Monday, June 02, 2014

Book Highlight: Grand Central Questions

Chapter 2:  Secular Humanism – The Secular Search

As we return to Abdu Murray's book Grand Central Question, we pick up with chapter 2 which begins Part One of the book; Secular Humanism or the Gospel:  Which Provides Us with Intrinsic Value and Objective Purpose? Within this chapter Murray further determines the what of secular humanism. He does this by first defining the following terms:

Secular – an adjective used to describe concepts that are “neutral to different religious or non-religious beliefs…devoid of any religious or supernatural considerations while at the same time not being hostile to them or favoring antireligious ideas” (page 46). He provides the government of the United States as an example. Thus religious believers can be secularists and espouse secularism.

Secularizationism – This form of secularism seeks to keep religion and religious expressions private through societal and cultural constraints enforced by the state.

Murray contends, while conceding that not all secular humanists are seeking to completely remove private or public religious expression, that the secular humanism of today leans more toward secularizationism as seen by the works of men like Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and the late Christopher Hitchens and the sway that they hold over large groups of people. Thus Murray uses this form of secular humanism to answer the Grand Central Question of human dignity and purpose. However, he also looks to the writings of men like Voltaire, David Hume and Stephen Hawking and the manifestos of organizations such as the American and British Humanist Association to gather a clear understanding of the position of secular humanism.

Secular humanism finds its roots in the empiricism of the Enlightenment which held that all things worth believing must be rationally based and testable. Hume took this a step further by contending that all propositions which cannot be empirically verified must be abandoned. Murray points to the effort of Harris to scientifically test the foundations of morality in The Moral Landscape and Hawking claiming “Philosophy is dead” in The Grand Design as evidence that Humean empiricism is held by leading secular humanists. Additionally the Humanist Manifesto II states essentially that we are our bodies and we do not survive death. Through these writings Murray shows that we can conclude that secular humanism is committed to scientism, the idea that science is the only way humans can know truth, and naturalism, the idea that all of reality is contained within the natural world.

In this context of scientism and naturalism, secular humanism answers the Grand Central Question by adamantly asserting the meaning, value and purpose of humanity. It appeals to human reason and shared values and experience as the source. The Humanist Manifesto II states that “people should work together to improve the quality of life for all” (page 57). There is no need for God; humanity is the supreme being and therefore its own savior. In the next chapter, Murray will look at the justification, or the why, secular humanism provides for these assertions.

Stand firm in Christ,

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