What’s the relationship between the labels (humanist, skeptic, freethinker, atheist etc)?
Posted: 12 August 2010 01:11 AM   [ Ignore ]
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I’ve often heard it said that humanism and atheism are not the same thing, that humanism is a philosophy that encompasses atheism, but that atheists aren’t necessarily humanists. I guess the same goes for freethought and skepticism. These are ways of thinking, and whereas secular humanists are freethinkers and skeptics, freethinkers and skeptics are not necessarily secular humanists.

However, in practice, all of these terms seem to be used as synonymes. Here, for instance, it is written as “Now, in the past, the movement that we generally call humanism or skepticism…”. Here is another example of this: “Parenthetically, I find it troubling that most atheists, agnostics, skeptics, free thinkers, humanists and secular humanists are liberal. The reason I find this troubling is not because I am not a liberal (although as noted above, I agree with liberals on many issues), but because most people think that the skeptical/humanist movement is (or should be) politically neutral. If it were, there would be roughly a 50/50 split of liberals and conservatives. But it isn’t, and I think that’s a problem.”. Though not everyone agree, and here is is stated that among other things, skepticism isn’t humanism (even though many skeptics might be humanists). It is also noteworthy that there are a few atheists who clearly declare that they are not humanists, despite being part of such circles, so to speak.

Yet others claim that humanism is a a predominant, though implicit, worldview among educated people in the Western world today.

Sometimes it seems that humanist is just a new label that American atheists use, as atheism has a poor reputation in the USA. Here is it said that friendly skeptics have claimed a new label.

One can also note that the label “Bright” has been criticized for being unnecessary, as the label “secukar humanist” already covers what Bright covers.

So I’m a little confused as to the relationship between all of these labels? Are they, practically speaking, synonymes for people who prefer a scientific, evidence-based worldview, or are they not? How do you view their relationship? Is there even one correct answer to this question?

I must say that Barry’s run on excommunication in the thread I linked to was very off-turning, so to speak, but it seems not to be shared by the majority of people here, whose humanism is, in his own words, a “big tent”.

Here in Sweden, the Humanist Association is mainly concerned with church-state separation, freedom from religious oppression and a secular society. Its chairman stated that if religion globally was like the Church of Sweden (very, very liberal), the global Humanist movement would be unnecessary. Would you on this board agree with his assessment or not?

In addition, I’d like to ask what the CFI means by “humanist values”.

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Posted: 12 August 2010 03:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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There is no relationship between labels. There’s no “there” there.

If you carefully define various ideas, then you can analyze their relationships. But the question, as posed, merely leads to another round of the endless battles we tend to get mired in, in which people fight over what the words mean.

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I cannot in good conscience support CFI under the current leadership. I am here in dissent and in support of a Humanism that honors and respects everyone.

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Posted: 12 August 2010 04:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Irmin - 12 August 2010 01:11 AM

Sometimes it seems that humanist is just a new label that American atheists use, as atheism has a poor reputation in the USA. Here is it said that friendly skeptics have claimed a new label.

One can also note that the label “Bright” has been criticized for being unnecessary, as the label “secukar humanist” already covers what Bright covers.

So I’m a little confused as to the relationship between all of these labels? Are they, practically speaking, synonymes for people who prefer a scientific, evidence-based worldview, or are they not? How do you view their relationship? Is there even one correct answer to this question?

I doubt there is one right answer to your questions, because it seems each person defines the terms in slightly different ways. Roughly speaking, “humanism” is an ethical stance that promotes this life over some idea of “the next life”, and that promotes secular interests over religious ones. Historically, humanism began as a turn towards classical ideals that centered around the human, as opposed to the ideals of the Bible and the church, in the Renaissance.

Skepticism can mean virtually anything, although in the present context it means what I would term “scientific skepticism”, or the epistemological notion that consensus science is the best route towards knowledge, and that generally, following evidence and reason is the only way you can learn anything concrete about the world.

Atheism is a very difficult thing to define, as is freethinker. I define atheism simply as the belief that an omnicompetent God (one who is all knowing, all powerful and perfectly good) does not exist.

As you can clearly see, all of these labels are related, and they do tend to be found among the same group of people. (Atheists tend to be skeptics, tend to be humanists), at least in the contemporary western world.

Irmin - 12 August 2010 01:11 AM

Here in Sweden, the Humanist Association is mainly concerned with church-state separation, freedom from religious oppression and a secular society. Its chairman stated that if religion globally was like the Church of Sweden (very, very liberal), the global Humanist movement would be unnecessary. Would you on this board agree with his assessment or not?

I recall Richard Dawkins saying something very similar. That sounds reasonable to me, although of course the skeptical movement would still be very necessary even in a largely secular world of free liberal religion.

Irmin - 12 August 2010 01:11 AM

In addition, I’d like to ask what the CFI means by “humanist values”.

