Twitter

Naturalistic Humanism as Religion

This entry is part 1 of 8 in the series Humanistic Naturalism as a Religion

Atheist BenchSo an Atheist group had a granite bench placed next to a Ten Commandments monument at a Florida courthouse. It has been inscribed with an odd collection of quotes like, “An atheist believes that a hospital should be built instead of a church.” This got me thinking about the tendency of naturalistic humanism to borrow from religion. I’ve decided to start a series of posts detailing this ideological bleed-over.

Example #1 comes from well-know Atheist and writer Sam Harris. In an essay titled Science Must Destroy Religion, he laments the need to practice religious tolerance, says that religion is spoiling the fruits of human inquiry, and calls on scientists to blast, “the hideous fantasies of a prior age.” But he ends the essay with a suggestion that, “We must find ways of meeting our emotional needs.” He continues:

We must learn to invoke the power of ritual and to mark those transitions in every human life that demand profundity – birth, marriage, death – without lying to ourselves about the nature of reality… When we find reliable ways to make human beings more loving, less fearful, and genuinely enraptured by the fact of our appearance in the cosmos, we will have no need for divisive religious myths.

The problem here is that in naturalistic humanism, man is a cosmological accident without free will, a “wet robot.” Birth, marriage, and death are just biological necessities, often driven by the function of reproduction. There is no being in control and there is no ultimate purpose for mankind in the universe. This hardly makes us more loving, less fearful, and enraptured by our appearance in the cosmos. Our emotional needs don’t have an answer in naturalistic humanism so they must be “borrowed” from religion. Even Sam Harris doesn’t presume how to do this. That’s not to say that people haven’t tried. I’ll explore some of their ideas in further posts.

Naturalistic Humanism as Religon – Part 2

This entry is part 2 of 8 in the series Humanistic Naturalism as a Religion

In my last post on the subject, I mentioned that naturalist humanism has to borrow from religion in order to function in real life. I found the following bit in an Answers Research Journal article on the philosophy of Stanley Fish:

Fish’s aim is yet again accurate when he takes on liberalism’s failure to invest human life with meaning. Fish relates a story philosopher Jürgen Habermas tells about his own life. Habermas had a Swiss friend who, though never a religious believer during his life, elected to have a church funeral. Habermas says his friend

had sensed the awkwardness of non-religious burial practices and, by his choice of place, publicly declared that the enlightened modern age has failed to find a suitable replacement for a religious way of coping with the final rite de passage.

But Fish himself can do no better. Although he knows the Bible fairly well, he has yet to recognize that all the foundations of all the interpretive communities in the world must beg, borrow, and steal from the biblical foundation to have morality, a telos, or other things that all worldviews require. Fish has not seen (or will not admit) that every one of the masons who constructed those foundations did his work with at least some—albeit suppressed and twisted—stones of Christian truth.

I read the following definition of an “atheistic” funeral on a funeral planning website:

The humanist view rejects the idea of an afterlife and interprets death as the end to an individual’s consciousness. They believe that human beings are simply another part of nature — and that death is nature’s way of cleansing. Through death, we clear the way for new life.

Humanists view life as a chance to have stimulating, joyful experiences and to live an ethical and good life. The humanist’s funeral affirms these beliefs and celebrates the passing life.

Look at the incongruity here. An atheistic funeral is the celebration of the fact that a loved one’s life has been eradicated by nature in order to “clear the way for new life.” Life itself is described as a chance to have joyful experiences and live an ethical life. Think about it. To a naturalistic humanist, joy is just a chemical reaction designed to promote positive actions. Ethics without an external source are relative to each person’s personal belief. Even the desire to be ethical is just another chemical reaction promoting positive social interaction for the benefit of the group. The entire description above is personally degrading and philosophically useless – unless one borrows from religion the meaning of joy and ethics and good.

Hallelujah! – May the Force Be with You!

