By: DAVID RICE Re: Secular Humanism Subject: University teaching secular humanism? Hello,
By: DAVID RICE
Re: Secular Humanism
From: Nick Rezmerski
Subject: University teaching secular humanism?
We here at the University of Minnesota have been having a bit
of a controversy lately, in the wake of David Noebel speaking
on our campus about secular humanism as a religion being
taught at state universities.
I sent this letter to our paper, the Minnesota Daily, today
and I'm looking for some feedback from other
In light of the controversy that has sprung up in the wake
of David Noebel's lecture on campus (Nov. 10), the Daily article
reporting on the event (Nov. 13) and the recent responses to the
University Atheists and Humanists' rebuttal (Nov. 16), I think a
few issues need to be clarified.
First of all, David Noebel's charge that the secular humanist
worldview is "tearing down the nation's values," is not only
malicious but erroneous, for the simple reason that nations do not
have values. People have values. The people of the United States
represent many diverse values, which all have legitimacy even if
the predominant values are Christian. Secular humanist values are
shared by many people in this country who, although they don't
call themselves humanists, also do not call themselves religious.
The crime of secular humanists, to people like Noebel, is that of
not worshiping correctly. The notion that values come only from
religion, or that lack of religion causes a lack of social
responsibility and criminal behavior, is also false. Statistics
consistently show that criminals are disproportionately religious.
Secondly, the idea that our public schools and government
institutions are being manipulated by secular humanists is so far-
fetched that it's a flat-out conspiracy theory. The people who
work in education and government are a cross-section of our populace,
mostly religious, and of those, mostly Christian. These are
people who follow their own faith, yet realize the danger of
religion and government being intertwined. They generally operate
from a secular position to maintain impartiality, but even so,
secularism is not secular humanism.
Those who have bothered to talk to a real, live secular
humanist probably know that we have trouble even getting people to
come to our organized events, let alone co-opt teachers and
politicians into a plot to impose humanism on the nation. Most
closet atheists and humanists are not eager to subject themselves
to derision at the hands of religious bigots.
Noebel's propaganda doesn't paint a picture of reality, but
instead uses scare tactics to make otherwise tolerant religious
people think that Christianity is under attack in this country.
This is, of course, nonsense; the U.S. has more churches than just
about any country in the world. Christianity permeates American
society, as those of use who are not religious are all too
painfully aware. Noebel and others point to the 'moral decay' of
American society and use secular humanism as a scapegoat. Our
group exists to fight this slander, which is systematic, malicious
and grossly misinformed, and we will not tolerate it.
Finally, this is not the place to argue whether secular
humanism is a religion. Much has been written on the topic, but
suffice it to say that we have good reasons for believing as we
do. To answer Patty Debelak (Nov. 20), science has shown the
likely origins of our world, and is rapidly showing that our
physical brain processes explain properties formerly attributable
only to a soul. The neo-Platonist model of the mind as immortal
and separable is not necessary or even remotely supportable.
Noebel would tell you that our positions are based on faith, just
as religious dogma is. However, to answer Adrian Teo (Nov. 21),
we don't presume that the physical world is "all that exists," but
rather that it is all we can be sure about. It doesn't take a
great leap of faith to believe in the physical universe, but to
believe in something beyond it certainly does.
All of these philosophical issues are academic (no pun
intended) to the issue of whether secular humanism is being
taught at the U. Even if secular humanism is a religion, I'd like
to know where it is being taught on campus. I doubt anyone (myself
included) could come up with even one example. "Thou shalt not
steal" is one of the ten commandments; if we teach kids not to
steal, does that mean we are teaching Christianity? Not in
the least. Similarly, teaching evolutionary theory in biology
classes is not teaching secular humanism.
It is possible, of course, that religion could have a
positive effect on the nation's ills. But if lack of religion
is not the cause, how can religion be the cure? Personally, I
believe another trend is responsible for so many of our social
problems -- the cult of irrationality. When people are told not
to trust their judgment, that they are naturally evil by nature,
and that intuition and feeling are to be our guides to action,
confusion results. People forsake responsibility for their
actions and accept that they are doomed to a life of sin. They
are discouraged from understandng science and technology, and that
might is right. How else can we explain why so many act on their
impulses to fight, rob, defraud, rape, etc., without regard for
the consequences? Skills in critical thinking are necessary to
survive and prosper in our society, and to work effectively in
government and business. As long as rationality is not highly
prized, our society and government will continue to suffer. I and
others like me think secular humanism's emphasis on rationality
and methodical problem-solving have the best hope for repairing
the damage done by the teaching of irrational ethics. I could be
wrong, however. After all, it's just my theory.
Secretary, University Atheists and Humanists
If you have access to the WWW, the letters and articles I have
referenced are available at:
Thanks for any and all opinions!
... "God never intended Christians to be fools." -- "Kato"
* Origin: "And furthermore, 'Don't call me brother.'" (1:124/9005)
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank