Secular Humanism/Part 2

By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. Paul Kurtz, and Dr. Norman Geisler; ©2005
Since the Supreme Court ruled that secular humanism is a religious belief, aren’t secularists trying to force their religious views on the rest of us by outlawing God from the public square?


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Secular Humanism – Part 2

Since the Supreme Court ruled that secular humanism is areligious belief, aren’t secularists trying to force their religiousviews on the rest of us by outlawing God from the public square?

John Ankerberg: We’re talking about Secular Humanism. My first guest tonight is Dr. Paul Kurtz, the man who drafted the “Humanist Manifesto II,” and also “A Secular Humanist Declaration.” He’s also the editor of the main Secular Humanist magazine in America entitled “Free Inquiry”. My second guest is Dr. Norman Geisler, an Orthodox Christian, who is the author of many books on philosophy and theology.

Now, we’ve been talking about Secular Humanism, and is there any rational justification for being a Humanist? We’ve been talking about the evidence for the origin of the universe and for the beginning of first life, as well as the development of life, and so on. And, obviously, Secular Humanists support Evolution—it’s right in the Manifestos.

Paul, I’d like to come to part of the Manifesto concerning education. You say in the “Secular Humanist Declaration” that, “The first principle of Democratic Secular Humanism is its commitment to free inquiry” —we’d all clap on that one. You say,

“We oppose any tyranny over the mind of man.” Okay? That’s arbitrary power— exercise of power. And “free inquiry requires that we tolerate diversity of opinion,” — we all like that—“and that we respect the rights of individuals to express their be­liefs, however unpopular they may be, without social or legal prohibition.” And then I find a little inconsistency, Paul, here in the Declaration, because a few pages over after you said those beautiful words…

Paul Kurtz: Yes, they were beautiful, weren’t they?

Ankerberg: But despite this statement, you say—this is the same Declaration, a couple of pages over, you reject the teaching of scientific facts that support Cre­ationism by this statement: “We deplore the efforts of 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 the academic freedom and to the integrity of the educational process.” Now, haven’t you violated your own Humanist principles where you just talked so beautifully about an open, free diversity of opinion? We can’t put laws on people. And all of a sudden you turn around a couple of pages later and you say, “But we don’t want any of those Fundamentalists bringing up some of those facts that Geisler was talking about last week.”

Kurtz: No, I don’t find a contradiction on that point, John. I think that the integrity of science, the freedom of scientific research is vital. This country is based upon science. I think that I have no objection to Creationist theories being taught in history of ideas courses, or history courses, or sociology courses in schools. But to impose them by political or legislative means, on science teachers in the science class­rooms and to insist that this biblical theory be taught side-by-side with the scientific theory—it seems to violate the most basic principle of science. And there has been this battle between religion and science going back to Galileo in which there have been great martyrs in the history of scientific thought. If scientific theorists, if science itself, if biologists themselves believed that the Creationist theories were useful, then by all means they should be taught.

Ankerberg: But how would a guy like [Dr. N. Chandra] Wickramasinghe—that’s a Buddhist, you know—slide his theories in “sideways,” if you can’t say anything about the fact that it may lead to Creation?

Kurtz: Well, Wickramasinghe is an astronomer, is he not? And he argues that— and it’s an interesting hypothesis—that organic beings may come from meteors from outer space onto planet Earth. Yes.

Ankerberg: What I want to know is, would you let him argue it? That is what I’m saying. You’re saying, “No.”

Kurtz: Well, I’m saying… I think the point is that there has been demand for equal time and that sounds fine.

Ankerberg: I think it is fine, isn’t it?

Kurtz: Okay. Okay. Now, astrology… you take astrology. There are more astrolo­gers in the United States than astronomers. I think something like 29 percent of the people in the United States believe in astrology.

Ankerberg: In France it’s even worse.

Kurtz: Now, should astrology be taught—compelled to be taught—in astronomy courses? It seems to me the answer is “No.” You undermine the whole basis of astronomy…

Ankerberg: But the fact is that the astrologists…

Kurtz: …and I think that our children need the best education that they can get, and you’re undermining the basis of biology and genetics by insisting by “political power” that this be taught in biology courses.

Ankerberg: Okay. Before I answer that…. I’m not the guest here. Geisler, why don’t you get in here and say something about that?

