Buckets With Holes, and Sinking Ships

Atheism, Humanism, and the Truth

Atheists often have a love/hate relationship with Jesus. They like some of the things he says over and against the basis upon which he makes those statements. They will often appeal to Jesus being a “good humanist,” like Neil Carter does in this post, over and against what he claimed about himself. The question is, is such an interpretation of Jesus meaningful? To answer that question, we need a meaningful definition of humanism.

Just attempting to define the term leads to a number of issues because humanism means so many different things depending upon how it’s used, but most likely, when we define it as an atheist might, we get close,

a philosophy that usually rejects supernaturalism and stresses an individual’s dignity and worth and capacity for selfrealization through reason

Most people who self-identify as humanists have never read the humanist manifestos and reasoned through them to their logical ends. Searching for it reveals that there are, in fact, three manifestos that have been written, with each newer iteration stripping away the inherent problems in the first, while not actually solving them.

The original Humanist Manifesto is, for lack of a better term, thoroughly pagan, beginning with the declaration:

Religious humanists regard the universe as self-existing and not created.

Savvy readers will immediately recognize that this assertion has largely been refuted by “Big Bang” cosmology and that it is merely aping the key attributes of God to a created thing. This reality, when it refuted the first premise, immediately undermines any following premises and conclusions from it. That’s the reason why it had to be replaced by the present manifesto, which begins with this curious statement,

Knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis.

My question, what observations, experiments, and rational analysis was conducted to come to that conclusion? What is its epistemic basis? It’s a statement of blind faith, assuming what it has yet to prove, namely that there’s any justification for that claim. Since any claim of knowledge, such as,

[Science] is the best method for determining this knowledge…

cannot be justified a priori, any claims that follow from it are self-refuting. When your philosophy cannot mount the bar it has set as foundational, it fails.

What surprises me most is that most atheists who identify themselves as (secular) humanists, who claim to be critical thinkers and rational, have often never read the manifestos or have thought through their beliefs. Too often they’re simply smuggling in basic Christian presuppositions into their worldview, proving what Scripture says about them: they know God exists, but they suppress that knowledge in unrighteousness and ingratitude. Secular humanism, epistemologically speaking, cannot hold the water.

But what of Jesus, and claims claims of being a “good humanist”?

The problem is that Jesus isn’t agreeing with them, rather their agreement is with him. They are agreeing with the incarnate God, demonstrating their dependence upon him to not only define what it is that they believe to be true, but to sustain it.



  1. Epistemic claims are not claims about the world. So, when the Humanist manifesto says that “[k]nowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis”, that does not describe the epistemology required for epistemic claims.

      • Imagine two separate categories of claims.
        Claims about the world, and epistemic claims.

        The claim “[k]nowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis” describes the category ‘claims about the world’, sure, but it actually belongs to ‘epistemic claims’.

        The claim “[k]nowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis” does not commit the Humanist to use the same reasoning for the other category of claims.

        The claim “[k]nowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis” has an empirical track record, which means it actually is defended by the same reasoning, even though the claim itself doesn’t commit followers to do that.

      • The problem is that it is circular reasoning: the humanist has no basis to make any claims about any knowledge that can be gained from the world much less the truth of that knowledge. Appealing to a “track record” is circular reasoning (per Bertrand Russell in Problems of Philosophy).

      • The principle of induction requires a meaningful justification that satisfies the necessary preconditions of intelligibility. And every meaningful philosopher from Hume to Plantinga will tell you, appealing to the past experience for future justification is fallacious reasoning, because you weren’t asked about the past, you were asked about the future.

      • Because it’s imparted by the creator who knows all things because he has made all things. Therefore any knowledge that the creator imparts in regards to the creation is reliable because it is based upon his knowledge of the creation that he alone has made as is anything he makes known of himself since he has full knowledge of himself.

