on March 9, 2015
I have been reading the Humanist Manifestos 1 and 2, and I find it a very thoughtful and rational document. However, I think there are some serious flaws in it. One, it has to be implemented in a voluntary fashion, or else it becomes just another social / political dogma. Two, unless people develop a naturalistic sense of altruism, symbiosis, and a form of constructive competition, humanism will ultimately collapse into a vulgar, Socially Darwinistic, and animalistic ideology where people prey upon one another. Three, the writer and signers assume everybody agrees with, and goes along with, everything they say, and people are more complex than that. Just writing off religion isn't going to make it go away. There are too many people who honestly believe in God, or a god, whether He, She, or it saves us or not. Four, by hard experience I have learned that people, whether religious or secular, tend to be our greatest hindrance in achieving our personal or collective goals. The reasons for this are many. I will give it four stars out of five.
on July 29, 2012
This booklet contains the first two Humanist Manifestos. The first was written in 1933, and the second in 1973. Both documents are based, not surprisingly, on a naturalistic foundation. This is forcefully brought out in the first manifesto which states, "Holding an organic view of life, humanists find that the traditional dualism of mind and body must be rejected." This view recognizes that humans have knowledge of this world, and this world only. Any claim of "knowledge" about another world is simply not knowledge, in that it is based solely on religious authority.
The second manifesto is a bit longer, and a bit more comprehensive. This is to be expected as knowledge advances, and as people have time to ponder events and principles in the intervening years. My favorite quotes are under the section entitled, "Ethics." That section opens with this beautiful statement, "We affirm that moral values derive their source from human experience. Ethics is autonomous and situational, needing no theological or ideological sanction. Ethics stem from human need and interest." A little thought brings to mind how this kind of thinking is conducive to the betterment of the human condition, as opposed to a religious worldview. Even those in religious organizations who sought to make the human condition better, often did so by embracing this principle over their religion's authority claims---or by redefining their faith along humanistic lines.
What is the place of reason and intelligence? Manifesto II states, "Reason and intelligence are the most effective instruments that humankind possesses. There is no substitute: neither faith nor passion suffices in itself." It is hard to argue against this point. Everything that makes life better comes by way of reason and intelligence. Whether it is medicine, psychotherapy, economics, or farming techniques, the driving force toward improvement is reason and intelligence. It is not religion.
In theory, humanism seeks to work all things together for the good of human beings. It seeks to expand individual freedom and foster the common good. It rejects dividing people into groups based on religion. Founded on a respect for the scientific method, it realizes that we are all descended from a common ancestor. It rejects any religion or ideology that seeks to dehumanize individuals. In short, it offers a positive, life-affirming view of humanity based on reason and science.
Both manifestos are obviously short statements of basic principles. It is not reasonable to assume that all possible contradictions are solved. After all, we have the Supreme Court to interpret our short statement of basic principles---the Constitution. The Christian Bible is much longer than the manifestos, and look at the contradictory theologies and principles that document engenders. Such criticism coming from theists is simply not credible.
Atheists and theists should reflect on the principles of both manifestos. Get a copy. It is good reading! In closing, I'll let Humanist Manifesto II speak for itself. "We urge recognition of the common humanity of all people. We further urge the use of reason and compassion to produce the kind of world we want---a world in which peace, prosperity, freedom, and happiness are widely shared."
on January 9, 2004
Since the only review of this book on amazon.com has obvious bias, I thought it might be worth while to give some responses to that commentary...
It seems that Dr. Groothuis, either intentionally misrepresents the arguments of others, or is incapable of reading and thinking at a level commensurate with his education. He claims that:
"[T]he documents claim that morality is relative to cultures and not absolute, yet they also go on to affirm various moral imperatives...
I could not remember reading such a statement in either the Humanist Manifesto I or II, so I re-read the entire thing to look for it. Since he gives no quote or page number, I assume that he was reading the following:
"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. (Humanist Manifesto II, p. 17)
This says nothing about ethics being relative to cultures. What it does say, is that ethics must be based on a rational understanding of the particulars of a situation -- that is, we must choose the best alternative given, based on our own social needs, and not on moral absolutes given by some unseen deity. To rely on the supposed words of a deity, simply removes the burden of forming the society we wish to have from our own shoulders, and places that burden on something else in which we blindly place our faith.
