Some people think atheism is synonymous with humanism. If you’re an atheist, you must be a humanist.
Not so. I am an atheist but not a humanist.
Let’s look at at what humanism is. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, humanism is “a rationalistic system of thought attaching prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters.”
I can already distance myself from this position, but before I say why, let’s get more specific.
The “standard” positions of humanists are summarized in the latest (2003) Humanist Manifesto, which states:
- Knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis.
- Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change.
- Ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience.
- Life’s fulfillment emerges from individual participation in the service of humane ideals.
- Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships.
- Working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness.
It’s #3 that bothers me. I do not believe that moral values are derived from human desires. I believe moral values are derived from desires, period. To focus on human desires and ignore all other desires in the universe is blatant speciesism.
But can’t I just sign on with humanism, understanding there’s one qualification to be made on point #3?
No, for speciesism is central to humanism. Heck, it’s in the name of the thing. Humanity is the whole point of humanism. Now that is good progress beyond religious ethics, but it’s not progress far enough.
I count humanists as my brothers as sisters. We’re fighting for the same things. Mostly.
But if this post persuades you to cancel membership in a humanist association, please don’t quit activism altogether. Please join another organization that will help you live out your moral values.
That way, we can all work together to make this world a better place, for all of us.