What is Secular Humanism?

Confused Woman

What is Secular Humanism?

Many believers in God—theists—have commented about Secular Humanism. Josh McDowell:

One of the most organized, most challenging and most clearly non-Christian philosophies of today is secular humanism. It is ably represented and defended by a core of prominent scientists and philosophers at the forefront of new scientific and philosophical thought. Secular humanism has its own meetings, its own “clergy” of spokesmen, its own “creed” called the Humanist Manifesto, and its own goals toward which it desires all of humanity to work. Because of its cohesive world view and strong threat to biblical Christianity, it needs to be examined. (Josh McDowell and Don Stewart, Handbook of Today’s Religions (San Bernardino, CA: Here’s Life Publishers, 1983), p. 259).

James Dobson and Gary Bauer, two well-known social conservatives, said

Nothing short of a great Civil War of Values rages today throughout North America. Two sides with vastly differing and incompatible worldviews are locked in a bitter conflict that permeates every level of society. (James C. Dobson and Gary L. Bauer, Children at Risk: The Battle for the Hearts and Minds of Our Kids (Dallas, TX: Word, 1990), p. 19, quoted in David A. Noebel, Understanding the Times (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1991), p. 7.

Norman Geisler, a well-known Christian apologist, wrote

Secular humanism presents one of the greatest threats to the survival of Christianity in the world today. It is for this reason that a Christian should carefully study its basic beliefs and scrutinize their adequacy. (Normal L. Geisler, Is Man the Measure? (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Bok House, 1983), pp. 7-8).

Why would these theists speak of Secular Humanism in this manner? Why is Secular Humanism so dangerous to the Christian worldview? Over the next few weeks, we’ll be answering those questions, and their answers will become obvious as we explore Secular Humanism in light of Scripture. Tonight, we want to begin our exploration of Secular Humanism by looking at what Secular Humanism is.

What Do Secular Humanists Say about Secular Humanism?

H. J. Blackham said, “Humanism is a concept of man focused upon a programme for humanity.” (H. J. Blackham, “A Definition of Humanism,” in The Humanist Alternative: Some Definitions of Humanism, ed. Paul Kurtz (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1973), 35-37). In other words, Blackham is saying that humanism is focused on man.

Corliss Lamont, a well-known Secular Humanist, defined humanism as follows:

To define twentieth-century humanism briefly, I would say that it is a philosophy of joyous service for the greater good of all humanity in this natural world and advocating the methods of reason, science, and democracy. (Corliss Lamont, The Philosophy of Humanism 6th ed. (New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing, 1982), p. 12).

Notice again in that quotation that humanism is focused on man. Hence, the name “humanism”: that which focuses on man.

Paul Kurtz, probably the most well-known humanist today, said

The key message of humanism is not that humanists are nonbelievers in theistic religion—atheists, agnostics, or skeptics—but that we are believers, for we believe deeply in the potentialities of human beings to achieve the good life. Indeed, we wish to apply the virtues and principles of humanist ethics to enhance the human condition. (Paul Kurtz, “When Should We Speak Out? (Secular Humanism and Politics),” Free Inquiry Summer 2003, v. 23).

Secular humanists believe very simply that the human creature aspect of Christianity should be divorced from its religious beginnings and considered a major aspect of personal and social-political relationships. They suggest that making decisions on the basis of some supernatural force may lead to destructive irrationality. They believe the scientific method should not only be applied to technology but to the very nature of human relationships. They are strongly committed to the democratic, pluralistic/humanistic, secular society in the tradition of Jefferson. Many are pacifists who, like Jesus, are prepared to turn the other cheek and to eschew all forms of violence. They also believe with Einstein that genuine religiosity does not involve blind faith, fear of life and fear of death, but a search for rational knowledge. (Robert Primack and David Aspy, “The Roots of Humanism.” Educational Leadership, p. 266).

What are the Main Points of Humanism?

Paul Kurtz wrote A Secular Humanist Declaration which was signed by 58 prominent scholars and writers (Paul Kurtz, A Secular Humanist Declaration (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1980).

In that declaration, Kurtz gave the following ten principles of Secular Humanism:

One: Free Inquiry: The first principle of democratic secular humanism is its commitment to free inquiry. We oppose any tyranny over the mind of man, any efforts by ecclesiastical, political, ideological, or social institutions to shackle free thought.”

Two: Separation of Church and State:

  • “Any effort to impose an exclusive conception of Truth, Piety, Virtue, or Justice upon the whle of society is a violation of free inquiry.”
  • “Similarly, church properties should share in the burden of public revenues and should not be exempt from taxation.” In other words, part of the contribution we collect should go to the government.

Three: The Ideal of Freedom: “As democratic secularist, we consistently defend the ideal of freedom, not only freedom of conscience and belief from those ecclesiastical, political, and economic interests that seek to repress them, but genuine political liberty, democratic decision-making based upon majority rule, and respect for minority rights and the rule of law. . . . We are for the defense of basic human rights, including the right to protect life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Four: Ethics Based on Critical Intelligence:

  • “Indeed, ethics was developed as a branch of human knowledge long before religionists proclaimed their moral systems based upon divine authority.”
  • “For secular humanists, ethical conduct is, or should be, judged by critical reason, and their goal is to develop autonomous and responsible individuals, capable of making their own choices in life, based upon an understanding of human behavior.”
  • “Secular humanist ethics maintains that it is possible for human beings to lead meaningful and wholesome lives for themselves and in service to their fellow human begins without the need of religious commandments or the benefit of clergy.”

Five: Moral Education:

  • “We do not believe that any particular sect can claim important values as their exclusive property; hence it is the duty of public education to deal with these values.”
  • “Although children should learn about the history of religious moral practices, these young minds should not be indoctrinated in a faith before they are mature enough to evaluate the merits for themselves.”