Dr. Groothuis also equates Humanism with atheism. Paul Kurtz refutes this claim as well:
"[V]iews that merely reject theism are not equivalent to Humanism. (Humanist Manifesto II, p. 15)
Like many Christians Dr. Groothuis seems to believe that if he can disprove 'the other side' then his world view will be vindicated. This is irrational. No humanist ever claimed to have all the answers. This poses a problem to those who are incapable of dealing with a world in which one must search for answers. This misunderstanding is apparent in Dr. Groothuis' claim that Humanism is inconsistent since Paul Kurtz wrote about an unchanging universe, and we now are of the opinion that there was a 'big bang.' One must remember that at the time this was the most widely held opinion by scientists. The point of Humanism is that you should be capable of responding to the world, and further understanding, not hiding from it with a wall of apologetics built on the ideas of ignorant men who lived in a non-scientific age.
Dr. Groothuis' review is plagued with inconstancies, and Christian apologetics -- too many to cover properly here, and too many to be objective.
on October 21, 2008
At the outset, I feel that I should put out the following disclaimers: I am a Christian. Today, I am also in the final stages of earning an undergraduate degree in Chemistry (with ACS certification) & Mathematics--and plan to pursue graduate studies in Physical Chemistry with the intention of one day conducting research in this area--as well as teaching at the university level.
If any of the above statements lead the reader to feel that I have firm presuppositions that will inexorably color how I view documents like the Humanist Manifestos (viz., I & II), then he or she is absolutely correct. In fact, I would venture to say that everyone of us would. We all bring our previous experiences and intellectual bias with us to any situation. In fact, the only truly "open mind," (and I've heard debates combating even this statement) -- the only true tabula rasa -- is the newborn babe. Having said that, if some choose to discount and discredit everything I say simply because I state that I am a Christian or, through intimation, that I have a high regard for science -- at least I can save you the trouble of reading the rest of the review lest I waste even more of your time.
The first thing I would like to point out in this review is the response of the second reviewer to the first. "millerc" has both good things to say and other things which I simply feel are nothing more than red herrings. He states plainly that he feels it is necessary to respond to Douglas Groothuis seeing as the latter's "commentary" is an "obvious bias". Seeing as the response is completely negative, I am led to believe that millerc represents the 'other' bias.
First, an example of the good in millerc's response.
millerc states the following: "This misunderstanding is apparent in Dr. Groothuis' claim that Humanism is inconsistent since Paul Kurtz wrote about an unchanging universe, and we now are of the opinion that there was a 'big bang.' One must remember that at the time this was the most widely held opinion by scientists."
He is correct. As Paul Kurtz would clearly concede himself by stating in the Humanist Manifesto 2000, "...we are prepared to modify our views in the light of new knowledge, altered circumstances, and unforeseen problems that may arise" (p. 8), the prevailing cosmological theories of the 1930's, like that of the steady-state theory, wielded a certain influence over many thinkers of the time. Therefore, the opening tenet of the original Humanist Manifesto of 1933, namely, "religious humanists regard the universe as self-existing and not created," (p. 8) could not be included into the revised 1973 manifesto because science seemed to vitiate its validity.
Now, an example of the bad in millerc's response.
millerc singles out a particular statement made by the first reviewer, namely, "the documents claim that morality is relative to cultures and not absolute, yet they also go on to affirm various moral imperatives that they claim should obtain cross-culturally and absolutely, such as the need for world peace, the importance of rational inquiry, and so on." millerc takes issue with the fact that Groothuis uses the term 'culture':
"I could not remember reading such a statement in either the Humanist Manifesto I or II, so I re-read the entire thing to look for it. Since he gives no quote or page number, I assume that he was reading the following:
" '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.' (Humanist Manifesto II, p. 17)
"This says nothing about ethics being relative to cultures. What it does say, is that ethics must be based on a rational understanding of the particulars of a situation -- that is, we must choose the best alternative given, based on our own social needs, and not on moral absolutes given by some unseen deity. To rely on the supposed words of a deity, simply removes the burden of forming the society we wish to have from our own shoulders, and places that burden on something else in which we blindly place our faith."
I find such an argument to be nothing more than a distraction. What the original reviewer was ULTIMATELY saying was that it is inconsistent for a system, which derives its morality from Relativism ("Ethics is autonomous and situational" [pg. 17]), to --[quoting the original reviewer]-- "affirm various moral imperatives that they claim should obtain cross-culturally and absolutely." Is such a claim warranted? Is there an example of such an absolute moral imperative within the Manifestos? Well, here's one example:
"We have reached a turning point in human history where the best option is to transcend the limits of national sovereignty and to move toward the building of a world community in which all sectors of the human family can participate. Thus we look to the development of a system of world law and a world order based upon transnational federal government" (p. 21).
If the adherents of the manifestos had their way, they would push for a world enforcement of ideals and laws to which individual states/nations must become subject. Now, others will take issue with the passage I use here by saying that I am taking it out of context. They will argue that immediately after the passage I quoted, the Manifesto reads, "This would appreciate cultural pluralism and diversity." Well, while that sounds awesome, Paul Kurtz is very specific about qualifying what he means by this statement in the Humanist Manifesto 2000: "We should be tolerant of cultural diversity except where those cultures are themselves intolerant or repressive" (p. 36). In other words, We will be intolerant of the intolerant. (That's a pretty interesting statement, no?) The obvious question then becomes, Who are the arbiters of what is an intolerant or repressive culture? Of course, that would be the humanists. Ultimately, they are the ones who would dictate what is and isn't acceptable in the "World Community" (Manifesto II pp. 21-22; Humanist Manifesto 2000 pp. 35-39)--all based upon the contradictory ethical standard of humanistic autonomy. And that was essentially the point of the original reviewer (and I find his point to be a good one).
Personally, I have a problem trying to understand that the humanist has no hidden agenda.
For example, we read that "To enhance freedom and dignity the individual must experience a full range of civil liberties in all societies. This includes freedom of speech and the press, political democracy, the legal right of opposition to governmental policies, fair judicial process, RELIGIOUS LIBERTY, freedom of association, and..." (p. 19 emphasis mine). However, the drafters make it painstakingly clear that "traditional dogmatic or authoritarian religions that place revelation, God, ritual, or creed above human needs and experience DO A DISSERVICE TO THE HUMAN SPECIES" (pp. 15-16 emphasis mine). Now, how are we to believe that those who are in any way religious will never have their freedoms challenged & taken away by these same humanists should the latter procure the power they seek? Remember that the Humanist Manifesto 2000 states that "we should be tolerant of cultural diversity except where those cultures are themselves intolerant or repressive" (p. 36). Moreover, Paul Kurtz states within the same document that "it is not possible to create a PERMANENT Manifesto, but it is useful and wise to devise a working document, OPEN TO REVISION" (p. 8 emphasis mine). While some may excuse such reasoning as impotently conspiratorial and unfounded, one must at least agree that Kurtz's statement leaves open for the future the possibility of taking a more militant and aggressive position against the (what might then be reasoned to be a naive, outdated, and antiquated) idea that the "secular state should be neutral, neither for or against religion" (Humanist Manifesto 2000, p. 11). While it is impossible to ascertain the subjective states of the individual, if there were one type of person for which I had the unrestricted opportunity to know just that, it would be the humanist.
Another thing also puzzles me. If Humanism is an unabashed ideology, i.e., a body of ideas reflecting the social needs and aspirations of an individual, a group, a class, a culture, etc., then why do they make up the following rule under the section titled 'The Separation of Church and State and the Separation of Ideology and State are Imperatives':
"[The state] should not favor any particular religious bodies through the use of public monies, NOR ESPOUSING A SINGLE IDEOLOGY AND FUNCTION THEREBY AS AN INSTRUMENT OF PROPAGANDA OR OPPRESSION, particularly against dissenters" (Manifesto II p. 20, emphasis mine).