This entry is part 3 of 8 in the series Humanistic Naturalism as a Religion

In the previous post in this series, I said that naturalistic humanism borrows from religion the meanings of joy and good. I have found no greater example of this than in the writings1 of Carolyn Porco. Dr. Porco is a planetary scientist and currently leads the imaging science team on the Cassini mission now in orbit around Saturn. She was awarded the Carl Sagan Award in 2010 for “magnifying the public’s understanding of science.”

The confrontation between science and formal religion will come to an end when the role played by science in the lives of all people is the same played by religion today.

At the heart of every scientific inquiry is a deep spiritual quest — to grasp, to know, to feel connected through an understanding of the secrets of the natural world, to have a sense of one’s part in the greater whole…

Spiritual fulfillment and connection can be found in the revelations of science. From energy to matter, from fundamental particles to DNA, from microbes to Homo sapiens, from the singularity of the Big Bang to the immensity of the universe …. ours is the greatest story ever told. We scientists have the drama, the plot, the icons, the spectacles, the ‘miracles’, the magnificence, and even the special effects. We inspire awe. We evoke wonder.

These are reasons enough for jubilation … for riotous, unrestrained, exuberant merry-making.

So what are we missing?

Ceremony.2

Imagine a Church of Latter Day Scientists where believers could gather. Imagine congregations raising their voices in tribute to gravity, the force that binds us all to the Earth, and the Earth to the Sun, and the Sun to the Milky Way. Or others rejoicing in the nuclear force that makes possible the sunlight of our star and the starlight of distant suns. And can’t you just hear the hymns sung to the antiquity of the universe, its abiding laws, and the heaven above that ‘we’ will all one day inhabit, together, commingled, spread out like a nebula against a diamond sky?

One day, the sites we hold most sacred just might be the astronomical observatories, the particle accelerators, the university research installations, and other laboratories where the high priests of science — the biologists, the physicists, the astronomers, the chemists — engage in the noble pursuit of uncovering the workings of nature herself. And today’s museums, expositional halls, and planetaria may then become tomorrow’s houses of worship, where these revealed truths, and the wonder of our interconnectedness with the cosmos, are glorified in song by the devout and the soulful.

“Hallelujah!”, they will sing. “May the force be with you!”


  1. Dr. Porco’s essay has been edited for brevity. The full essay was included in Edge.org’s 2006 compilation, “What is Your Dangerous Idea?” and can be found at http://edge.org/response-detail/11273.  []
  2. The word “Worship” would be far more appropriate here, considering what Dr. Porco describes in the following paragraphs. []

Sunday Assembly

This entry is part 4 of 8 in the series Humanistic Naturalism as a Religion

In the third post in this series, I included a quote from Dr. Carolyn Parco in which she lamented science’s lack of ecclesiastical benefits. It looks like her prayers wishes might be answered. The Associated Press recently published an article detailing the spread of Atheist “mega-churches” called “Sunday Assemblies.”

Sunday Assembly co-founder and comedian Sanderson Jones is quoted in the article. His perspective is an unintended but stinging indictment of American church priorities.

If you think about church, there’s very little that’s bad. It’s singing awesome songs, hearing interesting talks, thinking about improving yourself and helping other people — and doing that in a community with wonderful relationships.

It is sobering to think that our churches have become so socially conscious in their behavior that leaving God out hardly changes the experience. Is it possible that God is subtly being treated as a “bad part”?

The article continues,

The inaugural Sunday Assembly in Los Angeles attracted several hundred people bound by their belief in non-belief.

Notice the implied contradiction in the phrase “belief in non-belief.” This is a key point in my series on natural humanism as religion: everybody has a faith-based belief about the supernatural, even if it’s the belief that no supernatural exists.

Similar gatherings… have drawn hundreds of atheists seeking the camaraderie of a congregation without religion or ritual.

While numerous humanists have commented on personal satisfaction with the scale and grandeur of the universe and their being a part of it, the attendees of “Sunday Assembly” can tell that something is missing. This missing element is worship. Humans are created to worship, but the universe is a cold, vacuous, and uncomprehending deity. These congregationalist seek ritual as a substitute for worship. The author of the article writes that they seek camaraderie without religion or ritual, but he is mistaken. In the same article he quotes a sociology professor who contradicts him.