      • So, you don’t trust the ability of the human mind to generate knowledge? But you do trust your mind to tell you can’t trust your mind, and you trust it to tell you there is some trustworthy knowledge-imparter — and then you trust that instead.

        Sorry, if you don’t trust your mind in the first place, why do you trust it to be right about the existence of a God? Why are you right about God?

        Also, if all knowledge is given to us by God, why do we still have to go out and discover things? Why is there academia at all? Why do people know different levels of things?

      • From the position of the humanist manifesto(s) and its promotion of scientism, it seems to ignore the fact that scientists will argue that you have no reason to trust your mind, since you have no mind, but are merely a brain composed of complex chemical reactions. What you believe is merely a result of the byproducts of brain gas. Nothing that you “know” then is true, even the knowledge that you have this thing called a “brain”.

        So, in order to claim that one has knowledge (a justified true belief) then one must provide a coherent justification that satisfies the necessary preconditions of intelligibility that can account for such a thing as “knowledge” or even the possibility of such.

      • You’re making a category error by assuming “knowledge of the world” is “all knowledge”. If they meant “all knowledge” they’d have just written “knowledge” and not included the words “of the world”.

        It doesn’t promote scientism. It clearly talks about values in other sections. You are intentionally misreading it.
        It’s not a big document. Try again.

      • “Knowledge of the world is derived by observation,
        experimentation, and rational analysis. Humanists find that
        science is the best method for determining this knowledge…” Scientism, defined in the very first article. Try again.

      • Scientism is all knowledge can only be derived by science. It is not that science is the best method for a particular subset of knowledge, but that’s what the manifesto is describing…

        So… it’s not describing scientism…

      • Seriously? You just accused the Humanist manifesto of scientism, I point out that there are significant differences between the definition of scientism and what the manifesto is, and you ask me for the point?

        Yeah, waste of time. If you ever want to engage in a conversation like you care what is rational, defensible or reasonable — instead of what can be contorted to fit your pre-conceived ideas — maybe I’ll reconsider this. But for now, I’m done.

        Have a good weekend.

      • Really? Prove it from a meaningful handling of the first article of the humanist manifesto (#3).
        This is my assertion: secular humanism, as set out in the first article of the humanist manifesto (#3) espouses scientism, being defined as the assertion that “all real knowledge is scientific knowledge (Feser, http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2010/03/1174/).”

        To support this, I bring 2 statements as evidence:
        1) “Knowledge of the world is derived by observation,
        experimentation, and rational analysis.” That is to say that “knowledge of the world”, ie sum total of all knowledge can only be arrived at through “observation, experimentation, and rational analysis.” Since science, as a methodology, applies observation, experimentation, and rational analysis in order to draw conclusions, ie the scientific method, this is evidence of the assertion.
        2) Direct assertion by said that “…science is the best method for determining this knowledge…” thus providing secondary confirmation.

        Therefore we can conclude that secular humanism employs scientism.

  2. To run through this again:
    (1) The Humanist manifesto quote you present does not make a claim about how all knowledge is derived at. It makes a claim about how knowledge of the world is arrived at.
    (2) Epistemology is not knowledge of the world, so epistemology does not have to reduce to the claim about the knowledge of the world.
    (3) If we can’t use past experience and data to inform models of reality, then all knowledge is impossible.

    • 1) yes it does. Knowledge, by implication ALL KNOWLEDGE, is arrived at by their assertion.
      2) it is making an epistemic claim.
      3) if you have no justification for the application of past experience to future events then all knowledge is impossible.

      • 1) Not the best interpretation of the words
        2) It’s an epistemic claim, but not a claim about epistemic knowledge.
        3) So, do we have justification?

  3. Problems with your thesis:
    (1) The Humanist Manifesto is not talking about ‘all knowledge’
    If the Humanist manifesto meant to describe the entire set of all knowledge, they would have, like you did, have said “sum total of all knowledge” or, as I said earlier, simply “knowledge”.
    But they did not. They include a qualifier “… of the world”, which makes it a subset i.e. it is not talking about all knowledge.
    Equally, in the second quote you provide, it refers to “this knowledge”. “This” is a demonstrative pronoun, and in this context is simply not referring to “all knowledge”, else the word “this” could be dropped entirely.