Norman Geisler: Well, Paul, bless his heart, just blew a lot of smoke in your face. What he said wasn’t true—it was all “straw man.” First of all, we’re not requir­ing the “biblical” view. It explicitly states in the Arkansas law that no “biblical” view can be taught. We’re requiring science be taught—scientific evidence for origins. Secondly, it was not equal time—that’s already been ruled out by law. It was bal­anced treatment, not equal time. Equal time would be practically impossible. And thirdly, we’re not trying to impose our views on him. It’s the Evolutionists that are trying to impose their view. In 1925 at the Scopes Trial, Clarence Darrow, the ACLU criminal lawyer who defended the Evolution view, said: “It is bigotry for public schools to teach only one theory of origin.” In 1981 in Arkansas—and I was a wit­ness there—the same ACLU argued, “It’s bigotry for public schools to teach two theories of origin.” Now, I came to a conclusion: Bigotry hasn’t changed—just the bigots have!

Kurtz: Well, but you’re assuming that the Creationist theory is a scientific theory, whereas biologists deny that. That’s a biblical theory. Your appeal is to the Bible when an issue comes up about, “When were dinosaurs extinct,” you say, “The Noachian Flood supports that.” So you’re really using the Bible and you’re saying this is scientific. This is merely a mask. Creationism is merely a mask for a religious doctrine. And what you have is a very basic notion of scientific freedom at stake in this country.

Geisler: But, Paul, you and I both have Ph.D.’s in philosophy. We’ve both taught philosophy. I’ve taught logic; you’ve taught logic. What you just said is a classic case of “special pleading.” You said, “Biologists don’t consider it science.” Evolutionary biologists don’t consider it science, but Creationist biologists do. You just engaged in special pleading.

Kurtz: Not at all. In fact, you’re an expert at special pleading and perhaps I’ll just take an example from you.

Geisler: Give me an example.

Kurtz: Because, I mean, if it were the case that the scientific biology journals thought that Creationism was a useful hypothesis in explaining the fossils that we find on the planet Earth, that would be another matter. But the biologists throughout the country, throughout the world, reject this nonsense…

Geisler: Evolutionary biologists throughout the country reject it. Creationist biologists throughout the country don’t.

Kurtz: There are very few Creationist biologists.

Geisler: Paul, there are hundreds of them.

Kurtz: There are very few mainline biologists…. There are tens and tens of thousands of biologists….

Geisler: Oh, so we decide truth by majority vote.

Kurtz: No, but you…

Geisler: Line them up and vote and see who is in the majority….

Kurtz: No, but you have certain standards of scientific investigation and if any­one with any point of view wants to impose it upon a science, this is a laughingstock of scientific inquiry.

Geisler: To say that a minority point of view cannot be taught because “I hold the majority point of view” is sheer bigotry. Humanists, in my opinion, are bigots, be­cause they want only their view to be taught in the public schools. And I think the Fundamentalists in 1925 were bigots because they wanted only their view. But I think you Humanists in 1985 are equally bigots because you want only your view taught.

Kurtz: On the contrary. I don’t think it involves bigotry at all. I think what it involves is the very basis of the scientific method or scientific inquiry…

Geisler: What is the basis?

Kurtz: …because any dissident minority in any field can determine by using political power and the power of a state that certain textbooks should be used, even if the people who teach those courses are opposed to that.

Geisler: The political power is in the hands of the Evolutionists. What we’re saying is that we ought to protect minority rights so that political power can’t squelch them.

Ankerberg: Let me jump in here, okay, and keep us going. Secular Humanists speak of a right to education. Again, going back to the Humanist Declaration, you state, “We believe that moral development should be cultivated in children and young adults; hence, it is the duty of public education to deal with these values.” The question is that when you have people like John Dumphey who says, “I am con­vinced” —he’s a Secular Humanist—“that the battle for humankind’s future must be waged and won in the public school classrooms by teachers who correctly perceive their role as the proselytizers of a new faith, a religion of humanity. The classroom must and will become an arena of conflict between the old and the new: the rotting corpse of Christianity together with all its adjacent evils and misery, and the new faith of Humanism.” It seems to me that some of the Secular Humanists are looking at the school classroom—the public school classroom—where we have millions of Christian parents who pay their taxes to support the schools, and what is taught… they’re looking at it like they’re going to convert those kids to a belief that the par­ents don’t want them to be converted to.

