Religion, Top Stories

Secular Humanism is Not a Religion

These days you can dismiss anything you don’t like by calling it “a religion.” Science, for instance, has been deemed essentially religious, despite the huge difference between a method of finding truth based on empirical verification and one based on unevidenced faith, revelation, authority, and scripture. Atheism, the direct opposite of religion, has also been characterized in this way, though believers who criticize secular worldviews as religious seem unaware of the irony of implying, “See—you’re just as bad as we are!” Even environmentalism has been described as a religion.

The latest false analogy between religious and nonreligious belief systems is John Staddon’s essay “Is Secular Humanism a Religion?” for Quillette. Staddon’s answer is “Yes,” but his reasoning is bizarre. One would think that it should be “Clearly not” for, after all, “secular” means “not religious,” and secular humanism is an areligious philosophy whose goal is to advance human welfare and morality without invoking gods or the supernatural.

Nevertheless, Staddon makes an oddly tendentious argument for the religious character of secular humanism. After first giving a three-part definition of religion, he then admits that secular humanism violates two of the parts. That itself should have put paid to his claim. But he persists, arguing that secular humanism is still religious because, like some religions, it has a moral code that impels action. (He notes, however, that a secular moral code is inferior because it’s based not on superstition but on reason, and leads to unpalatable views.) In other words, he argues that secular humanism is religious because it embraces secular morality.

Staddon claims that “all religions have three elements, although the relative emphasis differs from one religion to another”:

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.

But this characteristic is certainly not true of secular humanism, which of course is secular, i.e., holds no belief in “hidden worlds or beings.” Staddon’s second diagnostic trait of religion overlaps with his first:

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.

This is nearly coincident with the first claim because some aspects of the supernatural—things like theistic gods, resurrections, an afterlife, miracles, and the soul—are claims about the universe, and some of them are testable. In fact, I’d say that claims about an afterlife are in principle more testable (say, through strong evidence of the deceased communicating after death) than are claims about literal transubstantiation of wine and wafers, which the Vatican has immunized against disproof by deeming the process undetectable by empirical means.

My book Faith Versus Fact (2015) and Carl Sagan’s The Varieties of Scientific Experience (2007) outline various types of empirical evidence that could have shown a god. Sagan, for instance, says that a statement in scripture like “Two strands entwined is the secret of life” or God’s engraving the Ten Commandments on the Moon would be powerful evidence for the divine. Granted, like all scientific evidence this would be provisional, but if a god wanted us to convince all humanity of its existence, there are many ways it could do so. Sadly, as many theologians admit, God remains hidden.

This lacuna itself is evidence against gods. Stoddan claims that “Since absence of evidence is not, logically, evidence of absence, these features of religion are neither true nor false, but simply unprovable.” That’s not quite true. As the late physicist Victor Stenger noted, the absence of evidence is indeed evidence for absence if the evidence should have been there. That’s why most of us are confident that the Loch Ness Monster doesn’t exist. The same should go for most religious truth claims.

But never mind. Since Staddon admits that secular humanism fulfills neither of these two criteria, his argument has already failed. However, buried in the second criterion we learn what Staddon sees as the real defining trait of religion: things that “have a bearing on action.” As he argues:

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.

Certainly most religions, at least theistic ones, are attached to a moral code. My own definition of religion comes from the Oxford English Dictionary: “Action or conduct indicating belief in, obedience to, and reverence for a god, gods or similar superhuman power.” Abrahamic religions also include a moral code and a theism that endows God with a personal interest in humans.

But religious morality has three features that differentiate it from morality deriving from secular humanism. First, the diversity of morality among secular humanists is far wider than that of followers of a given religion: beyond adherence to the Golden Rule, secular humanists vary dramatically in what they consider moral. Indeed, Staddon recognizes this when he says, “Because secular-humanist morals cannot be easily identified, they cannot be easily attacked,” and secular morality is “not written down in a single identifiable source. It is not easily accessible.”

Further, much of a religion’s morality, as Maarten Boudry and I argued, derives directly or indirectly from its supernatural claims. So the view that abortion is murder, for instance, comes from the claim that fetuses, like adults, have souls, and therefore aborting them is murder. In Islam and Christianity, the view that homosexuality is immoral comes from scripture. And so on. A religion’s morality rests on that religion’s truth claims.

Finally, unlike secular morality, religious morality largely comes from interpreting what is God’s will—sometimes in the problematic “divine command theory” stating that whatever God says is good is good. In contrast, the morality of secular humanists derives from rational consideration about how we ought to act—principles based largely on reason but ultimately grounded on a secular preference (i.e., “I prefer a society in which individuals do what maximizes well-being.”). Once consequentialist preferences like this one are established, empirical study, aka science, can then help us decide how to act.

Staddon then jettisons his first two criteria, insisting that only item #3—rules for behavior and right action—counts as religion. Thus everyone in the world becomes religious, save for sociopaths and the few who disdain all morality. Staddon narrows his definition like this:

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.

This is about as ludicrous a claim as you’ll see from a respected academic. It completely evades both the dictionary and vernacular conceptions of religion, and deems everybody who has a notion of right and wrong as “religious.” And so Staddon’s argument, resting on a contrived definition of religion, becomes moot. But why does he twist language this way?

Apparently, it’s because he doesn’t like the kind of morality that he sees flowing from secular humanism, which flouts what seems to be his conservative ideology. This is implied by Staddon’s three examples of how secular humanistic “faith” has affected people’s actions—effects of which he clearly disapproves.

One is the legalization of same-sex marriage. The second is the existence of “blasphemy rules,” like “it’s immoral to dress in blackface or use the ‘n-word’.” I too object to the extreme censoriousness affecting modern social behavior (though these two examples are abhorrent), but these acts violate cultural rather than religious norms. They’re like cheating on one’s taxes. The passion of those decrying blackface may be as intense as that of Christians opposing abortion, but that doesn’t make the former religious—unless you use “religious” as a synonym for “passionate.”

Staddon’s third example of “religious” secular morality is strange: Fred Edwords’ fight against the raising of a 40-foot Christian cross on Maryland public land. Not realizing that Edwords was simply pursuing the First Amendment’s prohibition against government endorsement of religion, Staddon argues that “It seems to be the faith of a competitor that Fred objects to.” In other words, by opposing religious monuments on public land but not opposing nonreligious ones, Edwords is supposedly showing the religious side of secular humanism: no competing religious monuments allowed. One might call this argument monumentally ridiculous.

In the end, Staddon fails to prove his thesis since he first admits that secular humanism lacks two of the three defining traits of religion, and then, by claiming that the true defining trait of “religion” is having a moral code, is able to deem all secular humanists—indeed, nearly everyone on the planet—as religious.

This argument reminds me of Stephen Jay Gould’s unconvincing attempt to harmonize science and religion in his 1999 book Rocks of Ages. There Gould proposed his NOMA (Nonoverlapping Magisteria) hypothesis: science is about finding the facts of the universe, while religion’s distinct bailiwick is its hegemony over meaning, morals, and values. Like Staddon, Gould defined ethics as part of religion. But Gould’s “solution,” finding compatibility in this claimed non-overlap, ignored not only the potentially testable fact claims of religion, but also the long tradition of secular ethics discussed by philosophers like Spinoza, Kant, Hume, Mill, Rawls, and Singer. As I wrote at the time:

Finally, it need hardly be pointed out that atheists are not automatically amoral. Gould senses this difficulty, but finesses it by claiming that all ethics is really religion in disguise. To distinguish the two, he says, is to “quibble about the labels,” and he decides to “construe as fundamentally religious (literally, binding us together) all moral discourse on principles that might activate the ideal of universal fellowship of people.” But one cannot evade this problem by defining it out of existence.

Gould was wrong, and so is Staddon.


Jerry A. Coyne is professor of ccology and evolutionary biology, emeritus, at the University of Chicago and author of Why Evolution is True and Faith Versus Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible. You can follow him on Twitter @Evolutionistrue.

Feature photo by a katz / Shutterstock.

297 Comments

  1. James says

    I’d say that the secular viewpoint’s biggest downfall is not necessarily in the realm of objective ethics but in its failure to provide culture-sustaining mores. Without religion, people still know what not to do (murder, rape, kill, steal) but are unable, on the whole, to figure out what is worth doing. Secular ethics can only provide prohibition, not genuine moral impetus. The result is rat-race materialism and boundless tolerance, both evidence of nihilism in my view. Moral permissiveness indicates that the human spirit is no longer considered sacred or even noble. To call secular humanism a “religion” is therefore, in my view, a massive insult to religions and the civilizations that have been built atop them.

    • James Smith says

      You’re kidding, right. The most moral countries in the world (Sweden, Norway, Denmark) are the LEAST religious. There is in fact an inverse correlation between degree of religiosity and societal health – including moral indicators like safety net, health insurance, gay and women’s rights, gender equality.

      • Pitac vert says

        It is highly questionable that Scandinavian countries are “the most moral in the world”. I, for one, would state exactly the opposite. Your choice of “moral indicators” is highly subjective.

        • Nicolaas Stempels says

          Pitac vert, You are absolutely right, the most moral countries are the ones like Saudi Arabia or Brunei, to name but two.

          • Nobody Important says

            Scandinavian countries seem very moral to Scandinavians. I’m sure most Saudis feel the same about their homeland. You just think more like a Swede than an Arab. As for me, the most moral place I’ve ever lived was Cambodia. Everything is dirt cheap and I could do whatever the hell I wanted (drugs) and nobody gave a damn. I would have stayed but my wife wanted to return to our homeland (USA)

          • Pitac vert says

            The point is morality is relative, unless one assumes an absolute origin for it. No amount of snark on your part will change this.

          • Vincent Afudego says

            …yes, and the most moral countries are those under-developed countries who have been infested by religions whose leaders are only in to fleece the poor followers who are already disillusioned and dying from poverty and preventable diseases!

            the most moral countries are those who prevent vaccination based on religious considerations

            the most moral countries are those whose religious faithfuls are blowing themselves up and killing hundreds with them in defence of an imagined deity

            By the way, we were all born atheists until societies begin to condition us!

      • Bob Johnson says

        And Scandanvia is a product of European Christian civilization

      • K. Dershem says

        James, I completely agree. Bob (below) is obviously correct that the Scandanavian countries were Christian in the past, but they’re devoutly secular now. Secular Humanism was clearly influenced by Christian ideas about ethics, but it’s no more dependent on Christianity than science — which has likewise transcended its religious origins.

      • Bill Smith says

        James, where you see an inverse relationship between religiosity and societal health I see the opposite. The future belongs to those who bother to show up for it. Europeans are quickly being replaced by Muslims, not more blond-haired, blue-eyed secularists. The fertility rates of European secularists is well below replacement. If Swedes were an animal, biologists would be studying why their numbers are falling at such alarming rates and what we can do to stop the species from going extinct. To use an ecological term that is in Vogue these days, secular humanist morality is “unsustainable.”

        That, my dear sir, is the exact opposite of societal health. Cheers!

        • Nathan says

          This is such a straightforward and obviously true observation.
          It will be ignored by almost everyone.

      • I am in COMPLETE agreement with all the things you say, James Smith, and I sense (if I may) that they are not said lightly. However, the subtext, in the James you’re responding to, seems to be that secular ethics lacks what he calls ‘impetus’ — and which I’d venture to translate into the more secular word ‘motivation’. His positboils down to, ‘The secularists are correct as far as injuncrions and categorical imperatives go. But they fatally lack motivation, beauty, joy, gratitude…” As a subscriber of secular ethics, I don’t think the onus is on me. But as a literary writer, I would dearly wish to shatter this…eh…axiom. Not all that easy. Regards, Pim Wiersinga

    • “Without religion, people … are unable, on the whole, to figure out what is worth doing.”

      Don’t be ridiculous. As an atheist who’s dedicated his career to rescuing horses in need, I had no problem whatsoever figuring out, without the help of primitive superstition, what was worth doing for me. My personal life is equally rich, uplifting, and filled with purpose & meaning. And a list of famous non-religious people who’ve led worthy lives would stretch for pages.

      • K. Dershem says

        Very well put, Matt! Religion can provide meaning, purpose and moral guidance to people, but it can also distort ethical thinking by fixating on “sin” rather than human well-being.

        • Peter from Oz says

          ”… but it can also distort ethical thinking by fixating on “sin” rather than human well-being.”
          SOunds like a good description of fundamentalists of all sorts, including so-called progressives.

        • Greg Lorriman says

          Sin is to damage one’s own personal integrity, usually by self-serving love at another’s expense. The result is self-dislike at best.

          So an obsession with sin (rather, its avoidance and its healing) goes to the basics of what makes community and individual well-being.

          Sin is also to live in opposition to charity, which is pure self-giving love. Which is also the “love of God”. Christian society was based on a model of self-giving love, with many people giving their lives to secular celibacy, ie as nurses. (Secular in its original meaning was simply “not of a religious Order”, ie not a nun, monk or friar; so even a priest, if only attached to a bishop, is called a ‘secular’ priest).

      • James says

        Notice, in your quotation, I said “people on the whole” not “people, such as Matt the horse rescuer.” The “But what about me?” argument is irrelevant.

    • Heike says

      I’d pay more attention to secular humanists if they didn’t take such obvious pleasure in being gigantic jerks to people they hate. Their writings always seethe with fear and loathing. The point that is always made is a finger-shaking “You’re WRONG! F you!” Like all jerks, they feel completely justified at all times, and it is everyone else who has a problem.

      • Andrew Roddy says

        ‘Secular Humanism was clearly influenced by Christian ideas about ethics, but it’s no more dependent on Christianity than science — which has likewise transcended its religious origins.’

        Or we could say ‘If we see further it is because we are standing on their shoulders’?

        Which offers the truer, more complete picture? Or perhaps they amount to the same thing?

      • Jamie Lee Davis says

        Heike, on the other hand, the hatred expounded by Christians has been going on for so long that you think it’s just the normal way to be. We hear the believer’s hatred spoken from the pulpit and think that, since God said it (or did it) then it must automatically be good and right.

        The Christian god slaughtered entire populations for minor offenses, turned a good woman into a pillar of salt merely for looking behind her, and wiped out nearly every animal on the planet, including humans, because he was disappointed with his work. There’s nothing good or right in these actions. Impregnating a teenager was rather common for gods to do in those days, but that doesn’t make it right.

        I’ve never yelled or cursed at a Christian, but I can certainly understand how it feels that way when an atheist points out the untruth and evil nature of the religion that you think is key to your very salvation.

        I take no pleasure in the fruitless exposition of truth: no Christian has ever left the faith after reading my words, even when they have agreed that most of the Old Testament didn’t happen, most of the New Testament is quite unlikely to have happened, and they have seen how and why Yahweh was the only myth that Roman law allowed to stand.

        But I don’t expect rational behavior, or even moral behavior, from a crowd of people who smile and sing happily while gazing upon the statue of a naked, bleeding man being tortured to death.

      • I agree! Relative morality works for me as long as you agree with my moral relativism, right?

  2. E. Olson says

    Is secular humanism a religion?

    Do secular humanists believe in invisible or hidden beings, worlds and processes? Answer: many seem to believe in a utopia where people of all races, cultures, and genders are exactly equal in every way, which will be revealed when the world finally adopted the real and true Marxism. Many non-Muslim secular humanists also seem to believe Islam is a religion of peace, which will finally be revealed when Islamphobes are “re-educated”. Shouldn’t beliefs in Utopian Marxism and/or peaceful Islam count as a hidden world or process?

    Do secular humanists makes claims that are essentially scientific—assertions of fact that are potentially verifiable? Answer: many seem to believe scientific consensus is the same as science, and thus believe in anthropogenic global warming because 97% of climate scientists say it is true. They also believe that renewables are now cheaper sources of power than nuclear, coal, or gas. Both of these claims are verifiable. For example, we might look at climate model predictions of temperature to see if they actually predict accurately, or we might actually examine if 97% of climate scientists believe AGW theory and its predictions of doom. We might also look at the price of electricity in places that have invested the most in renewables and compare with prices with mostly carbon or nuclear sourced electricity. And if we do this, we find these “scientific” claims are not verified, but the beliefs continue none-the-less.

    Do secular humanists defer matters of fact to science as the source of moral rules and dogma? Well, in reality the “science” seems to be harnessed to disprove facts that are in conflict with secular humanist moral rules and dogma. For example, the outcomes differences between men and women or between whites and blacks are proven by victim studies “science” to be caused by discrimination and are definitely not genetic based, and you are a sick racist/sexist pig for even bringing up genetics. As with some Christians who may secretly have doubts about the virgin birth or resurrection from the dead, but continue to publicly acclaim the Bible stories as truths, I suspect there may be many avowed secular humanists who have doubts about their “blank slate”, Marxism/Socialism, renewable power economics, and rampant discrimination and sexism on campus dogmas, but continue to publicly support them for fear of being sent to the secular humanist version of Hell – i.e. having to get a real job outside academia or being deplatformed from social media.

    • EO – Secular Humanism is not identical to progressivism. There are scores of high profile counter examples, including the author. These complaints seem to be non-sequiturs and strawmen.

      So, no. Secular Humanism is still not a religion.

    • Jamie Lee Davis says

      E. Olson, a secular humanist is not likely to believe in that stack of stuff you put in your post. Certainly, no humanist advocates Marxism or sexism. They are strong believers in individual rights and democracy. And you’ll find most humanists are not in academia at all. They are working people like you and me.

      But then again, not every humanist will agree with ME, either. There isn’t a set of beliefs or a dogma to follow, except maybe something like “follow the Golden Rule” and “moral values don’t come from a supernatural being.”

      Nothing in your lengthy post actually touches reality. You seem to have taken everything you disagree with and assigned all those disagreeable things to a group. You say that secular humanists believe and support a blank slate, Marxism, AGW theory, renewables, “rampant” discrimination and sexism. Somehow, “Hell” is getting a job.

      Those are all YOUR beliefs, all unsupported, and all strawman arguments, set up by you so you can knock them down. It’s just a rant that makes no sense.

      If you want to be mad at someone, be mad at whoever gives you the “facts” that drive your misinformed and hateful opinion.

      • E. Olson says

        I beg to differ. I’d bet serious money that the overlap between self-avowed secular humanists and beliefs in the stuff I listed is extremely high. You might argue whether “self-proclaimed” are actually secular humanists, and I will agree that not every real or imagined secular humanist will believe each of the items, but my point is the secular humanists think they are more objective and “real” than religious people, and yet many/most/all believe in utopian things that “objective” science does not support conclusively, and in many cases contradicts the real world entirely.

  3. Bob Johnson says

    There is no way to derive morals from a scientific or falsifiable way. Any moral code rests on assumptions, like inherent human dignity, that are essentially religious in nature. This is why almost every western ideology, from utilitarianism to socialism to secular humanism, is essentiallly secularized Christianity. They all believe in inherent human dignity and a morality that they hold to be objective and universal, but could never have even arisen were it not for Europe’s Christian civilization. The idea of charity being a virtue, compassion for the poor, sick, and weak, monogamy, and other moral goods we take for granted originated with Christianity. The problem is that by pretending to be scientific and rational, the replacements of Christianity cannot sustain the values they want to uphold. As secularism increases, so will exploitation of the poor, selfishness, and sexual hedonism. Alisdair Macintyre’s book “After Virtue” is excellent on the religious nature of ideology and philosophy, and Charles Murray’s “Coming Apart” shows the rotton fruits of liberal individualism.

    • bumble bee says

      @Bob,

      I totally agree with you comment that everything that we know as being just and right no matter the ideology is derived from Christianity and one could even argue that Christianity is the largest co-opted culture in the world. They just don’t want to attribute it to Christianity or give any nod to its influence.

      The history of Christianity is filled with those who at some point or another are the first thinkers to today’s fields of study. Public schools are based on catholic school models. Many scientific studies came from Christians, they birthed social justice and care for the poor, they changed the foundations of incarceration, were integral in medicine both physical as well as mental health.

      Atheists and Humanists do not want to recognize the overwhelming contributions from Christianity to society. In fact, I will go so far as to say that they do not understand religions, specifically Christianity, enough to understand that religion is not opposed in the least to scientific study. Science is not the opposite of religion, nor is it opposed to any other discipline. What is happening is that Atheists and Humanists who reject religion outright, are trying their best to deny its history by clinging to something that they would never have benefited from without it.