That’s relatively easy to answer. You can find a lot about that HERE and HERE.

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Posted: 12 August 2010 01:27 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Good one Doug.

This is just my 2 cents.

Atheism is a common word.  I’ll bet that a religious person thought of it, and meant to do the atheists no favors.  It is very biased word, bias towards theism, just like non-smoker is biased towards smoking tobacco.  Do you without a cigarette really think of yourself as a non-smoker, a person lacking a cigarette, a deficient person who is lacking the normal accessory of a cigarette; or instead are you just a normal person living how you were born, living without tobacco?  Non-smoker assumes that smoking is normal and correct, and the person without couldn’t be called normal but instead they are non-smokers.  In the same line of thought, are the skeptics non-theists, or atheists, deficient in the blessings from some gods?  I see people varying its meaning from the extreme of living without belief in any gods, to merely living without religious practices (ceremonies, prayers), and more varieties than that.  Varying because it is just a common word, and they are normally vague.  I just don’t have any attraction to that word.

Skepticism, practically, I think of as a challenge.  Return to your childhood attitude.  Approach each topic like a child would, innocent, wide-eyed, curious.  Learn each topic anew, keeping your past ideas with you, but open to learning new and relevant information.  Compare the new to the old, willing to doubt your own ideas.  At their best a skeptic is willing to discard their own ideas when better ones come along.  I think that skepticism is a practice, where atheism can be a (lack of a) practice or a (lack of a) belief.  Skepticism is a process broadly applicable, atheism is a conclusion focused on religion.

Free Thinker I don’t know the history of well enough to comment.  Susan Jacoby wrote “Freethinkers” about that.

Humanism is a formal philosophy, the word created by professionals, as I understand.  It is not common, it is instead a technical term, these tend to be more specific.  Humanism has assumptions (Use humanity and the natural world as our source of knowledge, rather than gods and the supernatural world.), using empiricism Humanism leads to some conclusions (monism, one life to live and that’s all that we really need, science is a valid source of knowledge, goodness without gods, all humanity is one people, humanity not country, etc.).  These can be believed in, as can any philosophy, belief is just how the brain works.  Or Humanism can be seen as some rules to obey, but I doubt that anyone really feels obligated towards Humanism, or any philosophy.

I hope that my ideas help, I hope that people understand.

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Posted: 12 August 2010 08:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Irmin,

From what I gather, atheists dont beleive in god with the same closed minded dogmatic bias as religious people have in believing in god, they arent free thinkers. If they arent going to be religious, (and they shouldnt be) then they should be agnostic, because they dont know that there isnt a god. Free thinkers and agnostics are skeptics, but just a little bit. It seems that a “skeptic” is pretty much the classic old man sitting around saying that everything is messed up, stupid, and going down hill, or luddites in other words. 

Although I think that free thinking is one of the best categories to use, theyve incorporated a bit of perversion in to what free thinking needs to be. They support the Unitarian Universalists, and as Spinoza says, they say that God and Nature are the same thing. That there is no god per se, but that God is nature. Thats misleading and unnecessary though. Thats like saying, “Its not that there is no easter bunny, the easter bunny is real, it is a chicken, they are one and the same thing.” No, the easter bun was a widely perpetuated well meaning lie, and the chicken was always a chicken and was always the only one that laid the eggs.

PLaClair - 12 August 2010 03:17 AM

There is no relationship between labels. There’s no “there” there.

If you carefully define various ideas, then you can analyze their relationships. But the question, as posed, merely leads to another round of the endless battles we tend to get mired in, in which people fight over what the words mean.

Ive seen this notion expressed before in many forums, but what this doesnt seem to take into account is that as you can see, people like me and Irmin havent had this discussion yet. If this is a semi closed club of sorts then I could see the point, but if this forum is open to the world to discuss things then I would hope for and expect the common discussions to go on many times. Everybody has to go through the rounds to get caught up.

I understand the instinct to say “no not again…” but just ignore that topic. There must be tons of topics that you dont read and keep up with. Just dont read the ones youve already debated into the ground.

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Posted: 12 August 2010 09:10 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Quoting Eric:

From what I gather, atheists dont beleive in god with the same closed minded dogmatic bias as religious people have in believing in god,

Wrong.  I’m an atheist, and I realize I have no proof of the lack of existence of a god.  However, no one has been able to demonstrate any phenomena which points to the existence of such a being.  By Occam’s Razor, I have to ignore complications which don’t contribute.  I see no evidence that any god has any effect on my life, so I have to ignore the theory as an unneccessary complication.