Kurtz: You know, I think that is a libel against public school teachers. The quota­tion you read from John Dumphey was a student who entered a contest, and they published an essay in the Humanist magazine. He does not speak for Humanists nor does he speak for educators in the country, and I disagree with him.

Ankerberg: Okay, let me give you one that does….

Kurtz: On the other hand, I think moral education ought to be taught in schools, I think it is being taught in the schools. You can’t have education without it. I think we want the best education for our students. I don’t think that the educational process should be either “pro” or “anti” religious either way.

Ankerberg: Okay. But isn’t bigotry defined as, “One who obstinately or intoler­antly is devoted to his own beliefs or opinions”? And, the Humanist Manifesto seems to be strictly against this. For example, you say, “The preciousness and dignity of the individual person is a central Humanist value. We reject all religious, ideological or moral codes that denigrate the individual, suppress freedom. We believe in the cultivation of feeling and love. And to enhance freedom and dignity the individual must experience a full range of civil liberties, including freedom of speech, the legal right of opposition to government policies, and religious liberty. We are committed to an open and democratic society. All persons should have a voice in developing the values and goals that determine their lives.”

Kurtz: Hear, Hear! Yes!

Ankerberg: Now let me finish this up. One of the men that signed that statement was Paul Blanshard—you’ve got it listed in the back of the book.

Kurtz: Yes.

Ankerberg: Blanshard says, though, “We have an obligation to expose and attack the world of religious miracles, magic, Bible worship, salvationism, heaven, hell and all mythical deities. We should be particularly specific and energetic in attacking such quack millennialists as Billy Graham and such embattled reactionar­ies as the Pope, because they represent the two greatest anti-Humanist aggregates in our society.” So it seems like we’ve got a bigot in the group here who says one thing in the Manifesto and something else in society.

Kurtz: Paul Blanshard was a congregational minister. He endorsed Humanist Manifesto II, as hundreds and indeed thousands of people. And surely I’m not going to defend everything that Paul Blanshard said. But he’s not talking about the class­room on that point, is he?

Ankerberg: He’s talking about society as a whole.

Kurtz: He’s talking about society as a whole. Okay, about that, it seems to me that if Christians and Orthodox people have a right to their point of view, then skep­tics and non-believers have a right to their point of view. In a free market of ideas— we’re not talking about the schools, now—in a free market of ideas…

Ankerberg: Why not the schools?

Kurtz: …pro and anti-religious points of view ought to contend.

Ankerberg: We always assumed that the schools were part of the free market.

Kurtz: Granted. But the schools… concerning the First Amendment to the Consti­tution, “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion or the free exercise thereof,” the schools are supposed to be neutral in regard to religion— pro or anti religion.

Ankerberg: But if Secular Humanism is a religion, defined by the Supreme Court, then you’re teaching your religion.

Kurtz: Do you accept everything the Supreme Court defines or does?

Ankerberg: Certainly don’t, but they sure got you on that one.

Kurtz: Do you accept them on the abortion, John?

Ankerberg: No I don’t, but…

Kurtz: Okay, so don’t quote the Supreme Court. I don’t accept the Supreme Court on that point either. I don’t think Secular Humanism is a religion.

Ankerberg: I won’t quote them, I’ll quote the Humanist Manifesto I, Okay? Hu­manist Manifesto I says that it is a religion. You, in your own magazine—you have your own boys—sixty-seven thousand of the Unitarians say that it is a religion.

Kurtz: Well, Humanism is not a dogma. There are wide differences among Humanists. There are as many Humanist positions as there are Humanists.

Ankerberg: So Paul Tillich’s theological definition of a person that believes, meaning ultimate commitment, you don’t have an ultimate commitment to Secular Humanism?

Kurtz: There are “religious” Secular Humanists. I’m a “Secular” Humanist my­self…

Ankerberg: But isn’t it your ultimate commitment, Paul?

Kurtz: I don’t think that Humanism is a religion. I think it’s a scientific, a philo­sophical, and an ethical position.

Ankerberg: Now, the question is, “Should we let you teach your religion or do we get a chance to at least get our views on the board, too?”

Kurtz: I don’t think that religion should be taught in the public schools. And I think the fact that one teaches modern literature, modern science exposes children to a wide range of ideas is not teaching religion.

Ankerberg: Dr. Geisler, what do you think?

Geisler: Well, some Humanists call themselves religious and some don’t. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that legally, they are recognized as a religion and can get conscientious draft status from it as the American Humanist Associa­tion did. Humanist Manifesto calls itself religion; Humanist Manifesto II implies also that it is a religion. The Supreme Court recognized it was a religion. It’s recognized by definition. I did my doctoral dissertation on this very topic: “What is religion?” It’s a commitment to something that has enduring value —John Dewey, who signed the Humanist Manifesto I thought it was a religion. He wrote a book called The Com­mon Faith. They’re just simply “copping out” when they say, “It’s not a religion.” Because it is a religion; it’s recognized as a religion; and the premises of Secular Humanism can be taught in the public schools, but the premises of Christianity can’t be. Now, I think we ought to be fair. If we’re going to be pluralistic and open, we ought to be able to teach the premises of both. I could suddenly say, “Hey, what I believe as an Orthodox Christian isn’t religious” and make the same kind of cop-out that he just did. And then say, “Just because I said it wasn’t religion, you can teach Creation, you can pray, you can read the Bible in the public schools.” He wouldn’t buy that, and I don’t buy what he said.

Kurtz: Well, to come back to the Supreme Court again. In the Torcaso vs.Watkins case in 1961, Torcaso was a Justice of the Peace. He did not want to swear on the Bible, and the Supreme Court said he did not. And it said that Bud­dhism, ethical culture, or Secular Humanism can function as a religion and that the right of conscience of belief and non-belief ought to be respected. The Supreme Court did not define Secular Humanism as a religion by that footnote. But on the other point, I don’t think that Secular Humanism as a religion is being taught in the schools. I think that is a libel against our millions of school teachers. I think what is being taught is modern literature, modern science, modern philosophy—the whole range of knowledge. And our students should learn that.

Ankerberg: Okay, let me back up and quote you, okay? Good source! “Secular Humanism: A Religion,” an article that you had in the “Free Inquiry.” You quote Paul Tillich and you say, “He introduced the term ‘ultimate concern’ to refer to this form of religiosity. And here he was referring to the human qualities of experiences and claimed that as religious Christians, Jews and Muslims may be devoted to their religious faith or creed, so Atheists, Marxists and Naturalists may have an equal devotion and dedication to theirs. This commitment may be called ‘religious’ if it expresses one’s whole response to life, to core attitudes and values.” That’s Paul Kurtz.

Kurtz: But you’re quoting me out of context, John.

Ankerberg: I read it right…

Kurtz: Out of context. I then went on to say, “However, if one used ‘religious’ in that way, then a vegetarian is religious” —anyone who is dedicated to any field.

Ankerberg: No. You didn’t have anybody speak back to you on that point.

Kurtz: Anyone who is dedicated to any field? Then you can’t teach anything in the schools. They may be devoted to literature with commitment, then it’s religious. But that seems to me to be nonsense. Now, Tillich is a Protestant theologian…

Ankerberg: But the thing is…. Can I take you up on your logic at that point? If you’re talking about a vegetarian, he can feel strongly about it and not be his ulti­mate commitment.

Kurtz: It could be his ultimate commitment. Do you know vegetarians like I know vegetarians? It could be his ultimate commitment.

Ankerberg: It could be. If it is, then it would apply, wouldn’t it?

Kurtz: Well, then, you see, if anything that anyone feels strongly about is a reli­gion, then nothing can be taught in the schools.

Geisler: That’s a good point, John. I agree with Paul here. Let me tell you why. Because it’s the same kind of illogic that they use on teaching Creation. They say, “Creation is believed by religious people, therefore Creation shouldn’t be taught in the public schools.” Doesn’t follow, does it? Just because a Humanist believes in vegetarianism or a Humanist believes in something else doesn’t mean that if you’re teaching those, you’re automatically teaching religion. Likewise, if you’re teaching Creationism, you’re not automatically teaching religion either. And yet you [to Kurtz] called it “a religion” earlier on by the same kind of logic that you just tried to refute John with.

Kurtz: Well, I think your point… on this point let me meet you halfway on this. It’s true…

Geisler: Are you going to back off?

Kurtz: No, I’m not going to back off, I’m going to move ahead. But from your point…

Geisler: How do you go halfway without “backing off”?

