I Identify as Humanist

In terms of my view of how the world works:

I identify as Humanist
(But then so do many people of faith who also value humanity.
And obviously, in other terms I identify as a lot of other things too:
male, husband, father, grandfather, British, engineer, philosophical researcher, etc, etc, but let’s stick to the point about holding a worldview.
Identity is a whole other topic in its own right.

Does that make me an Atheist?
(Well kinda, maybe, probably, but that’s jumping the gun on a metaphysical question, below.)

As a Humanist, I’m also a Free-Thinker.
(Part of what used to be called the Free-Thought movement.)
By freedom of thought and expression we humans are able to understand the world and our place in it – our freedoms and responsibilities- by means of Reasoning unencumbered by dogmas, religious, rational or otherwise.

So I’m also a Secularist.
How we humans govern our affairs collectively, not just our individual reasoning in the world, should also be free from – or at least free to democratically question – any established body of teachings, however rationally benign. (Governance – literally cybernetics – is central here, and “the best kind of democratic government” is a whole other topic.)

Does that make me a Rationalist?
Not in the narrow sense that all our Reasoning be based on logical relationships – “ratios” – between objectively quantifiable values. I sometimes claim New Rationalist as a label for a more broadly defined reasoning that includes much wider palette of human values, but Humanism is itself a good label for that too.

So what about the Metaphysics?
I’m a Naturalist so I am essentially Non-Theist.  That is, all of that free-thinking reasoning about the world, and the place of humanity within it, is itself part of the natural world without appeal to any supernatural forces or agents beyond it. My world-view has no need of a supernatural, omniscient, omnipotent agent or being to explain it. I’m pretty certain about that – subject to as much free-thought reasoning as we can bring to it – but that doesn’t mean my world-view proves the non-existence of any god. So I’m not literally Atheist. Neither am I Anti-Theist, since Theists & Theologians are human too. I prefer to define myself in terms of what I’m for, not what I’m against, and there’s a lot to be gained from dialogue with those who think different. It also means I’m neither Agnostic nor Gnostic. I cannot be neutral about the metaphysics of such a naturalist world-view even if for most practical purposes metaphysics can be ignored. Not much is sacred in this world other than nature itself, of which humanity is a part – Sacred Naturalism (say?). A whole other topic.

And what about Science?
So, if we ignore the Metaphysics, for practical purposes, that Free-Thought reasoning looks a lot like Science. As a body of knowledge about the natural world, that established by Science is unbeatable, but as we get closer to the limits of what the methods of science can know, we cannot ignore our Metaphysics which cannot itself be science. In Sacred Naturalism, where reasoning about the Natural world involves human values beyond the narrowly Rational, there are aspects of nature that lie beyond objective scientific orthodoxy. These subjective, qualitative values and direct experiences, may be thought of as spiritual, sacred, even divine, but still entirely natural even if beyond orthodox science.

[The above essentially paraphrases “My Worldview” page.]


Post Note: The reason for the fresh re-statement?:


Post Notes:

Interesting follow-up post “Is God Sacred?” from AJ over at his “Staggering Implications” on the word we choose for “the sacred”. Noting that the common theme is developing into a movement. (See our exchange in the comments below.)

Also in stating the worldview above, the key topics that define the “What, Why and How do we Know?” agenda here on Psybertron are laid bare as “whole other topics”:

      • Identity & Identity Politics
      • Cybernetics & Democratic Government
      • Metaphysical Naturalism & Fundamental Computation


6 thoughts on “I Identify as Humanist”

  1. Pretty agreeable values. I’ve never been too fussed by the atheist label, preferring to characterise my beliefs positively, rather than by what they’re not.

  2. Funnily enough, that preference for “identifying according to what I’m for as opposed to what I’m against” is in the “My Worldview” version before I did this stripped down version. All summaries lose something 🙂

    I could maybe work it back in … thanks for spotting.

    (Minor edits made to accommodate that.
    (And after beating around the bush with “sacred” aspects of nature beyond scientific orthodoxy,
    I’ve actually named the “Sacred Naturalism” metaphysics

  3. When I google “sacred naturalism” i get a dot org page. Is this the same metaphysics you’re talking about?

  4. Ha. I doubt it, but there may be some common linguistic heritage (see endnote).
    For me it’s a synonym for “Natural Theology” – but theology frightens the horses 🙂

    Recently encouraged by the fact Karen Armstrong’s latest book is called “Sacred Nature”.

