believe the scientific method is a form of revelation with many similarities to a so-called religious revelation. Both represent interpretations of reality. Both represent kinds of distortions of reality. Both represent different kinds of human beings responding to their environments in different ways – everything follows from these interpretations.

        You are no doubt correct that the processes of science are indifferent to its critics. And no doubt the processes of reality are indifferent to the processes of science.

        • S. Cheung says

          as you note, the author does focus on point 3 of his definition, or the politics of “morality”. I would agree that empiric “experience” would suggest that an overtly “religious” person will have his views parsed more carefully, because he/she is seeking to represent others, and not simply to impose his personal beliefs on others. I think that vetting process is absolutely justified. On the other hand, I find that empiric experience to be on the level of anecdotal data, since we simply feel religious candidates get dragged through the ringer more because there are so few atheist candidates with whom to compare that experience. Bernie Sanders would probably come closest, and he is likely one of the very few. I wouldn’t consider his positions to have gone unchallenged. So i think the anecdote is flawed because of the disparity in relative frequency of data points. And I certainly don’t need to tell you that anecdotal evidence doesn’t come close to establishing causality.

          So it is as I have conceded elsewhere that a belief in science, or to practice scientism as I see it, does require an initial belief that falls outside the auspices of the scientific method. I have referenced the BIg Bang as a comparator. I could have used chicken/egg too, I suppose. If a belief in something which in and of itself isn’t falsifiable is a sufficient condition for a “religion”, then that will have to be. But I think most people would accept that a religion is more than merely that (although someone who has a religion in perhaps the more conventional sense would have to tell me, cuz I obviously wouldn’t know), including the author of the OP.

          I have some familiarity with Pinker and Harris, and not much with the other two. I would like to be able to take Harris’ position in its entirety, but I can’t reconcile it wholly with my views to its fullest extent. So I only go part of the way. I readily admit there are things science can’t do.

          I would agree with your “revelation” point, insofar as the scientific method does reveal scientific truths to allow greater human understanding. The distinction of course is that scientific revelation requires no supernatural influence whatsoever. I think you would agree that is a fundamental distinction.

          Reality simply is, and I agree it would be indifferent to science. Reality continues with or without science. Reality would similarly continue with or without religion. But reality is receptive to investigation by science, and that is merely my preferred way of advancing my own understanding.

          • S. Cheung

            “I would agree with your “revelation” point, insofar as the scientific method does reveal scientific truths to allow greater human understanding. The distinction of course is that scientific revelation requires no supernatural influence whatsoever. I think you would agree that is a fundamental distinction”

            Thanks for your response. I agree there are differences between science and a religion but I believe there are even more fundamental similarities. Which is why I think so-called secularism resembles a traditional religion more than not.

            I agree that so-called religions usually are comprised of beliefs in supernatural forces and I think it true that science attempts to deal with sense experience, but I think you misunderstood the distinction/comparison I was making. Or perhaps I wasn’t very clear. I’ll try to articulate a few basic observations.

            What we call a religion does not begin with a set of beliefs in supernatural anything. A religion begins with a poetic interpretation of experience which is essentially paradoxical – order/disorder, permanence/impermanence, growth/decay etc. The poet in effect “names” the world thereby giving it order and structure which sustains life. These names over time may be interpreted by other people as representing actual “supernatural” entities. The metaphoric nature of the original descriptions is lost. What we end up calling a religion is a kind of fossil poetry.

            The original poetic process is however how we humans actually experience reality all the time. We exist all day every day in a perpetual state of interpretation – we all live by faith not “facts”. This is why Emerson claimed the poet is more you than you. We do what the poets do but we lack awareness.

            So we humans continually forget our poetic nature, indeed, we must forget it in order to get on with the business of living. We usually end up worshiping our own names for experiences as real things. This is why all the great poets understood life to be tragic – we require interpretations to live by, yet these interpretations are always distortions.

            Thus “idol worship” is the most elemental of all sins – we always end up worshiping our own ideas of reality as reality. Most religions do indeed consist of “superstitions” (e.g. supernatural entities) which etymologically suggest ideas which “stand above or outside” of experiential reality. We humans generally can’t handle the awesome and frightening responsibility of being participants in reality, we can’t handle being aware of the fragile nature of our ideas of reality so we look for “revealed truths” before which we can kneel.

            Science presumes to avoid the sin of idol worship by rigorously following certain procedures. Science presumes to “reveal” an Objective Reality outside of ourselves. And the scientist maintains himself in a prophylactic state of skepticism regarding anything not revealed by science.

            But again science avoids the responsibility of participation and scientists end up worshiping, as Nietzsche said, their methodologies “like little gods”. And they end up worshiping this man made abstraction called Obective Reality (“freestanding” according to E.O. Wilson). Apparently many look to the revelations of science to even tell us how to behave, when to be naughty or when to be nice . . .

            Our faith in science to reveal reality ends up being a kind of modern “superstition”, again we worship our ideas, again we are idol worshipers. Objective Reality is a pure abstraction, which is to say, it is something which, by definition, we can never experience since the moment it is experienced it ceases to be objective.

            Only the poet is the true empiricist because he or she acknowledges that there are no, never were and never will be observations without observers, interpretations without interpreters.

          • S. Cheung says

            thanks for elaborating on your point.

            Your definition of “religion” appears to be very broad, general, and perhaps even “generic” in the sense that it is extremely inclusive to encompass human conception of just about any human experience. In that way, any human experience becomes a “religious” experience. Also, a “belief” in anything would seemingly qualify as “idol worship”. So on those terms, even the scientific method itself would be a religion, and “scientism” (to my mind, the belief in the scientific method to explain reality) even more so. But since I define “scientism” in a manner that may differ from what others use, yet in a way that I can defend, so too that I must concede science to be a religion in the way you conceive of a religion. But I fundamentally disagree with your definition of a religion in the way you’ve expanded upon here. So it can be called a religion in your order of things, but it can’t be in mine.