      • K. Dershem says

        @bee, as a secular Agnostic, I fully acknowledge the historical influence of Christianity on Western society. However, I agree with James that morality should be based on considerations of human flourishing, and this approach to ethics does not require a religious foundation. Bob argued that, ” as secularism increases, so will exploitation of the poor, selfishness, and sexual hedonism.” What’s the evidence for this claim? In Society without God, Phil Zuckerman provided a compelling argument to the contrary.

        https://philzuckerman.com/books-2/society/

        • Jay Salhi says

          “morality should be based on considerations of human flourishing”

          I agree. Human flourishing is heavily dependent on fossil fuels and banning them would be pathologically immoral as it would cause widespread misery and suffering. Yet, the enlightened out our time our hellbent on such an objective.

          • Jay, well said! How does abortion fit into the human flourishing axiom?

      • Paul Rinzler says

        In order for “everything that we know as being just and right no matter the ideology [to be] derived from Christianity,” it would seem that Confucius’ “Silver rule (“What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others.”) is somehow derived from Christianity, but that would be difficult to demonstrate.

        • Nicolaas Stempels says

          Yes Paul Rinzler, especially since Confucius predates Christianity by a few centuries. It could be argued the other way round though, that some of Christianity might have been influenced by some eastern religions/philosophies. No’, I’m not actually arguing that, just that it could be argued.

    • James Smith says

      Baloney Bob. The only defensible criterion for moral action is whether it increases the Well-Being of the people affected. To not agree with that is to be a moral infant. And well-being can and is measured scientifically all the time. Look (among 267 other examples) at the Canadian Well-Being Index. (Google it). All the elements are measurable, and we can evaluate scientifically whether are actions make their level better or worse.
      Relying on ancient myths for morality is, well, ancient.

      • Bob Jones says

        And why should we value the wellbeing of others? And how do you asses if an action improves someone’s wellbeing? Things that bring us pain or that we resist may help us later, and visa versa. But more importantly, you believe in inherent dignity of man, which did not exist in Europe until Christianity. Judaism also believes in charity, but holds gentiles to the Noahide laws, whereas Christianity holds everyone accountable to charity

        • Paul Rinzler says

          Anyone can value anything if they want to. But for morality to be about anything other than the well-being of conscious creatures (hat tip to Sam Harris) makes no sense.

      • Ray Andrews says

        @James Smith

        “The only defensible criterion for moral action is whether it increases the Well-Being of the people affected.”

        As a moral infant I ask then if prostitution is good or bad. Both parties seem to consider their well-being to be increased or they’d not agree to the transaction. Or taking heroin. It certainly increases one’s well-being in the short term. Or abortion. The well-being of the unborn infant is certainly impacted. Or climbing free solo. Dangerous, but rewarding. What about disobeying laws that one considers unjust? What about capital punishment? The well-being of the convicted is impacted, but there is the well-being of his victims to consider. What about nature? If my well-being causes the extinction of a species, how does your Index rate that? It might increase my well-being to cheat on my wife, but what about her well-being? Suppose I just don’t let her find out? What if the well-being of my tribe dictates that we exterminate your tribe? Besides, your tribe wants to exterminate my tribe for the same reasons. One could go on almost forever with questions like these that might not be Indexed so easily.

        • K. Dershem says

          @Ray, Secular Humanist principles do not provide easy answers to complicated moral questions like abortion and the death penalty, but I think the criterion of human well-being offers a much better basis for ethical reasoning than theological concepts like “sin” and “souls.” Secular philosophers have addressed all of the questions you’ve asked if you’re interested in the range of views non-theists have taken on those issues. Philosophy doesn’t offer definitive answers, but neither does religion: holy books can be interpreted in many different ways.

          • Paul Rinzler says

            Sam Harris addresses this in his “The Moral Landscape.” Nobody disputes the concept of health despite difficulties sometimes in defining exactly what is healthy in some cases.

          • Ray Andrews says

            @K. Dershem

            “Secular Humanist principles do not provide easy answers”

            I’d not have written the above to you, it was intended as a put-down to @James Smith who was overly smug in his condescension. I think you and I would not see things so simply. The ‘human well-being’ criterion is certainly an honorable and respectable framework. It is no great problem is SHists have a range of views, that’s really in your favor, it shows you are thinkers. Indeed the dogmatic approach is problematic. If there is actually a deity one would naturally follow his instructions to the letter. And one would burn anyone who interprets his instructions differently.

            But it can be well argued that the dogmas of religion are the distillation of 10,000 years of field testing of moral principals that have been demonstrated to work. On the other side, I’d only say that many a SHist is not as rational in achieving HWB as he supposes, is as susceptible to emotional certainties as anyone else … and is very likely not to know it.

            I have this idea I call Ray’s Law of the Conservation of Irrationality: A Catholic vintner believes that Jesus turned water into wine, but he makes his own wine following demonstrably sound practice. A SH feminist at Harvard tut-tuts the vintner for his absurd superstitions but she believes that she’s a Victim of The Patriarchy and wants this evil spirit destroyed. The Catholic correctly sees that she’s deeply religious. The Catholic knows he’s religious and he ‘parks’ his irrationality in church where it can’t do any harm and might even provide maps of meaning (TM) for his soul. The irrationality of the feminist spills out all over everything and does a great deal of damage. In the same way we see the Marxists piling up more bodies than the Inquisition ever dreamed of.

        • E. Olson says

          Ray (and K) – morality based on human flourishing is what religion has traditionally supplied. The list of sins and parables of good and bad in the Bible and Christian doctrine are about how to organize society so that it survives and prospers. You can argue whether these “rules of life” are gifts from God handed down to prophets or simply accumulated learning from centuries of observation of human behavior and interactions to determine what works, but the main point of religion is to make sure its followers survive. Thus homosexuality is frowned upon because it is a dead-end to civilization (two people of the same sex can’t make a baby), monogamy is promoted because it provides the most stable family and tribal structure for survival, as does organizing the community around common (Christian-Judeo) values. The concepts of Heaven and Hell are a means of keeping people from killing each other or themselves during hard times and otherwise trying to live a moral life (to go to heaven and avoid going to hell).

          Secular Humanists can argue that some Christian (or Buddist, Hindu, etc.) rules for living are crazy or out-of-date, but to say they have nothing to do with human flourishing is to deny history.

          • S. Cheung says

            E. Olson,
            I have no issue with considering the sum of those teachings as the “accumulated learning from centuries of observation of human behavior and interactions to determine what works”. In fact, it seems entirely reasonable to take full advantage of those teachings where necessary, in the absence of anything better. To serve as a guide, if you will. It’s only when it is viewed as an edict or dictate, with supernatural origins, that it loses the plot for me.

            Peterson often refers to and draws on this “narrative”, while continuing to “believe in the possibility that God exists”, which is a perfectly scientifically valid position to take. And in his discussion with Harris, Harris goes so far as to say to take that narrative if necessary, but leave the supernatural out of it. That seems perfectly reasonable to me.

          • Ray Andrews says

            @ E. Olson

            Just so. Not forgetting that there are sound reasons to suspect that God might exist, even if we do not suppose so, the doctrines of religions are (the SH loves to point this out) very similar and there is likely to be a reason for that. The SHists can be overly quick to discard them. My favorite example is gay marriage. God aside, my ‘religious views’ are essentially a deep distrust that the SJWs really know better. In every society that has ever existed ‘marriage’ has meant essentially the same thing. As you so often make the list, the religion of SJ holds a dozen major doctrines that are demonstrably false, yet we entrust these folks to redefine our most important institution? Call me ‘religious’ and ‘irrational’ but I think it’s me who’s being rational.

          • E. Olson says

            Ray – the interesting thing to speculate upon is whether secular humanism encourages human flourishing. The Jewish religion has kept the Jewish race alive for thousands of years and through great hardships and tragedy. Christianity has done the same in Europe and lands settled by Europeans for a 1000+ years, and in the Middle East for 1500 odd years before being overtaken by Islam.

            But now that Christianity and Jewish religions have fallen away in influence in many parts of the world over the past 50 to 100 years and been replaced by Marxism or Secular Humanism or Environmentalism or some other “rational” and atheist way of organizing society, what do the trends look like? Below replacement fertility as women and homosexuals have been given more freedom to do what they want (which seems to be not having children), faltering social-welfare states that have replaced Christian charity as the mechanism for helping the needy, and increasing suicide rates and drug abuse as many feel hopeless and with no promise of heaven for non-believers.

            The East European countries that swept aside Christian tradition for the revolutionary fervor of Godless Marxism/Communism certainly didn’t profit economically, politically, or spiritually from their experiment and are now somewhat rudderless. And the the formerly Christian-Judeo Western Europe is increasingly being overrun by Muslim immigrants with a very different and less tolerant culture. Even the largely atheist/secular humanist Swedes and Danes are predicted to be minorities in their own countries in the next 30-40 years, so I would say the future is not looking good for post-Christian-Judeo peoples.

    • “The idea of charity being a virtue, compassion for the poor, sick, and weak, monogamy, and other moral goods we take for granted originated with Christianity.”

      Your assertion is belied by the ubiquity of these virtues in human cultures across the globe. Indeed, they are derived from behavior that developed among our social ancestors, and can be found even among animal species.

      Are bats, who regurgitate part of their evening meal with fellow bats who caught nothing that night, Christians?

      • Bob Jones says

        @Matt

        Pagan cultures practiced infanticide and polygamy. Hinduism and animist religions do not value charity or compassion for the poor, sick, and weak. Islam does value charity, but I view it and other good aspects of Islam as borrowed from Christianity. Greco-Roman cultures treated women like garbage, whereas women and men hold equal dignity in the Bible; look at the women who Jesus talked to as equals. Christianity was unique in saying that people should take upon self sacrifice to help total strangers outside caste, tribe, or family, and that the weak and sick were not worthless, but rather that a person’s woth was judged by how we treat them. It was under Christian influence-thanks to men like William Wilberforce and John Chrysostom-that abolitionism of slavery because popular

        • K. Dershem says

          Christian women may have equal value in the sight of God, but they certainty weren’t treated as equals for the vast majority of Christian history. All major religious traditions (including Hinduism) encourage compassion for others; Christianity is not unique in that regard. It’s true that some Christians were abolitionists, but many other Christians used the Bible to support the institution of slavery. Your comparison of Christian values with the moral teachings of other traditions is one-sided and unfair.

          • Ray Andrews says

            @K. Dershem

            Both cases can be argued and both are partially true. There are huge overlaps in the teachings of almost all religions, but there are profound differences as well. It’s not a debate that can be won. It is rather a question of being honest with oneself. The Aztec religion was not noted for it’s compassion. The Baal worshipers burned their children alive. Mind, the Inquisition did that to folks who preferred to make the sign of the cross backwards. You can find examples of whatever you want. But look at the best and most ‘human flourishing’ societies on the planet, and they are very likely to have a Christian heritage. (Note, the Japanese, after we kicked the shit out of them, adopted 90% of our culture and tho not officially our religion, the culture that came from that religion.)

            “I have come that they might have life, and have it in abundance.” (JC)

            “For the glory of God is the living man [or ‘man fully alive’], and the life of man is the vision of God.” (St. I)

            “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing. Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” (St. P)

            As E said, Christianity is about human flourishing.

        • You present a fractured-fairy-tale version of history, engage in an highly selective parsing of the bible (omitting, for example, the infanticide in Genesis 22, 1 Samuel 1, Hosea 13, 2 Kings 15, Amos 1), and display a complete ignorance of ethology and sociobiology.

          No wonder degrees from your university are considered jokes.

      • Ray Andrews says

        @E. Olson

        “I would say the future is not looking good for post-Christian-Judeo peoples.”

        I share your pessimism.

    • Lightning Rose says

      Charles Murray’s “Coming Apart” was an important book, which should be read by all, and which I greatly enjoyed. But it stopped short of the Internet Age and the new ways of “community” which have in fact taken over from many of the old ones. How do you value the lightning speed of online grassroots activism or GoFundMe vs. the Kiwanis Club bake sale of 50 years ago? Facebook groups have supplanted book groups and boards like Quillette have brought the possibility of participation in worldwide discussion to individuals in hinterlands far from university campusus.

      Like everything else, there are trade-offs. Including those of being “churched” or “unchurched.”

  4. Edwin Morris says

    If “The first is the belief in invisible or hidden beings…” is altered to read “…the belief about invisible or hidden beings…” then Secular Humanism looks and is a lot more religious.

    • K. Dershem says

      If “the belief that stars and planets have a mystical influence on our personalities and fates” is altered to read “beliefs about stars and planets …” then astronomy looks and is a lot like astrology.

  5. Coyne is right on this specific argument, but that should offer no comfort.

    The 100 million lives extinguished prematurely by Marxist schemes in the 20th century should make clear that failing to meeting technical definitions of religion, does not change the zealotry and destruction that secular ideologies can unleash.

    And what Coyne and his fellow liberals share with marxism is a utopian conviction in the perfectibility of humanity through destruction of tradition (including religion) and the rebuilding through application of science and state authority.

    • Robert Quevillon says

      About 40 years ago, Pravda claimed to be the new flagship of Secular Humanism.

    • K. Dershem says

      Secular Humanism has nothing to do with Marxism. Yes, both worldviews are non-religious, it’s absurd to suggest that they’re comparable on that basis alone. Secular Humanism is not utopian and does not claim that humans are perfectible. It’s empirical, fallibilist and incremental, supporting reason-based reforms that help realize its values.

      • Ray Andrews says

        @K. Dershem

        “Secular Humanism has nothing to do with Marxism.”

        Nothing? Surely they sit close to each other on the bus? Surely Marxism has something to do with SH? I agree that SH is no more culpable for Marxism than Darwin is culpable for Hitler, yet is remains true that you can’t have Marxism without SH. It’s one of those unavoidable things. Jesus isn’t culpable for the Inquisition, yet without Jesus there’d not have been a Catholic church, no?

        • K. Dershem says

          Ray, SH has some overlap with Marxist theory, but Marxism in practice (the USSR, Mao, North Korea) completely contradict Humanist values — much like the Inquisition violates the principles of Jesus. They certainly share a common ancestor, but without a more direct connection “guilt by association” seems unwarranted.

        • Jay Salhi says

          “you can’t have Marxism without SH”

          What?

    • Paul Rinzler says

      I’m pretty sure that you cannot cite Coyne having any uptopian idea of the perfectibility of humanity, especially since he is an evolutionary biologist.

      • That’s fair. Coyne is, to his credit, unusually willing among thinkers in this circle to abandon liberalism when the facts don’t fit. I recall him suggesting that the notion of human races was biologically legitimate when that was still veritable heresy. He also took liberals to task for have unsustainable, emotion-driven views on immigration.

    • Simon Johnson says

      You really should read Hitchens dismantling of your thoroughly facile argument. The suggestion that Marxism caused suffering because it shunned religion is the world champion of logical fallacies.

      • Simon, you clearly need to work on reading comprehension because I don’t make the argument you attack.

        Similarly, K. Dershem blatantly misread or misrepresented a claim about “liberalism” as a claim about “secular humanism” in his or her response.

        I don’t respond to arguments I haven’t made.

        • K. Dershem says

          Apologies for the error, but the article is about Secular Humanism … If it helps, I think you’re equally wrong about liberalism.

    • Nicolaas Stempels says

      I think your characterisation of what Jerry Coyne envisages is not really apt.

  6. MrJD says

    The word “religion”, in popular modern usage, simply means “belief set.” Secular humanism is a belief set.

    Yes, this seems to be at odds with the definition of “secular”, but that’s a definition that no longer works given the redefinition of “religion” over time.

  7. Greg Lorriman says

    This article is presuming ‘faith’ as “Belief without evidence”, which is in fact a presumptuous redefinition with no etymological roots whatsoever, by Bertrand Russell, atheist.

    It sure makes religious persons look silly, however.

    But a god hypothetically could prove its own existence.

    Indeed the Catholic definition of faith reflects this, CCC para 150 “Assent and adherence to divinely revealed truth”, which also reflects the etymology of ‘Pistis’, the greek for ‘faith’ of the New Testament. A God revealing itself with absolute proof, there’s nothing irrational about that; indeed giving itself as proof.

    The Catholic Church also provided the inventor of the Big Bang theory, Lemaitre who was a Catholic priest as well as a top physicist, and the father of modern Genetics, Mendel, a monk. the Church has evolution and the Big Bang wrapped up. She accounts for 1.3 billion non-biblical literalist Christians. Evolution plus Adam and Eve.

    Secular humanists cannot prove there isn’t a god, yet they routinely dismiss religious belief as delusional “The God Delusion”, and have no time for any religion talk at all, even to expunging it from the private, public, professional, medical, political and educational spheres. And all this with the bogus assertion that religion is a private matter.

    All this demonstrating a clear belief that there is no god, yet a belief absent a proof – simplistic attempts with ‘free-will’ not withstanding – making it non-rational.

    And in the face of literally hundreds of millions claiming to personally know a god, with most monotheisms having strangely coincident definitions of their respective supreme beings. Personal, loving, uncompromising, just, but merciful to the merciful.

    Even Hinduism in its theistic branch (which accounts for probably most Hindus who also believe in original sin, the rest being deists and dualists).

    To contradict the atheist falsehood: most religions are not exclucivist, and even the stuffy old Catholic Church explicitly teaches that God has manifested in many religions to some degree (there’s even a version of Buddhism that is a defacto classic monotheism).

    Meanwhile, the axioms of science are, according to Karl Popper foremost science philosopher, based on common sense (as well as being unprovable), which is laughable; and further, science never ‘proves’ anything in a meaningful sense, rather it improves a model.

    Maths is also based on unprovable axioms. And since Godel (who was also a Christian) maths has fallen from a state of lofty grace, from a place of presumed absolute truth. And just think about the fact that you can’t prove your own sanity, or even that the world you think exists is substantial, more than imagination.

    “The weakness of atheist materialists is that they insist that all is matter when it could just as well be only mind” G K Chesterton.

    “…….this characteristic is certainly not true of secular humanism, which of course is secular, i.e., holds no belief in “hidden [‘or invisible’, to correct the quote of Stanton] worlds or beings.”

    ….and the abstract? You’re already over the cliff with mathematics. What about that grand feedback loop we call self-awareness? Obviously these invisible things manifest, but they are invisible.

    As for Dawkins’ main argument “Who made God?”. The man’s an ignoramus. St Thomas Aquinas answered that centuries ago. Here’s a modernised version of it:

    There is something that is existence. One day physicists hope to capture it in a grand unifying equation or some such. Logically it cannot not exist, t can never not have existed, and it exists of itself. It’s a feedback loop of sorts since it is self-referencing.

    So then the real question is not “Is there a god”, but is the fundamental thing self-aware, and if so, then does it care? The Crucifixion of Jesus Christ, God incarnate, is an impeccable example of a just but caring god. Indeed Christianity fully addresses the suffering of the innocent (the only suffering that counts).

    We’ve just crossed from abstract to metaphysical since it is absolutely undeniable that there is a thing that is existence.

    Secular humanism is undeniably religious in character as it demonstrably subscribes to a positive belief that there is no spiritual existence (as described above) with no empirical evidence. But it is also ironically irrational, a charge it mistakenly lays at religious belief.

    A religious person may be irrational is there is no god

    An atheist is always irrational whether or not there is a god.

    Be reasonable, be agnostic. Or better still, persevere in doing the bleedin’ obvious “God, if you exist please reveal yourself, and show me why sin is so serious that the innocent must suffer”.

    Atheism is often due to sheer negligence, if it isn’t caused by a trauma or by atheistic parenting. And it’s almost always snobby and sneery. It’s quite amusing, in a somewhat sad way, that atheists are so completely wrong and yet usually so arrogant.

    Sin is damage to personal integrity and to the likeness of God, pure self-giving love. In God’s eyes any amount of suffering is preferable to that. And there is no escaping it. All will suffer grievously. Call out to God in your pains and despairing, as it is never too late. JESUS SAVE ME.

    As with anyone of genuine faith, I know God personally, and God bows down to those who humble themselves.

    Doubtless you will call me delusional. Prove it.

    Jesus Christ, the Jewish messiah: “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.”

    “I have come to proclaim the good news to the poor.”

    “Blessed are those who are poor in spirit” (ie, humble)

    “Do no judge and you will not be judged”

    “Be merciful, and mercy will be given to you”.

    “Do good to those who do you evil and love and pray for your enemies.”

    “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”

    • Blue Lobster says

      Hard to imagine anything much more humble than this turgid thousand-word comment.

      • Andrew Roddy says

        Greg, some of your arguments are stronger than others. The effect may be that the stronger ones suffer by association. You are trashing your own brand.

        • Greg Lorriman says

          Andrew, I seem so be doing OK so far. No reasoned replies just insults. Usually a pretty good sign.

          • Ray Andrews says

            @Greg Lorriman

            That wasn’t an insult Greg, it was a well meaning suggestion that I agree with. Your posts are too long for a forum like this one. Shorter and more focused posts would be easier to reply to.