Kurtz: Well, what I’m going to say is that Humanists believe in Evolution, but so do other people. Most liberal Christians and Jews and others believe in Evolution in our country, too. It’s only a narrow Fundamentalist or literalist interpretation or Evan­gelical interpretation that does not. But if you go through the whole gambit of what’s taught in the schools… most people believe in science today. The fact that the Humanists believe in science doesn’t make science “Humanist” or doesn’t mean that everyone who teaches it is a Humanist. But now, in regard to Creationism; if I were convinced that Creationism was a meaningful hypothesis in science today, then I would say, “Yes, it ought to be examined.” I do teach Creationism in my classes in philosophy where it is appropriate. But it’s not appropriate to force it on the biologists in the country.

Geisler: But let me tell you why it is. Number one, M. B. Foster in 1934, in “Mind,” a prestigious English philosophy journal started by G. M. Orr—you’re familiar with— said that, “The origin of modern science is the doctrine of Creation.” Whitehead said that the concept of a Creator was the origin of modern science. Yockey says that. Gilkey says [that]. Every major historian of the philosophy of science agrees that the history of modern science would not have originated without the doctrine of a Creator and Creation. Secondly, from 1620 to 1860, every one of the major scien­tists, with few exceptions, believed in a Creator and Creation. Now, you’re telling me that what was the origin of modern science and that what scientists believed for 240 years, what thousands of scientists still believe today, isn’t science. You’re like the black ant on the anthill looking at the brown ant and saying, “You’re not an ant and that’s not an anthill!”

Kurtz: On the contrary, Norman. Science began when the scientists rejected authority. When he rejected appeals to mere revelation. When he said that belief should be based upon evidence in the laboratory. Science can only begin when you move beyond faith. So it was when scientists moved beyond their purely religious commitment that the door was open to inquiry. Now, it’s true that many scientists are believers and many scientists are not believers. And it’s true that historically many scientists did believe in Creation. But we’re going beyond that. We’re talking about the 20th Century, in which that’s not a meaningful hypothesis in the life sciences.

Ankerberg: You know, but I certainly liked the words that you had in the Mani­festo. I think you ought to just add a few of these paragraphs that you want freedom to teach your thought. And you don’t want freedom for all thoughts, you want freedom to teach your thought. Let me give you a quote from Dr. Pierce at Harvard, who addressed 2,000 teachers in Denver, and said this: “Every child in America who enters school at the age of five is mentally ill, because he comes to school with allegiance toward our elected officials, toward our founding fathers, toward our institutions, toward the preservation of this form of government—patriotism, nation­alism, sovereignty. All of that proves that children are sick, because the truly ‘well’ individual is one who has rejected all of those things and is what I would call the true international child of the future.” Do you agree with that?

Kurtz: No, I don’t agree with that.

Ankerberg: I’m glad to hear that.

Kurtz: It’s really… you quote people… and, “Do I agree with that?” I’ve never heard of that man. I don’t know that he’s a Humanist. I don’t agree with that at all. But I do believe in the freedom…

Ankerberg: It seems like that it’s in line with the Humanist Manifesto.

Kurtz: I do believe in freedom and I believe in the open market of ideas, and I believe in the clash of ideas…

Geisler: Except for Creation!

Kurtz: …but also I don’t want to oppose—because of a long battle—I do not want to impose upon free scientific investigation. I think that’s what’s happening.

Geisler: Well, you’re imposing Evolution on people. The Gallup Poll shows that almost two-thirds of Americans believe in Creation. In an NBC poll in 1981 in No­vember, just before the Arkansas Trial, showed that 76 percent of Americans wanted both views to be taught. You’re saying 76 percent of Americans wanted it taught, two-thirds of Americans believe in Creation, the early scientists believed in it—it was the basis for modern science. But “I say, and my buddies say, ‘It’s not science, therefore you can’t teach it.’” That’s bigotry! Let’s face it, Paul.

Kurtz: It’s not bigotry, Norman. You’re interpreting it as bigotry because it is contrary to your idea.

Ankerberg: Okay, I need a 30-second statement from both here. Paul, go ahead.

Kurtz: Well, I think that what is at issue is freedom of scientific research, the best education for our children, the need to oppose any effort from outside the classroom or outside science to impose a doctrinaire dogma upon it.

Geisler: I agree with that 100 percent, except that he’s inconsistent in that he’s saying, “Freedom of ideas, as long as they’re Humanist ideas; freedom of ideas as long as they’re Evolutionist ideas. But if it’s anything that is opposing my Humanism, or Evolution, I’m sorry, you’re not free.”

Ankerberg: Okay, we’re going to continue this next week.

Read Part 3

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