    Previously talked about Natural Theology / Sacred Naturalism here.
    Mentioned Sacred Naturalism a few times prior to that if you search Psybertron.org
    This is the most important post : https://www.psybertron.org/archives/15501

    And I outlined what I meant on Channel McGilchrist once or twice (I’ll dig these out below)

    QUOTE #1
    In the original post here I said:
    “As an atheist, physicalist science type (an engineer) myself, I’ve nevertheless been comfortable for quite some time with sacred as a term for the ineffable but entirely natural good beyond that part of nature amenable to empirical science. I’ve gotten to using natural theology or sacred naturalism for such a position, which probably makes me a Spinozan.”

    We could make an argument for the word “sacred” simply referring to the scarcity and fragility of that piece beyond (current, contingent) empirical science and the fact that it therefore deserves protection – for the time being – from the critical, analytic tools of orthodox science. (Room to flourish, establish an evolutionary foothold.)

    (As ever the romantic poets got there long before us with “we murder to dissect”.)
    END QUOTE #1

    QUOTE #2
    This sentence of Richard’s:
    “With a firm basis in the rational and intellectual, but with an openness to acknowledging its limitations and the existence of a “beyond” that is perceived to be a good, or something like having an intuitive conviction that there is indeed a good there, worth pursuing as a value or virtue.”

    Is a pretty good summary for me, one that avoids using the word sacred – or the word religious, or “god forbid” god 🙂 – in order not to frighten the scientistic horses.

    That which is “beyond” is the “intuitive conviction” – which is why of course we find it in our McGilchrist context. A right-brain view, rejected – misunderstood and ignored – by the left.

    Sam asked:
    “[M]aybe you could say how you got to such a position? Or why – to you – such views aren’t opposed?”

    The HOW is a 20 year journey, from being a fairly orthodox physical science engineering geek type, though I probably arrived at the intuitive position in the first year or two once I’d had the initial “aha!” moment that science was missing something about itself. Discovering WHAT that was, with a more secure philosophical foundation, has been the rest of the journey, evolving a consistent “metaphysics” – an epistemological ontology.

    As a self-consistent whole, there is no “opposition” between that part of “nature” explained by empirical science, and that part “beyond”. Still natural, a part of nature evolved like everything else, but “intuitive conviction” beyond the epistemological presumptions of science. Few in science would argue that it’s not contingent or incomplete. I wouldn’t reject scientists who might claim that contingent and epistemological boundary can always be pushed back to better describe and understand more of the natural world. But at any point in time, that “beyond” always exists, even if we and scientists struggle to find language for it.

    My journey and my metaphysics are written-up elsewhere in varying degrees of clarity, but I don’t need to “sell” that to you. It doesn’t change that fact that intuitive conviction beyond empirical science ALWAYS exists,

    … and is entirely natural

    … and has been described by philosophers (and philosophically-minded scientists) since long before natural philosophy became the science we know today. (Again a strong thread in Iain’s work.) Nothing new under the sun, in my work – values, virtues, etc to use Richard’s words.

    The trick is going to be NOT turning that gap beyond into a battleground, a turf-war between competing ideologies. It’s about cooperative dialogue and the language we use … which is where I came in 🙂
    END QUOTE #2

    Having had a look at SacredNaturalism.org I see it’s a project – psychological and ecological – formed from seeing the same gap, but more practical than metaphysical. I’ve latched on to “Sacred” since reading Stuart Kaufmann, and notice in the blog I was reading him alongside Haidt, so maybe subconsciously got the Sacred Naturalism construct from him – as the .org project says explicitly. “Nothing New Under The Sun” Eh?

  5. Thanks for such a full reply. I like the analogy of frightening the horses, but I wonder if the word “sacred” may have the same effect. For Armstrong undoubtedly, and for McGilchrist quite possibly, it has religious resonances.

    I have the impression that in your view, the source of sacredness resides in a humanist worldview that encompasses science and extends beyond it, perhaps to a different kind of perception or way of knowing, certainly of a qualitative character, perhaps involving morality or aesthetics. With science, we generally grant that our knowledge entails an appreciation of something “out there,” even if our appreciation is only through a model. If we also have a sense of the sacred that goes beyond this, the question for me is whether it relates to something “out there,” some quality inherent in nature, or whether its source is derived from human subjectivity.

    I suspect that for humanism, “the sacred” is something enlightened humans must bring to reality, as opposed to something sourced through traditional religions. This is in accordance with humanism’s origins in a project to emancipate us from religion, to make man truly the measure of the world. But there may be a false dichotomy here. Can we do without traditional religion, and still find something in the world that is greater than the human?

  6. Thanks AJ.
    Great comment and great final question.

    I’m already prepared for the fight for “sacred” – I guess that’s what these recent posts are working up to.

    It was Rabbi Sacks said that the result of this would be “religion by any other name” – ie it is essentially religious, but not like our experience of traditional religions.
    We need something like the UN to be “our” custodian of the relevant values – as it already is.


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