      • Greg Lorriman says

        Blue Lobster, lol! But not turgid enough for you, I see. Haha!!! It’s evident you read the whole thing.

        You must have been perplexed and felt a little sad to find that you could only respond with insults. :'( Is that tear on your left cheek?

        • K. Dershem says

          Greg, if you’re interested in reasoned replies you might want to consider submitting shorter and more focused posts. You make so many claims that it’s hard to know where to start.

        • Blue Lobster says

          In what way is it evident that I read the whole thing?

    • John says

      You say that, “‘faith’ as “Belief without evidence”, … is in fact a presumptuous redefinition with no etymological roots whatsoever”

      But Hebrews 11 says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

      What Hebrews says sure sounds like belief without evidence to me. This is furthered by the story of “Doubting Thomas,” of which Jesus had this to say in John 20: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

      So then your idea that faith is NOT belief without evidence all comes down to your statement that god reveals himself: “A God revealing itself with absolute proof.”

      But that is mere equivocation. Divine revelation is not the same category of evidence as hard, scientific evidence that is meant when people say faith is belief without evidence. After all, people use divine revelation as justification of absolute proof of Islam and Mormonism just as well as Catholicism (or for that matter other denominations of Christianity which disparage Catholicism). But these faiths contradict each other, so clearly divine revelation cannot be a useful standard, or really even be called evidence in the same way as scientific evidence.

      • Greg Lorriman says

        @John, Hebrews 11 isn’t a definition. Sadly unthoughtful Christians quote it as such. It merely described what faith gets you.

        “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.””

        The context was physical seeing, as is clear from Thomas’s preceeding demand (to see and touch). That doesn’t mean no sight at all, ie the sight of the mind/heart/soul etc etc I see the truth of n+m=m+n without any need of seeing with my eyes, for instance.

        “But that is mere equivocation. Divine revelation is not the same category of evidence as hard, scientific evidence that is meant when people say faith is belief without evidence. ”

        Lol, you may be so attached to matter, so complacent of your bodily experience, that seeing with your eyes, and feelign with your hands seems like hard proof. Yet you aren’t able to prove your own sanity. You don’t know anything either of your physical sight or your mind that is verifiable.

        But I did mentioned that.

        Even Dawkins admits to as much about the inability to verify the laws of reason, that they are axiomatic and not necessarily right, they just seem right to us less some bit of info that we are missing. But I mentioned this in the ‘common sense’ of Karl Popper. Even science does not actually provide hard truth of anything at all despite the impression that some scientists give.

        Physics, for instance, is all theory, models and approximations. They don’t have a comprehensive and unifying equation yet, and it’s arguable the completeness of such can only be the thing itself, no equation possible.

        Meanwhile, absolute proof is a hypothetical possibility to a god, as unimaginable as it may be to you, and addressing such problems as insanity etc. That’s logically self-evident (it’s a god, after all) even if unimaginable.

        I mentioned that also, but I have expanded on it for you.

        As a matter of fact there is an established mechanism that all the monotheisms acknowledge, and is obvious once you know it. I didn’t mention that, but it was a wrap anyway.

        “After all, people use divine revelation as justification of absolute proof of Islam and Mormonism just as well as Catholicism ”

        Sure, because it’s kinda obvious. It’s only atheists muddying the waters here, with the aid of ignorant Christians of course. Most Christians are simple and don’t know much beyond knowing God. They don’t know how they know God. Often they make up bad arguments on the spot and talk nonsense.

        “But these faiths contradict each other, so >clearly< divine revelation cannot be a useful standard, or really even be called evidence in the same way as scientific evidence.”

        That’s a big unclear jump there. In the first place, most monotheisms agree on the fundamental definition of the supreme being (personal etc), as I mentioned, and in the 2nd place, in consideration of sin/evil/wrong-doing/free-will, it isn’t a stretch to imagine that there might end up being a division of views and beliefs on the details.

        So really you are making more of the divisions than actually exists to fair enquiry. After all, most religions in fact acknowledge the others as different manifestations of the same, to contradict you, but I did say that they are not exclusivist.

        Even the Catholic Church explicitly acknowledges that God has manifested in most other monotheisms to some degree.

        But I mentioned that too. Did you actually read what I wrote?

        • John says

          I did read what you wrote. And most of it is simply diversion, so given constraints on my time I won’t address everything you said.

          Take your first point: “Hebrews 11 isn’t a definition….It merely described what faith gets you.” Hebrews 11 says, “Now faith IS…” [emphasis added]. It doesn’t say, “Now faith gets you X.” So yes, it is a definition as proffered by the author of Hebrews.

          Another one: “Sure, because it’s kinda obvious. It’s only atheists muddying the waters here, with the aid of ignorant Christians of course.” If it’s so obvious and it’s only atheists aided by ignorant Christians, why is it that most of the world is not Christian? If it’s so obvious why have there been numerous, changing, contradictory religions across the world and time? Seems like it’s not so obvious.

          Last point: “That’s a big unclear jump there. In the first place, most monotheisms agree on the fundamental definition of the supreme being (personal etc), as I mentioned, and in the 2nd place, in consideration of sin/evil/wrong-doing/free-will, it isn’t a stretch to imagine that there might end up being a division of views and beliefs on the details.”

          What about the non-monotheistic religions? Do they not count? And even if we ignore them take Christianity and Islam. The Qur’an claims clearly that hellfire awaits those who believe Jesus was the son of god (see for example Surah 5:34-38, Surah 43:63-66), and yet the Bible claims hellfire for those who do not believe in Jesus as the son of god (John 14:6, among others). This isn’t a mere disagreement about particular detail, it’s the whole damn point.

    • “Secular humanists cannot prove there isn’t a god, yet they routinely dismiss religious belief as delusional”

      As Carl Sagan said,’Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence’. A god is an extraordinary claim, and so belief in one should be based on good evidence. If I claimed I met Zeus or Thor, you would rightly reject my claim as delusional unless I provided sufficient proof, and a selfie with Liam Neeson or Chris Helmsworth would not be sufficient. Belief in Yahweh or Allah is just as much a delusion unless you have sufficient evidence to back up your claims.

      “And in the face of literally hundreds of millions claiming to personally know a god”

      This is a logical fallacy known as the Appeal to Popularity. It doesn’t matter how many people believe something if they don’t have any actual evidence to back it up. Until Galileo, everyone believed that heavy objects fell faster than lighter ones, yet he was able to show with evidence that everyone else was wrong. Millions of people believe in mutually exclusive gods and belong to mutually exclusive religions. They can’t all be right, but they can all be wrong.

      It should be easy to demonstrate the truth of your religion, eg. if believers are favoured by their god, then ‘an act of god’ or natural disaster like an earthquake, volcano, or tsunami should disproportionally spare believers and harm infidels. Yet this doesn’t happen…

      • Greg Lorriman says

        @BACONSquadgaming

        “A god is an extraordinary claim,”

        No it isn’t.

        Not only because it is a commonplace claim (and a coherent and immediately graspable idea, to contradict that old chestnut), but because the very fact of existence logically suggests the possibility of a self-aware super-being, as I wrote above on St Thomas Aquinas’s work, in relation to Dawkins’ main argument of “Who made God” as being answered centuries ago (in short ‘existence’ undeniably exists and undeniably is self-referencing, begging the question of it being self-aware).

        “…and so belief in one should be based on good evidence. ”

        Sure, it’s based on absolute proof. Did you not read what I wrote?

        “If I claimed I met Zeus or Thor, you would rightly reject my claim as delusional ”

        Indeed it would not be right to reject your claim as delusional unless I had proof of a fact to the contrary. Rather I would be motivated to enquire further if you were of reliable character.

        “….Belief in Yahweh or Allah is just as much a delusion unless you have sufficient evidence to back up your claims.”

        That’s a presumption. I may possess the proof yet be unable to demonstrate it. And it is arguable that a God may only provide proof of itself on a direct, personal level to those worthy of it, ie, who had at least bothered to ask.

        My only purpose is to do the groundwork, as above, of making a reasoned case for a god, to witness to my own contact with a god (which is of limited use since you don’t know my character), and to encourage you to get the proof for yourself: “God if you exist, please reveal yourself”.

        • S.Cheung says

          Greg,
          “because the very fact of existence logically suggests the possibility of a self-aware super-being”
          (a) how/why is that a logical suggestion?
          (b) possibility of that being is not proof of that being.

          ” I may possess the proof yet be unable to demonstrate it.”
          But that simply means that you assert God exists because you know it/believe it to be so. Which is fine. BUt unless and until you can convince the guy beside you, like me, it doesn’t move the needle to anything beyond your personal belief system/religion.

          • Andrew Roddy says

            “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

            What Hebrews says sure sounds like belief without evidence to me.

            Belief in things unseen can hardly be equated with belief without evidence. I have seen much evidence of the wind but not the wind itself though I imagine I have felt. I have never seen an atom or electricity or heat but I proceed on the understanding that these concepts have some validity. I have never seen causation and I am less convinced here. But how else to understand the overwhelming preponderance of evidence for it?

          • Greg Lorriman says

            S.Cheung,

            “(a) how/why is that a logical suggestion?”

            You didn’t carry on reading. I refer you back to what I wrote.

            “(b) possibility of that being is not proof of that being.”

            I didn’t say it was. But it is enough to say that it is wrong to dismiss religious belief as being on the level of believing in fairies at the bottom of the garden, as Dawkins insists.

            Coupled to the fact that hypothetically a god could give absolute proof of itself (again distinguishing a supreme being from fairies or even ‘gods’ like Zeus etc who are not supreme beings), there is a reasonable basis for taking religious claims more seriously, and also not, for instance, reading the Bible looking for contradiction instead of truth, like evilbible.com (which is a litany of misrepresentation as it happens; I have read the Bible) or the attitude of any typical atheist.

            And also to listening to people’s own personal experiences of a god (granted some will be fakes), and then finally to doing the obvious “God, if you exist please reveal yourself”.

            “” I may possess the proof yet be unable to demonstrate it.”
            But that simply means that you assert God exists because you know it/believe it to be so. Which is fine. BUt unless and until you can convince the guy beside you, like me, it doesn’t move the needle to anything beyond your personal belief system/religion.”

            Really I fully addressed this. It’s as if you are not reading what I wrote, yet clearly you are picking up bits and pieces.

            I refer you back to what I wrote. And no, there is no need for me to convince you to believe (plus it’s impossible as proof is needed, and only a god itself is actual proof, no?), only to demonstrate the reasonable possibility and encourage you to ask for yourself, to get that proof for yourself. I have two personal aquaintances that persevered in asking and God revealed himself directly. There are many more examples out there.

            For personal experiences of a god from ex-atheists, search out yourtube for the art professor Howard Storm. Quite apart from anything else he’s quite amusing. He’s also become a pastor in Belize, a super poor country, so his testimony can be trusted.

          • S.Cheung says

            Greg,
            “You didn’t carry on reading. I refer you back to what I wrote.”

            I did read what you wrote. And in the morass of your mumble-jumble, you said this-
            “There is something that is existence. One day physicists hope to capture it in a grand unifying equation or some such. Logically it cannot not exist, t can never not have existed, and it exists of itself. It’s a feedback loop of sorts since it is self-referencing.”

            So existence exists, or is “self-referencing”, whatever that means. Your statement itself is an assertion without basis or merit. Building upon that to claim a “logical suggestion” leading from existence to self-aware super being is simply you being delusional. Which is why I posed the question. Your “answer” isn’t one. For example, WHY must existence rest upon some being? Existence simply IS. THat was true yesterday; it’s true today; and it will remain true tomorrow.

            And why would a god be different from fairies? Someone “may possess the proof yet be unable to demonstrate it”. In fact, your argument would sustain anyone’s claim to absolutely anything. I believe schizophrenics have already mastered that. Their delusions are certainly real to them…but they’re simply unable to demonstrate it. I normally wouldn’t say that a religious person is delusional, but if you wanna go there, be my guest.

            “hypothetically a god could give absolute proof of itself”
            —now you’re talking my language. I love hypotheses. So your god “could” give absolute proof of itself, you say? I would love to see it. In fact, i’d even clear my schedule for a show like that. But until your god DOES give proof of itself, it remains a hypothesis that is not sustained…which means it remains rejected and you’re left to accept the null…which is that god does not exist. Sorry pal.

            “there is a reasonable basis for taking religious claims more seriously”
            –and ironically, you’re way underselling it here. If you god DID give proof of itself, I’d be buying those claims hook/line/sinker tomorrow, never mind just “more seriously”.

            ” people’s own personal experiences of a god ”
            —and that’s great. People can believe whatever they want. Doesn’t mean those aren’t literally fairy tales.

            “only to demonstrate the reasonable possibility and encourage you to ask for yourself,”
            By virtue of the scientific method, accepting the null does not PROVE the null to be true. So as Jordan Peterson says, there is a possibility that god exists (and I’ve said elsewhere that his position is perfectly scientifically reasonable, but it is also absolutely as far as he can go without falling into the abyss). However, I would note that such a possibility is on par with the null of the hypothesis that “pigs can fly”.

            Basically, your whole argument boils that to the claim that people through their experiences can come to know and accept their god, and even believe him to be real. And that’s perfectly fine with me. Only that those beliefs are of zero persuasive value outside the confines of a believer’s head.

          • Greg Lorriman says

            S.Cheung,

            “I think in your fervor to defend your beliefs, you have lost grip on rules of evidence. ”

            The original statement I replied to ““If I claimed I met Zeus or Thor, you would rightly reject my claim as delusional ”

            But I would not be right to reject it as delusional, and he is incorrect. It’s a statement that assumes that Zeus/Thor don’t exist and are proven to not exist, therefore that he’s delusional. But if, a)I have no fact to the contrary, ie it’s not proven they don’t exist, b)he is of reliable character, c)the statement isn’t a contradiction of itself, d)he is not otherwise demonstrably psychotic, then surprised as I may be by his words, I cannot completely discount them and there is just some tiny possibility that indeed he had met Zeus or Thor as unlikely as that may seem. (Of course, he is also probably delusional, but that’s not the point.)

            Now that would be scientificly proper.

            This is obvious stuff, and I did already say it though not in so many words.

            S. Cheung, like John you are well out of your depth.

            “It’s science 101, which you clearly skipped.”

            Lol! You’re so confused that I think you may be mentally ill. You certainly skipped logic 101.

      • John says

        Greg said this, quoting BACONSQAUDgaming first:

        ” “If I claimed I met Zeus or Thor, you would rightly reject my claim as delusional ”

        Indeed it would not be right to reject your claim as delusional unless I had proof of a fact to the contrary. Rather I would be motivated to enquire further if you were of reliable character. ”

        ….. that about says it all. Greg doesn’t think it would be delusional to believe in Zeus or Thor, and apparently doesn’t think there is proof to the contrary.

        • Greg Lorriman says

          John,

          “….. that about says it all. Greg doesn’t think it would be delusional to believe in Zeus or Thor, and apparently doesn’t think there is proof to the contrary.”

          Most of what you wrote isn’t worth replying to as the passing reader will easily see the nonsense and misrepresentation in it. That line above is just laughable. Who are you trying to kid? Or are you just thick?

          However, there is one line I can use to further my agenda…

          “What about the non-monotheistic religions? Do they not count? And even if we ignore them take Christianity and Islam.”

          Non-monotheisms don’t give a proper origin explanation and their gods aren’t supreme so don’t have the hypothetical ability to give absolute proof of themselves. Like deism (a non-personal supreme being), they are really just spiritualised atheisms.

          • Greg Lorriman says

            John,

            Christianity and Islam : I wrote that >most< monotheisms are not exclusivist. Protestants and Islam are exceptions.

            Even so, I was called over by a fully bearded Muslim, robed street preacher claiming that as a Christian we worshipped the same God.

          • John says

            Greg, where is the misrepresentation? BACONSQAUDgaming said it would be delusional to believe in Thor or Zeus, and you said, “Indeed it would not be right to reject your claim as delusional unless I had proof of a fact to the contrary. Rather I would be motivated to enquire further if you were of reliable character.”

            That’s what YOU said. Do you now disagree with it? Character has nothing to do with it. We know Thor and Zeus don’t exist because of overwhelming evidence. It would be completely right to reject claims about Thor and Zeus and to call them delusional.

            And I’m not sure why your story about your Muslim friend helps your claim that I’m “making more of the divisions than actually exists to fair enquiry.” Your story simply shows that even within a particular religion people can’t agree! Try asking the average imam in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia. See if they agree that you’re worshiping the same god. And I don’t think you likely really even believe the differences are minor. Do you agree with Qur’an, sura 4: 157–158, for example?

          • Greg Lorriman says

            John,

            LOL! give it up, John. Seriously, you’re over confident of your abilities and shouldn’t have partaken of this debate. Maybe in a few years when you’re older and more measured in reading and comprehension.

          • John says

            I’m sorry you felt it necessary to resort to name calling. I’m still not sure how quoting exactly what you said was a misrepresentation.

            Again, sorry that you felt that it was appropriate to resort to insults rather than engaging in the substance of the matter. So long.

          • Greg Lorriman says

            John,

            “Again, sorry that you felt that it was appropriate to resort to insults rather than engaging in the substance of the matter. ”

            Lol, the unintended irony is strong with you, young John.

            “So long”

            No thanks. Just go away and keep away.

            You’re doing atheism a disservice, and struggles badly enough already.

          • Greg Lorriman says

            And John, before you call me unchristian: Christians are not meant to be nice. That is a nonsense made up by atheists. We are most certainly allowed to laugh at silliness.

            Christians are meant be charitable, and that means tough love as necessary. And a whipping for the foolish as it’s the only thing they respond to.

          • S.Cheung says

            Greg,
            I think in your fervor to defend your beliefs, you have lost grip on rules of evidence. If you claim the existence of Zeus, or THor, or God, the burden of proof is on you to provide evidence to sustain those beliefs (assuming you want to convince others that you aren’t being delusional). You can’t PROVE that something does NOT exist. It’s science 101, which you clearly skipped.

          • S. Cheung says

            Greg,
            LOL again.
            “If I claimed I met Zeus or Thor…”
            —that is actually a 2 part claim. It requires (a) Zeus or Thor exist AND (b) you met him/them. THe burden is on you to sustain both those claims. A selfie would do nicely as that would satisfy both claims simultaneously. Until you provide such proof, your claim can be dismissed in its entirety.

            I will grant that the immediate conclusion of “delusional” would not be automatically satisfied. The claim can fail on multiple points besides delusion. Nonetheless, the entire claim is of no substance until YOU substantiate it.

            Again, scientifically, this (“it’s not proven they don’t exist”) is not possible, and if you took science or logic 101, you would realize this. It borders on retarded for you to persist down this track…but you do what you gotta do.

            Whether the claimant is reliable, visibly ill, or a nice guy, is of no importance. None of those things contribute to the value of his claim insofar as offering proof thereof. It is bizarre for you to bring those issues in to begin with.

            “I cannot completely discount them ”
            Sure you can. You can claim literally anything. But until you can provide proof for your claim, it is of zero value. Forget “discount”; try “ignore” instead. I completely discount, and absolutely ignore, anyone who claims that god exists, unless and until such time as someone offers proof of god’s existence. What I don’t discount or ignore is the possibility that such proof might be forthcoming at some point, but I wouldn’t bet on it, and am not holding my breath.

  8. hans says

    There never has been and never will be a rational objective justification for any human action. Maybe a theoretical perfect secularists is not religious but human beings are religious. If you keep asking why you will find all of human motivation rests on either religious principals, or mere animalistic instincts and urges.

    Why is murder wrong? Why do you get out of bed in the morning? Why is it “good” to advance technology, or to observe the world through the lens of science in the pursuit of objective truth? Why is it good to protect the environment? Why do you trust the people around you that Pluto exists if you have never seen it? Why do you trust that your own senses correspond with reality? Or that other people experience anything at all? It is all faith or ignorance nothing more nothing less.

    • Nobody Important says

      Well said!

      You can’t “rationally” justify any human action. Alleister Crowley said it best, “Do as thou wilt, for that is the whole of the law.” Heck, that is what everybody seems to do anyway.

      However, you seem to be confusing normative with cognitive skepticism. When you ask cognitively questions like “How can I know my senses know reality?” You are implicitly relying on evidence from your senses, even if that evidence was merely learning the words to frame the question. Rene Descartes took that reasoning to its end point and concluded that you could doubt anything except your own consciousness, because to doubt would be an act of consciousness. To doubt all knowledge is a knowledge claim.

      Normative skepticism, by contrast, involves no such self-contradiction. If I claim that all conceptions of morality have no grounding beyond the emotions of the people making them, I am not making my own “objective” ethical system. I am just making a cognitive claim about all ethical systems.

