I was at Skeptics in the Pub at the Billy Bishop and was asked a question that took me off guard for a second.
After more thought, I finally have my answer.
The question was posed by someone I later learned was a Christian who was checking out the skeptics group. He asked me, “do you have to be an atheist to be a humanist?”
While my initial thought was that yes, nearly all humanists are atheists, I realised that this wasn’t a philosophical necessity. The principles of humanism are reason and compassion, which many Christians, Muslims, Jews, and other theists share – they just tend to apply them less methodically. Most Canadians live by humanist values, whether they attend church on Sunday or not.
So there’s a seeming contradiction. Most self-identifying humanists are atheists, and I would argue that reason should lead you to dispell with any belief in the supernatural, yet humanist values are becoming increasingly universal and there seems no reason to exclude them from our club.
What I have come to realise is that humanism removes any need for god from the equation – humanism makes god irrelevant.
The traditional excuses for invoking a deity tend to be either to explain the natural world or for morality.
Humanism turns to empirical science, which has given us everything from the Big Bang to evolution by natural selection, as an explanation for the world we see. The god of the gaps is running out of places to hide, and even deism has fallen out of favour as cosmologists like Lawrence Krauss and Victor Stenger have argued that the universe can in fact come from nothing.
Meanwhile, humanist ethics, based on compassion and human dignity, have removed the need to turn to dogmatic religions to explain why we should be nice to one another.
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.