Friday, September 7, 2007

Why I Think I May Be a Humanist

My tongue in cheek title is a spoof on Bertrand Russell's (1) "Why I Am Not a Christian" (2). I have never really given Humanism much thought until recently. But after reading the basic principles of it in several places and listening to some podcasts from the Institute for Humanist Studies, I think I may just well feel fine about classifying myself as Humanist.

In the Humanist Network News podcast (3) episode #18 (4), cognitive scientist and popular author Stephen Pinker (5) makes the following statement, emphasis mine:


Stephen Pinker: ... I'd like to begin with a question. Why am I here? Why are all of us here?

In my case, I study the human mind, and in studying the human mind I inevitably face the assumption which almost everyone in the field shares, that the mind is a product of the brain, a biological organ, and that the brain was shaped by natural selection and the evolutionary process. That doesn't leave any room for some immaterial entity called the soul, a ghost in the machine. It doesn't leave much room for a narrative of the universe in which humans were put on Earth for a purpose, a moral purpose given by some animate entity, which they are charged with carrying out.

On the other hand, even though I am a materialist, as are most people who study the mind, I still feel that there is a place for meaning and purpose and something larger than ourselves. But when you have this set of beliefs you can feel awfully lonely. I did not have many friends on the politically correct left, and I had even fewer friends on the religious right, and I was kind of feeling, I can't be the only person who has this set of beliefs. They just seem so obvious.

And then at some point, a few years ago, it occurred to me: I'm a humanist. That's what I am.

Humanist Principles

From the Institute for Humanist Studies' web site,, Humanism is defined as:

Are you a humanist?

  • Do you try to live an ethical and fulfilling life without religious belief?
  • Do you think science and reason lead to more reliable knowledge than faith?
  • Do you support secular government and an open society that guarantees human rights for all?

If you answered "yes" to these questions, you might be one of the millions of humanists on Earth -- people who live meaningful, fulfilling lives based on reason and compassion.

Humanism in brief

Humanism is a philosophy of life inspired by humanity and guided by reason. It provides the basis for a fulfilling and ethical life without religion.

  • Humanists make sense of the world using reason, experience and shared human values.
  • Humanists see no convincing evidence for gods, the supernatural, or life after death.
  • Humanists believe that moral values are properly founded on human empathy and scientific understanding.
  • Humanists believe we must live this life on the basis that it is the only life we'll have -- that, therefore, we must make the most of it for ourselves, each other, and our world.

Humanist philosophies have arisen separately in many different cultures over many thousands of years. Whether or not they use the term humanism, tens of millions of Americans and hundreds of millions of people around the world agree with the humanist philosophy of living a happy and productive life based on reason and compassion.

Definitions of humanism

Humanism is:

"...seeking, without religion, the best in, and for, human beings." Chambers Pocket Dictionary

"...a doctrine, attitude, or way of life centered on human interests or values; especially: a philosophy that usually rejects supernaturalism and stresses an individual's dignity and worth and capacity for self-realization through reason." Merriam Webster Dictionary

"...a non-religious philosophy, based on liberal human values." Little Oxford Dictionary

" appeal to reason in contrast to revelation or religious authority as a means of finding out about the natural world and destiny of man, and also giving a grounding for morality... Humanist ethics is also distinguished by placing the end of moral action in the welfare of humanity rather than in fulfilling the will of God." Oxford Companion to Philosophy

"The rejection of religion in favor of the advancement of humanity by its own efforts." Collins Concise Dictionary

"That which is characteristically human, not supernatural, that which belongs to man and not to external nature, that which raises man to his greatest height or gives him, as man, his gr.eatest satisfaction." Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences

"A system of thought that centers on humans and their values, capacities, and worth." American Heritage Dictionary

I also like the WikiPedia definition:

Humanism is a broad category of ethical philosophies that affirm the dignity and worth of all people, based on the ability to determine right and wrong by appeal to universal human qualities—particularly rationality. It is a component of a variety of more specific philosophical systems and is incorporated into several religious schools of thought. Humanism entails a commitment to the search for truth and morality through human means in support of human interests. In focusing on the capacity for self-determination, Humanism rejects the validity of transcendental justifications, such as a dependence on faith, the supernatural, or allegedly divinely revealed texts. Humanists endorse universal morality based on the commonality of the human condition, suggesting that solutions to human social and cultural problems cannot be parochial.

Local Atlanta Resources

For those in the Atlanta area interested to learn more about Humanism, check out this site: for the Humanists of Georgia.

There is also the Atlanta Freethought Society,, and the Fellowship of Reason:

This is definitely something I want to check out more about.


  1. Bertrand Russell:
  2. Why I Am Not A Christian, by Bertrand Russell:
  3. Humanist Network News podcast:
  4. Humanist Network News episode #18 Transcript:

Some of Stephen Pinker's Books

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