In the previous column, I described the world view called secular humanism, which includes ideas often shared with those holding religious beliefs. These shared views provide a basis for working in cooperation with each other on humanitarian projects. However, we do maintain different ideas about the nature of life.
Secular humanists do not accept the idea that there is one overarching meaning or purpose to life handed down by a deity. The universe does not need us to work toward some final goal or purpose. When asked about the meaning of life, secular humanists reply that it is the responsibility of each of us to find purpose and give sense to life by the choices we make and the actions we take.
What do secular humanists do to give their lives value? Mostly they seek opportunities to make life enjoyable and help them provide for their needs and those of their families. They also work to advance the well being of their fellow humans and preserve a society that acts to support the well being of all. Professions and occupations which require you to think of the needs of others, frequently draw the interest of secular humanists. Outside of work, secular humanists identify volunteer activities and group associations that also provide a means to advance human well being.
Some of those reading this may be puzzling over the idea that all sectors of life contain secular humanists. If that is true, why don’t you see or hear from them more often? The most direct answer is that secular humanists rarely proselytize for their beliefs. They are freethinkers who form opinions about religion based on reason, independently of tradition, authority, or established belief. They would like everyone to experience that same sense of freedom, but they don’t presume to have the right to convince everyone else. I am writing this piece to answer questions and encourage thinking not to convert people.
As freethinkers, secular humanists rely upon a toolbox of skills and a set of ideas that they can apply to understand the natural world. Since this is a large amount of material to sort through, it will take a while to do this and more than one column.
When I claim to know something new about the world and reality, the first question I would want you to ask is: “How do you know?” My response should be to identify evidence that we can both use to observe, measure, touch, taste, hear, etc.. If the evidence to support my claim, is not available to you, there is a problem. How can you verify what I am experiencing? Are there other physical aspects to my statement that would match what you would expect to see or feel if you had the same experience? If not, then it will be tough to share knowledge.
Secular humanists apply this kind of test to claims made by scientists, historians, politicians and, religion, and any other groups or individuals making claims of knowledge. Humanists apply our trust in those claims in proportion to the evidence offered. It is our epistemology, a fancy word about how we know things.