Although there are, admittedly, a number of different ideas and definitions of what a “humanist” is, one particular definition which caught my eye recently comes from the British Humanist Association, which states that…
Roughly speaking, the word humanist has come to mean someone who:
- trusts to the scientific method when it comes to understanding how the universe works and rejects the idea of the supernatural (and is therefore an atheist or agnostic)
- makes their ethical decisions based on reason, empathy, and a concern for human beings and other sentient animals
- believes that, in the absence of an afterlife and any discernible purpose to the universe, human beings can act to give their own lives meaning by seeking happiness in this life and helping others to do the same. (https://humanism.org.uk/humanism/; Accessed 2016 04 15)
…and the reason that this definition was so interesting to me was not only due to its combination of relative brevity with comprehensiveness (for a website definition, that is), but also because it vividly shows the rational tension and almost incoherence that lies at the heart of secular humanism, and the way to see this is to realize that if, as the humanist says, there is no “…discernible purpose to the universe”, then this fact, in and of itself, serves to quite literally undermine everything else that the humanist claims to value, for if there is no purpose to the universe–such as, say, the purpose of seeking and believing that which is true, or the purpose of being moral, or the purpose of making one’s self happy–then 1) there is quite literally no reason to bother trusting the scientific method about reality instead of, say, the ravings of a lunatic, and 2) there is no reason to reject belief in the supernatural, regardless of its truth value, if belief in it is what you want to believe in, and 3) there is no reason for making ethical decisions based on reason if you don’t want to, and 4) there is no reason to show empathy if you do not desire to, and 5) there is no reason to have a concern for other human beings or other animals if it is not your wish to do so, and so on and so forth, and so the very fact that the humanist claims there is no purpose to the universe completely undermines his other claims, and thus the best that the humanist can do is to arbitrarily claim that if you “want” to value these things, then you should, but the humanist, in absence of any purpose to the universe, cannot give us any cogent or convincing reason that we should do so; and lest the humanist wishes to claim that we should do so for consequentialist reasons–namely, that society runs better if we adopt these rules and ideas–then this still not serve as a convincing reason for someone who does not care about the good running of society to embrace these ideas, and so, once again, we see that humanism essentially negates itself, for it is only valuable if accepted, but by its own admission, it can only be accepted based not on science or reason, but for the arbitrary reason that someone simply wants to accept it rather than something else, and such arbitrary reasoning process seems to oppose the very idea of making decisions based on reason and science, which is what the humanist allegedly values, and so the humanist is a walking contradiction, for his acceptance of humanism is based on, ultimately, little more than the personal and arbitrary and subjective whim to want to be a humanist, but he is preaching the idea that people should not base their decisions on arbitrary and subjective whims but rather on science and reason, which is precisely what he did not do when choosing to be a humanist rather than something else, and so hence, as stated, the humanist is essentially engaged in a type of performative contradiction simply by the act of being a humanist, which is not, I must say, a very cogent position to hold.