Assorted Objections to a Secular Humanist Life

This is a response to a Medium article published earlier this year by Gene Wilburn entitled ‘Childhood’s End: 10 Assumptions for a Secular Humanist Life’.

Several of his assumptions are a rapid account of the universe according to the Standard Model of modern science — the Big Bang and what ensued, the origin of life and its evolution according to neo-Darwinian theory, human origins in Africa. It’s good to note that he uses the word ‘assumptions’, since he offers no evidence or proof of what he says. As “a secular humanist with no religious inclinations”, what else could he assume?

For example, he says that “the universe evolves and organizes itself along certain lines determined by physics and chemistry”. If that is the case, it’s hard to see how life could have started at all. How living organisms could emerge from inorganic matter is a problem for physics and chemistry as great as the Hard Problem of consciousness, how the material brain produces subjective experience, our sense of self. Wilburn does accept that “how life began is still unsolved”, so this may be a clue to one flaw in his set of assumptions.

I have some other minor quibbles about his outline, but they don’t matter here. What is important is his overview. He compares the evolution of humanity to the development of one human being, hence his title ‘Childhood’s End’, which he says we have reached. He also says that “our cultural teen years occurred between Galileo and Einstein”, and that through the scientific method “we began to mature toward cultural adulthood”. The problem, as he sees it is that “we now possess the ability to destroy the planet as a home for mankind, as well as other species”. We therefore need to evolve into mature, responsible adults in order to solve the problems, to “develop eco-friendly attitudes about our home planet”.

I would not argue with the last point. My argument would be rather about what constitutes adulthood, which is certainly not secular humanism. His overview of humanity is precisely what one would expect from a believer in that, but therein lies the problem. Here’s an alternative viewpoint.

The evolution of humanity has not been the straight line that Wilburn describes, rather cyclical. He says that before Galileo we were children. By this I assume he means that this was the long period when we had foolish notions of religion, spirituality, and the supernatural, and that modern science has rescued us from our childish illusions. On the contrary, at some ill-defined time in the past, humans began to have access to great (spiritual) wisdom, which survived primarily in the ancient religions of India, China, Egypt, and also later in Greek philosophy. This was a time when humans truly understood the nature of the universe, and was therefore a period of great maturity, comparable to a Wise Old Man or Woman, with much knowledge and experience of life, nothing whatsoever like a child. Then came a period of decline, which I personally associate with the corruption of the original Christian message by the Roman Catholic Church. (This period coincides roughly with the centuries known as the Dark Ages, although the Church’s work started earlier.)

There then followed a revival of the old ideas, literally a rebirth — the (primarily Italian) Renaissance. (At this time the word ‘humanism’ had a completely different meaning from the unfortunate direction that it has taken in modern times. I have discussed this in an earlier article.) So that was another period of great maturity and wisdom. Since then, philosophically speaking, we have entered a new period of decline, which is actually an unfortunate by-product of the scientific revolution that Wilburn admires so much.

I do know that, in the period being discussed, science has made great achievements in technology and medicine. However, philosophically speaking, the price seems to have been an unnecessary and unfortunate decline into materialism, atheism, and secular humanism. We have arrived, not at the beginning of mature adulthood, rather at the end of it, and we have now entered a period of advanced old age, with accompanying senility and dementia. If you don’t believe me, consider some of the mad things some scientists, and modern philosophers influenced by ‘science’, have persuaded themselves are true:

  • that consciousness does not exist
  • that the self is an illusion
  • that the evolution of life as we know it can be explained exclusively by natural (i.e. blind, purposeless) selection acting upon random genetic mutations
  • that life and the universe can be explained exclusively by the laws of physics and chemistry, in other words materialism.

Fortunately there are signs of a new Renaissance. Science, in the guise of quantum physics, is leading the way to a return to the Ancient Wisdom. In Wilburn’s words, but not in the sense he intended, “it may be that the greatest story of mankind is just beginning”, but only if we can free ourselves from secular humanism. We may just need the ancient ideas, if we are to save the planet.

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I hope you have enjoyed this article. I have written in the past about other topics, including spirituality, metaphysics, psychology, science, Christianity, politics, and astrology. All these articles are on Medium, but the simplest way to see a guide to them is to visit my website (click here and here).

I am a singer/songwriter interested in spirituality, politics, psychology, science, and their interrelationships. grahampemberton.com spiritualityinpolitics.com