A Rebuttal to the Humanist Manifestos
2. EthicsThe following quote is taken from the Humanist Manifesto II:
THIRD: We affirm that moral values derive their source from human experience. Ethics is autonomous and situational needing no theological or ideological sanction. Ethics stems from human need and interest. To deny this distorts the whole basis of life. Human life has meaning because we create and develop our futures. Happiness and the creative realization of human needs and desires, individually and in shared enjoyment, are continuous themes of humanism. We strive for the good life, here and now. The goal is to pursue life's enrichment despite debasing forces of vulgarization, commercialization, and dehumanization.
The Dangers of Relativism
"Ethics is autonomous and situational..." This is the standard relativistic fare dished up by most cults and other non-religious paradigms in use today. "Situational ethics" is a contradiction in terms, as the very word "ethics" implies some sort of standard above and beyond the situation. Synonyms for ethics include "standards", "norms", "moral principles", "social laws." Without a standard of judgment above and beyond the conflict at issue, then there can never be a right or wrong answer. If we wait for a particular situation to present itself before determining what is right and what is wrong, then we can never arrive at a consensus, and therefore should never expect human behavior to follow any sort of standard. Any behavior whatsoever is acceptable until the principle of situational ethics is applied to it to determine whether the alleged antagonist was acting in a manner acceptable for the given situation. At that point, the judgment handed down is a subjective one, and by definition must depend on the individual or individuals passing judgment. Even if a ruling is established, I can always argue that your morality is different from mine and, according to the humanist tradition, you have no right to punish me - I was simply acting consistently with my own "situational ethic." With situational ethics, laws and rules are meaningless and moral anarchy is the predictable result.
If morals "derive their source from human experience," then we again must ask the question "Whose experience are we basing morals on?" A tribe of cannibals may determine that to eat other human beings is morally defensible, but I would shudder to accept that type of ethical system in my neighborhood. If the argument is presented that such behavior is acceptable in their culture but not necessarily in ours, then what happens when a westerner visits and is eaten for lunch? Whose morality should be used in the cannibal court?
To state that "ethics stems from human need and interest" is to claim that any behavior which does not meet such standards is unethical. But this rule cannot possibly apply to such circumstances as sacrificial giving or martyrdom. If a martyr stands alone against the entire world, firm in his resolve to die for Jesus Christ, or Allah, or whomever, this is irreconcilable to any human need or interest. Perhaps the humanist philosophy has determined that martyrdom or other extreme examples of selfless sacrifice are unethical. I would like to know the "official" position on this matter.
The same side of situational ethics is addressed in Item 4 of A Secular Humanist Declaration, "Ethics Based On Critical Intelligence":
"We are opposed to absolutist morality, yet we maintain that objective standards emerge, and ethical values and principles may be discovered, in the course of ethical deliberation. Secular humanist ethics maintains that it is possible for human beings to lead meaningful and wholesome lives for themselves and in service to their fellow human beings without the need of religious commandments or the benefit of clergy."
Here their use of the word "absolutist" reveals their distaste for absolutes, a word which might suggest a transcendent being who is establishing such absolutes. Humanism expects "ethical deliberation" to reveal "objective standards," and to lead to the discovery of "ethical values and principles," yet I maintain that without a higher standard - the "absolutism" they readily reject - there can be no principle, no objectivity, no established values. Principles and values by definition imply that a higher standard exists.
The humanist theme centers around self-fulfillment and happiness, which can become a dangerous objective when coupled with a relativistic interpretation of ethics, or of right and wrong. Which comes first, my pursuit of happiness or my own personal, unique ethical standard? Since I am free to define both, I am also free to apply either as I see fit. As we "strive for the good life, here and now," are we to trample on those who hinder us or do we submit to an ethical standard that says we shouldn't? If the latter, then are we not sacrificing our own desires and subjugating our own needs and interests? And is this not antithetical to my striving for the good life and the very concept of "situational ethics"?
Allow me to clarify that I have nothing against the pursuit of happiness or against material gain. I believe that material rewards (not necessarily riches) for hard work and good living is a theme supported by the bible. It is the mixture of the pursuit of the good life with a relativistic ethical standard that concerns me. Given freedom to first define our own right and wrong, then encouraged to pursue our own desires freely is a volatile combination when one understands that the natural character of mankind is supremely selfish.