    • dirk says

      Why good to protect the environment? A good example! First impuls (that of a child) is always, I dump the garbage away from myself or my house or my land, that’s the easiest and quickest thing to do. And this is what still happens on a large scale, by individuals as well as communities. But where you start thinking about the future, or the larger communities, in short, on the bigger picture, physically and timely, you don’t follow your first impuls. Same with murder and all the other things you mentioned. It’s adulthood as against childishness. Not religion vs humanism.

      But, maybe, religion is just a form of social adulthood?!

  9. OK, secular humanism is not a religion; but it is a cult that seems to attract a lot of narcissists.

  10. Jizz says

    Secular humanism is a religion like ‘not collecting stamps’ is a hobby.

    • Greg Lorriman says

      Yet secular humanists themselves dismiss religion so completely, even to insisting on changing laws to expunge it from the private, public, professional, medical, political and educational spheres. And all this with the bogus assertion that religion is a ‘private matter’. A nurse can be sacked for asking someone if they would like to be prayed for, ridiculous as well as vindictive.

      All this demonstrating a clear, positive >belief< that there is no god, yet a belief absent a proof – simplistic attempts with ‘free-will’ not withstanding – making it non-rational.

      Faith: “Belief without proof”. Ironically, since a god could (hypothetically at least) prove its own existence as Catholic Christians claim, that definition better applies to atheists. Lol! But that’s fitting since it is a presumptuous redefinition by an atheist, Bertrand Russell, with no etymological roots whatsoever. He’s also the charlatan that misrepresented religious belief with the Teapot analogy. No, we do not believe because a dusty old book tells us or at the direction of a priesthood, but rather because we personally know God, and it’s God who directs us to the dusty old book.

      For more on the irrationality of secular humanists, see my excellent comment above.

  11. Certainly, the answer to this question is heavily dependent on the definition of religion used. The definition provided here is empirically generated by looking at a small set of known religions. And as such perhaps Secular Humanism doesn’t meet that definition.

    But, perhaps a more rigorous definition is possible. I personally strongly suspect that religion, like spoken language, is not a human invention. But rather it is an “invention” of evolution itself, that is encoded in our genes. And it is done so, by creating mechanisms for instilling beliefs within and transferring beliefs between individuals. Concepts such as fame, blasphemy, nostalgia, faction, righteousness and others are perhaps written into our DNA in order to coax out religion. Which in the ideal, can transfer wisdom from one generation to the next, so that all that is learned in a lifetime isn’t lost at death. I suspect that the Catholic religion even gave a name to these genetic hooks: the Holy Spirit.

    But, those same mechanisms can be exploited in order to manipulate people for purposes far from evolution’s “intention”.

    For me, the definition of a religion, is simply a belief system that sits on top of and disseminates through using these same genetic hooks. And as such Secular Humanism is a religion in spades.

  12. Blue Lobster says

    One of the many weird and wonderful things about the internet is that now that anyone with access can instantly look up the definition to any word at any time, they often seem to feel strangely entitled to fabricate their own as they see fit. Rather than the consummate information-disseminating machine, it’s the consummate irony-producing machine.

    • X. Citoyen says

      Coyne looked up his words. He says “secular” means “not religious,” and he’s secular, so, therefore, he’s not religious. That’s a QED by OED if I ever saw one. I mean, really, how can you argue with ironclad logic like that?

  13. A. Luddite says

    “the absence of evidence is indeed evidence for absence if the evidence should have been there”

    So science says “there are no black swans” and in the absence of evidence of black swans the theory that there are no black swans becomes accepted as fact, but then once black swans are found science says “there are black swans”. That’s the scientific method in a nutshell. It’s always right (even when it’s wrong). And if you happen to live in a time period before it’s discovered how wrong it previously was (or you can’t convince them how wrong it is), you’re stuck. So let the scientists have their science and try and live a happy life in spite of it. Articles like this just show how bland and uninteresting their way of life is.

    • S. Cheung says

      A.L.,
      that’s not correct. Absence of evidence is NOT evidence of absence.

      So you postulate “there are black swans”, and when you don’t see any (absence of evidence), you have to accept the null hypothesis (that there are no black swans)…but that is NOT evidence that black swans do not exist. You have not PROVEN that black swans do not exist; you have merely failed to PROVE that they do. Then if you turn the corner and see one, then suddenly your hypothesis is good to go.

      THAT is the scientific method. Pretty darn exciting if you ask me. Possibility to learn something new around every corner. Not confined to a book written a few millennia ago by a few wise old guys.

      • Robert Quevillon says

        But science has a presupposition. It is Uniformitarianism. And secular humanism has a tacit presupposition. It is the inherent goodness of humanity. This despite the history of aeons.

        • K. Dershem says

          Secular Humanism does not presuppose the inherent goodness of humanity. It takes an empirical view of human nature, recognizing that we are evolved social animals with the capacity for both cruelty and compassion, for conflict and cooperation. Opponents of Secular Humanism would do well to understand what Humanists actually claim before criticizing them.

          • X. Citoyen says

            KD,

            You should be coordinating your public statements with your coreligionists—and maybe lay off the “educate yourself!” missives. You wrote:

            Secular Humanism does not presuppose the inherent goodness of humanity.

            You also said above that secular humanists aren’t utopians. Here’s what the American Humanist Association says in its Manifesto (original emphasis):

            Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships. Humanists long for and strive toward a world of mutual care and concern, free of cruelty and its consequences, where differences are resolved cooperatively without resorting to violence. The joining of individuality with interdependence enriches our lives, encourages us to enrich the lives of others, and inspires hope of attaining peace, justice, and opportunity for all.

            That’s a two-fer-one! Can’t get more utopian or more inherent-goodness-of-humanity believing than that.

            By the way, since we’re all following Coyne in using refutation by definition, you should consider yourself refuted. Dictionary definitions are based on usage, after all, and you’re one person counts for little against the AHA’s many. That makes you wrong—maybe an apostate.

          • Stoic Realist says

            @K. Dersham

            Be careful of the generalization you are making here. You seem to suggest that there is no such thing as a self-professed Humanist who presupposes the inherent goodness of humanity. Given the population of the planet it is highly likely that a contradicting individual can be found. Will you then argue that ‘no true Humanist’ believes this?

            While I don’t think that secular humanism is a religion in itself I believe a strong case can be made that the members thereof engage in ‘religious thinking’ instead of absolute rationality.

          • K. Dershem says

            X., positing an ideal does not preclude the recognition that it may be impossible to achieve. MLK envisioned a “colorblind” society, but he was painfully aware of how difficult it would be to achieve that goal. The excerpt you cited does not, in fact, presuppose that humans are inherently good — it says (rightly) that we’re social animals who are capable of cooperating with one another rather than resorting to violence. Humanists obviously understand that we’re equally capable of succumbing to our instincts for tribalism, intolerance and cruelty. That’s exactly why they’re promoting their vision of an ideal society! SR is correct that Humanists differ in their view of human nature, but respect for science is a core tenet of Humanist principles. Our evolutionary origins make it clear that humans are prone to all kind of cognitive biases that distort our thinking and ethical reasoning.

          • S. Cheung says

            X.,
            by the definition you linked, humanists long for and strive toward things that might be considered good, but that is NOT the same as presupposing that those things are inherently already present (or there would not be anything to long for or strive towards).

            Merriam Webster’s “utopia”: “a place of ideal perfection especially in laws, government, and social conditions”. That sounds a little more ambitious than just “peace, justice, and opportunity for all”.

          • Ray Andrews says

            @X. Citoyen

            “Here’s what the American Humanist Association says in its Manifesto”

            Congrats, you’ve demonstrated exactly what K states, namely that SH embraces a rather wide variety of opinions. Your post was trollish and nasty, that’s unfortunate because I’ve known you to have something intelligent to say on occasion.

          • E. Olson says

            K – you state that “Secular Humanism does not presuppose the inherent goodness of humanity”, but Christianity also does no presuppose the inherent goodness of humanity. In fact, Christians are taught that all humans since Adam and Eve are sinners in thought and deed, and the major point of Jesus and the New Testament is basically the confession and forgiveness of human sins by God.

            And the forgiveness of sins seems to be what atheists hate about Christianity, because they ALWAYS assume the Christians are hypocrites because they sin by failing to follow the 10 commandments and other Christina doctrine as in: “How dare those sinning Christians tell us how to lead our lives.” This just shows that Atheists (and Secular Humanists) know very little about the religions they so routinely criticize. Good Christians try to be good, but recognize that everyone fails (sins) on occasion (or more often), but will be forgiven by God if they confess and ask for forgiveness. Good Christians also try to forgive others who trespass against us, but failure to forgive is also a sin that is common and forgivable by God.

            And yes I am not expecting a response.

          • X. Citoyen says

            Ray,

            My only mistake was thinking KD’s hair-splitting response spoke for itself and that I could drop the matter. KD said secular humanism “does not presuppose the inherent goodness of humanity.” He’s wrong, as I showed, and as I’ll show again. Here’s how the OED defines that all-important word “inherent”:

            Existing in something as a permanent, essential, or characteristic attribute. [e.g.] “any form of mountaineering has its inherent dangers”

            Inherent does not refer to a constant state but to an essential characteristic or the normal state of a thing that can behave abnormally. Claiming that “humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships” is claiming that human beings are inherently good because “social by nature” and “find meaning is relationships” can be taken to mean (given what follows the statement) that human beings are not antisocial, selfish, or domineering by nature and that those meaningful relationships they seek do not include, say, the master-slave relationship.

            So Robert Quevillon was right and KD wrong, at least as far as the American Humanist Association goes. But I could go elsewhere and dig up a whole lot more speaking to the general point that secular humanists believe in the inherent goodness of humanity. It’s not just one line either. The entire AHA site speaks to this fact.

            As for trolling, I could channel Jerry Coyne and observe that we’re just apes and that “humanity” is no more scientifically meaningful than “apemanity.” From a scientific standpoint, social by nature and meaningful relationships could include any social arrangement and any meaningful relationship. Even if you tag on the normative bit about aspiring to the ideal of caring and non-violence, you get a lot of leeway for human diversity.

            A case in point: A master might well do better for his slaves than the slaves could do for themselves. Aristotle certainly thought that morally incontinent people were better off slaves. Lest you think him too old school, our own rehabilitative penal system is predicated on the same idea: A criminal must be enslaved to the will of his social betters to reshape his character to conform to social norms. So where do all these other moral constraints come from? Apes don’t have them. They come from the same logical category that contains the skyman with a white beard—what could be called atheology.

            In simpler terms, all these claims about secular humanism not being a religion belong to self-image maintenance, not to logic or science. Their self-concept as free-thinking, open-minded moral and intellectual superiors depends on theirs worldview not being “religious.”

          • keith cook says

            This i see as yawning gap between religion and secular humanism/atheism. Created Vs Creating… there is no conjoining the two as the first has denied the second.
            One is the all encompassing answer to life, the other, a incremental evolution of organism and culture. these are two distinct progressions side by side AND not perfect… unlike the other, a cultural artifact struggling under it’s own tenet to survive over time, like rust is to iron, simply, this is a natural progression over time and it has a strong element of suppression about it that cannot endure the weight of science and reason.
            In the main, Creating or creative thinking is open ended to acquiring knowledge of how the universe works, conjecture as opposed to belief.
            Created is limited to and unto itself with no proof required, it is BASED on belief.

        • S. Cheung says

          Robert,
          I agree. Believing in science still does require a de novo “belief” in the scientific method. The difference is that once you adopt that belief, you are on your way with stuff that is testable etc. Whereas with “religion”, once you adopt a “belief” in a religion of your choice, you are merely signed on to acquire a litany of other beliefs.

          • Ray Andrews says

            @S. Cheung

            Very well put. Indeed, tho they may both rest on foundations of air, the cathedral of religion and the power-plant of science are very different buildings.

          • Ray Andrews says

            @X. Citoyen

            “KD wrong, at least as far as the American Humanist Association goes”

            Ok, as far as the AHA goes. What of it? Give me a bulletproof, universally agreed definition of Christian or capitalist or socialist or opera lover. My moral foundations are much closer to yours, but I don’t see why you are being so nasty to K, he’s trying very hard to be reasonable and civil and nasty comments are no help. I think he’s open to polite persuasion.

      • Allan Donkin says

        Could we wait a millennium and then disregard all your posts because they became old?

        • S. Cheung says

          Allan,
          I’m flattered that you would compare my posts to a good book, but maybe next time apply some logic before you respond. Or maybe learn something new with science. Do something, cuz what you’re doing rn ain’t working so good.

    • Paul Rinzler says

      All you can do is to accept the evidence you have. Ultimately, it’s still a tentative conclusion that can always be changed with new evidence. What other procedure comes close to the success of science?

      And, in practical terms, many scientific discoveries are so well evidenced that they will not be overturned for all practical purposes. I think Coyne has mentioned that it is highly unlikely (but still hypothetically possible) that we will change our minds that DNA is what transmits hereditable characteristics. Many others should come to mind with a little effort.

      • K. Dershem says

        X., I don’t agree with your interpretation. Claiming that “humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships” is claiming that human beings are inherently good because “social by nature” and “find meaning is relationships” can be taken to mean (given what follows the statement) that human beings are not antisocial, selfish, or domineering by nature and that those meaningful relationships they seek do not include, say, the master-slave relationship. As I understand it, “social by nature” means that we’re social animals — much like ants, wolves, and chimps — instead of being solitary (like orangutans and most species of cats). As I wrote above, Secular Humanists accept the scientific explanation of human origins. On that basis, it’s abundantly obvious that humans have tribal and selfish impulses that derive from our evolved nature. Humanist ethics are intended to help us overcome those instincts. Likewise, the claim that “we find meaning in relationships” is simply a truism. Humanists (like Steven Pinker) encourage us to cultivate the “better angels of our nature”; we don’t deny that humankind has demonic aspects as well.

  14. S. Cheung says

    I’m surprised a formal and full-length rebuttal of Staddon’s failed thesis was deemed to be necessary. He offered a 3 part definition of “religion”, and by his own explicit admission, he found secular humanism to fall short of his own definition. Staddon had to accept the null himself. So this seems to merely be piling on. Still, fun nonetheless, I suppose.

    As the OP notes, Staddon’s biggest beef was really in the “morality” bit, although his 3 examples themselves were not the most persuasive. Only the same-sex marriage bit even got any traction in the comments section.

    Ultimately, as the author here notes, it depends on how broadly you define religion, but it starts to lose its meaning when everyone is “religious”. Perhaps that is the ultimate goal for those who are actually religious, although a desire to dilute that concept would itself be rather ironic.

    • K. Dershem says

      Coyne originally posted this essay on his blog; he included a link to it in the comment section of Staddon’s article

    • Ray Andrews says

      @S. Cheung

      ” So this seems to merely be piling on.”

      Indeed S. The author is devastating in his proof of what Staddon freely admitted, namely that SH only retains one of the three criteria he postulates as defining a religion. Staddon’s article fails rigorous logic, but was it really even attempting it? His point is simply that secular humanists can be every bit as ideological as religious people in what they consider to be bedrock moral principals. SH presumes to some higher calling, some rationality, but morals are never rational. There is nothing rational about, say, gay marriage or abortion or being opposed to capital punishment or believing that nature matters for it’s own sake.

      “But because it is not seen as religious, the beliefs of secular humanists increasingly influence U.S. law.”

      I think that’s the core of Staddon’s beef, and he is absolutely correct. Thus the ‘rational’ gay marriage replaces the ‘religious’ traditional view.

      • S. Cheung says

        Ray,
        “But because it is not seen as religious, the beliefs of secular humanists increasingly influence U.S. law.”
        I agree that was his ultimate thrust. I’m just surprised he went with the “religion” argument to begin with, since he was going to concede it, and it doesn’t even seem like his primary concern.
        And he further diluted it with his 3 examples, 2 of which I found not very compelling. If the marriage law was his main focus, i would’ve preferred he offer his examination of the secular humanist justification for it, or provide his own rebuttal of it.

        • Ray Andrews says

          @S. Cheung

          Sure. Saddon’s essay is designed badly but his essential point stands. An honest guy like you can avoid the pile-on while still politely disagreeing. That’s Charity. Charity is to intellect what chivalry is to dueling. I probably like this scene overly much:

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p53B0Ku-4BE

      • K. Dershem says

        morals are never rational

        Are you suggesting that morality is completely arbitrary? Legalizing samesex marriage is more rational than prohibiting it unless you (1) accept the religious claim that homosexuality is inherently immoral or (2) can provide persuasive evidence that expanding the right to marry from heterosexual couples to consenting adults of any gender will harm society. That evidence may exist, but I haven’t seen it. I respect the right of religious individuals to have any view they like about gay marriage, but they aren’t entitled to impose that faith-based view on citizens who don’t share it (which includes many Christians).

        • Nick powerBottom, Agent of C.L.O.W.N. says

          “… any gender will harm society. That evidence may exist, but I haven’t seen it.”

          Wow, I guess it doesn’t exist then. Pack it up everyone, K. Durrshem: inquirer extraordinaire, has never made an effort into looking for evidence outside his academic bubble, but has made time to investigate the very serious nature of superheros and ethics.

          Try reading the CDC statistics for gay men and reading about gay culture (as opposed to the mainstream media’s propaganda that they are just like normal people). They do pose a harm to society in terms of public health. They make up a whopping percentage of various diseases for such a small percentage of the population, and they seem to be the primary spreaders of different kinds of STDs. The initial global spread of AIDs can be blamed on gay men. That’s a harm to not just society, but the entire planet. Why are leftists and liberals pro public health, but quiet on gay culture’s global public health consequences? inb4 some dumb shit about you quantifying over “any gender” and you ignore this based on a semantic quibble.

          “but they aren’t entitled to impose that faith-based view on citizens who don’t share it ”

          BAKE THE CAKE, BIGOT. LET THE PRE-TEEN CHILD DANCE HALF NAKED IN ADULT TRANS CLUBS, BIGOT. LET THESE CROSS-DRESSING CHILD MOLESTERS INTO YOUR SCHOOL, BIGOT. THAT’S MA’AM, BIGOT.

          • K. Dershem says

            It’s true that gay men are more likely to be sexually promiscuous than straight men and have higher rates of STDs as a result. How does legalizing samesex marriage contribute to this problem? If anything, gay men who get married are more likely to enter into committed and monogamous relationships. It sounds like you’d like to ban homosexuality altogether. Also, nothing you’ve written applies to lesbians.

            The Masterpiece Cakeshop case was not about imposing faith-based views, it involved the application of secular legal principles to a conflict over conflicting rights. Referring to transgender students as “cross-dressing child molesters” suggests that you’re less interested basing your views on evidence (or common human decency) than you claim.

          • Ray Andrews says

            @K. Dershem

            “THAT’S MA’AM, BIGOT”

            Congrats on staying cool there.

            “If anything, gay men who get married are more likely to enter into committed and monogamous relationships.”

            Just so. It’s perhaps the best argument for gay marriage.

          • Nicolaas Stempels says

            That is not the experience in Africa, Aids is a heterosexually transmitted disease ie the overwhelming majority of infections occur via heterosexual sex. Stop being so parochial.

        • Ray Andrews says

          @K. Dershem

          “Are you suggesting that morality is completely arbitrary?”

          No. My comment was far too absolute. Given a normative framework (like ‘human flourishing’) a moral precept can be irrational in so far as it is not constructive of the goal. I should step back and say that ‘human flourishing’ itself is hard to establish as a rational goal. Mind, I like human flourishing, so I want it. But if Neitzsche likes cruelty and grandeur and the triumph of the ubermensch. We can be repelled, but can we rationally refute his desire? At some point we come down to axioms which cannot be proven.

          “the religious claim that homosexuality is inherently immoral”

          Ok, but there is a subtle hidden premise there. The claim may be ‘religious’ in the derogatory sense that it’s an ancient, silly superstition, or it may be religious in that folks really believe it to be God’s Law, or it might just be that over 10,000 years of sodomy, societies have unanimously concluded that marriage has nothing whatsoever to do with it.

          “will harm society”

          I would say so, because it confuses the purpose of the institution. But it’s very debatable. There are good reasons to allow it as well. We’ve discussed this, no?

          “but they aren’t entitled to impose that faith-based view on citizens who don’t share it”

          Agree. But I’d also say that they should not be forced to participate against their conscience, as by being sued for declining to bake a cake. And again, we have the ‘faith-based’ insinuation that this is ‘religion’ and therefore deprecated vis a vis the ‘rational’ view of the SHist. I myself will argue against gay marriage with no reference to religion except has historical precedent. Neither view should be privileged. Of if there is privilege, it should go with precedent (the normal view in law).