            I am interested in your description (as I interpret it) that religion is a “bottom-up” arrangement, rather than a “top-down” model. Mortals have their experience, some of which they can’t explain, and come to infer a supernatural something that serves as a perception black box into which, or unto which, all unexplained things go. It’s a very democratic and almost egalitarian model (hence the “bottom-up” reference, in contrast to the “God says thou shalt do this and that”, which is the “top-down”). Obviously, i know nothing about religion, but that seems to be a very nontheistic, and possibly even agnostic, type of religion. It almost approaches something that i could consider possibly dabbling in on some days of the week, in contrast to the typical types of religion that are on offer.

            The need for observers to make observations, and vice versa, returns to the circularity aspect of the discussion. It’s chicken/egg, and Big Bang.

            I do disagree about your characterization of “objective reality”. THe speed of light, for instance, does not change with our attempts to measure, observe, and quantify it. That it is repeatable is precisely what makes it an “objective” reality, and the antithesis of an “abstraction” (however, i will have to keep it at a general relativity level, since that already greatly exceeds my pay-grade, and I am definitely not qualified to even dabble in special relativity, quantum gravity, or string theory).

    • dirk says

      In the NLs, CA, it has, the nation with most seculars worldwide. Funny here that in my youth this was not at all so, all churches of the 3 or 4 main religions full, and I only met a heathen or secular when 15 yrs old, an outcast. What happened in such a short time (because I’m rather old, but not very old).

      • dirk

        Apparently this decline of traditional religions is common in developed countries. I personally find there is a great deal of near useless analysis of this issue because we tend to think of a religion as a set of beliefs and forget or are unaware of the origins or original nature of a religon.

        Human consciousness always exists in some kind of relationship to the world in which it finds itself. What we call a traditional religion originates as a poetic experience of unity with powers.greater than ourselves. Out of this original experience is precipitated a series of interpretations which tell us how the world works and how we should behave.

        These so called religious interpretations become increasingly dysfunctional in the modern world. traditional religions are undermined daily by an experience of fragmentation, so not surprisingly, they either persist as rigid superstition or they tend to dissolve altogether. Again, our consciousness is adapting to the world in which it finds itself.

        I find it interesting that there seems to be little or no interest in the Darwinian nature of the transformations of human consciousness over time (not to be confused with unproven just so speculations like the genetic origins of religion, the genetic origins of virtue etc. etc. )

        • S, Cheung

          Actually I was trying to avoid giving a “definition” of religion and trying to demonstrate it to be a complex dynamic process which unfolds over time. I’m not really concerned with defending a particular definition but I’m obviously interested in comparing and contrasting my ideas of how all aspects of what we call a religion work with your ideas and other people’s ideas. I am contending that a broader description of the dynamic process of a religion is more compelling than some simple definition in the same way understanding the dynamic biology of a tree is more compelling than defining a tree as a “living thing made of wood”.

          And I am interested in comparing/contrasting how the processes which give rise to a religion are similar/disimilar to those which give rise to what is called secularism. My contention is that while there are major differences they involve many of the same psychological processes. And each has a tendency to become abstracted from reality culminating in various forms of superstition.

          As far as the concept of “objective reality” goes – it is just that,- a concept. No doubt a very useful concept. But the concept God is also a useful concept. And so-called religious people and so-called secularists are both prone to take their concepts a little too literally This is what I called “idol worship” or what Alfred North Whitehead called “misplaced concreteness”

          So I don’t think it accurate when you suggest I’m saying “a belief in anything would qualify as idol worship”, I’m more suggesting that a belief in anything could qualify as idol worship.

          And as far as the speed of light, there is evidence to suggest that it actually changes. But that is beside the point. Newton’s Laws of Gravity were once considered immutable and along came Einstein. Having said that I do think it legitimate to speak of the “objective truths” of science.

          These objective truths in themselves however have no human meaning – how we humans make use of these truths is what gives them meaning. Whether someone calls him or herself a secularist or a true believer involves and act of interpretation some imaginative act which generates meaning.

          I’m not quite sure where you ultimately come down on the legal argument brought up by the authorr.. I see the Constitution as protecting me from anyone who thinks they know how to run my life and it just so happens these days to be various forms of deranged secularrism.

          • S. Cheung says

            I agree with the principle of inclusiveness. However, when we are parsing whether such and such is or is not a religion, some metrics seem unavoidable. The author suggested his. You have yours. And I have mine. That they are different is almost besides the point, because there is no one right answer. But a more inclusive construct does inherently encompass a wider array of concepts, and does make it inherently less likely to identify distinctions. Your approach will naturally characterize more things as “religious”, in comparison to mine.

            And here, I guess we move on to what you consider a “superstition”. For as I conceded earlier, a belief in science still requires a de novo belief. But I don’t define that root process as “superstition”; I define “superstition” based on the characteristics of the system one chooses to place that belief in. Based on my thinking, you would have to consider the concept of “causation” to be a superstition in order to attribute that characteristic to science. And that makes no sense to me.

            I also don’t treat “objective reality” as a concept. It is more than that. “objective reality” is the measurable quantification of what IS. It is concreteness that is placed exactly where it should be. In contradistinction, God is a useful “concept” for many, but it is not an objective reality because it lacks any characteristic that at least I would associate objective reality with.