‘There’s something not OK with appropriating all of this religious language, imagery and ritual for atheism,’ said Michael Luciano, a self-described atheist.

Luciano understands that ritual and religion is exactly what these people are seeking. He’s also right that it won’t help them. Religious ritual is empty without a worthy subject to worship. Without God, it becomes exactly what they accuse it of being; habits for emotional stabilization, devoid of personality. Like an infant’s pacifier, it may give them a temporary sense of comfort, but there’s no real nourishment.

As Christians, our nourishment is based on studying, remembering, and praising the work of God through Jesus Christ our Lord, and then imitating that work to others. All of our church behavior should reflect these principles. If not, we risk becoming another “Sunday Assembly.”

Right Questions, Wrong Places

This entry is part 5 of 8 in the series Humanistic Naturalism as a Religion

Jeffrey Kluger, Time Magazine, November 10, 2014 – Review of the move Interstellar

It’s huge, it’s cold, it’s soulless. It’s possessed of forces that would rip you to ribbons the second you dared to step off the tiny planetary beachhead it has permitted us. What’s more, it completely defies understanding, at least for anyone who’s not fluent in the language of singularities and space-time and wormholes and all the rest. But never mind, because we believe in it all—and oh, how we love it. Big cosmology has become our secular religion, a church even atheists can join. It addresses many of the same questions religion does: Why are we here? How did it all begin? What comes next? And even if you can barely understand the answers when you get them, well, you’ve heard of a thing called faith, right? Like religion, cosmology has its high priests: Einstein and Hawking—people who, like Muhammad and Jesus, don’t even need second names. It has lesser priests as well: Carl Sagan, Neil deGrasse Tyson—the great communicators. It has its storytellers too, none more powerful than those in Hollywood.

Interstellar will unavoidably help us look at the cosmos more as cathedral than void—a place to contemplate the riddles of space and time, yes, but life, death and love too. That’s explicit in the movie.

 

From Godlessness to Ghosts

This entry is part 6 of 8 in the series Humanistic Naturalism as a Religion

Not quite on topic, but a good indicator of why humanistic naturalists tend to borrow the terminology and trappings of Christianity:

From the New York Times:

Ghosts, or at least belief in them, have been around for centuries but they have now found a particularly strong following in highly secular modern countries like Norway, places that are otherwise in the vanguard of what was once seen as Europe’s inexorable, science-led march away from superstition and religion. While churches here may be largely empty and belief in God, according to opinion polls, in steady decline, belief in, or at least fascination with, ghosts and spirits is surging… “God is out but spirits and ghosts are filling the vacuum,” said Roar Fotland, a Methodist preacher and assistant professor at the Norwegian School of Theology in Oslo. Instead of slowly eliminating religion, as Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx and other theorists predicted, modernity has only channeled religious feelings in unexpected ways, Mr. Fotland said. “Belief in God, or at least a Christian God, is decreasing but belief in spirits is increasing,” he added, describing this as part of a general resurgence of “premodern religion…” Arild Romarheim, a Lutheran priest and recently retired theology lecturer, described the conviction of well-educated atheists and agnostics that ghosts exist as “the paradox of modernity” — a revival of old beliefs to slake an innate human thirst for a spiritual life left unsatisfied by the decline of the church.1


  1. Hat tip to Albert Mohler’s “The Briefing” podcast []

Because Science

This entry is part 7 of 8 in the series Humanistic Naturalism as a Religion

A recent Federalist article was titled with the startling accusation:

Bill Nye Is A Huckster

The writer called out Nye for putting ideological beliefs over good science.

Bill Nye fashions himself a voice of rational thought and scientific inquiry. His shtick has gotten him into classrooms and on an endless loop of evangelizing TV appearances. Yet nearly every time he speaks these days, Nye diminishes genuine science by resorting to scaremonger-y nuggets of easily dismissible ideologically-motivated nonsense.1

Well, that’s from the Federalist, but I was quite surprised to see similar sentiments coming from well known skeptic, agnostic, and science journalist John Horgan. His article in Scientific American skewers the “lesser priests” of scientism2 dropping names like Neil de Grasse Tyson, Richard Dawkins, Lawrence Krauss, and Ray Kurzewiel in his indictment.