Sex: Religious Skepticism:

  • “As secular humanists, we are generally skeptical about supernatural claims.”
  • “while religions have no doubt offered comfort to the bereaved and dying by holding forth the promise of an immortal life, they have also aroused morbid fear and dread. We have found no convincing evidence that there is a separable ‘soul’ or that it exists before birth or survives death. We must therefore conclude that ethical life can be lived without the illusions of immortality or reincarnation.”

Seven: Reason:

  • “We are committed to the uses of the rational methods of inquiry, logic, and evidence in developing knowledge and testing claims to truth.”
  • “Although not so naïve as to believe that reason and science can easily solve all human problems, we nonetheless contend that they can make a major contribution to human knowledge and can be of benefit to humankind. We know of no better substitute for the cultivation of human intelligence.”

Eight: Science and Technology: “We believe the scientific method, though imperfect, is still the most reliable way of understanding the world. Hence, we look to the natural, biological, social, and behavioral sciences for knowledge of the universe and man’s place within it.”

Nine: Evolution:

  • “Although the theory of evolution cannot be said to have reached its final formulation, or to be an infallible principle of science, it is nonetheless supported impressively by the findings of many sciences. There may be some significant differences among scientists concerning the mechanics of evolution; yet the evolution of the species is supported so strongly by the weight of evidence that it is difficult to reject it.”
  • “We deplore the efforts by fundamentalists (especially in the United States) to invade the science classrooms, requiring that creationist theory be taught to students and requiring that it be included in biology textbooks. This is a serious threat both to academic freedom and to the integrity of the educational process.”

Ten: Education:

  • “In our view, education should be the essential method of building humane, free, and democratic societies.”
  • “There is a broader task that all those who believe in democratic secular humanist values will recognize, namely, the need to embark upon a long-term program of public education and enlightenment concerning the relevance of the secular outlook to the human condition.”

What Should We Christians Say about Secular Humanism?

During the next several weeks, we will take each of those ten points we just enumerated and explore them in light of Scripture.

However, there are some important considerations we need to cover tonight.

According to Secular Humanism, the goal of life is to make human life on this earth better. According to Scripture, the goal of life is to honor God. “Now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deut 10:12). “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Eccl 12:13). Man’s whole being is not centered on himself, it’s not even centered on making this world better for others; man’s whole being is centered on honoring God [fearing him] and keeping God’s commandments.

The scientific method the Secular Humanists to value came about as a result of Christianity. Contrary to other religions, Christianity established conditions under which scientific investigation could flourish (Charles Colson, How Now Shall We Live? With Nancy Pearcey (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1999).. Those beliefs are:

A belief that the physical world is real, not an illusion.

Many Eastern religions hold that the physical world is nothing but an illusion; what we see only appears to be. Christianity, on the other hand, teaches that this world really exists; therefore, it can be studied.

A belief that nature is good but not divine.

Many pagan cultures hold that the physical world is real, but that the physical world is the abode of the gods. Hence, trees, rocks, birds, and the like are divine, and to study them would be irreverent.

Christianity, on the other hand, teaches that this world is good (it is therefore worthy of study) but not divine. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1). The world is good because God made it, and it is not divine, for the God who made the world is outside of the world.

Nature is orderly and predictable.

No other religion has considered there to be laws governing nature. But Christianity teaches that God is a Law-Giver, and many early scientists believed that the world operated by laws they could discover because God was seen as a Law-Giver.

The ethics espoused by Secular Humanists are anything but godly. They claim that ethics developed as a branch of philosophy (it is one of the major branches of philosophy) prior to any claim of divine sanction for ethical behavior. Where is the proof?

They also claim that man should use his reason to determine what is right and wrong. You know that ethics cannot be determined by reason: “I know, O LORD, that a man’s life is not his own; it is not for man to direct his steps” (Jer 10:23). Ethics flow from God’s character: “Just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy’” (1 Pet 1:15-16).

The education Secular Humanists would give our children sends chill up my spine. They do not want children indoctrinated in any religious system, but they are more than willing to indoctrinate our children in their belief system through the public schools!

Moral education does not belong to the public schools; it belongs to the parents. Since God has largely been removed from the classroom, to what standard(s) can educators point?

Parents have no greater responsibility than training their children in righteousness. Deuteronomy 6:6-7. Ephesians 6:4. To Timothy Paul wrote, “From infancy you have known the holy Scriptures which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 3:15). How could Timothy know the Scriptures from infancy if he weren’t trained by his parents (we know that it was his mother and grandmother who trained him)? Fathers, let us not abandon the obligation we have in our homes to train our children!

Secular Humanists want to shove evolution down the throats of our children, while they keep Creation out. If Secular Humanists value reason and investigation so much, what are they afraid of if evolution and Creation are taught fairly side by side? I’ll put the evidence for Creation up against the evidence for evolution any day.

Scripture teaches that man is made in God’s image, not the result of random chance. “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27). “From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth” (Acts 17:26).

As will be made clear in a future lesson, if we hold that man is nothing more than molecules which randomly came together, we have no reason to treat human life as valuable. Why not have abortions? Why condemn the atrocities of Hitler? Why be opposed to murder? Why be opposed to euthanasia?


In the coming weeks, we’ll explore the various nuances of Secular Humanism and ways to confront it.

We are in a battle for the hearts and minds of our children, and if we are not careful, we will lose the battle. Let us determine to engage in this warfare, and let us fight for our children and for our God!

Do you need to come tonight and become a warrior in the Lord’s army? If you need to come, why not come as we stand and sing?

This sermon was originally preached by Dr. Justin Imel, Sr., at the Alum Creek church of Christ in Alum Creek, West Virginia.

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