Thursday, September 04, 2014

Refuting Thomas' Refuting Secular Humanism - 1986

This is Robert (Eddie) Shearer's rebuttal to my paper entitled "Refuting Secular Humanism"
He called it "Refuting Thomas' Refuting Secular Humanism"

Minor Argument Paper

In his paper "Refuting Secular Humanism," Mike Thomas presents his argument against the belief of, you guessed it, Secular Humanism. He defines secular humanism as the belief that God is an invention of man and that science will reveal what have always been considered divine mysteries. Actually, to quote Thomas, he refers to "all things." However, there are many things that cannot nor neednot be explained by science or divine intervention: For example, why hickies are considered kinky when given on the thigh but not when given on the neck. I therefore make the assumption that he is referring to mysteries of cosmic scope.
Thomas later has the audacity to define faith by using a comparison to doubt. He states, "Having faith in or believing in one thing requires a denial of or doubting of something else. Usually this means doubting the opposite of what you believe in." I read this statement and can see that he has no qualms about leaving prepositions dangling in a sentence (something his teacher did not notice, but this was before competency tests). But furthermore, there are examples in everyday living that exemplify the invalidity of the statement. A typical example is a freeway driver. Many drivers, when entering an on-ramp on the freeway, hurl pell-mell towards the ongoing with the accelerator pressed deep into the carpet, content in the belief that they will enter the flow. Once at the end of the ramp, the driver will slam on the brakes, doubting he will ever enter the flow. Then again, he will sit at the end of the ramp, at a dead stop, surrounded by the belief that he will enter the flow. However, I am nitpicking, and as I am not required, as Thomas was, to make this paper a certain length, I will dispense with the space-eating rhetoric and get down to the argument.
Thomas bases much of his argument on the idea that humans require some form of faith. Man is surrounded by mysteries, and to cope with the problem of mysteries, he develops a faith in a Supreme Being or in a branch of science to assure him that things are not amiss. "When a person denies God, he is leaving a large empty space in his faith... In the case of secular humanism, a large amount of faith has been placed in science." The latter statement is true, but the former not necessarily so. "... he must find something to put his faith into." This statement, containing yet another dangling preposition, is made in support of the idea that faith is required. Once again, an empirical example bears out the fallacy of this statement. By ordering the continued manufacturing of nuclear weapons, despite the fact that our national arsenal is large enough to make the Eurasion continent glow like a neon tube, President Reagan is denying God and science, as both advocate peace. In this instance, greed has sufficiently taken the place of faith.
I reject his idea that "blind faith is not good and should be accompanied with reason and ... that science requires a certain amount of faith to be believable." If a person jumps from a building, his lack of faith in the science of gravity will not keep him from rather abruptly having his "faith" turned around.
On the other side of the coin, reason accompanying blind faith can be equally deadly. For example, should you be shot at and the sniper misses, reason tells you that (1) there must be some mistake, you've never pissed anyone off so much that they would want to shoot you; (2) he missed once, so the odds are that he'll miss again; (3) the universe is, for practical purposes, infinitely large, while you are, by comparison, infinitely small, and the bullet is even smaller; so much smaller, in fact, as to be statistically nonexistent and therefore you have nothing to worry about. On the other hand, blind faith tells you to run for cover, and unless the idea of death makes you giddy, it is much better than reason.
His next argument, mare a statement in favor of a belief in a Supreme Being than an argument against secular humanism, uses the idea that the definition of opposites proves the existence of God. He states, "A man doesn't call a line crooked, he reasoned, unless he has some sense of what a straight line looks like." This idea is actually an example of what secular humanists use as an argument against the existence of God. Since he does not know who defined straight lines, darkness or wetness (I personally believe these notions were defined by prehistoric philosophers contemplating the arm pit), he invents a God to define these things for him.
Deities were invented by the ancients to explain all sorts of natural phenomena for which they did not understand. Many things they were able to explain, and hence there were no gods of urination, aquaducts, or shoelaces. But other things, like lightening or taxes, they were at a loss to understand and therefore they invented the deities Zeus and Government, respectively (and respectfully). This human characteristic, of blaming things on gods that defy the current fashions in thinking, has perpetuated religion. However, as science has uncovered the mysteries of lightening (physics) and taxes (political science) and other sundry natural occurances, the number of gods have been reduced from entire pantheons to just one. Is it unreasonable to assume that science will finally reduce the number of gods to zero, by answering all the questions? I don't think so, although I think that when that day comes, encyclopedias are going to be rather cumbersome and very expensive (although you won't have to keep buying those yearly updates.)
Therefore, a person who thinks he can reason everything out without a faith in something not only has "thought about it enough," but has accepted the limits of his thinking and ignores the rest.