Am I perhaps the only one seeing this as Humanism excluding itself as an ideology on the basis of its own ideology? Doesn't Humanism exclude itself?
Of course not, writes Paul Kurtz in the Humanist Manifesto 2000:
"A Secular Humanist Declaration was issued in 1980 because humanism, and especially Humanist Manifesto II, had come under heavy attack, particularly from fundamentalist religious and right-wing political forces in the United States. Many of these critics maintained that secular humanism was a religion. The teaching of secular humanism in the schools, they claimed violated the principle of separation of church and state and established a new religion. The Declaration responded that secular humanism expressed a set of moral values and a nontheistic philosophical and scientific viewpoint that could not be equated with religious faith. THE TEACHING OF THE SECULAR HUMANIST OUTLOOK IN NO WAY WAS A VIOLATION OF THE SEPARATION PRINCIPLE. It defended the democratic idea that the secular state should be neutral, neither for nor against religion" (pp. 10-11 emphasis mine).
While such a response may appease some -- and while some religious devotees may have originally invoked the term "religion" to refer to humanism (though Manifesto I, in numerous places, does indeed refer to humanism as a religion [p. 8--immediately prior to the 15 tenets; pp. 7-10--the sundry references to "religious humanism"] ) -- the clause originally drafted up by the humanists in Manifesto II includes religion AND IDEOLOGIES. So I believe such an exclusion of humanism, based on its own rule, to be warranted.
Finally, while I ascribe to the philosophy that 'truth is truth, regardless of the source,' and therefore find much within the Manifestos that is admittedly in step with the Christian morality to which I place my own allegiance, I nevertheless find troubling any outline of morality that ultimately has the will of man as its foundation. That is, I've never been convinced, through any of my studies in agnostic or atheistic codes of ethics that a standard of morality (by which we deem our actions to be Right or Wrong) can be found anywhere but outside Man -- who is fallible.
I leave with an example of my point above, originally given by the inimitable C. S. Lewis:
"If we ask: 'Why ought I to be unselfish?' and you reply 'Because it is good for society,' we may then ask, 'Why should I care what's good for society except when it happens to pay me personally?' and then you will have to say 'Because you ought to be unselfish' -- which simply brings us back to where we started. You are saying what is true, but you are not getting any further" (from Mere Christianity).
on June 9, 2000
This booklet combines a 1933 document with one from 1973. They affirm a materialistic or naturalistic world view, which they call Humanism. This is not to be confused with Renaissance Humanism, which was theistic and often Christian. Their brand of Humanism is Secular Humanism or atheism: The universe is all there is; life evolved for no reason; ethics are dependent on culture alone; there is no life after death; and humans can bring about a better world by realizing the above points and using their abilities for world peace and cooperation.
As a statement of Western atheism, it is clear and to the point. As a world view it is plagued by internal inconsistencies and numerous disconnections with objective reality--too many to cover properly here. Let me just indicate a few philosophical problems. The documents' premise that the universe has always existed is extremely difficult to defend given Big Bang cosmology, which points to an absolute origination. Unless everything came from nothing without a cause, this implies a Creator. Second, the documents claim that morality is relative to cultures and not absolute, yet they also go on to affirm various moral imperatives that they claim should obtain cross-culturally and absolutely, such as the need for world peace, the importance of rational inquiry, and so on. This is logically inconsistent. For a solid critique of the world view of naturalism, see James W. Sire, The Universe Next Door, 3rd edition, chapter four, "The Silence of Finite Space" and chapter five, "Zero Point: Nihilism." His thesis is that naturalism logically leads to Nihilism, which is unlivable and incongruous with our deeper intuitions about life and meaning. I agree.
The same folks have just recently put out Humanist Manifesto 2000, also written by Paul Kurtz.
The Humanists represented in all the above reject postmodernism, which dispenses with normative notions of rationality and the concept of objective truth. In this sense, the documents are modernist, and attempt to hold the line against the nihilism of postmodernist. For a discussion of this see my book, Truth Decay (InterVarsity Press, 2000), chapter two.
Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Philosophy, Denver Seminary, Denver, Colorado, USA, Email: Doug.Groothuis@densem.edu