          • K. Dershem says

            Ray, the issue of discrimination against LGBT individuals by business owners is a legitimately difficult question. As I wrote above, it involves conflicting rights. I think you’re right that we’ve already discussed samesex marriage, so there’s probably no point in relitigating it here. From my perspective, there’s no compelling argument against marriage equality that doesn’t derive from religious premises, therefore laws prohibiting gay marriage violate church/state separation. However, it’s equally true that churches should not be required to recognize or celebrate samesex marriages. Although I have respect for tradition, it’s not a sufficient reason to deny equal rights to citizens — just as it wasn’t in the case of interracial marriage.

          • Andrew Roddy says

            If we acknowledge secular humanism as a religion its a short hop to calling it a church. This, for practical purposes, renders the cherished notion of separation of church and state somewhat nebulous or at least due a root and branch review. Might this be the real rub or is this all just heresy (or ‘error’ as the Catholic Church prefers to call it)?

        • “The Masterpiece Cakeshop case … conflicting rights.” …”legitimately difficult question…”

          There is only one thing that makes this “difficult”: “Public accommodation.”

          If not for the concept that a person’s business, once “open to the public” takes away their right of refusal to engage in a transaction, there would be no case against Masterpiece or any other landlord, employer, or business who elects to not engage.

          It’s not about religious belief, either. (unfortunately the case was fought for “religious freedom”). It ought to be the right of a property owner, retail business, or business with employees to refuse engagement for any reason.

          Yes, I know, this will make everyone left of Calvin Coolidge scream. Including Professor Coyne. But history will examine our decision to criminalize thought. History will say “you should have annihilated bigotry with human outrage, not with the hammer of government command and control.

          • Jay Salhi says

            “It ought to be the right of a property owner, retail business, or business with employees to refuse engagement for any reason.”

            The cake shop owner did not refuse to sell a cake to a gay couple. He refused to do particular artwork on the cake. If a gay baker refused to make a cake that says “God Hates Fags” everyone would think that he was perfectly within his rights, as he would be. It was no different for the baker in this case.

            I don’t agree that a property owner ought to be able to refuse engagement for any reason. Refusing to serve a person because of their race ought to be prohibited. Refusing to provide a particular good made to specifications is a different story.

          • Jay,

            You split a hair in your first paragraph. How can you think there is any difference between “God Hates Fags” and “a wedding cake with two men atop it.” Is one more “incorrect” than the other, for some deeply-drilled-down distinction? You would have to keep splitting hairs, splitting hairs.

            You attempt this in your second paragraph.

            Why do you think a shop owner can be held accused of a crime because he simply chose not to do what a customer wanted? (other than “It is currently against the law of public accommodation”)

  15. Juan Manuel Pérez Porrúa Pérez says

    “They’re like cheating on one’s taxes.”

    Cheating on one’s taxes is a crime, wearing blackface isn’t.

  16. Max says

    I do not think atheism is a religion, but it would be a good mind exercise to imagine what it would take to transform it into one.

  17. Peter from Oz says

    Secular humanism like any other political or moral viewpoint is dangerous when it takes on one of the characteristics that some religions have taken on, and that is fundamentalism.
    That is what I thought Staddon was trying to say.
    He reached the right conclusion that many secular humanists today would have been deeply religious people if they had been born in ages past. The fundamentalist zeal is the same.
    It must be remebered that secualr humanism goes across the political spectrum. So those SJWs who cry ”racist” in respnse to everything are likely to be secular humanists just as much as your middle class conservative grandmother.
    It’s only the few politcal extremists that have the religious zeal. This is because they do tend to worship a thing that can’t be proved by science. They agree with science up to its limts and then ”invent ” the rest. Thus fundamentalist greens beleive in ”gaia” . A lot of non-religious people, women in particular, also indulge in religion by proxy. How many times has some liberal woamn told you about her visit to an Asian temple and how ”spiritual” it all was.
    SOme secular humaniststs erect marx as a god, or the proletariat. Others have erected ”the other” as their pseudo god.
    So secular humanism in itself is not like a religion. But many of its branches take on the fundamentalism that many relgious people have or do in fact adopt a ”god” that is not based upon a scientific truth.

    • Ray Andrews says

      @Peter from Oz

      A very fine summary IMHO.

      “is dangerous when it takes on one of the characteristics that some religions have taken on, and that is fundamentalism”

      Yes. All fundamentalists are equally dangerous.

  18. Allan Donkin says

    Atheists have a strong Faith. They cannot prove that God does not exist, and yet strongly hold to this belief.
    Secular humanists also have a strong Faith. They base their worldview on Reason. What cause do they have to trust Reason, except by faith. You cannot use your brain to prove your own brains validity… “A river cannot rise higher than its source.” CS Lewis

    • S.Cheung says

      Allan,
      you cannot PROVE that something does NOT exist. The burden is on those who believe something does exist, to prove it. When the hypothesis has not been sustained, you have to accept the null. That’s all that atheists have done.

      But to believe something exists in the absence of proof, would be a decent definition of “faith”, i would think.

      • K. Dershem says

        I completely agree. The burden of proof is on theists, who claim that an transcendent, all-knowing, all-powerful, just and merciful deity is governing the universe. There’s abundant evidence to the contrary.

        • Ray Andrews says

          @K. Dershem

          Lots of very nasty people around today and they seem to be targeting you.

          “There’s abundant evidence to the contrary.”

          Firstly, one can be a theist without believing God is good in the Christian sense. As we all know the Greek gods were anything but good. The Hindu gods basically don’t give a damn. And it might be splitting hairs, but is there evidence to the contrary, or a lack of evidence to the positive? I think the absence of evidence is more compelling than the presence of evidence that he does NOT exist. The biggest case against God, IMHO is just to ask: Where (the hell) is he if he cares so much about us? Christian theologians admit this is easily the biggest problem.

          • K. Dershem says

            I completely agree with your last point. The Problem of Evil is probably the most important reason that I’m an Agnostic rather than a theist. I think you’re being a little unfair to the Hindu gods, but that’s beyond the scope of this comment. 🙂

          • Ray Andrews says

            @K. Dershem

            ” The Problem of Evil is probably the most important reason that I’m an Agnostic”

            Good choice. Me, I’m a doubting Christian. The solutions offered for the PofE are ingenious but reek of special pleading. As you know the idea that the prime mover of the universe might be a consciousness is even implied by QM. The hard part is finding good reasons to believe that this consciousness gives a damn — so the Hindus have less to explain away. There are two kinds of people: those who can believe that the universe is an absolutely pointless burp in the quantum foam, and those who can’t believe it. I can’t.

    • Farris says

      Why this author is wrong:

      “Atheism, the direct opposite of religion, has also been characterized in this way,….”

      The opposite of Atheism is theism. Taoism comes to mind as an atheistic religion. Secular humanism may or may not be a religion but atheism is the denial of a divine deity. There exists a few atheistic religions.

      • Andrew Roddy says

        It might be that the opposite of atheism is best expressed and understood as follows;

  19. Andrew Roddy says

    Secularist and religious views are both meeting irresistible forces. Neither stand much scrutiny. Curiosity about how its going to play out is one of the reasons I really wish I could live longer. I always hated being sent to bed for much the same reason.

  20. Max says

    Allan

    I do not strongly believe there is no “higher power”. I used this term because there so little indication of what form such thing would have. In that sense I am more on the agnostics side, but as soon as people start to define it one way or the other then I can only ask for proof. That is where I will be more on the atheist side.

    And if the day I die I fall in front of any particular god I will have allot of question for him. Message was not very clear.

  21. Allan Donkin says

    Dersham, please write a book with your strong evidence. It will be amazing as no-one will be able to write a rebuttal.

  22. Allan Donkin says

    Cheung. Atheism is a positive belief, not a negative one. I do not define myself as anti-fairy-ist because I do not believe in fairies. Also I would not ignore anyone bringing me convincing reasons why fairies might exist.

    • S. Cheung says

      Allan,
      that is a pointless contention. If the thing is “god does not exist”, then you can call belief in that thing as a “positive belief”….which is pointless because you can characterize belief in ANYTHING as a positive belief. If ALL beliefs are positive beliefs, then saying something is a positive belief is to say absolutely nothing at all, as you’ve demonstrated here.

      The point isn’t about “positive” or “negative”, whatever that even means. My point earlier was that you were completely wrong to suggest that atheists bear the burden of PROVING God does NOT exist. That burden rests completely, and entirely, with you. Sorry to break it to you. And until you pony up (good luck with that btw), atheists are on perfectly solid ground to hold to their belief, which is merely the null hypothesis that theists have failed to reject.

      Perhaps using scientific method concepts is not your cup of tea. In that case, i suggest given Hitchen’s Razor a try.

      • Daniel V says

        Cheung,

        A belief is a proposition someone holds be true. An atheist holds the proposition there is no God to be true while a theist holds the proposition there is a God to be true. An agnostic holds neither proposition to be true on the grounds there is insufficient evidence to support either conclusion. As such the burden of proof lies with the atheist.

        Of course that leads to the problem of the atheist being a mirror of the theist as both are making unjustifiable claims about God. Antony Flew proposed a work around with his essay in the presumption of atheism where he discarded the idea of agnosticism and replaced it with positive and negative atheism. Even if you haven’t read the essay you’re talking about it here and it’s worth nothing Dawkins and Hitchens both agreed with Flew.

        It’s also worth noting the whole world did not agree with Flew and many found his argument unconvincing. Agnostics in particular don’t like the idea of being forced to choose between being a negative atheist or negative theist as they would rather abstain from both.

        Consider that these words represent the answer to the question is there a God and when you remove the option of being agnostic you are removing the option to say I don’t know to an unanswerable question. You encourage people to see an opinion as a fact and make that seem okay as long as they include an asterix to say their belief is conditional or negative.

        • Nicolaas Stempels says

          I think you are wrong. The fact atheists don’t believe in a God is not a ‘positive’ assertion. It is just that they think (well I’m assuming, I’m not all atheists, of course) that the proposition of the existence of a God would need some evidence, which is utterly lacking.
          Another reason is ‘complexity, the argument by theists that complexity cannot arise by itself. The counter is that a deity is inescapably more complex than the emergence from simple beginnings that science proposes. Hence not to be considered without evidence.
          Atheism is not much more than a-fairyism or a- easterbunnyism.
          Do I positively assert that Easterbunny does not exist? No, but I can live with that assumption in my daily life.

        • S.Cheung says

          Daniel,
          thanks for the tip. I am coming at it from a scientific method perspective, and am not educated in philosophy in any way. So I’d never heard of Flew before. But based on the Cliff notes version, it appears the scientific conclusion would approximate Flew’s contention of negative atheism. “god exists” would be the hypothesis proposed by the theist. When that hypothesis fails to be sustained, then one must accept the null (“god does not exist”). By my superficial understanding of what Flew meant by “negative atheism”, much like a null hypothesis, that position attracts no burden of proof. And that’s a position that I can easily justify scientifically.

          On the other hand, as you note, agnosticism doesn’t mesh well with that framework. But I would consider “I don’t know” to be conceptually adjacent to accepting the null hypothesis, which is merely “absence of evidence”.

          • “Negative atheism” as labeled by Flew: “I don’t believe in God. Period.” While that is precisely my stand, I regret the term “negative” attached to it, because it legitimizes “Positive atheism” as a valid polarity: “God does not exist.” It is an error to so assert; there is nothing positive about it.

            S.Cheung: [“god exists” would be the hypothesis proposed by the theist. When that hypothesis fails to be sustained, then one must accept the null (“god does not exist”).]

            I am not sure if Flew himself agrees with that, but I emphatically disagree. When the theist fails to prove “God Exists” it does not imposed acceptance of “God does not exist.” That would be asserting proof of a negative, even if stated as a consequence of some other conclusion.

            Again, these slick attempts to usher in “god” as an existent ought to be rooted out.

          • Your concern “I cannot support a model where you can’t even generate a hypothesis” is off target. Of course there is the possibility of hypothesizing anything and then seeking to prove it — that is a given. Let the claimant prove it, however, but avoid a specific, like “I support that proving god exists is possible.” I am against doing that, for the reasons I have been elucidating. Let the theist construct a hypothesis that leads to the identification of God as its conclusion, not that already contains god.

            Under reason and the scientific method, all claims are evaluated for truth by facts and logic. If there is an error in logic, the proof fails. If any of the existents in the claim are non-factual, the proof of the claim fails. The examination of known existents to lead to an inference of the existence of something else, something unseen, undetected, is legitimate. [The hypothesis of the existence of Neptune was inferred by Le Verrier from factual evidence of other things already proven to exist.] However, the test of sound, valid logic must be passed, and good luck with that, theists. They can have the word “god” in the conclusion of the proof [attaching that name to something proven to exist], but not above the line. “A-thing, then B-thing, the C-fact, therefore Z exists and I am applying “God” to this predicted thing. Now here is an experiment that will expose the thing to human knowledge directly.”

            You won’t find this in any of the normal “proofs.” They always have God in the premises, which voids the proof at the get-go.

            My contention all along is to hold theists or any others claiming magical existents to this bar. Do not permit them to usher an existent into the premises of an inference proof unless it has already been proven to exist. If you don’t bar the door, they will surely usher some imaginary thing into the proof, complete with an arbitrary identity and characteristics and definition, which conveniently will prove malleable.

            The only other pathway is for the claimant to make an ostensible identification – to point to “an actual physical thing,” and claim it is X. The burden on them becomes: prove that their “thing” is not actually some other thing, since by Aristotle this is void. Then, go ahead and point to it, and prove it is not something else, and write a paper providing the objectively verifiable identification of the thing, calling out its essential characteristics, forming the definition, and state if there is more than one of such things in existence. This is how science works, AKA induction.

            This is absurd to a theist; they scoff at being held to scientific rational proof of a materialistic “God.” Insulted, even. They valorize the supernatural, magical, unimaginable, unknowable God.

            You are correct that it is impossible to prove that god exists if you need to have god first to exist. Isn’t that the sharpest, most compassionately cruel razor possible? But realize that theists want to do the exact opposite: they want to prove the existence of god without identifying God in any finite, factual way.

    • @Allan Donkin

      You want atheism to be a positive belief. This is your only hope, given your zeal to switch the burden.

      Meanwhile, a-theism simply means “without god.” My convictions do not include this thing others keep mentioning, “God.”

      You may have encountered someone who claims that atheism means “there is no such thing as God.” Please send that person to me for correction.

      Yes, I am atheist, but that tells you absolutely zero about my positive beliefs.

      • S.Cheung says

        John,
        you are incorrect. When the hypothesis is not sustained, you DO have to accept the null. However, as I said elsewhere, accepting the null is NOT the same as saying you have proven the null (“absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”). In fact, you can’t prove the null, precisely because you cannot prove something doesn’t exist. But you do have to accept that something doesn’t exist, until you have proof that it does.
        So my position is that I accept god does not exist. I do not claim to have proof of his non-existence, since that is impossible.

        • S.Cheung,

          You: “…then one must accept the null (“god does not exist”). ”

          The only valid null is “The claimant did not prove the existence of God.” That is all. There can be no assertion that this proves “God does not exist.” I remain emphatic that such a corollary is misguided and toxic.

          Now you are at pains to say accepting is not the same as proving. I have no idea why you insist on this dangerous distinction.

          Perhaps you could illuminate me to your use of “accept.” What does it mean?

          • S.Cheung says

            John,
            “There can be no assertion that this proves “God does not exist.” ”

            But i explicitly said that proof of the null is not on offer, and that it literally isn’t possible. At no point have I asserted proof of God’s non-existence. That is quite different from accepting the null that god does not exist. I feel I’m being fairly precise in my use of words here so I’m not sure where or how you’re not following.

            “Now you are at pains to say accepting is not the same as proving. I have no idea why you insist on this dangerous distinction.”
            — it’s an important and vital distinction, but hardly dangerous when used appropriately. I take pains to make that distinction precisely because it is an important and vital one.

          • S.Cheung

            Oh, I am ‘following.” It is you who does not grasp the error.

            1) you chose not to respond to my request to say what “accept” means. Why?
            2) this “null” you keep referring to … who cares, why is it important. Why do you have to make any acceptance, pronouncement, conclusion whatsoever? All it does is lend dignity to the claimant who failed in the attempt.

            If you think the result of a failed proof of the existence of God is to “accept” “God does not exist,” the theist, and all who are searching for answers, say, “Okay, that proof did not work, but Cheung graciously admits “God” is a a legitimate possibility, and he obviously accepts my definition of God, we just have to find a better proof.”

            Additionally, ignoring you seem eager to say “See, you failed, therefore we have to accept God does not exist.” I guarantee that theist will ignore the “accept” and say to himself, see, he is claiming “God does not exist, so now we have successfully switched the burden.” It won’t matter how precise and at pains you are to explain. Why give them that opening?

            You invite the notion of “god” onto the floor of debate as an equal, when silence is the devastating proper alternative.

          • S.S.Cheung, I am posting to add this:

            I wish to not give the impression I am antagonistic to your stance at the root, or all the way near the top. I admire your response to “Greg” and others here in taking down their claim that a super-being is required for existence. I believe you and I are highly congruent.

            John

          • S.Cheung says

            John,
            based on your other comments, I also believe you and I largely agree. And I believe you and I are approaching it from a similar fashion. WHich is why I’m perplexed as to how we are conflicted on these points.

            I chose not to respond to “accept” because it seems like a self-evident word, even in the context I’ve been using it. The null is of vital importance. It is the default premise, until a positive assertion can be substantiated in proof, such that the null can be rejected. It’s the base concept in science. It’s the base assumption in law (“you are innocent – the null- until proven guilty” (the positive assertion)). Likewise here, god does not exist – the null – unless and until it is proven he/she does (the positive assertion). I’m not approaching this from philosophy, but someone pointed me to Flew, and I suppose my scientific approach approximates Flew’s definition of “negative atheism”.

            “Cheung graciously admits “God” is a a legitimate possibility, and he obviously accepts my definition of God, we just have to find a better proof.”
            — I wouldn’t say legitimate possibility, but my position does require accepting it as a possibility. As with all science, I remain open to changing my position in the face of new evidence. Although in this case, I would characterize it as “anything is possible” in its most derisive form. I’m not accepting anyone’s definition of God per se. It would depend on the type of god a claimant is trying to prove, and whether that proof fulfills what the claimant hopes it does. Greg’s “proof” (along the lines of “I know there is a god because I exist”) would be woefully and laughably inadequate.

            ““God does not exist, so now we have successfully switched the burden.”
            —a theist being blind to scientific logic and reasoning is beyond my control. Hence the attempts at education on this thread and others. I imagine they are desperate to switch the burden since they can’t meet theirs. It’s more amusement than anything.

            Scientifically, I’m not sure “silence” is an option. That would require taking no position on the hypothesis. Having said that, saying “I don’t know” is a vital skill scientifically, and I much prefer that to fairy tales. So scientifically, I accept that god does not exist. Philosophically, i’m probably most akin to an agnostic atheist.

          • S.Cheung,

            I continue to contest the idea that the null, “God does not exist” is unneeded, dangerous, and makes theists happy. I also contend it is a stronger application of scientific rigor to use a different default, namely “silence.” (see more on ‘silence’ below). The “Null” you are defending requires an asterisk in the form of an extended explanation “That does not mean I am claiming God does not exist, I’m only accepting that God does not exist.” To which I say “Huh? Why did you say anything, all anyone will hear is you saying “god does not exist” because the distinction between “proven” and “accepted” is nearly invisible. Meanwhile, the theist says “Thank you for at least admitting that God could be proven to exist. You have an open mind!”

            The default premise for science is “silence” on everything, but open to all hypotheses. Once a claim is made, the default is “Go ahead, I’m listening.” This form of silence, before and after the claim/failed proof is more powerful than your proposed null.

            S.Cheung: “Scientifically, I’m not sure “silence” is an option. That would require taking no position on the hypothesis. Having said that, saying “I don’t know” is a vital skill scientifically, and I much prefer that to fairy tales. So scientifically, I accept that god does not exist. Philosophically, i’m probably most akin to an agnostic atheist.”

            1) I made an error using the word “silence” without explanation. What I meant was, silence = not mentioning god at all. I should have said “Confirming: you did not prove anything.” That form of silence is a slam-dunk rejection, a powerful “position on the hypothesis.”
            2) I contend saying “I don’t know” in the face of a failed proof of anything is an error. What I’m strongly suggesting is that we say: “Confirming: YOU do not know.”
            3) I suggest the proper position on the hypothesis is “You failed to prove anything about anything. Period.”