            If belief in anything COULD (but not WOULD) qualify as “idol worship”, and to you “idol worship” is “worshiping our own ideas of reality as reality”, then when would it be that our belief in something is NOT idol worship? (it would seem to necessarily be a situation where we actively consider our own ideas of reality to NOT actually be reality….how do you get to that state, apart from being either a schizophrenic who is simultaneously absolutely self-aware of his own delusions, or a complete skeptic who is 100% self-skeptical). Does that phenotype actually exist? (this is your concept so I don’t mean to put words into your mouth; I’m just trying to talk it out loud to understand your concept).

            So we know, in my grade 3 level understanding, that the speed of light is a constant ratio that links mass to the energy contained therein. Its meaning seems to be described by that relationship. That particular example I don’t think would map well onto your discussion of human meaning, for I presume human meaning is something you can’t ascribe a formula to. Perhaps a Harris-style “human flourishing” functions better here. By that metric, there is “meaning”, or perhaps “purpose”, in striving for better, even though no end state is defined. The conception of “better” involves an objective comparison of 2 disparate states, hence I would qualify that as “objective truth” (that 1 state can be measurably better than the other, perhaps at the level of a functional MRI to examine how those states are being perceived individually). What would be “human meaning” in a religious, or specifically, christian context? I wouldn’t know, so I googled…and got as many answers as there are webpages.
            Something like “to carry out God’s will, not just to proclaim His name” will obviously be insufficient, but might serve as at least a general guiding principle. And no doubt that engenders profound conceptual meaning…but I fail to see any objective truth or objective reality therein. Which is the long way for me to say that, taking characteristics of Christianity to represent characteristics of a religion ( at least a theistic one), there are reasons to keep secular humanism/scientism separate from that, rather than to lump them together.

            On law, I simply feel that there should be no presumption of what the law should say based on preconceived notions. You can and absolutely should be able to run your life as you see fit, so long as your exercise of such rights does not infringe upon or prevent someone else from exercising theirs. But the author’s 3 examples are weak. Within the constitution, the law should reflect society – if society is receptive generally of same sex marriage, the law should so reflect. “political correctness” has no legal standing, so it’s inclusion here is mind-boggling. Identity politics and virtue signalling are also of no legal merit, so again, don’t know what he’s talking about. Ultimately, his point seems to boil down to “openly religious people seem to get grilled harder than they should when in political arena”…which conflates several things: (a) we see openly religious candidates get grilled more often than we see atheist candidates do, but that’s because group 1 is so much larger than group 2. That gestalt is more a function of frequency rather than intensity, or appropriateness; and (b) as a legally secular society, it is absolutely in society’s interests to ensure that an openly religious candidate seeks to represent all of his/her constituents in office, rather than to impose religious beliefs on others. In other words, on the law, i feel the author has no point. Whatever little traction he has would be in terms of examining biases in general, insofar as how individual biases be they religious or otherwise should be vetted based on their effect on how that candidate will be able to represent all constituents, and not just favored constituencies.

  43. Daniel Reed says

    Author: all religions have 3 elements.

    humanism doesn’t have one of those elements.

    Same author: humanism is a religion.

    Griping about humanism becoming more popular than religion is fine. But by definition, having a moral code or moral rules does not make something a religion. Period.

    Belief in supernatural or transcendental controlling powers is a necessary condition of religion. The author recognizes this, then concludes humanism is religion because it has moral rules. A non sequitur he then uses to call out recent legal trends he doesn’t like.

    This is an intectually dishonest and misleading opinion piece. Do better.

  44. Mary C. says

    Evolution defined as changes in a population over time is not a religion. Honest people simply call that variation within a population, and pretty much everyone with eyes can easily see that it is so. Humans have variants, daisies have variants, snakes have variants…etc.

    “Evolution” as being the magic pill connected to origins of life, well, that is a religion even if the whole world says it isn’t.

    Now, once upon a time, lots of people agreed that the killing of jews was perfectly fine; that does not mean it was actually fine. The fact that even more people didn’t care a bit that jews were being killed does not mean it was okay to kill jews. “Scientists” claiming jews and blacks were not even actually human does not make that so, either. Let’s leave the plethora or educated witnesses out of it for now, shall we?

    Every belief about the origin of life that gives one a frame of reference to interpret actual data is simply a belief system that is akin to religion. Rocks, fossils, and your appendix cannot “speak” and tell you anything about how they came to be what they are, in the state they are, or why they are where they are, etc. What these things “say” must be interpreted by the person(s) investigating the topic; and a lot of information must often be assumed to be so to even get you started.

    Every person who cares enough to think about these things interprets the facts based on what they already believe about origin. The conclusion of what you “read” from historical data are not facts, it is only your belief about what the data (that everyone shares) means to you based upon what you already believe. Others can come to entirely different, and often just as plausible, conclusions from that same data.

    The examples of evolution given in Biology texts shows finches turning into finches, pigeons turning into pigeons, dogs becoming dogs, moths staying moths… and then beautiful artistry on what is imagined a handful of bones “looked like” oh-so-many years ago when a mongrel beasty turned into a whale and an ape-type thing turned into you.

    How so many intelligent people can believe that a large, pointy-eared dog having a gene variation for shorter legged offspring or a mutation for floppy ears “proves” that one type of living organisms could turn into a completely different organism is astounding. Variation within a type of animal, yes. Mutation to the point of inability to produce fertile offspring, yes. Growing wings your DNA does not code for and flying off into the sky? Never going to happen.

    What we know about biology tell us that life comes from life (except that ONE time) and that, according to the most up-to-date university textbooks, “nature fashioned cells from simple molecules only once – back when life on Earth got started”. Yes, that magical “once” and “only once”. There’s the magic that makes the whole origin topic a religion no matter if your professor is a priest or a scientist.

