History and Secular Humanism

Essay, 2011
4 Pages


History and Secular Humanism

The word humanism bases its origin from the 15th century Italian word umanista, which connotes, a teacher or scholar of classical Greek and Latin. The contemporary definition and meaning however stems, from the conceptions and works of German historian George Viogt who used the term Humanism to describe the renaissance movement in Italy, which revolutionized learning.

However, over the ages, the word and concept has revolutionized to accommodate a more universally accepted meaning. Here, it refers to the study approach that focuses on human value and concern. Further according to the Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary, humanism refers to "any system or mode of thought or action in which human interests, values, or dignity predominate” (691). In light of this humanism has different connotations, such as secular and religious.

Thus, secular humanism ascribes to a philosophy that adopts reason, ethics, and the search for human fulfillment, and precisely abnegates supernatural and religious dogma as the basis of morality and decision-making. Thus based on theological underpinning secular humanists are atheists as demonstrated by Corliss Lamont who says, "Humanism contends that instead of the gods creating the cosmos, the cosmos, in the individualized form of human beings giving rein to their imagination, created the gods”(145).

The history of secularism in modern world traces back to the mid 17th century when George Jacob Holyoake, in describing an ideology, accentuated on the acquisitiveness for accommodating a concept, based on verifiable questions authenticated by scientific means and statistical methods. In other word, the concept emerged because of increased discontentment of individuals, with the religious adages and dogmas of the religious assemblage. Thus, Historians ascertain that the movement traces back to the enlightenment era when individual thinkers began to question the fundamental certitudes and values of the religious groups, especially the catholic dogma.

According to analysts, Auguste Comte, the engenderer of positivism and sociology influenced George’s credence. Comte postulated that, the development of humanity would undergo three crucial stages that are, theological stage, metaphysical, and eventually rational positivist society. Comte’s conceptions perhaps emerged because of influence brought about by the increased resentment of the religious society, especially during the French revolution.

Thus, Comte aspired to establish a new humanity religion, complete with its norms and dogmas. It would replace the supernatural religion, since the latter’s popularity and influence on man had diminished because of, its inability to address and adhere to principles of morality and ethics. However, the new movement became irrelevant .This led to emergence of the philosophy of science, which advocated for freethinking with a main objective of man’s self-remediation without God. According to historians, the emergence of positivism in science thus gave birth to the contemporarily and 19th century secular organization.

Thus, secular humanism was born from the desire by humanists to contradict the religious humanism, which acknowledges God as the supreme ruler and creator. Secular Humanists fundamental belief thus demeans any existence of supernatural and hence encourages the use of scientific measurements to back up logic and reason .In essence any belief, idea, that is not measurable and authenticated is not true, this includes religion.

Further scholars ascertain that, the concept of secular humanism over the ages has revolutionized from a fearfully and openly resented identity to avant-garde secular organizations all over the word with a great percentage of such organizations being in Europe and America. Doubtless secular humanism in Europe and Asia in general is a product of the renaissance period and scientific revolution, when people began to exercise the power of reason, and logic based on the concept of freethinking. From the philosophical teachings of Socrates, Plato, Karl max, Copernicus, Isaac Newton, Aristotle among others, the concept of secularization was adopted and over the years metamorphosed to encompass 20th century thinkers. However, it is important to denote that some of the known thinkers though encouraged the conceptions of freethinking; they still acknowledged God as the supreme ruler and creator.

Through the works of scientist such as Charles Darwin, the secular humanism grew disputing the biblical explanation of creation a concepts that still holds in many American schools. This, has led to emergence of secularist who include atheists and religious critics who, dispute the existence of supernatural through their fundamentally established belief that man is god of himself and is self proficient and sufficient. In Asia philosophers had emerged whose view of the supernatural was similar to European philosophers and thinkers.

Thus over the years the secular humanism has witnessed increased growth from pre Socratic philosophers to the 1960 adoption of the concept by anti- religious humanists, who embraced a non religious approach. However, the epitome of its growth and threat to Christian tradition came up in 1980 when a declaration “A Secular Humanist Declaration” by the then newly established Council for Democratic and Secular Humanism ("CODESH") led to the birth of Secular Humanism as an organizational identity.

In essence, secular humanism holds the belief that, in order to solve human problems and answer question in life there is need to use critical reasoning, evidence, and scientific methods of inquiry. In addition, humanity growth and self-fulfillment should be the driving force of any endeavor. Also any belief whether religious, political and social must not be upheld based on faith rather should be questioned, they also postulate that humanity should seek to make life worthy living and not bother on matters of after life, this is achieved through understanding of ourselves, history, and intellectual achievements

Thus, they believe that the only thing that exists is nature and the world of possession, in essence God does not exist and hence no spiritual concept of life. Carl Sagan in introduction to his Cosmos series quips: "The universe is all that is or ever was or ever will be.” (4). on his part, Roy Wood Sellars concurs. “Humanism is naturalistic,” he says, "and rejects the super naturalistic stance with its postulated Creator-God and cosmic Ruler.” (135)

Again based on Darwin’s conception, the secular humanists believe that since the supernatural does not exist then all forms of life are because of a natural occurrence or occurrence by chance. In essence, they belief in evolution as postulated by Julian Huxley that, "man ... his body, his mind and his soul were not supernaturally created but are all products of evolution.” (194) .Sagan, Lamont, Sellars, Kurtz— all Secular Humanists are in agreement on this.

On the concept of ethics they belief that no absolute moral code exists and hence, individual ethical standards should be based on his or her judgment rather than from God .Thus, since God is non-existence, There are no set codes. Max Hocutt thus agrees by postulating that human beings "may, and do, make up their own rules and thus Morality is not discovered; it is made.” (137). Hence, they accommodate the concept of ethical relativism.


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History and Secular Humanism
University of Portsmouth
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history, secular, humanism
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Joseph Katie (Author), 2011, History and Secular Humanism, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/211210


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