    You are asserting “knowledge of the world” is synonymous with “all knowledge”, and I don’t see that can be true.

    (2) The Humanist manifesto does not say that science is the only way to gain even the subset of knowledge it is referring to.
    “Only” and “best” are not even nearly the same words. The Humanist Manifesto describes something similar to science (or science more broadly) as the “best method” and not the “only” method.

    (3) The Manifesto explicitly talks of valuable alternative “thought”.
    “We also recognize the value of new departures in thought, the arts, and inner experience—each subject to analysis by critical intelligence”

    The claim of scientism — “all knowledge is scientific knowledge” — doesn’t survive the translation to the actual content of the manifesto, best summarised as “some subset of knowledge is best derived from science”.

    • 1) it does say “knowledge”. Further, being fully materialistic in its presuppositions, “of the world” sets the bounds for that knowledge that it intends to refer to inclusively.
      2) it necessarily limits the means of collecting that knowledge. Since “the world” is the express limit of any available “knowledge”, it necessarily infers “all knowledge” since it excludes anything outside of those limits.
      3) since they have limited themselves to what can be “observed”, “experimented upon”, and “rationally analyzed”, they are contradicting themselves.

      • Is Humanism “fully materialistic”? Defend that. (It talks of “value”, “meaning”, “happiness” and “fulfillment”, and therefore cannot be fully materialistic. Unless you’re arguing in circles based on your interpretation of the phrase “knowledge of the world”.)
        Does “… of the world” not qualify that we’re talking about a subset of knowledge? Defend that.
        Does the Humanist manifesto use the term “knowledge of the world” to mean “all knowledge”? Defend that. (Especially in light of the Manifesto making explicit claims about relationships between happiness, society and morality.)
        Do your defences survive the obvious criticism that the very article you’re talking about acknowledges other ways of thinking about other subsets of knowledge? Defend that.

        Are you simply wrong about your interpretation of the term “knowledge of the world”? I’d say it’s clear that you are — that the Humanist Manifesto clearly means something other than what you are asserting. But, if you think you’re not wrong — and the term “knowledge of the world” means “all knowledge” — defend that.

      • Since it necessarily denies a supernatural aspect to reality, to speak of things like “value”, “meaning”, “happiness”, or “fulfillment” is absurd since they cannot be observed, experimented with, or rationally analyzed. They are not things that can be treated scientifically. So, to appeal to them as if they are real things undermines the inherent materialism that it presupposes.

        If you are going to assert that the phrase “of the world” is merely a species or “subset” of knowledge and not the express limit of that knowledge then you have to prove it, which is something that you haven’t done without merely asserting it. My position is that it, because it is not defined or otherwise limited as a species of knowledge, it is meant to refer to the extent of all things knowable and therefore knowledge, becoming a synonym for “universe” in the manifesto that it succeeds.

  4. Your very first sentence is ridiculous. Atheists have no relationship with Jesus. His existence or non-existence is irrelevant to how atheists feel about whether or not God exists. The basis for belief in “God” is that humans are special creatures, so special that they have supposedly been given the opportunity to have an eternal afterlife in paradise. It is delusional to believe that humans do not die like all of earth’s other creatures, forever. Believers are in a state of denial and blinded by delusion of eternal life.

    • Well, it’s clear that you didn’t actually read the very next sentence, which clarifies the opening sentence.
      Since, on atheism, everything that you believe is a delusion caused by chemical reactions in the brain, you cannot speak about what others are in a denial of since you have no reason to believe that what you are thinking is actually true.

      Nice straw man, BTW. I’ve got an entire series on what Christians ACTUALLY believe. You might want to check it out before you say anything else that’s delusional.

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