    From the explosion of all that nothing that started everything to that mystical dark matter that explains everything that cannot be explained, we all live in the world that we believe we live in and our faith sustains us.

  45. Daz says

    “Whether a candidate believes in transubstantiation or the virgin birth has no bearing at all on how he or she will judge the rights of litigants. Beliefs about religious stories and transcendental matters do not guide action”


  46. Pingback: Is Secular Humanism a Religion? | No. Betteridge’s Law

  47. As someone in the LGBT community who is older, I have to say the sudden push for and rapid success of the gay marriage platform has always puzzled me. I don’t know anyone who sat around crying because they couldn’t get legally married in the 80s and early 90s. Even straight people didn’t want to get married, and for the most part still aren’t getting married. When I spoke out and said I didn’t understand why this should be a point of LGBT activism because there are far more serious problems to focus on, I was scolded and shunned.
    Who started the gay marriage gold rush, so to speak? Gay men were largely uninterested in marriage and lesbian women considered marriage a patriarchal institution. he ones who marry are mostly older people who want to settle down and have some security in life, but it’s nothing that couldn’t be worked out with a few lawyer documents.
    The secular humanist argument here probably makes sense – we were used as a wedge to try to change society. I feel it is one of these things whereby I see a lot of straight rich white liberal kids speaking “as allies” and virtue signalling to show they are my side while campaigning for something I never cared about much. The point always seems to be, in the end, to dismantle traditional religious structures. They are usually disappointed and confused to find out I am traditionally religious.

  48. Why on earth would such tripe be published by Quillette? There isn’t a paragraph that doesn’t present poor reasoning and many that present fatally bad reasoning. Come on, editors. I expect better quality than this kind of click bait garbage.

  49. Dr Sam says

    Atheism is a religion. Here’s why:

    Believes in “magic of creation.” Just throw enough of billions of years at it and “puff!” you have Man.
    Believes in a Supreme Being… Man himself is Supreme. “Self” rules and is at the center of the atheist’s world and worldview (human-centric or ego-centric). Atheism is the ultimate expression of full blown narcissism. Man worships self, as in self-absorption.
    No Higher Law except MAN himself. Man determines what is right or wrong with no outside point of reference. This falls back on the “survival of the fittest” as the ultimate moral law. Whoever is the strongest rules, no external standard for the sacredness of humans. At best a statistical average of what is moral becomes the standard (remember slavery).

    • A C Harper says

      If atheism is a religion then some followers of religion do not believe in a god or gods. That seem contrary to most peoples’ understanding of what religion is. You sleight of hand is in equating ‘Man’ to a Supreme Being… something I have not observed in the real world.

      Plus you still have to explain all the in-between non-believers, the agnostics, the indifferentists, the panpsychics, the ‘nones’.

      The world is messy, and trying to fit everyone into one or only two boxes is incoherent.

    • Atheism can’t be a religion for the same reason “belief that sin is wrong” can’t be a religion.

      Atheism is just what they don’t believe. It is not what they believe.

      Secular humanists prefer to call themselves atheist because it’s much easier to talk about what’s silly about other peoples’ beliefs than it is to defend what’s silly about their own.

  50. Graham says

    I had thought the factors comprising a religion were: 1. Identifying a cause of and a problem with the world; 2 soteriology-the memans to a solution; and 3 an eschatology- the outcome. This then collects the Major world theistic religions Marxism,(and its derivatives) and humanism.

    • K. Dershem says

      By that extremely broad definition, medicine is religion: diagnosis – treatment – prognosis.

  51. Re: “Not that anyone else is excluded from erecting their own monument. ”
    You have got to be kidding. Are you seriously unaware of what happens when satanists propose to build their own monuments next to those that were erected in the name of Christianity? Or how city councils react when their a request is made to replace the monthly Christian prayer at the board meeting with a Muslim prayer or a Satanic prayer? I can only assume that your statement here, and by implication the rest of the column, was not meant to be taken seriously.

    • Satanists are excluded because Christians are offended at how Satanists use Christian symbols.

      A comparable analogy would be if I claimed, in the name of ‘tolerance’, the right to appropriate symbols from the LGBTQ movement, making sure everyone understood that this is not coincidence – they are meant to be recognized as the same symbols – and then desecrated those symbols to make a political statement.

      There is no reason to suppose that a “religion” that is derived from desecrating the beliefs and symbols of another religion – a religion they openly despise and oppose politically – is an authentic religion. If they behaved the same way toward a different identity group it would be called a hate crime.

    • K. Dershem says

      I don’t think you made people grumpy. With all due respect, commenters are responding to the low quality of your arguments. The article you linked to isn’t any better — you seem to unfamiliar with the philosophical literature on the issues you discuss. I don’t think that philosophy should necessarily be left to philosophers, but it’s incumbent upon you to understand the arguments which have already been made and refuted if you expect to be taken seriously.

    • S. Cheung says

      Dr Sam,
      I quite enjoy listening to JP in general.
      But he is wrong on several points here, and inconsistent on his main argument.

      Why not just go around and kill people? Because that same “logic” can be applied by others unto you. Is the most rational thing really to have every man for himself, and stay up all night keeping watch? Or is it more rational that there be disincentives for randomly killing people, so every man can get some sleep at night. I would say the latter.

      His main argument, that you can’t take away the possibility or presupposition of God while keeping its morality, is in and of itself a presupposition. For why not? If you consider something to be a good or worthwhile idea, i would say the most rational thing would be to use it.

  52. Caleb McInerary says

    Worst article I have ever read in Quillette. I would fail an undergrad who wrote it. Well, maybe a C.