(As an aside note, I think that if man were to discover what happens to us when we die -- really know -- that the other things we wonder about would be less important - like why gas without lead costs more than gas with lead.)
Thomas goes on to state, "I believe that why is an important question." I am willing to bet that Thomas was a rather impertinent fellow in his youth and was probably lied to by his parents, as parents are wont to do when asked things they do not know. Must everything have a 'why' connected with it? The more importance placed on 'why' reduces the importance of insignificance. In fact, it brings us some rather disturbing paradoxes, for 'why' implies significance. Therefore, if 'why' is so important, why do we have insignificance? Also, how would you answer such questions as "Why does it matter?"
This emphasis on 'why,' and ensuing de-emphasis on insignificance, has some dire consequences for society. For example, we will no longer be allowed to round off calculations, making reporting our national deficit a monumental task.
Hence, I see that these questions of 'why' directed at science can be effectively and satisfactorily answered by "What difference does it make? When was the last time you cleaned your room?" This reply has been empirically proven appropriate by parents from prehistoric times.
"Is it more reasonable to have faith in science of faith in God?" asks Thomas. "What are the consequences of a complete faith in science?" He then lists what such a belief would imply. "That man is mortal." Most religions entertain this belief also; it's the spirit that is immortal. "That life is meaningless." Nonsense! Science won't erase the entry in Webster's. And anyway, what makes him think that life has meaning anyway, and what is it if there is? Tolstoy once said that "The highest knowledge that man can attain is that life is meaningless." Putting it in terms that Thomas would understand, "Why is there a meaning to life?"
He goes on, "That ethics and morals are only around for convenience sake." Here he implies that one cannot have ethics if one doesn't believe in God. Such a statement could get him slapped with a libel suit by the American Bar Association. This was one of Thomas' most unfounded; he continues "That your goal in life should be to try and make yourself as deliriously happy as possible because once you die it is all over." If believing in God means that we should try to make ourselves as miserable as possible because when we die we start over, then those who believe in God are suffering from masochism and need therapy, not faith. It is this kind of thinking that has prevented Baptists from becoming famous dancers. "That trying to make other people happy is a waste of time unless it directly affects you," he states. Hence, he implies, all philanthropists automatically believe in God. See my comment about the ABA above. "That in the end it doesn't matter how you spend your life, whether you are a millionaire or a mass murderer doesn't make any difference." Thomas is obviously not familiar with Cullen Davis, who proved it does make a difference if you are both.
"That you are an incredibly insignificant fluke of nature." One who believes in God must also reach this same conclusion. First of all, as there is nobody like you in the world, you are obviously a fluke of nature; and if you are the only one of you in the world, God did not feel you are significant enough to make more of you. Lastly, despite the fact that nearly all of us are born with the same number of eyes, legs, arms, etc.,  yet we are all different, which is pretty incredible. Hence, despite your views, we are all incredibly insignificant flukes of nature. His statement is thus irrelevant. "That the whole world could blow up the day after you die and it wouldn't matter to you one way or the other." Well, no difference what you believe, it will certainly bother you much more should it happen before you die than after.
Finally he concludes, "It is a dreary and hopeless philosophy that doesn't make very much sense. It basically denies all things and fails to answer the question why." I disagree strongly! Such philosophy is dreary only if one is overly preoccupied with death. As for making sense, how much sense does it make that a good and just God allows so much suffering in  the world? What secular humanism does is accept all things, not deny them. By freeing oneself from the belief that God is manipulating all things for reasons that answer Thomas' ever present question of why, one must conclude that one has choice; one of those choices is deciding for yourself the answer to why.
Thomas quotes Sir Francis Bacon saying "They that deny a God destroy man's nobility..." I submit that man is no more noble than any other beast on earth. No other creature continually wages war on its own kind; nor does any other creature dedicate so much of its time inventing new ways to kill more of its own kind. Hence, I reject Thomas' notion that without God man is not worth much. Man has his God now, and by standards of morals set down by that God, we are not worth much. I contend that man will only be worthy and noble when he creates his own answers to the question why, and uses his privilege of free choice to create a world like that called for in religious ethics. To follow these ethics out of fear of dying is not noble, it is irresponsible and cowardly.
Thomas concludes by saying that the secular humanist "must sit back with satisfaction and think that he is much smarter... for he has found that the answer to all things is that there is no answer. If he is really satisfied with that then God help him." A man of God must hide his head in his faith that God has a reason for all things; he must believe in divine answers that are beyond his simple capabilities to comprehend. The secular humanist is not shackled to this or any answer. He has a choice of answers and is free to create his own reasons and act on them as he sees fit.

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