            The point I am trying to make is that letting the existent “God” into discussion in any way shape or form, including the null being discussed here, gives fuel to the theist. They know they cannot prove the existence of God, so what they want is to at least sneak “God” onto the table in some way. Theists believe that “Theology” is a valid (and probably most important) branch of philosophy. They want the category “God” to be legitimized for discussion ad hoc. They even have many schools (seminary) to “teach” theology.

            I realize I might be offending your agnosticism, but I must say this: Theists love agnosticism.

            I don’t hide the fact I am militant on the need for “silence.”

          • S.Cheung says

            John,
            thanks for your further clarification. I think I understand now your position more fully.

            I will try to strongman your argument. Please correct if I am wrong:
            You can’t make something out of nothing.
            Until you have something, there is nothing to discuss.
            So too, then, that until you have proven God’s existence, there is no god to be offered up for discussion.
            You have failed to prove God’s existence.
            THerefore God does not exist even for the purposes of discussion.

            Since this isn’t real time, i will move forward on the aforementioned basis, and retract anything subsequent to this if I have mischaracterized your position.

            First, I agree that my position needs explaining to many people, but that is a reflection of the crappy science teaching our education system provides. People SHOULD know the difference between accepting the null vs “proving” the null…yet they don’t. However, I also don’t feel inclined to limit my own thinking to what others DON’T understand. It does leave an opening for theists, but nothing a little education can’t solve, excepting the most deeply indoctrinated (and no point talking to them anyway).

            Second, I think I treat god as a postulate or a theory. That the theory is not yet proven does not negate the existence of the theory itself. In your framing, I would submit that the claim has been made, and we have been listening. The claim is rejected, but does that mean the existence of the claim is negated as well? What characteristics would a “theory” need to have in order to be tolerated, prior to the point where the theory has had an opportunity to be tested and confirmed/refuted. I see the attraction of your position. It is a way to restrict cockamamie theories that themselves are not founded on anything legitimate. So in this realm, it would require consideration of whether the “theory of god” itself can be made legitimately. That is an interesting notion.

            I’m good with all 3 of your statements. I think our main difference is I would allow the theory to remain, pending proof, whereas you would deny the legitimacy of an unproven theory.

            BTW, no offense taken. As I alluded to, I don’t think my philosophical position maps well to a scientific model, and that is …ahem…my cross to bear, as it were 🙂

          • >
            You can’t make something out of nothing.
            Until you have something, there is nothing to discuss.
            So too, then, that until you have proven God’s existence, there is no god to be offered up for discussion.
            You have failed to prove God’s existence.
            THerefore God does not exist even for the purposes of discussion.
            <<<

            That still allows too much god into play, for no reason. More like this:

            You will have to demonstrate the existence of all the existents in your claim.
            Until then, there is nothing to discuss.
            Until you have proven whatever it is you are claiming, I am listening.
            Hmm, I see you have failed to prove anything.
            Therefore nothing more.

            S.Cheung: “The claim is rejected, but does that mean the existence of the claim is negated as well?”
            No, the dead claim is still there, still dead. As you pointed out above, theists will submit multitudinous claims, each with a different imagined identity/characteristics of “god.” They are free to keep that game going. We should keep “silent” as per my usage of that idea, above.

            S.Cheung: “People SHOULD know the difference between accepting the null vs “proving” the null…yet they don’t.”

            I am one of the people who does not know the difference.

          • S. Cheung says

            John,
            I think this is where my science background, and lack of philosophy background, cause us to deviate.

            “You will have to demonstrate the existence of all the existents in your claim.”
            —I am all for subjecting the god hypothesis to a very high bar. But this seems impossible. If the claim is that “god exists”, but you need god to first exist to make that claim…how does one achieve that? The mere ability to make a claim would also simultaneously substantiate it. That’s not how it works in science.

            So I believe in my concept, the possibility for proof of the hypothesis remains, which is as close to the concept of “I don’t know” as can be managed scientifically. I believe in your concept, even making the hypothesis would not be possible. I cannot support a model where you can’t even generate a hypothesis.

          • Darn the awkwardness of this forum. And no “delete” available. My response appeared far above. So, I’m posting it again here, with apologies for the repeat ….

            Your concern “I cannot support a model where you can’t even generate a hypothesis” is off target. Of course there is the possibility of hypothesizing anything and then seeking to prove it — that is a given. Let the claimant prove it, however, but avoid a specific, like “I support that proving god exists is possible.” I am against doing that, for the reasons I have been elucidating. Let the theist construct a hypothesis that leads to the identification of God as its conclusion, not that already contains god.

            Under reason and the scientific method, all claims are evaluated for truth by facts and logic. If there is an error in logic, the proof fails. If any of the existents in the claim are non-factual, the proof of the claim fails. The examination of known existents to lead to an inference of the existence of something else, something unseen, undetected, is legitimate. [The hypothesis of the existence of Neptune was inferred by Le Verrier from factual evidence of other things already proven to exist.] However, the test of sound, valid logic must be passed, and good luck with that, theists. They can have the word “god” in the conclusion of the proof [attaching that name to something proven to exist], but not above the line. “A-thing, then B-thing, the C-fact, therefore Z exists and I am applying “God” to this predicted thing. Now here is an experiment that will expose the thing to human knowledge directly.”

            You won’t find this in any of the normal “proofs.” They always have God in the premises, which voids the proof at the get-go.

            My contention all along is to hold theists or any others claiming magical existents to this bar. Do not permit them to usher an existent into the premises of an inference proof unless it has already been proven to exist. If you don’t bar the door, they will surely usher some imaginary thing into the proof, complete with an arbitrary identity and characteristics and definition, which conveniently will prove malleable.

            The only other pathway is for the claimant to make an ostensible identification – to point to “an actual physical thing,” and claim it is X. The burden on them becomes: prove that their “thing” is not actually some other thing, since by Aristotle this is void. Then, go ahead and point to it, and prove it is not something else, and write a paper providing the objectively verifiable identification of the thing, calling out its essential characteristics, forming the definition, and state if there is more than one of such things in existence. This is how science works, AKA induction.

            This is absurd to a theist; they scoff at being held to scientific rational proof of a materialistic “God.” Insulted, even. They valorize the supernatural, magical, unimaginable, unknowable God.

            You are correct that it is impossible to prove that god exists if you need to have god first to exist. Isn’t that the sharpest, most compassionately cruel razor possible? But realize that theists want to do the exact opposite: they want to prove the existence of god without identifying God in any finite, factual way.

          • S.Cheung says

            John,
            it appears then, that while you’re using inductive reasoning, I’m using some combination of deductive reasoning and abductive reasoning if I were to frame it in that way. In this context, your method seems to impose a higher bar, and it has served you well. However, my preferred method in this application suffices for my purposes as well.

          • Proof of the existence of something “new” cannot be done by deduction, and I consider abduction far to informal in such a serious matter.

  23. Allan Donkin says

    Max, you might find that you have to climb off the fence sometime

  24. Jean Levant says

    “if a god wanted us to convince all humanity of its existence, there are many ways it could do so. Sadly, as many theologians admit, God remains hidden.”
    I disagree with the first sentence. For a true believer, no other proof than the world itself and especialy the living world is needed to believe in God. The belief that God should prove Himself by whimsically changing His laws, like marking a strange scripture on a moon rock appeared by a magic wand, is childish and, in fact, a strict nonsense. I know there a lot of disruptions of the natural laws, namely miracles, in the records of the religions but there were just human records. Those miracles (at least for the most part) weren’t aimed to believers but new potential recruits, a little bit like advertisements : “see, how my God is mighty, more than Yours”. In those days, it worked because people were much closer to supernatural, that is, they saw it as natural. Now, it doesn’t work to be sure but with the spectacular progress of science, I think we haven’t anymore the need of such supernatural events to believe in God. And yes God remains hidden and He must, because if you could come to Him (or Her if you prefer, let’s be cautious) with a simple proof, you wouln’t come entirely, not only with your reason but also with the rest of your soul (and even if you’re a scientist, you would certainly agree than a man’s soul is not only made of reason).

  25. Kevin says

    Great article and rebuttal, I felt his article was very misleading and his definition of religion wrong

  26. Andrew Roddy says

    Might secularism be usefully, and less controversially, identified as a belief system rather than a religion? As such would it clearly be in competition with other belief systems? Are we satisfied that this can only be seen in terms of zero-sum? Is synthesis not inevitable? Is there a God-shaped hole? Will futures generations laugh at us for spending centuries preposterously trying to stuff it with reason?

  27. Jean Levant says

    Your headline and main arguments are perfectly right in my view, Jerry : secular humanism is not a religion.
    But this point of your rhetoric can be discussed : “Even environmentalism has been described as a religion.” Clearly, you classify environmentalism among the secular humanism and not as a religion. I think it’s not true for all their members, at least. There is a certain kind of hard ecologists who can be accurately described as cultists, even of the most fanatic sort. And they have their own god whose name is Gaïa (but the name is not very important). I’m not sure we can label this movement with the big name of religion but certainly it’s a new cult (not so new in fact but more widespread by now), where the Earth is the temple, with its sacrifices-hungry worshippers. It wouldn’t be easy to find people less humanist than them in our days when the more rational among them deem the earth must be wiped out of the major part of mankind for the sake of Gaïa. And they are right if you accept their core beliefs.
    I’m sure you coud find many other examples of this sort of cults nowadays.

    • Jean Levant, posting for agreement … I have met and engaged this type. Their fervor is fierce for the day when homo is extinct and the brooks and fields and trees can once again rule the earth. They hate homo.

  28. Benjamin Perez says

    Copy editor: “…professor of ccology…” [ccology] :-/

  29. Allan Donkin says

    Another book idea: “How I used my Reason to prove the validity of my Reason, without FAITH in Reason.”
    Sounds like a miracle worker.

    • S. Cheung says

      Allan,
      “scientism” is the belief in the scientific method.

      “religion” is the belief in beliefs.

      See if you can spot the difference. Take your time.

    • S.Cheung says

      without a doubt…just like the photo showed in the OP. In religion, not so much.

  30. Ian says

    I agree that secular humanism is not a religion as a such. However, the positivist belief that with technological progress and the decline of religious belief, society would evolve toward a stable fixed point characterized by tolerance, equality, respect for the dignity of the individual, happiness, freedom, and greater individual self fulfillment is being tested. Instead society seems to be moving somewhere else.

    • K. Dershem says

      Ian, I agree that progress is inconsistent and often reversed, but I think Steven Pinker makes a strong case in Enlightenment Now (and his recent Quillette article responding to critics of that book) that humanity is still moving in the right direction.

    • Nicolaas Stempels says

      Ian, It is not a positive or positivist belief, but a hope. And as illustrated by Pinker, not a hopeless hope.

  31. dirk says

    Reading Staddon’s former essay on this issue, set me to think on the definition case of concepts such as religion and humanism. Can one find out by checking the Oxford Dictionary? Don’t think so, and agree with J.D. above, that modern popular usage is the one that counts, more than classical or book wisdom. In fact, so often discussions on religion, fascism, slavery, racism, gender, democracy and so many more social subjects are meandering back and forwards, endlessly, without any logical structure or conclusiveness, and the professions or affinity of the author are often more important than the objective itself. Staddon is most of all a psychologist, Coyne a biologist, ecologist, there you are already, that’s what determines the lines of reasoning and headings. What religion (and fascism, slavery etc etc) is now, is not what people understood it was 100 or 200 yrs ago, much less how they looked at it and evaluated it. It’s too easy to call somebody a religious or secular person, fascist or racist, etc etc without further explications.

    For Harari, there are theist and natural-law religions. For me (ex-catholic, the theist aspect remains part of the game. But I realise very well that some catholics call themselves religious (going to church, baptising their babies) without believing in any supernatural world of a biblical God and a Virgin Mary.

    • Andrew Roddy says

      Yes, language is dynamic. It also has an complex emotive function. The word ‘feminism’ for example seems to trigger an emotional response in most people that goes way beyond the remit of any lexicographer. If words were emotionally neutral phonic units, as precise as algebraic symbols, song and poetry would be impossible and lovemaking would be an evolutionary biological chore.
      Mr Coyne, to his credit, gives a pretty clear working definition of ‘religion’ for the purposes of his article; religion is that irritating, evolutionarily redundant concept with which secular humanism definitely has nothing in common.

      • dirk says

        Indeed, Andrew, he wants us to know where he stands, what his preponderance is, and that he doesn’t agree with that famous leftist biologist Gould. When I was a student, long ago, I also wanted to express my identity, and let other people know they were just only fools! BTW, I still think they are, but take it more as such, and no more!

  32. Aylwin says

    Thank the good lord for the clarity and reason of our propert JC!

    • Aylwin says

      Arghh. *prophet JC. Damned devilish autocorrect

  33. Simon Johnson says

    It’s quite hilarious reading the defenders of religion use postmodernist arguments to diminish the value of science.

    • Bob Johnson says

      Western science would not exist were it not for the Catholic Church. And religious people believe in an objective reality, which includes an objective morality, so they are no post modern

      • Nicolaas Stempels says

        Bob, we do not know that “Western science would not exist were it not for the Catholic Church”. I’d say that it appears the Greeks, Hellenists and Romans were well on their way. The ‘Renaissance’ was not called ‘rebirth’ for nothing. It can equally be argued that if it were not for the Catholic Church we might have gone much further much earlier. We would not have those barbarians turned catholic postponing progress for about a millennium, or would we? I do not say we would have, but that we simply cannot possibly know. History cannot be rewound.
        Your statement is just that, a statement (that cannot be proven or disproven).

  34. Aylwin says

    Argghh. *prophet JC. There’s that damned devil auto-correct at his devilishness.

    • dirk says

      Sociologist Greetz, Daniel??You mean cultural anthropologist Clifford Geertz? I see a lot of differences in sociologists and anthropogists btw, these last ones being the more philosophical and abstract ones.
      His definition of religion, btw, is almost similar as his definition of culture at large. Meaning, that also this scholar scarcely sees any difference (as neither does Yuval Harari), and would easily call secular humanism a religion, I think. I didn/t read your comment uptil now, it’s rather similar to my last, or last but a few here under.So, partly agree.

  35. Daniel V says

    There are multiple problems in the essay and many have to do with looking at the issue from a limited perspective.

    It’s true some religions rely heavily on the distinct idea of faith alone that while common in some areas, particularly areas with lots of protestants like America, is not universal to all religions. Many religions rely heavily on reason to inform their understanding of scripture and allow that understanding to be shaped by it. Science owes quite a bit to people striving to better understanding god via logic and observation of the natural world. Let’s not forget the discovery of the big bang is attributed to a Catholic priest.

    Let’s also not forget that before we had secular humanism we had humanism which grew out of Catholicism. Religions are not some foreign virus imposed on humanity by some nefarious agent looking to retard the development of humanity or lord over them. They are instead intrinsic to humanity and exist to create a shared social world. And just like any organic system they adapt and evolve in response to the environment.

    So at what point did humanism cease being a religion and the brain stopped processing it as one exactly? Was it as soon as the idea of drawing from the general knowledge of humanity instead of a single book was proposed? I don’t think we’d be able to pinpoint a specific moment with accuracy. Just like we’d be hard pressed to do the same concerning the evolution of our species.

    While we could say it happened when humanism no longer fit the dictionary definition of religion we’d being doing ourselves a disservice relying on such a shallow definition of such a complex phenomenon. To define religion I’d rather draw from the sociologist Greetz who defined religion as a system consisting of symbols that creates a shared reality to facilitate cooperation and communication between individuals. These symbols are essentially narratives that define how we ought to behave in the world.

    While we might put different types of narratives into different categories our brains would lack the ability to do this since that would require them to come fully loaded with the information needed to do so. I can’t believe our brains are handling a speech by a preacher in a fundementally different way than a speech by a politician or even a philosopher. As such I’d argue the distinctions made between culture, religion, politics, philosophy, ideology, etc are artificial and while useful do not represent reality when it comes to how our brains handle the information.

    A secular Humanist telling us a story about how terrible religion is can lead us to alter our behaviour in a good many ways. We’ll likely avoid church. We might look at someone professing extreme faith differently including not trusting them as much in certain areas. The goals we set for ourselves will be different.

    And again the important thing to consider here is the brain does not process the story differently than if it was a story extolling the virtues of a religious life. Nor is it done in isolation from other narratives learned over the course of a person’s life. Including narratives taking untraditional formats like statistics or scientific papers.

    A secular Humanist can tell themselves they’re not following a religion all day long and they are free to have faith in that idea. However their brains are not handling the secular Humanist narratives that have led them to identify this way in the first place any differently than if they’d been raised in a purely religious environment.

    As a secular Humanist myself I think it’s critically important to view religion from this perspective otherwise one can easily fall prey to many of the negative aspect of religion like bias and dogmatic thought. It becomes easy to believe that since you’re not religious you’re immune to these types of errors in thinking and are somehow privy to the one and only truth. You will start to exemplify the very same negative aspects of religion secular Humanist use to argue against it.

    I’d even say the word secular needs to be dropped altogether and we need to refocus on humanism alone. It’s seeing things like critical thinking, education, self development, and art as good and virtuous that makes humanism valuable and important. Not the obvious conclusion that religions aren’t literally true or that god most likely does not exist. Making that point is not worth shutting out a good number of people that might believe in god, or be agnostics leaning towards that conclusion, but otherwise uphold and exemplify the positive virtues of humanism.

    • Jean Levant says

      “Let’s also not forget that before we had secular humanism we had humanism which grew out of Catholicism. Religions are not some foreign virus imposed on humanity by some nefarious agent looking to retard the development of humanity or lord over them. They are instead intrinsic to humanity and exist to create a shared social world. And just like any organic system they adapt and evolve in response to the environment.”
      Well said, Daniel. It is worth remembering that all the humanists were and are not secular.

    • Andrew Roddy says

      ‘Religions are not some foreign virus imposed on humanity by some nefarious agent looking to retard the development of humanity or lord over them. They are instead intrinsic to humanity and exist to create a shared social world. And just like any organic system they adapt and evolve in response to the environment.’

      It intrigues and delights me to read this from someone who identifies as secular humanist. A thoughtful contribution that, forgive me, comes as a welcome relief from the circular humanism in the featured article elsewhere.

    • S.Cheung says

      Daniel,
      well said. This line particularly resonates with me: “These symbols are essentially narratives that define how we ought to behave in the world.”

      I would not have, and do not have, any quarrel with “traditional religion(s)” up to that point. It’s that last, and as you say, “obvious”, bit that makes it all hokey mumble-jumble to me.

  36. Pingback: My article in Quillette: A rebuttal of John Staddon’s claim that secular humanism is a religion « Why Evolution Is True

  37. People are confusing “religious” and “dogmatic”. Latter is taking a set of opinions as unchangeable and not open for debate and former a special case of this where the rules are derived from some holy book. The dogmatism part is often the acute problem (even if the religious kind is often more extreme) and can be applied to anything from isms to diets and hobbies.

    • Quite right, Matias, Secular Humanism is dogmatic. I suppose even more so is the flavour of Scientism is promotes on some vague promise of uncovering some ultimate Truth through practised empiricism. I believe it’s a step ahead of religion in its purported ability to self-correct, but that isn’t saying much.

      • Matias Kiviniemi and microglyphics,

        What is the basis for your claim that science is a dogmatic set of opinions? Or that it claims to discover ultimate Truth?

        Microglyhpics, if SH and religion are “not saying much,” what’s left? What is your belief system?

        • Philosophically, I am a non-cognitivist. I don’t believe there is any objective Truth. There are only facts, and facts are a convention of human-constructed language, so it’s all analytical or tautological.

          My belief system is that people and societies fabricate and defend arbitrary belief systems, and most are biased to believe that their system is somehow better, and each will defend their system as morally superior, but this is due to known cognitive biases and escalating commitment.

          Making science central to you belief system is no less arbitrary than putting Jehovah or the Flying Spaghetti Monster at centre. You can employ rhetoric to defend this belief, but that doesn’t make it any truer. Is just means you’ve made a more convincing argument, in effect making science a game of consensus.

          • One does not have the right to use the phrase “make it any truer” when one denies the existence of anything true.

            Or this either: “My belief system is that people and societies fabricate and defend arbitrary belief systems” since (unless you alone are immune) your belief system is arbitrary.

            Graham “Don’t believe what anyone says if you have not had sex with them.”
            Ann: “You and I have not had sex.”
            Graham: “That’s right, we haven’t.”
            Ann: “Then I shouldn’t believe what you just advised.”
            Graham: “I wouldn’t.”

            ~ sex lies and videotape

          • Nicolaas Stempels says

            Microglyphics, have you ever flown in an airplane? Would you fly in an airplane designed by Jehovah or the FSM? Maybe it is not morally superior (which science nor secular humanism do not even necessarily claim), but remember Dawkins ? “Show me a cultural relativist in an airplane and I’ll show you a hypocrite” (or something in that vein).

