Nearly 150 years ago, Friedrich Nietzsche announced `Gott ist tot`—“God is dead,” slaughtered by enlightened mankind. Since Nietzsche’s time, the curious conglomerate of beliefs that is secular humanism has risen to the challenge of creating meaning for a godless mankind, doing so by pushing man himself into the role of moral magistrate and embodied goodness—or, in premodern phraseology, God. Nevertheless, the conflicting claims of this philosophical system in the end cause it not only to collapse on itself but also ultimately logically force humanity once more into the clutches of an unknown transcendent entity.

To begin, humanism’s peculiar collection of foundational premises reflects the poverty of its definitionally suspect attempt to be “a nontheistic religion” (Mirriam-Webster). According to the New Oxford American dictionary, “Humanist beliefs stress the potential value and goodness of human beings . . . and seek solely rational ways of solving human problems,” but secular humanism specifically openly claims to be naturalistic. The system is therefore brazenly contradictory: while claiming to be monistically naturalistic, humanists’ great concern with the metaphysical matters of morality, social justice, and reason reveals a conspicuous (if unacknowledged) dualistic aspect of their philosophy. 

For this reason alone, secular humanism proves to be an illegitimate philosophical system. In order to devise a coherent worldview, the humanist must choose definitively between monism and dualism. If he truly wishes to affirm that the physical world is all that exists, he must abandon the premise that moral differentiation is possible—morality is nonmaterial, after all, so if he continues to acknowledge it he must jettison his naturalism. As long as humanists attempt to hold these two conflicting beliefs simultaneously, however, their worldview must on the basis of the law of noncontradiction be regarded as philosophically inane.

Unfortunately, humanism’s dissension with logic does not end here—actually, despite humanism’s eager embrace of reason, it fails to reasonably justify the legitimacy of logic. While humanists promote reason as the omnipotent savior of the deified yet clearly flawed human race, naturalism once again stands in opposition to this tenet. If the physical is the entirety of reality, then reality (and hence reason) is necessarily determined by the laws of physics and chemistry. In this case, because man’s animal instincts are fundamentally comparable to his messianic reason, reason is rendered interchangeable with the baser aspects of man’s self from which he theoretically requires salvation, a reality that surely conflicts with the claims of humanism. Likewise, if all is matter and the matter that comprises humans is comparable to the matter that comprises the rest of the universe, the humanist’s choice to elevate man as ultimate being might be viewed as arbitrary or even selfish (if it were a free choice, which, obviously, it cannot be on this view). Finally and most importantly, in order to be the useful and rational instrument humanists consider it to be, logic must be free, a tool to be wielded in whichever direction necessary to encounter truth. Conversely, naturalism enslaves humanism’s savior Reason to the inhuman and inhumane hands of nature and chance.

Indeed, continuity and rational errors are not the extent of humanism’s hurdles—the system even ultimately fails in its attempt to liberate man from an exacting God. As mentioned above, among the foremost assumptions of humanism is the assertion that humans are inherently good or are at least capable of achieving moral goodness individually and collectively. Obviously, this proposition requires an objective standard of goodness, a term atheistic humanist philosophers tend to define much like their theistic counterparts, justifying the description on the ability of virtue to promote human flourishing and happiness rather than on the declarations of a presiding God. However, this standard for goodness has an interesting consequence: if humans are inherently good, then, alternately, goodness is inherently human. When phrased this way, it becomes apparent that secular goodness is reliant for its definition upon humanness. In other words, man literally becomes God.

Yet this raises an interesting dilemma for the humanist: according to the materialistic dogma of secular humanism, man is an exclusively physical, mechanical being, the result of untold years of chance evolution. Therefore, the true divinity of atheism is not the wonder that is man but the endless string of accidental DNA replication errors that created him. While he claims to worship man, the humanist finds himself ultimately paying homage to the omnipotent but impersonal, all-forming but invisible hand of Chance. In so doing, he subjects himself once again to the dominion of an unknown deity that brutally yet unfeelingly wreaks pain and terror on that which it has created, escaping the frying pan of religious superstition to fall into the fire of prehistoric Earth worship.

As the rise of secular humanism demonstrates, the past century and a half have proven Nietzsche right—“we ourselves” have “become gods simply to appear worthy of [God’s murder].” Nevertheless, glorious Man cannot escape the reality that he did not create himself, so even humanism is forced to reckon with a superhuman deity. Having killed God in order to free man from God’s imposition, the humanists may in the end find their new master even less agreeable than their first.

10 thoughts on “The Humanist’s God

  1. I disagree that the physical world being the only world that exists means morality isn’t possible; “nonmaterial” is a very simplified description of a concept (which is what morality is), which does exist in the material world as a result of cognitive function and sentient awareness

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    1. That’s possible; however, I think the existence of that consciousness and humanity’s metaphysical penchant cannot be reasonably accounted for solely in terms of natural selection through physical genetic mutation. As the animal world demonstrates, consciousness does not seem to have survival value, so it can more simply be explained (a la the Law of Parsimony) as a divinely bestowed uniquely human characteristic that enables us to access the very real nonmaterial world.

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      1. Metaphysics is just a study of the mind and concepts; how is the mind’s ability to conceptualize not reasonably accounted for by the fact that we have brains and they’re evolved to be quite capable?

        Consciousness doesn’t have survival value? What do you mean by that?
        Because consciousness is just a product of a brain and central nervous system functioning properly.

        What is the evidence for the idea that consciousness is “divinely bestowed”, instead of a brain function ?

        And what is the evidence for a nonmaterial world?

