A couple weeks ago I wrote that “Humanism makes belief in God irrelevant.” I ended that essay stating,
So while being a humanist doesn’t really mean you need to be an atheist, it doesn’t leave much room for any god worth believing in.
Since writing that piece, I’ve done quite a bit of thinking about this topic and have realized that I was mistaken. This thinking has been motivated by two sources.
First, I just finished Pat Duffy Hutcheon’s Road to Reason, a fantastic summary of Humanist thinkers from Buddha to Richard Dawkins. I won’t discuss that book here as I expect you to come to our book club next week when we feature it (or at very least, try to find a copy for yourself).
The second motivation was the debate over whether the Atheism+ outlined by Jennifer McCreight and Greta Christina is synonymous with Humanism. I’m not going to rehash all the arguments about A+ here or whether it is Humanism rebranded. My point is that these threads did shed some light on some common misconceptions that even I held about Humanism.
The point that I have come to is that starting from a position based on modern Humanism, the logical consequence is agnostic atheism – the position that while we cannot know beyond a doubt whether or not gods exists (agnosticism), we may proceed believing that they do not (atheism).
All of the various Humanist Manifestos produced over the past century, every major Humanist organization, as well as working forward from the simplest Humanist value of reason, lead to Humanism as a naturalistic philosophy. There exists neither the evidence nor the argument that holds up to scientific skepticism for any supernatural claim. James Randi’s Million Dollars remains unclaimed.
From a naturalistic point of view, we have already precluded any reason to believe in a god. Therefore, I was wrong – Humanism leads to atheism.
Of course, several commenters to the Atheism+ threads attempted to argue the opposite by pointing out the existence of Christian Humanism and Religious Humanism.
Christian Humanism, however, has been tossed in the philosophical dustbin, as there are no current organisations preaching this gospel, save for one website that is explicitly non-theistic.
Religious Humanism, on the other hand, merely refers to a Humanist with a stronger desire for many of the traditional rituals of churches. There is nothing theistic or supernatural about their beliefs though.
While not all Humanists are comfortable identifying as atheists (Neil deGrasse Tyson and Carl Sagan are two prominent examples), they still lack a belief in god and base their worldviews on scientific naturalism.
For further reading that had a strong impact on my views here, I encourage you to read James Croft’s nice summary of “What Humanism Is – and Isn’t.”