Traditional Religion is Flawed, but so is Secular Humanism
Amidst all of the clashes of worldviews that we observe in our global society, we can see that the world is suffering from a deep philosophical crisis, and we need a new approach to dealing with this. There are many ways of classifying and differentiating the most popular worldviews, and this allows us to see where people tend to agree and disagree on the most basic questions of life. We can seize upon the main points of disagreement among people, and we can identify these as ultimately the most significant causes of societal tension and unnecessary conflict.
People who hold these divergent worldviews also often have outrageously different opinions and this makes it very difficult to form constructive dialog between such groups. If we want to alleviate this tension and work mutual understanding, we need to set aside the notion that we have all of the answers. This is not to say that all worldviews should be treated as if they are equally valid nor that they are equally invalid. Sure, some worldviews would have to be more accurate and more representative of reality than others, and thus we can say that some are more true than others and that some are just largely false, but we all also need to accept that none of us really has the full truth. There is no problem with us having a high degree of certainty about the great questions of life, and thus we don’t have to pretend like we know nothing about the world, but we do need to maintain some room for doubt.
In an earlier post, I undertook a high-level survey of the most popular worldviews among humans throughout the world, including those in the category of faith-based religions and also naturalistic worldviews such as secular humanism, and this seemed to show that each of them has some inherent flaws. It doesn’t seem that any of the worldviews that enjoys popular support is both internally consistent and also provides sufficient and reasonable answers to the most important questions of life. There are internal flaws within both traditional religion and also with the most common formulation of secular humanism, and it is important for us to recognize why this is the case and for us to consequently recognize that we know less about the world than we might have thought.
Although the religious faithful quite often like to believe that they have the answers to the most important questions of life coming from their so-called holy book, the truth is that they do not, and this is causing big problems for the world. Any worldview that is based primarily on faith is antithetical to reason and evidence and would be incompatible with the findings of modern science. Any worldview that does not embrace modern science will lead many followers to be hostile and suspicious of the findings and recommendations of experts that our society dearly needs this day and age. This is not an attack on religion in general since some contemporary religious communities are embracing science and are finding ways for faith and science to coexists. There are, indeed, variations of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and Hinduism that encourage open-mindedness, acceptance of modern science, and coexistence with followers of other religious traditions. The blind faith that many religious communities often encourage is, however, a serious concern for our global civilization.
The most common secular worldviews also have problems. Any worldview that only accepts the existence of the physical and material world that is known from objective science would inevitably leave out important areas of life, such as lived conscious experience. Since our firsthand experience is the very basis for our moral convictions, reducing this to the physical and material is quite problematic. The answer to the question of what is right and what is wrong needs to be treated with special significance, not reduced to brain chemicals, neurology, and evolutionary psychology, as many secular humanists would have it. Steven Pinker says that there doesn’t need to be anything nonphysical about morality in order to motivate people to gradually decrease violence and suffering in our global society. He gives many reasons for this trend, including education, reason, technology, overarching governmental control, peaceful commerce, etc. But if we continue with this naturalistic and humanistic worldview as the primary socio-cultural driver of pacifism, we will fail to make significant progress in the Twenty First Century. This worldview is fundamentally flawed in what it figures to be the foundation of universal morality because there is simply no coherent way for this to derive from the physical/material world.
This shortcoming is very significant because this question of how morality is related to personal experience is a primary motivating factor for many people. In many instances, those who don’t believe that there is a genuine connection between these two will lack meaning and purpose in their life and they won’t feel any significant connection to the greater world. This can then lead to self-destructive, pathological, and anti-social behavior.
Because of this fundamental flaw, naturalism and humanism will not resonate with enough people who are either deeply religious or are blinded by some form of identity politics and neo-fascism. We need to find a more enlightened worldview in order to be in a position to handle the challenges of our time and also those that we will be faced with in the coming decades. If we rely on naturalism and humanism as our primary intellectual tools, we will likely fail to make additional progress in our efforts to decrease violence, poverty, and suffering. More likely, the world will either stagnate or perhaps even get more violent, at least for the foreseeable future.
What are your thoughts on this? Please use the comments feature to join the conversation.