Reason, Intelligence, Wisdom, Love
The following quote is taken from the Humanist Manifesto II:
FOURTH: Reason and intelligence are the most effective instruments that humankind possesses. There is no substitute: neither faith nor passion suffices in itself. The controlled use of scientific methods, which have transformed the natural and social sciences since the Renaissance, must be extended further in the solution of human problems. But reason must be tempered by humility, since no group has a monopoly of wisdom or virtue. Nor is there any guarantee that all problems can be solved or all questions answered. Yet critical intelligence, infused by a sense of human caring, is the best method that humanity has for resolving problems. Reason should be balanced with compassion and empathy and the whole person fulfilled. Thus, we are not advocating the use of scientific intelligence independent of or in opposition to emotion, for we believe in the cultivation of feeling and love. As science pushes back the boundary of the known, humankind's sense of wonder is continually renewed, and art, poetry, and music find their places, along with religion and ethics.
I don't want to give the impression that the humanist ideal is valueless. It is as a whole opposed to Christian values, and to those of many religions, but there is much that is good and sensible. I believe that most humanists truly care for their fellow human beings, and are even sympathetic toward those of us who in their opinion are trapped within the damaging Christian faith. This section entitled "FOURTH" is a good example of the better side of humanism. Yet half truths can be more dangerous than overt untruths, so the whole of humanism must still be rejected by bible-believing Christians.
Although I disagree with the assertion that "Reason and intelligence are the most effective instruments that humankind possesses," I do agree that " neither faith nor passion suffices in itself." In fact, one of my primary complaints with westernized Christianity is its lack of reason and intelligence, and its nearly complete reliance on passion and emotion:
The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind...
For an entire Christian community to neglect, generation after generation, serious attention to the mind, nature, society, the arts - all spheres created by God and sustained for his own glory - may be, in fact, sinful.
Mark Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind
If this is not enough to cause us Christians to at least think about the implications of our intellectual negligence, Noll quotes the opinion of Os Guinness on the subject:
Evangelicals have been deeply sinful in being anti-intellectual ever since the 1820s and 1830s. For the longest time we didnt pay the cultural price for that because we had the numbers, the social zeal, and the spiritual passion for the gospel. But today we are beginning to pay the cultural price. And you can see that most evangelicals simply dont think. For example, there has been no serious evangelical public philosophy in this century...It has always been a sin not to love the Lord our God with our minds as well as our hearts and souls...
Lacking a "serious evangelical public philosophy" has left the door wide open for the religion of humanism, which through their manifestos has offered human society at large something to pursue which smacks of religious fervor. Society has, indeed, embraced the humanist philosophy, which raises a very fascinating and crucial question: has society adopted humanism as a result of the lack of an effective evangelical influence, or is the humanist ideal an outgrowth of a decaying human worldview? This issue is unfortunately beyond the scope of this writing. I encourage Christian and humanist authors alike to address this issue.
While love is the most effective instrument that humankind possesses, and with faith and hope holding a close second (read 1 Corinthians 13), reason and intelligence remain a crucial part of the Christian faith. Their lack is obvious in today's church and the results of this deficit are obvious and crippling. In many churches, Christianity has become a religion of emotion, excitement, a sort of electro-shock therapy for the soul. This is antithetical to the self-sacrificing and humble spirit that Jesus portrayed and that God commands us to emulate.
"...reason must be tempered by humility, since no group has a monopoly of wisdom or virtue." I trust that this is indeed indicative of the humanist ideal, because it is true. Even the Christian church, as a group of human beings, does not have a monopoly on the truth. We have the bible, which is God's irrefutable revelation to mankind, but our faulty interpretations and selfish utilizations of scripture prohibit us from making the claim that we have a monopoly on wisdom and virtue. Sadly, wisdom can be sorely lacking in some sectors of the evangelical world today. Humanists must also be very careful about the dogmatic conclusions they draw regarding the state of human affairs and of the universe. We must assume that "no group" also includes humanists.
Humility is indeed a noble goal, but it seems somewhat lacking in certain parts of the Manifestos, which are rife with the same genre of dogmatic statements they accuse Christianity of expounding. A new Manifesto which practices true humility would be much more effective in furthering the cause of humanism.
"As science pushes back the boundary of the known, humankind's sense of wonder is continually renewed, and art, poetry, and music find their places, along with religion and ethics." I only wish those who penned these words could see them in the light of an intelligent and loving Creator. Science does, indeed, push back the boundaries of the known, although when compared to the infinite knowledge of our Creator we as mortal human beings will never get very close to the truth. As "humankind's sense of wonder is continually renewed", it ought to point toward the omniscient Creator who has fabricated from nothing the entire fabulous, incomprehensible universe we encounter and take for granted every day. Art, poetry and music are gifts given to us by the One who created us in His likeness, and should be appreciated as such.