Occam

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Posted: 12 August 2010 09:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Eric Portal - 12 August 2010 08:55 PM

Irmin,

From what I gather, atheists dont beleive in god with the same closed minded dogmatic bias as religious people have in believing in god, they arent free thinkers. If they arent going to be religious, (and they shouldnt be) then they should be agnostic, because they dont know that there isnt a god. Free thinkers and agnostics are skeptics, but just a little bit. It seems that a “skeptic” is pretty much the classic old man sitting around saying that everything is messed up, stupid, and going down hill, or luddites in other words. 

You are gathering incorrectly! As an atheist, I don’t believe in any sort of deity or supreme being because I see no evidence for it. Most atheists I know would reconsider if presented with proof. As one person has said, “gods know what kind of evidence I need to be convinced of their existence…and I’m still waiting.”
Atheism and agnosticism are not incompatible, you can be an agnostic atheist, that is: I don’t believe there is a god, but I cannot be 100% sure.

Skepticism is a method of accepting, rejecting or suspending judgment on new information that requires the new information to be well supported by evidence (wikipedia). In modern usage, “Luddite” is a term describing those opposed to industrialization, automation, computerization or new technologies in general(wikipedia). A skeptic is about as far from a Luddite as you can get.

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Posted: 13 August 2010 01:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Thanks for the replies everyone! Clearly there seems to be not “correct” answers. It seems that to some, humanism (or secular humanism) is just a synonyme for rationalist, skeptic or freethinker, for others a focus on this life rather than on some afterlife, yet for others a mere catch-all term (”“Bright” is unnecessary. What’s a Bright that a secular humanist is not?”). And other variants.

Though I must say that it confuses me that those three atheist sites I linked to distance themselves from humanism, despite clearly being on the same page so to speak, as that of the CFI. That’s also confusing if humanism, as Andrew Copson wrote, is a predominant, though unacknowledged, worldview in the Western world today.

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Posted: 13 August 2010 02:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Humanism is separate from a belief in a god. It is a life philosophy, it says nothing about a belief in a god. You can be an Atheist humanist, an Agnostic humanist or a Theist humanist. Or you can be an Atheist, Agnostic or Theist and NOT be a humanist.
(You can also be an Agnostic Atheist, Agnostic Theist, Gnostic Atheist, or Gnostic Theist)

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Posted: 13 August 2010 03:19 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Hi Irmin, most of the replies given are pretty good so I’ll try not to bore everyone by repeating them. But most of the terms you mentioned are in public domain so anyone can give any definition they want to them. Someone who is opposed to humanism, especially secular humanism, will often do their best to define it in a bad light.

Here in Sweden, the Humanist Association is mainly concerned with church-state separation, freedom from religious oppression and a secular society. Its chairman stated that if religion globally was like the Church of Sweden (very, very liberal), the global Humanist movement would be unnecessary. Would you on this board agree with his assessment or not?

I think I would disagree with that. One of the problems with religion, and by that I mean the belief in something supernatural, is that it is totally unreasonable. As others have mentioned there’s just no reason to believe in god. Are there any reasons to believe in a fire breathing dragon? No, but it would be impossible to prove, with absolute certainty, that there is no such thing. So we are all atheist with regard to fire breathing dragons. The same with god. Belief in god is not based on reality.

Belief in a god is, I think, a drag on society. It prevents us from finding better solutions. And that is the main problem.

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Posted: 15 August 2010 05:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Occam. - 12 August 2010 09:10 PM

Quoting Eric:

From what I gather, atheists dont beleive in god with the same closed minded dogmatic bias as religious people have in believing in god,

Wrong.  I’m an atheist, and I realize I have no proof of the lack of existence of a god.  However, no one has been able to demonstrate any phenomena which points to the existence of such a being.  By Occam’s Razor, I have to ignore complications which don’t contribute.  I see no evidence that any god has any effect on my life, so I have to ignore the theory as an unneccessary complication.

Occam

ditto - the lines are open—but it is God who doesn’t call. 

The main explanations seem to be that God is inscrutable—we can’t know why God doesn’t communicate with us more directly,  acknowledge our prayers, etc.    If the intent it to send people to Hell if they don’t follow orders—it just isn’t ethical to do that without more frequent communication on what we should be doing.

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Posted: 15 August 2010 10:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Some say that He communicates in His own way, some say that way is through the heart, they can feel Him inside.

I’m just being a devil’s advocate.  smile

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Posted: 15 August 2010 10:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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jump_in_the_pit - 15 August 2010 10:37 AM

Some say that He communicates in His own way, some say that way is through the heart, they can feel Him inside.

I’m just being a devil’s advocate.  smile

And I think an omniscient being would be very understanding of skeptics who honestly think these inner feelings are ‘false alarms’.

Tout comprendre c’est tout pardonner

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Posted: 15 August 2010 12:23 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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I believe “Bright” is a term Mensans have come up with for people with high IQs.  It has NOTHING to do with humanism or atheism.  Mensans can use whatever descriptive word they want, but I feel it’s supercilious and silly.

Occam

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