          • You are confounding moral issues with pragmatic issues. As the saying goes, ‘even a broken clock is right twice a day’. It’s easy to apply selection bias or survivorship bias to justify something.

            Again, the fact that an aeroplane can fly is factual, but there is no moral truth aptness to the claim.

            I like Dawkins, but he is mixing the same metaphors here.

            Most ‘real’ scientists understand that what they don’t know outweighs by orders of magnitude what they do know. Lay people tend to believe the proportion is reversed.

            Anecdote: a person falling from a tall building is asked how s/he’s doing. S/he responds, ‘so far, so good’. It’s this perspective we need to be aware of.

          • Nicolaas Stempels says

            I cannot reply at the right place microglypics (no reply button), but I’m confident you’ll place it in the right spot.
            Of course moral issues are not pragmatic ones for most purposes. My point was mainly to show that cultural relativism is, well, relative, if not hypocritical. And I even mentioned it had no necessary moral implications.
            I fully agree that most scientists know they are only scratching the surface, but contrary to you I think most informed ‘laypeople’ do too. Most of them are not idiots. As Aristotle said: “The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.” That is the basis of science, ever expanding. Which, by the way, supports my contention that science was well underway before it was crushed by Christianity.
            Yes, falling is fine,we all do that now, it is the landing that is the problem. I think most, if not all, religions flourish because of the fear of death, and the empty promise the landing will not be the end. In that sense (apart from many others) Secular Humanism, atheism and science are not religions.

          • K. Dershem says

            Out of curiosity, are you a non-cognitivist when you’re driving down the highway? Is there an objective truth about what would happen if you swerved into the path of oncoming traffic?

          • Why is it so difficult for so many to parse the distinction between truth and fact?

            There is no moral content in your example. There is no truth aptness to consider, so no there is no objective truth to be assessed.

      • S.Cheung says

        microglyphics,
        I would use “dogma” to mean “strongly held beliefs that persist despite evidence to the contrary”. In that way, I agree that there is and can be dogma in science. But I would suggest that, generally, science shuns dogma, whereas “religion” leans into it.

        I do agree that an initial belief, be it in science or in something else, is a necessary first step that itself is not testable. THe difference lies in what the subjects of those de novo beliefs entail, and those differences are massive.

  38. Saul Sorrell-Till says

    It is striking to see that so many of the commenters on this website – a website which began as an exercise in ‘free-thought’ and open, clear debate – have ended up co-opting the epistemic relativism and denigration of reason that characterised the most specious postmodernists thinkers.

    It looks like the anti-secular right are just as willing as the far-left to pick up those rhetorical tools and use them in the service of tribalism. A quick tip though: they weren’t convincing back then and they are even less so now.

    • Bob Johnson says

      @Saul Sorrell-Till

      The only antidote to egoism – whether love of self or love of race or love of nation at the expense of obligations and compassion – is the Gospel. “Rationality” has lead to a plethora of ideologies are rationalizations for sin – whether racism (idolatry of race) or Marxism (idolatry of the poor) or Ayn Randian worship of the rich (the obverse idolatry of the rich). Only by understanding that we are all siblings of Adam can understand that an objective morality for all of humanity that mandates charity, sexual monogamy within marriage, and forbids exploitation of the poor, sick, and weak was given to us by the prophets and perfected by our Lord Jesus Christ. We must understand what the western Christians call “original sin” and our Eastern Siblings-in-Christ conceive of as “‘Ancestral Sin” to limit our ambitions for societal and self-perfection. All of us must repent and believe in the Gospel

      • @Bob Johnson – Try imagining you weren’t a Christian.

        Would your argument be convincing? (Hint: non-Christians often don’t believe the Bible is literally true)

      • Ayn Rand did not worship the rich. She didn’t put “rationality” in scary quotes. And she destroyed the notion of Original Sin as the most hideous concept ever foisted on the human race.

      • Nicolaas Stempels says

        The Gospels were a fleshing out of the ‘etheral’ deity Paul proposed. I completely fail to see how it could possibly be the only antidote to egoism. A statement as empty as they come..
        What the F is “original sin”? You do not appear to make much sense. Could you ‘flesh that out’?
        What has secular humanism to do with Marxism or Ayn Randism? Nothing , we guess.
        And , hello, there never was an Adam and Eve, and if so, with some tortuous interpretation of the facts, they lived more than ten thousand years apart from each other: Mitochondrial ‘Eve’ (about 200.000 years ago) and Y-chromosome ‘Adam’ (about 130.000 y ago). Please get a serious education, apparently the people who thought you scammed you. I can only agree in one point: Repent! Repent for your silly post!

        • K. Dershem says

          @Nicolaas, excellent posts! Thanks very much for your contributions.

        • Jean Levant says

          “Which, by the way, supports my contention that science was well underway before it was crushed by Christianity.”

          Really, Nicolaas? Why did the scientific method appear or reappear, if you prefer, in christian lands rather elsewhere? Ambroise Paré (the first real physician), Gutemberg (the first printer), Copernic (I’m sure you know this one), Newton, Pascal, Kepler, were christian believers if not clergymen among the great ancients. And which man did elaborate the scientific method which you revere quite rightly? Francis Bacon. I quote him :”“a little philosophy inclines man’s mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy brings men’s minds about to religion.” And which man did influence Bacon and many of the ancient scientists? Thomas Aquinus. It’s thought provoking, isn’t it?

          • Nicolaas Stempels says

            Bacon was a medieval mind, I think he was thoroughly wrong there. And I’m not -and never was- impressed by Aquinas’ sophistries.
            My point is that Greeks and Hellenists were much closer to the scientific revolution after the Renaissance than either Bacon or Aquinas ever were.

        • S.Cheung says

          Nicolaas,
          when someone tells you the answer lies in the Gospels, you know you’re gonna be in for a treat of circular reasoning.

  39. Secular Humanism is decidedly not a religion, but it is based on a normative claim and blind faith. Once the claim is advanced, it is defended as any religious followers would do also.

    • Jake Sevins says

      What blind faith do you mean? I suppose I “believe” that DNA is composed of twin helixes even though I’ve never verified this myself. I also “believe” that Mongolia exists, in spite of never having been there. But I don’t believe there is a mystical sky faerie who listens to my thoughts, cares about who wins the superbowl, and arbitrarily kills lots of children in Africa.

      • You are missing the point, Jake. The ‘blind faith’ is that reason holds the key to everything. More importantly, that DNA is composed of twin helixes is fine, but geneticists (unlike the general media and lay people) realise that in this domain there is more they don’t know than they do. The lay people have an exaggerated notion of what science can do and how quickly it produces knowledge. This creates a hubris, something humans have an overabundance of, but when you study the history of science, you realise that knowledge has a half-life. So, it is nice that science is self-correcting—albeit at times at glacial speeds—, much of what we thought even 100 years ago is patently wrong. There is no reason to believe that this won’t be the case 100 years from now, and yet we blindly convince ourselves otherwise.

  40. “… transubstantiation of wine and wafers, which the Vatican has immunized against disproof by deeming the process undetectable by empirical means.”

    This is a powerful argument. It extends to the general case of “God possesses qualities that are beyond human understanding” etc.

    How convenient for theists!

    I just wish he had not given so much weight to the project of disproof and testability. Anything that allows consideration of a putative existent, even long enough to declare it un-testable, conveys credibility to the claimant.

    The addiction to “testability” and reluctance to simply fire away with requiring proof through induction is a plague on Western thought, which is inherited from Plato on down.

    We will never kill the nomenonal realm until we proactively and exclusively assert objective reality as an absolute.

  41. Nobody Important says

    There is no epistemological distinction between religious and secular moral “reasoning” because at bottom there is no such thing as moral reasoning only moral emoting.

    Coyne, like most secular humanists, likes to pretend Hume’s guillotine doesn’t exist. He thinks “reason” and “science” can have presciptive conclusions. Science can discover how the world is but it can say nothing about what the world ought to be. Reason is, and must be the slave of passions.

    The closest thing to an objective ethical framework is virtue ethics, with a virtue defined as a character trait that helps you achieve your goals. Courage, intelligence and industriousness are virtues and nobody is coming out in favor of cowardice, laziness and stupidity because the former traits enable you to achieve goals and the latter do not. However, this says nothing about the goodness of the goals you want to achieve. After all, the Nazis had plenty of virtue as I described it.

    • Andrew Roddy says

      If the bottom line is moral emitting, which I suspect is more true than we like to believe, then that leaves the top line free for moral reasoning rather than suggesting it does not exist. If emotionality informs our core moral drive it must operate in intrinsic relationship with reason. Reason can modify our emotional being and vice versa.

  42. Katabole says

    The author seems to have smuggled in some Christopher Hitchens philosophy who once famously said about atheism, “Our faith is not a faith. Our belief is not a belief.”

    What I do find interesting is how many people I constantly hear or read about in the West that demand that all our governments either remain or become secular. That they cannot, should not and must not become religious when they historically were religious. Western Christian democracies, whose people elected Christian leaders, based on the rules of British Common Law and economic freedom. Why do secular humanists want to replace a system that historically worked out pretty well (even though it has faults), with a new system that is unproven where atheism must be the default position of all its members?

    Atheist Bertrand Russell once wrote, “What science cannot tell us, humanity cannot know.” Russell’s statement is not a statement of science, therefore by his own explanation, we cannot know it. In philosophy school, Russell’s statement in called a logically incoherent statement and I find the author’s argument to be logically incoherent.

    Atheism has no answer to death, no ultimate hope to give. It is an empty and sterile worldview, which leaves us in a closed universe that will ultimately incinerate any last trace that we ever existed. It is quite literally a “hope-less” philosophy. Atheism’s story ends at the grave. Why then, does it need to be adopted by secular humanists? It is illogical and can only lead populations into poor and less-inspired nihilism. Unless of course, that is the goal of secular humanists with their intellectual and emotional rejection of the historicity and very successful Western Christian worldview?

    It seems to me the way society is presently moving, is that the secular humanists are only going to help the Leftists and Islamists weaken Christianity’s hold on the West even more than it has been and subvert Western democracies into a wasteland of automatons in a Brave New World. A few honest atheists, for example, German Sociologist and Historian Jurgen Habermas, believe modern society desperately needs to rediscover its Christian heritage in order to survive, and everything else, including secular humanism, is nothing more than post-modern chatter.

    • Andrew Roddy says

      If ‘atheism has no answer to death’ it might be because death is not a question. But I suspect you mean it offers no consolation. I know it doesn’t help but I think death sucks. Take consolation anywhere you can find it. I certainly intend to. Atheism schmatheism!

    • S.Cheung says

      Katabole,
      “Atheism has no answer to death, no ultimate hope to give.”
      As Andrew says, death isn’t a question, hence no answer is required. What you call “hope” is really wishful thinking based on an abundance of faith…in lieu of substance. I quite enjoy the Hitchens characterization: celestial north korea.

      • AlanBreck says

        What you call “hope” is really wishful thinking based on an abundance of faith

        What makes their conception more valid that yours? Have you been dead before?

        • S.Cheung says

          Alan,
          “Have you been dead before?”
          It is precisely because no one who is making ANY claims has been dead before, that ANYONE who does make any claims about whatever happens after death is merely projecting their personal version of wishful thinking.

  43. dirk says

    I don’t know whether it is mentioned already, but a discussion on the features and characteristics of religion, without mentioning the values of a great, meaningful community and feeling of belonging (instead of the humanist individuality and freedom of lonelyness), is missing the point. I think, in their heart, Staddon and Coyne (as are most commenters here) are secular humanists, though, even then, you might feel some sympathy for religious culture. A real religious person and believer always is part of something much bigger than himself, churches in my youth even took care for many things where now the nation and their laws foresee in, churches didn’t let the poor down, that was even their core business. Now we have medicare, free education (Norway), socialism, subsidies for this and for that, you name it. Not much need anymore for religions, but, again, this is only a recent phenomenon.
    And in other, less wealthy nations, churches and religions are still very much alive and kicking!

  44. scribblerg says

    I’ll just point this out. This author says: “So the view that abortion is murder, for instance, comes from the claim that fetuses, like adults, have souls, and therefore aborting them is murder.” This is an irrational claim. Let’s take just murder, forget it one is murdering a fetus. Let’s say we are just discussing murder of a human being.

    Do we get the idea from Christianity that murder is wrong because human’s have a soul? Would anyone be that reductionist in describing why Christians see murder as wrong? There are many “secular” pro-life people out there – the author seems to no know this. Christopher Hitchens was for many restrictions on abortions based on a strictly humanist ideal. One can readily “reason” their way to protecting the unborn in the womb

    The author is correct in his main point though, calling secular humanism religion is quite silly. Compared to say Catholicism, secular humanism is a hash of weak nonsense, barely coherent or even organized in way someone can understand and access. As it’s practiced today, it’s also radically Progressive/Leftist nonstop. Why is that? Why are so many secular humanists supporters of a large state that violates our classical liberal ideals? Secular humanism strikes as more of a rejection of traditional values than a full value system one can adopt.

  45. Pingback: Secular Humanism is Not a Religion | 3 Quarks Daily

  46. @scribblerg

    On abortion: From a legal standpoint, the law cannot declare the abortion of a zygote or early fetus “murder,” since it is not a person. {the morality of early abortion is extra-legal} But at some point during pregnancy, a fetus becomes a viable baby. Well before birth.

    While it is true that there are few late term abortions in the US, and most are for babies that cannot survive to term, there “might” be a few abortions of babies for no reason other than the mother demands it. This is murder.

    Your “agreement” with Professor Coyne is hilarious. But the joke is on you. By disqualifying SH as a religion because it is lame, you attempt to elevate Catholicism to non-lame status. All that does is highlight it’s contradictions, irrationality, and cruelty in the eyes of we who stand outside it.

    I agree that SH seems to be a refuge for Progressive/Leftists. Professor Coyne, at his website, has taken issue with the Regressive Left, but that does not touch his deeply rooted collectivism.

    • dirk says

      Funny that already St. Augustin, without any biological or gynaecological knowledge, thought about the issue, bu stating that an immortal soul entered the fetus only at 3 months (girls) and 4 months (boys, if I remember well). So, there is some connection. Both religious and humanist specialists have thought about the difference of zygotes and a developed fetus.

      • Well, the women on the ground considered the distinction to be “when the baby quickens.” And that was with or without the “soul entering” element.

  47. AlanBreck says

    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.

    But this characteristic is certainly not true of secular humanism, which of course is secular, i.e., holds no belief in “hidden worlds or beings.” Staddon’s second diagnostic trait of religion overlaps with his first:

    Secular humanist certainly do believe in this. For example, White Privelege is their conception fo original sin.

    That you dismiss this so blithely shows intellectual midgetry

    • Nicolaas Stempels says

      The idea that ‘white privilege’ is original sin is a dogma of the ‘woke’ intersectionalists. In no way it describes secular humanism. Where did you find that nonsense?

  48. Nicolaas Stempels says

    I was reminded today of the most succinct refutation of Mr Staddon:
    “Atheisn is a religion the same way that baldness is a hair colour”.

    • dirk says

      We all know exactly what bald means, and what hair is, Nico, alas, this is not so for religion (just read the 2 essays and the comments). So, no clear metaphore here and now.

  49. More evidence that secular humanism is not a religion:

    Religion correlates to high fertility rates, giving religious organisms a higher differential fertility rates against secular organisms. This fertility boost, while unexplained, probably has some correlation to “irrational moral codes” linking human sexuality to reproduction, and emphasizing family structures and gender roles that promote human fertility.

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/05/12/charted-the-religions-that-make-the-most-babies/?utm_term=.19998508a343

    This also may explain why religion persists and why there seem to be cyclical periods of religiosity (a group of organisms with a higher differential fertility rate will tend to displace one with a lower fertility rate, without even resorting formally to jihad). Zeal causes higher differential fertility, but then over generations, zeal dies out, but then another wave of zealous sectarian breeders emerge and repeats the cycle. In fact, religious sectarianism itself may have something to do with optimizing the size of the gene pool.

    If evolution is true, then religion is a complex cultural adaptation that promotes the evolutionary group fitness of believers. . . and may even promote group cohesion if people are afraid that the sky god will wack their pee pee if they secretly do something immoral.

    • S. Cheung says

      KD,
      that’s interesting.

      Is religion an adaptive or maladaptive behavior?

      Is there a religion gene? Would it be recessive or dominant? What is its penetrance?

      Is adoption of religion genetic, or socialized?

      • 1.) The correlation between religiosity and fertility (and “fundamentalism” and fertility) is well studied and exists across cultures..

        2.) Obviously, religiosity is generally adaptive. High fertility, even if it leads to overpopulation, doesn’t really matter unless your group dies at a higher rate than the low fertility group.

        3.) I think religious wars may make sense in that if you have two distinct gene pools with high fertility competing for territory, a war to eradicate the competitor may make evolutionary sense.

        4.) I don’t think that many people consciously run around trying to maximize their fitness or their group fitness. On the other hand, evolution works because organisms run around unconsciously trying to maximize their fitness or their group fitness. I suspect when certain people decry “irrational” behavior, much of the “irrational” behavior serves an unconscious evolutionary rationale.

        5.) I would be surprised if “religiosity” was based on a single gene. Most behavioral traits are about 50% heritable (per Plomin). I suspect that there are probably 1000’s of genes that correlate to religiosity and fertility.

      • Another reason why secular humanism is not a religion is that it does not promote endogamy, whereas most major religions require you to marry a believer or insist on conversion at marriage–making it clear that we are talking about the construction of semi-isolated gene pool.

    • Andrew Roddy says

      @KD
      I am wondering are you playing here for laughs. You present more ‘evidence’ that secularism is not a religion. But ‘Religion correlates to high fertility rates, giving religious organisms a higher differential fertility rates against secular organisms’ reveals that your evidence is predicated on an absolute assumption that secularism is entirely distinct from religion. You go down hill from there. Indeed you descend into a secular madness the comedy of which you are evidently not best positioned you appreciate. Your talk of zealotry is the best bit.

      • Andrew: I don’t understand your remarks. I think secularism, and certainly secular humanism, is not a religion, specifically because it rejects what I would consider the “biopolitical” social engineering function performed by the world’s major religious traditions.

        As I see secular humanism, it rejects “religious” biopolitics, its not particularly interested in preserving its gene pool or its cultural inheritance, and while it retains some moral orientation, its political orientation is negative, that is, against “organized religion” with some scoffing about “Wu”. Sometimes there is some positive stuff about science, but pretty much anyone with eyes and a brain can feel a sense of awe looking at a suspension bridge.

        Secular humanism does have a quasi-religious missionary character to it, I think it is the principle which supplies the drive to action, and a utopian teleological aspect as expressed in John Lennon’s Imagine, which derives from Apocalyptic Christianity, but I don’t think that is enough to make the cut. You can say the same about Marxist-Leninism, Anarcho-Syndicalism and German National Socialism, other secular ideologies.

      • I presume my remarks may seem paradoxical, but I believe a solid naturalistic explanation for the major religions of the world can be brought forward, what we might call faith-based biopolitics, which explains why they exist and why they will continue to exist and why sects like Mainline Protestantism, when they reject traditional biopolitics, wither and die.

        What I find strange is the idea that humans could expend enormous time and resources on preserving exotic rites, rituals, and institutions for thousands of years, and the whole thing turns out to be mostly a giant parasitic loss from an evolutionary perspective. On the other hand, if it was beneficial from an evolutionary perspective, that would explain i.) why it is consciously irrational but people do it anyways, ii.) why it has been such a big deal in human history and continues to be a big deal.

        This perspective may complicate secular humanism as an activist political ideology, but simultaneously vindicates philosophical naturalism, and actually emphasizes the importance of human evolution in complex human societies.

        • Andrew: I’m not being circular. If you note, I started with an empirical observation, different fertility rates between secular persons and religious persons.

          I then by way of plausible hypothesis connected that empirical observation to a theory, that traditional religious morals and gender roles generally serve to increase fertility.

          I then distinguish secular ethics from religious-based ethics on the basis that religion is basically a bio-hack, and that modern secular ethics takes its starting point as the rejection of that bio-hack.

          It may not be true (genes that correlate to fertility may also correlate to support for traditional religious morals and gender roles, and therefore the causation runs only from genes to cultural forms rather than a more complex multilevel system of feedback) but it is possible.

          • Andrew Roddy says

            Thanks, KD.

            You don’t see circularity in your argument and I’m struggling to see beyond it. Is it the case that either there is circularity or there is not? A circle can appear ovoid or it can present as a straight line depending on the angle from which it is viewed. Or is it more likely that one or both of us is vision impaired? (Hint: I know I am).