    Let’s start with the logical error of mind-numbing grossness: All A are X, Y and Z therefore if B has X it is an A??????

    “All religions make moral claims” does not imply “Anything that makes a moral claim is a religion.” This would make Mill, and Aristotle, and Kant into religious leaders. The difference between secular morality and religious morality is that secular morality gives arguments to support its position.

    But there is no universal secular morality. Secular humanist are united by one moral claim alone: there is nothing of more moral worth in or outside of the universe than humanity itself. This does not imply any of the moral claims the author wrongly attributes to secular humanism (they belong, more properly as has been pointed out to regressive leftism)

  53. Jay Salhi says

    I am a secular humanist. I don’t believe secular humanism is a religion. Yet, I found this article thought provoking.

    • A C Harper says

      I just found it provoking. But then |I have been exposed to similar poor arguments before.

    • dirk says

      Important here to know for any discussion is: what is religion? (as is noted several times in this thread). Yuval Harari in his Sapiens speaks on theist religions and natural religions, such as liberalism, capitalism and nationalism. In this summary, humanism would also fit, I think. Nevertheless, for me, religion is always a theist one, though, for me as post-catholic, I would not put animism and polytheism under religion, though superhuman.Religion for me are the rituals, the prayers, church, devotion, hymns etc etc, the social aspects of a superhuman belief in a personal God (thereby, Buddhism as it appears, with those revered statues, also, but not the pure original Buddhism where the theist idea is irrelevant).

      • Jay Salhi says

        I agree with your theistic conception of religion.

        I used to be obsessed with the idea that the world would be a better place without organized religion. Then, I changed my mind and became indifferent because without actual religion, human beings would invent pseudo-religions. Indeed, we do it now even though actual religion is very much still with us.

        Any ideology can take on a quasi-religious character. The author of this article could have chosen his words more carefully but I think what he means is that many secular humanists behave in a matter that looks a lot like religious behavior, minus the deity.

        • S. Cheung says

          Dirk and Jay,
          I agree with you both. I find the theistic part to be the most essential and vital part of a “religion”. Absent that, you merely have belief systems. Belief systems are necessary but insufficient components of a religion. Otherwise, every system is a religion, and everyone is religious, and the concept loses its meaning.

          I also agree with Jay in pursuing indifference. People will believe what they want to, or need to, believe. As long as they keep it the heck away from me, I have no problem with them doing whatever it is they need to do to get through the day.

          • dirk says

            @Cheung and Jay: I fear, the professor has taken the definition or concept of religion from Harari, where religion and ideology (or even football fanatism) are all named more or less the same. The thing is, I think, that the concept of religion has shifted in meaning the last time a lot. There is overlapping and intrusion. Even people going to church now, don’t often believe in many supernatural things (virginity, Mary taken to heaven with body and soul), whereas some humanists might sense some spirituality, and certainly idelology, but others are fiercely and complete atheist. High time for the philosophers to come with new definitions!

            Liberalism, Harari says, makes little sense without strong belief. The commissars of the soldiers and officers in the Sovjet army are kind of chaplains. How to go on now? What are the new definitions, positions and concepts?

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  55. Neumann says

    “… it is only the morality of a religion, not its supernatural or historical beliefs, that has any implications for action, for politics and law”

    I think the absurdity of this statement speaks for itself.

    • dirk says

      but I think to know what is meant here, the cosmological and mythical aspects (how is man created, where and why did Jesus change water into wine, with how many wives was Salomon married and what was his wisdom) is a different item as the ethical and moral statements (what God united, shall not be separated by men, forgive your enemy, etc). Is there any connection between the historical and the moral lessons? I wonder!

  56. Pingback: No, Secular Humanism is Not a Religion - Areo

  57. cdbpp says

    This is really the most specious thing I have read on Quillette. It is all the more amazing that it comes from a professor at a top university. The most simplistic description of a religion is that it is a beliefs and attendant rules grounded in the supernatural. A belief is something does not ultimately rest on empirical evidence, scientific method or utilitiarian logic to support its existence. So Jesus dying on the cross and after some intervening events ascending and sitting on the right hand side of the Father, is a religious belief. That we should do what Jesus said because he is the Son of God, would be another religious belief.
    I donot believe a category such as “secular humanism” can be created for people who do not have beliefs that are ungrounded in empirical evidence, scientific method or utlitarian logic. Certainly, there is no body of persons called who follow the disparate and hodge podge a group of thinkers selected above and treat their works as canonical works in a religious manner. This is simply a blind assertion by the author. ie John Stuart Mill and Sigmund Freud, to cite but two, have nothing to do with one another, and operate on very different topics with very different approaches.
    This piece lacks intellectual rigour and is just plain lazy. I am not quite clear what Quillette understood as its purpose in commissioning it.

  58. “The first is the belief in invisible or hidden beings, worlds and processes”

    I do not see where this is necessarily true. It is true that people tend to believe in invisible or hidden things (how else do we explain intangible things, like the existence of life, or intangible things like “dignity”, or values such as the concepts of “good” and “evil”? Is truth itself not “hidden”?) It seems more likely to me to say that religion is what explains our relationship to things that we often perceive or believe as invisible or hidden.