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    2. What is the evidence that consciousness is a product of the brain and central nervous system? Consciousness enables us to prescribe nonmaterial meaning to otherwise meaningless matter and to subjectively experience the data brought to us by our senses, and unlike neurological phenomena, our thoughts cannot be accessed by anyone else. Neural activity may be scientifically monitored and described, but this is entirely different from experiencing that person’s thoughts in the same way they do. This is utterly unlike our experience of the physical world–using their senses, any two people can experience the same physical object in much the same way. This extreme dissimilarity indicates that thought and matter belong to two separate spheres.

      As far as survival value is concerned, consciousness may not be of adverse value, but vegetative matter and most (if not all) animals manage to survive perfectly well without it, their computer-like brains processing sense data without them experiencing it. Consequently, consciousness can only be described as a bizarre evolutionary “mistake.”

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      1. The evidence is that sentient beings (species who have brains and central nervous systems) are consciously aware, and those who aren’t sentient (without brains or central nervous systems) are not consciously aware. Of course, correlation is not causation, which is why a deeper insight is required into what consciousness IS, which will give us an idea of how it comes into existence.
        Consciousness by definition is awareness by the mind of itself and the outside world, implying that in order for consciousness to exist, a mind must exist to power it (mind being a result of brain function).

        All animals with brains and central nervous systems are conscious, as well as able to experience pain and suffering. We know this by the basic understanding of what brains and CNSs are and what they do. These species avoid pain and seek pleasure. They have a will to live and not be harmed or suffer.

        These species are different than plant species because plants are not sentient (conscious or able to experience pain or suffering), due to their lack of brain (thus, mind) and CNS.

        These are very basic biological and anatomical systems we’re talking about and a question mark you may have about how something in nature works is not evidence or an argument for creation or nonmaterial worlds or afterlives/souls.

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      2. “All animals with brains and central nervous systems are conscious, as well as able to experience pain and suffering. We know this by the basic understanding of what brains and CNSs are and what they do. These species avoid pain and seek pleasure. They have a will to live and not be harmed or suffer.”

        I hope I’m not strawmaning your argument, but this seems awfully close to saying that matter (brains and components of the CNS) is capable of having desires and ambitions, which has the ring of ancient pseudoscience. As you said, the fact that only sentient organisms are conscious is not directly indicative that consciousness is exclusively the result of brain function–the brain may be a necessary precondition for consciousness without being its entire cause. At least based on the arguments presented thus far, I fail to see why causation is unavoidable (or even a sufficient explanation). Consciousness cannot be seen, heard, felt, smelled, tasted, or measured in any scientific way; the brain and the electrochemical interactions we experience as subjective phenomena can be. Therefore, they are distinctly dissimilar entities.

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      3. Desires and ambitions are a result of brain function. Brains and cns are the tools that power consciousness, which allow us to experience desires and ambitions (and all other conscious experiences).

        Before our brain is developed, we have no consciousness, after our brain dies, we have no consciousness, while our brain is alive, we do have consciousness.
        Without a brain there is no conscious mind.

        What is the evidence that there is something other than the brain powering consciousness ?

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    3. I’m not arguing that consciousness can operate apart from the brain; like I said above, the brain physically processes the sense data we subjectivity experience through consciousness, so consciousness is impossible before the brain is formed. Because I’m not dead yet and have never conversed with anyone who is, I can’t say whether or how consciousness extends after death, but, interestingly enough, Christianity has always affirmed embodiment as a central characteristic of humanness (hence the doctrine of bodily ressurection). Still, I do think that the disparity between the properties of matter and the properties of consciousness indicates that the physical is not the entirety of this equation.

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  2. Doesn’t really sound like you’re talking about me. I suspect that Humanism is simpler than your philosophy, because we presume there are no ghosts or gods. Nevertheless, your morality and mine are likely to be very similar, and equally objective.

    From your perspective, God is Good. And that is why he is worshiped. From our perspective, we seek Good for ourselves and others. Which is identical to what your God commands (Matthew 22:35-40).

    We are born into a world of good, which we did not create. Not just material things, but ideals, like justice, liberty, and equality. And spiritual values, like courage, joy, and compassion.

    We benefit from what others, in good faith, have left for us. In return, we sacrifice selfish interest when necessary to preserve this good for others. For the sake of our children, and our children’s children, we seek to understand, to serve, to protect, and perhaps, humbly, to enhance this greater good.

    It is an act of faith to live by moral principle when the greedy prosper by dishonest means. It is an act of faith to stand up for right when the crowd is headed the wrong way. It is an act of faith to return good for evil.

    We have seen Hell. We have seen gang cultures whose rite of passage is an act of mayhem or murder. We have seen racial slavery, persecution, and genocide. We have seen revenge spread violence through whole communities.

    We envision Heaven, where people live in peace and every person is valued. It can only be reached when each person seeks good for himself only through means that are consistent with achieving good for all.

    If God exists, then that is His command. If God does not exist, then that is what we must command of ourselves and of each other. Either way, whether we achieve Heaven or Hell is up to us.

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    1. Greetings, Marvin. Thanks so much for your thoughts. I do have to wonder, though–how do you define good? On what do you base your definition such that it is as objective as a definition based on the character of God? And where do the goodness, ideals, and spiritual values you mention come from?

      Also, can you objectively condemn those who do “prosper by dishonest means”? What authority do you have to foist your personal moral standards on others or to enforce them in the long run? As I discussed in my previous post, it’s also a significant act of faith to assume that the behavior that makes you happiest will also make others happy. In short, although I admire your attempt to make the world a better place, I don’t think you can claim that atheistic morality is as objective as theistic morality (an assertion that most atheists, from Nietzsche to Sartre to Dawkins, have affirmed).

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