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Posts Tagged ‘evolution’

humanist

The advertisement above is part of a controversial campaign sponsored by the American Humanist Association (AHA hereafter).  Signs like the one above will appear on busses and at bus stations around Washington, DC this winter.

Humanism, per the AHA, “is a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism and other supernatural beliefs, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity” (per their FAQ; the Humanist Manifesto, quoted extensively below, expands on these themes).  This “greater good” is  achieved in part by cultivating caring relationships, responsible and informed decision making in a free, democratic society, toleration of other humane ideals, cooperation, and striving for the well-being of others.

On the surface, I could say “Amen” to the AHA’s bottom line, at least, as I understand it (foreshadowing!).  Their efforts to put an end to human suffering, uphold the dignity of humankind, and spread of peace appear admirable.  Why indeed, then, do we need a god?  Allow me to answer this question.

Taking the ad’s advice requires an understanding of what it means to be “good.”  As far as I can understand the AHA’s philosophy, “good” is the maximization of personal happiness and fulfillment for all humankind, thus defining a subjective and vague term with two other subjective and vague terms.  “fulfillment” is what comes from the “participation in the service of humane ideals.” ” Humane ideals,” of course, are concerned with seeking the personal happiness and fulfillment for all human kind.  Thus spins the amorphous wheel of goodness.

Indeed, the rhetoric found in the AHA’s writing is full of positive terms:  “human welfare,” “happiness,” “fulfillment,” and “well being” are a few.  The problem is that each of these concepts are hopelessly vague and ill-defined.  The meaning of these concepts is assumed, presupposing a universal agreement among all people.   AHA is therefore decidedly collectivist in its outlook.  To reach their goals, we must agree on what these terms mean.  How exactly do we do this, since in truth, these concepts are immensely subjective, and as diverse in meaning as the peoples of earth?  This is especially problematic since the AHA is “committed to diversity.”

What if it so happens that the maximization of my personal happiness has a negative impact on the personal happiness of others?  How do we decide that case?  The AHA enjoins us to resolve differences cooperatively without resorting to violence.  But how do we know good and evil?  The good cannot compromise, otherwise evil will win.  When the Nazi party desires to wipe out the Jewish people, I see no compromise or cooperation available to us.  They must be stopped, even to the peril of their own happiness and fulfillment.

Perhaps anticipating this problem, the AHA qualifies their respect for diversity by limiting it to “those of differing yet humane views.”  We’re back to the original problem, though: Who gets to define “humane” here?  Perhaps the “humane” view is to euthanize anybody we deem unable, for reasons of illness or handicap, to “enjoy a good life?”

Even if we all agree upon these terms (PS: we never will),  why is striving for them the highest good?  Given the AHA’s epistemology (“observation, experimentation and rational analysis”), how do we arrive at the conclusion that personal happiness, comfort, or fulfillment comprise humanity’s summum bonum?  We’re back at collectivism; or at best, “majority rules.”  Given the vaguely defined assumption that everybody wants to be “happy,” is it therefore the highest good?  Who says?  Show me the logic, but only after you show me that everybody wants to be “happy,” as you define it.

Most people in the world believe in the supernatural, too.  Why doesn’t the majority rule here, as well?  If we take our cue from the natural world, (of which we are undeniably a product; see AHA’s anthropology below) the highest good for any living being is the propagation of its genes to the next generation; it is survival of the race, independent of, and often to the demise of, any other race.  Nature seems quite apathetic to personal happiness or suffering, why should we, nature’s children, be any different?

We quickly realize that the AHA’s anthropology is paradoxically exalted and impoverished.  On the one hand, humankind is highly valued, with intrinsic “worth and dignity.”  On the other, we are the result of millions of years of “unguided evolutionary change”:  a cosmic accident of no greater intrinsic worth than an amalgam of organic chemicals.  On one hand we are able to make sweeping decisions about what maximizes “good” and “happiness” for the most people possible.  On the other, history shows us that the much of our “progress” carries the excessive baggage of new and unanticipated problems.  On one hand we are noble, with the ability to “progress towards our highest ideals.”  Auschwitz, the Killing Fields, Darfur, and other sad histories speak to a very different human ability which is far from anything the AHA could call “noble.” 

Why believe in God?  Because any human designation of goodness, purpose, or worth is ultimately subjective and arbitrary.  These vague terms must be defined by something above ourselves.  As Francis Schaeffer said, humankind “is not a sufficient integration point for himself” (A Christian View of Philosophy and Culture, 278).  That is to say, we need something above and outside ourselves if we are to make any absolute claims about morality, purpose or meaning.  Brian Marchionni cannot make such claims for all humanity, nor can 100,000 people like me.  Even if we did, we have naught more than a small minority telling everybody else what’s right and wrong, which smells an awful lot like the authoritarian tyranny so quickly condemned by humanists.

The job of absolute claims belongs to the infinite One who is outside ourselves – the One who is omniscient and omnipotent, yet knowable and personal – the One who has the authority and ability to say not only what “good” is, but also how we strive for it – the One who Himself acts in history to bring about the best for humankind- the One who helps and guides us to these ends.  This One is the Triune God of Christianity, and we need Him.  We need Him not only because we cannot make absolute claims of good and evil, but because thousands of years of recorded history show us that we are incapable of consistently choosing the good.  We need Him because, functionally speaking, we’re lousy humanists.  Indeed, the only truly good “humanist” is God Himself.

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