    What religion actually does is posit articles of faith – what is is taken to be true and what is sacred. This seems to me closer to what religion “is: a belief system of a sort that every human culture has developed, apparently independently, that provides a narrative that can explain who we are, where we come from, and what our priorities or goals out to be. It regulates morality, and systems worldwide share certain common beliefs, such as the Golden Rule and the sanctity of life (at least within the tribe). The beliefs collectively protect the tribe, and it would appear that tribes with some beliefs outperform other tribes. For instance, Christianity overtook pagan cultures in Europe by, among other things, replacing less effective solutions to “the sacrifice problem” with a god, or story of a god, who sacrifices himself and calls on his followers to imitate this example. This permits interactions within the tribe at least to be resolved without the problem of feedback loops devolving into a negative “death spiral”, thus permitting a higher level of justice – we don’t need to pick which god will get to choose between two equally valid claims to justice (“My god can whup your god!” is really just another way of saying “might makes right”) or try to explain why both can’t have justice.

    “…flowing from God…”
    As far as prohibitions “usually” flowing from God, that is a western bias. It is more accurate to say that religions usually explain the source of moral prohibitions and, in so doing, create a sense of legitimacy. Without legitimacy, no prohibition is going to be perceived as binding (think Sammy Hagar’s ‘I Can’t Drive 55’).

    “It has escaped the kind of attacks directed at Christianity and other up-front religions for two reasons: its name implies that it is not religious, and its principles cannot be tracked down to a canonical text. “

    It has escaped the kind of attacks directed at Christianity because they employ tactics like situationally flipping between contradictory definitions of ‘secular’: it can mean “neutral” (not preferring any one belief system over any other) or it can mean “not religious” (meaning actively preferring atheist materialism over other belief systems). Another reason they avoid attack is that people don’t realize how weak their belief system really is; whenever you get close to the problems associated with the logic of what they believe, they will switch the topic to what they do not believe – the “silly sky god” list of talking points usually can convert any discussion from the original topic to the far more comfortable one of what is wrong with Christianity.

    “The covert nature of these principles is a disadvantage in some ways, but a great advantage in the political/legal context. “

    The solution to this problem is to identify two “tells”:
    1) question-begging (assumptions being treated as self-evident) and
    2) moving goalposts (arguments that suddenly switch from one assertion to something other argument when you point out what’s wrong with the claim they’re making – and then switches back again to the first claim when you point out what’s wrong with the second one)

    • dirk says

      Ennede: ….Christianity overtook pagan beliefs by replacing less effective ones…., yes indeed, that’s maybe the early and, then, only explication of what a religion is and should be. Harari on this: -It was necessary to spread the gospel of Jesus (and Islam? my addition) throughout the world (but this often meant, over the last 2000 yrs, violent extermination of all competition)-. This was, I remember clearly, what and how we were taught about religion (our religion). However, such has changed around mid 1900s, and the concept of religion ever since is no longer clear.

      • The function religion serves is very clear: if people cannot share certain truths they hold to be self-evident, they cannot function as a social unit at any level – not as a family, not as a nation.

        Religion defines what is self-evident, explains what that means, and defines how we should live. This seems clear to me from studying the 20th century US attempt to make the ideals and self-evident truths of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution into that which binds us together as a nation. For awhile it looked like it might work, but ultimately the people who reject Judeo-Christian heritage reject those self-evident truths as not binding on them and now many have moved from “living constitution” talk to openly attacking the documents as bad, wrong, or evil.

        Laws can’t be based on arbitrary preferences. If human life is not sacred, then not only is abortion logical, but so is “post-birth abortion” – and some philosophers have argued it should be legal up until the time the child acquires language. This is not accidental: if you don’t believe it’s human life that is sacred, but something else – Peter Singer seems to believe that, if science is the highest good, then intelligence and the acquisition of knowledge are what’s sacred, not “human life”: the life of a person who never acquires language is not only not sacred, but is actually a liability: it takes resources away from the people who matter – the ones who will grow up capable of making significant contributions to the pursuit of knowledge.

        • S. Cheung says

          for sure, the function religion CLAIMS to serve is indeed very clear. It even gives ONE definition of what is self-evident. But it is also certainly not the ONLY possible one, and has not been shown to be superior to one that is based on…well…actual evidence. Why would a religious “definition” be superior, or assume primacy?

          You know, it wasn’t that long ago that the constitution only applied fully to white male landowners…and that document was indeed based on a J-C heritage. So the fact that the constitution is “alive”, and has, coincidental to moving away from the J-C framework, actually expanded constitutional protections to everyone, should be considered a very positive development. And again, those protections have merely expanded, with the evolving open-mindedness that frees itself from those arbitrary J-C constraints, to benefit more people; it’s not like white male landowners have fewer rights and protections that they’ve always had.

          And the laws happen to be based on the constitution, so the laws that we have now which have passed constitutional muster are, by your own definition, NOT arbitrary. Like Roe v Wade for instance. So your last paragraph is just your typical rant with no logical basis. I suggested previously that you might be better served just rage tweeting at Sam Harris. Perhaps you should do the same with Peter Singer.

          • “for sure, the function religion CLAIMS to serve is indeed very clear.”

            Just like science “claims” to serve a purpose that is completely at odds with some of the results it comes up with?

            Oh I forgot: that’s different, because when we’re talking about science we only count the positive contributions, but when we’re talking Christianity, the first rule is that it never had any positive contributions.

          • “it wasn’t that long ago that the constitution only applied fully to white male landowners…and that document was indeed based on a J-C heritage. So the fact that the constitution is “alive”, and has, coincidental to moving away from the J-C framework, actually expanded constitutional protections to everyone, should be considered a very positive development. ”

            Amending the Constitution to be more in line with its stated Judeo-Christian ideal was a good thing. (You do know that the abolition movement began with Quakers doing Biblical exegesis, right?)

            But the “living constitution” is not about amending the constitution. It’s about justifying shortcuts to skip the tedious due process stuff, so that self-proclaimed elites can “move us away from those J-C constraints” – the very constraints that the Constitution was supposed to protect: the right to life and the right to equality.