            I enjoyed Daniel V’s nuanced comments (elsewhere on this page) regarding the need to be aware that secularists are prone to the same fundamentalist biases as those of a religious outlook. That may seem obvious but I sense that its an observation that is more pertinent than whether secular humanism can be usefully understood as a religion or not. Might there be, moreover, a myopia that is unique to people of a secular persuasion because they are so blithely assured of the impregnable rationality of their own position – a sydrome which, let’s be honest, religious people are much less likely to be prone to.

          • Andrew:

            Any debate about definitions is going to have circularity, because you are stipulating the definition of X is ABC. There is nothing wrong with someone seizing on a similarity between secular humanism and religion and arguing secular humanism is a religion. There is no right answer here because the concept of religion is fuzzy, and just because someone creates a less fuzzy definition of religion doesn’t mean everyone will embrace it. The real problem with this approach is that most everything becomes swallowed up into the concept of religion, probably being a Democrat becomes a religion, supporting the 2nd Amendment becomes religion, porn addiction becomes a religion, whereas a distinction between secularism and religion seems to existing in common parlance.

            My argument starts with an empirical distinction between the faithful and the secular, and focuses on that empirical distinction to make an analytical distinction between religion and secular humanism. Its more than that, because I suspect that the link to fertility is the key to understanding religion in human societies. Its certainly more important than debates over the validity of Thomas Aquinas’s proofs (in the Middle Ages, the overwhelming majority of people couldn’t read, and of the sliver that could, most would have struggled to even understand Aquinas).

  50. KD,

    Here’s an explanation of the mechanism: the religious are told by the priests that it is a sin to not procreate, punishable by burning in hell for all eternity.

    Just ask a young, healthy sexually active Catholic married couple if they can take communion (you have to be sin-free to take communion) when they are deliberately not procreating, just because they don’t want children.

    Maybe it’s time for evolution to privilege the non-religious-selectively-pregnant, since Gaia can barely sustain the current population.

    The annihilation of the belief in hell would also help.

    • 1.) There is no evidence that Gaia cannot sustain the present population.

      Calories per day have been increasing for decades:

      https://ourworldindata.org/food-per-person

      Most of world food insecurity is a result of the civil war or government corruption–that is to say not production but distribution. People starve because they live in areas with failed states or corrupt states.

      2.) “Overpopulation” is not a problem for Gaia, its a problem for the organisms living in an overpopulated territory on Gaia.

      3.) Populations naturally follow ecological cycles. The idea that humanity can somehow ultimately break free from the Malthusian logic of existence is certainly a possibility–but unlikely as it probably cuts against what human organisms evolved to do.

      4.) Ehrlich lost his bet:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simon%E2%80%93Ehrlich_wager

    • dirk says

      Okay John, that was then, in the time where 8 out of 10 children died before they reached 10 yrs, in such times, I can imagine, homosexuals,lesbians and parents choosing for 1 or 2 children was highly immoral, irresponsible and even dangerous for mankind. However, I wonder whether priests still preach limitless procreation, also religion changes with times, some religions more than others (islam, clearly, needs some more time, but, in the end, will also change its morals, did Mohamed get any instructions on procreation from above, BTW?).

      • I do not know the rules for Islam, or any other religion than Catholicism.

        I also could not believe the Catholic Church would still consider it a sin for couples to willfully not procreate.

        You’d better believe it. I checked, twice.

        Cannon: Marriage and sex in marriage is for procreation. As a couple, you are in sin if you do anything to block conception, including refraining from sex during the fertile days of the month (rhythm method). You might be allowed to use rhythm in order to space children, but not too much. You do not have the option to deliberately choose to go childless, or stop after x-number of children.

        That is, if you want to take communion and go to heaven. Worse than blocking conception and stop taking communion would be to block and still take communion, not confessing. That is deadly grievous sin. There is little else worse in Catholicism than taking communion while knowing you are in sin.

        I suspect, world wide, that Catholic couples don’t abide this, because it is crazy.

        I was told by one Catholic that they had to meet with a priest and get special permission based on the health of the mother to block procreation after six children in eleven years. I didn’t ask, but I suspect [speculation] “we can’t afford more children” would be disallowed. [end speculation]

        Remember, Catholicism is gigantic in South America, where the Church wants to expand forever, and this rule is real.

        Catholicism does not actually change with the times as much as you think.

        • You can look at the demographics of the Haredim in Israel. When Ben-Gurion took the Haredim in, there was less than 1000 of them. There is strength in numbers, and look at them in 2016:

          chrome-extension://oemmndcbldboiebfnladdacbdfmadadm/https://en.idi.org.il/media/4240/shnaton-e_8-9-16_web.pdf

        • dirk says

          Just only listen to pope Franciscus John, and compare that with what Pius XII still had to convey. Huge differences. And for the good, I think.

          • Andrew Roddy says

            The bathwater is looking increasingly murkier to me. It’s good to check and triple-check if there might be a baby in it before we throw it out.

    • Andrew Roddy says

      ‘the religious are told by the priests that it is a sin to not procreate,’

      ‘The religious’ in Catholic parlance precisely are the priests and are told precisely not to procreate.

      This doesn’t fit neatly with your speculations but I can’t see you having any difficulty squeezing it in there.

      • @Andrew Roddy

        “‘the religious are told by the priests that it is a sin to not procreate,’”

        Are you talking to me? It is not clear to whom you are responding.

        If this is directed to me,
        1) I only made one speculation, clearly marked, about “money” not being sufficient to grant a variance;
        2) the Catholic policy I otherwise outlined is cannon. are you challenging that?;
        3) I vaguely grasp where you are going with that post, but won’t stoop to squash it into the mud unless you clarify it for all to see.

        P.S. speaking for myself, but ‘speculating’ that others might think the same, your ‘bathwater’ post is also a deep dark mystery.

        • Andrew Roddy says

          John:

          Just to clarify – my comment was intended for KD. My bad for not making that clear. It references a quote a comment of his above.

          I have no difficulty with speculation per se. It might be the mother of everything.

          The bathwater remark will just have to stand – whether it makes sense to you or not.

          • this was a direct quote from me:

            “‘the religious are told by the priests that it is a sin to not procreate,’”

            and I was the one to label something “speculation” so naturally I suspected you are responding to me. No?

          • Andrew Roddy says

            John Donohue.
            It seems I was addressing your comment but that I misattributed it.
            I imagined that your above ‘explanation’ for the mechanism behind correlation between religiosity and fertility was being presented as speculative. Perhaps you intended it as established fact or something else?

          • Andrew Roddy,

            Ok.

            My “for Catholics its a mortal sin to not procreate” as an explanation of why fertility is high in areas of high religiosity began as …. well, not bitter sarcasm …. more like irony.

            Reading it afresh, I am renewing sober speculation that this precise Catholic cannon — which is factual and in place this very moment — might have twins in other religions. If you consider Confucianism to be a religion, isn’t it true that its young people have a deadly duty to raise many children, since their destiny includes the edict to care for the older generation? Does that seem twin-ish?

  51. Joe G says

    Secular humanists worship the unholy trinity of mother nature, father time and some unknown processes. They definitely do not and never will have a scientific explanation for our existence. Theirs is all faith.

  52. Mr. says

    It’s interesting that Coyne’s definition of religion fails to distinguish between its theistic or mythic content and its sociological function.

    He’s right to point out that what science does, its whole litany of methods, practices, norms, rules, rituals, institutions (ad infinitum), are very different from those of organized religion. The two institutions have different roles in this sense.

    I don’t think that anyone disputes this, on either side of the debate.

    Despite Coyne and company’s emphasis on this angle, this is hardly the most interesting question raised by the culture-war between science and faith.

    Coyne’s equivocation fails to appreciate the part that religions play as social phenomenon, as a product of meaning-creating acts, or even as means of symbolic expression, independent of their contents.

    In this sense, it doesn’t matter very much whether science is “a method of finding truth based on empirical verification” or “one based on unevidenced faith, revelation, authority, and scripture”.

    The fact that science has different internal aims from theistic religious activities does not preclude its also playing the social part of a religion.

    The watered-down form of neo-positivism that Coyne and his motley crue of New Atheists have been peddling to the public wants us to pretend this isn’t the case. There’s science over here, and your silly hu-man superstitions over there.

    A nice myth. But a myth it is.

    (Never mind that the line between good method and unacknowledged metaphysics is never addressed by Coyne. He wouldn’t like the implications of touching that live rail, so it’s best to leave it be.)

    More sensitive analyses of myth and religion don’t fall prey to this story of grade-school empiricism.

    Ernst Cassirer’s analyses of myth as symbolic expression, or more lately, the works of Marcel Gauchet on the sociology of secularization, or Merlin Donald’s work on the stages of development from myth through to science, are excellent examples of a more sensitive attention to these issues.

    Coyne seems to be sharpening the old saws on behalf of the secular humanism camp, but they went dull for a reason. The dichotomy between science and faith is mostly an artifact, and even where there are interesting, ideologues like Coyne don’t want to address them.

    • S. Cheung says

      Mr.,
      “The fact that science has different internal aims from theistic religious activities does not preclude its also playing the social part of a religion.”
      — aren’t you simply back to where Staddon was with his recent Quillette article? Secular humanism fulfills one of the 3 parts of his definition for religion…but only one…which makes it not a religion by his own definition. If you’re saying science plays the “social part” of religion, but there are other parts to a religion in which science does not participate, then you’re still left with science not being a religion. So was this simply your way of agreeing with Coyne and Staddon?

      • Mr. says

        Hi S. Cheung,

        If you’re saying science plays the “social part” of religion, but there are other parts to a religion in which science does not participate, then you’re still left with science not being a religion.

        This is getting close to it, but I’d add a rider or two to clarify.

        First thing, I’m not too fussed about arriving at a precise definition of religion. Words are amorphous things and listing off necessary & sufficient conditions rapidly approaches diminishing returns. It often becomes an exercise in motivated hair-splitting rather than a productive exercise. I think that this debate handily illustrates these limitations.

        The question of whether “science” (another protean word) is or isn’t a “religion” is much less interesting to me than the question of whether a certain set of ideas fills a particular part or set of parts in the lives of people.

        The reason I’m pressing the difference between sociological function and theistic content is because it is very easy to look at science (it might more accurate here to distinguish science qua its methods and factual discoveries from ‘a scientific outlook or perspective’) as lacking express commitments to the supernatural — which is something so true it’s almost tautologcial — and conclude that it isn’t a religion.

        Fair point. If that’s how we’re conceiving of religion, then I’m in agreement.

        But this brings us back to my first question: Aren’t there more interesting things to say about the part that religion plays than just belief in the supernatural?

        Maybe religion is the wrong word, given all this baggage. Maybe I should speak of ‘myth’ or something to that effect, though I don’t know if that’s a real solution.

        What about the connection of myth to the creation of meaning as a kind of practice? Human beings have always looked to something higher to create narratives of purpose, and in a way that is fairly independent of the systems of thought or knowledge that spring up around them. We do things first — enacting rituals and practices, building institutions — and then come to build the narrative around it.

        Meanwhile, we’ve been slowly dispensing with God and the divine world since the Renaissance.

        Do we really believe that the impulse for meaning has evaporated with the secularizing process? Some do. I don’t find it plausible. God may have abandoned the throne, but mankind hasn’t stopped looking for him.

        My point in all this was to show that, while not precisely a red herring, the theistic or supernatural or divine contents of religious practices which anchor them in an invisible transcendent reality aren’t essential to the social roles or functions that religious (or quasi-religious, if that’s preferable) practices perform.

        The higher or the sacred often has been, but need not be, expressly theistic. It’s entirely possible that the impulse to religion manifests itself in secular, atheistic, or materialist commitments which satisfy the function of creating meaning and purpose for people without express supernatural commitments.

        Which raises a whole range of new, often uncomfortable questions. This (I think) is the real source of the discomfort here. Pointing that science isn’t so different from religion in certain vital respects is taken as a challenge to what science shows us about the world.

        It isn’t obvious why this must be. Defenders of science shouldn’t be making metaphysical pronouncements anyway. When they do, they may as well be straying into ineffable as sure as any Platonist or Christian ever has. But scientists really shouldn’t be doing this (and can’t, with any consistency).

        Somewhat off topic but, it’s not a coincidence that Nietzsche trained his heavy artillery on secular materialists as sure as he did Christians and Platonists and Kantians. The genealogical critique doesn’t lose it sting simple because the word “God” is no longer in respectable use.

        Marcel Gauchet’s The Disenchanment of the World is a recommended read.

        • S. Cheung says

          Mr.,
          If I understand you correctly, I believe you are saying that the question of whether secular humanism/scientism is or is not a religion, is not an important one. If that is the case, then I completely agree. I was confused by Staddon’s approach to begin with. I do also agree with the cynicism of some others here, who feel that equating the two is sometimes an attempt by theists to burnish the bonafides of their belief system, even though that has never been a compelling argument to those who are not predisposed to be receptive to it.

          To some extent, I would also agree that this is a semantic exercise. Whether secularism falls under the umbrella of religion simply depends on how broadly you define religion, which itself is an invitation for logical absurdities.

          Instead, examining how “morality”, “laws”, or “narratives” are affected differently in an environment of science, in contrast to an environment of religion, I think would have been a more interesting endeavor.

          • Mr. says

            Hi again S. Cheung,

            I believe you are saying that the question of whether secular humanism/scientism is or is not a religion, is not an important one.

            Certainly it isn’t all that important, if that question is going to turn into a brawl over terminology! Whatever is interesting in the question will be found elsewhere.

            …equating the two is sometimes an attempt by theists to burnish the bonafides of their belief system

            It almost certainly is this in many instances, yes. That said, the interesting point raised by the question isn’t made any less interesting because some use it to advance an agenda.

            examining how “morality”, “laws”, or “narratives” are affected differently in an environment of science, in contrast to an environment of religion, I think would have been a more interesting endeavor

            Surely. Though one reason I pressed the point about sociological function is that it provides a standpoint from which to look at human social behaviors in the most general sense, before we even get to the line demarcating scientific activities from express religious practices.

            We begin first with “humans doing things” and then proceed into questions about what these various activities are doing, how we distinguish them, what point they have, what they doers take themselves to be doing, and so forth.

            If science is an activity that human beings do — and it would be very hard, not to mention strange, to deny this — then this is a useful perspective from which to compare, as well as contrast, scientific and religious practices before we even get to the internal stories and standards attached to these domains of action.

  53. Dear Mr.

    I wouldn’t be so quick to laud theism’s role “as social phenomenon, as a product of meaning-creating acts, or even as means of symbolic expression, independent of their contents.”

    Why? It is too easy to list all the ways it has used those factors to enslave, shame, humiliate, murder, condemn to hell, and generally terrify and exploit humanity from the beginning.

    P.S. very cute, sliding in “litany” and “ritual” as characteristic of science.

    • Mr. says

      It’s interesting that you think that it being “easy to list all the ways [theism] has used those factors to enslave, shame, humiliate, murder, condemn to hell, and generally terrify and exploit humanity from the beginning” is contrary to the point that religion, whatever else it may be, fills a social function.

      Why do you think this? Social functionality never has guaranteed moral goodness, and vice versa. This has been almost a commonsense position in European thought, certainly since Hume’s fork formalized the notion that “ought” doesn’t flow from “is”.

      It’s pretty evident, from an outside perspective, that you’re hoping to score a point with silly sarcasm. “Very cute” indeed. But who knows, there may be a real reason besides petty point-scoring from a vindictive and none-too-bright atheist.

  54. Pingback: Jerry Coyne insists that secular humanism is not a religion | Uncommon Descent

  55. “Cute” was deserved. It was a non-bright attempt to slide those religious artifacts onto science. I did not seek to score a point, only smash the ball back in your face.

    Religion does fulfill a social function: mutual reinforcement of fear of hell and hope for heaven. You help each other with those. The shaman (the world’s oldest profession) presides over this harmonious psychological dictatorship of the spirits, the most vicious command and control mechanism ever deployed.

    I will require clarification of your overall point: are you saying that the value of religion as a social glue trumps any judgement on it’s function as a guide to the good? Please confirm or correct.

  56. Mr. says

    “It was a non-bright attempt to slide those religious artifacts onto science.”

    I’m not sure why you still insist on repeating Coyne’s error of equivocating on the word “religion” even after having the difference explained to you.

    There is the theistic content espoused by various dogmas and doctrines and creeds, over here, and there are sociological functions, over there.

    You’ve confused the two, for a second time, despite making this as clear as a ringing bell on a calm day.

    It’s rather like watching an animal react to a noise: all response to stimulus, not becoming an actual human who wants to make a serious point. Oh no, a religious word! He must be a theist!

    It’s remarkable how the atheists and the ‘humanists’ [sic] end up repeating all the things they claim to hate in religion.

    “Religion does fulfill a social function: mutual reinforcement of fear of hell and hope for heaven.”

    It’s all so tiresome. Such easily rebuffed nonsense, for anyone who isn’t in his 4th or 5th decade of throwing a tantrum about the hard time he had in Sunday school.

    If you acutally want clarity, rather than puffing your chest up and whining like the gamma male it’s becoming clear that you are, you’ll have to act like a grown up instead of every other validation-seeking internet arguer.

  57. I’m sad you are tired. That is not a refutation, however.

    Moreover, your weariness is evident in this new post — it says nothing. It made my yawn. Especially the attempt to pin puffery on me, when your initial post drips with it. I can’t keep up with your cynical characterizations, it is too tiresome.

    Well, something of content might be peeking out of the dreck… another hint that you are the champion of the schism between some sort of “sociological function” of religion and it’s “theistic content.”

    Actual people who are religious fail to live up to this sundering of reality. They gather together and interact socially over their religion, seek mates in church groups, and they pray together, and yet they take heaven and hell seriously. Families (a sociological function) pivot on theistic considerations.

    Perhaps you could provide a specific, clear, real-world example of religion that effects purely sociological function with no connection to God, heaven or hell, as well as the obverse.

    Otherwise, your blustering huffy defense of this bizarre distinction will make me deaf as well as yawn.

  58. Mr. says

    The only one here concerned about “refutations” is the dead-souled bug man who had such a hard time in Sunday school that “debunking” religion in internet comboxes is Serious Business.

    What a rewarding life that must be.

    No harm in criticizing religion. Nietzsche did it well. Bernard Williams had a good go at it. They knew how to handle the topic. With spunk, even.

    This is pandering in the comments section. Congratulations on your debating skills, Mr. Bugman.

  59. Mr. says

    By the by:

    “Perhaps you could provide a specific, clear, real-world example of religion that effects purely sociological function with no connection to God, heaven or hell, as well as the obverse.”

    Yes. It’s called science.

    sunglasses

  60. “… science.”

    What a stupid disappointment. I can’t believe I spent any time or pixels on such a vapid, lame response.

    • Davis Murphy says

      There’s always some dense boomer that doesn’t know when to shut his mouth, innit?

      Boomers are the plague of the internet, John Donohue. Please stop posting before you have a heart attack.

  61. andres says

    Secular Humanism uses the State to impose its morality/ethics, a substitute for a God.

  62. Moreland Shultis says

    Eye witness accounts of Jesus’ healings/miracles are beyond reproach

    • Andrew Roddy says

      We are certainly free to take them at face value if we wish. Those who may have given them are indeed safely beyond enduring our reproach.

  63. Pingback: Values, Even Secular Ones, Depend on Faith: A Reply to Jerry Coyne - Quillette

  64. Elizabeth says

    This writer seems to have completely missed the point of the Staddon piece which was not that secular humanism is a religion. It’s that the secular humanist’s moral code and moral reasoning are grounded in precisely the same kind of leap of faith as those of the religious believer. Which seems unarguably true.

    We can object to murder because we believe humans are created in God’s image, or because we believe natural law underwrites our universal right to not be killed or because we simply prefer to live in a society where it is impermissible for people to murder each other. While all of these positions can be rationally defended, none of them can be derived purely from reason.

    Indeed, the secular one least of all, since the moment you ground your morals in a “preference” for living in a certain type of society, we can point to societies that have preferred moral schemes we find reprehensible (what about societies that “prefer” to mutilate little girls’ genitals or to practice child marriage or perpetrate genocide?).

    But even if we don’t go there, ultimately, your moral code and whatever first principles you are counting on to guarantee it (Christianity’s God, some other God or religious writ, natural law, your secular preferences, whatever), can’t be proven true in a factual, empirically unassailable way. Which means there’s a leap of faith at their core. Not sure why that’s such a big problem for people.

  65. Pingback: Once again, John Staddon maintains that religious morality is superior to secular morality « Why Evolution Is True

  66. Pingback: Once again, John Staddon maintains that religious morality is superior to secular morality – World News

Comments are closed.