When Humanists last endeavored to define themselves, we did it in the Humanist Manifest III, released in 2003. It is not so much a statement of what is wrong with the world, as was much of the first two Manifestos, but a statement of what could be right. There is so much in the world that is negative; it can mire one in society’s mud. An examination of the basic principles of humanism should be a positive experience, one that I need right now.
When the writers of the 2003 Manifesto included observation, experimentation, and rational analysis as the first of these virtues, they said a mouthful. These words embody the philosophically important theory of empiricism, which owes it’s beginning to the ancient Greeks. Simply put, it rejected the beliefs of the school of Dogmatism, and recommended relying on ones personal , and thus provable, experiences rather than relying on the more ethereal dependence of often-hidden phenomena. They were saying, in essence, depend upon what you can see and prove, not upon whatever you can think up.
The theory of Empiricism has had many proponents down through the ages, people such as Aristotle, Alhazen, Avicenna, Ibn Tufail, Robert Grosseteste, William of Ockham, Francis Bacon, Thomas Hobbes, Robert Boyle, John Locke, George Berkeley, David Hume, Leopold von Ranke and John Stuart Mill. You may add to this illustrious group the many other adherents of the scientific method.
Clearly, if one values observation, experimentation, and rational analysis it become very difficult to believe in things taken solely on faith, such as belief in gods, ghosts and monsters in the classic sense (unless you have actually seen one). Please also note the emphasis on “rational” which is intended to include actual experimentation, the application of the scientific method to any problem. In addition, one part of this set of theories (pragmatism) makes it clear that it is not worthwhile to seek supernatural causes for natural phenomena.
Again, these three items are noted as positive beliefs in the 2003 Manifesto, without any innate implication deriving from opposite philosophies. Still, it is clear that it is very difficult to have a believe in a mythical and unproven god if you subscribe to observation, experimentation, and rational analysis.
Obviously, we may extend our belief to things that we cannot prove of our own experience into the realm of things that have been proven by the scientific method. This is especially true with scientific theories such as gravity, which can be verified by personal experience (the orbit of the moon, the falling of the apple, etc.) and can be seen as almost equally true of other scientific experiments, such as that of Schrodinger’s cat.
The upshot is that we can try to teach adherence to empiricism, with its reliance on critical thinking, the scientific method, and skepticism, rather than throwing stones at the beliefs of the religious. If they can take to heart the lessons of empiricism, they will soon lose the belief in mystic, unproven gods. It is difficult for empiricism and the fantasy of magic to cohabit inside a single brain.
Thus can we make the world better without screaming at each other.