Last month, Neil de Grasse Tyson said “the likelihood may be very high” that we’re living in a simulation. Again, this isn’t science, it’s a stoner thought experiment pretending to be science.

So is the Singularity, the idea that we’re on the verge of digitizing our psyches and uploading them into computers, where we can live forever. Some powerful people are believers, including Google’s director of engineering, Ray Kurzweil. But the Singularity is an apocalyptic cult, with science substituted for God.

When high-status scientists promote flaky ideas like the Singularity and multiverse, they hurt science.

It’s my observation that much of what passes for humanistic materialism today is “flakey” science, hopeful stories without any real scientific evidence – only the a priori assumption that naturalism is the Truth.

I grew up admiring Bill Nye, the Science Guy – I loved his experiments and the hands-on nature of what he did. But somewhere along the way he became Bill Nye the Atheist Guy, and his humanistic “huckstering” does little to promote the advance of science. Instead, we get his ideology.3

One other observation. The main point of John Horgan’s article is that Skeptics with a capital “S” often pursue the “soft targets” of religious belief and quack science instead of attacking harder targets like war, modern medical practices, and astronomical theories like the multiverse. As a Christian, I think sometimes that we spend too many resources attacking the soft target of naturalistic humanism, and not enough attacking the hard targets found in the misapplication and misinterpretation  of biblical doctrine. I disagree with Hogan on many points, but we can both agree that our belief systems spend too much time preaching to our choirs and not enough time challenging them.


  1. I used the title, “Because Science,” because that’s the argument that most naturalistic humanist use when they are asked to explain a naturalistic ideological position that can’t be explained by actual science. []
  2. an exaggerated trust in the efficacy of the methods of natural science applied to all areas of investigation, including philosophy, the social sciences, and the humanities []
  3. Which apparently includes throwing dissenters in prison: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/apr/14/bill-nye-open-criminal-charges-jail-time-climate-c/ []

In Defense of the Scientific Method

This entry is part 8 of 8 in the series Humanistic Naturalism as a Religion

I read an interesting quote by Adam Savage, of Mythbusters fame. He said the following in a Popular Mechanics podcast:

Like I said, the newspapers talking about evolution versus creationism is very much an attack on science as a type of religion—believing that the scientific method is some type of religious belief. And it’s not! That kind of attack absolutely is damaging science exploration across the whole country. I do think that’s a significant problem. And until we can get our head out of the sand and realize that science isn’t about truth…

Adam makes a couple of good points in this quote. He says that the scientific method isn’t “some type of religious belief.” He’s right, too. The scientific method is a tool. However, religious belief does factor into the scientific method.  Religious belief is the bias that inherently determines how one interprets the results of the scientific method. These results can provide support for vastly different presumptions, whether they be of supernatural creation or evolutionary naturalism.

And evolutionary naturalism is a religion, a dogma as faith based as any religion. Consider this statement that the famous evolutionist Theodosius Dobzhansky, quoted in The American Biology Teacher journal: “Evolution is a light which illuminates all facts, a trajectory which all lines of thought must follow.”1 Or Michael Dini, the Texas Tech University professor who refused to give letters of recommendation to students who would not verbally confess the truthfulness of evolution. Which brings one to the second part of Adam’s quote.

Adam’s statement that, “science isn’t about truth,” is also correct. This doesn’t make science useless; far from it! The results of scientific endeavors have greatly benefited the quality of our lives. But scientists don’t know everything, and therefore science deals in theories, both weak and strong, but never in facts, and no matter how strong a theory is, it is always subject to change.

In summary, science and the scientific method cannot confirm the origin of life for evolutionary naturalist, and it cannot do this for creationists either. As a tool, what it can do is affirm what we already believe.


  1. “Nothing In Biology Makes Sense Except In the Light of Evolution”, The American Biology Teacher, Vol. 35, pp. 125-129 []