            Both of which are incompatible with your glorious vision of a nation where those who identify as enlightened get to use “science” as a justification to deprive those they deem unenlightened of the right to have any say in their own governance.

            Which, of course, is horrifying, to those who actually understand what a constitution is.

          • S. Cheung says

            “Just like science “claims” to serve a purpose that is completely at odds with some of the results it comes up with?”
            —and what results are those? Oh wait, are you the thalidomide guy? No no, we should talk about those mistakes, so that we learn from them, and not do that again. No one said you can’t talk about the mistakes made by science. But it seems your logic is so weak that it’s only straw men for you.

            So sure, talk about Christianity’s positive contributions all you want. But then you have to acknowledge stuff like the Crusades, and the fact that man is fallen and bound to fail again and again and again, and the only learning and corrective measure available is to get rid of Christianity as a governing framework.

            So whine less, and use logic more. No one ever said Christianity “never had any positive contributions”. You and your straw guy army are really a curious bunch.

          • “—and what results are those? Oh wait, are you the thalidomide guy? No no, we should talk about those mistakes, so that we learn from them, and not do that again. No one said you can’t talk about the mistakes made by science. But it seems your logic is so weak that it’s only straw men for you.”

            Yes, when science is wrong it kills and maims people. Where are the apologies? Oh right, the Wikipedia approach again: “We fixed the error, so that was Never Really Science. Sorry if you were stupid enough to trust us before, but hey, it’s your fault you trusted us, not ours for killing you.”

            And that’s what you want governing us? And you don’t understand why anyone might not want to become a disposable entity in your grand quest for knowledge?

            Meanwhile, some Christians did some bad things a thousand years ago.

            But hey unlike scientism, Christianity accepted responsibility for its errors – and apologizes for having been wrong – so you can say they’re responsible. Which is precisely why scientism can’t be trusted with leadership: they won’t take responsibility, even when people get killed – they’ll say “but learning from our mistakes is how science works!”

            Lobotomies, electric shock therapy, using inhumane tactics to control cognitively disabled children – these things still happen. They’re still happening today. What has science ever contributed to moral development? All their contributions have been material/physical.

            To suggest that because the scientific method is good at what it was designed to do, it should therefore be expanded to what it is explicitly not suited to do, makes about as much sense as saying the liver or the heart is obviously useless because it does not function like the brain, and therefore they should be thrown away and the brain should take over what they do. It is not supported by any evidence.

          • S. Cheung says

            “abolition movement began with Quakers”
            —that’s great. See, religion isn’t all bad at all!

            How have “the elites” reduced protections for right to life and right to equality in the constitution?!? What due processes have been circumvented? You say all this stuff as if you’re living in an alternate reality.

            And again, you’re droning on about science depriving you of stuff. Now it’s apparently “justification to deprive those they deem unenlightened of the right to have any say in their own governance”. It seems you’re one of those types who fears what they don’t know….not unlike those Peruvians we talked about earlier. Seriously, pal, what are you smoking? Did you run out of meds?

            Based on the trash you put out there, if you “understand what a constitution is”, then I’m Thomas Jefferson.

          • S. Cheung says

            ““We fixed the error, so that was Never Really Science. Sorry if you were stupid enough to trust us before, but hey, it’s your fault you trusted us, not ours for killing you.””
            —you are obviously expert-level when it comes to arguing against straw men. Well done.

            “And that’s what you want governing us? And you don’t understand why anyone might not want to become a disposable entity in your grand quest for knowledge?”
            —another straw guy. THere could certainly be a better way than science. But religion ain’t it…remember about your fallen folks and the guaranteed, inescapable, and doomed certainty of your system failing in the hands of mere mortals. Just as a logical option, would you choose a system with 100% failure guaranteed, or one that has some chance of success? I suppose asking of you to make a logical choice would be a mistake, no?

            “Meanwhile, some Christians did some bad things a thousand years ago.”
            ….and would have done it over and over again, because it’s their destiny, but for the fact that some reason took over and never gave them the chance. Dodged a bullet there, I’d say.

            But it’s really just repeated ranting for you, isn’t it? You’re just a one-trick pony caught in a cycle of lather/rinse/repeat.

            Your analogy is hilarious. Without a heart, you’d be brain-dead in 4 minutes. But it really is that you don’t let facts get in the way of a good narrative. In some ways, you are religion personified.

    • S.Cheung says

      I will certainly give you that religion is better than nothing when one is grasping at straws to explain reality.

      Compared to butchering 140 children because of an El Nino event, having JC take that bullet is certainly the far better solution.

      However, now that we know what El Nino is, there is no longer any need to sacrifice anybody or anything. So as Dirk says, Christianity served a purpose at one time, but is rather superfluous now simply because we have a measurably and objectively better way of explaining reality.

      As always, your perception of secular humanism or “scientism” somehow being ‘weak” is your personal flight of fancy that itself seems rather detached from reality.

      • “However, now that we know what El Nino is, there is no longer any need to sacrifice anybody or anything. ”

        If the belief in appeasing primitive elements were the only reason for human sacrifice, that would be true.

        But there is zero evidence to support this notion. The history of human sacrifice is intertwined with the history of scapegoating: I don’t see much difference between ancient Greek towns dressing up a pair of sacrificial victims in costume or ritual garb and whipping them out of town (to be ritually killed) on the one hand, versus Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” today.

        • S. Cheung says

          “The history of human sacrifice is intertwined with the history of scapegoating”

          scapegoat: “a person who is blamed for the wrongdoings, mistakes, or faults of others, especially for reasons of expediency.”

          When you know nothing about reality, like those long-ago Peruvians, sure, maybe you blame people, even kids, for bad weather. When you know what an El Nino is through science, you wouldn’t have to.

