I’m finishing the second full week of working on the Understanding the Times revision and update. The revised first drafts are now complete for chapters one through three. Today I dig into revising the Secular Humanism section. All of the leading Secular Humanists have died but I have discovered that they reproduced. The new Secular Humanists call themselves Secularists, which is perfect for our purposes in this book. It was unlikely that Summit grads would have run into someone claiming to be a card-carrying Secular Humanist, but they’ll meet Secularists in practically every class they take.
My sources critiquing secularism include Charles Taylor, Hunter Baker, and a series of essays edited by Craig Calhoun at NYU (something is in the water at NYU right now — their top philosopher, Thomas Nagel, recently wrote a book rejecting materialism). On the other side are people I am just coming to know, such as Susan Jacoby, David Niose, and Jaques Berlinerblau.
In the chapter outlining the basics of the Christian worldview, I conclude by reflecting on how the Christian worldview views the other five worldviews we’ll examine: Islam, Secularism, Marxism, New Age, and Postmodernism. The more I write, the more convinced I am that science is a woefully inadequate means of knowing reality. Much of the Christian worldview chapter was spent explaining what science can tell us and what it can’t. I have three paragraphs to explain this at the conclusion of the chapter. Here’s how I’ve written them so far:
Secularism and Marxism are cousins. They both assume that it is bad manners and possibly dangerous to believe in God as revealed in the Bible, and they insist divine action is not needed for life’s existence. This is called naturalism. In making naturalism their basis, Secularism and Marxism reduce themselves to one reliable way of knowing: science.
Explaining all of reality is a burden far too heavy for science to carry. Even Julian Huxley [pictured above], one of the 20th century’s leading evolutionists, recognized the limited nature of the scientific method in Essays of a Humanist:
Science has removed the obscuring veil of mystery from many phenomena, much to the benefit of the human race: but it confronts us with a basic and universal mystery — the mystery of existence in general, and of the existence of mind in particular. Why does the world exist? Why is the world-stuff what it is? Why does it have mental or subjective aspects as well as material or objective ones? We do not know.
But even if science could go beyond the “how” and reveal to us why we exist the way we do, it has very little to say about things that make life worth living: we ponder, we laugh, we sing, we are capable of doing good, we feel guilt and sadness and empathy over our own wrong-doing and that of others, we create things, we reason our way to conclusions, and we can be moved deeply by experiences of beauty and craftsmanship.
Naturalists cannot account for these things but they depend on them, just as you and I do, for meaning in life. To describe them as secondary, derivative, or mere reflections of material reality is inadequate. As Lewis pointed out, we assume our thoughts are meaningful, which is not a reasonable assumption if they proceed from a random universe. For casting such a wide net, naturalism catches very little.