Humanism and its atheistic world view miss out on the most incredible gift of all - a proper understanding and awe of the created universe, and the joy of looking forward to an eternity of learning more and more about it and about the One who devised it all specifically for our benefit and enjoyment. Imagine the incredible advances we might make if, rather than proceeding on the false assumption that the universe is a result of completely naturalistic processes, our science instead focused on the task of discovering the precise methods God used to create the universe we observe around us! By starting with the correct hypothesis - that God created the universe and everything in it - we would certainly arrive at the correct conclusions much sooner and with much more benefit to the human species. But humanism will have nothing to do with the idea that God created the cosmos, and in fact blunder seriously in trying to defend their opinion.
Admittedly, Christians have done much to alienate those in our society with a scientific perspective. By insisting, for example, on a young universe in light of overwhelming evidence for an ancient cosmos, creationists place an insurmountable stumbling block in front of secularists, preventing them from accepting the truth of the bible. The secular world trusts us Christians to interpret the bible correctly. When we tell them that the bible insists on a 6,000 year-old universe, and then they look through their telescopes and see a cosmos which must be much older, they simply conclude that the bible must be wrong. A Secular Humanist Declaration recognizes this:
"If successful, creationists may seriously undermine the credibility of science itself."
Here again, Christianity has - by its dogmatic statements regarding something that should not be a dogmatic issue - effectively alienated a significant demographic of intelligent scientific minds. I am not necessarily condemning those who believe in a young earth. I am simply suggesting that the whole age of the universe issue should not represent the dividing line in the Christian faith that it does, and should not prevent non-Christians from exploring the harmony between science and faith in God. Christians have engineered a situation in which, no matter what the truth is regarding the age of the universe, secularists see our own disagreements and want nothing to do with Christianity. I wish Christians would learn to live by this biblically-based admonition:
In essentials, unity
In non-essentials, liberty
In all things, charity
Humanists, however, have also done plenty to contradict themselves. A Secular Humanist Declaration states under Item 1, Free Inquiry, that: "The guiding premise of those who believe in free inquiry is that truth is more likely to be discovered if the opportunity exists for the free exchange of opposing opinions; the process of interchange is frequently as important as the result" [emphasis mine]. The same theme is addressed in Item 2: "A pluralistic, open democratic society allows all points of view to be heard." This sounds like a noble ideal until we arrive at Item 9, Evolution; " We deplore efforts by fundamentalists (especially in the United States) to invade science classrooms, requiring that creationist theory be taught to students and requiring that it be included in biology textbooks. This is a serious threat both to academic freedom and to the integrity of the educational process."
This absolute contradiction would be comical if it were not so tragic. First insisting on the free exchange of opposing opinions, and praising a society in which all points of vies can be heard, then demanding that inclusion of creationism in public school debate is a serious threat first exposes a hypocritical and unsure faith, and second betrays their intolerance of any Christian message, even after their plea welcoming opposing opinions. This flies in the face of their statement that "no group has a monopoly of wisdom or virtue." It is worthy to note that the argument against teaching creationism in school is not based upon the teachings of creationism replacing evolutionism. They are opposed to the idea that creationism is simply "included in biology textbooks." Why? Because if creationism is presented side by side with evolutionism, along with the solid scientific proofs available for each, then evolution would not stand a chance. If creationism is mere fiction or myth, then it could be taught as such, with no danger to young minds. but they won't even allow that. The humanists' knowledge of biblical truth and the superiority of the creation account is what compels them to rabidly oppose creation teaching in the classroom.
This is the one point where the humanist philosophy most strongly contradicts itself. Under the earlier heading "Religion" in the Manifesto II, it is made clear that the Christian viewpoint is clearly unwelcome in a "humanist world." They seem, however, to embrace all viewpoints. The hypocrisy is clear, and demands an explanation. We cannot simultaneously be "open to diverse...moral viewpoints" and hold to the dogma stated in items "FIRST" and "SECOND" of the Manifesto II which state that traditional religions are "obstacles to human progress." Humanists must either withhold judgement of any particular religion or belief (which they have failed to do) or they must discontinue the demand for equality of all competing philosophies. If they rescind their rejection of traditional religions, then they admit that "situational ethics" is in danger and the value of traditional religions are worthy ideas. If they do not, they remain in their hypocrisy. Either way, the humanist ideal as presented in the Manifestos is untenable.