          Science doesn’t just solve the problems of religion, but relieves us of the problems of ignorance too.

          • You need a better dictionary: that ancient Greek ceremony where people were driven out of town I mentioned? They were dressed like goats. That’s where the name comes from.

            Human sacrifice didn’t just come in the form of offering the best to the gods as a gift, but also ritually driving out evil.

            And, yes, this behavior does exist in all cultures, but in different forms, which is why I keep insisting the belief system that brought us “let he who is without sin cast the first stone” is superior to the belief system that brings us punishment for dissenting thoughts.

            Which btw is a necessary byproduct of the belief that “science” has the power to make mankind not only rational, but to make them all want what you think they ought to want.

          • I made an error: the particular ancient Greek ritual I was referring to actually made their victims dress as bulls, apparently, not goats.

            My bad. Sorry. (I do think my point still stands, though.)

          • S. Cheung says

            what they were literally dressed in doesn’t matter. Let’s examine your point.

            “Human sacrifice didn’t just come in the form of offering the best to the gods as a gift, but also ritually driving out evil.”
            So let’s suppose those 140 children were killed because they were perceived to have embodied evil forces that begat the storms that decimated that Peruvian civilization. If they had the scientific knowledge to know that it was El Nino causing the downpours, and not that those kids were conduits to evil, they still don’t get sacrificed. The difference isn’t whether the sacrifice was perceived as a gift or as a purge; the difference is in knowing reality vs not knowing reality. Your point actually well illustrates the problem with not knowing reality, such that any manner of crazy-assed nightmare can ensue, for all the wrong reasons.

            I certainly don’t deny that all manner of weirdness exists in many cultures. That is all the more reason to look TO science, rather than AWAY from science. Because being without science is how all the weirdness started in the first place.

            And you really need to get off that “punishment” train. Remember how smokers are still running around in the wild? They are dissenting not merely with THOUGHTS, but with overt ACTS…and they’re still running around. Not very fast, mind you, cuz they’re smokers.

          • “Science doesn’t just solve the problems of religion, but relieves us of the problems of ignorance too.”

            “I certainly don’t deny that all manner of weirdness exists in many cultures. That is all the more reason to look TO science, rather than AWAY from science. Because being without science is how all the weirdness started in the first place.”

            This, like most of what you say, is asserted without evidence, and is not plausible.

          • “And you really need to get off that “punishment” train. Remember how smokers are still running around in the wild? They are dissenting not merely with THOUGHTS, but with overt ACTS…and they’re still running around. Not very fast, mind you, cuz they’re smokers.”

            Tell that to the numerous Christians who have run afoul of “discrimination” laws that start from the assumption that LGBTQ demands are legitimate because it’s wrong to discriminate (based on the logic that all people have a right to live their identity and not experience any penalty for it), but Christian demands are illegitimate, because they’re wrong and it’s not discrimination to penalize them for living morally wrong beliefs.

          • S. Cheung says

            “This, like most of what you say, is asserted without evidence, and is not plausible”
            —huh? Have you now lost your capacity for reading? I just showed you that your silliness about human sacrifice as gifts or for ridding of evil is from lack of understanding about the realities of El Nino…which is why we don’t sacrifice people when it rains. Scientific knowledge would have = no Peru archeological find. Lack of science = big Peru archeological find. Your failure to grasp logic is truly astounding.

            But this is how you roll. Illogical rants and emotional outbursts. Insane definitions like a family must be biologically related, as if incestuous marriage is literally the only way.

            I misspoke about science and religion. It doesn’t solve the problemS of religion; it solves the PROBLEM of religion, in that it exposes religion’s inability to sustain its own hypothesis. Typo there did make a big difference.

            Tell me, what brutal “gulag” (another one of your favorites, right) has befallen those who have dared to discriminate based on sexual orientation?

            I gotta say, you make a beautiful case against the “scientism” in your head. Too bad it doesn’t relate much to scientism in reality.

  59. Joseph Castillo says

    The commonality and the differences between religion and science offered by Professor Staddon are inarguable, in my opinion. This is a thought provoking essay, and for that I am grateful. However, Professor Staddon seems to not discuss one fundamental difference between religion and science. Religion is primarily concerned with eternity; science is concerned with the physical here and now. Religion aims to guide us to a spiritual hereafter, and science aims to elucidate our path to corporal survival. Religion accepts the ultimate demise of the here and now, and attempts to guide us to a peaceful eternity. If there is a spiritual eternity waiting for us under the admission of a benevolent Creator, then science alone will not get us there. As a matter of practicality, the precepts of religion – as they relate to human behavior and philosophy for achieving eternity – are as important as the laws of science. One should not be mutually exclusive to the other if eternity is a possibility at all.

    • dirk says

      @ Joseph: indeed, what you describe here is the old version (and for many the only one) of religion, but I fear even for younger theologists and preachers no longer the right and proper way of religious lifestyle.

    • ” Religion is primarily concerned with eternity; science is concerned with the physical here and now. ”

      Christianity isn’t the only religion, and the definitions you provide do not describe all religion

      It would be more accurate to say religion is the process by which people seek to discover the purpose and meaning of life, and, from that, derive all the other information needed to know how to live and what to live for.

  60. dirk says

    Sacrifices, and especially human ones (soldiers, or, once like in Peru, children) strengthen any religious or ideological sentiments of communities, Harari says, and you still see this in the memorials of national battles, or in the veneration of the martyrs of christians and muslims. Also this need for sacrifices, I think, is disappearing, no longer really necessary for strengthening cohesion. Though, not all muslims will agree here, I fear!

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