Critiquing the Atheist Humanist Manifesto - Some Personal Thoughts

The American Humanist Association has a manifesto which sums up the beliefs of many atheists today. The manifesto is short can be found here: . and at first glance many of its tents may seem plausible as realities that could exist in a society without God. But when we look at these claims from a philosophical perspective, say comparing them to the critiques of Materialism by Ortega y Gasset (see my previous posts on him), I would argue that these tenets show themselves as, in reality, impossible. 

Let me summarize these beliefs in a simple list: 

1) Nature is the self-existent prime reality.

2) Humans are the product of blind, evolutionary forces.

3)  Each person has inherent worth and dignity.

4) Truth is derived from scientific observation and rational analysis. It should be used to develop beneficial technology. All other expressions must ultimately be subject to rational analysis.

5) Humanism is "guided by reason, compassion, and experience," but values and ideals are always subject to change.

6) There's a duty to live ethical lives of "personal fulfillment," and to seek the "greater good of humanity."

7) Human values must take into account many factors of human and environmental wellbeing in order to avoid violence and suffering, and bring about a world where peace, justice, and opportunity are available for everyone.

8) Freedom and responsibility should be balanced in our lives, as well as when we participate in the democratic process.

9) We should tolerate differences insofar as those views are still "humane".

Incoherence of an Ethical System Derived from Materialism Reductionism

While many of these sentiments are nice, they are not logically consistent or even possible within the worldview that atheism embraces. Atheism is an explicit denial of the supernatural, or as they put it a life "without supernaturalism," and therefore by definition is a Materialist and Reductionist view of reality. In denying God's existence, they also would have to deny the reality of a spiritual soul, free will, and hold that all thought, love, and personality are simply brain functions. The problem with this is that, many of the tenets stated above are statements that presupposed the realities that they explicitly deny are real. For example,

1) If there is no free will, how can we practice "responsibility?" Responsibility implies that we had some conscious and free choice in our action. 

2) If human beings are just processes of blind material evolution from a self-existent universe, then why do human beings have intrinsic value? What about being an "accident" of material evolution endows a universal and eternal dignity to each individual? 

3) Why should we strive for justice for all? Why should the powerful not rule the weak? Why should we have compassion on others? Why should we eradicate suffering? All of those realities involve some people making sacrifices to their well-being to lift others up to a better life. How can we say there is a moral imperative to do this? Wouldn't we have to say something more along the lines of, "if you feel like helping others, then do it."?

4) If reason and science are brain functions like every other type of brain function, why should we think of science as ultimate truth? Why should we wield science in a way that benefits humanity? As Nietzsche pointed out, isn't rationality just a tool invented by the physically weak to master the physically dominant? Wouldn't truth be whatever the individual wants it to be? Power, for example? Nietzsche rightly pointed out that the Ubermensch should "name the truth and bless the good" for himself. 

5) What makes democracy a better political system than a dictatorship? If someone is powerful and is embracing who "they are" as a product of evolution, why is that bad, except maybe we end up on the side of the persecuted? 

Materialism only Provides Clear Value in Terms of Bodily Functions

As you can now see, within a worldview of Materialism, the only values that become clear are values for bodily survival. Anything, though, that goes beyond the necessity of survival of the self then ventures into a realm of complex values that science cannot understand because higher human values are not strictly equivalent to the experience of pleasure chemicals in the brain. 

A Materialist has to equate good ethical values for the simple experience of pleasure. Why, in a Materialist framework, should not the powerful majority enslave and take advantage of the weak minority? Why should not Utilitarianism rule? Why should we embrace realities that cause the self "suffering" for the good of others? Especially others that we may never meet or see again? Would an ideal world not have to be a future where some technology stimulates our brains to produce the maximal physical pleasure possible? It has become clear now that every statement about complex human value requires a more fundamental framework or philosophical system about questions that are not clearly answerable with material science. Humanism, then, is just one philosophy among many which cannot be proven and, to be honest, certainty takes more faith to believe in than Christianity does. In so many words, the Atheist Humanism Manifesto III tries to have its cake and eat it to. Most of the values they argue for cannot be grounded in their own worldview. 


  1. What secular humanists don’t say is that they assume that it is better to be good than bad, generous rather than selfish, but that is stolen from a higher philosophy, whether it be the ancient Greeks or the Christianity of the last two millennia. They simply may not appropriate for themselves the respectability than comes from philosophical value systems. If you’re a materialist it’s all about atoms and molecules. I’m afraid that NEVER works with the human being!


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