Our Work | Publications | Humanism as the next step | Chapter 3: some basic beliefs

Chapter 3: Some Basic Beliefs

CHAPTER THREE
Some Basic Beliefs


Previous Chapter   |  Table of Contents   |  Next Chapter

The Fundamental Premise

Basic to humanism is a particular approach to the world about us—to the physical and psychological environments. This approach or method is considered more important than any conclusions reached by using it, for knowledge is continually increasing. Conclusions about many things in the world have to change as knowledge grows. It is necessary to remain open minded, to avoid jumping to conclusions, and often to suspend judgment. When we form a conclusion it is important that we do not force it upon other people. Whereas in most religions and in some philosophies certain matters have been laid down, accepted on faith, and held to be true for all time, this is not true in humanism. We hold in high regard the scientific method—the constant search for information and the willingness to change opinions as warranted. Even when speaking of morals and ethical values, the humanist makes few assertions and likes to point out the context.

To clarify further the difference between the method of which we speak and the one used by those who base their belief on faith, pioneer American psychologist Frances R. Dewing, in a letter she wrote to the authors, says:

One of the essential things about scientific method is an open mind, critical only of the quality of the evidence, and a readiness to accept any conclusions. With this goes an eagerness to find the principles that can be used to give us successful dealings with our objective experiences. These principles as long as they work are what we call truth.

Contrasted with this basis for truth which assumes dependence on reasoning power there is truth by authority—personal, organizational or “by the book.”

This cleavage of method is a more fundamental cleavage than cleavage according to items of conclusions, especially as by our method any conclusion is conceivably possible. The only negative allowable is the denial of the right of any other person to assert a statement without showing reasons—especially to assert truth for others dogmatically.

Humanists generally hold views on mind, heaven, immortality, essences, and the ideal that are hard for anti-naturalists to understand. Some of these concepts will be discussed later on, but here we wish to point out that they are not the heart of the naturalist alternative. In fact, sin, heaven, immortality, and deity are considered rather unimportant ideas.

Points of General Agreement

How we believe is more important than what we believe. Because we use the scientific method we recognize that even our most central beliefs may have to change in the light of further evidence.

It would be strange if thoughtful and independent people did not have differences of opinion concerning the most significant ideas in their common philosophy, if there were no real disagreements as to implications and emphases. The naturalist alternative, many-faceted, humane, experimental, has room within it for many varieties of opinion.

On some points, however, there is general agreement. Let us consider certain significant ones:

  1. Humans are, in every respect, a part of nature. They are a natural product of evolutionary processes.
  2. We humans, like all other living things, must rely upon ourselves, upon one another, and upon nature. There is no evidence that we receive support or guidance from any immaterial power with whom we might imagine we commune.
  3. We are able to meet the challenges of life in constantly more satisfying ways provided we are able to make fuller use of our capacities.
  4. The meaning of life is that which we give to it. Happiness and self-fulfillment for oneself and others are richly sufficient life goals.
  5. Moral codes are made by humans. Values and ideals grow out of the experience of various cultures, societies, and individuals.
  6. The supreme value is the individual human being. Each person, of whatever race or condition, merits equal concern and opportunity. Laws, governments, and other institutions exist for the service of men and women, and are justifiable only as they contribute to human well-being.

Believing in the capabilities of humans to solve their problems, having confidence in the scientific method, in experience, in knowledge, and in the natural creative processes of the universe, the humanist feels that humankind can successfully make better todays and build toward a better tomorrow.

Humanists in Action

Bette Chambers, one-time editor of Free Mind, the membership publication of the American Humanist Association, often summarizes phases of humanist endeavor. In 1996 she reminded her readers of significant social-action successes:

In the last half of this century, we’ve seen abortion rights established by law. Many states have recognized—or are in the process of recognizing—individuals’ rights to choose the manner and time of their demise. There has been increased sensitivity to women’s roles in the home and the workplace and decreased tolerance for sexual harassment. We’ve witnessed the legal establishment of civil rights for persons of color and opportunities broadened for all minorities.

These humanistic changes did not come about in a vacuum. Humanists and humanistically inspired individuals, as well as socially conscious organizations like the American Humanist Association, have fought long and hard to achieve them. Our 1957 Humanist of the Year, Margaret Sanger, went to jail to champion birth control. Patricia Maginnis, our 1978 Humanist Pioneer, was also incarcerated for fighting for abortion rights. Dr. Henry Morgentaler, our 1975 Humanist of the Year, pioneered abortion rights in Canada and was arrested, jailed, and acquitted three times. Dr. Jack Kevorkian, our 1994 Humanist Hero, has endured and been vindicated in four trials in the pursuit of ending the suffering of individuals through physician-assisted suicide.

Find an important victory in the humanization of our society in the twentieth century, and you’ll find Humanists—often AHA members—leading the charge. In time, fair-minded people of traditional faiths joined in these causes, but it was Humanists who first laid their lives and fortunes on the line, going to jail or bearing social opprobrium until public dialogue led to these reforms.


Previous Chapter   |  Table of Contents   |  Next Chapter

American Humanist Association

Things that make you go hmmm....

2 hours ago

American Humanist Association

Here is a cool new Kickstarter campaign to create a children's book for non-bel...

21 hours ago

American Humanist Association

AHA board member Howard Katz is at Skepticon representing! Make sure to stop by...

22 hours ago

American Humanist Association

December 2nd is Giving Tuesday. This holiday season, while you are buying gifts...

1 days ago

American Humanist Association

Hey, It's our favorite science guy! Clay Farris Naff talks with past AHA humanis...

1 days ago

American Humanist Association

Who is ready for Skepticon 2014?! If you are attending the event, make sure to s...

1 days ago

American Humanist Association

Today is National Transgender Day of Remembrance. Today we remember transgenders...

1 days ago

American Humanist Association

Today the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center sent a...

1 days ago

American Humanist Association

Many people don't believe that a person can be good without a god. What are thos...

2 days ago

American Humanist Association

Yesterday, AHA's David Niose presented his argument that the phrase "under God"...

2 days ago

American Humanist Association

A Congressional hearing on religious accommodations in the armed services is hap...

3 days ago

American Humanist Association

Today a judge will hear the arguments of Dave Niose, representing the AHA, in a...

3 days ago

American Humanist Association

Last week Indra Zuno delivered her secular invocation at the LA County Board mee...

3 days ago

American Humanist Association

The United Coalition of Reason is crushing the billboard game with billboards up...

3 days ago

American Humanist Association

The debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham was so entertaining and informative, who...

4 days ago

American Humanist Association

Following on from last week's spectacular launch of 2 CoRs in the beautiful stat...

4 days ago

American Humanist Association

Will Kirk Cameron save Christmas and Christianity from the evil, putrid creature...

4 days ago

American Humanist Association

The secular community seems torn in their opinion of Dan Brown. Although you may...

4 days ago

American Humanist Association

What would give Margaret Atwood faith to keep going during a zombie apocalypse?...

5 days ago

American Humanist Association

If you have seen Interstellar you will know what Neil is talking about.

5 days ago

American Humanist Association

Release date for Fighting Back the Right, from the AHA's David Niose, is just a...

6 days ago

American Humanist Association

Our Pledge Boycott page has a form for sharing stories with us of your experienc...

7 days ago

American Humanist Association

Our friends at the Institute for Humanist Studies, a humanist think tank, are ho...

7 days ago