Sunday, November 9, 2008

Worldview Class – Part 9 –Secular Humanist Ethics

This is a continuation of highlighted topics discussed in a worldview class I am teaching on Sunday morning. The main text for the study is The Battle for Truth by David Noebel. A good deal of this class is also based on personal research.

Ethics are defined as “the rules of conduct recognized in respect to a particular class of human actions or a particular group, culture, etc." Specifically, the study of ethics attempts to answer the question “Who makes the rules – God or man?”

The fundamental foundation of ethics for Secular Humanists rests on their theology – that is, that there is no God. As ethical and moral standards must originate from somewhere, the humanist is left with no choice but to assign the authorship to man. This would end their argument if each of them agreed on the same definition of “right” and “wrong”. However, since there is much disagreement over what is morally acceptable and what is not, the humanist community is saddled with a divisive issue which makes their ethical stance difficult to defend. One of these dilemmas is stated as the “ought problem”, and summed up by Mihailo Markovic – “It remains quite unclear where this ‘ought’ comes from. It is one thing to describe a variety of actual historical patterns of conduct and moral habits. It is a completely different thing to make a choice among them and say that we ‘ought’ to observe some of them. Why some and not others?”

Indeed, even their foremost proponent Paul Kurtz admits, “I can find no ultimate basis for ‘ought’.” Are Secular Humanists living in a worldwide “free-for-all”, much like the New Age philosophers who proclaim that truth is whatever is defined by each individual? While there are some in the community who hold this position, most cannot accept such a vagary and so they claim that reason is the thing that more closely defines right and wrong. The British Humanist Association says, “Humanists believe that man’s conduct should be based on humanity, insight, and reason. He must face his problems with his own moral and intellectual resources, without looking for supernatural aid.” Corliss Lamont is quoted thus, “As long as man pursues activities that are healthy, socially useful, and in accordance with reason, pleasure will generally accompany them; and happiness, the supreme good, will be the eventual result.”

The process of reasoning figures prominently in the humanist’s belief in the theory of evolution. As man evolves, so does his power for reasoning, and thus to determine right from wrong. Unfortunately for them, the purpose of evolution flies in the face of this logical, pragmatic way of thinking. The ultimate goal of evolution is for the species to survive. And if survival is the final instinct, then bloodshed, war, and even murder have some justification under the humanist ethic. Most humanists will have no counter-argument for this flaw. In order for the species to survive, some must perish, and few modern-day humanists want to admit that killing or capital punishment is sometimes necessary.

Under the Secular Humanist system, ethics may change over time as man becomes wiser and more evolved. Experimentation is the best way to achieve this ethics basis, and the practice of this is called ethical relativism. Joseph Fletcher says, “Rights and wrongs are determined by objective facts or circumstances, that is, by the situations in which moral agents have to decide for the most beneficial course open to choice.” And Herbert W. Schneider has stated that morality is “an experimental art...the basic art of living well together. Moral right and wrong must therefore be conceived in terms of moral standards generated in a particular society.” But who determines the results of the experiment, and who defines what is correct? Again, the dilemma hinges on full agreement and there can be none of that in this broken world. Lamont has been quoted as saying, “For the Humanist, stupidity is just as great a sin as selfishness; and ‘the moral obligation to be intelligent’ ranks always among the highest of duties.” Thus, he would leave the arbitration to the smartest people in the race, though this fights with one of the basic humanist tenets of equality for all (see the Humanist Manifesto I, point fourteen or Humanist Manifesto II, point eleven). In addition, history shows that the smartest people are not always victorious, especially if the less intelligent are more determined, braver, or simply possess a bigger weapon.

Finally, one must ask what the true goal is for a Secular Humanist, since peace and agreement seem out of reach. There are clues all around, but one major hint would be the words of Paul Kurtz, when he states that “traditional supernaturalistic moral commandments are especially repressive of our human needs. They are immoral insofar as they foster illusions about human destiny (heaven) and suppress vital inclinations.” It is the use of the term “vital inclinations” that intrigues me. Lamont was earlier quoted about man’s search for “pleasure” and seeking it to fulfill the “supreme good”. It is clear that unrestricted sex is a clear goal of many humanist institutions. The Humanist Manifesto II, item six states that, “short of harming others or compelling them to do likewise, individuals should be permitted to express their sexual proclivities and pursue their lifestyles as they desire.” Humanists are responsible for funding the studies that “prove” that men can be born as homosexuals. They seek the same ruling on the topics of pedophilia and incest. “Sex without guilt” is one of their mantras. One Planned Parenthood representative was quoted as saying that their goal is to help “young people obtain sex satisfaction before marriage…By sanctioning sex before marriage, we will prevent fear and guilt.” The goal of pleasure without the burden of sin becomes evident.

Secular Humanists endure a problematic viewpoint on ethics. Without agreement from all, it is hard to know what is really right and wrong. Isn’t it easier to accept a moral code given by a God who loves us and wants the best for us? Most of us – humanists included – have an innate sense that certain acts are wrong. Murder is an example of this – most of us know inside that premeditated killing of another human being is immoral. Where does this innate sense of ethics come from? It cannot come from man, because mankind is not always in agreement on the subject. It must, and does come from God.

To Worldview - Part 10 - Marxist/Leninist Ethics

Or go back to the main index for all twelve Parts.

If you are interested in portions, or all of this twelve part series taught in an engaging, educational fashion, please contact Alan at Banyan Concepts.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Of course it's *easier* to accept a moral code given by a God who loves us and wants the best for us, but unfortunately it's not true.

And yes, humans feel an innate sense of right and wrong, but that lends evidence more for our shared evolutionary ancestors than it does for a mandate from God.

Listen: You wrote, "As ethical and moral standards must originate from somewhere, the humanist is left with no choice but to assign the authorship to man. This would end their argument if each of them agreed on the same definition of “right” and “wrong”."

I believe you could end your argument too if Muslims, Christians, and the rest could agree on whether or not God finds it pleasing to stone children to death for the crime of being raped, or if dragging homosexuals to their deaths behind trucks in Texas was a holy thing to do.